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Monday, August 2, 2010

Beating the dog (days of summer) in Takao 高雄の旅行

The Kaminoge family spent this weekend in Taiwan's second city of Kaohsiung (Takao) 高雄. It was bloody hot, but at least the predicted rainfall never happened (then again, the precipitation might have made for a welcome relief from the heat!). A good time was had by all, with the exception of my wife, who loves to complain about anything and everything in the southern part of this island. Still, even she managed to enjoy a few moments here and there.

Our trip was made sans automobile, and our public transportation odyssey began on Saturday morning with catching the 10:06am local train from Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原 to Hsin-Wujih (Shin-Ujitsu) Station 新烏日駅. Or would have, except that I failed to notice said train only runs on weekdays. So instead we got on a Tzuch'iang 自強号 express and took it to T'aichung (Taichū) 台中, thinking we would then catch the shuttle bus from there to the high-speed rail 台湾高速鉄道 station in Wujih (Ujitsu) 烏日. As we had paid reservations for the 11:01 bullet train to Tsoying (Saei) 左営, I was worried we were going to miss our train, but Taiwan's not-always-punctual train system saved the day - at T'aichung we were able to transfer to the 10:04am local train that had been delayed by 24 minutes (!), and made it to Hsin-Wujih and the bullet train with plenty of time to spare. Amber was excited as the high-speed train pulled into the station. Money-losing white elephant it may be in danger of becoming, Taiwan's version of the shinkansen 新幹線 still got us to Kaohsiung in only an hour.

Once at Tsoying, we rode Kaohsiung's new subway system to Kaohsiung Station 高雄駅, where our lodgings, the Hwa Hung (Hua Hung) Hotel 華宏大飯店, was a short walk away. Giving it a 3-star rating would be on the charitable side, but the price was right (NT 1450, or $45/¥3920, for a triple room), the location was very convenient and, best of all, the colorful, "Peanuts"-inspired decor was right out of the early Seventies!

Having already had lunch at a tonkatsu 豚カツ restaurant across the street from the station prior to checking-in, once our bags were safely ensconced in our room, we walked back to the KMRT 高雄捷運 station. Next to the subway station entrance is what I assume was the original Kaohsiung train station, dating from the Japanese era. I remember seeing on the TV news a while back how the old building was literally picked up and moved a few meters away due to an (ongoing, from the looks of things) construction project.

Once on the subway, we rode the KMRT to Yanch'engp'u (Enteiho) Station 塩テイ埔駅. From there, it was short hop on the No. 56 bus to the Shou Shan Zoo 壽山動物園. The zoo itself isn't very large, and it didn't take long to see all the animals, but the views of the city on the ride up were pretty good in the clear weather, and most importantly, Amber had a great time. She was very excited, running from one display to the next. For me, the highlight wasn't any of the caged animals, but the Formosan Rock Macaque タイワンザル that invaded the zoo grounds from the mountains in order to raid the garbage cans for something to eat!

Once done at the zoo, it was back on the bus for the return ride to Yanch'engp'u and the KMRT. This time we got off at the Formosa Boulevard Station (Bireitō-eki) 美麗島駅, noted for its "Dome of Light" 光之穹頂 installation.

Our destination was the Liuhe Night Market 六合夜市, a short walk away from the subway station. To be honest, the food we had wasn't all that great (and the draft Taiwan Beer 台湾ビール was even worse than usual for being so watery) - the highlight for me was a "Mexican" burrito. On the other hand, the twilight setting was lovely in its own way, Amber had fun walking around and checking out the sights and smells and as I don't often go to night markets, it was nice milling about with the crowds on a humid evening.
 

We walked back to our hotel from the night market. A long day meant we were very tired. All three of us were asleep before 11, and we didn't get up until 8 the next morning. Another nice thing about the Hwa Hung Hotel was that breakfast was not only complimentary, but it was "Western", meaning ham and a fried egg on top of a slice of toast (Chinese-style breakfasts, like Japanese ones, can be hard to take in the morning). Afterward, entrusting our bag at the front desk, it was back to the KMRT station. The day was sunny again, even though rain was in the forecast.

Our destination today was the Dream Mall, reached first by taking the subway to K'aihsuan (Gaisen) Station 凱旋駅, and then utilizing the free shuttle bus. Except that the line for the bus was long, and our time was limited. The mall is actually within easy walking distance from the subway stop, but there are two things my wife hates more than anything else in this world - physical activity and the sun - and so we got in a taxi for the short trip to the mall.

Once at the mall, we made straight to the roof, and the Ferris Wheel that sits atop it. While Pamela sat in the welcoming shade, Amber and I got into a car and enjoyed the great views (I've attached a short video clip of the scenery from the top of the ride). Back on solid ground, we were able to convince Amber to limit her time at the Hello Kitty ハローキティ/Sanrio サンリオ play area there - we would have gone broke if she hadn't!


The Japanese influence was very much in evidence at the Dream Mall, with its Hankyū Department Store 阪急百貨店 branch, Daisō ザ・ダイソー, "Japanese Food Street" and a "Japanese-style Fashion" area, the latter featuring a "Takeshita-dōri 竹下通り Zone" - anyone who has been to Harajuku 原宿 in Tōkyō 東京 will know what that means http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeshita_Street! The one thing we bought at the mall (other than lunch, and several doughnuts from Mister Donut ミスタードーナツ) was a bottle of aboriginal 台湾原住民 amazake 甘酒 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazake (from P'ingtung/Heitō 屏東), which bore the name "Kasuga" 春日 on the label.

With time getting short, we took another taxi back to K'aihsuan Station. Kaohsiung's subway system is very efficient and easy to use, and connects to a lot of the sights in the city, so it's difficult to understand why ridership hasn't lived up to expectations. Back at the main train station, I retrieved our bag from the hotel and took a couple more photos of some interesting Japanese signs, before the three of us got on the 2:42pm Tzuch'iang express train for the nearly three-hour ride back to Fengyuan.
  

It may be next to impossible to get my wife (who sees everything in shades of blue and green) to agree, but Kaohsiung looks better and better with each visit. Amber certainly wants go back again, if only to have more fun on the Dream Mall rooftop!

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