When the American Institute in Taiwan 美國在台協會 beckons, you answer. And when the AIT asks you to be at their offices at 7:45 on a Wednesday morning, you will do like us - go up the day before and give yourself a 24-hour trip to Taipei (Táiběi) 台北. Pamela and I both went to work on Tuesday morning, while Amber attended her kindergarten as usual, but following lunch, the three of us went by taxi to the U-Bus 統聯客運 station in beautiful downtown Fēngyuán 豐原, where we caught the 1:30 bus to the Taipei Bus Station 台北轉運站. Upon alighting, we made our way to the Taipei Metro 台北捷運, got on the subway and, four stops and one transfer later, got off at Dàān Station 大安站.
Amber makes her way along the concourse between the bus and MRT stations
From the subway, it was a short walk to the Dolamenco Hotel, our choice of accommodation for that fine Tuesday evening. The room was small, as was the bed - Amber ended up sleeping on a small sofa that night, which we pushed up against one side of the bed so that she wouldn't fall off. But the price (NT1980/$67) and the location (just a few minutes' walk from the AIT) couldn't be beat.
That evening we got back on the MRT to do what tourists do in Taipei, visit one of the city's large night markets. In our case, it was to Shìlín Night Market 士林夜市. We rode the MRT at the peak of the evening rush hour, but having navigated Tōkyō's 東京 claustrophobia-inducing subway network for the better part of a decade, I find Taipei's system to be far less stressful. And to the local denizens credit, people gave up their seats so that a tired and sick little girl (Amber has been suffering from a cold these past few days) could sit down. In any event, it was only a short ride from Dàān to Jiàntán Station 剑潭站, the closest stop to the night market.
Now I don't claim to be an old Taipei hand, but back in 1999, and again in 2001, I paid visits to Shìlín in the company of Japanese and American friends. The night market was in all its glory back then, at the center of a busy warren of narrow streets packed with clothing stands. It was dirty, noisy and odoriferous, and all the more fun and exciting because of it. However, soon after my second visit, the Taipei city government, in all its infinite wisdom, decided the market needed to be "improved" by relocating to a more modern structure. The result is an even more cramped site, made worse by its location in a basement. The atmosphere has been ruined as the crowds (including large tour groups made up of Chinese tourists) are herded like cattle into a more sterile, less inviting environment:
My dainty, coquettish wife, with her ever so sensitive and delicate sense of smell, insisted that we retreat back to street level, where we found a small eatery with better circulation. Pamela, who couldn't stand the lack of "fresh air" down in the basement, then proceeded to happily chow down a plate of stinky tofu 臭豆腐 (Amber and I had steak).
After dinner, we took a stroll through the older part of the market, dominated by clothing stalls. Amber needed little encouragement to strike a pose:
By this point, it was starting to get late, and we had an early appointment at the AIT the following morning, so it was time to bid the moon and Venus "goodnight" and take the MRT back to Dàān.
The next day, we were done at the AIT by 9:30, and headed back to our hotel for a late breakfast before packing up and checking out. After storing our bag in a locker somewhere in the bowels of Taipei Station 台北車站, it was back again on the MRT Tamsui Line (Dànshuǐ xiàn) 淡水線, this time to Yuánshān Station 圓山站. From the station's platform could be seen evidence that not all is sweetness and tolerance in Taiwan's religious scene:
I remembered this sign from Patrick Cowsill's blog. Erected by an organization called the True Enlightenment Education Foundation 正覺教育基金會, the slogan warns that:
Tibetan Buddhism is definitely not Buddhism; the lamas are not Buddhist monks or nuns
Another sign on the building read:
To avoid religious sexual abuse, please stay away from the lamas of Tibetan Buddhism
Putting the last sentence into a Google search led to this, er, "enlightening explanation".
Meanwhile, back in the real world, you might be wondering at this point why we had come to Yuánshān in the few hours that we had left in Taipei. To visit a couple of nearby historic temples, perhaps? Or to take a taxi to see a restored old house? Wrong on both counts. If your spouse is Taiwanese like mine is, there is a strong chance that you'll end up having the taxi driver drive you from the MRT station to the Taipei Expo Park 花博公園, the remnants of the Taipei International Flora Exposition. Pamela particularly wanted to see the Pavilion of Dreams 夢想館, described thusly in the Wikipedia entry:
The building showcases Taiwan's cutting-edge technology in addition to flowers. A 3.5-ton artificial flower hangs from the ceiling, responding to beats in music. In an exhibition room, flat screens showcase 3D images of flowers without the need to use special glasses...A wall of 3-meter-tall liquid crystal glass panels show lifelike projections of flowers in the wild.
As the name of this blog makes clear, I'm something of a curmudgeon. I found the New Age vibe to be a bit too much. There were other things I would've done in Taiwan's largest city than spend time pursuing my "dream flower", but Pamela seemed satisfied and Amber, free at her age of any pretensions, accepted the Pavilion of Dreams for what it was trying to do and enjoyed herself very much as a result.
Mother and daughter outside in the Xīnshēng Park Area 新生園區. In the background can be seen the Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店:
My "Dream Flower"
Taking a taxi from Xīnshēng Park directly to Taipei Station turned out to be a little cheaper than returning by a cab to Yuánshān Station, and riding the MRT back to where our bag had been stored. Following a late lunch in one of the food courts on the second floor of the station, and a bit of window shopping in one of the underground malls beneath it, we found ourselves on the 4:00 Tze-Chiang (Zìqiáng) 自強 limited express, and got back to Fēngyuán on time, at 6:02 p.m., where I went straight to my evening job from the train station, while Amber and Pamela had dinner at the local MOS Burger モスバーガー before taking yet another taxi home (I walked back from school).
And that's how we spent 24 hours in Taipei, from late Tuesday afternoon to late Wednesday afternoon. Who knows? The next time I go to the AIT might be under somewhat different circumstances.
Somewhere between Bǎnqiáo 板橋 and Táoyuán 桃園