The Trip to Taiwan Was a Treat

Pardon the title. I just couldn't help it. Back in February I was able to go on a business trip to Hsinchu, Taiwan, for work. Time zones and travel time are weird, so I have trouble understanding just how long I really spent there, but it went something like this.

I left Seattle on a Saturday and arrived in Taiwan 14 hours later, via a practically nonexistent layover in Narita, on Sunday very late at night. We had Monday to ourselves to sightsee--I mean, acclimate. Then followed two days of, ahem, grueling meetings, and we flew out that Thursday afternoon, only to arrive back in Seattle, um, that Thursday morning.

I'll say it again: timezones are funny things. Taiwan is 15 hours ahead of west coast USA, where I live, so I was routinely calling my wife on the subsequent day, and she felt like she had to wait "longer" for me to finally get home.

We accomplished a lot on the trip, but it was not without its enjoyable moments, which I will go on about for a while here, mixed with some other thoughts about Taiwan in general from the admittedly limited glimpses I got.

My boss and one of my coworkers standing just outside the Taoyuan airport. Who could ask for finer traveling companions?

It was probably 10 PM at least when we got into the cab for the roughly 1 hour drive from the airport to Hsinchu, where we were staying. By the time we got there, very little was open for food. After passing by a dubious looking "Moss Burger" and McDonalds, we wandered into an absurdly garish diner called the "Happy X-Mas Cafe" or something like that, despite it being February and not December. The food there was not really to my liking, but I was hungry, so what to do?

I was especially lucky on my trip to have slept like an absolute rock every night. I think jetlag had a strong hand in that, too. It was a very nice Sheraton with a big, spacious room and a comfy bed. Lucky!

The view from my boss's room the following morning. The window washers hadn't been by my room yet and the windows were filthy.

Check out the fancy, shiny lobby at the Sheraton.

They had an extensive hotel breakfast every morning, with items ranging from the mundane (cereal) to the mildly adventurous (stewed apples of some kind) to the exotic (grilled fish jaw!?) to downright alien foods that I couldn't even identify as animal, vegetable, or mineral.

Shiny fancy elevator. Look, a cameo of me!

Signage inside an elevator we rode. I am interested in the third panel especially.

The driving there was far more tame than, say, India or Turkey. In a pinch I think I could have driven, but the drivers still seem to have that sixth sense about nearby drivers and scooters that prevents them from running into each other constantly. We just took taxis wherever we needed to go, pretty much.

Scooters are a big deal in Taiwan, so much so that there are dedicated markings for them at stop lights. All the scooters line up in a little white box in front of car traffic and get to go first when the light turns green.

More photographic proof about scooters being a big deal there.

We took the high-speed rail (HSR) from Hsinchu to Taipei. It looked like the usual means of commute for a lot of people who don't want to live in the big city. True to its name, the train runs almost 200 MPH, so it is kind of exhilirating to look out the window and see everything going by unsettlingly quickly.

On the way to the train station.

Signage: I guess crocs are popular enough that they have to warn everyone not to get stuck?

The Hsinchu skyline, I guess. I don't think you can see our hotel in this shot. They really like to top their buildings with domes and other spires.

Check out these two shady guys waiting at the train station.

More signage. My favorite is the middle one: if you can't find your kid, he is probably hiding underneath the platform!

From the HSR we transferred to the Taipei Metro, which has a sprawling map of color-coded routes very much like the DC Metro. We bought a 1-day pass and had no problem going all over the place with it. Really convenient. Our first destination was the Taipei 101 building, which at one time was the tallest building in the world.

Inside a Taipei metro train car.

After getting off near the 101 building, they had all these little confectionaries and pastry shops in the train station. Kind of upscale-looking and very westernized.

Some strange robot/engine art on the walk to the 101 building.

The 101 building. It's pretty impressive, and, like most things of this sort, pictures don't do it justice.

We took the elevator up to the 80-somethingth floor of the 101 building where they had an observation deck. The elevator is touted as being very high speed. It accelerated quickly yet gently up to about the midpoint of the vertical journey and spent the remainder decelerating.

The view of Taipei from the top is impressive. They clearly favor high rises and skyscrapers, but still have some open areas in the city. We spotted a lot of recreational facilities--track and field arenas, tennis courts, etc..

The top of this skyscraper has a "super damper" (which is apparently its actual name) to help prevent lateral sway. Apparently it acts as a kind of weighted pendulum to counteract the sway of the building, and many especially tall skyscrapers have one.

The very large mass damper. Though there's no frame of reference for the scale here, but it is at least 20 feet in diameter.

Out front of the 101 building is this piece of modern art that is supposed to be a... face? a fetus? Who can say for sure?

We were ready for a little snack so we ate at a little place called... Ireland's Potato!? It is basically a kind of bizzar poutine shop: french fries topped with different sauces, meat, and so on. It was yummy, as such junk food tends to be.

My boss is a lover of horses, including this weird metal one.

We next took the metro trains to the Maokong Gondola, which was supposed to afford a view of the city from atop a mountain. Unfortunately, a lot of things are closed on Monday, and nobody told us! The gondola and the neighboring zoo were both closed.

Neat topiaries at the zoo.

Signage: don't climb all crazily over the escalator, man.

Look, it's a Starbucks... surprise, LOOK AGAIN.

Our final tourist stop for the day was the Shilin Night Market, a sort of public market where lots of vendors set up little stalls all selling the same kinds of street food, suspicious bootleg merchandise, and, uniquely, running carnival games. As far as I could tell, the night market's vendor population was divided pretty equally into those three parts. In terms of layout, it reminded me a little of the spice bazaar in Turkey, of course without the spices. It also reminded me of Paddy's Market in Australia

In this picture, I'm standing outside a small temple right in the middle of the night market, taking a picture of a bit of the market itself.

We got back sometime after 8, and headed out to a late dinner. Unfortunately, due to the everything-closed-on-Monday problem, the place we planned to go (and basically every other place) was also closed, so we were stranded with no prospect of food in sight. Suddenly out of nowhere, we chanced upon a place claiming to serve burgers, steaks, and so on. We couldn't really say no.

By all rights, this tiny restaurant simply should not have existed in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The decor inside smacked strongly of western influences, but everything was just slightly off. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and received a delicious looking burger... lacking a burger patty. Just a pile of bacon on a bun with all the other fixings. So strange. (we asked for a burger patty and all was good)

Enjoying a plate of... onion rings!? They were good onion rings, too!

Such a strange mishmash of decorations to find in a place like this.

Coming back to the hotel, I slept the sleep of angels. Playtime was over, and the next two days were strictly business... or so I thought! Actually, the guys we were visiting hosted us very nicely. We went out to a great lunch at a place that primarily served deep fried, breaded pork cutlets, and they were every bit as delicious as you might imagine.

They also took us to a nice restaurant for dinner where they served what seemed much more like traditional Taiwanese home-cooked food, many simple but tasty dishes. I felt like I was eating in some grandmother's house, not a restaurant. The highlight of the recreational portion of the trip, they arranged for everyone in our traveling group (around 10 people) to get two hour Thai massages. Drifting in and out of a jetlag-fueled stupor, I nearly fell asleep repeatedly as the masseuse contorted my body unnaturally and pounded out all the knots. In the US, such a treat would run at least a hundred bucks, but there it was less than forty. Wild.

On the last day, we were taken out to one last meal to a yakiniku restaurant, which is a Japanese grill-at-your-table kind of place. They brought delicious Wagyu beef, shrimp, chicken, scallops, and it was all amazing... until I got food poisoned from it sometime in the middle of the night. The next day or however long was about as bad as you could expect, what with traveling and all, but there was a silver lining.

Amazing Wagyu beef. I'm pretty sure it was undercooked scallops and not this perfect specimen that turned my insides upon themselves for the following days.

Other colleagues from our traveling group enjoying our dinner and not getting food poisoned. Hmph.

For the first time in my life, I was able to travel on international business class on the long leg of the flight back (10 hours). It was so unlike any flying experience I've ever had that I have to say a few words about it.

Signage at the airport: don't bring your hacksaw, slingshot, nunchakus, or bow and arrow aboard, please.

The console in front of my seat on the plane. The button panel for adjusting my seat has more functions than most calculators. The "Push" button swings the screen out for a better angle.

Those are my feet and legs, stretched out as far as they'll go. On an airplane. And I hadn't even yet messed with the multifunction calculator--I mean, seat adjuster, to make myself lie 100 percent flat. That's pretty disgusting.

A/C outlets and a USB charging port right on my chair.

The stewards and stewardesses in the business section treat you like kings. They will bring you practically anything you ask for, but I felt awkward being catered to so closely, so I mostly just kept to myself. I didn't really partake in the amenities, opting instead to sleep in a state of uncertain stability for most of the flight. It would have been so much worse back in economy, let me tell you.

The tragedy of getting this delicious salad and broccoli cheddar soup on the plane is that I ate maybe five bites overall, over the course of half an hour, before I felt like it was inciting further digestive rebellion, and I had to stop. I didn't even ask for the dinner course later, but it smelled so good, even to my traitorous senses.

I got a taxi back home by about 10 AM, at which point I crawled into bed and slept from pure exhaustion. One day later and I was operating at 90% capacity, thank god. It was a good trip overall, but, as I've learned, I'm most likely to remember the striking return trip than any other part, so it's a good thing I wrote it all down, huh?