Seeking

Tainan, Taiwan April 2017

Sometimes you have to make adjustments. Two days ago I apparently pulled a muscle in my back (or injured a disc) lifting my motorcycle onto its stand the wrong way. Yeah, I should know better!

Since I could barely stand up without severe pain, I decided I must alter my plans. Fortunately, train travel in Taiwan is inexpensive and trains are frequent. Even on a holiday weekend, I was able to get seats all the way from Yuli to Tainan. Lucky I did. On some of the trains, people without seat reservations were standing in the vestibules. It took 4 ½ hours to get to Tainan.

Tainan is the second largest city in Taiwan, and is older and more traditional than Taipei. It was the capital of Taiwan for more than two hundred years, ending about 100 years ago. There are 15 major temples here. It sounds like a great place to hunker down for some R & R.

I reserved a very nice apartment in the old town area via AirBnB.

A light, airy room on the third floor, a comfy bed, deep bathtub and fast Wifi. Just what the doctor ordered. Above a very modern coffee shop:

While having lunch while waiting for the train, I saw a couple of girls with their bikes having a lunchtime snack. Pretty in pink with a Taiwanese twist. Very stylish! You see this level of style in Shanghai. The prosperous modern Chinese like to dress well.

 

Tainan is reputed to have great food, so I shall set about sampling as much as possible. Here’s today’s lunch:

And dessert from “Maison the core”:

I came to learn that the Tainanese love sweet desserts, and there are many dessert cafes.

My apartment overlooks a temple, dedicated to the Monkey God. He in his many forms appears in the main area. Elsewhere in the temple are pictures of two rather fierce looking warriors, Chinese Generals. Incense is in the air. Those who honor the Monkey God donate money to maintain the temple, and come to pay their respects and pray.

 

I found an interesting traditional street snacks restaurant across the street:

Now that my back is feeling better, I start to get out more and walk the streets of Tainan. My hostess here graciously invites me to join. her and friends for lunch at café run by a friend of hers. We had a delightful lunch.

Tainan, Taipei from Mel Malinowski on Vimeo.

Today, I walked over to Anping Fort, about 5 km. On the way, I stopped by a ‘cut fruit’ shop to sample a popular Tainan dish, sliced tomatoes in a special soy sauce.

This is a ‘take out only’ shop (no tables to sit and eat). So I took my snack for later.

Several km later, I walked by this impressive temple:

I walked in to see the interior, and a group of Taiwanese men sitting drinking tea invited me to join them. How kind! They proceeded to give me tea and cherry tomatoes, and a slice of pastry. We communicated with a mix of my minimal Mandarin, plus help from Google Translate.

What fun! After awhile, it was time to do prayers, and they insisted I come with them, and then eat with them. We went upstairs, and they prayed. I asked if it was honoring their ancestors (common in Asia, as they say that if it were not for your ancestors, you would not be here!) But they said they were praying to the gods of Heaven.

After a series of prayers, we went to a community room upstairs and ate together.

I was touched by the generousity and friendliness they showed to me. I was sent off with a bag of tomatoes and snacks.

 

Tainan Snack from Mel Malinowski on Vimeo.

A Tainan street vendor snack being made. A sweet nut wrapper, with an herb center.

I was told that the weekend Night Market was a ‘must-see’ and that I could try a traditional dish called ‘stinky tofu’ there.

Night Market is very popular. It was jammed with local people, shopping and eating.

And the ‘stinky tofu’ was good. It has a crispy skin, and the sauce is just a little ‘stinky’ but flavorful. I liked it.

Tainan has a nice rental bike program. You can just put in a credit card, and pay 33 cents US per half hour, maximum $3.30 a day to take out a nice 3 speed bike. So I set off to bike around Tainan.

Robotic flagman from Mel Malinowski on Vimeo.

The robots are coming. I’ve seen these in several places in Taiwan.

Bikes give you more range than walking, of course. I did 32 km. One mistake: Taiwan must be closer to the equator than I was thinking. I should have worn long sleeves and gloves, and as a result of not doing so, got a nice red sunburn on my arms and legs. Ugh. When will I learn to cover up ALL the time?

 

 

On my last day in Tainan, my local hostess, Kay, took me out to lunch at a restaurant that she is especially fond of. It serves very interesting and well done Tainan style dishes. It was yummy! Here are some pictures from today:

Kay suggested I visit a nearby shop run by two American girls. They moved to Tainan seven years ago from Tucson, Arizona, and created a popular fancy cupcakes shop that caters to Tainan’s considerable sweet tooth. I stopped and had a nice chat with Mary B about living here in Anping and the excitement (and hazards) of riding around on a scooter. It appears I have been perhaps a little optimist and even naive (??!?) about the safety of this. This young woman knows of many scooter accidents among tourists, especially in Thailand and Vietnam. I must be extra-careful!

Ah, but now the time is here to pack up and take Taiwan’s ‘Bullet Train’ to Taipei, and fly to Seoul on the way back to America.

Taiwan’s High Speed Rail system is impressive. The stations are modern with dramatic architecture.

The trains are one of the Japanese ‘Shinkansen Bullet Train’ models, sleek and aerodynamic.

This train is the 10th fastest in the world. Temper your American Exceptionalism here: none of the ten fastest are in America. They’re all in Asia or Europe. We mostly were cruising along at about 170 mph, and topped out at 186mph. The ride was very smooth and comfortable, very little swaying.

In less than 1 ½ hours, I was up to the stop near the Taipei airport. There, you walk over to the regular subway train for Taipei, and take it 6 stops to the terminal. Nice organization. I wish we had rail service this efficient and fast. This service is so fast and reliable that nobody flies on this route anymore, and you don’t have to go through all the lengthy security checks that airports have now.

Taiwan is quite an interesting place to visit. The excellent and inexpensive train system makes it quite practical to circumnavigate the island. The many mountain parks have well-developed trails, and Taroko NP in particular has world-class attractions worth a special trip. The food is ample, tasty, and moderately priced. The people are exceptionally friendly to visitors. It’s been fun!

(I asked local people about the question of whether they want to become part of mainland China. I was told that by and large, young people feel they are Taiwanese, rather than ‘Mainland Chinese’, and want to stay an independent country. The older folks more often have connections on the mainland, parents or grandparents, and are more inclined to accept unity with the mainland. This may be the cause for conflict that could draw the USA in eventually, as the mainland considers Taiwan to be only temporarily separate, and is determined to annex it eventually.)

After a brief stop at home base in Washington State, I will be off to Arizona for glider flight training. More on this coming up next.

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