Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Tuesday, April 22, 2003 04:21:39
Asia Pacific 2003: 4 - From Taiwan
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Most of the afternoon was spent getting caught up on emails. Once I had them on floppy disc I headed off in search of an internet cafe. I stopped at Murhpy's Pub for lunch on the way - it was after 4 PM and I'd not eaten since 6 AM in Haikou. Actually I'd tried room service, but the one thing on the menu that appealed to me they didn't have so I decided to forget it.
It turned out that the pub had an internet connected computer in the corner, which seemed a terribly civilized idea! There was someone using it, but by the time I'd had my lunch and a couple of beer it was available. When I checked it out, though, it wasn't as ideal as it seemed. It had no word processing programs to copy to from floppy and the CPU was locked away so I could not use a floppy disc anyhow. The young waiter in the bar said he knew another place that had better prices, so away we went. He took me into a downstairs internet cafe a couple of blocks away, introduced me, and headed back to the pub.
This place was in a basement, down one flight of stairs, and was huge. One side was smoking, the other non-smoking. Individual booths were set up for the computers, some booths had several computers where noisy young people were having a ball playing computer games. There must have been over a hundred computers there. It took awhile for them to set me up with word processing programs, as their main trade are games players, but once set up I managed to load the programs from floppy and get them sent, then check my emails. It was a bit tricky, as the entire system including the keyboard is in Chinese characters, so I had to guess from experience what the pop up windows said. There was no way the system would copy emails and I could not download the programs that Ryan sent to me as I couldn't navigate through all the Chinese prompts and windows.
Back at the hotel I did a little more on the computer. By then it was dark and the neon lights of Hong Kong Island across the bay were spectactular. I took the video camera and went up to the bar on the top floor of the hotel to have a gin tonic and film the sight. It is truly a magical city!
Back in the room I locked everything away in the safe, including the video camera, and headed off to see what Kowloon was like on a Saturday night. It was brightly neon lit, bustling, throbbing with music and crowds. This was the most people I'd seen on the streets yet. It was interesting to observe that about one third less people were wearing surgical masks - now only 30-40% of the people were bothering with them.
I stopped in a couple of places for a beer, but as it was just 9 PM they were not yet really busy. Kowloon certainly has no less night life that it had last time I was here. As I josselled my way through the crowds down the narrower secondary streets there were lots of hawkers encouraging people to see the girls in the strip clubs. I strolled the streets for another half hour, then stopped at Murphy's for a last beer before bed. It had been a long day and I was beat!
Sunday morning I treated myself to a very lazy beginning. I read a little, dozed a lot, and finally separated myself from the bed after 9 AM. After another good breakfast at Murphy's Bar I took the Star ferry to Central, on Hong Kong Island. There I caught a ferry to Discovery Bay. I was going to go to Ngong Ping to see the Po Lin monestary and big Buddah, but it seemed most of Hong Kong was taking a ferry to one of the islands as a Sunday outing. I'd heard Discovery Bay was nice, and the ferry, which ran every 20 minutes, was not super crowded.
Discovery Bay is on Lantau Island, which is the largest island in Hong Kong - much bigger than the main island. Until recently it was remote, but when the bridge was built to service the new international airport it opened up. Ferries still service Discovery Bay, Mui Wo, Tai O, Hung Hom and other coastal towns on Lantau Island. These towns are on the opposite side of the mountainous island from the airport. It is a more difficult and longer journey to get there by road.
Discovery Bay is very tranquil. It has beautiful beaches, although the water looked pretty murkey. There is a shopping area right at the ferry terminal, where most signs are in English. Stores such as Toys "R" Us and 7-11 are represented here. English seemed the main language, and wearing surgical masks was almost non-existent. Most people were Chinese or East Indian, but there were quite a few Caucasians.
I caught a local bus and rode the whole bus route through the area, which took all of about 15 minutes. Private cars are not permitted here, people get around in golf carts or by bus. It looked like it would be an idea place to escape the bustle of Hong Kong. Construction is going ahead at a rapid pace - there are some beautiful, but pricey, developments for sale.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the two ferry rides each way were really enjoyable. On return to the hotel I checked email - I was the only customer in the business centre all day! I copied the mail and programs Ryan sent me, then headed back to the room to answer them. It well after dark when I finally left the room. I'd thoroughly enjoyed watching the sunset reflected off the forest of tall buildings across the harbour, turning them various colours, until finally they darkened and their own lights became the prominent feature.
Today was also clean up day, with laundry and ironing caught up before I headed out to find somewhere for dinner. I treated myself to a delicious 6 course Chinese meal and a cold beer, then went for one last walk through the heart of the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon.
Something that I have found interesting is that Chinese people do not like to sit near me. So far no one was seated beside me on a plane, ferry, in a bar, on a train or in a bus. When I have sat next to someone, they moved over one seat. I was thinking of changing my deodorant brand when it occured to me that it was likely that they just like to keep their distance from "foreign devils".
Another thing that surprised me is that there is quite a bit of colonial Hong Kong coinage still in circulation, and that it is still legal tender. I guess they are pulling it out of circulation very gradually, something which makes sense. It seems odd using coins with the queen's head on them in part of the Peoples Republic of China.
It'll be an easy morning tomorrow - my flight leaves for Taiwan at 1:10 PM, so I'll need to leave the hotel somewhere around 10:15 AM. My only concern is that there may be some sort of quaranteen situation on arrival in Taipei. I guess there is only one way to find out!
Thursday, April 21, 2005
This morning after checking out I once again took the free bus from the hotel to the train station. I was the only one on it. A few paces into the station were airline check in counters and the health squad to take temperatures. At least I now know that 37 degrees celcius is 98.6 degrees farenheit! Once again, I was right on 37 degrees, so far so good!
Being the only traveller in that part of the station I was quickly checked in for my flight, my leg room seat confirmed, boarding pass produced and my suitcase checked through to Taiwan. (I hope!) The whole process took only a couple of minutes. I took the escalator down to the train level and walked straight on, once again having an entire car to myself.
There was no lineup anywhere at the airport, so immigration and security were cleared very quickly and I went for breakfast. When I got to the boarding area for my flight I asked about the departure tax. I was informed it was still in effect, but somehow by checking in at the Kowloon station I slipped through without paying it. I'd applied all my Hong Kong money except that needed for airport tax to the hotel bill before putting the balance on my credit card, so I went and changed the tax money back to $US at a nearby money change booth.
We boarded the Airbus 330 plane right on schedule for the 1 hour 17 minute flight to Taipei, Taiwan. The large plane is divided into three sections, with four seats in the centre and two seats on the window side of each aisle. The section in which I'm seated has 108 seats of which 14 are occupied. I have the entire bulkhead/exit row of 8 seats to myself. While this is definitely not good news for the airline, it sure is a great time to be a member of the travelling public! Or perhaps I should say one of the few members of the public around here who are travelling.
I was talking about car demand being up according to the newspaper in China. An article in today's South China Morning Post published in Hong Kong would seem to confirm that. Volkswage in China increased it's sales 94% last year over the year before, and China now accounts for 44% of their total global sales. A car show in Shanghai had some 700 exhibitors, and it is expected attendance will exceed 400,000 in spite of the SARS scare.
The same paper says there are now over 221 million cell phones in use in China, only 4.1 million less than land lines. It also confirmed my observation yesterday that most of the population of Hong Kong seemed to be headed for the islands by ferry. On the Lamman Island ferry alone, Saturday almost doubled the previous daily record of 8,000 passengers by carrying 15,000 passengers. Sunday would have topped that, as they had carried 28,700 passengers by 5 PM. The mob at the terminal had to be seen to be believed! The papers speculate people are getting cabin fever staying in their small apartments to avoid SARS, and as there have been no SARS cases detected in the islands they are considered a safe destination.
I'm filling flying time by writing this on the plane, so you are getting all the trivial nuggets of knowledge this morning! The headline of an article in the paper was "SINNERS IN THE CLEAR". It seems the Singapore Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Chia has received permission from the Vatican to order his priests not to do one on one confessions due to the chance of catching SARS. Instead, a special blanket "general absolution" has been given to all Catholics in Singapore with no need to confess. Doesn't that open a lot of possibilities!
One last note - Hong Kong corporate income tax is being increased by 1.5% to 17.5%, and the tax free exemption on personal income is being reduced from about $US15,430 to $US14,300. They are running a deficit currently, although there are large cash reserves. When I was last here there was an immense budgetary surplus and tax was a flat 14.6% for everyone.
There hasn't been a lot said about Macau since the takeover by China, but apparently it is alive and well under the new regime. Gambling is still going as strong as ever, and the ferries are still shuttling back and forth from Hong Kong frequently. There have been no SARS cases detected in Macau, which has helped it's local tourism.
We have started out descent into Taipei, so I'll sign off. It'll be interested to see what the health authorities will have to say on arrival. Of the four SARS countries listed on the form I had to fill out, I have been to two of them in the past 10 days! Here's hoping they aren't into quarantine in that case!
It was with great relief that I passed through customs, immigration and the health check in Taiwan. The only requirement was having my temperature taken again - it had even gone down slightly to 36.7 degrees, so I was not deemed a threat. Perhaps my temperature reduction was from the refrigerator level air temperature on the flight! My suitcase even made it.
When I emerged from the arrivals area there was a fellow with a Westin Hotel sign who was expecting me. I'd said yes when asked if I'd like an airport pickup when making the reservation, however I didn't clearly understand that there was a charge of 1,800 Taiwan dollars - about$US52. It is over an hour from the airport to the hotel, and the car they had sent was a Mercedes 320SEL with room for even my legs to strech out, so I didn't complain. Check in was very efficient, with the registration form all filled out and needing only my signature. Even though the hotel was busy, they upgraded me to a very nice, large room with king size bed.
The hotel is quite the centre of local entertainment with three floors of clubs and restaurants below ground level. There is a cigar bar with buffet, an Italian restaurant, an international restaurant, a continental coffee bar and restaurant, a coffee bar that serves high tea, a New York deli, a Cantonese restaurant, a Taiwanese restauant, an Irish pub, a Latino bar and restaurant with a live Latino band, a Pekinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and a Shangainese restaurant. It seems there is little need to worry about drought or famine here! The Latino restaurant surprised me, but there is a Hispanic Club here and an Argentinian club, so there must be a fair sized Latino population. The hotel is very centrally located, with lots of shops and services in the area.
For dinner I chose the Taiwanese restaurant, where there was a choice of fixed menus featuring a number of courses of local cuisine. It was packed - but I'm the only one who was not oriental, and also the only one not wearing a suit or jacket. It is obviously very popular with the locals. The menu included a lot of things I'd not tried before such as jelly fish heads (I didn't even know jelly fish had heads!), some various types of fungus and different items which had been scrapped off the rocks at the sea shore. It was largely sea food, and even included a couple of things I recognized. Most dishes I thorougly enjoyed, although a couple didn't suit my taste buds.
Friday, April 22, 2005
This morning I took a taxi to the Costa Rican embassy, after booking a tour of the city for the afternoon. The embassy is located about half an hour from the hotel in a high rise building devoted to embassies - there must have been 20 security guards! All the flag poles outside made it look like the UN building! The embassy itself was very nice - one of the larger ones I'd seen. The ambassador was away, his wife having just had a baby, but I had a long talk with Silvia Fan, a local employee, giving me a chance to practice my Spanish.
The taxi waited for me, and then took me back to the hotel. The driver went to college in Lubock Texas for four years, and so spoke English. I've arrange with him to take me to the airport tomorrow morning for half the price it cost to get to the hotel.
My initial impression of Taipei, which has a population of 2.6 million (greater Taipei is over 6 million), is that it is a standard business city filled with a disproportionate number of motor scooters. It is very clean and has wide, tree lined main thoroughfares, but I've seen little that would attract a tourist here. Taiwan has a population of 23 million, spread over the 36,000 sq. km. island. It is about 400 km. from one end of the island to the other, and about 150 km. across at it's widest point.
It turned out that I was a tour group of one for the city tour, so I had a private guide and driver. The Chaing Kai Shek Memorial is worth seeing, and so is the huge National Palace Museum which rotates through it's some 700,000 exhibits which date back to the founding of Chinese culture almost 10,000 years ago. We also stopped at a Taoist Shrine, but the guide was hard pressed to fill 3 hours, as time is alotted for shopping on a regular tour, and I don't shop!
I'll do a walk around again tonight and then have dinner after I get this away and check my email. The next stop will be Seoul, Korea tomorrow afternoon.