Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taiwan pt. 3 (3/4)

After having spent the previous evening deciding where I could do my next day trip, I chose the city of Tainan to be my destination of the day.

Tainan is the cultural capitol of Taiwan, much like how Kyoto is to Japan, Siem Reap is to Cambodia, and Gyeongju is to Korea. These cities have centuries of timeless history and culture behind it. They represent the strongest side of their cultural heritage as this sets them apart from the homogenization of Western influences that's been taking part throughout all of Asia.

The fastest way to get to Tainan from Taipei is taking the recently-built HSR (High-Speed Rail). It's currently one of the fastest railway networks in the world. From Taipei to Kaohsiung (approximately the length from Jacksonville to Miami, FL) is only 2 hours, and more importantly, it's a cheaper and less stressful alternative than taking a domestic flight. The station itself is super clean and quite an impressive experience with the layout, comfort, and accessibility. The main drawback would be the fact that it's a bit of a distance from the city centre, but fear not, there's a free shuttle bus (also very impressive and a bit luxurious) that can take you there.

The train ride itself was one of great comfort. The seats are comfortable, reclines well, and has quite a bit of leg room. The ride was smooth, and devoid of any railroad turbulence and delays. The train was squeaky clean, including the bathrooms. This was already a bigger upgrade from Korea's KTX railway network, and something that is sorely missing in the United States.

After arriving at the city centre in Tainan, I noticed how considerably warmer it was. Tainan is located in the southwestern part of the country, and about 15 minutes south of Kaohsiung on HSR. The weather was about 22 C or 72 F, and the skies were beaming with sunshine for the first time on my trip. Sadly, this would be the only day I would have any kind of sunshine and warmth, but it was a great welcome from the coldness of Korea, and the dreary overcast of my first two days in Taiwan. During the bus ride, I noticed that the first part of Tainan is very modern. There are many shopping centres and nicer apartments along the way. The first stop I made was the Confucius temple. This temple carries a significant part of Taiwan as this was the first Confucius temple built in Taiwan. Small, but artfully beautiful, I roamed around the area. Next to it, was an elementary school. I took the opportunity to take up snapshots, and as soon as I did that, I saw two beautiful female models dressed very elaborately and even a little provocatively so to speak. Their face was powdered white, their hair and jewelry, clothing, and their stunning beauty caught my attention. Of course, I had to take a photo op with them. They kindly obliged, and they spent time modeling their shoots by the fountain.

I walked around the beautiful city district, and came across several local stores. The chairs and desks were out, the smell of noodles filled the air, the sidewalks filled with local craft and tool shops. I got myself some roasted duck for lunch. I walked over to the Koxinga shrine which was named after him. His real name was Zheng Chenggong who was a famous commander during the Ming dynasty who drove off the Dutch settlers. His place in Taiwan's history is undisputed, and many of the places in Tainan are named after him.

I continued walking along and found the beautiful Chikhan Building which had several written tablets in front of the building. The place was filled with many Chinese tourists from the mainland. Across the street is another temple. Interestingly enough, outside the building were posters spread in full view in protest of the human right issues concerning China. Note that in mainland China, many residents there are shielded away of what's been going on due to the heavy censorship from the government. Taiwan and Hong Kong, thankfully, are not censored as the rest of China is, so this allows information to reach into the tourists. Whether this can ever be effective remains to be seen. This would happen at some of the main tourist spots.

Walking around the city was quite a pleasant experience. I wasn't constantly suffocated by the exhaust pipes of Taipei, or the claustrophobic nature of “mini Busan” in Keelung. The combination of old vs. new makes Tainan a city still firmly holding onto its tradition, while embracing itself as a city ready to evolve.

I headed over to Anping which is right by the shore, and a short distance from Tainan. I took a short cab ride over there, and found myself walking along the harbor. It was strangely empty and very quiet, but as I was walking on the bridge to the other side, I noticed how laid-back, and charming that district is. I walked around and found some wonderful local shops. They were selling the sword-lion souvenirs which was originally famous for the Taiwanese people who used it as a defense mechanism. The craft shops made me drool endlessly with its beautiful lanterns, buddha statues, local crafts and artwork on display. I had some amazing fried shrimp wantons along the way. I walked along the shores, and found myself never as impressed with my whole day-trip experience.

I headed back to the city centre, and tried to find the bus station that's supposed to take me to the HSR. Unfortunately, I was struggling to find it; however, I noticed a police car parked outside in one of the government buildings. I came over and asked the officer for some assistance, and he gave me a ride to the station. Just another example of being in another foreign country where you can barely speak the local language, but somehow if you have enough patience, understanding, and self-confidence, you'd be surprised how well you can try to communicate and even more surprised at how generous many of the locals are in return.

As I made my way back to Taipei, I left with what I felt was one of my favorite spots to visit in Taiwan

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