The Taipei Adventure

So when I searched online for cheap tickets to Vancouver on an impulse to follow the husband, the best deal I got was from China Airlines, with a stopover in Taipei (Yes, China Airlines is a Taiwanese airline.) While the stopover during the flight to Vancouver was a doable four hour, the return flight had a ten hour gap. Gosh! I’d die, I thought but I still could not spend extra $600 on the other available options. Once the tickets were booked, husband did some research and found out that I could actually step out of the airport without any extra papers; for once the Indian passport held some value. My next step was to ask my colleague who is from Taiwan about getting around and her response was, “You want to go alone to Taipei? But you cannot speak Mandarin!” A little deflated, we continued to talk and then realized that she was actually going to be in Taipei on that day!! Bless the approaching Chinese New Year.

I reached Taipei one hour before the schedule; did not know that such things happen as well. It was 5 am and I was quite thrilled regardless of having sat in an economy seat for 12 plus hours. As we got out of the plane, I looked at my watch and decided it was way too early to step out into a strange new city and before I could blink, I found myself in the transit area, which only led to the departure section of the airport.

I panicked.

How empty can an airport be?

Taking a deep breath, I looked around for an Information Center and soon found one. Walking briskly through the lobby of a very empty airport, I was greeted by a middle-aged gentleman with an open generous smile. But soon as I started to speak, his face became blank. Then, he smiled again and led me to the duty free store and asked the sales girl to help me. I tried again, speaking slowly this time because I know that all Taiwanese schools teach English as a foreign language. I showed a free-tour of Taipei pamphlet that I had picked up on my last journey from this very airport. The girl stared at it as if she had never seen such a thing before. Consulting her friend, she said one word to me – “Arrival.”

Yeah, that was exactly my question, you see. How do I get to the arrival area? She pointed to the direction from where I had just come. Thanking her, I retraced my steps only to reach the point that said NO ENTRY FROM THIS SIDE in big block red letters that flashed.

At this point I kind of lost hope and started to wonder what I’d do for ten long hours stretching in front of me. I also wondered why I had not tried to pick up basic Mandarin in the past months in Singapore. And then, I remembered that I knew how to get to the Arrival section from Terminal 1 and I also knew how to get to Terminal 1 from Terminal 2, where I presently was. The four hours of exploring on the previous journey paid off and I made way to Terminal 1 and discovered that the if I needed to converse in English, I must find the ground staff of the airline. Brilliant.

Hurray! I am outside.

It took me less than 15 minutes to get to the lounge OUTSIDE of the airport. Hurray!

I messaged my friend thought it was only quarter past six in the morning but surprisingly, she responded and we decided to meet at the East Exit of the Taipei main station at 9 am. Now to get there! I had been clearly instructed by my friend to strictly follow the signs, which were in both Mandarin and English and not to get lost. For if I got lost and tried to ask for help, I would be met with blank stares. Taking her word, I presented myself at the bus ticket counter and said, “Taipei Main Station” and the smiling lady gave me the ticket pointing at the price that I needed to pay. And so I continued to play dumb charades all the way from the Toayuan airport to Taipei Main City station, where the bus dropped me right in front of the East Exit at 7:30 am. The bus ride had been fun as I watched the city structure float past me, I noticed how quickly the landscape changed from open greens to tree-laden mountains to a haphazard structure of buildings that reminded me of home.

Countryside to lead me to the city.

The station is in downtown Taipei, and hence I had pleasant time watching the Monday morning crowd stopping only to take pictures and once, to get some coffee. Getting the coffee was also a fun experience; I tried to keep it simple and went to one of the four the Seven-11 stores in the station. I mouthed the words “Cappuccino”  and the happy boy nodded, but then he wanted to know what size but he would not say a single word, no not even Mandarin. He just looked at me and when I said small, I got zero response. So I just took the money for a small cup and handed it to him.

The Taipei Main Station was well explored.

I met my friend at 9 and we headed for local breakfast carefully dodging the ubiquitous Starbucks. We found ourselves sitting in a quaint little local café run by a smiling middle-aged man, who was very happy to see a local bring in a foreigner.

Ready for breakfast at a local cafe.

Yum Xiao Long Bao was had with hot soya bean milk.

The scrumptious xiao long bao.

After we fulfilled our grumbling bellies, we made our way to the bus stop and I got into one of those brightly colored buses, with cartoon characters popping out of them. We took the long route to City Hall. On the way, my friend showed me the room she rented when she worked in Taipei six years ago. Believe me or not, but that road reminded me of Karol Bagh; maybe I am just missing home but well.

An interesting feature of our bus ride was that we were supposed to pay the fair while getting down; something I have never seen before. We paid ours and got off at City Hall, right next to Taipei 101!

The spectacular Taipei 101 by the cherry blossoms.

Taipei 101 used to be the world’s tallest building until Dubai’s Burj Khalifa opened up recently. I still think this building is more striking as it has a definite Chinese influence. I was told that I am lucky to be here on a clear day, for the building is usually hidden by clouds.

As if this was not exciting enough, I found myself in the cherry blossom street next. Wait, wasn’t this Taiwan? Cherry blossom is in Japan, right? Well, apparently it is not that exclusive any more.

We pose by the cherry blossom lane.

Next, we had some of the famous Taiwanese tea with salted bean curd and then post a little girlie browsing of the mall, headed back to station. This time, we took the MRT. Back to the station, I chose to pay a little bit extra and experience the famous Taiwanese High Speed Rail.

The ultra comfortable and fast train took me back to Taoyuan in no time.

Inside of the High Speed Rail.

Enjoying a little bit more of the countryside view, I found myself back at the airport in time for my flight back home. Once inside, I plopped into the chair and the fatigue that stuck me then has still not left me completely.

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One Response to “The Taipei Adventure”

  1. Wow, U certainly had an adventure! Generally i am very tensed when I have to venture into some new place/city but at the end of it, I am happy to have done it! It is always worth it, no?!
    Tea with salted bean curd is sumthn i cant imagine 🙂

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