Sunday, March 03, 2013


Travelling is fun.  There are no two ways about it.  You always pick something new when you see a new place.  My friends, who are on constant business visits to China, when they tell me about their experiences, I wonder how it would be for a vegetarian to survive in a South East Asian nation.  I didn't have to wait long enough as I was sent to Taiwan on a business visit along with a colleague.
Taichung, Taiwan
I found my window seat on the plane.  Of course, I was expecting a middle aged man or an old lady to find his/her seat next to mine.  That's the way it's always been.  All the good looking girls were seated right behind me or just ahead of me.  Obviously, I was totally surprised, when a young lady walked towards the seat next to mine.  Something had to be wrong, I was sure.  Anyway, the introductions were done.  She was a French girl settled in the US.  Fun company, I thought.  I checked my Lumia 920 for the messages.  I saw my wife's message on WhatsApp asking me how long before my flight took off.  Details about the flight were immaterial now.

"Looks like I have good company for the flight.  A cute French girl seated next to me."

"Don't bore her.  She might jump off the plane", she responded.

Almost immediately, a guy walked towards us and told the French girl that she was seated in his seat.  She looked towards me and said, "This is actually my seat."

"Is this 69K?" I asked.

"Nope, this is 70K"

I took my stuff and took the seat right in front of me.

"Oh, that was the wrong seat.  Had to move a row ahead.  Anyway, things back to normal.  A middle aged lady seated next to me", I "whatsapped" my wife.

"Hahaha, Good Night", she said.

It is a different thing that the lady was very helpful and we ended up talking a lot about Taiwan, the culture, the food and the people.  It was actually great fun.

Once we landed at Taipei, we had to take the high speed rail to Taichung.  The high speed rail travels at 200 kmph.  The infrastructure was pretty impressive.  The days were busy at work, but during the evenings, I had a chance to explore the city and try out the food.  My colleague and the host in Taiwan accompanied me during the evenings.  As long as they were there, I didn't have to worry about the food.  They were able to make sure that I got the vegetarian food.  I don't think I could have entered any hotel without them and be convinced that I ate the right food.
Basil Tofu
I also made it a point to travel on my own whenever possible during the short stay.  I went to Eslite Bookstore in Taichung at about 10 in the night.  It was open till 12 and what struck me was the fact that there were so many folks spending time in a book store that late in the night.  The area around the bookstore was pretty awesome as well, with a lot of young people adding so much energy to the area.
Eslite Bookstore
Three Idiots - At the bookstore
The hotel booked a cab to take me to the area.  Anticipating that I could have problems during my return, I took the hotel business card with me.  So, when I had to take the cab back at about midnight, all that I had to do was show the business card and ask the cab driver to take me to the hotel.
I would ask them, "English?"

They would be quick to reply, "No, no English."

For me, to sit in the cab without talking for fifteen twenty minutes is like facing a life sentence.

Anyway, I had a chance to try out veggie dumplings, vegetable hot pot, basil tofu and tapioca and taro desserts.  There is no dearth of food in Taiwan.  There is food everywhere, in every nook and corner, and tons of hotels and food carts.  The city is always bustling with life.  The night life is very very active.  The night market is also pretty cool.
A funny sign - I have never seen this anywhere else
Bikes for commute
Taiwan <-> English
I asked some folks where I could get local Taiwanese items to take back home.  They replied, "There are many Departmental stores".  So, as I walked towards a departmental store, I saw a mall which was pretty sophisticated (All the American apparels and items are found in the malls).  Again, I asked a lady at the mall

"Where is a departmental store?"

"You are standing in a departmental store", she replied.  That's when I realized that a mall is a departmental store.  

"Departmental Store" - Very very commonly found
On the last day of my trip, I had my flight at about 8 in the evening.  So, I wanted to see the city during the day.  It was good fun taking the high speed train and the metro train to hang out in Taipei alone.  I had a bunch of important places written in English as well as Taiwan at the hotel lest I get lost.  Even though language is a problem, the people in Taiwan are super friendly.  On the train, there was a girl sitting next to me who did not know English, but was able to use her phone to translate the sentences in English.
Taipei 101
And yes, almost everyone who entered the train, would enter peering at their phones.  It was always Facebook and instant messaging that they were preoccupied with.  If Mark Zuckerberg can monetize mobile traffic, maybe the super high PE of 2000 would look justified.  Galaxy S3s, Notes and iPhones were the prominent phones that I could see.

All in all, a good trip, and it was fascinating that I could see the city alone without actually knowing Taiwanese.

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