Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Murky waters

Taipei train station - get a connection but it won't connect to the internet, same name as the one in the Taidong train station (aruba).
Today contains no special plans, which is both good and bad. Normally when I travel, I have one very broad plan. This is because most cities I go to are, to me, completely amazing. Everything is worth doing and everything is reasonably foreign. However, I have already been to Taipei, and most things in Taiwan are simply not that foreign.
One foreign thing, my ticket from Hualian to Taipei, about $15 US, its less than two hours away! Normally that is like $3. I think I need to learn how to specify cheaper fare, but their train system umm...leaves something to be desired. Its simply too confusing.
So the plan is to just dive into Taipei and figure out what I want to do. I think I might see a couple of temples. Perhaps I will see the Sun Yat Sen memorial, maybe return to the National Palace museum, or go to a Northern area many people recommended.
I really don't know where I will sleep tonight, I might end up sleeping in the airport, which I often do as a ghetto traveller. Getting to the airport will be hard, as I don't want to pay for a taxi all the way there. A lady at my hotel told me how to go, but I lack confidence in the directions and have no idea what times I have to work with.
We will see about today, I might just be happy chilling at a cafe talking to Taiwanese people in Taiwan for the last time in a while, as Thursday, off to Hong Kong.

PTI: I am now on the train, almost in Taipei. I have figured out, roughly, how to get back to the airport tonight, and I very much plan on sleeping there (or in the small town that I am actually currently in, which is the closest to the airport).

I am feeling a bit sentimental, this is my last real day in Taiwan and I am not sure what to do. There is a lot to love about this country, and I will genuinely miss it. This train trip was a good start, I spent most of the time talking with a factory worker (I am not sure how high up in the chain he was, but he worked for forty five day stints three times a year, and otherwise lived rather far away) who sat next to me, as well as two nearby lady's and there kids. As per par, the people were very friendly.

PTI: I am in a Mr. Brown chilling online. I could not pass up a connection, plus I have not actually drank at a Mr. Brown. I think I will try to hot springs thing today, there is no evidence online to say that the National Palace Museum opened up more sections of the museum, and I cannot count how many temples I have seen. I figured out how I am going to get to the airport (the information center hooked me up with a bus I think.

I am feeling a bit lazy, I am ready for Hong Kong, and I am a bit too sentimental about Taiwan. Oh well, I am going to finish my tea and get off to some hot springs. The hope - mud bath, that would be crazy tight.

PTI: I finally found a way to get to the airport without paying way too much and without having to transfer a bunch. It was a bit of a hassle, but worth 800 NT ($25 or so) to me. So anyway, now I am on a bus to the park which, in theory, has mud baths. This goal is right up my ally, obscure, a little weird, and might take all day to do an otherwise mundane and random task.
I feel really spread out in Taipei right now, here is my vision of today from here out, bus out to the park, walk 5 kms to place, spend maybe an hour in hot springs, find a freaking mud bath, walk 5 kms back, take a bus to one train station, take the subway over to the city center, get my luggage from the Mitsokoshi, get a bus to the airport, fly out of the airport. Lots of transportation, lots of moving.

PTI: Taipei's wireless coverage really is impressive, if I lived here, I would definitely buy it, I have had various connections flick in and out this whole time. Agh, tons of old people are standing, I need to get up for my moral fiber, bye.

PTI: I am waiting for the bus outside of Taipei. Actually, very far outside of Taipei, think mountains. Anyway, it turns out I don't have to walk 5 kms, but rather bus 15 or so. However, I don't have utter faith that this bus is still running.

I have two wireless connections, both you have to pay for, and both originating from Starbucks. Its impressive that Starbucks wedged themselves into the wireless netting of Taipei. If you have a Starbucks card, you can access the Taipei system. That said, apparently no one does. Recently NPR did a report on how Taipei is the most wirelessed up city in the world (very easy to believe) but virtually no one is using it. The fact is in addition to being the more wirelessed city in the world, Taipei is probably one of the most wired cities in the world. As such, people probably already have a higher speed at home than they do from the wireless system. They don't want to pay even more just to use wireless out and about.
That said, for me, I would definitely sign up for this if I were in Taipei. Connections are just about everywhere, and good ones to. It would be nice to chill in random parks and have internet.
It is really way to hot to be going to a hot springs, but a goal is a goal. I have never done a mud bath, so it won out against competition, the problem, is, well, this bus not coming. That said, I would not be surprised if the place I am heading is closed for the summer, or at least the mud bath part of it.

PTI: A bus just went by and I nearly dover in front of it, but it was not to be, I think I am getting paranoid.

PTI: Weird gesture: Why do people sometimes give each other a sort of frown like face to recognize existence with almost the exact same culture implications of a smile. Its sort of a stiffened lower lip thing. They make sort of a stiff frown and nod, conveying respect for some various reason. When you smile a lot in foreign countries, you learn a lot about facial expressions. Speaking of which, Taipei as a whole does not smile enough. I am getting blank stares back here more than ever.

PTI: An hour later and I am still waiting. I spent some thirty minutes talking to a cool although rather creepy Taiwanese guy. He really wanted to help me, so in conversation he would speak freely, but stop to translate words like "hour"...thanks...

I am just being bitchy because of this bus thing though. If I have one day to do a goal, I want to do it. I am willing to resort to a taxi, hell to all about the price, but man it would hurt the pride at this point. I think this would be a good point to defend my cheapness. Although I go out of my way to spend less in certain areas (and certainly I do this less now than before), its simply so that I can do more overall traveling. Fighting for a cheaper way to the airport buys me much better food, more time, and less concern about other things.
That said, if I had been told before I started waiting for this f---ing bus that it would take this long, I would have taken the taxi no questions asked (furthermore the tax is price gouging, and I don't like that). Hell, I would have walked

PTI: Agh! I am finally on the bus and it was four times more than reported, defeating the entire purpose. Man, if those springs are closed, that would burn real bad. It would be an unfortunately bureaucratic and wasteful end to my trip.

PTI: So I am now on the subway heading back to the main station, my luggage, and then off to the airport. I head a long, and very weird day, but that is why I travel, those long weird days.

So thanks to the help of the other passengers on the bus, who thanks to the kindness of the Taiwanese people, screamed at the driver to stop at my stop. Then I discovered what Lonely Planet meant about a three kilometer walk. So I ended up walking. However after a while a few cars went by and I did something for the first time, I got my thumb out and hitchhiked.

PTI: I have no less than eight people staring at me on this train. And there has been at least four conversations about me. Make that about twelve people and six conversations. Enough so that people wanted to take photos with me, of course, but I get to have photos of them!

Hitchhiking in Taiwan might not even count, especially given that I was on a road that led to one place, the spa, but it was worth a try. It very much worked to, the back end of a three car convey picked me up. I was glad to, at that point I was pretty sick of traveling.

PTI: If my mom were a four year old Asian child, she would be the one that is sitting on the opposite side of this train.

The family that picked me up were very Taiwanese, read, amazingly kind. They insisted on giving me a ticket they had to enter, so it was free. Afterwards, the guy led me to the spa area. That is where I realized, if my goal was really to see lots of old Asian penises, mission accomplished. Furthermore, the smell of sulfur was thick and genuinely bad.
I hear the pools were heated naturally through a dormant volcano. And, with a distinct sigh of relief I discovered that they did have mud baths. It might be silly, but I had invested an awful a lot of effort getting into dirt, I was going to do it.
With in not much time I was covered in mud. It was more clay than anything else. It was mostly liquid with patches of mud that you wiped onto yourself like soap. I originally talked to one guy who very well could have been gay, and was definitely old and Taiwanese. Afterwards to guys, one rather big dude and another smaller friend joined the pool.
We talked for about ten minutes, and then the two guys showed me how to go between the pools. Soaking in 42 degree Celsius water is a real experience when combined with freezing water, warm water, mud, and blasting yourself with a huge hose. I am not sure if it was a Korean bath house, but Korean was written everywhere.
Anyway, it was good. After getting used to that one guy staring at me a little too much (and giving failed offers to scrub my back, twice), it was good. Damn it I look good. I was all red from the sun and had a drastically uneven tan (think Neapolitan ice-cream, red, brown, and white mixed together in large blocks).
After the baths I felt really good, and beautiful darn it.
Afterwards I dropped to the two guys I had been hanging out with how incredibly troubling getting to the place had been. I know its a bit petty, and I feel bad that I was using the kindness of Taiwanese people, but its more me being relieved that Taiwanese people are so nice. Otherwise, it would have taken something up to six hours getting back. Instead, they took me to the subway station near where they live, and I am taking a subway to the main station.

PTI: Random Japanese from the couple ahead of me. I ended up talking to them, they were really nice vacationers.

PTI: I am now on a street near a cafe called E-Coffee, I am literally picking up seven connections. This one was free, and of course Wirefly is everywhere (but not free). I was going to update at McDonald's (which I can use because my phone service is through a partner of theirs), but I had forgotten that I had negative four minutes to get my luggage, so I went and got them.

Tonight I leave for the airport feeling really good. After no sleep we will see how I look, that or I might randomly sleep well at the airport. Tomorrow at ten I am off to Hong Kong to see the love city and a lovely Allie. Wish me luck. If the airport has a free connection, expect a new update. If it does not, love you Taiwan, I mean it you big lug, this was a great year and its because of the people who will help a pretty strange stranger in a fairly strange-land.

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