Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Taiwan Holiday

Christmas is the time of the year when everyone longs for the company of loved ones.  You may be apart for most of the year but come Christmastime, everyone heads home. The OFW, weary from toiling from whatever part of the globe he works from, looks forward to this time to be reunited with his family.  Our family is no different but we did it the other way round.  We chose to join our daughter, Nina, in Taipei, Taiwan.  Nina is taking up her Junior Term Abroad program at a local university in Taichung City.  This is our family's first Christmas overseas.
Waiting for boarding time.
Our journey started when we arrived a little past midnight on December 24 at Taoyuan International Airport (formerly Chiang Kai Shek Airport).  Nina arranged an airport pick up service for us. We were met by an elderly Taiwanese hotel representative who could speak a little English.  At least we could understand each other.  My knowledge of Mandarin is limited to only Nihao, Xiexie and Wei. At exactly 1am, our transport service arrived, a Mercedes Benz limo of the E series being driven by a uniformed chauffeur.  So that's the reason why it cost an arm and a leg.  If the elderly Taiwanese talked conversational English, our driver was clueless, unfortunately.  It's as if we had a deafmute for a driver.
Marco and Kara waiting for boarding time.


Our driver dropped us at the Evergreen Laurel Hotel Taipei by 2am.  A very friendly hotel staff welcomed us and all of them could speak English.  Thank God.  After checking-in, we  all settled in our rooms for a much-needed sleep.
Evergreen Laurel Hotel Taipei
Nina arrived at 1pm after a two and a half hours bus ride from Taichung City.  We were reunited after more than three months from the time she left Manila.  She could already speak basic Mandarin and it came in handy when we were scouting for a place where we can eat lunch.  We found out that communicating with the Taiwanese people, yes even in Taipei, is a major problem.  Foreigners visiting the Philippines are very lucky.  They won't have a hard time being understood while in the Philippines.  I wonder why our tourism industry is fledgling compared to Taiwan's?

A friend who had gone to Taiwan earlier tipped us that Taiwan street food is good.  We had our firsthand experience eating street food when we went to Shida night market.  Night markets have sprouted throughout Taipei and are a haven for bargain hunters and street food lovers.  If you have teenage children, be prepared to have enough money to buy all those clothes, shoes, bags and fashion accessories that they're sure to love.  I wasn't able to buy anything for myself as I was too tired from walking to browse on the different items that the stores were selling.  It was also drizzling and it just dampened our interest in shopping.  We went back to the hotel with only a few things bought, not enough to compensate for the time and effort that we poured into it.

Christmas Day in Taipei is like any ordinary day.  It lacked the glitter and the excitement that characterized Christmas as I knew it.  There were no Christmas songs blaring the airwaves, people were not rushing to do last minute shopping and traffic was smooth sailing.  I suddenly thought of Christmases past, the mad preparation for noche buena and family reunions.  Maybe Christmas is really merry in Christian countries as compared to countries which are non-Christian.  For our Taipei Christmas, we first heard Mass at a local church before eating lunch at a restaurant recommended by the Filipino taxi driver who drove us around Taipei.  We were fortunate to have met Rodel, the Filipino taxi driver who acted as our de-facto tour guide while going to some of the different tourist attractions of Taiwan.  Now I know why packaged tours are selling even if they are expensive.  How can a tourist enjoy his vacation when he doesn't know where and how to go to places?  Lack of knowledge of the language makes things worse.
In front of the monument of Chiang Kai Shek
Marco, Nina and Kara at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial
On our last day in Taiwan, we capped the day with a Mass (it was a Sunday) and a tour of Taipei 101. The Mass was officiated by a Filipino priest and I noticed that 95% of those who attended Mass were women.  These women are the Filipina domestic helpers and caregivers that make life comfortable for Taiwanese careerwomen.  I felt a tug in my heart at the sight of these women, for the sacrifices they have to endure to provide for their loved ones back home.

The tour of Taipei 101 was truly memorable.  Taipei 101 boasts of having the fastest elevator in the world, you can reach the 89th floor from the 5th floor in just 37 seconds.  There was nary a sound nor a movement while in the elevator.  Once at the 89th floor, one got to see a panoramic view of Taipei City and environs.  The building is an architectural wonder, it has a damper at the 88th floor to maintain the balance specially in the event of an earthquake.  The same floor also housed the Treasure Sky, touted as the World's Highest Jewelry Arts Boutique.  It showcases exquisite art pieces made of coral gemstones.  It is Taiwanese craftmanship at its finest.

At Taipei 101
Coral gemstones at the Treasure Sky
After sending off Nina to her bullet train for her trip back to Taichung, the four of us, Jun, Marco, Kara and I headed off to the airport (with Rodel at the wheel) to wait for our plane.  We left Taiwan with fond memories and I will not be surprised if we go back in the very near future.  My only misgiving with this trip is we were not able to ride the MRT and the bullet trains.  You see trains hold a special place in my heart.





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