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Travel: Sand. Sun. Margaritas. Hawaii

I am a Beach fiend. No vacation is truly a vacation without some beach or pool time (with my preference leaning towards a beach). This year I decided to surprise my mom and take her to Hawaii for her Birthday. Win win in my book. I not only became the favorite daughter giving THE best gift, but I also get to escape the frosty winters of the desert and bathe in the sun. A girl couldn’t ask for more!

Prep: Pedicure, Check. Bathing Suit, Check. Sunglasses, Check. I mean who needs anything else when they plan to be a beach bum. *Disclaimer*: I packed waaaay more than the prep list listed.

At this point you are probably wondering which beach… Well with No further a due I present to you Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii!!!!
I will be blogging wanderlust photos of the island of Oahu… stay tuned.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XoXo Misty

Ode to the gnawing bitterness of disappointment…

That is always how I like to start my vacations.

 

I start off writing this in the Airport Clarion Hotel in Philadelphia.  I cannot honestly sat that this is where I anticipated my day ending, and yet here I am.

 

To preface this, I’d have to give a little background about the last year of my life. After living in Japan for a bit over two years, I came back home to Las Vegas. I knew immediately that it was the end of a very important and very fantastic stage of my life.  I mourned and celebrated my exit from Japan by going on a solo backpacking trip through Vietnam and Cambodia.

 

This probably marked the height of my life as the intrepid adventurer. I didn’t realize it at the time.

 

Under the guise of letting myself ‘get situated’ at home I neglected my wanderlust and in turn it made my daily life feel like trudging through the River of Styx. I suppose that is the only logical conclusion when you turn your back on your passion.

 

Nevertheless, after over a year of living down to my hopes, dreams, and potential as well as watching my most cherished relationships deteriorate, I decided it was time for a palette cleanser.  The bitter taste that had taken permanent residence in my soul could not be washed away by some weekend getaway.  It needed to be something personal and remarkable.

 

For me, it had to be London.

 

I do not know when or why this seed was planted in my head that London was the home I had never been to, but I felt a kinship to it.

 

Now, Paris is the place that most people fantasize about, but I am not a romantic.  I am a rationalist.  I mentally prepared myself.  I wanted to see sights of near constant drizzling rain, immaculately tailored slim cut suits, afternoon tea, the flagship store of Alexander McQueen, a Shakespeare play trotted out at the Globe Theatre.

 

Alas, fate had other plans.  While flying standby, I made my flight from Las Vegas to Charlotte, NC with relative ease. Yet Charlotte changed the game.  Sitting at the gate, I breathed my first sigh of relief. I had found it impossible to get excited beforehand as standby plans could change in the blink of an eye.  In that moment, I sunk into that uncomfortable airport chair with almost certainty that it was just a matter of hours before I stepped onto British soil.

 

It only took three little words to shatter that dream.

 

“We need volunteers.”

 

US Airways was giving a $900 flight credit to any passenger willing to opt our of their flight.  If someone with a confirmed seat was not guaranteed a seat, what chances did I have?  I raced to collect my bag, my composure and my jaw off the floor, and I embarked to find out my options.

 

At the counter the ticket agent looked relieved that someone was walking towards her, possibly to take myself off this flight.  As I spoke her hopes were dashed. I was told that I could get onto a flight to Philadelphia with a connecting flight into London. Ultimately, I be arriving in London only a paltry three hours later than originally planned. 

 

The Philadelphia flight was near the end of boarding as I was being told this.  I only had a split second to make a definitive decision; in that moment of panic I made the only snap judgment that seemed logical: yes.

 

I barely made it on the flight to Philadelphia and sunk into that slight more comfortable than an airport seat with the ease that my snags were behind me.

 

Side note: I have noticed when getting on the plane, if you happen to be the last person, you get a lot of dirty looks from people as if you are single handedly holding up the flight. As anyone who has ever missed a flight knows, airplanes wait for no man.

 

An even more personal side note: To the woman who whispered no so silently as I boarded the plane, “there’s always one straggler running late,” I reply, why don’t you take your judgment and shove it up your tight ass and enjoy a rough patch of turbulence.

 

End of side note.

 

In Philadelphia, I had some time to kill, so I enjoyed a veggie version of a Philly Cheese steak.  However, I have now been told that is both blasphemous and entirely missing the point. Finally, I go to the counter to see my chances of making the flight.  There I encountered a very nice, albeit straight forward guy who gave me truly bad news,  When he said that I wouldn’t make it on my flight, there was a moment I was certain he was just joking with me.  He was not.

 

While there were more than a few open seats, there were more than a few passengers flying standby, and I was low on the totem pole.  I waited, clinging to hope that a minivan full of passengers would get stuck in traffic. I know, not my finest moment. As boarding time came and went, every standby passenger was called to board. Every…single…one.  Except me.

 

The gate agent again was blunt when he told me that the next flight into Heathrow was not until 9:50 pm the following day and that my chances of flying looked equally dour.  I appreciated his honesty. However, I appreciated even more when he took the moments to tell me what flights would be leaving for Europe the following day and what my chances were for making each flight.

 

The options presented ranged from Madrid, Barcelona, Paris (with a slim chance), and Rome.  The only other location that I could imagine going, which I had dreamed about, had to be Italy.  And with that, with no preparation, at 10:00 pm I chose that I would be departing for Rome the following day.

 

It was a tumultuous road, and I will admit that for at least a full day I behaved like a brat, lamenting over the fact that my dream of London was stalled. Then I realized that if a challenge in my life was ‘having’ to go to Rome as a consolation, things really couldn’t be all that bad, could they?

 

Travel Quote of the Day

“Running through airports with pounds of luggage – that’s a good workout.”

-Rachel McAdams
Each time I find myself racing though an airport with heavy bags I always vow two things: pack less, workout more. But for some reason I’ve yet to vow to leave out earlier.

Travel Quote of the Day

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.”

– Rosalia de Castro

I’m all about the first sentence. But maybe I just have control issues and wish I knew where the path was headed, but maybe half the fun is that I don’t. Maybe a little reckless abandon is good from time to time.

Travel Quote of the Day

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

I like to repeat this to myself when I get frustrated abroad. Granted, when the mind is screaming, ‘I am a guest and deserve to be treated with some courtesy, it’s easier to say this than to believe it.

And speaking of easier said than done, I have started this fitness boot camp today, this quote seems apropo.

I have to exercise in the morning before my brain figures out what I’m doing.

-Marsha Doble

My Can-Miss Experience in Vietnam’s Cultural Center

Hue was the last capital of Imperial Vietnam before it became communist Vietnam. It is a staple on the very well-trodden backpacker trail.  I can see why it is included, but it really isn’t a place I would have been torn up about missing.  

The main attractions are the Imperial Citadel (fortress or castle) and Imperial tombs.  The Citadel is fashioned after the forbidden city in Beijing.  Personally, I felt it lacked the grandeur and intimidating magnitude of the Forbidden City. Part of what made it feel like a cheap knock off is that it had been bombed to hell during the war.  There are entire areas reduced to their foundations.  Yet, for the areas still in tact, you get the notion that if Vietnam’s Imperial Citadel were placed next to China’s Forbidden city, you’d easily know which one is the genuine article.  

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That may sound harsh, but that is the risk you take when you imitate another countries architecture.  

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The tombs are much better. I did a half day tour where I visited three tombs.  Each tomb is designed and built by the individual emperors antemortem. For Emperor Tu Doc, he even built half as his summer palace before his death, while the other half acted as his tomb. 

The first tomb I visited belonged to Minh Mang. it was nice, but not incredibly memorable.  This imperial tomb is a reflection of the Chinese architectural concepts. The grave of Emperor Minh Mang was built by his successor and son Thieu Tri during the years 1840 to 1843, although Minh Mang designed the imperial tomb complex, he died in 1841. 

The Minh Mang tomb has an area of 18 hectares, surrounded by a wall enclosing 40 monuments, including palaces, temples and pavilions.The structure of the tomb is a symmetrical central axis by way of road, where the different monuments line up. This axis runs through a Lake of lotus flowers.

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The main entrance to the tomb is the Dai Hong Mon gate, from there we walked half a kilometer to reach the central courtyard. Once in the central courtyard, we climb a staircase of granite that lead us to the Pavilion of steles. From there, we crossed a bridge over a Lake of lotus flowers, the new Moon Lake, until reaching the temple where the sarcophagus of Emperor Minh Mang sits. 

After writing all that, I suddenly feel ridiculous for calling the place unimpressive, but it just didn’t leave me in awe. 

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The task of awe-inspiration was left to the second tomb I visited.  This tomb housed Khai Dinh. The scale was impressive.  When royals build monuments to themselves, I imagine they want to inspire the awe I felt at this particular tomb.  Ascending those massive steps only to be confronted with even greater, intimidating stone walls is an experience.

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The attention paid to every stone, carving, stele (an upright stone monument with inscriptions) and statue is a testament that Vietnamese architecture can amount to more than second-rate copies of Chinese buildings.  However, this tomb has a lot of western influences. 

 

The tomb took 11 years to build and is so elaborate with so many details that Khai Dinh  had to go to the French to buy steel, iron, cement and tiles. During a time of French occupation, this did not endear him to the Vietnamese people. The emperor also sent ships to China and Japan to obtain the ceramics and stained glass needed for the Tomb. Sadly, the cost of construction of the Imperial Khai Dinh tomb was such that the Emperor raised taxes to the Vietnamese village by 30%.

Upon crossing the gateway to the imperial Tomb, there are 37 steps whose railings have been carved in the shape of dragons, these dragons are the largest of all Vietnam. 

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At the top of the steps there is a small courtyard with mandarins on both sides. Then we have to climb another 29 steps to see the courtyard of ceremonies, with stone statues, which unlike the rest of the Hue imperial tombs, has 2 rows of statues where the second row are the bodyguards to the emperor.

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The last part of the complex of Khai Dinh, at the top of the Imperial Tomb, is the Thien Dinh Palace, there we can see the sarcophagus of the Emperor. The main hall contains a statue of the seated Emperor Khai Dinh upon his throne and at his feet, his sarcophagus. The decoration is made with stained glass and ceramic based mosaics broken into pieces.

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In the room next to the sarcophagus, there is a statue of Emperor Khai Dinh, scale, made of bronze. It is hard to tell from the photo but he was a tiny, little man. 

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Maybe it was his small stature that lead him to think so large when building his tomb.  Though, in comparison with the rest of imperial tombs, this imperial tomb is small, little more than 5600 square meters. Nevertheless, it is still the one to beat in my mind and as this is the final imperial tomb constructed in Hue, no one will ever get a chance to beat it. 

The third tomb, belonging to Tu Duc, was beautiful, but I had been so entranced by the gray stone walls of Khai Dinh’s tomb that I was a bit let down by Tu Duc. The tomb is an architectural complex which covers 12 hectares of surface and in its interior there are 50 buildings including palaces and pavilions. The Tomb took 3 years to build. Emperor Tu Duc designed the imperial tomb and, once finished, used in life for years as a Summer Palace and retreat. 

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Next to the stele Pavilion, there is the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. While this tomb was not as impressive, this tomb had the most interesting story to tell. The body of Emperor Tu Duc is not actually in the tomb and no one knows where he was truly laid to rest. For fear of his enemies desecrating his body or simple looting, he was buried in a secret location. The unfortunate 200 souls that buried him were then beheaded when they returned from the secret route just to make sure no one would ever really know where he was buried. To this day, the location of Tu Duc’s body is still unknown. 

 

(the place that doesn’t actually hold the emperor’s body)Image

 

 

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(the dragons symbolize the emperor’s power, but they always rest below to sun which has ultimate power)

 

 

 

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(at the time of his living there, this was filled with rain water, and was the bathtub for the Emperor, he believed it was important to bathe in water from heaven)

Altogether, these are the major sites to see in Hue. There is a cave that is a day trip away, which I did not make it to visit.  However, should you be in Vietnam and find yourself with a real time shortage, you can cover the tombs and citadel within a day easily. Hue was not a can’t miss considering that the architecture is derivative of either China or western Europe.  If you’ve spent time in either of those places, you’ll probably just find yourself wishing you could see what traditional Vietnamese architecture looks like instead of a best of tour. In my most humble opinion, Hue is worth a stop, just make it a short stop.

Missed Trains and Delayed Planes: Getting to Thailand

Thailand has been a long adventure.  Somehow this eight-day vacation managed to fly by, but at the same point when I look back it feels like leaving Narita Airport was an eternity ago. 

 
I have had an absolutely awesome time, but I think things could go either way in Thailand.  My great experience was thanks in the largest part to spending the last eight-days with my sister.  We had the roughest experience with getting here. My flight left on December 28 from Tokyo, but for monetary reasons I had to do a night’s layover in Guanzhou, China.  This was made infinitely better because China Southern Airlines will give you a free hotel if you have to stay overnight.  It was such a pleasant surprise to me.  I had been mentally preparing myself for sleeping on an airport bench and arriving in Thailand wrinkled and unwashed.  That free hotel was quite a classy move.  
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Granted, the hotel was off-site and pretty far so.  They gave us a shuttle to the hotel and it didn’t look bad.  It looked like the shell of what could be a nice hotel undergoing some serious pre-renovation jitters.  What looked like the dining room was emptied out and filled with crates and boxes, the stair-well next to the elevator looked like it was transporting you to some dark alley in the town of rapeville, but yay, I took the elevator.  When we checked in they required everyone to hand over their boarding pass; I was so relieved to find out I wasn’t the only person who found this super shady. But I was exhausted and didn’t fight them on it, but I definitely couldn’t get a full answer due to the language barrier. When I first went to my room, it looked okay, but it hadn’t  been cleaned. I go downstairs, and they tell me I have to wait for about a half an hour. I couldn’t think of a situation where at 10pm a hotel could check you into a dirty room. Nevertheless, I waited my 30 minutes and came back into a clean room.  
 
That all was very tame compared to the nail biter that was day  two of my vacation.  Misty and I were both coming from cold climates.  Granted Tokyo is chilly right now, but I don’t have to contend with the snow that Misty is dealing with.  Basically, we were both flying on the 28th and we were scheduled to actually make it to Bangkok on the 29th.  
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I knew for sure that I would make it, but because of inclement weather, I was worried that Misty wouldn’t even get as far as Dubai.  I woke up in the morning and used the hotel wifi to tell her that I was about to go to the airport and I had no Internet connection there, so we wouldn’t speak until I was in Bangkok, but I had no idea what was happening with her flight.  That was the last I heard from her.  I am on the flight wondering what I do if she is delayed a day.  We had bus tickets down to Suratthani and a ferry over to Koh Samui that had already been paid for.  The bus was leaving with or without us, and would be driving away with my money because it was too short notice to try to cancel.  The bus was small beans compared to the three-night stay in the Samui Paradise hotel that was booked on my credit card.  That was also too short notice to actually cancel and get any money back.  
 
This is where I find myself making life decisions on the person I want to be. Would I be a terrible sister for taking that bus? Am I already an awful sister for even considering it?  Would I be a fool to flush money down the toilet by choosing not to go ahead to Koh Samui and see Misty when or if she actually makes it there. I go through all these questions whilst walking through customs in Bangkok.  The line is long, everything is moving slowly, and I start talking to this couple on vacation and they look more than a little worried that I, as a female, would be traveling in Thailand on my own over New Year’s. In my mind I speculate that surely it can’t be that dangerous if I weren’t to engage in any high-risk activities.  
 
After being wracked with all the questions, I deal with trying to get wifi in the airport.  There is a wifi labeled airport free wifi, but it won’t let me sign on to use it.  That is super frustrating because I don’t know what has changed with Misty between 6:15 this morning and 10:50 still in the morning.  So I walk out of security just praying that I can get in touch with her or at least that she had sent me a message saying that she caught a later flight and would be there in time for us to take this bus, therefore making all of my nerves for naught.  
 
This is when I hear a voice call out my name.  I look up to see Misty standing by the carousel where my luggage is at.  There was just so much relief, and also more than a little confusion.  It felt very much like the scene in the Emporer’ New Groove where Kronk is trying to explain how he beat Kuzco and Pacha back to the lair despite being exponentially behind them.  I decide this is just a time to thank God for small miracles and accept that she is here and hopefully this vacation can only go uphill from tht point.  
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Now my trip to the airport was one of mental strain, Misty had a whole different experience that made my journey sound like a walk in the park.  

Sweating the Small Stuff: Prepping for Thailand

Thailand is right around the corner and I massively screwed up on a bit of the planning.  I bought my plane ticket in October. It was a rigorous search and the dam of relief came over me once that was completed. And in a really odd fashion, Misty and I booked our hotels a vast two months before I got my flight locked down. 

From there planning has been very speculative. “I want to go there and do this,” has been thrown around a lot. Most of the day in, day out details are being left until we are in country. For my part, I heard its cheaper that way. And I definitely know that to be true, I could walk into a Japanese travel agency looking to get things planned and come out wondering how I just gave up the rights of my first born for a sea kayaking trip. It really is that expensive.  

Because of this, the lazy kind of planning works for me. However, one thing we really needed to get were tickets to go from Bangkok to Koh Samui. There are a multitude of ways to get from the Capitol to the sort-of-remote island. It involved some combination of domestic flight, night bus, night train, and ferry. 

An airplane is a little more expensive than I really wanted and the bus is..well, a bus. On the train there are first-class sleeper-cars which would give us a bed and place to stretch out. I contacted thaifocus.com to book a train in early-October.  They messaged me back and told me that I could not a reserve a train ticket until 60 days before the date of travel. 

ImageFirst Class Sleeping Berth (with a door that you can lock. The back of the sofa flips up to make the top bunk.

I let a few too many days pass between contacting them again; by the time I email them to reserve my tickets, only second class is available for the ride there, but a first class bed is available for the return trip.  So, I go through the steps of paying to reserve.  Before they can finalize it, they send another email saying that in between this time the boat s booked, so I can get the train from them, but I need to find my own means of getting the boat. 

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I can feel myself becoming a little bit peeved, because I have never had this much trouble booking something after I have already paid the money. They asked do I want to book the train ticket and here is our correspondence from this point.

Me:I’d like to reserve these seats, can I also reserve the ferry to Koh Samui too from you.

ThaiFocus: The trian is avialble as follow.

Bangkok-Suratthani 29 Dec 12 10:50p-08:05a 2nd air con SEAT

but this train we could not book the ferry connect to Koh Samui due to it is arrive at Suratthani is late.

Me: What changes does this make to the price of the ticket?

Me: I am attempting to buy my ferry tickets from another website, but I need some more information.  How far is the train station in Suratthani away from where the ferry leaves? As well, how long does it take to move from the train station to the port where the ferry leaves and how would you recommend we go.  Thank you for your help.

ThaiFocus: Thank you for your email. Normally after arrive at train staion. There are have staff to waiting customer at there then transfer to the port name Donsak take time around 1hour.  But we could arrange train with bus and boat combo only the train that arrive at Suratth ealry morning. In this case you would like to book only the train?

Me: I would like the train with bus to the port. How much will it cost and will I be receiving some discount since I can no longer get first class seats?

ThaiFocus: Thank you for your email. Due to train is avaialble as follow

Bangkok-Suratthani 29 Dec 12 10:50p-08:05a 2nd air con SEAT

This train arrive is late. We could not book bus and boat combo. We could book only the trian. 

With this I assumed they were booking the train. So later when I email them to ask them where my confirmation email is, and they tell me that I didn’t reply saying I wanted to book the tickets, they sent my payment back. (First off, the fact that they already had my money is pretty sure sign that I had signed off on the deal, but whatever). Then, they proceed to tell me that no seats are available on the train, and I am ready to go into a murderous rampage. So after some heavy duty searching, I find a bus that will take us.  

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At this point I realize that beggars can’t be choosers and I go with it since my other option is… I don’t know, hitchhiking? I get ready to pay for the bus, but as I use my credit card, a security restriction blocks my card. So, I have to buy skype credit so that I can call my bank in America, verify the charges, ask the man at the bus company to send me a new link so that I can pay, since now, the actual credit card verification link has locked me out too. 

Now, I have a bus ticket booked to Surratthani, from there we take the public bus to the port and I have already purchased the ferry tickets, but it was most-assuredly a frustrating process to get here.  

Short reflection: Could I have been more clear when dealing with ThaiFocus, definitely. Could I have done a better job at conveying my wishes and intentions, certainly. Will I still bad mouth them to anyone that will listen, yup. Because as much as I could have handled it better, how many times in the length of that conversation did I say I wanted to reserve the damn seats.

Travel Philosophies Masked as a Tale about Taipei

The second half of day one encompassed so much. From Chiang Kai-shek we checked out Longshan Temple.

Hamish had missed seeing a temple on his first trip to Taiwan, and I am addicted to exploring temples and shrines when traveling. I shall expand that to say, I enjoy seeing where the people worship, it typically tends to be the most lavish buildings with the most sordid history, not to mention the pinnacle of that countries architectural styling. Keep this in mind, see that mosque, shrine or cathedral; you won’t be disappointed. 

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The temple was built in Qianlong 5th year in Qing Dynasty. Due to natural disaster and damages caused by men, the temple was restored several times. The doors, beams, and poles are beautifully decorated. There are a pair of bronze dragon poles in the front hall, four pairs of dragon poles in the middle hall. The sculptures are delicate. There are also exquisite wood sculptures. Among them, the well and Budda setting in the main hall are highly appreciated. 

Stepping into the place, I felt that I was undeniably in Asia and that is not a feeling I commonly feel in Japan. Even outside of the temple the street is so stereotypically and cinematically Asian.  One thing that was fun about the temple is that people were there in droves buying food products to offer to Buddha and the other divine spirits. They would buy the food from the monks, place it on the offering tables and when the tables became full, the monks would take some stuff from the table and move it to be sold all over again. I don’t want to compare a temple to a business but if it was one, they are cleaning up. They literally sell the exact same product countless times in a day. However, I could see how that would feel like a secondary concern, the atmosphere was intoxicating. The air was so strong with incense and heat if heat had a smell.  

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After the Longshan temple we went on the hunt for food, which was much harder than you would expect.  But along the way we ran into a massage place.  All of the masseurs were blind, and we sat down for a little relaxation.  My massage therapist spoke some English and attempted to keep a conversation going throughout the whole massage.  This was made infinitely harder by the fact that I was gritting my teeth through the entire experience as he dug his thumbs and elbows so deep into my muscles that I was sure I would bruise.  This was relaxing in the same way an overdone chemical peel is comfortable.  With all that being said, when I stood up my muscles were like jelly, but in a good way.  All the weight and tension had been worked out. Though it felt more like it had been beat out of me. From there we passed a shoe store.  Earlier in that day I had been remarking on how cute the women’s shoes were.  Well I stopped and bought my first pair of shoes there.  This is the thing that ruined everything else for me.  

I bought a pair of shoes for Taiwan Dollar 190. That is roughly USD$6.50. Now the quality leaves a bit to be desired, but that is a steal.  From that point, everything I ate, every admission price was judged based on how many shoes I could buy for that price. For instance, when dinner rolled around, I am sitting there thinking that I could buy three pairs of shoes for the price of these soup dumplings. 

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That only limited me so much, what can I say, I just have a spending problem.  After shoe shopping and dinner we made our way around the night market in Ximen.  Night markets are something that you really shouldn’t miss in Taipei.  The sun goes down, the weather barely cools off and people show out for good deals and better food.  The Ximen night market is not huge compared to other markets, but was a great warm up, and more importantly, it was close to the hotel, and at 11:30, all I wanted to do was crash. 

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Yet, crash we did not.  Our weary bodies were made less weary by the neck, arm and back massage we had gotten earlier. So we decided to chase that high all the way to another massage shop.  This time we went in for a foot and leg massage.  I now had a woman massaging me, I thought for sure this would be a great thing, surely her hands wouldn’t be as strong.  It turns out that she administered her own type of torture.  Her little fingers were smaller, like tiny daggers digging into my calves. She raked her fingers down my legs and I realized that it was possible for someone to scratch you using only the pads of their fingers.  Then she asked me to turn around and started to punish my back.  I was all relaxed from the earlier massage, but that didn’t mean that my muscles and skin weren’t super sensitive.  So when she started digging in, my face fixed into a pained grimace, and when she caught sight of my expression she looked honestly bewildered like she didn’t realize that carving into someones muscles could be uncomfortable.  

 

I walked away feeling like I was floating on light clouds, trying to put the pain of the massage out of my mind and just enjoy the aftermath. And finally, after all of this, after the airplanes, sightseeing, two massages, and two ice creams for each of us in one day, we finally made it to bed. 

Travel Rants Masked as a Tale about Taipei

I have been a failure.  Based on what I’ve written over the last few weeks, you would think my life has become mundane. Au contraire, I have been a busy bee flitting from trip to trip. The first started with a long weekend in Taipei.

I wrote about the food of Taipei, and don’t get me wrong, the food was a highlight.  Every time I think about Taipei I get a little hungry.  But there was so much else packed into three days.

The best place to start is the beginning.  I was planning the trip with Hamish, my brilliant film-producing friend. This was my first time traveling with him, and that is always a scary feeling. But one of my goals this year was to expand my circle of friends that I could travel with. This came at the recommendation of just about EVERYONE.

I kid you not, every single person has an opinion about the choice to travel alone. It is almost never something positive. It is a long string of… “How dangerous!” “It must get so lonely.” “Who do you talk to?” To respond, if you’re smart, it’s not dangerous. I have an extensive inner dialogue going at all times. And I subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy, “All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!” And frankly, I like being alone. I’m practically nursing multiple personalities, so alone does not equal lonely.  Now, all of this sounds like I was not entirely enthused to be traveling with Hamish, so not true. We agreed on all the major travel questions. Did we have the same budget? Were we interested in the same things? Did our energy level and sleeping schedules match? Did we have the same objective for the trip (eat our weight in Taiwanese food and see some sights when we came up for air). Yes, yes, yes and fantastically yes.

But I digress.  Our day started at 4:30am in Japan. There was running for the train, me lagging, missing the train, catching the next one and still making it to our flight with abundant time to spare. Thank you Haneda Airport for being outstandingly efficient, and wondrously empty before 7am. The flight whirled by in a huff of movies, sleeping and questionable food.  I’m talking about you, unrecognizable green goop that was neither matcha flavored or any other discernible taste.

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From the airport, we hit the ground running. Songshan airport is really convenient. If you are flying into Taipei for a short stay, this is your airport.  Cab fare from the airport to the main station is infinitesimal. After dropping out bags at the hotel, we took another taxi from our hotel to the nearest train station, Ximen station. This later turned into a thing of shame.  Who knew Ximen was only a 10 minute walk? One of the bellhops gave us a disgusted look when we asked him to hail us a cab to Ximen. I’m certain he uttered to himself, “lazy foreigners.”  We used the subway to get around for most of the trip.  The subway system in Taipei is navigated easily.  There are a few lines, but they practically all run north to south, and the signage is stupefyingly simple, you would have to be daft to get lost.

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First, we visited Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This memorial hall is to Taipei what The Great Wall is to Beijing or The Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It is the quintessential look at Taipei. When I first saw it, I was struck by the beauty, and how unique the coloring was. The four sides of the structure are similar to those of the pyramids in Egypt. It’s made of white marble. The roofs are decorated with deep-blue glass as part of the reflection of blue sky and bright sun. It adds a touch of grandeur. The garden is planted with red flowers. The colors of blue, white and red express the National Flag and the spirit of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

Still, the blue and white felt vaguely reminiscent of something I had seen in Beijing. After doing some reading, it turns out the architecture of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was inspired by Tiantan, or the Temple of Heaven, in Beijing. It is really important in Chinese culture. Can you guess which is which?

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Chiang Kai-shek (Taipei) are the first two.

Inside of Chiang Kai-shek was a museum that told the political history of Taipei. As well, we saw the changing of the guard. It might have been only a slightly entertaining thing to watch had Hamish not mentioned that when he first saw it he imagined it to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. As I watched it was impossible to get the image of the super sharp movements not to go in sync with Rhythm Nation.  Now, I share this video with you, and defy you to not mentally hum the song while you watch.

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Inside Chiang Kai-shek are also places for international art performances. They are National Theater and National Concert Hall. World famous musicians (such as the great cello performer Yo Yo Ma and the great violinist Shao Lian Lin) and renowned playgroups have conducted performances there. We decide to take in a show while we are there. And in this renowned theater that has housed some of the greatest musicians of our time what do you think we get to see. B.Box of Brother and Sister II. The show is part Taiwanese traditional opera, part hip-hop beat box dance-a-thon, part slapstick comedy show, part every weird thing that theater can throw at you.  It began with a take of Red Riding Hood told from the perspective of the Wolf crying that he is the way he is because he was physically and emotionally abused as a pup.

Should you be thinking that this story sounds a bit heavy for an afternoon opera, you would be mistaken.  The story was still told as a comedy with Red Riding Hood picking up random stuffed animals scattered around the stage.  The show was all in Chinese, and the subtitles on the side were handled a little bit weirdly.  They would stick on one set of lines for maybe 7 minutes, leaving me super confused as to why Red Riding Hood was hopping around with stuffed animals, and why the Big Bad Wolf was break dancing.  Then, suddenly all the lines from the elapsed time would flash by in about 25 seconds and stick again.  This cycle and the fact that I had been awake for 13 hours already lead me to sleeping.  I went in about out for the better part of an hour and finally woke up when the story got into more of the traditional opera.  It turns out that Red cleaned up very nicely in traditional

garments and the story entirely changed.  There was about 15 minutes of serious opera when suddenly there are cans of silly string.

Silly string was definitely the last thing I was expecting when walking into this show.  Two hours after we had sat down for the beginning the lights came up. There was some speaking in Chinese, then a translation in English that this was the intermission.  Hamish and I looked at each other in disbelief and horror.  We walked out of the theatre and did not return for the second part.  I’d like to think we got our moneys worth.

After all that, we were really still just at the half-point of our day.

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Peanut soup…obviouslyImage

Is it weird that I kind of want that in my homeImageImage

So much tradition surrounded by the ever progressing worldImage
Fun Asian spellingImageImage