2017 Book List

Hello guys, how has your last week of the year been? Some days back I was thinking that if I have to choose a favorite month, I do will choose December. Even as that thought came to my head, I realized the silliness of it all. It's like asking what's your favorite day of the week. Hey a Monday can be good too and a Saturday can be awful. Somehow I got to be so enamored with December what with the holiday spirit all around, knowing full well that by January that dreaded emotional crash is going to happen. I thought it will come knocking on the last day of the year, didn't expect that crash to happen pretty much the evening of 25th December. Yes as Christmas is wrapping up for the year, I got restless and depression hit me :( Could it be that it's because for some reason I couldn't sleep the night before and I was rather hungry, hence the bad mood? I don't know. I'm just rather sad despite knowing that the last week of the year doesn't seem to have anything particularly stressful (but me writing that could pretty well jinx it) and I also somewhat have a plan on things to do next year. So in a way I have things to look forward to. However as always with my mental state, I'm swinging rapidly, sometime I can be so excited and eager and other time I feel like I'm in a dump. When that "oops, there goes gravity feeling comes, it really sucks, really sucks :( Oh well, hope you guys have been enjoying your holidays and be in a better shape to welcome the new year than me who has to be dragged in.

So anyways, the purpose of writing this post is to write a recap of the books read this year. Started the The Sympathizer last year, so I'm gonna put that as 0 instead of 1.
  1. The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen
  2. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee
  3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, & John Tiffany
  4. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  6. The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose was more enjoyable than I expected and that's a good surprise. I tells the story of a murder mystery in a medieval monastery. As more murders happened, you're more and more sucked in trying to figure out who did it and why. While that story is driving the plot, there's also a lot of theological discussions in it. In a way, the book reminds me of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's The Buru Quartet where there's a lot of nation building and identity discussion in addition to what the characters go through. However Pramoedya Ananta Toer's books may seem to be filled more with those thoughts and discussion than actual story while Umberto Eco's book seem to me to be offering them in equal measure. I like the discussion about poverty in Christianity and though the discussion about laughter and comedy in Christianity read at this modern age is laughable for me, it did open my mind that centuries ago or perhaps still is now, humour can be seen as a weapon that needs to be clamped down. Truly while the book is set in medieval age, the discussion about religion and politics are still very relevant today. As an Indonesian reading it, there were times when I look back at what's happening in Indonesia this year because the passages in the book seem to be very much describing the motive behind it all *sigh* Anyways, the book has a lot of Latin in them and how I wish I can understand them all :( Italian is quite different that I can't use my knowledge to guess the meaning of it. There's a Postscript in the book and Umberto Eco explained that it's intentional and it doesn't matter if the readers don't understand them. His Postscript is also very interesting, explaining various aspects on how he worked on the book. I like how he wrote something along this line that it's not the Author's job to direct what the readers' think of the book. The work must speak for itself. I'm maybe rephrasing him wrongly there. He also wrote about something that I have read J.K. Rowling mentioned before, the fact that they know all the background history of their characters and places that they wrote about. Though they're not mentioned in the book, but they're there and it helped them shape how these characters or places interact.

I also managed to watch the movie version of this, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater. I know it's an old movie and I did expect to see a young Christian Slater, but I was surprised to see that he was so so young, teenager young. It reminded me of how young Zac Effron was in High School Musical. Movie adaptation bounds to be different and somewhat disappointing to the book and I can't say I like it much. They changed parts of the story and also used things from the Postscript. While the ending was still in a blaze of damnation, I thought the book's ending was so much more powerful. When I was reading the ending of the book while holding an actual book, I can't help feeling so sad and heartbroken about what happened. I guess the movie tried to keep the interesting things and moved things along, but I thought some of the interesting things were the deductions made from the main character, so glossing over them by using flashback and giving time to the awkward sex scene (which I think it's not that necessary) does not highlight what the whole murders are about and also why solving them is important. I guess to really adapt a book well you need like a miniseries or something. 2 hours is not really sufficient.

So now I'm reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, the 2017 fiction Pulitzer prize winner. I don't think I will finish it before this year ends. It's been good so far in terms of reading it, but the story about slavery is heartbreaking. Today I even gasped audibly in horror when reading one of the passages. Back to movies. I haven't been watching much lately. Last week I watched Wonder and I like it a lot. Watched it because Jacob Tremblay is in it and I like him in Room. I had a lot tears in Wonder. It's really good and I like how the movie really centered on the kids. Before going in, I thought the parents - being that they're played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson - would get more screen time, but not really. We don't have to hear them complain about how hard it is for them too. The kids were great. This is also based on a book. I haven't read the book. I wonder if I will get disappointed reading it because like Room, I also think this movie is already great on its own. Then yesterday, I managed to watch the new Jumanji. It's not bad. Everyone in the cinema seemed to have a good laugh. Most interesting character for me was Jack Black's one because he's playing a different gender and of course he did well :) There's was a disappointment in me that in the present future world the adult Alex didn't end up with Bethany even though I realized the age difference would make it tricky. Now that I think about it, Alex had 20 years to live his life and to not move on is unrealistic. So now his last scene with Bethany feels like a good closure to me :)

:) eKa @ 7:33:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 4, 5 - Taipei

say it's here where our pieces fall in place
any rain softly kisses us on the face
any wind means we're running
we can sleep and see 'em coming
where we drift and call it dreaming

Call It Dreaming - Iron & Wine

Our last days in Taiwan were spent in Taipei where it's also filled with rain and cloudy sky. For day 4, I prepared my parents telling them we'd be using the MRT to get around. It's easy enough to navigate. Well I had prepared much before this trip. First stop was breakfast. We had beef noodle soup in one of the alley near the hotel. My dad almost shut that idea down upon finding out it's beef to the annoyance of me and my mother. The shop had pork based soup too, so he had that. The noodle was so so for me. Maybe because it's breakfast, I couldn't finish my bowl. I thought I would be eating more beef noddle when I was in Taiwan, but that was the only time we did.

After breakfast we went to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial House. Well since it's near Taipei Main Station and the parents didn't mind walking there, so why not. It's free to enter and there's pretty much only 1-2 people when we were there. They're locals taking a stroll or exercising in the garden which has a pond. It's not a very big place and I don't think many tourists go there. The house itself is not very big. Actually if I'm not mistaken it's a replica of a pavilion (if that's the correct word) from a hotel that Dr. Sun Yat-Sen once stayed in. You need to take off your shoes to enter the house and there's some explanation about Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in there. Since it's small, we didn't spend a long time there.

Then it's to the station to get EasyCard for the MRT and our first stop was Longshan Temple. The temple compound is quite big. There's also a lot of tourists. There's a group of Japanese students like the day before in Jiufen. They're kinda in uniform, so I wonder if they're on a field trip to Taiwan. The temple has a really nice waterfall by the entrance. We walked around a bit and said our prayer.

By this time, it was getting cloudy and perhaps already drizzling that I decided to move on. The area where the temple is located has shops and such, but we didn't explore them. Next stop was Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Sometime I disappoint myself and this was one of it. I read that from the station you can take exit 3, 5, or 6 to get to the Memorial Hall. I have googled map it out and saw that exit 5 would be more convenient. However as we exited the train, the direction that I saw straight away was for exit 3 and I just followed that. When we reached street level, I got confused and it was drizzling :( We had umbrellas, but I didn't feel like subjecting my parents to getting lost in the rain. Dad found a map and we followed that and he also asked a random stranger in Chinese for direction and we finally got to the compound. Exit 5 is really better, it's by the compound, so please people get to exit 5 when you're going here. This exit is quite near to the Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness. What a name :D

The memorial hall is flanked by 2 orange buildings, each housing a concert hall and a theatre. When we first arrived we sought refuge in the theater like many people did as well, but I don't think you can just walk in. Anyway, I didn't try to open the door. We then made our way to the Memorial Hall. Picture below is from the memorial hall overlooking the compound with the concert hall and theatre visible.

Inside the hall, there's a big statue of Chiang Kai-shek sitting down. I wonder if they made this because they're inspired by the Lincoln Memorial. In Indonesia we have statues for heroes and our founding fathers, but I have to say such big hall and such big statue do feel a bit too grand. Maybe for Taiwanese, Chiang Kai-shek is really important like Abraham Lincoln is for Americans.

Then we went to the museum which tells the story of Chiang Kai-shek. I admitted to mom that my knowledge of him and Taiwan is so little. I only had a short section about this in my history lesson back in school in Indonesia. I don't know what the stand is in Indonesia's history curriculum now, if this is still being taught, but somehow my memory of it was like telling me that he and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen were like rebels from China who decided to build their own country in Taiwan. It's a simplistic point of view and perhaps offensive for the Taiwanese and I am sorry for the lack of knowledge. One interesting thing that I learned is that Chiang Kai-shek is a Christian. His bible is one of the exhibit there. Other than that, there are the cars he used, replica of his clothes, replica of his office, and many other things.

By the way, there's a changing of the guards at the hour and somehow dad remembered that I mentioned that and he said he wanted to look. So we went up again to the hall. It was already starting when we arrived and there were a lot of tourists. I couldn't get any good picture. The interesting point is that though the changing of the guards involve many guards, there are actually only two guards standing and guarding at each side of the statue. Once these 2 guards have taken their place, there's actually a guy who's not in a guard uniform, but more like security uniform who checked the attire of the standing guards. This guy would make sure all is okay and even tugging at their uniforms to make it look okay. Fascinating.

After watching that, we went down again because we haven't explored all of the museum. I know my mom was most probably bored, but she stuck through it all. She even stuck through it when I said let's go to another level where there are other exhibitions. This exhibition is more of artworks with paintings and paper arts. This paintings exhibition may change from time to time, I'm not sure. There are some cute ones like this one below. Like the Japanese, I think Taiwanese also love cute stuff.

By the time we left, the rain was getting harder. Next was going to Maokong where there used to be a lot of tea plantations there. Now there's not as many and it's more for the tourists I think. Maokong is quite out of the way and to get there you have to take the Maokong gondola. Not many people were queuing for the gondola and I was alright with the normal cabin, but mom wanted the one with the glass bottom. You can use EasyCard to pay and both cabins cost the same. I think the glass bottom doesn't make a difference. All around you see trees and mountains and since it's raining, a lot of mist. The gondola made 2 stops before reaching the top which is Maokong station so it was quite a long ride, around 20 - 30 minutes. By the time we reached the top it was raining :( There's a cheap eatery nearby and we had lunch there.

Since it was raining it's almost silly to do the walk about, but I did and my parents tagged along although I told them maybe to just wait at the visitor center. Stupidly I also didn't really consult the map and just started walking. When we reached a section where there were rows of tea plants, I decided to just go back. Mom didn't feel that this place is amazing, but I think it's because of the rain we didn't really manage to explore what this place can offer or it is also possible it's because I took the wrong route :( Anyways, we didn't stay long here.

Last stop of the day was Taipei 101. Honestly and I think I had written about this before, going up a tall structure to see a view of the city doesn't amuse me much anymore. However since it's such a landmark, I thought this should be something to be checked off the list for the parents. I also decided that we should go to the observatory. I didn't book the tickets before going and when getting the tickets at the counter, the staff told me that visibility was rather low and waiting time was around 30 minutes. We decided to get the tickets anyway. Two things were fascinating for me about this visit. The first was the lift to get up is really fast. The observatory is on the 89th floor and the lift started at around the 4th or 5th floor if I'm not mistaken. It was so so fast. I mean it's literally like you went in, button was pushed, the ceiling of the elevator started to turned black with some starry lights and I thought that a presentation was going to happen like in the Rockefeller Center elevator, but nope because you're done. You have reached the 89th floor, time to get out. It was so so fast. Quite amazing really. As for the views, the sun has set so it's the city view at night which is nothing unique if you think about it. I couldn't get nice pictures so here's one that I have.

The other fascinating thing about this visit was that we got to see the wind damper. Apparently tall buildings have this but not many open it up for public viewing. I don't understand how the engineering works, but apparently this helps stop the building from swaying too much. After seeing this, I then understand what's with the weird mascot which looked like a weird human bee. The mascot is called damper baby and their eyes and mouth form 101. There's a short video explaining the wind damper, but I found them to be incomplete because it doesn't answer why and how this works. There's also a video showing the damper swaying. I think it was during a typhoon or something. I've been googling about this, but I still can't get a grasp of why this works. Anyways, it's fascinating, truly fascinating. It's even more interesting than the view I think.

When you exit the observatory you will need to pass through this big coral art and jewelry store. They all look expensive, but I have to say they also look so unique and beautiful. I wonder how they're made and how hard it is to make them.

After that we're basically done for the day. I took some pictures of the skyscraper from the outside before leaving and also the surrounding area with lights on the trees. With the rain, the scene looks pretty nice.

Then we made our way back to the hotel. Arriving in Taipei Main Station, I decided to get a refund on the EasyCard thinking that the next day we would take the taxi to the airport. In Taipei you can take out the balance out of your EasyCard, but unlike Hong Kong they don't take the card back, so I still have the card. Upon returning the card, I found out that it might have been better if I had gotten the 1-day Transportation Pass card which include Maokong Gondola, rather than getting the EasyCard and filling it with value. The difference wasn't a lot, but if I had made more trips then the pass would have been more worth it.

The weather in day 4 was really not on our side. Day 5 was the day when we left Taiwan and it was still cloudy. We had some time in the morning, so we just spent it visiting 228 Peace Memorial Park which is near the hotel. The park is quite big and there were some locals exercising, but overall it's pretty quiet that morning.

Then we ate at Tim Ho Wan. As we made our way back to the hotel to get our bags, I saw that some shops and a mall near the main station were not opened yet even though it's passed 10 AM. I was quite shocked. It's quite unthinkable in Singapore, even in Jakarta I think. Anyways so we got our bags and mom wanted to take the MRT to the airport *sigh* Okay. It wasn't that difficult because after days passing by Taipei Main Station, I know where it is exactly. I got the single ticket and in Taiwan they use this very cute plastic coin as the ticket. Train ride was quite fast, but then the check in counters were very long. Then security check was also long. So much queuing to the point that when mom and dad got to their gate, boarding process was about to start. I think mom and dad were annoyed that we were rushing. Mom as she always says prefers to come early to the airport and wait there. Well, I myself was getting nervous with all the queuing but hey they didn't miss their plane. All was good. As for me, I had 15 minutes more than them and I bought myself snack before getting to my gate. It was a combination of pineapple cake and chocolate brownie. It wasn't amazing. Anyways, all in all we completed the trip. I'm glad that nothing bad happened and my parents trusted me with my plan. I'm also proud that they made it back alright with all the transiting and all. They don't speak English so we the children do wonder if they'd make it. They did and it's admirable :) For pictures from all around Taipei, please go here.

:) eKa @ 10:07:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 3 - Yangmingshan National Park, Yehliu Geopark, and Jiufen

I hear your life is feeling pretty dull
you want something satisfying that'll make it fun
you wanna change but
your mum and dad don't want to ever see you escape 'the norm'

Bad Boy - Dan Croll

I was being ambitious for day 3. The big items to check off are Yangmingshan National Park, Yehliu Geopark, and Jiufen with some other stops along the way. To facilitate this, I got a driver to take us around and I also made it a point to start early at 07:30 AM. However after the 2 days where the weather was accommodating especially in Sun Moon Lake where we had a pretty blue sky, our last 2 days in Taiwan was filled with rains. While it did disrupt our plan, I can still be thankful about it because the rain was more like constant drizzle rather than the soaking stormy rain that we're having these days in Singapore, and Jakarta too I guess. As for the driver, well from the Internet I found an Indonesian guy who does this, but he didn't reply my mail :( Oh the snubbery :( After browsing the Net, I settled with Go Taiwan Taxi Service and it went well, they responded pretty immediately. Like the tour in Hualien, this too asked for a deposit through PayPal and you paid the rest to the driver. Another thing to note: if I had been alone, I wouldn't have done this. I wouldn't have the guts to entrust a guy to drive me around for a whole day in a foreign country. I would have taken public transportation and most probably ended up not being able to cover as much ground. So I am thankful that I got my parents to do this with.

We started off in Yangmingshan National Park. There are many places of interest that you can visit here and depending on the seasons that you're in, some are perhaps worth visiting more than others. From reading around, I chose these 3 stops: Xiaoyoukeng, Qingtiangang, and Lengshuikeng. First stop was Xiaoyoukeng. This spot has fumaroles that emit sulfur. Being that it was drizzling and the sulfur smell was quite strong, we didn't stay long. I have to say that the view from the walkway is not that exceptional.

We made a short stop nearby because it gives a pretty view of the mountains around with low laying clouds. Then it was to Qingtiangang. This is fun for me because it's basically a plain with walkway and all around you can see mountains. However it was raining and it's cold, so mom and dad opted to go back to the car and I spent some time walking on my own with an umbrella. There were only a few other people walking, but it's quiet enough and I like the solitude. I read that there's wild cattle, but didn't see any. I guess because it's raining. Since my parents were waiting, I just walked until I reached a shelter and walked back. This is basically the walk in the flat pathway. There's also other path which is not so flat and I didn't do that. I thought it might not be too wise to do it in the rain. I enjoyed my time alone here and I mean that quite literally because most of the time I was alone in the pathway.

It's hard to take pictures in the rain and one of my picture was this below which seems like it's from a nightmare scene in a movie :D

Next stop was supposed to be Lengshuikeng where you can use the free hot spring to soak your feet. However mom wasn't interested since it's raining (though the place has shelter) and as she mentioned, there are things like this in Indonesia too so off we went for Yehliu. We didn't do much in Yangmingshan and perhaps one may think that it's not worth going all the way there to spend so little time. I guess we could have done more if the weather had been better. I find Yangmingshan to be interesting and I guess it would be fun on a better day to do some of the hikes. I don't know how hard they are, but walking among trees when the weather is cool is great and I love doing that. For pictures from Yangmingshan, please go here.

Anyways, we arrived in Yehliu. I thought the parents gonna want to have lunch first, but upon seeing the seafood restaurants all around, they decided not to and we went to the park straight away. Ticket price is not very expensive. There's a lot of tourists around, a lot of Koreans. We also finally heard some Indonesian tourists. Luckily he rain stopped for awhile when we were exploring the rocky area. The rock shapes are quite interesting. It's similar to the rocks in Cappadocia, but the fact that this is by the sea made the experience more unique for me. Wikipedia told me that these types of rock is called Hoodoo. Basically the rock at the top is harder than the rock below which is supporting it, hence the rock below is eroded faster and can be leaner. The Queen's head is a favorite of everyone to take picture with. Hence I don't have a picture of it because I couldn't take a picture of it without people being in the picture. Aside from rock formations (like below, a collection of mushroom rocks), there are other interesting things too, for example there's some holes where water are pooling and there's also remains of fossil, like what the last picture in the group below shows.

Unfortunately the rain came back again that mom and dad decided to just sit out at a shelter at another part of the park while I went exploring on my own. It is really nice visiting it and mom likes it a lot. It's very touristy though, so I think it's always filled with people. For pictures please go here. Afterwards we went to the small market next to the park and decided to eat there. There are snacks that you can buy, mostly they're seafood based and mom got a pack of fish floss. Mom and dad are from Bangka and there's some good fish floss from there so I think we're kinda curious if this is as good. Asked mom about it today and she said it was good.

After that my plan was actually to go see Nanya rock formation, Yin Yang sea, and the Golden waterfall before going to Jiufen. However the driver just straight away took us to Jiufen. I did notice that he might be going straight there, but decided not to say anything. I guess the rain kinda dampened the spirit. So in Jiufen, there were also many people. The old street was filled with crowd that it didn't make it easy to walk through it. Since I don't like people, I couldn't say I enjoy myself much. At the end of the street, you can see the view below. Yes, as you can see, it was so so.

The old street itself is filled with shops selling snacks and souvenirs. The many different snacks were truly tempting. I tried the hot dessert soup filled with chewy colourful taro balls and beans like red and green beans. I wonder why the taro balls are colourful, were they coloured? It's nice in a cold rainy day. It's not very sweet and I think I may like it more if it's slightly sweeter. Side note: mom actually likes the fact that it seems Taiwanese food are not overly seasoned, for example this dessert wasn't overly sweet and most dishes that we tried there were not too salty. Then mom chose this weird peanut crepe ice-cream (picture below before 2 scoops of ice cream were added). Weird because I think that green leaf thing is cilantro. I only took a small bite without the cilantro thing. Mom said it's not bad. I don't do vegetable, so I think it's weird.

I don't think we stayed there long. So anyways I asked the driver if we had time to go to the Golden waterfall. He said okay. Maybe he realized that he missed the Nanya rock part. He seemed sorry and said it's a bit far to go there and it's a rock as well, the same as Yehliu. I said it's okay because it's raining, it did make visiting these places rather hard. The Golden waterfall is not very far and it's literally by the road. Actually from here, you can also see the Yin Yang sea which is this sea where a part of it has brownish and blue water together. I don't have any picture of it because it's quite some distance away so I couldn't get any good picture. It was cloudy too so any picture might not be good. Google it, you'll see some nice pictures. The driver told us that the water from the Golden waterfall has some minerals in it and it runs down to the sea and that's why some part of the Yin Yang sea is brownish. Took some photos of the waterfall and then we're off back to Taipei.

For pictures from Jiufen and the Golden waterfall, please go here. We arrived back in our hotel at around 5 pm. So that was around 9.5-hour trip. The quotation given to me was 4000 NTD for 8 hours and the deposit was 400 NTD. Every extra half an hour is 200 NTD. So if we're being calculative, I should pay him 4200 NTD. The driver was so nice though that he said I didn't have to pay for the overtime, I should just pay him 3600 NTD. I think it was too generous from his side so I handed him 4100 NTD and even then he tried to hand me back 100 NTD. I refused because 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese :) I don't care about that actually, but since he's Taiwanese Chinese, maybe it actually matters? Why 4100 NTD and not the correct amount of 4200 NTD? Well it's because I couldn't find the extra 100 NTD bill in my wallet. When I told my parents about it, mom was like you should have told me so that we could pay him the correct amount. It's okay though, all is okay.

That evening, mom and I went out awhile to Taipei Main Station to hunt for some snacks to bring back to the people at home. For me basically I just needed to get something for my landlady. We tried the egg pudding which I was so curious about. It wasn't amazing. It was milky, but so so. Again not very sweet. Mom didn't enjoy it. Then we packed dinner for dad from the place near the hotel that they like and I got little pieces of spicy fried chicken from a local joint which I forget the name. It was not bad. That was it for day 3, it was an ambitious one, but we completed it okay despite of the weather not being cooperative :)

:) eKa @ 10:00:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 2 - Sun Moon Lake

we could make a distant shorter
let's go, let's go
go directly from the sky to the sea

If We Want To - M.I.L.K.

Day 2 was spent in Sun Moon Lake. The lake which supposedly shapes like a sun in one side and a crescent moon on the other side. Before I left I happened to have a chat with Casryn about my trip to Taiwan and her very exciting trip next year. She told me she did a day trip to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung and for her it's already quite a tiring day so hearing me making that day trip from Taipei, she said it would be even more tiring. It's doable though, totally doable, you just need to plan well. By well, I mean the OCD me pored not just the train schedule, but the bus schedule between Taichung and Sun Moon Lake, the boat schedule, and also the round the lake bus. There's many information online about the boat schedule and this is the difficult one for me because I don't know which boat is valid with the Sun Moon Lake pass that I was going to get. The direction and timing of the boat played a big role in me succeeding my plan and I could only confirm it when we arrived. Eventually we did alright, but let's recap from the the top.

First step on getting to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei is to take the train to Taichung. There's normal train and there's high speed rail train. I didn't even bother to look up for the normal train. I booked the high speed rail train which will get us to Taichung in around 1 hour. As mentioned in the last post the booking system only opens 2-week in advanced. So I booked as soon as it opened. It's not difficult to get tickets for this train, but do book early because there's early bird discount on some of the trains. The to and from trains that I took were chosen because there's some discount on them when I booked them. It seems you can also use the MRT easy card to just go and take the train on the day, but you're not guaranteed a seat. I like things to be controlled and planned so making sure I get the train ticket is imperative. As mentioned in the previous post, I collected the ticket at Taipei Main station using the machine. It seems you can also collect it in places like 711, but I'm not sure if they charge you any handling fee. So anyway, arriving in Taipei Main Station, I found the gate, but I did ask the staff again to confirm. The ticket card is important to keep. There's no staff on the train who will check it, but that ticket card is needed to pass the entry and exit gate, so remember to keep it. Our train was at 07:11 AM and my car was quite full that morning. I wonder if people took this train to commute to work. It seems likely.

Arriving in Taichung station, I straight away went to exit 5 where there's a counter that sells Sun Moon Lake Pass. This is very convenient for me for the main reason that it provides transport to and from Sun Moon Lake. It also provides other things depending on what you choose. I chose the one with the bicycle pass, it costs 620 NTD / person. In addition to the bus transport, it also provides unlimited boat ride, unlimited ride on the round the lake bus, free bicycle rental, and 1 bus ride to Xiangshan. We didn't use the bus ride to Xiangshan. As for the bicycle rental, there are specific places where you can rent them from and these different places provide different free duration for the ride. The pass is worth getting because even if you only use the transport from and to Taichung, the boat, and the round the lake bus, the cost of the pass would have exceeded the cost if you buy all these tickets separately. Luckily there's not a long queue when I was getting the pass. I even had time to go to the toilet before queuing for the bus. I was a bit afraid that all of us would not be able to get on the bus and had to wait for the next one because there were already some people queuing. Taking the next bus would put my plan in disarray and I'm bad at improvising. Well maybe I'm good, but usually I don't snap out of a hiccup in a plan quickly. The good thing is that we all made it to the bus, I even got to sit on my own. The ride to the lake took around 1.5 hours. It made a stop at Puli station where I think there's tourist attraction nearby like the paper dome, but it's not visible from the road. I think one may need to take a taxi to get there from Puli station.

In Sun Moon Lake, the bus stops just opposite Shuishe visitor center. There's staff waiting by the bus stop to collect the boat coupon from the pass and exchange it with the paper ticket. She also pointed out the direction to the pier which was near, but not that near from the visitor center that I got uncertain and asked a person in a shop to confirm. We were going in the right direction alright. We arrived after 10 AM and needed to wait until 10:30 for the next boat. The staff at the pier collected the paper ticket and stamped our hands. Mom bought fruits to eat while we wait. She opted for papaya and I wanted persimmons. We finished those fruits quite quickly. Then it was on to the boat. It was actually a very short ride to the first stop, Xuanguang pier. I opted to sit outside and mom and dad inside. I took pictures of the lake and saw the small Lalu island which I thought is really interesting with its tree and grass, but it cannot be visited anymore.

I have read that there's a small temple in Xuanguang and a famous stall selling tea eggs. We went to the temple first which involved climbing up some stairs which I wondered if my parents could do. They did alright. One point during this trip mom did make a remark about how it seemed I underestimate their physical ability. I guess since we don't see each other often, we do have a hole in our knowledge about each other and fill them with assumption. Like that day, mom seemed to have forgotten (like she often does with many things) that I could ride a bicycle and was amazed when she saw me doing that. So anyway, the temple was small, but there were many tourists around. At the courtyard of the temple we have a view of the lake. We didn't explore much of the area and just quickly went down again. I wanted to buy the tea egg. Honestly I never had any good experience with tea egg here in Singapore which by the way is where I found out such things exist. I think I only ever had it 1 or 2 times in my life and they tasted weird for me. So I wasn't a fan and was not excited. Even after Casryn told me it was really good, I was still sceptical that I would like it. I bought it simply because I was curious. I just got 2 for 25 NTD from the auntie that started it all. Maybe she's nice, but she wasn't all smile when I bought the eggs. It's okay, old people have lived long enough to not have to be friendly and accomodating when they don't want too. At least that's how I reason with myself when I don't want to do stuff. Anyways, the eggs, they were really really good!!! So good that now I am actually curious to try more tea eggs, but I still understand that perhaps more often than not, I will be disappointed. I had 1 egg and mom and dad shared the other one. So good it was that I wanted to get more, but I realized I couldn't on account of too much eggs is bad. So anyways, we waited by the pier awhile before getting on the boat to the next / last stop, Itashao. Since the boat ride is short, we all decided to sit outside.

Itashao felt like a bigger village, maybe more comparable to Shuishe. With a lot of shops and such, it also feels like the most touristy. This is where there's also the Sun Moon Lake ropeway which I opted not to take. The ropeway brings you to some sort of a theme park. I just wasn't interested. I was also planning to take the Maokong gondola later on in Taipei, so I thought we skip this cable car ride. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I've just taken quite a number of cable cars ride in my life in many different places and so I've just lost interest on them now. Anyways it was some walk from the pier to the streets where there are many shops that sell snacks and such. The OCD me had a schedule and I was more concerned on getting lunch and I got rather annoyed when mom hesitated because any delay might screw up my schedule. She relented to my tantrum I guess and we chose a place to eat. Food wasn't great. Then we walked around the street a bit. The plan was then to take round the lake bus to Wenwu temple. Thinking that the bus stop was near the visitor center, we made our way back there only to find out from the staff that it's not. The bus stop is some distance away from the touristy streets. So we had to walk back again. We were in the right direction, but it still took me to ask 3 people before finding out where the bus stop really is. It's not well marked seriously. We confirmed it's correct after asking some tourists (I think they're Thais) who were waiting too. Bus was a bit late, but it's all good.

Wenwu temple is big and there were many tourists around. I had time allocated for this, but since it's so big, I wasn't sure we could complete exploring it within the time I allocated, so I was ready to just let my plan go if we were to take more time. The temple complex is built in a very interesting way. There are like levels in the complex and by levels don't imagine levels in a building. I'm having a hard time explaining this. There's stairs that you need to take to each level and the stairs go to an open area where there's a hall that houuse the Gods / Deities. At the very top, there's a big arching gate (again, not a very good description but picture below) with a sweeping view of the lake. There's also a lot of interesting stone carving at the the temples. The carving on the walls reminded me of the carving in Borobudur.

I have read about the Stairway to Heaven staircase near this temple, but I couldn't find it. I thought it would be easy enough to find so I didn't bother to research it, but there were no sign of it in the temple. After googling it just now, it seemed it's actually across the street from this temple. So we didn't do that and amazingly we made it within my planned time. My parents didn't feel rushed and they're okay about moving on. As mom said, if they took a tour, they'd most probably be given the same timing too. So we went back to the bus stop. It also helped that the bus came later than scheduled. This is really a good thing. The plan was to take the bus back to Shuishe instead of going back down to Itashao and taking the boat to Shuishe. Why I chose to do it this way is because it would be faster and would give me time to make use of that bicycle coupons.

In Shuishe we went to the Giant bicycle rental which has a big store. The coupons only entitled you to a certain kind of bicycle and in Giant bicycle rental the free time is 1 hour. Honestly I was ready to do this on my own. I wasn't sure that my parents would go for it. Upon looking at the bicycle, mom said she didn't want to do it, but surprisingly dad was game. So we did the paper work. They gave free water and 1 bicycle chain and lock just in case we wanted to park. The plan was to just to go to Xiangshan Visitor Center which is around 30 minutes one-way which means it's doable to go back in 1 hour. The internet told me that the distance is about 3.4 km one-way. You could also really circle the lake if you want to, I think Casryn cycled a longer distance than what I did. She mentioned that the path is a dedicated cycling lane, but when she was there there were many cyclist in both directions so it made her feel bad if she's slow. Lucky for me and dad, there's not many people that day. In fact most of the time, it's just us on the lane and I LOVE it that way. There's some places by the lane where you can stop and sit awhile. We stopped, but didn't sit. I just took picture. There's also a boardwalk in this route in which you have to walk your bicycle instead of riding it. There were many people in this section and we saw 2 couples doing pre-wedding photo shoot.

At Xiangshan Visitor Center we parked and explored the area a bit and used the toilet. There were more people here. There's an infinity pool and a cafe. The roof open area on the top reminded me of Marina Barrage here in Singapore.

Then we cycled a bit more to a look out point. I almost fell here because there were many people and somehow my bicycle didn't have a bell (or it did and I couldn't find it). So I had to say excuse me excuse me, but perhaps they didn't hear me or didn't understand English so there's a part where I had to really brake quite fast before hitting some older tourists. Didn't fall though, just scratched my finger and knocked my camera a bit. After this look out, we made our way back and I took some more pictures along the way. One thing I realized on this ride back is that there's no ducks or swans in this lake, which is quite weird when I think about it. By the way there's also no water sport in the lake and I don't think people can fish in there. It does make the lake seem more tranquil though.

We made it within the 1 hour so no extra cost incurred and mom was surprised that we're quite fast. I thought we were quite fast. It was really fun cycling and I'm glad I got to do this. After that I asked my parents if they still wanted to explore the area or just go back to Taichung station. Parents said, let's just go back. By the time we finished cycling, we didn't have to wait too long for the bus back to Taichung. It's good to plan your going back early especially if you already have train tickets at a certain timing. By the time we queued, there were already many people queuing and Casryn did mention that when she was there, many people were going back at the same time so the queue can be very long. If we couldn't make it on that bus, we still had enough time to take the next bus. So I wasn't worried. We made it though, but the bus was full and we had to sit separately. Mom and dad got to sit together so that's okay. By the time we arrived in Taichung, we actually still had time to squeeze a visit to Rainbow village by taxi if we wanted to. However being that it's winter in Taiwan and the sun set at around 5 PM, it was already getting darker so I thought it's not worth it. Instead we went for a leisurely early dinner at a Japanese restaurant and then walked around the station which has more things than Hualien airport and talked more about the family and stuff. Our train was at 06:36 PM and we arrived in Taipei at 07:39 PM. So a day trip to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei is totally possible :) For pictures, please go here.

:) eKa @ 9:47:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 0, 1 - Arriving in Taipei & Taroko National Park

I can't tell you how I feel, but I do
those things they say can't get to me, but they do
I don't see the sky as blue, as you do
should I fantasize?

Guess Who - Alabama Shakes

As written in the last post, there are things to write about this month because last week I went to Taiwan with mom and dad. What's with the interest with Taiwan as my mom asked. Well for the pitiful Indonesian who have to apply visa pretty much everywhere, you don't really have to apply a visa to Taiwan if you have a Schengen or American visa. I think if you have a UK visa that would work too. You just have to fill in an online form. The visa don't seem to have to be valid either, as long as it's within a certain time period, but don't take my word on that, please check for yourself. I happen to have a valid Schengen and US visa and I used the Schengen visa because it has less numbers to key in than the US visa. Mom and dad had to apply though and my brother took care of it in Jakarta. We flew separately with mom and dad having to transit in Hong Kong. My brother was worried about this, but my mom was confident. Honestly sometime we think life is unfair right, like why we're born in a certain country or a certain race and so on. I think if my mom had been born in my generation or in a situation where she had had more opportunity in life, she would have gone places because the horse (her chinese sign) that she is, she would have roamed free and be the working horse that she is. Anyways, our arrival time were just 15 minutes apart. I may have arrived earlier and as I was queueing at the immigration, I was looking out for them and I did spot them. By the way, to make it easy on life, please fill in the online arrival card in Taiwan before you land. My brother actually did that for both my parents, but then my parents may not understand the instruction that they also filled in the paper card. No matter, point is we arrived safely and all is well. By the way, when I was leaving in Changi, the officer asked many of us to use the automatic gates which apparently could accept all passports. I was nervous because I don't do fingerprint well, but I amazingly breezed through it without any problem. In Taipei airport, it took a bit more time to get a fingerprint from my left index finger, but it went through as well. Thank God.

So anyways, the queue for immigration in Taipei was long and by the time we got out, I got lazy so I decided to just take the taxi to our hotel. I told mom, if I had been alone, I would have roughed it and take the MRT / train, but with them I was using them as an excuse. She said we should have roughed it and took the train. It's laziness and also I didn't want to them to get agitated if I didn't get the direction right away after exiting the station even though I did prepare for this. I had googled map it and had direction in my phone. There's just so many times when after exiting a station in a new place, I got disoriented and having to lug my luggage during those times are not fun. I always figured my way out, but as I go older, I do get lazier. Anyways, after arriving in the hotel, I told them I need to collect train tickets at Taipei Main Station so we walked there. It's Sunday and I think since it's getting colder, there were many people just sitting on the floor hanging out in the open area inside the station. I thought it's not a big deal, but mom thought it was so messy and unbecoming. I started to queue at one counter, but the queue was long and that made me think twice so I decided to go to the information counter to ask where I could collect the tickets for the high speed rails. Interesting note, the information counter in Taipei Main Station has an Indonesian speaking staff. I guess it's because there are many Indonesians working there. Also interesting is, the MRT card top up machine in Taiwan has Indonesian language in there. I don't think even Singapore has that. Perhaps because in Singapore, they think the Malay and Indonesian language is close enough. So anyway, the Indonesian lady (I think she is though we spoke in English) in the information counter pointed me to the direction of the high speed rail section, so I went there. Found the high speed rail information counter, but they don't dispense tickets there. Instead the staff told me to use the machine or go downstairs to the ticket counters. I opted to try to use the machine. Before I left, someone told me that he tried to use one of this ticketing machine when he was in Taiwan and he got a bit confused. For me, it turned out to be easy and straight forward enough though the machine took forever to dispense the ticket. It's like I had to take out each printed one before they can print another one. No matter, task completed.

December being winter in Taiwan, the sun sets at around 5 pm so it's already dark when we got out. We decided to eat near the hotel. Parents found it to be cheap and agreable and so almost every night we were there, they got dinner from there. Then I told them I wanted to go check out the nearby Ximending night market and they went along. I don't know if it's crowded everyday, but that day being a Sunday, it's quite full of people and since I don't like people / crowd, I didn't enjoy it much. There were many sellers selling snack and I was quite interested on the sweet snacks, but since I didn't finish my dinner, I couldn't buy any, my parents would chastise me. We just walked and didn't buy anything. Told my parents that there's a temple nearby and we should visit it. I thought I was lost at some point, but with some luck I found the Taipei Tianhou Temple when I was about to give up. Talking about fate. It's not a very big temple and after we visited it, we went back to the hotel.

The next day (Day 1), we're making a day trip to Hualien where Taroko National Park is located. I tried my darnest to get the train ticket, but I couldn't. The train ticket is only sold 2 weeks in advanced and this being a popular destination, it's very hard to get the timing that you want, especially if you're making a day trip from Taipei. I made a mistake myself by using the booking online link in the site. I thought they would ask me to choose which train, but they just assigned the train and without checking I confirmed it. Realizing my mistake, I wanted to book new ones, but I couldn't because I exceeded some quota for a single person and I didn't note down the booking number of the previous booking so I couldn't cancel it. I should have tried immediately using one my parents' passport number (which they require), but instead I waited the next day and by that time the trains that I wanted were gone :( Moral of the story, book as early as the tickets are released and use the schedule option first to find the train and use the booking button that appears near that train to book your desired train. So defeated by this train thing, I did the second method that people recommended online, I took the plane. Booked it easy enough in Uniair website. It's easy, but do read carefully, there's different prices for the ticket so choose the cheapest one for Non-Taiwan resident. The plane costs like 3 times more than the train, but in perspective, it's still cheap or comparable to Indonesian prices. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels to me that train ticket prices in Taiwan is really cheap. It might be even cheaper than in Indonesia.

So anyway, plane departure time is 07:20 AM from Songshan airport which is located in the city, around 20-minute ride from the hotel. My parents being the early bird that they are, they woke up really early, their body clock just couldn't go after 6 AM I think. Dad annoyingly knocked at my room early in the morning, I think mom told him to. She likes to do that and very often if feels like getting raided. She did that again on our last morning *sigh* Anyways I was quite worried about being able to get a taxi in the morning, but we found one easily. We could have taken the MRT, but I was worried we would be cutting it close since it's written if we don't check in 30 minutes before departure time, our seats would be given to waiting list passengers. I shouldn't have to worry actually, there were a number of empty seats on the plane. It was a short flight, like 50 minutes and the view if you're sitting on the right side of the plane is very nice.

Arriving in Hualien airport, I have arranged a driver / guide to take us around Taroko National Park. I could have just joined one of the tour group, but I wondered if my parents would be able to keep up if the rest of the participants are young, so I opted for the private tour. I spent the day translating things and it's tiring. Arriving in Hualien, it was cloudy and I was worried it's gonna rain. Luckily it didn't rain, just cloudy the whole day. First stop after getting water was getting some mochi which were not bad. Then we went to this little beach. There was another small tour group when we were there. There's some fish washed ashore. Mom seemed to know what kind of fish they were.

Then it was to see Qinshui Cliff. Was I impressed? Not really. I guess because I've seen views like this a few times in my life. My picture don't do it justice either. I didn't take good photos in this trip. Sorry about that, I've seen many people taking better pictures of it.

Then we stopped at somewhere which I forget the name, but there's this old arch, I guess perhaps it's the center of the National Park. We also dropped by a visitor center where we watched a really beautiful clip about Taroko National Park. Then we went to see Eternal Spring Shrine which was quite interesting. The driver then drove us up to a small temple nearby and we prayed a bit there.

Then it was lunch. Had the best meal in Taiwan here. We had fish, clam soup, and 2 types of vegetable dishes. After that we went to the Swallow Grotto which I really enjoyed. So far that day the trip had been so-so for me, but walking this grotto was quite fun. You had to wear helmet because of fear of falling rocks. There were holes on the opposite walls where the swallows nest (I think). Below is a river. The rock wall below near the river have blue / grey stripes, while going up the rocks have a more reddish hue. I love walking there. I thought the walk there would be short, but it's not really that short. At the end there's a rock formation that looked like an Indian chief's head (that's what the locals call). See if you can spot it in the third picture below.

Then we went to Buluowan area where there's a resort run by the local tribe. They have interesting sculptures there. There's also an upper and lower terrace area you could walk on. It's not super interesting here for me, but mom did spot a monkey in the upper terrace area we walked on. Mom's eyes are sharp. After that it was to Shakadang trail which I was quite worried about if mom and dad could do it. They were fine by the way. The guide said, let's just do the 1-km hike. There's a bridge nearby this trail in which there are many little lion statues in different poses.

To start the hike you actually need to go down some stairs first. I don't remember how high it was, it seemed like 4, 5 - storey high for me which made me think, damn it's gonna be painful going back up later. Turned out my parents made it back alright, they even made it up without having to stop halfway. I was surprised because I was worried even for myself. Anyways, the walk in Shakadang trail was also great. This and the Swallow Grotto hikes are the things that I like most about this tip. There's a river below and at one point, the water was so still and clear that you're not sure if there's water at all. The pooling water also form a really nice blue colour. It was really nice.

Last stop was to Qixingtan Beach. It was super windy that we didn't linger. It's a stretch of beach with not many people. I just snapped some pictures and quickly got back to the car. For pictures from this trip, please go here.

We were offered if we would like to be dropped in the night market since we had time to kill before our flight back. Mom and dad decided to just wait in the airport. I also wasn't keen on traversing a crowded night market. The thing is, the airport is so small and there's not many flights in and out, so it's pretty much dead when we got there. Really there's nothing. We spent the time catching up, talking about family's gossip. Told my parents I really wish I could freeze my eggs, but no such thing exists in Singapore for women who choose to do this :( Dad was like, why make it so complicated, just get someone to get married with. Yeah, if only it's that easy, it's just not happening to me. Seriously the persistent them always try to question my singlehood *sigh* Anyways, the flight back was quite full, but it's even shorter. It's like just around 30-40 minutes. There were many turbulence though and I hate that. Arrived in Taipei, I decided to just take taxi again back to the hotel. In between not being that hungry but having to eat, we decided to get instant meal in Family Mart, a convenience store near the hotel. They even microwaved it for us. Got the Japanese chicken curry rice and porridge. I ate most of the porridge and was surprised to find real chicken with bone and all. So often with this instant thing, we get meat that look so generic that one wonder what meat it is, if it's real, but this instant meal in Taiwan look pretty legit. So that's the long day 1, I'll try to write the next one soon.

:) eKa @ 9:51:00 PM • 0 comments