Friday, 28 January 2011

Taiwan - Day 1 - Taipei (Taipei Park Hotel)

The Reluctant Tourist & The ABC of Civil Aviation Aircraft Makers

overcast 12 °C

I hadn't kept Ada's company for her last 4 business trips to Bangkok, Seoul, Osaka, and Jakarta in the last 6 months. I gave Bangkok the flick because I had been there 4 times. My excuse for not going to Seoul was the steep airfare, and the paucity of worthwhile sights in that city. Been there, done that (once is more than enough). As for Osaka, I didn't mind even if I had been there once. But Ada only stayed there for a few days. As for Jakarta, eh...never been there, but won't miss much. Just want to save the money for the next trip, which brings us to Taiwan. Of course, my award winning reason has always been that I'm too sick for these travelling shite (Atta knows that). But after turned down her 4 offers, I felt compelled - for political reason - to make it up to her for the Taiwan trip, which I had been, but she hadn't. What political reason? Because I don't want to be persecuted by her guilt trip. Nah...

This is the first time we caught a budget airline, Tiger Air, out of Singapore. The budget airlines have a privilege of getting a separate terminal. It's a step down from the International Terminals, which was voted the best in world a few times (neck to neck with HKIA. It's a cut-throat competition, hence neck to neck). The top 3 airports in the world are all located in East Asia for the last decade or so (Singapore, HK, and Osaka in that order, more or less). Not surprisingly, Singapore and HK are Asia transportation gateways.

With budget airline, you get to walk on the tarmac and then onto a ladder. Ahhh...nothing quite like the fresh air that laced with jet fuel from the Rolls Royce engine to start your journey. Cruise ship has the loud horn blast, Tiger Air has the jet fuel loaded air. It's a draw. As we walked the tarmac walk, Atta said that it appeared smaller than she remembered. Being a movie buff (look at the headings of some of my diary entries to convince yourself), I said to Atta in the Laurence Olivier impression in the "Marathon Man" where he was holding dentist drill in one hand, and whispers menacingly to Dustin Hoffman, "Is it safe? Is it?"
"It doesn't seem so. Is it safe?" Atta replied in her own voice. She doesn't do impression. She did long face.
I replied her in a Dirty Harry voice, "Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
At least I live to tell the tale. Go ahead. Make my day.
We forked out extra 30 SG bucks for the privilege of sitting in the first row, which has a lot more legrooms for us to swing a cat if we wanted to, and an unobstructed window view of the pretty Minah hostesses sitting vis-à-vis from us (Pardon, I meant sitting across from us. I thought I flew in A380). In B747 (we flew B767), they reserve those front-row seats for parents with baby prams, or people with special needs.

Let me touch briefly on the ABC of commercial aircraft. 'A' stands for Airbus - a French company with their star the super jumbo A380 (which I had the pleasure of flying last year, logged in my entry "Sydney - Day 1 - Touch Down"). 'B' stands for Boeing - a US company who makes the ever popular B747 jumbos that filled the skies. And then there's the third force in the civil aviation scene, a new kid on the block. Not yet, but soon. 'C' stands for COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corp of China) - a Chinese company that going to debut its C919. So you wouldn't see this new kid flying into the blue yonder quite just yet. They're making them in the hangars right now and due for service in 2016. "Is it safe?" since it's made in China, you would ask that question. Well, all aircraft built would have to pass the safety regulations of the countries they sell to, in this case, the aircraft not only were sold to emerging economies like China and Brazil, USA airlines have also ordered their planes, which means these planes will have to pass US's safety standards (of course, as well as Chinese safety regulation first). And most of its parts are sourced from USA and Europe (of course, Airbus and Boeing also buy similar parts from these same companies). This ABC of aircraft makers make a nice triangular geographical symmetry: one in Europe, one in USA, and one in Asia. You hear it from here first.

Next time when someone mentions C919, you don't have say "C what?" in a totally confused tone of voice. Instead, you say confidently like you so well read (and well travelled), "I C". See? Si si.
This is one of the most dis-organised tour. This is because Atta didn't consult me in length, in fact, didn't ask me to do the research. In every previous trip, I headed the research dept while she managed the ticketing, and hotel reservation dept. This company works well. This time she detected my reluctance of going to this trip (probably judging by my constant whining, and head shaking), so she decided to adopt the shoot-first-and-ask-question-later tactic. A similar expression in Chinese is 先斩後奏 (behead first, then reports to the emperor). She booked everything before I can say "wait a cotton picking minute". Good one! It was a very effective tactic and infuriated this emperor with no clothes on to no end. Nah...

Actually, this feckless emperor did go to the NLB (Singapore National Library) and checked out some travel literature on Taiwan when she first mentioned her desire to go there. NLB doesn't seem to have many guide books on Taiwan. In fact, there was only one pathetic copy, while guidebooks in other destinations of East Asia is aplenty. There're a few copies in Chinese language, but it's a bit overkill to brush up on my Chinese now. I wanted to enjoy this trip. I came out of NLB empty handed - a rare occurrence. You can say that Taiwan isn't a hot destination, especially in winter.

I didn't have objection to the trip, just the destination. In fact, I had no objection to the destination, either. I only had problem with the timing. She wanted to get out of Singapore because it's dead in CNY (Chinese New Year, not Chinese currency code). Taiwan observes Chinese customs and traditions, and we're going to see the same deadness, I told her. She convinced by her colleagues that things are more alive in Taiwan during CNY. Will see about that...won't we? Do I feel lucky punk?
Anyway, too late for regret, the next thing I knew, we had already checked into Taipei Park Hotel (time flies when you fly, especially with the aid of the ample legroom). Cost about $150 SGD for the room for two. The reception struggled somewhat speaking English to Atta, so I came to rescue damsel in distress by plying my Mandarin (getting more decent since the 2 years in Singapore and many trips to China). Another that's decent is this 4 stars hotel. Location isn't too great. This hotel is about 50m from Da'an (大安) MRT stn, which looked quite new (the whole MRT system, not just this station). The MRT station lies on the brown line. Most of the must-dos and must-sees lie on the red line (or Danshui Line). We need to make 2 interchanges to get to the Red Line - from Brown to Blue, then onto the Red Line. If you want to make extensive use of the MRT system in your travel, you save time by staying in hotels on the Red Line. The only thing of interest on the Brown Line is the Taipei Zoo, which we had no intention of going. If I was given half a chance to do research, I wouldn't do a pooh pooh like that. Pooh is brown, isn't it? Just like the Brown Line. Let's call it the Pooh Line as a memory aid.

The public transportation card requires a minimum of NT60 deposit, and you get your money back after returning the card, and pay a NT20 processing fee.

While Metro station names in Shanghai are usually named after street names, while some of the MRT station in Taipei are actually phrases, rather than names, like our next station Zhongxiao Fuxing, interestingly (probably only to me). The trains' PA announces in 3 tongues, first Huayu (Mandarin), then the local dialect, and lastly English.

Looking like Taiwan is trying to beef up its tourism industry. First they erected Taipei 101, which puts Taiwan on the map, then they built the metro system (could be the other way round. Too close to call).

Right after checking in, we went to a nearby noodle shop and ordered some beef, tendon soup. The soup and noodle tasted almost identical to those we had in Beijing Station in Burwood, Sydney, Australia. Even curiouser was that the texture and the taste of beef had also the same feel as the Burwood shop. When we left, I spotted a notice to say that this restaurant only sells beef imported from Australia. That explained a lot. Aussie (and Kiwi) beef are popular here. Restaurants tend to advertise where their beefs come from. These 2 antipodean countries are branded as wholesome and hygienic, which countries like S. Korea, Japan and Taiwan would die for. These 3 Asian countries are mighty fussy about the quality of their beefs. Australia isn't just good at selling stuff they dig up from the ground - iron ore, coal, uranium, gold, etc - but also very good at selling stuff they breed on the ground - beef, milk, fleece, kangaroo meat, camels, etc. The Land Down Under is one country where they can call themselves living off the land, so to speak. Australia sells camels to Saudi Arabia, rice to Asia, and sake to Japan. I think I mentioned this before. Worth re-iterate though (one more time for the...eh...). No, they haven't sold ice to the Eskimo, or fire to the Devil. I heard they're working on it. Good luck to them because I heard that the Devil is devilishly clever. Don't believe what you hear, I can tell you right now, I don't know the Devil. It's all pure hearsay (and heresy).

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