Sunday, March 22, 2009

Taipei - Bad Taste?

It was painful yesterday riding through the city of Taipei. There is a special bike path built along the river which attracts all the local cyclists on the weekends. Sweet families and the weekend warrior crowd the tarmac wreaking havoc for anyone who has bit of bicycle handling, fitness and wishes to ride with a bit of speed. Anthony and I found ourselves frustrated more than joyful on this little excursion.
The river was stagnant which made a horrible stench as we rode up the path. Then the haze made me feel queasy just thinking I was breathing it in and the hoards of people made the ride so slow. I believe there is still room for improvement.
The sweet part was all the little details added to it. I loved the signage, the emblems placed on the path and the entrepreneurs along the way. Little stands with special “bike” accessories littered the trail. Items which were popular included knock-off Buffs, bells, helmets, cycle shorts and jerseys and puncture repair kits among other things. Anthony and I decided that a knock-off Buff was a necessity to keep us from breathing the hazardous air as well as a bell to warn others that we were coming through.
We stopped at a popular food destination and decided to take a look around. I always seem to be drawn to the fresh vegetables and found myself salivating in front of a corn stand. Three types of corn were displayed – white, yellow and purple corn. OK – how can you mess up corn? Oh – give it to the Taiwanese – they can do it. It was the worst corn I ever had. Like rubber on a cob. But I still wasn’t convinced; I tried ANOTHER piece of corn which was even worse than the first. How is that possible? How can you mess up something so wonderfully natural? And unfortunately that was all I could stomach as I wasn’t about to embark upon the other rubber, er, I mean food stalls that were lining the “food court.” Then I found my heart sink when I saw a cage full of young tortoises possibly used for consumption rather than pets as well as live snake/eels.
Fisherman’s Wharf is where we found ourselves but we couldn’t escape from the busy city. By that time we had had enough and decided we would take the train back to the Main Train Station with our bikes. It felt like the longest journey back. There were no bikes allowed at the Main Train Station so we had to get off at the stop prior then navigate our way through the busy streets. Why is it easier to ride in crazy Indonesia than in Taiwan?
It was busy and it was painful and all we could think about was: Get us out of here! We even went so far as checking flights to get to Sri Lanka sooner. After we found out that we would have to spend a few extra nights in Taipei in order to fly to Sri Lanka sooner we decided that perhaps we should just give the original plan a go. Lets not leave Taiwan with this “bad taste” in our mouths, lets get into the country and see what this little island is all about.
So, we are currently on the train heading to Chiayi. I am worried that the food will still be inedible, we won’t be able to escape the “Asian” haze and we will wish we were on our flight to Sri Lanka. But you know, we still need to make double sure Taiwan is not the place for us.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Taipei, Taiwan 2009

I look out the window every day and see the thick air surrounding the tall buildings. It makes me crave the fresh green countryside, and wonder if there is one?

Taipei is just another first world city full of cars, rushing people and tall buildings. It's a concrete jungle. I'll admit it's organized and the people follow strict rules of the city's organization. For one - I have to laugh at the underground train system. There are lines to where you stand before you get on the train to make it more efficient so when the passengers getting off the train don't bump into the passengers getting on. The lines are marked on the floor and it seems everyone makes a conscious effort stay within those lines - even if they curve a bit. Anthony and I would wonder what would happen if we didn't stay in between the lines, would the train police write us a ticket? Would we spend time in a Taiwanese jail? But it's a contrast to Sumatra which has NO order. It feels good having some kind of organization after coming from complete chaos in Indo.

We enjoyed the 4 days of the Taiwan bike show and saw great vendors (including our friends at Ergon) and were attracted to the new and improved weight weenie cycle components. The feeling was different to Interbike in Las Vegas (it's got great energy there) but we enjoyed it just the same. Anthony picked up a bicycle resource guide that is the size of 2 Las Vegas yellow pages and is in hog heaven. I, personlly, loved seeing familiar faces, like Gizmo Bill and his wife Colleen. After not being with people we knew (or at least I knew) it was nice seeing western friends from back home. We enjoyed the company while having a very lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant close to one of the great malls. Unfortunately the original restaurant we chose, Ostrich, was out of business. It's hard depending on Lonely Planet especially when the world evolves so quickly. I am curious what else we will find that no longer exists in Sri Lanka or perhaps East Africa?

Taipei does suck the life out of you. I am finding myself very tired and wanting to find an escape route. It's not easy to get out of the city by bike. We are going to take the train closer to our desired destination, the mountains, and cycle from there. Though Taiwan is a small island it's not that small. Plus, there are hoops to jump through as far as traveling by bike. But we are getting used to it - it always seems to be harder to travel in the first world countries than the third world ones because of the bureaucracy.

But we are off hopefully today to find the charm Taiwan has to offer. I am craving a different flavor - and if I get on the subject of flavor I would think of the food here. So I'll just give you a quick overview of what I feel the food is like here and I can some it up with ONE word: VILE. What are these people thinking? There is absolutely no flavor here - and I am not a big fan of the congealed pig blood on a stick nor the chicken heads and feet, I won't eat it. Everything else is pretty rubbery and I find there is one particular spice that I do not enjoy at all and I don't even know what that is. I have come to the conclusion, and acceptance, that I just don't care for the Chinese cuisine. I don't have to either. I don't need dim-sum in the afternoon - I'm OK with fresh fish, rice, veggies/fruit and chicken and I do not have to force myself to enjoy any dumpling with mystery filling inside it. Even Anthony - who is so daring and tries everything - finds no joy in the food here. He is just adding weight because he is curious of what each food tastes like. The verdict is: rubber. All different shapes and colors of rubber. I am hoping that the countryside will provide something new for us to try and enjoy and perhaps a breath of fresh air.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Greetings from Takengon

All is well. This is the first time I have had Internet in about a week or more. It's very remote and third world around here. Not for the weak at heart.
The people are beautiful and kind and though they don't have much there is no hesitation to invite us for a cup of coffee and chat. The riding is hard - think of volcanos everywhere - up and down. Sometimes it feels like more up than down! Perhaps that is because I am carrying an 80lb bike up those suckers.
Other than missing the communcation back home I am doing OK! It is hard going and I can't help but think if something happened anywhere I would surely be fooked! I mentioned to a friend one time (Jenny) that if something happened to me to leave me where I am. OK - not here. I meant on a mountain top or something - perhaps a crevasse. Now I think, it's OK, bring me back.
I will be posting more photos and another blog soon. Keep checking back. Until then be well! Tarimah Kaseh