Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hualien, Taiwan

Taroko National Park
July 22, 2012

Train ticket from Taipei to Hualien
In the morning on July 22nd, Cindy and her family met us at our hotel in Taipei and brought us to the train station to catch the high-speed train to Hualien.  One of Hualien's famous attributes, perhaps its most famous attribute, is Taroko National Park, a majestic collection of mountains and valleys blanketed in green and capped with snow.

Outside the Piet Mondrian Hotel in Hualien, Taiwan
After arriving, we strolled off the train and went to look for bathrooms, as any good tourists would.  We were very disappointed to find trenches instead of toilets.  The three of us have traveled a lot, and we have all seen different variations on bathrooms all over the world, but we were just hoping to find a simple toilet.  No such  luck.  These trenches seemed to be a theme in Taiwan, and we hoped that our hotel would be different.  Fortunately, when we arrived at the hotel and checked the bathrooms, we found the Western-style toilets we're used to.  Sometimes it's the little things in life that make a difference.  This hotel is particularly memorable because it is styled after Piet Mondrian's work.  (Piet Mondrian is a Dutch painter known for geometric compositions with black or white backgrounds and rectangles in the three primary colors.)

Dragon Fruit at the Piet Mondrian Hotel Restaurant
That day at lunch, Cindy's family explained to us that table manners work very differently in Taiwan from what they had experienced when they lived in the United States.  According to James, there is very little emphasis on teaching table etiquette during the time in which a young person learns how to behave properly. Because of this, because of chopsticks, and because of all the rice, he told us that it is very common, and also accepted, for people to put their face down to their dish and shovel food into their mouths with their chopsticks.  The other option is to lift the dish to your face and shovel food into your mouth.  The family confirmed that this is a standard way for people to eat there.  We saw many people, including Cindy, James, Teresa, and Will, eat this way during our time in Taiwan.  Quite differently, I remember being reprimanded as a child growing up in the United States for shoveling rice into my mouth in this manner.  It's just not how Americans eat.  Our style generally requires the use of a fork and knife, along with a working knowledge of how to properly hold and maneuver each utensil.  Unless it's finger food.

Taroko National Park from a Distance
After lunch, we went to the beach, where we caught our first sight of Taroko National Park from a distance. We were only there for a short time because it started to rain, but I enjoyed strolling around and looking at the different sea shells and cement things on the shoreline.

Taroko National Park - Hualien, Taiwan
July 23, 2012

In the morning, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel's breakfast buffet.  As soon as we finished eating, we piled into James' rental car and drove to Taroko National Park.  The park is a tremendous collection of mountains and valleys with a road that winds through.  In some places, you drive around the mountains, and in other places you drive through tunnels in the mountains.  We frequently saw signs that warned visitors not to accidentally jump off cliffs and to wear hard hats because boulders often fell if a hard hat would make a difference if a boulder fell on you.
Taroko National Park - Hualien, Taiwan
Instead of driving through the Tunnel of Nine Turns, we took the new tunnel.  The old one was closed because of falling boulders and rocks.  In many places along the trail, visitors were advised to pass quickly through the area because rocks fell frequently there.  So, you basically run through while trying not to shake anything or cause any vibrations which would make rocks fall.

Me, Grandma Jean, & Zaidy at the entrance to
TarokoNational Park
"Cliff!  Do not cross over!"
After leaving the park, we went in search of coffee for Zaidy.  Interestingly, we ended up eating at McDonald's because none of the other restaurants served coffee.  Typically when I travel, I try to avoid McDonald's in favor of trying a more local cuisine.  However, in this particular case, I really, really was craving something salty, greasy fries.  It was a welcome, albeit artery-clogging, change from tofu blocks and fried noodles.  Don't get me wrong - I like fried noodles, but after you eat so many of them, you need a bit of a break.

Before we took the train back to Taipei, we decided to go grocery shopping so we would have something to eat on the ride back.  Grocery shopping in other countries is a really fun way to see what different foods people eat in different parts of the world.  In Madrid, I was amused to find instant paella and cartons of  gazpacho to go.  In Zurich, I found tons of cheese.  In Hualien, I was intrigued when I found Swiss chocolate milk (not just any chocolate), Fuji apple-flavored milk, and bottled water that was advertised by its basic pH.  These items seemed different to me because they were unusually specific compared to what I was used to.


In contrast, I smiled when I turned and saw jars of Skippy peanut butter.  Not only do they apparently eat peanut butter in Taiwan just like in the US, but they have the same brands!  Who would have thought?  After living in Madrid for the year, I began to think that Americans were the only ones who ate so much peanut butter.  Thanks to the grocery stores of Hualien, I know that at least some people in Taiwan eat peanut butter too.

A few hours later, we arrived back in Taipei, disembarked from the train, dropped our bags back at the hotel, and got ready for dinner with Cindy's family.  Over dinner, we reminisced about the grand Taroko National Park and planned our schedule for our final day in Taipei.

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