Thursday, May 17, 2012

Texas Takes Taiwan

If you know me at all, you know how awesome I think my dad is.  Sorry, but he’s just cooler than your dad.
So, when my dad booked his flight to come visit me in Taiwan, I was beyond excited.  Waiting the two months before his scheduled arrival date was somehow easier than the extra 10 hours due to a flight delay.  But he finally landed, and the next two weeks were filled with sightseeing, talking, laughing, traveling, and for me, re-discovering Taiwan through the eyes of Papa Baker.
We wasted no time while Dad was here, and we saw a LOT.  Some things have already been covered in my dad’s guest blog, so I’ll just focus on my favorite moments.
One of our first stops was the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.  I’ve been there many times, but this time we got to see the Changing of the Guard.  I took a video, but upon further inspection, I found that my camera is of very low quality and takes poor video.  So, consider yourself 5 minutes richer.  Anyways, going to the CKS Hall reminded me that my dad knows way more than I do.  I should study more history.  But I’m always too busy facebooking.
My camera envy began here.

The next day, we headed over to Taipei 101.  I pointed out the major sights from way up top: Yangmingshan, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, the direction towards Wugu, the shopping mall.  My dad’s main revelation?  “Oh look, Taipei 101’s shadow!  If we went down to the street, we could measure it and triangulate how tall Taipei 101 is!”  Yes. Yes, we could.
Taipei / shadow

I could tell my dad hadn’t eaten enough weird street food yet, so I took him up to Danshui.  We had the standard squid-on-a-stick and pineapple cakes, but he politely declined the black century eggs.  Claimed he wasn’t “a fan” of hard-boiled eggs.  Instead, we sat down to a delicious lunch of a gei, cellophane noodles inside fried tofu, swimming in a spicy sauce.  Apparently, it’s famous in Danshui, and it was just strange enough to meet our requirement for the day.  
Eatin some a gei

Danshui, with Guanyinshan across the river

We wanted to go to a baseball game, but after a run-in with some local Mormon missionaries, we discovered the game was cancelled due to rain.  What?  This is Taipei!  It rains EVERYDAY!  Good thing I know so much about Taipei; I quickly came up with a back-up plan -- The National Palace Museum.  It was free because it was Saturday night!  Not having to pay makes a history museum in a foreign country almost fun for me.  But I think Papa Baker enjoyed it.
Entering the National Palace Museum

Sunday was more my pace -- Maokong shan!  One of my favorite places in Taipei!  The day was beautiful and the tea was growing all around.  Every time I go to Maokong, I see something different.... even though I always go to the same tea house.  This time, we narrowly missed being out on a hillside during a torrential downpour.   They closed down the gondola and we had to wait about an hour before they decided the rain, lightning, and high winds were no longer a threat to our safety.  However, by that time, we were last in a long line to re-board the gondola.  
Using my limited Chinese and the ticket seller’s limited English, I found out that we were best off walking down the mountain to a service road to wait for a bus.  Uhhhh, ok.  Umbrellas and make-shift maps in hand, we set out to find that random mountain bus stop.  About 1,000 stairs, one wrong turn, one nasty slip-and-fall, and many “oh well”s later, we arrived at the bus stop!  That stuffy, standing-room only bus, flying around curves on winding mountain roads, was just the ride we needed to punctuate our time on Maokong.
Fields of tea

More temples!

Part of the treacherous path to the bus stop

Lucky for us, we had a car waiting for us at the station.  My boss, Fuho, and her husband, Victor, came to pick us up and take us to dinner.  Along with two of their children, we went to a barbecue restaurant.  Ooooo, barbecue?!?  Yes, but there were no brats or chicken quarters.  This restaurant brings you plates of thinly sliced meats (and vegetables, if you’re so inclined) and you grill them right at your table.  The grill is on your table!  Fun and delicious.  My dad was so impressed with Fuho and her family.  He commented to me later that, as beautiful as Taiwan is, he thought the best part of his visit was meeting the people -- and knowing that I’m surrounded by wonderful people who take care of me!
Fuho and her son at the barbecue.  Check out the grills!

More caring people!  My roommates Muni and Abigail

Searching for more adventure, we went for a few days to the east coast.  We went to Hualien for a day before going to Taroko Gorge.  I will dedicate an entire blog entry to our Taroko experience, but I will preface that will a little of this:
Holy crap, Batman.  Hualien is beautiful!

Biking through the Gorge

Safely back in New Taipei City, I took my dad on the best Wugu tour ever.  We saw the rooftop of my apartment, the riverwalk, the market, some random dilapidated temple, and my school.  Bringing my dad to my school brought back memories of when I first arrived at Shane English School.  With my dad and I standing in the lobby, the students came down the stairs to take a look, but they wouldn’t come off the landing and actually be in the same room with the stranger.  Some brave kids said “hello” but most of them just stared.  Ha!  I would say my dad must have totally freaked them out, but they did the same thing when they met me.  After a while (and some bribery), the students loosened up and started talking to my dad.  Mostly, they asked him questions straight out of the textbooks.  Some of my favorites: 
“What’s your name?”
“What are you wearing?”
“What do you like?”
“What’s your telephone number?”
Me with some of my students (and Dora!).  Look at Ann, refusing to participate :)

Later that night, my dad and I were whisked away to a home-cooked meal.  We were treated to traditional Taiwanese food and wonderful and welcoming conversation.  The family is so amazing!  Jerry and Grace kept my father highly entertained, and he could not say enough nice things about them the next day.  Their three daughters are very special to me, as well.  Selenia is one of my students, and Alice and Sabrina both TA for me at school.  (You may also remember Alice and Sabrina from our recent adventures in Jiufen!) 
Our gracious hosts, Grace and Jerry

For as long as I waited for my dad to arrive in Taiwan, I couldn’t believe that our two weeks was almost up!  On our last day together, we hiked up Elephant Mountain.  We only had to dodge one rain storm, so we were in good spirits.  A few photo-ops later, our time had slipped away.  I am so lucky to have had Papa Baker come visit me all the way on the other side of the world!  But the luckiest part is that he’s my dad.  Awwwwwwwwwwww.  (Remember THAT at Christmastime, Dad!)
Dad, just sitting around on Elephant Mountain

Final adventure.... for now!

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