TAKING A TIMELY VISIT TO TAIWAN
For my annual trek to Far East with a group of friends, we decided let’s include Taiwan, a destination most of the 20 of us hadn’t ventured to for over four decades. Yes, we found many changes in the island we once knew as quiet backwards Formosa – mainly in the amount of people, namely 23 million within 36,000 sq km., with only 5 major cities. Mainly in the amount of cars and motor scooters weaving in and out of busy traffic.
Packed into our five days schedule were Taipei sojourns visiting the many night markets brimming with unique food offerings (snake, anyone?), a viewing of the dignified uniformed soldiers during the changing of the guard ceremony, battling the noisy crowds at the National Palace Museum to catch a glimpse of its famous jade bak choy carving amongst its collection of 600,000 artifacts, visiting in New Taipei City the Yehliu Geopark with its coastline collection of limestone rocks, so worn down by wind and weather that many times they become forms reminiscent of the head of Queen Nefertiti or mushroom fields.
Transported in our comfy 40 passenger modern bus into Taroko Gorge, we donned required hard hat helmets as we walked along and underneath the jagged marble rock cliffs prepared for any falling rocks that big busses trudging by might knock loose. The roads have widened since I’d been there some 40 years ago, but even the new roads, so laboriously chiseled out of solid rock by hundreds of soldiers, our knowledgeable guide told us, made driving precarious as many cars and busses rushed past each other around every curve as we rode through Swallows Grotto, Nine Turns Tunnel and Tienshan.
In the countryside on Taiwan’s east coast of Taitung, we saw the farming heart of the country, with abundant crops of beetle nuts, bananas, tea, coffee, and an interesting sugar apple, unknown to our American eyes, called the Buddha fruit which looks like an artichoke on the outside, with a sweet custard-like inside filling. We saw indigenous aboriginal villages of the Putung tribe, who shared their cultural dancing and singing along with embroidery handiwork. In the middle of hot springs country in the city of Chipen, we lounged in five pools of different temperatures while staying in a palm-treed luxury resort, soothing for our senior group’s aching muscles from long days of sightseeing hikes.
As you well know, all of my trips take in the favorite sport of golf, and our visit to Taiwan didn’t disappoint us. Although an anticipated women’s world championship golf tournament prevented us from playing Taiwan’s most famous golf resort, Sunshine, our visit to Miramar Golf Club was a unanimous treat. From the time we arrived, greeted by friendly helmeted (afraid of errant ball, I presume?) young caddies in pristine colored uniforms, our clubs were whisked off the bus and into four person golf carts with a ledge at the back for the two accompanying caddies to stand. Although most caddies don’t speak English, I, using hand and finger motions, learned my caddie was 28 years old, had caddied for over 6 years, and had no problems telling me the distances, which club to use to get to the flag (easy choices since with my limited prowess, I only brought 6 clubs with me!) and which direction I should putt to find the ever elusive hole! My golf partners Steve Gee, MaeleneWong and Pauline Yee agreed golfing in Taiwan here was a special privileged adventure. The course was beautiful, with rolling hills and vast lush green fairways, and the clubhouse provided wonderful amenities for golfers to shower and refresh yourself for the delicious noodle lunch we enjoyed after. What more could true golfers ask for?
Going to any country is made so much more pleasurable when you can meet with locals for their personal perspective of life in their country. My former San Jose family member Lynette Jow Chen has lived in Taiwan, since husband Dennis whisked her off her feet to his homeland some 17 years ago so seeing them at their own grounds was a real treat. They treated us to a dinner of typical Taiwan dishes, many of them oil free and healthy vegetarian dishes, mixed with French wine, which Dennis tells us is more accessible in Taiwan than our own California wines, surprisingly. They took us to visit a beautiful ornately decorated 100 year old temple in the city, which was still filled with people praying and lighting incense in the evening hours.
Of course, one doesn’t think of modern Taipei without a visit to its famed second in the world tallest building, Taipei 101. Before you could hold your breath, its modern elevator whisked us to the 85th floor where at the Shin-Ye Restaurant we dined on one of our group leader Frank Chang’s most enticing lunches while enjoying the magnificent view of the city on a perfectly sunny clear day. Celebrating fellow traveler Pat Lum’s birthday there was a memorable occasion, shared happily by Saratoga friends John and Muriel Kao, Wilson and Pauline Fong, among others.
Some of us ventured to the nearby Wu Fen Pu fashion market, a conglomeration of tiny stalls in a maze of alley ways offering the latest in youthful fashions, but WendyWong, Matt Franklin, Pauline and Lane Lee, Steven and Phyllis Gee enjoyed the visual challenge of visiting as many shops in our two hour visit without getting completely lost in this midget city of fashion forever-land. To end our stay in Taipei, the more label conscious in the group, Barbara and Bert Why, Aaron and MaeleneWong. Sylvia and Roger Eng enjoyed ogling through the windows of the latest European fashion houses in the luxury mall at the foot of Taipei 101. To end our short stay in Taiwan on a high note was a visit to Din Tai Fung, a franchised restaurant where our taste buds were treated to Taipei’s signature steamed mini dumplings, a yummy concoction where one has to be careful with the first bite or else a squirt of hot soup might hit you in the eye! Watching the cooks at work molding the tiny dumplings by hand through a kitchen window was like seeing a human assembly line, they were so fast and proficient at their craft.
Taiwan has much more than one can see fully in five days, but it gave us a great taste of the full flavor of the country, which will beckon us again, everyone agreed as we flew off to China to complete our tour. Tune in next time for our China adventure.
A MUST SEE IN BERKELEY
Berkeley’s Roda Theatre where Berkeley Repertory Theatre holds its shows, is a small house where everyone has a goof seat. And there was thunderous applause from the audience I joined to see THE WHITE SNAKE this week. Adapted and directed by a very talented Tony award-winning Mary Zimmerman, this play is classic romance from Chinese legend where a snake spirit woman falls for a charming young human man. Intrigue follows when an evil Monk objects and the bride must unveil her magical powers to escape an entrapment and save her husband . The story is alluring and hypnotic, the actors compelling and superb. To add magic to the show, the simple sets change scenes easily on stage and the costumes add to a colorful stage presentation. One becomes mesmerized by the whole package from beginning to end, which is dramatic and yet comical simultaneously. Don’t miss this before it leaves December 23. Ticket info: berkeleyrep.org or (510) 64702949.