Kaohsiung – Lotus Lake

29 09 2007

On our first full day in Kaohsiung, we visited Lotus Lake, which is located near the Zuoying THSR station. I thought it was a delightful trip, although we weren’t entirely used to the weather yet. It was also a bit cloudy that day.

We started at the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion and worked our way down to the Confucius Temple.

Unfortunately, the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion was under renovation. For good luck, you are supposed to enter the dragon and exit the tiger.

Dragon-Tiger Pavilion

A view of the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion from the Wuli Pavilion.

Lotus Lake

Here we approach the Spring Autumn Pavilion and the Wuli Pavilion on the pier.

Wuli Pavilion

The Spring Autumn Pavilion consists of two towers surrounding a statue of Guanyin on top of a dragon.

Spring Autumn Pavilion

Turtles in the pool where the dragon sits.

Turtles

We saw this Chinese version of the fortune teller in a box that you often see at American carnivals. We had to try it. You put $NT10 in the machine and think of your question really hard.

Fortune Teller Machine

Then this lady comes out and drops your fortune that is rolled up in a tube in the slot.

Fortune Teller Machine 2

Apparently you are supposed to pick a topic for your fortune, and the paper you get is organized by topic. My aunt read my fortune and said it was good. Of course, every single fortune you get in this machine is good.

We entered the dragon, which goes into a tunnel where the walls are garishly painted with Chinese gods. Inside there were piles of religious books that were free of charge. There was even a comic book version. I should have took one just for fun, but the heat was getting in the way of my thinking.

Qiming Temple and the Spring Autumn Pavilion from the Wuli Pier

Spring Autumn Pavilion 2

Inside the Wuli Pavilion on the water – you can see the Beiji Xuantian Shang Di Pavilion

Inside Wuli Pavilion

A picture of the painted walls inside the Wuli Pavilion

Wuli Pavilion 2

The next stop around the lake was the Beiji Xuantian Shang Di Pavilion, which has a large painted statue of the Emperor of the Dark Heaven. We were getting really hot at this point, so we didn’t stay long.

Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven

My uncle was telling me the story of the Emperor of the Dark Heaven (Xuantian Shang Di), which is a very interesting tale. From what I can understand and what I remember, the Emperor of the Dark Heaven was once an ordinary butcher. He felt repentant for killing so many pigs, however, that he did good deeds to make up for it the rest of his life. When he died he was raised to the status of a god for his good deeds. At some point he was given a sword or maybe just a scabbard, which he used to banish the monster kings from the human world, which are represented by the snake and turtle under his feet. This god is able to control the elements, especially fire. I think I messed up the story a little there, so I am open to any corrections.

Our last stop at Lotus Lake was the Confucius Temple, which was the most impressive part of Lotus Lake, in my opinion. The Confucius Temple is one of Taiwan’s largest, and is an impressive complex of buildings. It is hard to describe so I will just post pictures.

Outside Confucius Temple

Gates of Confucius Temple

Approaching Confucius Temple

On Sundays, people gather on the grounds to dance with each other.

Dancing on temple grounds

A side gate

Side gate

Gate to the central temple complex

Confucius Temple Gate

The Confucius Temple on Lotus Lake

Confucius Temple

To the Right

To the Left

Inside the Confucius Temple

Inside Confucius Temple

Ceilings and Art

View from Temple toward the entrance from which we came

Opposite View

Another picture of the Temple complex

Another View of the Confucius Temple

All in all we really enjoyed this trip. Although some parts of the pavilions were rather garish and cheesy (like the fortune teller), it was a fun morning to poke around the different temples and pavilions. Charles and I especially liked the Confucius Temple, which was not cheesy at all.





Kaohsiung – Sightseeing

29 09 2007

Despite its status as Taiwan’s second city, there are some interesting places to explore in Kaohsiung in terms of sightseeing. You can stroll along the banks of the Love River (Ai He), window shop at the well represented big departments stores that include Hansen (next to the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel), Da Li / Isetan, and Da Tong / President, hike the trails and see the pagoda at Cheng Ching Lake, and eat at the Liu He 2nd Street night market. In the outskirts of the city, Lotus Lake is a small lake surrounded by temples that is fun to explore, including a magnificent Confucius Temple. In addition, the Foguangshan Buddhist monastery is not far and is a worthwhile visit if you are interested in Buddhism and exploring the grand temple complex. Plus, if you want to see rhesus monkeys, there are lots at Shoushan Nature Reserve.

We didn’t really follow a sightseeing itinerary since I was more interested in seeing family while we were in Kaohsiung. However, we did manage to squeeze in a tour of Lotus Lake, a drive by Cheng Ching Lake, a look at the San Feng Gong temple and enjoyed the air conditioned havens that the department stores represented.

Todd from the Daily Bubble Tea did a nice post on Kaohsiung a while ago. He visited a lot of places that I didn’t cover, so for the sake of visitors who are thinking of going to Kaohsiung, I am linking his post here.

Kaohsiung Map

Here’s a bigger version of the map. Click here!

The series of posts on Kaohsiung are linked below:

Kaohsiung – Lotus Lake

Kaohsiung – Shopping Mall

Kaohsiung – A Local Temple

Kaohsiung – Old School Taiwan

NEW!  Kaohsiung – Night Markets





Kaohsiung – Old School Taiwan

27 09 2007

We started our visit to Taiwan in Kaohsiung (Gao Xiong), where we have lots of family.  The Kaohsiung airport was a breeze; our luggage was delivered quickly and customs and immigration were a nonevent.  Best of all, there were no lines!

Kaohsiung is the second city of Taiwan, often in the shadow of the glitzy capital city of Taipei.  In addition to being the second largest city in Taiwan (and one of the largest container ports in the world), Kaohsiung is also the stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), aka the pro-independence green party.  The primary language spoken here is Taiwanese.  When mandarin is spoken, it is heavily accented by Taiwanese.  Kaohsiung is often overlooked because it’s not as tourist friendly for Westerners.  English is not as prevalent as in Northern Taiwan, and there are not as many tourist attractions.  However, coming to see this city will give visitors a glimpse into a completely different, more intense view of Taiwan. 

When I think of Kaohsiung, my mind brings up fond memories of summers spent with my extended family as a child.  Thus, a lot of our visit in this city consisted of visiting memories.  We did some sightseeing too, but that will be in the next post.

Liu He 2nd Street

Liu He 2nd Street

Liu He

Liu He

Morning Market

Morning Market

Butcher

My Favorite Bawan Stand

Bawan Stand

Bawan (Taiwanese for Rou Wan, or directly translated as Meat Ball), a Taiwanese delicacy and popular street food, is a ball of steamed rice dough usually stuffed with meat, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.  Sometimes there is also garlic involved, and there are regional variations to this dish.  This is my favorite Taiwanese food, and oh my goodness it was good.  So good I had it two days in a row.  Charles also thought it was delicious, and said it was the best thing he had in Taiwan in terms of food.

Here is a freshly made batch of bawan.

Batch of Bawan

My soon to be devoured Bawan in sauce.

Bawan

A pretty apartment building.

Aparment Courtyard

Apartment

Next: Sightseeing in Kaohsiung





Halo 3 Premiere

25 09 2007

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 

Since today is the worldwide premiere of Halo 3, I thought it would be appropriate to post these pictures I took while in Taiwan.  It seems that Halo 3 was much anticipated in Taiwan, since these displays were up on Friday and Saturday.

Here is the Halo 3 display in the underground mall at Taipei main station.

 Halo 3 Display

When we passed by the next day, a group of Halo 3 dancing girls were there too.  I love the guys behind them who are just as enthusiastic in their dancing.

Halo 3 Girls

There were also three stages set up on the street level outside Taipei main station, near the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi shopping mall that were also Halo 3 related.  Since it was raining pretty hard, I didn’t get a picture.

And, for the other gaming geeks out there, here is an ad for the World of Warcraft in Taiwan.  We saw this, of all places, on a random street in Lukang.

WOW Taiwan





Cold Treats for the Hot Weather

24 09 2007

Despite having been there before, nothing quite prepared me for the heat and humidity in Taiwan. The shock to Charles’ system was even worse. Imagine the hottest, most humid day in DC or in Chicago and add more humidity, more smog, and no air conditioning. That’s how it feels to step outside in Taiwan in September. The funny thing is that the Taiwanese residents seem to think that September is on the cooler side. We saw many people walking around in long pants and long sleeves! After the typhoon, people were wearing jackets.

It was difficult to get used to the weather, and took a day or two to not instantly sweat whenever we walked outside. When I say get used to the weather, I mean before we realized the importance of balancing outside sightseeing with inside air conditioning appreciation at shopping malls and museums. I can’t believe that most Taiwanese residents don’t use air conditioning. Even before the typhoon, which actually cooled things down quite a bit, it was really really really really really hot and humid. Then it was rainy and humid. Really rainy. No wonder the island is so green with vegetation!

One positive side effect of the heat is that Taiwan is a great place to find all kinds of cool drinks and cold snacks. In addition, this kind of weather, though punishing for humans, is wonderful for growing fruit and tea. The Taiwanese often say that the fruit here is sweeter and more abundant than anywhere else in the world. Mango, guava, papaya, dragonfruit, starfruit, custard fruit, Asian pear, lychee, and longan are everywhere, just to name a few.

Fruit Stand

Below are some cut dragonfruit and fresh longans. Delicious and fresh! Unfortunately for me, lychees, my favorite fruit, were out of season.

Fruit

Iced tea is its own category here, with options from pearl milk tea to red tea to green tea to oolong tea to mint tea. The bubble tea phenomenon that is sweeping the Chinatowns of the U.S. originated in Taiwan.

The cold drink options in Taiwan are endless, as evidenced by the water and tea section in the local convenience store (the one with the half smiley face).

Cold Drinks

Lucky for me, in Kaohsiung my aunt knew all the best (and cleanest) places to buy food. This stand on a side street off Liuho 2nd Street in Kaohsiung sells a great grass jelly mint tea.

Grass Jelly stand

Like many drink stands in Taiwan, the mint tea is sealed with plastic on top. Since sanitation can be an issue at street stands, this is a welcome measure. You just poke your straw through the top anywhere. However, I think putting your sealed drink in an additional plastic bag as they also do here is a little over the top. The only reason I can think of why they do this is because of the condensation.

Grass Jelly Tea

Cold treats are also available everywhere. The stand pictured below sells various red bean, green bean, taro, gelatin, and fruit ice drinks. We had some and it was yummy! This stand is located in Kaohsiung on one of the side streets behind the <name to be filled in> temple.

Cold Treat Stand

Cold Treat Stand

The best street stand cold treat, in my opinion, is Tzua Bing, or shaved ice. We had some every other day, and it is YUMMY! Each stand will have at least 6 toppings for you to choose from, including red bean, taro, green bean, taro, fruit, milk, and syrups. We stopped at one in Kaohsiung, but I forgot to take a picture. I was too busy eating!

Here is a picture of a tzua bing stand I found in the food court in the basement of Taipei 101. This particular dish is special because it features “snowflake” ice, or shaved frozen milk. It was delicious! Later I will wax poetic about the wonderful food court at Taipei 101, but that deserves its own post.

Snowflake Shaved Ice with milk and red bean topping.

Snowflake Ice Treat

I wish I could have one of these right now!





Back from Taiwan!

24 09 2007

We are back from an exciting week in Taiwan! The good news is that we got to see lots of relatives, reconnect with friends, and see a Taiwan I haven’t seen in over a decade. The food was even better than I remember. The bad news is that Typhoon Wipha basically ruined all of our sightseeing plans for the week. This typhoon closed the stock market, schools, and businesses in the northern half of Taiwan before moving off to the coast of China where it was downgraded to a tropical storm. While the typhoon itself only lasted a day or two in Taiwan, it sent torrential rains that lasted for days. We were unable to make it to either Taroko Gorge or Jiufen, the two places I was most looking forward to sightsee. We did get to see Kaohsiung, Taipei, Yuanlin, and Lukang, however, and yes, I took lots of pictures!

Most importantly for my readers is that I have lots of fodder for blogging purposes, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I will leave you with this photograph of a wonderful traditional Taiwanese family meal we had while we were in Yuanlin.

Traditional Meal in Taiwan

– Sandy





Some Travel Tips for Flying

10 09 2007

While flying gets us to our destinations faster than any other way, most people don’t relish being squeezed into narrow seats next to inconsiderate fellow passengers breathing canned air.  However, as many travelers know, a little planning goes a long way toward a smoother trip.  Below I have compiled some basic tips to maximize your peace and comfort and make the best of air travel.  Some of these are obvious, but for the sake of completeness I have included them.  Long haul flights, like the 21 hour flight we are doing soon (14 hour flight, then 2.5 hour layover, then 4 hour flight), deserve special consideration and preparation!

Pick the best seat available on your flight.  Look up your reservation on your airline’s website.  Airlines usually provide the type of aircraft and what kind of food service to expect.  Armed with this information, you can then go to www.seatguru.com and look up your seat.  This great website displays the location of your seat, tells you where the bathrooms are, and includes comments about legroom, computer power ports, and other important information.  If you are seated in a poor seat, request a seat change.  Nowadays you can usually just change your seating assignment online, or if that doesn’t work, ask when you check into your flight.

If possible, don’t check your bags and pack light.  This is, of course, not possible for some trips and is difficult for people with lots of liquid/gels/lotions.  However, with lines everywhere and the security situation these days, not having to wait in line to check your bag or pick it up is a serious time saver.  For people like myself that have lots of toiletries, you can get little plastic jars from Art stores (used for paint pigments) that are spill-proof and stick them into your plastic zip top bag.  For business trips, this is a must.

Get comfortable.  With more travelers than ever these days, there are a TON of travel products out there that are designed to make travel a little less miserable.  The number 1 item for those that want to sleep on their flights is to get the ubiquitous neck pillow.  They are several kinds out there, from the type that inflate to ones with beads to super fancy tempurpedic pillows that also double as back support.  Also, bringing your own is more sanitary because at least you know where your pillow has been.

Bring entertainment and snacks.  This is obvious but worth mentioning.  For the long hauls, there are lots of travel size games out there that minimize space and maximize fun.  Travel Scrabble, chinese checkers, playing cards are just a few examples.  Books obviously.  An ipod or equivalent can do double duty playing music and discouraging chatty neighbors.

Maximize your laptop usage.  Look up wireless access availability at the airports beforehand.  This is pretty straight forward – just google your airport’s website.  For in seat laptop usage, you can buy a power adapter for airplanes.  Don’t forget to make sure that your assigned seat has a power port.  With a laptop, you do not have to be a slave to the airline’s entertainment choices.  Instead, you can watch the DVDs that you bring, play games, or catch up on your work.  Several airlines are looking into adding internet on flights, but none have yet.  This is definitely something to look forward to!

Check out your airline meal in advance.  Then you can decide if you should bring your own food or not.  Again, first check your reservation online to determine if a meal will be served or not, and whether you have to pay for it.  Then go to www.airlinemeals.net.  This fun website features pictures taken by passengers of their airline food.  You can look the meals up by airline.

Got a layover?  Explore the airport and surroundings.  This will take a little extra research, but if your layover is over 3 hours it is probably worth it.  Google your airport’s name with the word “layover” and see what pops up.  A great example is this definitive website on layovers at Narita:  http://www.mgnewman.com/narita/index.html.  Actually the mall in Narita is pretty good for an airport mall.  If you are thinking of leaving the airport, however, make sure you know the exit and entry requirements.

Get an upgrade!  Just kidding.  Well sort of.  If you can afford it, many say this is worth the price for long-haul flights.  Having never sat in anything other than economy (or First Class on Southwest Airlines), I can’t tell if it’s worth it or not.  But I would love to one day sit in this part of the airplane. 

And the last tip is… please have your ID and boarding pass ready at the security gate and don’t clog up the lines at the security checkpoints!!! 








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