Friday, June 1, 2012

A Much Needed Breather

Long weekends are always welcomed sights to teachers and the working class as a whole.
This past weekend, thanks to the birth of Buddha, I had a nice three day weekend and took full advantage of this opportunity.

Not only was this Buddha's birthday, but it was also my friend Steve's birthday. To celebrate, Steve, Mitch, and myself headed to Taipei, Taiwan for the weekend. We met up with Mitch's friend, Kevin and had a great weekend enjoying all the city had to offer.

The adventure started before we even left Seoul. Turns out we had booked ourselves onto the Hello Kitty airlines. Our airline provider, Eva Air, must have some sort of obsession/deal with Hello Kitty because we were instantly immersed in a sea of Hello Kitty ammenities. Our boarding passes had Hello Kitty on them. The side of the plane was plastered with Hello Kitty and her friends. The pillows were Hello Kitty. The screen saver for the TV screen in the back of the headrest had Hello Kitty scenes. Dinner was served with Hello Kitty silverware, napkin, dental floss, and wetnap. And to top everything off, we were treated to Hello Kitty ice cream, complete with a Hello Kitty small "ice cream spoon." It was quite a sight to behold.

Upon arriving around 10:00 pm Friday night, we met up with Kevin and bussed into Taipei. We stayed right near the main train and bus station and had an ideal location to get around the city. We checked into our hostel and then headed out to check out the night scene of Taipei. It was quite the experience - and not at all what I expected. The streets were EMPTY! I'm used to the night life in Seoul, which is always popping, no matter the day of the week. Come to find out, there is not real central area for all the bars and clubs in Taipei. They are spread out all ove the city, hence the lack of physical bodies roaming about. We ended up grabbing a drink at a place that seemed rather lively, headed to the Taipei 101 building, had another drink, then headed back to our hostel.

The next day, we rolled out of our hostel around noon and headed back to the Taipei 101 building. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we wanted to take advantage of the good weather by checking out the city of Taipei from 90 stories in the air. The 101 building is currently the second tallest building in the world, coming in just behind the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. We grabbed lunch in the basement of the building, then headed up to the observation deck on the 88th floor.

Now I've been in my fair share of tall buildings (from the Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago to the Tokyo Tower to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, among others), so I kind of knew what to expect. But after taking the world's fastest elevator to the observation area, I was thoroughly impressed with the view. There was also an outdoor observation area that we checked out before heading back down to ground level. Visit one of the top 5 tallest buildings in the world: CHECK!

Once we returned back to the streets of Taipei, we headed to a shrine that was built to honor one of the founding fathers of Taiwan. While there, we were able to also witness a portion of a changing of the guard ceremony. It reminded me a lot of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary in Washington D.C. It was a bit more drawn out and elaborate than the one in D.C., but still neat to be able the see and take in.

Our next stop was a Buddhist temple settled on top of one of the many mountains that surround the Taipei area. Before we made it to the temple, we stumbled across another shrine and had a 15 minute conversation with a city council representative of the area we were in. We trekked up the mountain and found the temple. It was very different than the temples here in Seoul. There are a lot more decorations and intricate woodwork involved in the Taipei temples. It was really cool to be able to see something a tad bit different from what we're used to here in Seoul.

All of our wandering and exploring left us pretty hungry, so we decided to head down to the night market and boy was it a good time! This trip was about trying new things and I was able to cross a few things off of my list: chicken heart, chicken butt, stinky tofu (which litterally tasted like a hot, pile of garbage/hog lot), pigs blood, and bubble tea. I was not a fan of the stinky tofu or bubble tea, but really enjoyed the rest of the food that we tried. We then treated ourselves to some carnival style games, with Mitch and Kevin cleaning up at the shooting range, popping a combined 80 balloons between the two of them to gain a large, stuffed Angry Bird.

Stinky Tofu - Disgusting Stuff

That night, once we had returned back to the hostel and cleaned up, we headed out to Club Luxy for a night out on the town and a celebration of the beginning of Steve's 23rd year on this planet. It was by far the most fancy and largest club that I had ever been to. We had a lot of fun, even though clubs really aren't my scene. The music was pumping and the dance floor was packed with tons of people.

Sunday morning brought overcast skies (good thing we did the 101 building the day before), so we decided to head to a national park that promised to have some awesome views of the city. Only problem was that the clouds decided to roll in over the mountains as we ventured and weaved our way up the winding roads. We attempted to check out some waterfalls, but found out that we would have to practically be standing on top of them to see them. So we headed back down to the base of the mountain and did some exploring on our own. We stumbled across some pretty interesting sites, including a waterfall that we could see, a mountain stream, and some more shrines.

To end our trip, we headed to a restaurant and had some amazing Chinese inspired food! Dumplings, duck, beef, and noodles were all devoured and enjoyed by everyone. Kevin headed back to his city of residence, which is located about 2 1/2 hours south of Taipei, while Steve, Mitch, and I stayed in for the night, seeing that we had an early flight back to Seoul the next morning.

Sadly, the flight home was not as decked out as the one going to Taipei, but we landed safely in Seoul and I spent the rest of the day catching up on some much needed sleep. All in all, it was a great little break from the hustle and bustle of Seoul. I can now add Taiwan to countries I've been to. That raises my country total up to 17.

Thank you Buddha for having a birthday. It was much appreciated!

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