Saturday, April 22, 2000

spring break + Taiwan trip report

This spring break was pretty awesome as my family got to visit Taiwan. The three of us left two Saturdays ago, and Mom and I came back yesterday morning. Dad has to stay overseas for a few more days for business reasons, hence why it was just the two of us on the return trip.

This wasn't so much a vacation as a pilgrimage to my parents' homeland, but that doesn't mean we didn't have fun. You can read all about the things we did in this trip report.

Days 1 and 2

Our journey began with a 13-hour flight to Taipei. To be honest, I kind of hate these long plane rides. Mom and I had a not-so-pleasant experience with China Airlines on our last trip to Taiwan in 1995, so I was expecting the worst. During that trip, the air was very dry on the originating flight, and I was unable to sleep no matter how hard I tried. Not exactly my idea of a good time.

Fortunately, this one wasn't all that bad. I got to watch End of Days on the plane, which I had always wanted to see. It was a really cool movie. The in-flight entertainment had a few other flicks as well, although I didn't watch them as they didn't seem that interesting.

The plane eventually landed at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, where my paternal grandfather Bien-Chuan picked us up and took us to his home in Tainan. Bien-Chuan lives with his companion Mrs. Chen; my grandmother passed away before I was born, but I have always considered Mrs. Chen to be part of our family.

Tainan was a little over 180 miles from Taipei, or about a four-hour drive. All of us were tired from the traveling, so we rested at Grandpa's house for pretty much the entire afternoon. Other than that, my parents and I checked out a nearby night market after dinner. It was like a little carnival, and I had a good time there even though we didn't stay that long.

Day 3

The main stop of the day was Anping Fort, one of Taiwan's most famous landmarks. It was built by the Dutch in the 17th century and later surrendered to the Chinese following a major battle. Forts and battlefields aren't exactly my cup of tea, but my parents didn't want me to miss out on such an important part of Taiwanese history.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to see what's on TV, and the first thing that came up was a hentai cartoon. It actually showed a guy inserting some sort of object into a girl's butt. Gross. I guess the Taiwanese telecommunications regulatory agencies aren't exactly strict on this kind of stuff.

Day 4

When Bien-Chuan and Mrs. Chen last visited us about two years ago, they also brought along two of their friends, Mrs. Mao and Mrs. Chou. I was particularly fond of Mrs. Mao; not only did she help around the house during their stay, she was also an exceptionally good cook.

Well, Mrs. Mao had learned that I really liked her cooking, so she invited all of us to her house for lunch. She made many different dishes, all of which were quite good. It certainly felt great to be the guest of honor. She even gave me a kiss on the cheek as we left, which was rather awkward despite us being two generations apart. *blush*

At my aunt Jill's suggestion, my parents took me to see a spiritual healer of sorts in the evening. Jill had recommended his services because she thought he would be able to help with my autism. From what the guy said, something had scared my soul away when I was three years old. That stuck me as very odd; I certainly don't remember anything terrifying at that age. He then had us perform some sort of ritual to "return my soul." This whole experience definitely weirded me out a bit. I was very tired afterwards, so I decided to catch some sleep in the car.

Day 5

I found myself on a couch when I woke up again, and it was already morning. Apparently, I was so sound asleep that my father had to literally pick me up and carry me back into Grandpa's house. I couldn't help but wonder if that strange guy magically drained my life force or something. Too weird.

After breakfast consisting of Grandpa's delicious homemade eel noodles, my parents and I went to visit Jill at her new house. But our short stay was not without mishaps: Mom and I were trying to figure out how to use the shower when the spigot broke loose, resulting in an uncontrolled flow of water. It created a rather dangerous situation because an electrical outlet was just next to the shower. To make matters worse, my aunt had conveniently left to teach a class. Luckily, my parents were eventually able to reach Jill on her cell phone, and she found someone to fix the shower.

Dad picked up Bien-Chuan and Mrs. Chen at their house, and all of us headed to Taipei together. The weather was very hot, so we didn't do much there except go on a boat tour. The vessel had windows that allowed people to see underwater; it was a pretty cool experience.

This was the only day we stayed in a hotel. To our disappointment, the hotel wasn't as good as we had expected. The establishment had a very archaic design, making it feel rather old and uncomfortable. I don't think the money was worth it.

Day 6

It was time to return to Tainan. The highlight of the day was Kenting National Park, notable for its scenic beaches. One place we visited was Eluanbi Lighthouse, located at the southernmost tip of Taiwan. From what we had heard, it was possible to see the ocean in two or three different colors (depending on the conditions) from the top of the lighthouse. It was closed for renovation, but the folks in charge were nevertheless kind enough to let us pose for a couple of pictures just outside the gate. I truly hope we'll have the opportunity to revisit the lighthouse in the future when it's open.

Later in the evening, my father and I set off some fireworks to celebrate last month's Taiwanese presidential election. Dad had bought them for about NT$3,000 (or around $100) the day before, and the money was well spent. I absolutely love fireworks, so this was the best part of the trip. There's nothing more thrilling than blowing stuff up!

On the subject of fireworks, my family also had fun with them during our previous trip to Taiwan. The crazy thing was that we accidentally started a small fire that time. Oh dear! I was aware of the potential dangers of fireworks, so we decided to shoot them from a bridge over a nearby creek - after all, it would be rather hard to set the creek on fire.

The problem is, we had forgotten about the vegetation near the water. As Murphy's law would have it, one of the bottle rockets landed on a dry clump of grass, which promptly went up in flames. That certainly scared the hell out of us. Fortunately, my father and one of his brothers were able to put out the fire before it could spread. That was a close call for sure.

Having learned our lesson, Dad and I decided to play it safe this time. There was an empty lot located conveniently close to Bien-Chuan's house, so that was where we set off the fireworks. I'm happy to say that nothing caught fire this time. :-)

Day 7

Time was kind of tight as Mom and I had to prepare for our flight home. However, I had so much fun with the fireworks that Dad and I went out to buy some more. But because it seemed silly to light most types of fireworks in the daytime, our purchase was limited to a couple strings of firecrackers.

Grandpa then took my family back to Taipei, where the three of us met up with my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang at the latter's house. I got to hang out with my cousin William, who showed me his collection of computer games. This was really fun; I'm definitely going to see if I can download the games somewhere. My parents and I stayed at Wei-Fang's house for the night; the bedroom was fairly small, but it was a lot cozier than our room at the Caesar Park Hotel.

Day 8

Dad has to remain in Taiwan for a few more days for business reasons, so it was just me and my mother. He dropped the two of us off at the airport, and we were on our way home. The return flight was slightly shorter because the plane was going against the Earth's rotation instead of having to "catch up" with it. On the other hand, I find jet lag to be worse when traveling east. I'm still very sleepy right now as we speak!

Conclusions

Although the main purpose of the trip was to visit our relatives, we still had a great time. The best part of the trip was when Dad and I set off fireworks in Tainan. Consumer fireworks are illegal in Los Altos, so this isn't something I get to do every day. The night markets were pretty exciting as well; I really wish we had those back in the Bay Area.

One thing we noticed about Taiwan is that there are stray dogs everywhere. They are not a common sight in the U.S. because stray animals here are routinely euthanized. The dogs never bothered us, though, so we generally ignored them.

The downside of international trips is that the jet lag can be very taxing. Speaking of which, school is starting for me tomorrow, so I better get go some rest. I don't think my teachers would be too happy to me fall asleep in class...

Currently watching: End of Days
Release date: November 24, 1999

Monday, April 3, 2000

student of the day

Every day at Egan, one random 8th grader is picked to be the student of the day during the morning announcements. Well, I got chosen as the "8th grader of the day" today!

It's nothing special, really, although I did get a voucher for a free item at the student store, and a lot of people greeted me during brunch and lunch, and between classes. So yeah, I guess that's my 15 minutes of fame. :P

Currently playing: Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders