The Hill

August 15-17th, 2014

It’s Friday, Friday, gotta….okay I am done with that. Technically, it was Friday…okay I am done with that as well. Annoying songs that get stuck in your head about Friday aside it really was Friday. I had finished my first week of morning yo-yo classes and had plans to go up to Keelung for the weekend. Having bought my ticket in advance I was ready to pack, shower, and get on the train to visit my friend Rachael. The train ride was about 3 hours, but I have my Kindle and Ipod so the time goes by relatively quickly. I did not have a window seat on the train though. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is. If you are on the train for 2 or more hours you want a window seat so you can lean against it and take a nap, but also to look out of the window with ease. Taiwan is a beautiful, green country, so it is very aesthetically pleasing to look at 90% of the time. (Unless you are in a dingy, dirty alley) When the train arrived into Keelung station I quickly departed the platform and tried to turn my return ticket for Sunday into a seated ticket instead of a non-seated ticket. I chatted with the ticket lady and she gave me a seat ticket for Sunday, or so I thought…dun dun dunnnnn (more on that later)

But I was in Keelung wooo! Keelung is a harbor city that is located in the northern part of Taiwan. Rachael was there to pick me up and we went to her apartment, on the “damn” hill.

The damn hill

The “damn” hill

This picture displays one part of a 3 part version of the “damn” hill. Throughout the weekend I re-named the hill, the “damn” hill, and also referred to it as my a** workout because by the time you reach Rachael’s apartment you are out of breathe and the back of your legs feel like they are on fire.

After dropping off our things and changing into some non-sweaty clothes Rachael guided me towards the Keelung Night Market.

Now, I love food! Most people know this about me. I love all kinds of food, which means my weight has been all kinds of up and down the last four years. One of the most annoying things I heard when I told people that I was moving to Taiwan is: “oh you are going to lose sooo much weight”. I kind of wanted to retort back, “do I need to?”, but instead just ignored the comment. After about two days of being in Taiwan I knew that an influx of weight was just going to be inevitable. There are all kinds of dishes, fruits, veggies, noodles, fried foods, and snacks that I want to try out. I am in a new country and I want to try things. So, subsequently watching what I eat has gone out the window and instead I just try new things whenever I can.

Keelung Night Market is a foody’s dream come true! There is a variety of food, so that every other stand is not the same thing.

1. First item was Papaya Milk. This stuff is delicious! Costing only 40 NT (1.20ish USD) it is hard not to just slurp this drink down right away and then order another one about halfway through the night market.

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2. Oyster Egg Omelet. This stuff is actually pretty good once you get past the sliminess.

3. Meat kabobs. I think it was bacon and chicken, but I am not sure. This was also very tasty because it was barbequed.

I cannot remember what else we ate, but I am sure we could have spent hours at the market just eating food.

Keelung Night Market

Keelung Night Market

This night market is so big that it has different tiers. I believe 3 or 4 sections are food, and then there is the clothing and goods sections that we didn’t even get to.

Loving the night market atmosphere

On our way to the next destination in Keelung we passed part of the Keelung Harbor. It is nicely light up at night. The other great part about Keelung is that the area may be hot and humid, but it has a nice breeze, which makes all the difference in Taiwan.

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Rachael planned for us to meet up with some of her co-workers at a bar called Peter’s Bar in Keelung. We grabbed the traditional Taiwanese beers from the 7-11 and headed that way. At the bar I was able to meet some of Rachael’s staff members from one of the HESS branches she teaches at. They all were super cool and it was awesome to see the variety of timelines that each person had being in Taiwan. One of the individuals was actually on her way out of Taiwan, but before she was even going to go home she was making two pit stops in different countries. It was both inspirational and fascinating to see how the traveling and adventure doesn’t end in just one place. Drinking merrily we chatted about work until finally someone made a no work rule. So then we actually talked about real life things. It seems to happen quite frequently when me and my friends get together; we talk about work. It is so hard not to do when you all work for the same company and want to share your different experiences. (I could probably go on for hours about my yo-yo’s, and they are so little that it is something basic like, “oh my gosh my yo-yo’s lined up!”, and the average teacher could be like, so good for you.) After awhile we decided it was time to go home.

The group + dog Lucas

The group + dog Lucas

One of the bartenders wanted to take a picture with us. We must not have been a bad bunch of loud foreigners after all.

Night stands are not open very late in Keelung, so we stopped at the 7-11 to get food. Microwaved food from 7-11 tastes like the best thing on the planet when you have had enough beers. On the way home we were talking on the phone, while walking up the hill, to our friend Nick. In Taipei, he was walking across the street with a friend and got hit by a motorcycle. They rushed him to the hospital and casted up his fractured foot. It just goes to show how much you have to watch traffic here, whether you are walking or using a vehicle. At home we rinsed off the sweat from the hill and passed out.

Saturday morning Rachael and I were in no hurry to get up early, so we lounged around and then finally got ready for the day. First things first was food. We went down to the harbor to eat actual breakfast food. I had been craving breakfast food like crazy. At the First Hotel in Taipei we ate breakfast every day, but noodles and chicken nuggets for breakfast was not like the equivalent of waffles and eggs to me.

We also picked up some Starbucks as well. I thought it was ironic that it was located right on the harbor. Is it a necessary thing to have a Starbucks on the harbor in harbor cities?

Keelung Harbor

Keelung Harbor

Now Rachael needed to pick-up her second suitcase that was still located in Qidu, a city close to Keelung, so we bused there to pick it up. Once we picked up the suitcase Rachael wanted to search for a stationary store a co-worker had told her about and I wanted to see Qidu. We must have looked hilarious to all the locals. Here I was with a good size camera taking pictures of every day things and Rachael was pushing around a bright pink suitcase.

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We walked by a food market and shopped at an everything store.

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Both of these places reminded me of when I was in Thailand and Laos. I love these little similarities when I find them. Taiwan is located in Southeast Asia, but it doesn’t resemble what most of Southeast Asia looks like. It seems much more modern, which means you miss out on the really cheap nights markets and the local villages. You have to search more for the atmosphere in Taiwan. But because I am in Taiwan I have a lot of modern amenities that I might not have been able to find in other parts of Southeast Asia, so there is a plus side and a down side to both aspects of Southeast Asia. Still full we did not buy any food, but I did buy quite a few households items in the everything store. My favorite purchase was a yoga mat for only 3 USD. I can now workout in my apartment without any concerns of slipping on the ceramic tiling.

We continued along in Qidu; passing along the Keelung River.

Keelung River

Keelung River

Qidu may be a smaller city with not much to offer, but it is surrounded by green mountains, which gives the city a quaint little mountain city feel. The other interesting thing about this northern part of Taiwan is the locals are super nice! Random people on the street were smiling and saying hello to us all the time. I had some people in Qidu speak Chinese to me and I was like uhhhh I don’t know what you just said. In the afternoon we left Qidu to go back to Keelung to pick-up our friend Pasqualle from the train station. At the last minute we decided to go to Taipei to visit friends who were having a Mexican Food mini-party. Dressed and ready to go we caught the train to Taipei. The local train to Taipei is super cheap and it is only about a 40 minute ride. Once in Taipei we picked up our now crippled friend Nick and took a taxi to Matt and Adam’s apartment. We got dropped off, in an alley of all places, and were looking for the apartment. Not finding it, and visibly looking lost, some Taiwanese locals tried helping us find the apartment building.

"Helping" us I think

“Helping” us I think

The first one couldn’t even read or speak English so we asked the whole group of locals to help. This one couple that happened to be walking by decided they would walk us to Matt and Adam’s apartment building. Sometimes people here are just so ridiculously nice to foreigners that it surprises me every time. I did feel pretty bad though because Nick had to walk around on crutches that are too short for him. It was also so humid that he was drenched in sweat within 5 minutes of crutching.

It was pretty chill at Matt and Adam’s place. They have a fairly large apartment with a kitchen that they share with two other roommates. The Mexican food was good and a nice change of pace from the noodles and rice we have been having every day. The best part of the night was the Taipei view. We went to the roof of the 24-floor apartment building and just chilled for awhile. It was so beautiful! When we are doing the constant day-to-day hustle and bustle sometimes you forget how lucky you are and where you actually live. I loved that rooftop. I did not fall in love with a person up there, I fell in love with a country. I don’t think any picture will give justice to the feeling I had that night; just pure bliss.

Taipei View

Taipei View

It keeps getting more beautiful each time

It keeps getting more beautiful each time

Noticing the time we decided we needed to get back to the train before the last midnight train left Taipei Main Station. We literally made it to the train with five minutes to spare. I bet we looked like damn fools speed walking/running through the fairly empty corridors of Taipei Main.

Oh the Train!

Oh the Train!

Back in Keelung we trucked up the “damn” hill again and went to bed. Now I had started not feeling very well earlier in the week, so I had started taking vitamins like crazy. I had forgotten to take them on Friday, so by Saturday night I was not feeling that great. I had a pretty restless night and woke up on Sunday with a complete lack of energy. Beings that I wasn’t going to be on the train until 8:00pm that night I just needed to suck it up and go through the day.

The three of us got ready for the day and had lunch at Ikari Coffee on the harbor. I had my first bagel in months, and I also ordered some Oolong Tea hoping that would soothe my throat.

Brewing Oolong Tea

Brewing Oolong Tea

With full bellies we headed towards the bus and caught one headed towards Wanli. It was a beautiful bus ride because we headed more north into the mountains. After awhile we were the only ones on the bus. I think the bus driver started getting worried about us, thinking that we didn’t know where we were going, and kept shouting back to us in Chinese. We literally did not know what to do besides show our friend Alex’s address to the bus driver. Finally we arrived to the stop we needed and Alex took us up into his apartment. Wow! Alex has an amazing view right by the mountains and very close by to the ocean. I couldn’t help but just stand on his balcony for a very long time and look out into the horizon. (He also has a soft bed that sinks down when you sit on it. I may have bounced up and down on it like a 5-year-old.)

Alex's Apartment View

Alex’s Apartment View

After chatting a bit we took the bus to a 7-11 to stock-up on beer and snacks, and then took another bus to go down to the beach. It was cloudy on Sunday but we didn’t even care. It has been so hot that it is just nice to be in the water. Figuring out how to get onto the beach was a task. Everything seemed to be closed off by this resort, so we walked along until we found a gate we could open and then just walked onto the beach. I am 100% positive that the beach was only for guests staying at the resort. I also know that we took full advantage of looking like foreigners. We just waltzed onto the beach, sat our things down, and went into the water. No one approached us the entire time we were there besides a local asking us where we were from. The water was so cool by the way; a nice refreshing swim after a very hot and humid week in Fengyuan.

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Me, Pasqualle, Rachael, and Alex

We chilled for a couple hours and then decided it was time to head back to Keelung. Instead of going out the way we came in we decided to just walk through the resort to leave the beach. No one stopped us but we did get a lot of looks! At this point in to the day I was wondering how many rules and laws I had broken in Taiwan from a) just being an entitled American or b) just really not knowing what is going on.

Back on the bus to Keelung we had to stop 20 minutes later because Alex accidentally left his keys in Pasqualle’s purse. By this time we were cutting it close to get back to Keelung, eat food, and get on the train at 8:10pm. We did make it back in time. We tried to make our way quickly through the Keelung Night Market for food but there were so many people there that it was a process. Pasqualle and I were practically jogging up Rachael’s “damn” hill to grab our things. I packed everything quickly and we headed back down the hill, said our goodbyes, and caught a cab back to the Keelung Train Station. This is where the hassle of my evening began.

By this time it was about 7:30pm at night. I was tired, feeling sick, and just ready for sleep. I put my ticket into the ticket vendor and it refused it. I tried again and the same thing. That is when I looked at my ticket very closely and realized that the woman hadn’t given me a ticket for the 17th, but instead the 15th. I now had a ticket that was invalid and a train that I needed to get on. I went to the information desk to ask what I could do, but the language barrier was not helping the situation. The clerk let me go through the gate, but I was confused as to where I was going to sit and how this ticket was going to work. Pasqualle and I were standing on the platform waiting for the train when a conductor came up to us and started speaking English. He was so excited to have us there and wouldn’t stop moving for a second so I couldn’t ask him about my ticket. After saying my goodbyes to Pasqualle I got onto the train and sat down just hoping that I would have a seat for a bit. By the Taipei Main Station stop I was standing, and would stand for the next two hours. About halfway through the train ride a conductor came through to check tickets. Well, my ticket was invalid and even after explaining my situation to the same conductor on the platform that loved us so much I still had to pay. He told me the ticket was 611 NT. What!? I tried to ask him why it was so much, especially since a round-trip ticket would only cost 732 NT. He said sorry and that he can’t do anything because my ticket was technically garbage and invalid. I paid for the ticket and by this time I wanted to break down into tears. I was tired, sick, and had just lost 20 USD for a mistake that the sales ticket clerk had made. UGHHHHH. About 30 minutes away from the Fengyuan Train Station the same conductor makes a passenger sit-up and makes me sit in the seat. I felt so uncomfortable because I was perfectly fine standing, but the conductor was like, “this is my seat now, so you sit there”. I almost wish I hadn’t because the guy next to me was rude and smelled of alcohol. I arrived in Fengyuan and didn’t have any problems passing the second ticket clerk. At 11:30pm at night I was finally home, able to take some more vitamins, and go to bed. What a train ride and what a weekend!