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See you in two weeks...

Discussion in 'TUG Lounge' started by ScoopLV, Oct 5, 2009.

  1. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Off to Taiwan. Looks like the big Typhoon is going to head north of the island.

    I'll post a trip report when I'm back.

    Hasta!
     
  2. Rose Pink

    Rose Pink TUG Member

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    Hope you have a wonderful time!
     
  3. pjrose

    pjrose Tug Review Crew: Rookie TUG Member

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    Will this be another country for your equation?

    We'll miss your posts - at least I will!
     
  4. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Yes, this makes #59. (Although, I count East Germany. Because it was a separate country when I was there.)

    But I don't leave for a couple hours, so I can't actually change my sig. I'll change it when I get back. I'm really hoping to make the "Century Club" before I hit 50. Island hopping through Micronesia would take care of a good chunk of that. And my life won't be complete until I see India, Nepal and Japan.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  5. Dori

    Dori TUG Review Crew: Veteran TUG Member

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    Enjoy your trip! I'll be wishing good weather for you. We will look forward to a trip report when you get back.

    Dori
     
  6. Karen G

    Karen G Moderator

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    I didn't see this post until now and you are probably well on your way to Taiwan. Hope all goes well. I look forward to your trip report.
     
  7. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Got back last night...

    Executive summary:

    1) The Taiwan Tourism Board should be fired and replaced by a group that can relay to the world how beautiful the island is.

    2) Package tours can be miserable experiences.

    A typical Taiwan view:

    [​IMG]


    Arrived in Taipei after a 13 hour flight. Thankfully the counter personnel took one look at me and put me in exit row, which meant I had six feet of leg room. It was still the least comfortable seat I've ever encountered -- the seats were so short, my butt was only a couple inches off the ground.

    This turned out to be par-for-the-course in Taiwan. All the chairs were about six inches too short, my feet hung off the end of the beds, the toilets felt like "child training toilets" etc. I also got a LOT of stares and questions about my basketball prowess.

    That's my only real gripe though, Taiwan is gorgeous. Easily one of the most beautiful places I've visited. The island is roughly the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined. And in that small area, it has black sand beaches, hot springs, mist-shrouded mountains, canyons, jungles, grassland and more. The environmental damage they did in the 1960s through 1980s has been largely reversed. Their mantra these days is, "We want to be the Switzerland of the East!" (Makes a lot of sense politically.)

    Unfortunately, we did this trip the way my mother-in-law likes to travel -- a package tour. Granted, we saw a whole lot of stuff for not a lot of money. But we also wasted a lot of time on things that didn't interest us (like mummified deer fetuses) and the amount of time we were allowed at any one place was woefully lacking. That was the first (and last) package tour for us.

    We'll be going back to Taiwan in the near future and spending more time at Taroko gorge, Kenting and the East Coast.

    We got off the plane and almost immediately into a bus. Keep in mind that this bus was populated largely by Taiwanese expatriates. The tour was in Chinese. The only English spoken was my wife occasionally translating for me. ("The tour guide is saying she looks like some Chinese movie star. Now she's talking about the president. Now she's talking about her favorite skin cream.") After awhile, she quit translating, and I spent the bulk of my time in the bus wearing noise-canceling headphones and snapping pictures out the window.

    After a 13-hour flight, we put in a full day of sightseeing. By the end of the day I was particularly grumpy from sleep deprivation. (We worked it out the following morning, we had been up for 38 hours.)

    First up was the National Theater. This is a grandiose complex of buildings that was built as an ROC answer to Tiananmen Square:

    [​IMG]

    Then we visited the Hall of the Martyrs for the hourly changing of the guard and finally the fishing village of Danshui.

    [​IMG]

    Punctuating sightseeing was lunch and dinner. All lunches and dinners were basically the same -- a gut-busting feast served "family style" to tables of 10 on a lazy susan. Every meal was good (some were excellent). But I did not like the setting. My wife called it "competitive eating." Every time a new plate was dropped on the lazy susan, the Taiwan expats grabbed at it as if they hadn't eaten in days. This was especially true of more pricey dishes that included shrimp or (gasp!) sea cucumber. If we wanted to taste it, we had to join in the fray.

    That meant the "crowd" set the pace of the meal. And that pace was always "hell-bent."

    We finally settled into our hotel "The Grand." It was ostentatious. We had small interior rooms with no windows. This turned out to be par as well. We would prefer the best room at a 3-star to the worst room at a 5-star. But my wife and I were the only people who saw it that way.

    [END OF PART ONE, more on the way...]
     
  8. Passepartout

    Passepartout TUG Review Crew: Veteran TUG Member

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    Welcome back. We feel much the same about group tours. We have taken a couple with small groups (10-15) to out-of-the-way places where it would be costly to get to and hire a well informed native guide to make sure we saw/did all that was available without investing too much time doing our own logistics. It also helped to experience local culture- ie. you don't learn anything about Moroccan or Bhutanese everyday life from a big bus or the long western beds of a Marriott.

    Looking forward to your travelogue...

    Jim Ricks
     
  9. ricoba

    ricoba TUG Member

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    Thanks for the update and the pictures.

    It looks kind of cloudy and rainy in the pics...I guess you were there in the rainy/typhoon season?
     
  10. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    October is typically the best month to visit. But when we arrived, one typhoon was just finishing and another one was on the way.

    It sprinkled every day, but that's fine because the pictures turned out better.
     
  11. Karen G

    Karen G Moderator

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    I'm enjoying your report--looking forward to the next installment & more pictures.
     
  12. SueDonJ

    SueDonJ Moderator

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    Welcome back, Scoop, and thanks for the report and pics. I love your description of the free-for-all at feeding time. :rofl:

    looking forward to more ...
     
  13. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Arrgh, my computer died halfway through my second installment.... oh well, serves me right for not writing in Notepad and saving.

    Days Two through Five
    The Meat of the Tour



    I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow report of the next four days. It's unnecessary. Meals were all the same -- a hodge-podge of occidental and asian breakfast items, and the Lazy Susan Feeding Frenzy lunches and dinners.

    Breakfast was often my favorite meal, because there was always pork dumplings -- the kind you get at a good dim-sum joint. I usually had six of 'em, an egg, a small bratwurst, washed down with passion fruit juice and espresso (Coffee is a VERY recent introduction to the island. The Taiwanese do coffee the way they do everything else, hard-core. Even modest hotels have $5,000 automatic-grind (and dump) espresso machines.)

    For days two through five, we meandered down the West coast toward Kenting, then up the East coast toward Taroko Gorge ("Meandered" is a good choice of words, the speed limit for most of the roads we traveled was 60 km/h -- that's what, 40 mph?) Our guide spoke almost non-stop in rapid-fire Chinese. LOML tells me almost none of it had to do with what we were seeing from the bus.

    I was happy for the slow pace. I took a lot of pictures -- almost 2,000 (!). I filled two 4gb SD cards. I took four times as many pictures as I did in two weeks in England. Taiwan is REALLY beautiful. It's also very "foreign." I mean that in the truest sense of the word -- since everything was so unusual to me, I snapped a lot of shots -- signs, flowers, birds, scenery, temples, people, you name it.

    Here are some of the highlights:

    A man practicing Tai Chi at the CKS Presidential Residence:

    [​IMG]




    A 90-Foot tall statue of Buddha in Taichung:

    [​IMG]



    Wen Wu temple at Sun Moon Lake (I have 100 shots of this area alone):

    [​IMG]





    After a bizarro-world stop at a combination aboriginal village and space-themed amusement park, we ended up in the industrial port city of Kaohsiung's. My Lonely Planet guidebook said the city had "turned around" but did nothing to prepare me for the ZuoYing Lotus Pond -- which (along with Taroko) was my favorite "Wow that's freakin' unbelievably beautiful" spot.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    That's enough bandwidth for today, Kenting and the East Coast tomorrow....


    Coming up, Day Six -- The Screw Job!
     
  14. Karen G

    Karen G Moderator

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    It's all so interesting. Can't wait for the next installment.
     
  15. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Kenting

    Kenting is a seaside town inside a national park. Basically, it's the Florida Keys of Taiwan. I would move there in a split second. (Well, except the fact I'm stuck here in Vegas until the economy improves.)

    Here's a couple pix:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Then we ended up at a hot-springs hotel in the middle of rice country. The hot water came straight from the hot spring. But I DIDN'T FIT IN THE FREAKIN' TUB!!!!! LOML enjoyed it, though.

    Also, really pretty country. We shot this one after a five minute walk down the lane towards the plantations.

    [​IMG]

    The Mummified Deer Fetus Screw Job

    On the day we were supposed to head to Taroko Gorge, we stopped at a store in the middle of freakin' NOWHERE. There was a military base on one side, and some stone cutting factories on the other side.

    Everyone got out, and we ended up at a shop of some sort.

    The guide gave a presentation (in Chinese of course) -- about the medical wonders of drinking tea made from dried deer fetuses! Yes. Really.

    I looked around the room and said, "This is a timeshare presentation."

    I was more right than I knew. First of all, there were NO KNOBS ON THE FREAKIN' DOORS. People could only leave by going through a door that read, "Emergency Exit Only." LOML and I did so, and waited outside, IN THE RAIN.

    As scripted, a dozen smartly-dressed women wearing matching pink business suits filed past us into the Deer Fetus Emporium.

    Guess what a mummified toxic deer fetus costs?




    Take a guess.




    Ready?




    Are you sure?




    Two thousand, four hundred US dollars!


    But you can't just buy one radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus! Oh no! You have to buy at LEAST two -- one male radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus and one female crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus. It's the Yin and the Yang of traditional Chinese rip-off, snake-oil medicine.

    The other Lao-Wai (round eye) on the bus had the presence of mind to ask where they harvested crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus.

    The sales girl said they "waited for a deer to have a miscarriage."

    The reply, "You have got to be [censored] kidding me. You mean to tell me you have people who hang out in the forest waiting for does to miscarry? Bull[censored]. You shoot pregnant does."

    He was asked to leave. So we spent one and a half hours joking about crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive toxic, mummified deer fetus.

    But at least nobody bought any. Right?




    Right?




    You have got to be freakin' kidding me.




    Are you ready for this?

    About one dozen people sprang for crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus. One moron spent $9,600.

    You have got to be [censored] kidding me.

    Go Google Taiwan Placenta Deer Fetus. You'll find a few sales pages, but ABSOLUTELY NO MEDICAL INFORMATION WHATSOEVER.

    Idiots, nincompoops and fools, all of them.

    Ninety freakin' minutes later, I [censor] you not, the bus starts up again. Twenty minutes after that, LOML loses her patience and heads back into the Little Shop of Horrors to roust the last idiots watching as their horrifying purchase was ground into a fine golden powder. (And it smelled UNNATURAL. I caught a whiff. There is no words to describe.)

    The Taiwanese expats had the freakin' nerve to tell her, "You have to understand our culture."

    1) She's [censored] Chinese -- Made in Taiwan of Mainland Chinese parents.

    2) She's not a nincompoop.


    We spent a grand total of nearly two hours at the Little Shop of Horrors. Then we drove here:

    [​IMG]

    So, we could have spent two additional hours at Taroko Gorge -- Google it. It's one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth. No exaggeration. It's the jewel of Taiwan and absolutely inspiring.

    But instead we wasted two hours at the Little Shop of Horrors. We later learned the guide got a 20% kickback on everything purchased at this (and three other forced high-pressure sales venues.)


    TOMORROW - The last Screw Job, Bing-Lang, and we head out on our own.

     
  16. Karen G

    Karen G Moderator

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    Gorgeous scenery. When do we get to see a picture of you and your lovely wife?
     
  17. pjrose

    pjrose Tug Review Crew: Rookie TUG Member

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    Huh? You mean his avatar isn't his picture? :D
     
  18. pjrose

    pjrose Tug Review Crew: Rookie TUG Member

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    crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetus

    OMG, I'm laughing so hard about the crusty, hardened, noxious, revolting, radioactive, toxic, mummified deer fetuses (feti?), and crying so much along with it, that now I REALLY can't see my screen.

    :hysterical: :hysterical: :hysterical: :hysterical:

    Without a doubt, this has got to be the winner of the funniest thread contest. :cheer: :cheer: :cheer:

    Scoop, between this and the Costco rant, you have GOT to start writing comedy - unless you already do? :cheer: :cheer: :cheer:

    I found this picture on Google:
    http://www.jonkoay.com/dried-up-deer-fetus.html
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2009
  19. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    That's it exactly.

    $2,400 each. And you have to buy a male AND a female or it "isn't as effective"


    Dear God why?!?!?!?


    Oh, and PJ, LOML thanks you profusely. We were too disgusted to take pictures when we were there. When we came back, we really wanted a shot of this -- we've been joking about King Tutendeerfetus all week.

    Lesson learned. Shoot the gross stuff on vacation, too. (Although, I'm glad I didn't shoot anything in Rwanda in the 1990s.)
     
  20. SueDonJ

    SueDonJ Moderator

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    :hysterical: :hysterical: Great!
     
  21. pjrose

    pjrose Tug Review Crew: Rookie TUG Member

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  22. ScoopLV

    ScoopLV Guest

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    Day Six
    Scoop and DW avoid another screw job and do drugs instead

    After the deer fetus debacle, we saw Taroko Gorge (as previously mentioned) went to a ridiculously overpriced Jade Shop (another Screw Job) and turned in at a resort in a Hot Springs area.

    We woke up and drove back to Taipei. On the way we stopped at "Nine Families Village" -- so named because once upon a time, guess how many families lived up there? When one of them went to town to buy things, he or she would always buy nine of the same thing -- pots, etc.

    The town was featured in a Chop-Socky flick and immediately became a popular tourist attraction. I can see why -- another gorgeous village.

    [​IMG]

    While there, we ate the weirdest thing we ate on the trip -- goose esophagus. It was featured on an episode of Bizarre Foods. Andrew Zimmer liked it, so we tried it. It was quite tasty, but no real meat on them. We didn't want to eat the teeny little neck bones, so I guess we didn't do it right.

    [​IMG]

    We also tried a lot more street food here, because the town is famous for it.

    Next stop? Another freakin' jade shop.

    LOML made a point to ask "how long will we be waiting here?"

    "One hour," said the sadistic little mercenary, who for five days was just our "tour guide." But now she was the sadistic little mercenary, or SLM for short.

    One hour, at least there was a Taiwanese burger joint and a Bing Lang booth nearby, so we went there.

    We had a chicken teriyaki burger for a couple dollars US, and washed it down with Taiwan Beer we had from the previous day. (I can't remember if I mentioned Taiwan Beer before. It's your basic light beer. And at NT$35 ($1.05US) for 500 ml, quite a bargain. It was as cheap as Coca-Cola and only slightly more expensive than bottled water. So we drank a lot of Taiwan beer.

    There was also a Bing Lang joint nearby. What's bing lang?

    It's also called a Betel Nut, the product of a palm that is cultivated all over the island. It's a mild narcotic (which is odd considering Taiwan has a mandatory death sentence for drug smugglers.)

    The green nut is wrapped in a bit of palm frond that has been smeared with lyme paste. When chewed, it turns bright red and causes your gums to go numb. In quantity, it causes a mild euphoric buzz, but nothing even close to cannabis. (Uh, so I'm told.)

    Bing Lang is generally sold by attractive young women wearing lingerie. Their booths are clear glass, and are adorned with all manner of flashing lights. "Woo-hoo! Look at me! I'm a teenager selling crappy dope in my underwear!" (There are pix of the girls in the above Bing Lang link.)

    Most of Taiwan's taxi drivers are addicts. When they smile, they look like Dracula after a feeding frenzy. And they're constantly spitting the blood red juice onto the street. Some taxi stands look like a grisly murder scene.

    Our driver, incidentally, chewed two or three bags a day, and is known as "the Bing Lang King." But he was OK, didn't drive erratically, and we tipped him some bing lang.

    On the drive to Taipei, SLM asked the entire bus for tips. The package tour company said it was customary to tip her $8 each day. We shorted her three dollars because we didn't have to break a NT$1000 bill that way, and because of our displeasure with all the Screw Jobs.

    She insulted us to the other passengers for almost the ENTIRE TRIP TO TAIPEI!!!!!!!

    Here was the view on the drive back:

    [​IMG]


    After that, we stopped at the last screw job of the trip. A pearl shop. Ahh, pearls. Everyone loves pearls. I thought I might get a black pearl necklace for LOML. Yeah, right. They were 50x more than what we'd pay in the US.

    Besides, nobody was interested in pearl jewelry. Oh heavens no!

    Why wear pearls, when you can grind them into a fine powder and smear it on your face! Yes, that's right, it's Dr. Snakeoil's Pearl Skin Cream! Only $60 an ounce!

    I tried to explain to some of the more logical Taiwanese expats that chemically, a pearl is about the same as an antacid tablet. Since nobody grinds up antacid tablets and smears it on their faces, why the hell would anyone want to grind up $60 worth of pearls and smear THAT on their faces?

    The expats were having none of it. SLM made out like a bandit as the expats dutifully shelled out THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for bogus skin creme. SLM was grinning ear to ear as we drove to our last hotel, way on the outskirts of Taipei. A lovely golf resort, which served a wonderful buffet. (Finally, a chance to eat alone! At a table! And the chair legs weren't too short!)

    The next day we woke up and drove to Taipei 101. It's the worlds tallest building. Guess how long we had there? One-freakin'-hour.

    Doesn't matter, because LOML and I dropped our bags off at her aunt's place. We would hit 101 later. We returned in time to get back on the bus and have our last package meal -- a wonderful lunch at an odd restaurant called the Five Dime which was SCULPTED by Hsieh Li-Shiang, also called "The Driftwood Lady." (Do check the link, the food was amazing.)

    [​IMG]

    Here's a view from the inside:

    [​IMG]

    After that, we drove to another market (just a market, not a Screw Job shop), and we took off. That was the last we saw of SLM and the Bing Lang King, and the dumb-ass expatriates who spend all their money on pearl cream and mummified deer fetuses.

    EDIT -- I realize I slammed the expats pretty hard there. And I shouldn't have lumped ALL of the people together. Many of the tour goers were intelligent, pleasant, well-mannered and a joy to travel with. But there were entirely too many loudmouths and dumb-asses. And I'm sure the nice tour goers would agree with me.

    LAST INSTALLMENT: A few days with family.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2009
  23. pjrose

    pjrose Tug Review Crew: Rookie TUG Member

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    I put on my comfies and got my tea before settling down to read this installment

    As always, I enjoy your writing and photos. I'm a tad concerned about the fried-alien looking items just to the left and right of the red scoop :confused: Did you know what you were eating - or perhaps prefer not to know?

    When I searched for mummified deer fetii the other day, I did come across pearl cosmetics. The prices you note are unbelievable!

    Looking forward to the next installment.
     
  24. Karen G

    Karen G Moderator

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    Another interesting installment. Keep them coming! The pictures are wonderful.
     
  25. Rose Pink

    Rose Pink TUG Member

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    The pearl face cream works better if you add a little ground mummified deer fetus. Really. Would I lie?
     

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