Friday, November 02, 2007

Chillin' & Chowin'

We've been in four countries in the past three weeks. Since we arrived in Taiwan, we've managed to see some sights and catch up on some administrative and household tasks including such exciting yet necessary things such as laundry, catching up on blog posts delayed due to technical difficulties (see below to catch up on Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and some other random bits) and buying SIM cards.

The SIM card buying process in Taipei was very interesting compared to Vietnam. When in Vietnam, we gave one of the hotel staff $5 and he ran down the street and returned with a SIM card for us. In Taipei, we had to go to the phone company, present TWO forms of picture ID and sign a detailed contract (written entirely in Chinese). Different. Very different!

While in Taipei we were extremely pleased with the hotel service. The staff at our hotel went beyond the call of duty to share local food tips with us and generally help us enjoy our visit to Taiwan. They, along with nearly everyone we've met in Taiwan, were all very friendly and very willing to indulge our Chinese. In fact, I've been quite surprised and pleased with my ability to communicate in Mandarin especially because I rarely practice with anyone other than my husband at home. We both find it very amusing that people will point to the Chinese character when we don't understand a word they are trying to say to us. While we do recognize a few characters, those characters tend to represent words we know fairly well, so pointing at the character typically isn't very helpful (although we think the opposite may be true with English).

As we've traveled south, the hotel staffs have been far less helpful and English versions of maps and newspapers have been a bit more difficult to find. By the way, the high speed train is so smooth you barely know it's moving! On the way to Alishan, we spent the night in Chiayi, gateway to Alishan and home of the famous Koji Pottery. We hit the night market there and the pottery museum (apparently visited mostly by local school children), but oddly enough, it was difficult to find pottery retail spots in the town (they ship most of it to Taipei). From what we could see, it doesn't seem like it's a major tourist destination, even for those headed to Alishan. We were fortunate enough to meet a local volunteer at the museum who kindly offered to drive us around the city in search of the pottery (to three different artists' workshops) before we had to catch our train to Alishan. See what I mean about the people being nice?

We're currently sequestered in Alishan, far from anything other than nature's beauty and all of the other tourists here to enjoy it. While the views are stunning, they come and go quickly as clouds move in and out of the area. We think we pretty much covered all of the area hiking trails this morning. Sadly the foot massage area is closed for renovations and we were already booked for two nights. At least the food is good and they have high speed internet access in the rooms!

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