Dorothy we are so not in Kansas anymore!
Pretty much every American or other inhabitant of an English speaking country asks me whether the language barrier causes any issues for me when traveling the world. I always say what language barrier? This is because generally the second language in all these countries I’ve been to is English except for Casablanca, Morocco so far (have fun reading menus, signs, etc. in Arabic or French!) and the older Vietnamese generation whose second language is French. I do tell the funny “language barrier” story I have however just to get a little laugh i.e. when the taxi cab driver in Saigon (Hoh Chi Minh) Vietnam attempted to use Google Translate and the result was the driver “wanted to hang out around my bum and my knees” which made me want to jump from a moving taxi and “I have a lover in Hanoi and am a cat specialist” which made him want to jump from a moving taxi!
Anyway, here everything is written in Mandarin, text messages from my data provider are in Mandarin, the advertisements for movies, theatre shows, festivals are all in Mandarin, the name of the restaurants and stores are in Mandarin (except 7-11 and H&M…thank goodness…both of which will become go to places around here trust me), the train platforms, menus, websites, signs, instructions, the fortune teller’s fortunes, almost everything and most Taiwanese people so far speak little English and they don’t understand your question or think you want something from them they can’t give so they ignore you. So my advice? Just enjoy it! Have some fun with it. Laugh at yourself!
So after finally getting my SIM card for $700NTS or $20US for unlimited data for one week (most expensive thus far with Budapest, Hungary a close second at $16USD) and my subway/MTR card for $100NTS and an additional charge up of $200NTS for a total of $10USD which should last two days at least, I headed from Ximen station (the shopping heart of Taipei and my hotel), to the Long Shan Temple – a true fusion of the traditional and the modern.
The Long Shan Temple was built in 1738 and is surrounded by sculptures of dragons. Dragons are emblematic of protection here in Taiwan and are everywhere. Whether it is merely a tourist attraction or more of a religious and spiritual place or both, I won’t ever know because it’s not like I can read anything or understand anyone and it’s not like there are a lot of white westerners or Europeans running around or any for that matter (except 3 I’ve seen in 2 days thus far) that would alert you that it is a tourist trap. All that are here are Asians and most of them are legitimately praying.
So what do you do here? Well it’s really cool and very spiritual. While gongs are struck and bells are rung and beautiful voices emanate from the temple, I wait to have my fortune told. How do you get your fortune? First, you enter the temple with a pure heart. You then light incense at the censors and face the main temple and tell God (yes sometimes referred to as God here too – the only word I do understand) what your name is and where you are from and date of birth and then ask God for his protection and blessings. After you worship all Main Hall Gods you return to Guan-Yin censor and insert your incense. Then you proceed to complete your Jiao toss. You obtain two wooden almost puzzle like red pieces in the shape of half moons (almost) or perhaps closer to yin and yang like shapes. After again introducing yourself and stating your “issue” that you want to present to God, you toss them to the floor like rolling dice and if you get Holy Jiao which is one half moon flat side up and one half moon round face up then your request or “issue” is okay or fine to request. If you get two flat sides up or Hsiao Jiao then your “issue” is unclear and needs to be restated and if you get both halves round side up or Yin Jiao then your request is negative and not allowed. Only one issue per Jiao toss. My first toss was Holy Jiao so all is good with my request. I then tossed the Jiao again to ensure the “lot” I drew was the correct one (number 11) and again got Holy Jiao on my first roll so I proceeded to stand in a line for one hour to see the fortune teller to tell me what my fortune was only to learn he doesn’t translate your lot to English. It’s okay as 1) listening to the symphonic incantations emerging from the temple harmonized my soul as I waited; and 2) a lady finally directed me to a book that will translate my lot to English. My fortune was as follows: “In your difficulties you will meet a savior, who will lead you on to a safe path.” In all honesty, I don’t think I did it right. I think you have to get Holy Jiao 3 times in a row to ensure it’s the correct “lot” but who’s counting. I’m just glad that the one single incredibly close lightening strike that burst from the heavens above and seemingly shook the temple ground I was standing on didn’t come right at the moment I tossed the Jiao. That might have been a bit too eerie even for me. The cost for all of this? Zero 🙂
Following this lovely experience that I will always remember, I braved the street food again but in an effort to be cautious only had a few bites. Of what? I have no earthly idea because, yes, you guessed it, I can’t read Chinese/Mandarin. It could have been liver for all I know based on just looking at it but tasted like, yes you guessed it, chicken. The cost was $100NTS or $3.00USD. I was however surprised to hear Rihanna coming from the speakers on the street while eating the $&@#|€* as it was the first English I had heard in a few days. Thanks Rhihanna for the sweet reminder of home! As for the only English I’ve read, it was the word “bike” but actually on the side of a bike so not sure how helpful that was…lol!
Now off to Taipei 101. Unfortunately, Houston we’ve got precipitation! Inevitably when it’s raining and there is the obvious attending cloud coverage, your views from 91 stories in the sky is bound to be limited. The positive side of that is you are likely to be one of the few people determined enough (or dumb enough) to spend $600NTS to see…well…nada and that means shorter lines and less annoying pushing and shoving which is about the most common experience you will run into in China and surrounding areas as they are used to nothing but pushing and shoving given the size of their population in the billions. And yes those Chinese come to Taiwan for their holiday. (The gum chewing and spitting and smacking on their food I could do without as well. But just so you know that is not the Taiwanese way. They actually discourage it with signs like we do with no smoking signs.) Anyway, after having been up to the top of the tallest building in the world in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa – this was unimpressive especially given the $20USD cost however, the story behind the architecture and the symbols in and on the building and learning about dampers and their stabilization technology was fascinating and, more importantly, learning about the best time to come to Taipei – New Years Eve as they have what appears to be the coolest fireworks show in the world!
The fireworks shoot out of the building itself. Moreover, there is a very fancy shop with all kinds of things I can’t afford including a table of beautifully crafted Globes calling mine name that is worth checking out if you do go up there.
Having said that, if you do want to go to the observatory or close to the top of Taipei 101 for the views, go when it’s sunny and clear outside and go with a reservation at the Starbucks at the top which you must call one day in advance to make. This way you can sit back with a scone and a cup of tea or java rather than wasting $20USD. Not many know about this option as it’s not in the guide books and it’s mentioned in only one blog I could find so far so your welcome. (FYI – You used to be able to get a pass to the highest Starbucks in the world at the ATM-like machines near the visitors center but the Taiwanese must have caught onto this “scam” and put a stop to it hence the need to call the Starbucks a day in advance to make the reservation.) Do not, however, eat sushi on the 35th floor or opt for some other restaurant to accomplish the goal of getting a good view of Taipei from the iconic Taipei 101 as the food is expensive and frankly it’s terrible. Opt for a meal and perhaps some shopping and a massage at the Tonghua night market instead. It’s only five minutes from where you are and is a cultural free for all.
That’s all for now from a challenging but fun not so little city – Taipei.