Travel is always glamorous, isn’t it. I remember when I was much younger thinking how cool it would be to have a job where you zipped all over the world. As Colonel Blimp (Ed. note: Also from many years ago) was prone to saying “Harrumph!” We left our apartment yesterday morning at 8:05 and got into our hotel in Taipei 8 hours and 55 minutes later at 5:00 – the flight took 1 hour and 20 minutes.
How long has it been that you can’t take certain things through security? I understand the bottles of water – but don’t you think the smokers would have got the message that lighters are not allowed long before they got to the scanning area?
We were delayed getting on the plane and so we listened to Delta Airlines announce “Mr. Mike Ross and Mr. Sam Chan please report to Gate 77. This is the last boarding call for Delta flight 211 to Seattle” every 3 minutes or more for at least half an hour and that is absolutely no exaggeration. When we finally got on the plane, they announced that we would be not departing for another 35 minutes. Good news though. When we checked in the woman at the counter looked at us and said “Would you like exit row seats?” Then, EVA Airlines has, without a doubt, the most attractive flight attendants in the airline industry in Southeast Asia. Plus, they enjoy their jobs, are friendly and attentive and smile and laugh! We were on a 747 so there must have been 20 or more of them with a total age of about 1 Air Canada long haul flight attendant.
We are used to getting stares because of Terry’s looks and my white hair, but boy oh boy. While we were in line at customs we managed to get ourselves into the middle of a very large – maybe 100 person, tour which must have come in from western China. I don’t think any of them had ever seen a “foreigner” before and there was nothing subtle about the looking and pointing. Even then, however, they would break into gales of laughter when we said Ni Hao to them.
By the time we got to the hotel and cleaned up, we needed – yes NEEDED a drink. The front desk sent us to a bar/restaurant around the corner. Oh Scott and Karen… Read on and wait until you hear. Our plan was to have a drink and then head to a night market for street food. Only fools make plans. We started with a couple of glasses of wine and they brought us a 7″ cast iron saute pan of mushrooms in a dark thyme sauce as a welcome. They were out of this world. We ordered a couple more glasses of wine and watched the bartender chipping away on a cube/block of ice that was about 4″x4″x4″. They suggested we try their mussels. They were right. The mussels were HUGE and served in a tomato, spanish sausage, basil sauce with, sadly, not enough bread to soak up all the sauce. If the mushrooms were out of this world, the mussels came from another universe. I ordered a glass of Glenfarclas whisky. A very generous pour. We then asked the owner what the blocks of ice, which had been whittled down to tennis ball size, were for. He said that if a customer ordered a good whiskey on the rocks they use a largish glass, and put the ball of ice in. It sits about 1/2″ off the bottom of the glass and then the whisky is poured over it. That way, the ice doesn’t melt as fast and turn the whisky into water. Okay – pour mine over one. It was fantastic. Then we ordered beef and vegetables and were a little disappointed. It was great tasting beef, but served with basil, cheery tomatoes and black olives – very similar to the mussels. By now the ‘farclas was gone so the bartender asked if I would like to try something else. (Ed. note: Scott and Karen this is the part for you) He brought over a bottle of something from a single cask distilling and bottled for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Each cask has only a limited number of bottles – this one was one of 556. I have never tasted anything like it. It was smooth beyond belief, but had a wonderful “afterburn”. I usually prefer a peaty whisky and there was no hint of that but man it was good, especially since it, like the mushrooms, were on the house!
Now it’s Terry’s turn: We have heard many people say that Taiwan is nothing like mainland China. Although we have only been here a few days, we certainly have noticed some differences. First, the citizens appear to follow rules, of the road, for example, and of queuing. Even on the subway, they stand in line to one side of the door UNTIL ALL the people exit from the other side. Maybe that’s the problem with the Chinese system–they allow entry from both sides which invariably breaks down to line-breakers pushing through the middle of the exiting passengers. On the roads, traffic laws are observed with NO honking required. And get this! Pedestrians have the right of way!!!!
We have been surprised many times when drivers actually stop and wait for us to cross! Each time, we realize we are in a different place, then smile and wave at the driver because we can hardly believe it and are so pleased. At every controlled intersection, the crosswalk lights indicate the generous length of time pedestrians have to cross, and all the drivers wait patiently. It also appears that traffic rules are enforced. In front of our hotel, Geoff saw a policeman tell a van driver that he could not stop there to load passengers. This might have been a bit of overkill since it was a Sunday and traffic was at a minimum, but still.
Another thing that is very different from China–Sunday appears to offer at least a good half day of rest for shop-keepers. We were up and out around 10:00 but found very few shops in service, with signs indicating an 11:00 or 12:00 opening, perhaps related to the prevalence of western religion here. In our walk to our first tourist site of the day, we passed numerous small storefronts serving as Sunday morning churches. We also spotted a handful of Falun Gong worshippers doing their very public thing on the sidewalk (Do not try this in China).
This city is clean–streets, sidewalks, malls, shops, all clean. The airport is gleaming, but as Geoff pointed out, Pudong Airport is pretty clean also. So are the major train stations in China. But here, we’re talking about everywhere. Even at a night market where lots of street food is available, the garbage seems to make it into receptacles. How refreshing! (Ed. note: See next blog for Ed.’s notes)
We walked nearly 10km yesterday and saw only a few of the sites we had planned, partly because we went to the weekend Flower and Jade Market, set up under a freeway ramp! Again, amazing–the intersections around it are all nicely controlled with long lights so the huge crowd of pedestrians can safely cross when needed (the market spans several blocks and 1 full km long). We were simply gob-smacked at the quality and quantity of plants, gardening supplies and decor available, and the amazingly low prices. <$3 would buy mid-size healthy and blooming orchids, cacti, tropical foliage of all kinds. Orchids common, rare, huge and miniature, in a rainbow of colours. Bougainvillaea, crotons, any tropical that we can find at plant shops in BC and all spectacularly healthy (imagine–tropical plants doing well in this hot and humid country), and all so so cheap! It makes me sad for our plants that fail to thrive on our sunny balcony in Jiaxing. The whole garden area is set up only on weekends, on tables reminiscent of garage sales. Misters spray frequently so plants thrive and shoppers don’t expire. Quite a wonderful experience in the heat of the day! (Ed. note: See a wealth of photos below.)
The night market we chose was a bit of a bust for us–mostly food stall set up along narrow streets with shops open. Geoff tried a few things on the street but wasn’t impressed, so we opted instead for a Thai restaurant with a special on Sangha beer. VERY very good choice.
When we went by Monday morning
The Shoe Blog
This photo is the last one I took in Jiaxing before we left for the summer.