Last month another local pilot and I headed to Taiwan for 20 days to attend a balloon festival in honor of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake for those of you keeping track. The trip began with me leaving home at 6:30 AM on Jan. 29th to arrive at LAX for a 5 hour layover; it would have taken me less time than that to drive to LAX, but I didn’t make the reservations. We then arrived in Taipei at 9:00 PM Jan. 30th, and with the help of directions written in Chinese, we were able to quickly arrive at our hotel for the night.
As someone who’s international travels have been limited to Canada, Mexico and the US territories, the first 10 minutes in the hotel room was perplexing, especially after coming off a 14 hr. flight and all the additional travel hours spent awake. How in the world do you turn on the lights, none of the switches worked, the lights did have bulbs and were plugged in, then I notice the door is ajar, that must be it. I close the door and the one hall light turns off and I’m left in complete darkness till I open the door back up and the hall light comes back on. I’m really tired and just want a shower and to go to bed, not to solve puzzles. But wait, what is this glowing slot near the door? Turns out the key card fits in it and the lights come on! Of course if I hadn’t been so tired I might have seen the directions on the back of the key card about doing just that very thing. I was thankful I hadn’t given up and gone down to the front desk to share my ignorance with the staff.
The next day was an introduction to the world of stark contrasts which exist in Taipei and Taiwan as a whole.
The old and new sit side by side, ornate temples will be next to run down houses. The inside of the hotel gave no clue to what the buildings on either side of it looked like.
The locals are all friendly, including the four-legged ones. Most of the street dogs are black, I later learned the reason is that black dogs are considered bad luck so no one wants to own a black dog. It makes you wonder what some ancient black dog did to condemn all future ones to a life on the streets.
The next leg of the journey was by high speed rail. I do not understand why people keep arguing against trains like these in this country. You could set your watch by them, their seats were large and comfortable, the ride was incredibly smooth and quiet, and you could travel the entire length of the country in less than 2 hours for ~$45US.
The signage at the train station did have English translations but was still a little confusing at times.
After a few walks around the train station looking for the promised ride I finally hear my name being called from the upstairs balcony. The outgoing balloon pilots had just arrived for their trip home and to introduce us to our escort for the last leg of the trip to the Farm, the “resort” where the festival was being held. Our mini van looked like it had seem a lot of rough miles but this is an adventure right? The luggage had to be passed over the back seats because the back door didn’t open for some reason, the window tinting was so bad you could hardly see through it and the reverse beeper was louder on the inside of the vehicle than it was on the outside, it also seemed to be only the second time the driver had ever driven stick. Welcome to my Taiwan adventure.