Archive | November, 2004

Home is where the heart is

23 Nov

My flight home wasn’t too bad, although I was charged almost 200UKP in overweight baggage charges – so much for a cheaper PC from Taiwan. Maybe I should of delayed buying the case and power supply until I got home ! I landed safely and hurried through the green channel before they decided they wanted more money out of me, met up with my parents in arrivals and headed home.

I marked my return home by sending out a quick e-mail to everyone I met on my travels. Unfortuantly it managed to send itself five times – thank you all for your inventive jabs about that ! I blame the AOL client I am forced to use.

Over the last few days I have made it into Reading and London to visit old friends again, and it’s like nothing has changed, almost like I never actually went away ! People had warned me of this but I hadn’t really thought it would be like that for me, of course. There is something both reassuring and depressing about it all, the second part of which I am combatting through that old technique of “keeping busy”. Lots of tax forms and computer stuff I want to sort out, and with only a modem to do most of it over, it’s taking plenty of my surplus time up. Broadband is on it’s way, thank god…

I expect my honeymoon period of being home will wear off around xmas time, where I will be off snowboarding to celebrate the new year. After that, some other snow holidays are on offer, although I think some sort of income-type job may have a higher precedence. Just got to figure out what, where, which and when 🙂

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Leaving on a jet plane

18 Nov

And now the end is near, and so I face the final… oh hold on, I did that one last post. Today is the last day of my travels, tonight I get on a plane and arrive in the UK sometime Friday day. That’s it – it’s all over. Finito.

Gosh.

I have just packed my bags, along with some last minute souveniers, one of which was a fully-specced up desktop PC ! This may cause a few baggage allowance issues at the airport I realise, but I’m sure I can figure something out. Besides, I’ll appritiate being home that little bit more after fighting my way through a crowded airport with 70+kg of baggage in tow !

My plans for my first days back are to spend a night with the family, then see some Reading friends on Saturday hopefully, and then into London on Sunday for a friend’s birthday celebration. After this, I think a spot of reverse culture-shock followed by dealing with 2 years of post, tax returns and paperwork ! Should be fun.

This will hopefully not be the final post on “exit turner”, although I suspect the ‘blog will wind down as (or IF) I settle down. But at this point I wanna throw out a big ol’ THANK YOU to everyone I met on my travels who made them so special. It’s not where you go, it’s who you meet, and I met some amazing people and great friends. Don’t be strangers now, ya here 🙂

And so I face the final curtain

16 Nov

I managed to drag myself out of the slump I was in and finally escaped Kaohsiung, but not before I went out on the official “tour of the hidden city” midnight bike ride / drinking session. Riding drunk down tiny alleyways in a large gang of pedal bikes was really a memory to be treasured 🙂

I moved onto Tainan, the previous capital of Taiwan and now a pretty but equally pretty dull city. I went to one of the main forts here from when the Dutch occupied the town and got some nice pictures – definately enjoying the photography part of travelling – and then looked around some of the parks and shops. After a quiet evening of seafood noodles and beer (for under 2 quid) and a little TV I slept well and headed onto Chiayi and the mountain train to Alishan. This is a 4 hour train ride up into the mountains, after which I checked into a hotel and had an early night waiting for my alarm call at 4am…

At 4am, everyone gets out of bed, treks over to a train (or hikes the 6-7km) and rides to the very top of the mountain area, where some decent (but over-crowded) lookouts offer views of a spectacular sunrise and the famous “sea of clouds” below. Unfortunatley the view was not as good as I’d hoped, and the sea of clouds was more like a thin viel of mist… Not many good opportunities for photos like I’d hoped and a little dissapointing.

But after a train ride back to Alishan and a quick nap I was ready to get down the mountain (by bus this time, less panoramic, but much faster and less wobbly than the train). I waited at the bus stop and was bemused to see a small parade grow larger and larger for one of the many Taiwan religious festivals that seem to occur. After staring at a groups of youths for about 2 seconds, I was dragged over to join them in there good mood, and had a few beers and a betel nut forced upon me. Buzzing off the cocktail I boarded my bus and spent a long lesiurely day on both bus and train heading back into Taipei.

So I am nearly at the end of my trip. A few more things to sort out and see in Taipei and well as a big session tomorrow buying cheap computer componenets (80% of UK cost roughly) to build myself a new PC when I get home, hopefully for little more than the PC I sold when I left ! Photos are now 70% uploaded, and the Taiwan album link is now fixed.

Gotta get out of this place

12 Nov

So after a couple of nights out in Koashung I took up the offer of a free apartment room for a few days from a guy who’d just moved to better digs and hung around town to try and beat my travelling slump. This sort of had the opposite effect and I quickly found myself holing up during the day with a few beers and HBO movies. With little oppurtuinity for decent conversations with like-minded people, I had basically hermitted myself away for a few days. Feeling down, uninspired by travel and pissed off with spending hours to find food shops I can understand, I have resorted to 7/11 rice balls and beef jerky most often.

Hope I’ve painted that picture bleakly enough ! I think I’m having my post-travel blues before I’ve even landed. Maybe it’s all for the best, this way I can get through this little funk and get on with life once I hit English soil again. Either way, I’m getting up at the crack of noon tomorrow and getting out of town. With only a few days left it should be a race up the coast, keeping me far too busy to notice I’m not having fun. Should get back into Taiwan just in time to pick up some cheap computer parts and then cruise home !

Curiouser and curiouser

9 Nov

I finally left Taitung after a more controlled but still crazy late-night in the Amigos bar (some entertaining pictures to come there…). Had a great time dancing and ranting about bands with the locals, which despite having no common language went swimmingly well I though. Technically it was foreigner night, but I don’t think there advertising is working too well…

My next stop was Kenting, the Taiwanese Hawaii, in there own words. It was a nice enough beach town, and Saturday night on the main strip was quite lively, but I was really recovering from exhaustion and what appears to have been a mild stomach bug (which I had assumed simply just from the beer beforehand). So I stayed only one more day and looked around the botanical gardens up there, walking miles just to see a feature called the “cliff of apes” which should of been the best thing in the world, but turned out to be a small ape-less rock ledge. But lots of nice plants and a few caves and good fresh outdoor area, always nice after the scooter-fume filled towns. On the way out of the park I felt dizzy and very exhausted, so I instead sat down to wait an hour for the bus with my water and my book. Two minutes later I was being offered a lift from a random passing guy – the people here are great ! That evening was spent relaxing with beer and a decent French chap I met who spoke great English – you begin to value that common bond after a while.

I then moved into Koashung, the second biggest place out here, where I felt once again just really uninterested in seeing any of the few “sights” and quite bored and tired. A lucky encounter with a local bar owner and hash house harrier turned my late afternoon stroll into an evening of biking through tiny alleyways, stopping off at tiny stalls on route for beers and seeing the incredible back-street everyday life-styles of the locals, only a few metres from the main roads that had been boring me so much. The guy is organising a whole two hour biking / drinking tour of the area for Friday, I only wish I was around for it ! Our session went on long and well though, I met a few more local ex-pats and shared beers and stories with many of them, before wondering home via one of the night markets for lots of post-drinking snackage. Some of the fried items you can pick up for 30-40p are simply wonderful, and after a few drunken e-mails (you’ll probably know if you got one of them…) I took the remaining food things I’d picked up back to my hotel for closer examination and consumption. Tonight I am due to go to the guys bar for some food and beer and hopefully more of the wonderful English language being spoken ! Then onwards up the West coast to find more outdoor areas for hiking and picture taking – far more healthy and feels a bit more like travelling.

Bad tiger

5 Nov

Quick update – after last nights post I moved onto a late night bar, having been invited down by friends of the hostel owner. Seeing as the hostel is called Gringos, and the bar is called Amigos, I’m guessing the hostel owner is ALSO the bar owner too ! These friends turned out to be half-working / half-socialising around the bar and remarkably good at convincing me to do tequila shots. I got a few shots free for being an oddity in town, and then in what I can only assume was an attempt on my life, was offered a free shot with every beer I brought. The beer was Tiger (one of my favorite) so I may of had what is commonly known as a “few too many”…

The upshot of all of this is I didn’t leave the bar around midnight as I’d hoped, but infact about 4-5am I think… As I’d taken a taxi down there, I had no idea which way the hostel was an preceed to head in completly the wrong direction, reaching the beach a while later. I knew my way back from the beach so finally got to the hostel about 6am. It was here I realised I’d lost my key, so with no-one on reception I tried to wander back to the bar. But of course I didn’t really know where the bar was still so I think I finally located it again around 7am. It was shut, naturally, so with no sign of my key I went back to the hostel and slept quite soundly on a chair in the corridor, aided by the half-bottle of tequila inside me and the fact I’d smashed my face and nose quite badly on the absurdly low entrance.

The upsetting thing about all of it is I had spent 30-40 quid already on a return flight out to a local island (green island) which was supposed to be really nice. But as the tickets and all my stuff was in my room, I couldn’t get to them and missed my flight. Not that I would of been in much of a state for it all admittedly. I guess I was just so happy to have people to talk to I didn’t want to to leave the bar. Plus free tequila is a wonderfully tempting thing too. So feeling a bit foolish, quite pissed off with myself, and very hungover, I spent most of the day in bed (when I finally got in my room) drinking water and snoozing. Had a little wander around town too, but was not in the mood to be pointed at today, so skulked into a cinema for a couple of hours.

Oh – just been told that a couple of the girls behind the bar were asking if I was coming back down tonight and it’s 2-4-1 drinks for foriengers tonight. Plus being a hostel guest I get free entry. Eeek.

People are strange when your a stranger

4 Nov

Where to start ?! In a coutnry where your vocabulary is simply “hello” and “thank you”, combined with pointing and smiling, even getting lunch is an adventure. My first troubles after leaving John and Karri was getting a train, but after some wrangling I got a slow train out to Haulien, a port city on the coast. Arriving there I quickly found a cheap hotel with cable TV, and went hunting for food to watch MTV with. But my efforts ended up with a confused look around shops for hours and finally some beef jerky, crisps and a beer. Not the best dinner ever…

The next day got out to Toroko gorge which is an absolutley breath taking national park. Driving through cliff-side roads looking up at the endless marble walls next to me made me really glad I had made it out here. I spent a couple of days here doing what walking trails I could. All the trails had a large “uphill” element to them and my legs are trobbing even now. One trail had an observation platform where I almost “observed” a young Taiwanese couple getting a little over-friendly… Seeing the girl die of embarrasment and the guy beam with pride I quickly moved on and left them to it. Moving on, all the other views along the trails were even more breath-taking and quite spectacular – expect lots of digital pics curteousy of John’s camera (mine appears to have broken down again…)

Buses turned out to be a little troublesome, but if there is one thing travelling has taught me is that everything works out somehow. Especially in a country as friendly as Taiwan – a couple of easy hitches and I even got to see some hot springs I hadn’t thought I could get too in time ! I left Toroko the next day utterly walked out and headed back in Haulien where I stayed in the older part of town. This turned out to be a great move, as I found a great hostel with “joined up” beds, meaning I could use the length of two single beds to stretch out… so good ! My food missions were getting better too – I managed to pick up some horrible looking sloppy dumplings and a little pizza, which of course tasted the opposite to how they looked, the pizza cardboardy and the dumpings heavenly. As always, my meal was accompanied by the local brew, Taiwan beer. Quite nice, and a bargin and a quid a large bottle.

Cost of living is qutie good out here – 20 quid a day and you can eat well and bag a decent room in a hostel, as well as pay to see the sights. Cds are also about 6 quid an album which isn’t too bad. Only problem seems to be the lack of communication out here as most people can only say “Hello” in English (my Chinese being the same, of course). I appear to have started talking to myself and singing as a walk around to compensate for the lack of conversation. Can’t be good. Hopefully these effects are temporary, until then I need to get some better songs in my head…

Thanks for all your mails – it’s slow going typing on chinese keyboards so I will offer a quick group response of I look forward to seeing those at home and miss those far away. Will reply to all your mails soon – promise ! Ben.