Well, it was interesting from the beginning.
Taipei is a very small airport. Pink walls, fake plants, shiny white tile. Little did I know that would only be the beginning. A row of bus companies bombarded me and Tim’s vision and not being able to read Mandarin or pick up a Wi-Fi signal in the airport to compare prices, we went with the first one. After a lot of communication barriers, we ended up buying a return ticket into Taipei with our 17 hours layover (6am – 11pm).
We had gotten a good night’s sleep on the plane thanks to trusty Tylenol PM’s, and I was feeling refreshed until I saw our bus. Double decker. Bright blue. Wabbly. A big dog on the side. And sporting an interior that would put Brenda Dickson to shame, flowered curtains and all. At least it matched the airport. Well the trip into Taipei took just under an hour, and we stepped out of the bus easily enough into rain and grey. Just wasn’t a nice day all around. Oddly enough nothing was open yet (big surprise), so the next hour was spent in Starbucks, the ONLY THING OPEN, drinking coffee and eating delicious Chinese Starbucks breakfast treats still not able to check my email or Google the sights.
Feeling caffeinated we found ourselves at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park which was absolutely huge and gorgeous with a memorial building that reflected old Chinese architecture. After arriving in the public washroom and seeing the squat toilet, I decided I didn’t have to go that bad, but instead of hitting the flush, definitely hit the rape alarm (or so I can only imagine it was), where a bathroom attendant burst into my stall and turned off the piercing alarm for me with a stink eye. I got my booty out of there before I got an ear full too.
By now it was nearly 10 and everything was STILL CLOSED. Shops with gates, restaurants, malls, all shut down with a chorus of “11 o’clock” spattered across every door. You don’t really want to hear that the city doesn’t open til an hour before noon when you’ve been there since 6. So we found The Mall of America (UGH!), completed with massacred statue of liberty spray-painted like a clown as a mascot (I KNOW RIGHT?), climbed inot a Mr. Donut, and ate pastries until the Taipei 101 mall opened.
Taipei 101 is the second tallest building in the world second to the one in Dubai, and is a monstrous impressive structure. Inside the structure we found delicious food instead of donuts and a lot of highclass shopping. I drooled over some DSquared and D&G items and opted to leave my Visa card alone.
By now I realized my iPhone still wasn’t picking up Wi-Fi and thought the city might not have it oddly enough, so we spent 45 minutes circling a busy district looking for an internet cafe, which is nearly non-existent, to make contact with our contact in Australia and look up other sights we might have missed. Finally fell into one where we managed to communicate enough to get a computer after a girl looked like she might throw up from panic when we spoke English. See despite everything being bilingual on signs, the false advertising is that hardly anyone actually SPEAKS English, just sees it on their signs. Fair enough though.
We decided to catch the MRT (their subway and incredibly efficient and new) to Longshan Temple where we saw a beautiful prayer service for quite a while, and high on incense got INCREDIBLY lost in a REALLY bad part of town where the poverty line was suddenly apparent. We finally climbed into a hip young area called the Ximen District which i just FELL in love with. Amazing unpretentious shopping, food as far as the eye could see, everybody fun and young and dressed in the coolest garb. We ate, we shopped, it got dark, the whole city lit up in front of us. It was magical.
With still 3 hours to spare and exhausted after a full day, we decided to take in a 90 minutes Thai massage, which worked out to mere dollars, and was incredible. After traveling for 2 days straight we finally got a SHOWER AT THE SPA HALLELUJAH!! and a hot bath for our feet. They served us dessert and fresh fruit after. Was. Heaven. We left the building with a groggy relaxed head and realized we didn’t really have that much time and would probably be cutting it close getting back to the airport. Feeling a little panicked we found our bus stop at Zhongxiao again, climbed onto the one with the dog on the side (had to go by symbols), and were 10 minutes into our trip when it stopped at the main bus stop and a woman boarded to stamp our passes. Well did we get a Mandarin earful. She was freaking out, telling us to get off! WHAT DID WE DO!? I’m panicking! I had my Zen brain on! Out of nowhere, some God somewhere decided to shine down on us and from behind us I hear in perfect English:
“Oh, are you guys going to the airport”.
I turn to face the only English speaking Taiwanese man in all of Taipei. Not an accent, not a flutter in his speech.
“Yes….”, I respond, with what only must have been a look of pure elation mixed with horror and shock in my doe eyes.
“Yeah you’re on the wrong bus guys. Just get off here and catch the next dog bus that comes along.”
I could have jumped on that man’s lap and kissed him. Had we stayed on that bus in our groggy massage mind state, we would’ve ended up so far out of the city, that making it back to the airport and getting on our plane would have been out of the question. After last week’s airport mishap, I couldn’t have been happier. Needless to say we made our flight with only 15 minutes to spare.
Taipei is a beautiful city with so much to offer. It’s been a long time since I set foot in a city, looked around, and thought, “I could really get used to this”. Oh, and if you think there’s no Wi-Fi around on your iPhone when there probably should be: “Settings – General – Reset – Reset Network Settings”. Woulda saved me a LOT OF GRIEF had I known!