Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Night in Taipei

I love layovers. Layovers allow me to take a glance at another world. I had a 24 hour layover in Taipei. Those 24 hours I will remember forever.

Incheon, South Korea

I leave Korea with this money in my wallet:

It is an odd mix of Korean money and US dollars with a single Japanese Yen note thrown in the bunch.

I eat this at the airport and wonder if this would be the last time I eat Lotteria. I hope not.

Goodbye Korean restaurant... goodbye Korea!

My airline ticket has a Hello Kitty theme. Should I be worried?

My plane. =|

My screen. =/

My food! =D

Everything has a Hello Kitty theme! lol.

Taoyuan, Taiwan

Less than three hours later, I am in Taiwan. No more Korean signs.

I exchange all my Korean, US, and Japanese money to Taiwan money. 1,000 is about $34 meaning their blue bills are between a $20 and a $50.

So many choices. I settle for a Coke.

My bus ticket. I can't read anything!

The 45-minute or so bus ride is quite surreal. I can barely see anything out of the old, tinted windows except the freeway and the random lights of distant streets. I really feel like I am in another world, and it reminds me of the first time I came to Korea.

We get off the highway, and this immediately catches my eye: scooters everywhere! In Korea, scooters are only used by delivery people.

Taipei, Taiwan

Off the bus...

...and into the wild!

It is late fall. Back in Korea, it was very cold, but here, the weather is warm and humid. It reminds me of Korea a month or two ago. At this point, I need to find a motel or other cheap resting place.

I make my way across the street via underground subway pathways: the same way that I do in Korea. I look around the streets for anything that resembles a motel. In Korea, they are everywhere and easy to spot. But in Taiwan, I have no idea what kind of sign or words I'm supposed to look for.

I spot a youth hostel. All right! I make my way to the top floor of the building where the hostel is located. It is very clean and modern inside. I approach the desk person. I am not exactly sure what I will say. Does he speak English? I don't know a word of Chinese except for "ni hao". So I ask him, "English?" He says yes and then starts speaking perfect English to me! It is amazing to me.

In Korea, you rarely come across English speakers. Here, the first place I go has an English speaker. Unfortunately, he explains to me that they have no vacancy. I go back to the streets.

Down the street I spot a hotel. I ask the clerk... English? Yes! But no vacancy either. =( I ask him for help, and he gladly gives me a small map and writes where I can find many cheap hotels.

I reach that street. I hit up the hotels. I am surprised; every place they speak English! However, every place has no vacancy. I can't believe it. In Korea, motels are everywhere and always have vacancy.

I am losing hope. I've been to about 15 places already and no one has any rooms. Am I going to sleep on the streets tonight? My bags are killing me. I make my way to a rest spot.

24-hour McDonald's!

The woman at the counter... speaks English! Even at the Korean immigration office they don't speak English yet, the Taiwan McDonald's clerk speaks English.

I am not really hungry so I just get a regular coke. The size is HUGE! It reminds me of America.

The receipts here are thin and long. And at the top of every one of them is a code. I would later learn that every receipt in Taiwan comes with a government-run lottery game number. This could be a possible solution to Korea's receipt problem.

Feeling tired and distraught in the McDonald's, I message my Taiwanese friend for help. She is worried I haven't found a place and contacts dozens of hostels and hotels, but they are all freaking full! I really couldn't believe it.

Moments later, she contacts me again; she found a place! She texts me the address in Chinese characters, and I am off!

The taxi driver doesn't speak any English, but I show him the address on my phone and he says, "OK!" which has become a universal word.

Moments later, I reach my destination...

I take the elevator up. This is the hostel...

It is freaking NICE! The clerk speaks great English. The price is under $30 for one night, and they will hold my bags the next day at no extra charge.

I am finally free of my bags and free of the burden of looking for a place to sleep... time to explore the streets!

I find that there are a lot of these second-floor, all-night Chinese restaurants. The inside has elegant furnishings and a lot of well-dressed, young people dining in them.

Tons of parked scooters!

Parallel to the main big road is this busy strip. It is several blocks of restaurants filled with young people enjoying their Saturday nights (actually, now Sunday mornings).

A few times, I see a white guy walk by with his Taiwanese girlfriend. The guy always speaks with an American accent. I wonder if these guys are English teachers. However, unlike the English teachers in Korea, these guys are always well-dressed, in good shape, and have perfect grooming; perhaps they are businessmen.

I want to speak to them and ask them about any nearby clubs. In Korea, that's what I would do when I see any foreigner: just talk to them. However, I am not in Korea anymore and so I say nothing.

Is this place as good as Korea's "chicken and beer" places?

Back to the main street.

For fun and to compare it to Korea, I venture into a 7-11...

They have Pepero here too!

And fresh food! However, the sandwich fillings look quite foreign to me, and I don't bother buying.

As soon as you enter 7-11 (or any convenience store for that matter) your nose is immediately filled with this distinct smell. It's like a very stuffy, Asiany smell which comes from this certain food that these stores all sell and always have heated up. I can't imagine working inside here all day.

I just buy this...

And I am on my way out on the streets again.

I notice almost all the buildings have these fat pillars. I see the advantage of them; it allows more street walking space on the ground level while providing more floor space on the second floor and up. Plus, you can put signs on the pillars. In Korea, many of the streets don't even have sidewalks!

Here are some more of these pillars...

However, walking through them feels a little scary; it is like walking through a mysterious hallway.

I then make my way to the opposite side of the street.

This area is less busy except for the occasional restaurant or two.

But I imagine during the day time, when all these businesses are open, this must be a bustling place.

What's behind the door?

A dirty apartment building with tons of units crammed together. I really feel like I am in a foreign, Asian country at this point.

This door really catches my attention. I wonder if it's the entrance for some underground, illegal business. Later, my Taiwanese friend tells me that it is just an emergency exit, and the sign says not to block the door.

At this point, it is maybe 3am, and I am hungry and tired of wondering around. Time to get something familiar...

McDonald's! The portion sizes are large like America. Korean fries and drinks are maybe 2/3 the size.

They don't have this burger in America as far as I know. It is damn good although a bit mayonnaisey.

The clerk also speaks great English. Amazing. Like in Korea, the garbage has separate areas for general, recycling, and liquid.

I notice in this McDonald's, as well as the other one I went to earlier, there are a few homeless people inside. They just order a coffee or drink and then sleep on the seats since the establishment is open 24 hours. In Korea, you few homeless people around, and they are only in the subway stations.

After the meal, I make my wake back to the hostel. I shower and sleep, and that ends my night in Taipei.

To be continued in... "A Day in Taipei".

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