這是加拿大蒙特婁的SERVAS 會員 Alexandra寄來的信，
總是從Serena (台灣區SERVAS interviewer) 那裡發出消息之後，
Dear Serena Tang,
It has been almost a full year since we met in wonderful Taiwan. I promised to send you the National Secretary of SERVAS Taiwan, a report of my memories of the twelve delightful days we spent in the company of SERVAS Taiwan hosts. The hospitality and friendship extended to me and John McEntyre was extraordinary. We had the most amazing trip due to the kindness of all the SERVAS hosts who took such good care of us. We were treated with the utmost respect and courtesy at all times and made to feel welcome like dear friends.
John and I have travelled many times with SERVAS and have always came home with happy memories but never has a whole country mobilized so many hosts to take care of us from the start of our trip in the Taipei airport when we spoke to you for the first time, throughout the country until we left Taipei in Amo Chiang's cousin's taxi! Our story is remarkable and I wanted to write it down and share it with you and the amazing hosts who took us into their homes and made us feel so welcome.
Please accept this report as a small token of appreciation to you as National Secretary of SERVAS Taiwan and to all the other SERVAS members who were so kind to us. I wish to thank not only the night hosts who went to so much trouble on our behalf but also to the many day hosts who ensured we always knew where to go to have a good time. In particular I would like to thank Mei Wang for her formidable organizing skills and for her encouragement in writing this report.
Thank you for making our time in Taiwan a treasured experience filled with vivid delightful memories.
Feel free to share this report with anyone who wishes to know more about how SERVAS Taiwan treats its visitors.You are all without doubt wonderful!
Sincerely Yours in Peace,
SERVAS TAIWAN TRIP REPORT March 16 to March 27, 2007
March 4, 2008
PREPARED BY ALEXANDRA GLASHAN
In mid-March 2007 Alexandra Glashan and John McEntyre of Montreal, Quebec, Canada travelled to Taiwan for twelve amazing days and then we flew to New Zealand to attend a Stamp Exhibition in Whangarei on the North Island for two more weeks. Taiwan was chosen because it seemed exotic and a nice break between Montreal and Whangerei. Because John is heavily involved with philately and we both think Canada produces great Chinese zodiac stamps, we carried a supply of stamps for each of the years of the zodiac. We wanted to give them out to people who did something nice for us. We thought that these stamps would be interesting as conversation pieces as well.
Below is an account of the time written by Alexandra about the wonderful two weeks the pair spent touring Taiwan with the unending generous help of the hosts from SERVAS Taiwan. Prior to our departure I had written to four SERVAS day hosts and four SERVAS night hosts hoping that one of each would be willing to show us a bit of Taipei. One host replied by inviting John and I to stay with her and her family (Amo and David Chiang) and one day host offered to show us around (Mei Wang). Mei wrote asking if we had an itinerary planned already and when I said no she asked if we would like her to plan one for us. This was an amazing offer that we leapt at. Mei emailed a detailed itinerary shortly before we left Montreal and then she sent us a last minute email asking us to call the SERVAS National Secretary Serena Tang at 7 am from the Taipei airport for some changes to the original itinerary. We were delighted to have an itinerary and also very excited to be in touch with the National Secretary.
Friday March 16, 2007:day hosts are Bryan Tsai and Cindy Lee; night hosts are Amo and David Chiang in Taipei
After flying from Montreal to Vancouver and Vancouver to Taipei we arrived safe and sound with all our luggage around 5 in the morning Taipei time on Friday March 16, 2007. EVA Airlines treated us very well and we ate our way across the Pacific Ocean. We passed through customs and immigration with ease. It was time to call Serena Tang for an update on our itinerary. Challenge number one was how to use a telephone in Taiwan. How hard can it be to use a phone? I changed money and had coins in hand. Well, no matter how I tried I couldn't get the coin phones in the airport to work and when I spied an EVA Airline attendant I asked her how to do it, and our introduction to friendly Taiwan started at that moment. A stranger offered to call Serena using her cell phone. Saved by kindness. We received our instructions from a very pleasant Serena. We were to stay with Amo and David Chiang for our first night and another host Cindy had arranged to bring us to an outdoor concert of Chinese Opera by the famous Ming Hua Yuan Taiwanese Opera Company at the Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Serena told us to go the the Taipei Main Train Station and wait for Bryan Tsai who would bring us to Amo's house. We went to a little cafe and had pumpkin soup and a multigrain roll. Delicious! We then met Bryan who then negotiated the subway system called the MRT, helping us with ticket buying and showing us how the tickets were used. We were much impressed by the beautiful MRT trains and the ultramodern stations. Like Montreal, the trains are quiet and the stations are bright and beautiful. Passengers line up in neat cues before the doors of each train . Not like in Montreal where it is a bit if a free for all gettin in and our of the trains. Bryan escorted us to the exit turnstile of Amo's stop where Amo was waiting for us with a big smile. We said thank you and goodbye to Bryan Tsai. Amo told us we were one of her first SERVAS guests. Then Amo, John and I walked about ten minutes along a busy main street past shops selling pastries and past two pet shops. Every time we passed by the pet shops we had to stop and watch the rabbits with funny ears and the tiny mice. We arrived at Amo's building with the red door set back from the street. We walked up to the third floor. The Chiang family lives in a high ceilinged quite spacious apartment. We walked into a very large room that served as living room and dining room. From this central room there were three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen. There were balconies front and back. We met her children Brian (age 12) and Joanna (age 11). Amo's husband David was out of the country on business. Brian gave up his bedroom for John and me. We received our first etiquette lesson when upon entering the apartment we took off our shoes and put on slippers that Amo gave us. It felt wonderful to take off our shoes as we had been travelling over 24 hours.
John and I really enjoyed the afternoon in the apartment with Amo, Joanna and Brian. Joanna had her English workbook with her and it was a terrific book. Her English was wonderful and I think her spelling was better than mine after our long trip to Taipei. She was charming and very cute. Bryan was very kind to give up his bedroom without a murmur. Great kids. And so polite too. Amo gave us Joanna's cell phone for the duration of our stay in Taiwan and instructed us to push “Mommy Amo” when we need help. (Of course it was all in Chinese so we did make fun mistakes with the phone later in our trip.) The three of them left John and I to have a much needed snooze.
After a few hours rest in the middle of the afternoon during which I fell into a deep sleep, I awoke to kids and Amo back home from school. The kids were going to attend extra English classes in the evening so Amo prepared a take-a-long supper for then to eat during classes. We walked with Amo and the children to their school after which, Amo brought us to the MRT. We went with her to see the Chinese Opera being held outdoors on the grounds of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. When the three of us were on the MRT going to the concert a western chap spoke to us in English. He was singing the praises of the Taiwanese. He was an American MBA teaching in the National University in Taipei.
The scene upon our arrival at the outdoor plaza that best comes to mind is the crowded area at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2005 when the Cirque de Soleil was giving a free outdoor performance for 250 000 people. Everyone we saw around us was in high good humour. This very well known Taiwanese Opera Company was giving this free outdoor perfpormance as part of the 20th Anniversary Festival commemorating the opening of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Concert Hall (which has since changed name). The concert was on the spacious paved grounds adjacent to the large hall. A huge stage had been built with four immense screens beside it. There were other huge screens at other locations in this vast area. Thousands and thousands of people were there and believe it or not everyone had a seat. How could every person get a seat? There were rows and rows of red plastic stools available for the using and at the end of the show people stacked up the stools as they left the area. I could not imagine how Amo and Cindy Lee were ever going to meet as the square was filled to capacity with concert goers. Through the mystery of cell phones, Cindy and Amo figured out precisely where Cindy was in the crowd and Amo took us unerringly to meet her in the midst of thousands of excited polite viewers. Amo left us with Cindy to return home for her children.
The show was astounding. It was called The Immortals of Ponglai which all Taiwanese know. The start of the opera was heralded by loud applause. The elaborate costumes were exotic and sensational and the sets were beautifully painted. Constant billowing clouds of mist added to the atmosphere. There was music, good singing, high drama and even belly laughs from time to time. We were enthralled. I have never seen anything quite like it. The huge screens made it even more real but our seats were close enough to see everything on stage. The colours of the costumes were fabulous and so was the embroidery. Of course there was a down side. The down side was our exhaustion. I never thought I could fall asleep sitting on a red plastic stool in the middle of a very loud Chinese opera. Well I caught myself a number of times before I tumbled right over. John managed to stay upright even though from time to time he rested his eyes.
Cindy had solved the problem of supper. She came with picnic suppers for us to enjoy. She brought us each a “sandwich” triangle of white rice about 1 inch thick with tasty goodies in a circle in the centre. The whole triangle was wrapped in black seaweed and it was scrumptuous. We also ate a 1000 year old egg which was an egg boiled in tea leaves to look old. We drank a hot orange tea from a tin can with a little paper sleeve to protect fingers. That hot orange drink was tops in my books and Cindy said they were available in any 7-11 convenience store. We later discovered that 7-11 convenience stores are on every corner. Hot coffee was available in tins as well as food and phone cards too. When the fantastic show was over Cindy brought us as far as Amo's subway stop and then turned us over safely to Amo who once more that day was waiting for us at the MRT stop. Tired but exhilarated by the show, John, Amo and I walked home.
No sleep for us yet. Our day was not over as Amo said we had to plan our next few days in Taiwan. After some discussion it was decided on a plan.The motto we adopted was “Plans Subject to Change” and it served us very well as our plans did change a lot. . Now was the time for us to really learn our etiquette. We learned that everyone removes shoes upon entering the house. The host supplies slippers for all guests who remove their shoes as a matter of courtesy. Bathroom etiquette Taiwanese style was quite different form Canadian practice. The bathtub had very high sides but no shower curtain so I couldn't take a bath or shower without getting water on the floor. Of course the floors in all the bathrooms floors slope to a central drain. Toilet etiquette was also different from Canada. All toilet paper was to be deposited not in the toilet but in a waste paper basket for the purpose of collecting it because the sewer systems were not made for paper. I found that towels were small and they dried quickly.
Saturday March 17, 2007: night host is Rose Huang in Hschinu
We woke up Saturday morning just before Amo took the children for swimming lessons. John and I each packed a small suitcase and left our big ones in Amo's house. It was wonderful not to have to cart all our belongings with us. After lunch Amo took us on the subway to the Main Taipei Train Station to catch the high speed train to Hsinchu to meet Rose and her daughter Vivian.Before we left, we had a charming encounter in the MRT station which indicates how gracious the Taiwanese people are to their foreign visitors. After we purchased our tickets, John waited for me with our luggage at the gate entrance while Amo escorted me to the ladies bathroom. When we returned John told me an delightful story. A security guard at the gate recognized the Canadian Flag lapel pin John was wearing. He told John in English that he knew a lot about Canada. He proceeded to name all 10 provinces and correctly identify their capital cities. He then sang the Canadian anthem in English from start to finish. John was totally floored! The last place one expected to hear the Canadian anthem was at the gate to the high speed train in Taipei, Taiwan sung by a security guard. John removed his Canadian Flag lapel pin and gave it to him to the man's delight. John and I said thank you and goodbye to Amo and with Johanna's cellphone firmly in hand we set off to board the train.
But the story is not over. About ten minutes after John and I had taken our seats the same security guard come towards us with bottles of water and snacks for us to eat. He also took a photo which he later sent us by email. We started off on our train journey to Chaiyi charmed by the delightful people.
When we arrived at the ultramodern train station in Hsinchu, there was the smiling duo of Rose Huang and her smiling daughter Vivian. Somehow they knew who we were (I guess we were the only Western tourists exiting the train) and the big smiles in our direction told us who our new SERVAS hosts were. Rose, a schoolteacher, said she knew from my SERVAS Letter of Introduction that I liked flowers and so we drove through windy streets to a fantastic outdoor flower market where I saw many people selling beautiful plants including two vendors selling magnificent orchids. Another vendor sold seeds and so I bought several packages of lettuce seeds plus Chinese basil with Chinese only directions. They grew very well in my mother's country garden during the summer. I was not sure for one packet labeled Chinese Chrysanthemum if I was supposed to eat the leaves or wait until later in the season and use them as cut flowers. In fact I did both.
After the flower market Rose and Vivian brought us to a very nice restaurant for a delicious Taiwanese dinner. After dinner we walked in the area around the famous Hsinchu Du Cheng Huang Temple. I did some shopping and wore what I bought during the trip. After our eventful day we went to Rose's stylish home and met her parents who lived downstairs. Her house was a three story townhouse in very new development. John and I had a charming view of the hills from Rose's bedroom window and we slept very well.
Sunday March 18, 2007: day hosts are Michael Hung and Mr and Mrs Robert Lee; overnight at Sun Moon Lake in Michael Hung's friend's chalet
On Sunday morning we woke up to a pleasant day. My fascination with bathrooms continued. In Rose's bathroom there was a small round plastic pan like a child's swimming pool and I was perplexed about what to do with the shower water caught in the pan after I took my shower. I carefully poured some of the soapy water down the central floor drain only to discover that it was normally saved to flush the toilet. Rose is a talented artist and quilter. On the walls of her house were several beautiful quilts. She gave us two quilted pillow covers and a hand painted Welcome sign she had done herself. In addition she gave me a lovely pearl necklace. John and I were touched since we were her guests who should be giving her gifts not the other way around. We had only small tokens of appreciation to extend. After a very nice breakfast and picture taking we met Rose's brother and his son who were going to accompany us to the mountains to visit the Chi Chi Water Management Plant. We saw how water is gathered and processed and we had an outdoor lunch on the patio looking at a lake. We learned about the fish that live beside the plant and enjoyed the view which was very pretty.
We met our next SERVAS host Michael Hung who had taken time from his teaching in Taichung City to also show us around. Arrangements had been made for the seven of us to be given a special tour by a famous Taiwanese calligrapher and artist of his studio. Off we went to another fascinating spot, not one a regular tourist would likely see. We were warmly welcomed by this gentleman. He showed us some amazing metre high clay jars that were highly ornamented with calligraphy. Then in his studio we sat fascinated by the brush strokes he used in making three diffeerent Chinese scrolls. To our great delight the artist invited us all into his office where he personally prepared tea according to the ritual tea ceremony used in Taiwan. We were fascinated by the details of the tea ceremony. There was a video of him being interviewed that we could watch while he prepared tea for the seven of us. We were very honoured to be received so graciously by such a famous person. But more was to come. He presented Rose and her brother, Michael, and John and I with one of the scrolls he had just made. What a wonderful souvenir of a special visit for us to take home.
We all drove to the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute in Chi-Chi, Nan-tou County, not too far away. We were so lucky that an English speaking guide was available to show us around. I was especially interested in all the types of frogs that call Taiwan home. I was quite astonished to discover that Taiwan has twenty nine different species of frogs. There are only ten species in the whole province of Quebec. We saw many types of frogs and learned about their different life styles. It was wonderful fun especially for me, the biologist. We were given a brochure in English with photos and information on the Institute in case we forgot anything.
After saying goodbye and a big thank you to Vivian, Rose, her brother and his son, John, Michael and I were off on the next leg of our trip. Michael drove us way up into the mountains to one of the most famous tourist spots in all Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake. In spite of the inclement weather the scenery was lovely. Michael had a friend who owned a cottage not far from the lake and this friend told Michael we could stay in the cottage that night so we could visit Sun Moon Lake properly the next day. We arrived by a winding dirt country road to see a charming chalet overlooking the power dam that is at the head of Sun Moon Lake. There was a large central room that was kitchen and dining room. Off this room was a bathroom, a bedroom and stairs leading up to the bedroom upstairs. Shortly after we arrived at the chalet. Michael introduced us to Mr and Mrs Robert Lee and one of their three daughters who had come to meet us and who would come back the following afternoon and take over as our next SERVAS hosts. After a wonderful display of Chinese munchies appeared courtesy of both Michael and the Lees, the Lees left and Michael took John and me into the village so we could walk around. There were many hotels, restaurants and tourist shops. I bought a warm embroidered Chinese-style jacket with a detachable fur collar that I wore a lot in Taiwan and in Montreal following my return. Robert took us to a restaurant for a nice dinner and then we returned to his friend's chalet for the night. John and I chose the downstairs bedroom, adjacent to the bathroom. The bedroom was a large room that had a bureau and some carved wood chairs. The sleeping area was a raised platform that took up about one third of the room. Sections of the platform lifted up revealing the bedding inside.There were firm duvets to sleep on, fluffy pillows and soft duvets to sleep under. The bathroom had an interesting shower head low down on the wall just beside the entrance. Without a plastic floor cover, the water from the shower head would end up all over the floor. I immediately decided a sponge bath was in order. After choosing our bedding, we climbed up on the platform and fell into a deep sleep once more.
Monday March 19, 2007: day host is Michael Hung; night hosts are Mr and Mrs Robert Lee in Zhongyuanli
Monday morning after breakfast, Michael drove us by the village and around the lake to the famous Wenwu Temple. The temple is justly famous because although it was very badly damaged in an terrible earthquake on September 21,1999 that measured 7.3 on the Richter Scale, it has been rebuilt so it is once more very beautiful. The view of the lake with the mountains around it was lovely. I bought a packet of nine postcards including one of the temple after its destruction by the earthquake. In a small amusing twist, a Taiwanese lady stopped me as I left the ladies bathroom wondering if there was toilet paper in the bathroom. I indicated that there was none to be had, so I gave her some of mine. It was the first and only bathroom that lacked tissue. I had taken the Taiwan guide book's advice and travelled well stocked with tissue so in a twist of fate I, the tourist from Canada, was able to give tissue to the Taiwanese lady. Michael drove all around the lake and stopped at an aboriginal town with shops facing the docks from which tourists took boat tours of the lake. After our morning tour, Michael brought us back to the chalet to meet Robert who arrived shortly after we returned. After saying thank you and goodbye to Michael for a wonderful time, we started the next part of our adventure with Robert.
Robert drove us to his very large gracious home in the country side town of Zhongyuanli in Caotun Township. We were so impressed by the rice paddies nearby in the valley with the mountains in the distance. Upon our arrival Robert brought us to a large room that was their house shrine where we were introduced to his parents who also lived in this large multilevel multgenerational house.We also met his charming wife Mrs Lee. Mrs Lee did not have an English name. In addition to the shrine and the large kitchen area the house consisted of a separate but connected building with different floors for his parents, brother's family and his family to live in .
Since the day was young, Robert decided to show us around the nearby city of Taichung. After seeing some of the major buildings Robert suggested that we go to a large store that specializes in electronics as John, the electrical engineer, might find something of interest to look at. However Alexandra's shopping genes were turned on by the thought of buying a digital camera. The hunt for the best camera and the best deal took a couple of hours of checking out the prices at different camera shops. John, Robert and I negotiated the final price and extras to be included in the deal. The saleslady spoke enough English to make the negotiations animated and memorable. The deal concluded with smiles all around. The first photo was of Robert, John and myself with the saleslady. Every time I see the picture I am instantly transprted back to that day with Robert in Taichung. With new camera in hand the happy trio drove around Taichung looking for a store for me to shop for a dress to wear to a godson's wedding in July in Canada. Robert took us to a very exclusive department store on Wedding Dress Street. The elevator operator wore white gloves and bowed deeply as the doors closed.The two men were exceptionally patient as I browsed. Unfortunately or fortunately, all the emsembles were well above my budget. Michael showed us many of the sights famous in Taichung and then we headed back to his home. We met his two other daughters and we were fascinated by their choices of western names. The Lee girl's names are Betty, Candy and Vivian. We had only met six children and two of the five girls were named Vivian. To us their choices were interesting. Naturally they could pick what ever name they wished as these names were not given at birth but chosen for their English classes. Betty had no idea that her name was the diminuative for Elizabeth. After washing our hands, we ate a magnificent dinner prepared for us by Mrs. Lee. We were treated royally. I was astonished at the variety and number of regional specialties that Mrs Lee had prepared in our honour. We all sat around a large round table with a giant revolving lazy susan that let us choose from among the many dishes with ease. It was a meal we will always remember. After this wonderful dinner it was time to go upstairs to the living area and send our exciting emails to family and friends.
We took the stairs one floor up to a foyer from which there were a number of doors. Besides the door to the balcony, one led to the bathroom and another to the living area where the Lees lived. Off the large living room was an office with a computer and two bedrooms for the girls and one bedroom for their parents. The bathroom had an unusual oval dark wooden bathtub about 4 feet long and about 3 feet wide. It was more than two feet deep and I had to lift my feet up high to get inside the tub. The shower head was of the personal kind, not on the wall. This meant having to squat with knees touching the sides for balance while showering. This time the bathroom floor was covered with a plastic grill so our feet stayed dry. With four ladies living in that house the bathroom foyer was well equipped with supplies and a hairdryer and many pairs of slippers. I felt very relaxed and sleepy after my shower.
John and I were given one daughter's beautifully furnished bedroom for the night. The mattress was on a raised platform with a soft duvet cover. All three girls and I were in our nighties and robes and I thought it was time to go to bed. However other plans were in store for me. The youngest daughter Vivian (age 11) looked up at me with those big eyes and asked me if I would like to play a game of Chinese Checkers with her and her sisters. I was touched by the offer and I jumped at the chance. I said I would need help as I had forgotten how to play the game. We sat in the large living room around a coffee table with our heads bent over the board. Gently and with much laughter they discretely guided me. I had a ball even though I made many mistakes. I received much helpful guidance and was touched by their gentleness, their respect and their sense of fun. Mrs. Lee used Robert's camera to take delightful photos of her three daughters and me playing the game. Robert kindly charged up the battery of my new camera and then transferred to my camera all the pictures Mrs Lee took of us. These are the first digital photos of SERVAS hosts on my trip. My film camera was now obsolete. After hugs, it was time for bed and we all retired and slept very well.
Tuesday March 20,2007: day hosts are Mr and Mrs Robert Lee; night host is Naomi Chen in Chaiyi
The following morning we again had a delightful Chinese breakfast. Robert took time off work and kindly made arrangements for us to have an English speaking guide to show us around a special show of the award winning crafts at the National Taiwan Craft Research Institute in Nantou. Vincent was our excellent English speaking guide and we were honoured to have the Director of the Research Center accompany us. The show was fantastic as we saw metal, ceramic, wood made into many small and large decorative items. The building was interesting itself because it was not destroyed in the great earthquake of 1999 that had leveled so much of the area. After a quick visit to the gift shop we returned home to discover that the Director had chosen several impressive gifts for us as a tribute of our visit. We received a framed wood sculpture of the Island of Taiwan and several beautiful books that were partly in English. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of people we did not know but who were so proud of their country and our visit that they gave us substantial gifts. When we were ready to leave for our next host we were delighted that Robert's wife packed a lunch for us to eat on the train from Taichung to Chaiyi further south. She also presented us with two ceremonial straw daggers that she had crafted herself. We were very touched by her gifts and the goodbye notes from her daughters. The ride to the train station gave us a chance to see the mountains in the distance and how crops were grown. We said thank you and goodbye to Robert at the train station and off we went to our next SERVAS host Naomi Chen. The train was fast and very clean and we arrived on time in Chaiyi.
At the train station in Chaiyi we were met by Naomi Chen who had lived in the USA for a number of years. Whereas Robert was a factory owner involved in sales, Naomi was a teacher of English as Second Language. More accurately she teaches English as EFL, foreign language, because English is not that commonly spoken in Taiwan. After loading our luggage into her car, Naomi drove us to see a gigantic outdoor statue of Buddah is close to Donghai University. There were hundreds of motorcycles parked on campus. We took many photos with my new camera. We returned to the area where Naomi lived with her parents in her parents' home which is above the photographry store her father owned. We met her parents who were very gracious to us. Then we were shown into our own suite with private bath. In the summer time Naomi's brother and his family visit Chaiyi from the USA and the suite was for him and his family. We were really lucky to have such a large area for ourselves including the private bathroom. This time etiquette was a little different about shoes. We took them off at the apartment door and wore house slippers in the hallways. We went barefoot in the bedroom but had special bathroom slippers for the bathroom.
We discussed with Naomi what we should see while we in the Chaiyi area. Naomi thought that John and I might like to take the scenic small guage railway into the high mountains to see Mount Alishan and the cherry blossoms. We agreed. Alishan is in a forested park with several hotels, well marked trails and beautiful views. The railway was built during the Japanese occupation to exploit logging the giant cypress trees. After the occupation the railway was used to transport tourists. Naomi tried over the internet to book us a room. Because it was high season the hotels were all booked so we settled for a farm. To make sure we had a seat on the Alishan Forest Railway train we went to the colonial style station to purchase our train tickets in advance. Before we reached the ticket window a travel agent in the station selling hotel rooms in Alishan, came running up to Naomi. She suggested we choose a very nice room at the Alishan Gou Hotel at a reasonable price through her.The lady and Naomi talked very rapidly and in no time she and Naomi came to an agreement. Before I knew it, I was handing over money to this lady and getting little pink slips of paper proving we had paid for our hotel room. It was decided we would take the train up, stay in the Alishan Gou Hotel and take the van back to Chaiyi. We were all set for the trip in no time with pink paper receipts for train, hotel and van. Naomi said she would bring us to the train the next morning and fetch us at the bus station upon our return the following day. Plus we were invited to spend a second night at her parents. John and I were delighted at our good fortune. Since we had a bit of time before Naomi had to teach her evening English classes, I said that I would really like to shop for a dress to wear to the July wedding. Naomi knew of a very classy department store IDEE and she dropped John and I there. John explored the maze of small streets around the store while I explored IDEE. I had a great time. I went on each floor and checked out all the ladies dresses. I found the designs and quality to be exceptionally high. I had a hard time choosing a dress but in fact I bought a terrific dress at a reduced price within my budget. I also bought a skirt in a store that John noticed just outside the store. Everything outside was on sale at afordable prices and so I enjoyed looking. Sizes were hard to guess but I had my tape-measure handy which was a great help in measuring waist sizes and lengths, By the time we met Naomi two hours later I had made two major purchases and I was very pleased with myself. Imagine this: I was going to go to a wedding in Edmonton Alberta, Canada in July wearing a beautiful tourquoise print silk dress I bought in Chaiyi while on my trip to Taiwan. For sure no other lady at the wedding would have the same dress I did!
Naomi took us to a night market where we saw all kinds of goods for sale. It was noisy and busy and definitely fun. We even had an outdoor stir-fry dinner of who knows what that was excellent. We were pleased to sleep in her brother's suite. Naomi explained that the toilet had several buttons on it. I tried to memorize what each button was for but of course all the words were in Chinese. I got quite a surprise when I pushed the button that I thought was for “flush” and instead I got “total bottom wash”, like a bidet. It was funny except I did not know how to turn it off. I had visions of water all over everywhere including the floor but John calmly pushed the stop button and….. all was fine. He obviously knew the Chinese labels better than I did. We were able to do our laundry at Naomi's. We washed our clothes in the washing machine and then hung them on long lines outside on the spacious balconey to dry overnight. Bliss to have clean clothes to wear the next day.
We realized that we were rapidly running out of time in Taiwan and would not be able to see it all. Because of the extraordinary hospitality of everyone we met John and I decided that we had to do something special for the SERVAS hosts of Taiwan. John and I spoke to Mei Wang in Taipei, who had been instrumental in organizing our whole trip and whom we had not yet met. John and I asked her to plan a Thank You Dinner at a Taipei restaurant to which all our nice hosts would be invited. We asked her to choose the restaurant, menu and send out the invitations. Graciously Mei said she would be happy to do it. We just knew it would be a memorable evening on Saturday, the day most people would be able to come.
Wednesday March 21, 2007: Alishan Gou Hotel, Alishan Forest Recreation Area
The next morning was a lovely day and after a breakfast of freshly bought buns and other delicacies, Naomi drove us to the train station to catch our small-gauge train up to picturesque Mount Alishan, the highest mountain in South East Asia. The ride up was fantastic, full of switchbacks and lovely views. We started out at 30metres above sea level went through 77 bridges and through 50 tunnels.. About half way up the mountain a lady came on the train carrying little rectangular wooden boxes which she sold to many eager passengers. By the time we realized that the boxes contained a lunch, the seller had moved on to the next railway car. Another passenger however realized that I was hungry, and through hand gestures, understood that I would like a boxed lunch. She ran off to find the lady selling the boxed lunches. To my delight this lady returned to the car to sell me my lunch. I thought my lunch was delicious even though I did not know what I was eating. It was another culinary adventure in exotic Taiwan.
After several hours we arrived at the station in Mount Alishan National Recreational Park at 2 274 metres above sea level. The lady who sold us the tickets was there at the station greeting tourists. We located our hotel and we were happy that our little slip of pink paper really was a receipt for our room. I was struck by the beautiful arrangements of orchids in the foyer. Our room looked out over the narrow-gage railway tracks only a few feet from our hotel. I knew that I would photograph the train as it passed by the hotel. We got a map of the trails through the park, and then we then went for a very long leisurely walk in the forest past ancient trees, temples and ponds. The forest is justly famous with broad stone walkways designed to handle the throngs of people who come each day. For you see, John and I arrived at the peak of the high season: sakura or cherry blossom time. There were hundreds and hundreds of eager visitors everywhere we looked. I took dozens of photos of flowers, ancient trees and of the people who were happy and polite. We soon learned that if a group of people were closely gathered at one location there must be an especially lovely view. If a photographer had an impressive tripod and enormous camera then for sure we had to capture the same images. The waiting was always rewarded. Professional photographers have a special eye for composition and colour. There were trees that were large and trees that were small but all were breathtakingly beautiful. Since we do not have cherry trees in Montreal as it is too cold, we were entranced by the views of mist and valley, of the tree shapes and the blossoms in all shades of pink. It was truly a magical time to be there.
Everyone it seems who visits Mount Alishan comes to see the sun rise by taking the train higher up into the mountains at an ungodly hour of the morning. John and I had no intention of joining everyone else. We wanted to sleep in. Amo told us she had only seen clouds when she was here so we chose a long night's rest. We made sure to tell the hotel staff we did not wish to have the 4:40 am wake up call to go see the sunrise, as they automatically wake up everyone. Once we were certain we would be able to sleep in we walked around the nearby marketplace. There were traditional crafts and souvenirs available as well as Taiwanese fast food. Everyone seemed to want us to buy their goods. All the vendors were smiling and in good humour. It was fun looking at what was for sale and to buy a few gifts. After all the walking we were quite happy to have dinner in our hotel. In the dining room there was a Chinese buffet and we enjoyed ourselves. I managed to call home for the first time and regale my mother with the details of our trip so far. We slept well if not as long as we thought.
Thursday March 22, 2007: night host is Naomi Chen in Chaiyi
Even though we did not get up for the sunrise train ride we did hear the train returning around 6am so I took photos as it slowly went by only fifteen metres from our room. After a buffet breakfast there was time for a short walk and then we took the van for the very exciting ride down the mountain to Chaiyi. It was hair-raising at times. The ride was exhilarating because John and I got the two front seats across from the driver who seemed determined to pass everything on the road around hairpin turns over double yellow lines at high speed. He was having a great time. I think he was showing off. We just said our prayers and enjoyed the changing view. In a famous village part way down we stopped at an open-air restaurant for lunch that came in a wood box like the one I purchased on the way up. While I was eating, I spied a fellow passenger with a shopping bag. Did this mean there was shopping near the restaurant? Yes there was. I indicated I was interested in shopping so she showed me where she had been. A shopping stop as well as a lunch stop: I was thrilled. I walked up a winding narrow street higher up the mountainside village to a shopping alley full of busy shoppers. There were all sorts of vendors, but the one that got my business, was the made-to-fit-your foot sandal man. I chose the colour of wood base as well as the colour and pattern of the leather topping. The shoe maker fitted the wood base to the sole of my foot, carefully placed the leather on the top of my foot, cut the leather to fit, glued it, nailed it and finished the sandals up in no time. I chose a dark brown wood base with lime green and gold leather. It took about fifteen minutes to assemble from start to finish: my first made-to-measure sandals! They are comfy and pretty and were made just for my feet. What could be better than that! On our way down we had one more short stop at a temple beside a narrow rope foot bridge over a river. Naturally we walked over the swaying bridge for the experience of it. As the van approached Chaiyi the landscaped flattened out and palm trees and bamboo reappeared.
When Naomi met us at the station in Chaiyi she noticed that I was coughing a lot. John thought that I was coughing too much and that I should see a doctor. I was not thrilled by that prospect. But Naomi said she knew an English-speaking doctor whose office was just across the street from her home. How could I say no? The next thing I knew I was standing in a doctor's small office area with several sick children and their parents speaking to a receptionist. Naomi explained the sitiuation and I answered the questions on the form and sat down looking at several ill children. In Montreal a person who arrives at a doctor's office or clinic without an appointment can expect to wait a long time before seeing the doctor. You can imagine my astonishment when after only a few minutes my name was called. The sick children and their parents never said a word that my name was called next. I jumped to my feet. The doctor sat on a stool in a tiny area and examined my lungs and my throat, etc and told me I had bronchitis. He prescribed five different pills I needed to take for ten days. He told me the receptionist would have the pills ready for me in a few minutes. He wrote my prescriptions for me in English. Naomi used her health care card so I did not pay for the visit to the doctor. That was totally astonishing to me because at home a visit to a doctor would result in a hefty bill. My pills were given to me in a long plastic strip of 20 individually wrapped doses. As you may have guessed by now, my doctor was a pediatrician. My pills were enclosed in very distinctive plastic wrap covered with colourful cartoon characters and cost me very little. I knew I was on the mend after seeing the doctor. For the next ten days I smiled every time I took my medication out of its wrapping.
After my visit to the doctor, we went with Naomi to a lovely modern restaurant that had gigantic oysters and wonderful seafood. It was a western-style eatery with fine cuisine. Although we wanted to travel more around the island of Taiwan with Michael we also wanted to see more of the city of Taipei. We had to choose what to do and so we chose to return on a high speed train to Taipei the following morning. Naomi took us to the ultramodern train station to purchase our tickets John as a senior citizen was entitled to a hefty discount on his ticket ticket but he did not have his passport with him. The kind clerk sold John the ticket anyway at the reduced price and told him to show his passport the next morning to verify his age. It was so easy for John because the clerk had been so understanding. We realized another good day had come to an end. Once again we had a restful sleep
Friday march 23,2007: day host is Glen Tan; night hosts are Amo and David Chiang in Taipei
The next morning as we were about to leave Chaiyi, Naomi's parents gave us gifts and we gave them small gifts too. John received a marvelous CD of photos of beautiful Alishan from Naomi's photographer father and I received a lovely beige pleated silk evening purse from her mother. We were again touched by their generosity and warm hospitality. We even had a lunch to take with us on the train. Naomi drove John and me to a memorial park with a Japanese style house that was converted into a museum which we visited. The park was a leafy place with interesting birds and pretty flowers. We said thank you and goodbye to Naomi and after our wonderful time in Chaiyi we were on the go again.The high speed train from Chaiyi back to Taipei allowed us to see the countryside in great comfort.
We were returning to Amo's for the last few remaining days of our visit. Another SERVAS day host Glen Tan met us upon our arrival and accompanied us to the MRT station near Amo's house so we would not get lost. He showed us how to refill our smart card for the subway which we appreciated. When we entered Amo's apartment we felt like we were home. Amo thought we would like to go out for dinner. We did indeed. The five of us went by bus to a very popular restaurant in a night market where many chefs presided over horseshoe-shaped tables wrapped around horseshoe-shaped hot grills. As we waited for a table I couldn't help but notice John and I were the only western people there. We watched as our chef chopped vegetables, meat and fish like magic. Our meals were delicious and we walked off our meal along a street filled with vendors selling everything. My eye was caught by a lady selling Chinese style jackets and in the end I bought two as souvenirs. I hoped I wouldn't have too many problems packing. Another eventful day was over and again we slept very well in Brian's bedroom.
Saturday March 24, 2007: day hosts are Wen Lin Chen and Mei Wang; night hosts are Amo and David Chiang in Taipei
After breakfast we looked foreward to meeting day host Wen Lin Chen and seeing the Chinese Postal Museum with her. We used the MRT which I believe is considered the best in South East Asia. Wen-Lin met us at the MRT station closest to the Chinese Postal Museum. As we walked toward the museum we had to go through a bustling shopping district. I could not rush by without looking at the many small shops. In one store I saw a beautiful white dress with black trim. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. I bought it and a sweater for my mother and I was very pleased with myself. The three of us ate in a small fast food restaurant and I couldn't help but smile at a little dog that walked past the restaurant wearing a miniature coat of the New York Yankees baseball team. He looked very proud of himself going for his walk all dressed up. I took his photo.
John and I were very impressed by the Chinese Postal Museum. In the foyer there were large displays highlighting stamp exhibitors who had recently won awards in international stamp exhibitions. The people had full-length photos on display in addition to their medals and other awards. John thought it was a great idea that each winner's complete exhibit was on display for the public to enjoy. These stamp exhibitors were treated like celebrities. John and I had been in Malaga, Spain the previous September and so it was particularly interesting for us to see that a Taiwanese exhibitor whose exhibit had done very well in Malaga was one of the people celebrated in the foyer of the museum.
I wanted to see the beautiful Botanical Gardens on the grounds of the nearby National Museum of History. Wen-Lin and I left John to further enjoy the Postal Museum and we walked to the Botanical Gardens nearby. We saw and enjoyed a special indoor exhibit of sculptures and flowers. Lots of people were inside the sculpture show as well as touring the gardens. John left the postal museum and was attempting to call Amo on the cell phone to find out how to meet up with Wen-Lin and me when a funny thing happened to him. He pushed the button on Joanna's cellphone that he thought was for “Mommy Amo” but he called someone else in a far away city instead. No problem! The person recognized John as the Canadian visitor and she knew that Amo would know where John should be. This person told John to stay where he was and Amo would call John right back. Within minutes Amo called John back. John, Wen-Lin and I met up on a walkway in the Botanical Gardens just in time to return to Amo's to prepare for our Thank You dinner.
John and I still had not met Mei Wang as she had been out of town when John and I arrived in Taipei so we were looking foreward to meeting her. Mei had sent emails to each of our SERVAS hosts inviting them to Taipei to join us for dinner. Amo told us that quite a few people were coming and we were really excited to see them again. What was especially interesting was the fact that although the hosts knew us they did not all know each other. At least a hundred phone calls and emails must have gone back and forth concerning our visit and while we were well known by all the hosts this would be a first meeting for most of our hosts as a group. Many were new to SERVAS and John and I had been their first visitors. Because most of the hosts lived in different cities they were looking foreward to the evening.
The weather that night was rainy and windy. I didn't care what the weather was like, I decided to wear my new white dress with the black trim. I figured I could enter the contest of who was wearing the best Taiwanese outfit that Mei organized since I bought my western-style dress in Taipei. Amo's daughter Joanna was wearing a lovely red traditional Chinese outfit because Mei said there would be a prize for the winner. Amo. Joanna, Brian, John and I arrived by taxi because of the weather. The restaurant Mei chose for our reunion dinner had at one time been the home of the Japanese Commandant of Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. So the building held a certain fascination for our hosts. It was wonderful for John and me too. We were touched to see who was already present and who had yet to arrive. While certain Asian people are considered reserved, the Taiwanese are very demonstrative. We received hugs and kisses from everyone as soon as we walked in.
We were astounded when we counted 15 people in attendance. We were delighted to meet Mei Wang at last. She said that the Taiwan SERVAS National Coordinator Serena Tang sent her regrets but planned to see us on Monday evening, when John and I were invited to meet some new SERVAS hosts who wanted to have dinner with us near the Taipei Tower. John and I were so happy to see Robert and Mrs Lee who came with their daughter Candy all the way from Taichung on the train and were going right back on the bus after dinner. Naomi Chen came by train all the way from Chaiyi and was going to stay with Mei in Mei's apartment for two nights until Monday. Rose and her daughter Vivian wearing a colourful traditional Chinese aboriginal hat, had come from Hsinchu and were going to stay at Amo's with John and me. Amo's “Bed and Breakfast” was full that night! We were moved that Cindy Lee had left a friend's wedding reception early to join us. Bryan Tsai came too. Amo's daughter Joanna met Rose's daughter Vivian. Being the same age, Vivian and Joanna became fast friends as soon as they met and were inseparable for the rest of the evening. Michael Hung drove an amazing number of hours on his motorcycle through inclement weather and changed from his wet clothes to his party clothes before joining us. All the hosts who had been so hospitable to us were present on matter how far they had to travel. It was a wonderful magical evening. I do not know all the names of the dishes we ate but they came in profusion, were delicious and much appreciated by all. It was truly a pleasure to host the event and in a small way tell our hosts how much we appreciated their hospitality.
When it came time for Mei's contest, each contestant had to say why he or she should be chosen the winner. I stood up and said I did because my dress was bought in Taipei. John said he did because he was wearing a Buddhist scapular medal from Wenwu Temple at Sun Moon Lake. We got only polite applause. Vivian in her colourful hat and Joanna in her dress were in a dead heat for best outfit until the scales tipped in favour of Joanna. Joanna looked so charming with her red brocade ensemble with the fur lined jacket. Mei awarded her the prize. Joanna eyes were shining as she accepted the prize of a purse. When she opened up the purse and found a smaller purse inside she immediately came over to me and gave it to me. How can one not be touched by these generous acts? We received more gifts of cell phone charms and cell phone covers, photos, key chains, an aboriginal purse and hand written notes from the children to treasure.
The dinner was not over before it was discovered that my birthday was in two days. Everyone clapped while they sang Happy Birthday to me first in English, then in Mandarin, then in Taiwanese and lastly in Hakka, the aborigianl language of the native people. How many birthday girls have Happy Birthday sung to them in a Japanese style restaurant by fifteen SERVAS hosts from all over Taiwan in four different languages! It was a moment I treasure and shall never forget! After much hugging and quite a few tears John, myself, Amo, Joanna, Brian, Rose and Vivian left for Amo's and a good night's sleep.
Sunday March 25, 2007 day hosts are Mei Wang and Naomi Chen; night hosts are Amo and David Chiang in Taipei
John and I got up much earlier than we would have liked but the allure of a trip to see Taipei and the hot springs with Mei ans Naomi got us up bright and early. Mei said we could sleep in until 10 am when she and Naomi would pick us up to see the sights of Taipei. Then we would drive up into the hills to visit the famous hot springs north of Taipei in the mountains. The eager foursome went first to see the Grand Hotel, a magnificent five star hotel that is a Taipei landmark. The hotel has the largest classical Chinese-style roof in the world supported by immense columns The hotel was built to entertain visiting dignitaries by Chiang Kai-shek. Consequently it was fabulous inside with delightful gardens outside. The lobby featured gigantic arrangements of magnificant orchids and glass cases with the finest Chinese sculptures and art for sale. One thing we noticed was that all hotels and museums had the most exquisite orchids. They were show stoppers everywhere ever where we went in hotels, museums and temples. We strolled through the manicured gardens filled with flowers, trees and ponds full of shiny goldfish.
Next on our agenda was a visit and lunch at the National Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum holds the world's largest collection of Chinese artifacts.The collection was spirited out of China during periods of oppression and came to be housed in this immense modernized museum. John wanted to see as much as possible. I realized that if I was able to see even a few of the treasures of the collection I would consider myself lucky. Naomi, Mei and I went upstairs to the ultramodern San Hsi Tang tearoom with its panoramic views of the city where we enjoyed entertainment provided by two ladies playing traditional Chinese instruments. While the meal was nice the service left something to be desired and Mei said she would tell the management about it. Among the national treasures I saw was the large jadite cabbage seen on many postcards. We were there on a Sunday with hundreds and hundreds of other visitors. Naturally I had to fit in a few moments to visit the well stocked gift shop. I bought many little things and even went to the museum post office to mail some quickly written post cards. What a grand place to visit. No time to linger we had other places to see. I put my purchases in the car where they remained forgotten until Mei found them many months later and sent them to me in Montreal.
Our day was young enough that we drove north of Taipei into the mountains to the resort area around Beitou to spend time in a hot spring resort. The hot springs were developed by the Japanese and have been popular ever since.The road into the mountains was filled with incredibly sharp turns but that was not the most worrisome part of our trip.The most anxious part of our trip was yet to come. We saw fabulous views as we went higher and higher. Unfortunately Mei was low on fuel. We were about one third of the way there when the low fuel light came on. The car stalled. We held our breaths. The car started. It ran well but for how long? Where should we go to fill up Mei's car? Mei and Naomi knew there was no gas atation for another 16 kilometres and the road was up all the way. Would we make it to the hot springs before we ran out of fuel? Would we be pushing the car before or after we soaked in the hot tub? We held our breaths as we went higher and higher into the mountains with the little light blinking on and off the whole time. We miraculously arrived at a lovely hillside resort just as the sun was setting among the misty mountains. Mei made all the arrangements for us to rent one of the deluxe private cottages for an hour. Downstairs the cottage had a nicely furnished living room with a large television. Beside the living room there was a softly lit room with plants and the tiled hot tub and an adjacent bathroom equipped with a shower, toilet, lots of soaps, shampoos, fluffy towels and a hair dryer. There were two bedrooms, one downstairs and another upstairs loft with three beds and private bathroom. John decided to watch sports and news on CNN and the three girls tried out the hot tub. The spring water filled the large sunken tub in a few minutes with hot water and after showering, first Mei and Naomi went in and then I joined them. There was room for the three of us. I floated and had to concentrate on sitting down on the built in seat. We only wore our birthday suits; a first for me in such an intimate environment. We had plenty of time to share thoughts girl-style before showering again and getting dressed. It was a very relaxing time and I was delighted I had had the experience. After returning the key we thought once more about getting back to Taipei without running out of fuel. We still had about 5 kilometers to go after our relaxing soak to get to the service station. We made it there with a great sigh of relief; no one really wanted to push Mei's car now that we were all clean and relaxed. It was amazing how fuel efficient her car was. It seemed to go for many kilometers on no fuel at all!
On our windy road down we happened upon the world famous Taiwanese author Lin Yutang's home (now a restaurant) and we stopped in and took in the view. It was lovely; the distant lights of Taipei in the hills all around and below us. This famous man was also an inventor and built the first Chinese typewriter. He wrote many books in English. One was on the New York Time's best seller list for fifty two weeks in the 1930's. After we returned to the city we went to a very busy part of town where the shops were still open. The four of us looked at the shops and ate our way through the Shilin Night Market. One more adventure awaited us. John needed a new pair of eye glasses. We found a small shop that was open and the four of us went into it. We created quite a sensation because Canadians are not often there late on a Sunday night to buy new glasses! John tried on many pairs of frames and received a lot of advice from his fashion advisors Mei and Naomi. Mei also took many pictures one of which is now quite famous: John is wearing bright orange frames and we are laughing. Lots of laughing went on during that sale! John decided on his frames, paid for them and found out that he needed to return the following day to pick them up.
Because John and I only had Monday March 26th, my birthday and Tuesday March 27th left before leaving Taiwan for New Zealand late Tuesday night, Mei and Naomi wanted us to see the famous main temple of Taipei: Longsham Temple. When we returned to Amo'