A Travellerspoint blog

Taiwan Memento: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Meeting family not seen for 12 years or ever! Written: August 7, 2007

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To me, Taiwan is like an old shoe. I don't mean it looks like an old shoe (though the island geographically does, with some imagination) or that it smells bad. But like an old shoe that was once comfortable, you realize how much you've outgrown it, non matter how familiar.

I haven't been back in Taiwan since leaving it the summer of 1995. While my parents and sisters have been back to visit, I haven't had the chance with school and summer work. Add to that the complications of my conscription service and 12 years have gone by.

In those 12 years, I've changed a lot. Grown up into the person I am today, graduated from University in Engineering and sprung up to the 6' tall 158 lbs man that I am today (which is almost 4-6" taller than the average Taiwanese man!)
Though I've left Taiwan early at the age of 5, my family and I moved back in 94-95 before the Quebec referendum. We didn't adjust that well and decided to move back to Canada, but this time Toronto instead of Montréal.

In that one year, I gained a lot of memories of my birth country and relatives I barely knew. After leaving and being away for so long, they were just names in a distant land to me. In a way, my embrace of the Canadian identity further increased the divide between my Canadian life and the one I left behind in Taiwan.

While my family and I have had a patchy relationship with our relatives back in Taiwan, people do say that blood is thicker than water. While memories may be suppressed, they cannot be forgotten. The sights, smells and people all brought them back one at a time.

The familiar face of my oldest aunt reminded me of the family gatherings we used to have. The dresser in my cousin's room reminded me of when we played hide-and-seek together 12 years ago. Riding on the moped with my uncle on the wrong side of the road reminded me of Taiwan's insane moped traffic. The smells of the night market reminded me of the endless cheap and diverse snacks that Taiwan is known for and that all Taiwanese people long for when away. Seeing my younger cousins all grown up and tall as well as new ones that I hadn't seen before reminded me of how much older I've become! Visiting the place where I sued to live in Taipei, I suddenly remembered a brown suit with red bow tie I once wore. My uncle laughed and dug out his wedding pictures that showed me and my cousin as ring bearers for my aunt/uncle's wedding 20 years ago. I forgot.

On visiting my great aunt, she remembered the nickname she called me all the time when she took care of me since she lived across the street from us in Taipei.

"Non goo", it means slow, dimwit.
The joke's on her though, I'm the first of this Tseng clan to graduate University and my grandma was pretty happy that I was nearly 1' taller than her grandson my age. My grandma is a simple and competitive woman.

I also visited the old family farm land which used to include a nice old home but it was sold, demolished and a retirement home was built in its place. I had great memories of playing in the creek nearby with my cousins and exploring the right wing of the home which was full of old stuff (including a big artillery shell my dad had brought back from the Army, he was an artillery sergeant) But all that remains of the Tsengs there was pieces of rice paddies, old friends and memories.

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We met the old village chief and his wife there. As soon as she saw me, she said, "That's Tseng Pen-Chao's son. He's got his face." I am familiar with that exclamation and not ashamed (apparently, my dad was well sought after by the ladies in his younger days, something I thought was just my mom's exaggeration/boasting however my aunt and grandma did confirm that it was true).

My usual response: "I'd be worried if I didn't look like him!"
That always gets a few laughs.

On my last day in Taiwan, I spent it all in Taipei. I went to the (remarkably good) vegetarian buffet and then Taipei 101 tower. After the visit to great aunt, we went to the night market for me to have authentic Taiwanese food that I wouldn't have for a long time. Finished up with going to the wharf in Danshui and checking out the bridge. I spent the night at my dad's younger brother's place. He runs a bookstore with his wife and didn't get home till after 2 am when I'd already gone to bed. But I finally met the aunt that I'd never seen in the morning.
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It's strange. For me, my family has always meant my dad, mom and sisters. The relatives in Taiwan were unknown strange people far far away. But now I realize, they are a link to my past and an integral part of my history and identity. Though I've spoken to them less than to my most disliked professors, there is a connection with them that transcends distances, countries, languages and culture.

Although I had given up on that connection, I would indeed like to renew and reconnect.

Thank you (for all the food) Taiwan!
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Posted by NomadicOne 21:14 Archived in Taiwan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Going Back to the Motherland

The end of my Japanese adventure

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Written: August 4, 2007

I feel like an idiot.
Standing there on the platform of Narita train station. As soon as I got off I realized that this was probably not the stop (Narita Airport) that I wanted but the train was already pulling away. Yuki and I had been a little nervous too since we thought the 1:43 pm arrival would be tight for what we thought was my flight. But upon checking my flight details, we were relieved at finding out it was a 3:50 pm departure. However, now that I have to wait 1 hr for the next Narita Rapid Express train, I am back to the same point. I can only hope that my check-in procedures go smoothly and I get to the gate/boarding on time!

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My last full day in Tokyo was spent in the old and new part of Tokyo. I visited the area of Asakusa where I saw some pretty awesome shrines. I then tried to find some lens and filter for my camera at Akihabara, the Mecca of Electronics, but I was still undecided. I then went to the man made island of Odaiba where the architecture was ultra futuristic. I visited the Fuji TV complex which was confusing and highly entertaining. I then got a panoramic view of Tokyo from the observatory of the World Trade Center. It was a gorgeous view and I was the only one there at the time!

Finished off the day by walking around the wild and seedy part of Tokyo in north eastern Shinjuku. Yuki and I then had an amazing sushi dinner at a restaurant in Meguro. Since it was my last full day in Tokyo, we went to a chain pub nearby for drinks and some snacks (including friend chicken tendons, grilled meats!) The mango callpis was a great drink and I'll be looking for the ingredients back in Canada. As I wait for my next train, I'll try to summarize some thoughts about Japan.

Food: Heavenly. There are diverse options ranging from cheap $3-5 Bento lunches, quick chains that do great cheap combos of rice/noodles, meats, miso soup. There are also sushi bars ranging from cheap to exquisite. Yuki and I went to the Wall Street of Sushi, Tsukiji fish market, and had the freshest sushi possible. There were also various snacks like melon pan, grilled rice crackers and grape ice box to keep your taste buds exploring.

People: Incredibly polite, courteous, proper and civilized. In any other country, the massive amount of people in Tokyo would cause riots and higher levels of insanity. However, for Tokyo, it's just another day. People actually don't jaywalk, they're very respectful to elders and very helpful in any service.

Society/Culture: The work ethic/collectivist attitude of Japan is legendary. Their service is top notch. However, I believe the higher levels of emotional labour required also takes its toll. The high number of hours spent commuting can also be draining. Combined with the constant obsession with work, perhaps this can cause disillusionment to certain people. I believe that perhaps that's why anime, slot machines and adult material sold in many places are so prevalent. They are a form of escapism and desensitizers that stimulate a kind of need to feel. Perhaps that's why so many Japanese people travel, to escape the stability and monotony of their lives, or they just like to travel.

Being in Japan has been an amazing experience. To see how a society manages to cram 30M people in the Tokyo area and not have everyone go insane is an achievement only the Japanese could accomplish. While it may seem like a technological utopia, it isn't perfect. But it may be humanity's closest attempt.

I would definitely love to revisit this country in the future and maybe live/work here for a period of time. Who knows?
I want to thank Yuki A LOT for all the help and hospitality. It would have been much harder for me to do it on my own (and a lot more expensive!) It was also really good to see an old friend from a place I miss so much and talk about old times.

That's all from the Land of the Rising Sun!

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Posted by NomadicOne 00:05 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

I *heart* Tokyo

How to have a #21 breakfast of the freshest sushi possible

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Written: August 2, 2007

What is it about Tokyo that makes it so different from all the other big metropolises?

It's not only because it's Japanese since Kyoto and Harakone were not the same. It also isn't because of it's huge size since Istanbul, Cairo and London are all of similar size. There's something else that sets this city apart from all the others.

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After taking the superfast Shinkansen train back to Tokyo, I spent the following days exploring this huge and mind-bogglingly radical city. I went to the Harajuko district where many teenagers hangout and some dress in crazy costumes (Little Bo-peep?) and found the Snoopy Store. I also spent nearly 3 hours at an 8-storey high electronics store where I found some Panasonic replacement plastic embedded earbud for my headphones that I had lost in London on Day 1.

I also visited the commercial districts of Shinjuku(where I had a great 40min nap in an upscale department store, there were 4 other people doing it). I then spent nearly 1 hr at the World's Busiest Boardwalk in Shibuya. I just couldn't get enough of that place. The massive number of people moving to the sound of a traffic tune looked like 10 000 people playing musical chairs. Sometimes, some people wouldn't even realize that the game/tune was over and they're still stuck in the street as the cars start to move and hong angrily at them.

Met up with Yuki at Shibuya after work and we had McD's Mega Mac Attack for dinner. While this was a technical violation of Rule 2 (No American fast food), I thought that it was a unique Japanese experience since it doesn't exist outside of Japan (not that I know of). Our visit to the first Pita Pit outside of North America also didn't violate the rule since Pitas aren't quite fast food and the taste of Kingston and home was too good to resist. (As soon as I'm getting back to Canada, I'm getting the biggest poutine I can washed down with Rickards/Sleeman's and a Tim Hortons Ice Cap for dessert)

Took a day trip to Harakone today. This place was the security junction for people who wanted to go to Edo (Tokyo) and visit the Emperor. Its also a beautiful area surrounded by mountains (including Mt. Fuji), forrests and natural geysers. What was funny though was that with my 3-day pass, I took the subway, train, tram, cablecar, rope car, boat/ferry all in one day. Unfortunately, the weather didn't allow me to get a good look at Mt. Fuji. Nonetheless, it was a good day and I'm just waiting for the express train back to Tokyo.

I truly hope I get the chance to work on a few projects here some day.
It would be amazing living here for a period!

Posted by NomadicOne 23:20 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

I may be in love ... with Japan

Drastic culture shock and tracking geishas in Gion, Kyoto!

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Written: July 30, 2007

Sitting in front on the steps leading up to Kyoto station watching passerby, I can't help but still feel the effects of culture shock in Japan. It had been worse a few days ago when I first arrived in Japan. I was greeted by a familiar face, Yuki my classmate from Queen's University, and everything was so clean, organized, efficient and expensive compared to East Africa.

Nothing encapsulates this more than the homeless old woman I saw who had her mat and blankets neatly folded when Yuki and I were in Kyoto. People didn't lock their bikes to anything and then take away the seat and a wheel, taxi drivers didn't yell at you, salespeople greeted you politely with a bow saying "Irasshaimase!"

I was not in Africa anymore.
Unfortunately for my budget, I was indeed not in Africa anymore.

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After 1.5 days of traveling time, 4 time zone changes I arrived 2 days later at the Tokyo-Narita airport to the face of my familiar Japanese friend Yuki. While it was easy to spot him at Queen's (look for 5'-6" tall Japanese looking guy with GPA) it was substantially harder to do so in Japan. Later on, I would take a picture in the Kyoto train station that is reminiscent of "Where's Waldo?" but the Yuki version.

We took the first day easy. I used the lightning fast Japanese fibre-optic-to-node internet to catch-up with contacts and upload pics while Yuki rested since he been up out all night with coworkers. He didn't even go home to sleep before making his way to meet me in the airport in the morning. We then took the double decker overnight bus from Tokyo to Kyoto. It was an incredibly comfortable ride since there was space and the seat was fully reclinable. Yuki and I also laid the foundation for a humourous dictionary of verbs and terms for Apple Math students.

For example:

To Taka:
1) (verb ) To attempt something up to a certain sufficient point since any more effort may be futile
2) To confuse someone beyond all hopes
3) (adjective ) ridiculous, describing something
4) (fashion style ) To dress 15-20 years younger than one should. Possibly wear shirts that are short enough to reveal midrift when one's arms are raised

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Since I told Yuki that I wanted an authentic Japanese experience, a mix of old and new, we started in Kyoto, the embodiment of historic/traditional Japan. Kyoto was where the emperors lived until it was moved to Tokyo after the Meiji restoration. There are numerous historical landmarks and shrines here. In my 2 days, I visited the Kinkakuji and the Ginkakuji temples. While walking to the Kiyomizu temple temple, I passed by a very classically traditional neighbourhood in Gion and saw numerous geishas! By the end of the day, I would see 10 of them. However, I didn't get any pics with them since I didn't see other male tourists or locals do so. I also visited Nijo Castle and loved the use of nails in the floorboards to emit nightingale-like sounds when walked on; this was to prevent people sneaking into the castle to assassinate someone.

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I spent my night in Kyoto at the Higashiyama hostel, the cleanest and nicest hostel I've been to. It didn't have the greatest atmosphere and the 10:30 pm curfew prevented me from visiting my sister's friend who works at a bar in Kyoto. Although, even if I could have, I'm not sure it would have been the greatest idea.

I can just imagine from her point of view: Random guy shows up saying, "Hi, I'm Mey's brother, Wei!"
Smooth.

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Finally, one of the most significant change has been the people. Everywhere I go, I am greeted extremely politely with a bow. My orders are taken and then repeated by someone in the back in a sing-song voice. Also, due to the fact that I spent my last week in conservative Zanzibar, the stylishly beautiful Japanese women have been candy for my eyes.

Well, I'm off to go 300 km/hr on the Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo tonight!

Posted by NomadicOne 07:08 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Out of Africa

A summary and conclusion of my time in Africa

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Written: July 26, 2007
TIA - This Is Africa

It's amazing how many times I actually heard this phrase.
I heard it from the man operating the internet cafe when I told him of some abysmal speeds in Uganda. I heard it from Gary, the Aussie who operated the One Ocean Diving Center, when he was expressing logistics to a tourist who was expecting too much. There are so many things that can be classified under TIA.

Some positive ones for example: the friendly laid-back attitude, the beauty of the environment and ecosystem, the culture. However, the term was usually reserved for more negative usages: police corruption, incompetency, senseless prejudice, wide gaps between the rich/middle class and the rest of the population. Yet, even with all it's issues, East Africa has been an amazing place to visit.

Like many other parts of the world, Africa summons a very distinct, and many times a naive, image. People sometimes generalize the continent as a poor and dangerous place with barbaric natives. However, it is one of the richest continent in the world in terms of natural resources, diversity of environment and fauna. Its people and cultures are also incredibly diverse with very interesting history. The region that I visited usually had well established tourism infrastructures as long as it hasn't been too negatively affected by civil war.

I enjoyed my time in East Africa. It has given me another perspective and insight into the politics and struggle of the region. Something that a typical tour of Europe could not do. There is hope in this region due to the continued stability and economic resurgence. I am hopeful that the newly reformed East African economic community will help bring the 5 countries closer and perhaps entrench a form of unity that this continent so desperately needs.

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While I have 2 days of traveling time to look forward to, 4 time zone changes and 4 flights to take in order to get from Matemwe, Zanzibar to Tokyo, Japan. I think it is about time for me to make my way out of Africa. I want to thank Thomas again for introducing me to the region and for his hospitality. I want to thank the people of East Africa for being so welcoming.

Asante sana and Kwa heri!

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Posted by NomadicOne 06:53 Archived in Tanzania Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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