White helmet tours

One of the main tourist destinations of Taiwan, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my tour – was it going to be in English? Chinese? A big or small group? After an unexpected but fun ‘yellow hat’ tour with my cousin of the Yellow Mountains in China years before, I was kinda hoping for colorful hats.

Alas, it wasn’t to be, today’s tour was instead all about the white helmets! The tour was a small minivan that picked me up from the hostel, and for $988 included a full day of seeing the sights of Tarako, lunch and a drop off at the train station at 4.30pm. The tour was in Chinese, but as the majority of the others on the ground were from Asian countries that speak both Chinese and English (eg Singapore and Malaysia), I was in good hands.

In our minivan we went around and saw many special spots, including the tunnel of nine turns, the eternal spring shrine and the Swallow Grotto trail. It was on the way to the Swallo Grotto trail that we passed a roadside stop proclaiming “free helmet hire” – our guide stopped and picked up a helmet for each of us, including a tiny one for the 3 year old French boy also on our tour. At the Swallow Grotto trail we put on our helmets to wander along the trail – an area well known for landslides and rockfalls, over the years many have been killed and helmets are now mandatory.

Lunch was a brilliant mix of local foods shared over the table with others from the group. I made friends with a few (very well spoken) young boys when I came across a stamping area (like Japan, many attractions in Taiwan have a rubber stamp that symbolizes it – kids collect the rubber stamps in books). I immediately ran up to start stamping my notebook, when one of the young boys offered me a special kids stamping book instead, so now I’m set!

I’m sitting on the train as we slowly roll into Taipei and back to the hustle and bustle of city life. The guy next to me is playing on his psp, the guys across the aisle has both his iPhone and MacBook air out and the woman in front is playing with an iPod. Sitting here typing on my iPad and uploading via Bluetooth on my iPhone, I can see I fit in with a technology aware country such as Taiwan!


Asia ~ China ~ Beijing

Ahh, back in Beijing. Finally on hols again! Where to begin… My trip started with a phone call at 12:30am on the night/morning that I was to leave – “do u want to go out clubbing in the city, then we’ll drop u at the airport”… NO! Flight was relatively uneventful – decent food, had a 1 hour stopover in Hong Kong, which stretched out to a 4 hour stopover when my flight was delayed. Matt was waiting at the airport though, so a friendly face was most definitely appreciated! We got me and my stuff up to our apartment (right in the middle of Beijing), where I quickly sussed out the place (photos to come later). Best surprise was the air conditioner in my room (thanks Matt :)).

Street food outside our apartment

Street food outside our apartment

For the first couple of days whilst staying here, Matt had friends from his Hong Kong uni staying here – Marcus from Sweden and Tim from the U.S. Our days have consisted of sleeping till about 11, then up and mucking around till it’s safe (i.e. not hot hot hot, just hot hot) to go out. Then shopping, lunch and dinner… We’ve also been getting ourselves organised – first day was spent buying mops, detergent and finding a post office. Mop and detergent were obviously to get this apartment into order (was a pigsty!) – post office was for a completely different reason… Turns out I accidentally bought mum’s car keys with me, and she only has one set… oops. Luckily, after calling her, they found the spare, so I have been saved, phew.

Our apartment has internet access, you’d think getting that organised would be relatively easy. Not so. Matt had already bought a router so we went about setting that up – turns out the broadband here comes with a password – which we have – but it only allows one puter to be hooked up at a time. Useless for us. After a lot of mucking about, we have my macbook hooked up to the net, and is sending the internet to wirelessly to Matt’s – who would have thought?!

Halfway through setting up our net, the power went out. “Hmmm”, I thought, “it’ll just be a quick power-outage”. “Whoops” says Matt… Turns out the people he rented the apartment from had told him something about the power… Now what was it… In the end, he figured out that the electricity is on a pre-paid system – you charge up your electricity card at the bank, then put it into the meter outside the apartment. Very useless information at 11pm on a hot night… Got the electricity sorted out and am now keeping a keen eye on the meter.

Other than our technology issues, we have been shopping, eating and exploring Beijing. Went with the boys and Eric, a local guy, to the electronics market the other day. Poor Eric had never been to such a place with foreigners – the vendors swarmed and Eric was the center of attention – he got pulled this way and that. Don’t think he’ll be making that mistake again. Had Peking Duck for dinner last night – YUM. Also visited the hill overlooking much of Beijing (including the Forbidden City), the plan for today is yet to be decided. Might be a jama day…

Eric, Matt & Tim overlooking Beijing

Eric, Matt & Tim overlooking Beijing

Hope all are well… We’re in Beijing for about 2 months – if you’re in the area, be sure to drop by!