A Travellerspoint blog

September 2017

Hitting a gold mine

Jioufen, Taiwan

This morning, I got out early in an attempt to have time to see things. The taxicab caller said that the walk to the high speed rail station was a 20 minute walk up the road, so I walked it.

This was my first chance to see Hsinchu during the daytime. Even around 7am, the heat was oppressive. There was no speed comfortable for a walk. The buildings come in dull browns and greys, adding nothing for the eyes. Even the greenery, which was clearly manicured, was dull and boring.
Hsinchu

Hsinchu


Finally, I made it to the (fortunately air conditioned) train station. I bought my ticket to Taipei, and scrambled to catch the train. The conductors were blowing their whistles as the last few passengers, including myself, clambered aboard. A non-reserved ticket, while cheaper, does not guarantee a seat. However, if you are lucky enough to be standing near the people who get off at a station, you can grab their seats when they get off.

I transferred to metro, which uses some sort of chipped plastic coin as a single-ride ticket. I then transferred to the bus. Most people used transport cards, but you can pay on the bus with exact change. The driver gave me a laminated ticket as evidence I paid, but I had to give it back when I got off.
Bus ticket

Bus ticket


The bus passed through various parts of the city, some more modern and some a bit shabbier. Then, we started passing through the countryside. We'd see trees and forest, periodically interrupted by a shabby little town that had clearly seen better days. And the mountains! Eventually the green mountains took over the scenery, although they too were dotted with little towns.
Little Town

Little Town

Little Town

Little Town


Jiufen is one such town. It is almost as if Pittsburgh was in China, and stopped growing quite a while back. Unlike in San Marino, where the bus drops you at the bottom and you have to climb, climb, climb, the bus here dropped us more conveniently midtown, pretty much right in front of the old market.
View from Jiufen

View from Jiufen


The old market runs through a back alleyway, but is very clean, despite the lack of public trashcans. Vendors mostly sell processed goods- tea, crafts, souvenirs, and processed foods. There weren't really any fresh ingredient foods other than the juice stands and the one pickup truck with raw meat hanging from the back. But, the food was still interesting- mochi, taro balls, century eggs, fish cakes, ice cream wraps, dried fruit, veggie chips, and of course, tons of teas. My favorites were the stands where you could watch the people actively make the food. This is not a street to do when you're hungry.
Jiufen Food

Jiufen Food

Jiufen Food

Jiufen Food


Meat Truck

Meat Truck


Outside the old Jiufen street, the town is pretty quiet. It would have been a beautifully picturesque town to walk around, except for the haze in the air and the dirt covering the buildings. Still, it was worth the visit to the old street and for the quaintness.

I stopped by the Gold Museum in town, mostly because it was there. It looked pretty shady and rundown from the outside, and it wasn't any better on the inside. Nothing was in any language other than Chinese.
Gold Museum

Gold Museum


The first floor of the museum is a rock collection. I suppose if you can understand the Chinese tour or are familiar enough with rocks to already know what's different and special about various types of mined rocks, it might be worth it. The second floor had some bad reprints of old black and white photos of the town, as well as some equipment that (I assume) was used for mining. For me, the free take-home map of the city was the most useful part of the museum.

From there, I made my way to the visitors' center. The visitor's center had air conditioning! Given how hot and muggy it was outside, this was a huge bonus. They also had English maps and bus schedules, even if the lady running it didn't speak so much English. I sat in the pleasant air and planned.

When I had cooled down, I headed to the nearby temple. It's beautiful. Some artists spent a lot of time carving the stones and wood, and painting everything in beautiful, vivid colors. I have to say, it's as covered as a Catholic cathedral, but I like the art style and themes here better- dragons , peacocks, fish, and wise men instead of all of those martyrs in their sorry poses.
Temple

Temple


Temple Statue

Temple Statue

Temple Ceiling

Temple Ceiling


Next, I caught the tourist bus to the Golden Waterfall that I had read so much about. It's supposed to glitter with all of the gold and minerals swept down river from the mining. But mostly, it's a coppery color that makes is look dirty instead of sparkling. Also, the falls themselves are tiny. This isn't worth coming all the way out for, although if you got a daypass for the tourist bus, and are passing it anyway, you might as well stop.
Golden Waterfall

Golden Waterfall


The bus runs every half hour or so, so I had plenty of extra time in that area. I wandered a bit and got some good views of the ocean, where the river turns the seawater yellow. Next, I took the bus back to a stop with another temple. Again, the temple was covered in bright, beautiful art. The carvings were incredibly detailed. The temple was worth the visit.
Another Temple

Another Temple

Part of the Temple

Part of the Temple


Of course, it didn't take a half hour, and I was tired of waiting for the bus to come by. I brilliantly decided to just hike to the next sight I wanted to see. Google said it would be only a 16 minute walk, so no big deal.

Haha. The next sight is up. And up. And some more up. And while it was breezier here than some of the other places, it was still HOT. By the time I got to the Gold Museum, I was pretty sweaty and gross.

This Gold Museum is supported by the tourism board. It is much bigger and better than the one in Jiufen, and has plenty of English for foreigners. It contains several buildings that were part of a mining operation during the Japanese occupation. One building is restored in Japanese style, and they make you take off your shoes and use their slippers to walk on the delicate bamboo mat floors. My feet were so gross that I felt bad doing that, but that's the rule.
Inside Japanese House

Inside Japanese House


Other buildings contain metal art by present-day artists. I paid the extra to go walk through one of the mining tunnels. They make you wear a helmet, but at least they give you a disposable helmet liner so you don't share grossness with other people.

The tunnel is slippery and wet, but somewhat educational. They scattered mannequin miners about so that you could get a feel for what the work would look like. On occasion, walking past certain points triggered an audio recording. It added atmosphere, even though I couldn't understand what they were saying.

Steps that lead up to ruins of a Shinto shrine are located at the far side of the mining village. You can actually see parts of the shrine from the village, and it's clearly quite a hike. By now, I had recovered from my hike to the museum, and brilliantly thought that I could totally handle the hike to the shrine.

The flowers on the sides of the path up attracted some beautiful butterflies, bees, and I even saw a tiny hummingbird. I think chasing them down for photos helped me distract myself from the hike. It also caused me to lose count on the way up, but there were 360 stairs (plus a bunch of ramps) on the way down. (Just to the village, here were several sets of stairs within the village, but those aren't so noticable.) By the time I arrived at the top, my clothes were soaked. I could smell myself.

Despite not having much to see at the top, I spent a lot of time there in the nice breeze, attempting to somewhat dry off. I got a good look at all of the pillars left over from the temple. I got a good look at the piles of toys and coins left as offerings. I took in the view of the ocean, although it was a bit hazy. I contemplated whether the stones people left at the entrance monuments had the same meaning as stones in a Jewish cemetery. After all, there are a couple of people buried here. I breathed in and out. I drank some much-needed water, lightening my load in the process. And my clothes were still wet. I smell like a gym with no circulation. I feel bad for anybody who has to sit next to me on public transport on my return journey.

I descended back into the mining village, but my legs felt like jelly. Fortunately, the same bus that I took out to Jiufen, also stops here, and it goes back to a station where I can catch the high speed train directly to Hsinchu, so I won't have to do so much walking and transferring. I collapsed onto the bus and promptly fell asleep.

Fortunately, I woke long before my stop and was able to see the scenery again. Just before the bus stop at Shongsan station, we passed a really cool-looking temple. So, even though I was worn out, weary, and reeked, I decided to take a quick peek at the temple.

Like the others, the art is bright, lively, and full of excitement. The stories depicted in the paintings and carvings are active and exciting. One of the creatures depicted looked somewhat like a cross between a devil and Fiona from Shrek. If I had to choose a religion based solely on their architecture, I'd pick whatever this is (Buddhism, I think).

Of course, right next to the temple, I saw a big sign that said "Night Market." It wasn't quite night, so vendors were just getting set up, but I figured that was a reasonable place to check out. My stench was hopefully not strong enough to overpower the aromas of cooking food.

This is where you can buy all sorts of "made in Taiwan" junk. They had lots of clothing, toys, and shoes on display. It's not uncommon for people to wear surgeons' face masks here to protect from germs, and I even saw non-disposable ones for sale at the market. But they also had all sorts of foods on a stick.

Everything tastes better on a stick! Every few feet, somebody sold fried sweet potato balls- filled with a variety of sweet fillings, and eaten off of a stick. I saw grilled squid- on a stick. Fish balls- on and off sticks. Grilled meats- on and off sticks. Fried and grilled, they also had whole mussels and other seafood in the shell, mushrooms the size of a hotdog bun, tofu, pork knuckles, and several things I couldn't recognize. I saw stews and noodles, fresh fruit, and even fresh sugar cane. One lady was selling stinky tofu fries. I've heard about stinky tofu and how it's a Taiwanese delicacy, so I just had to try them. She coated them in spicy Thai chili sauce, and I have to say that while there was a slight fermentation taste, it really wasn't that strong or that bad.

On my way out, I saw durian popsicles. This isn't a Taiwanese food, but I just wanted to smell one. After Andrew Zimmern, of eating EVERYTHING fame, lost his lunch to a durian, I've been nervous to try it, but also really wanting to. The sales guy convinced me to get one because you can't smell the durian in the popsicle. It's not a pleasant taste, but it's also not as bad as I tbought. I didn't finish the popsicle, but I also didn't stop at just one or two bites. It's hard to describe. Maybe I'd call it a sort of non-sour fermented/rotten melon-like taste. It wasn't the last thing I wanted in my mouth, so I grabbed a chive dumpling on my way into the train station.

One cool thing about the train station bathrooms is that they have a signboard outside with green lights to indicate open stalls, and red to indicate occupied. Before you even go in, you can tell how full the are. On both the signboard and the doors to the bathrooms themselves, they indicate whether it is a squat or throne. So, if you have a preference, you can make sure to go only into the stalls you want, without having to open the door to check. At work, they have the same markings, so maybe it's a normal thing here.
Bathroom Signs

Bathroom Signs


Another cool thing that they have in the train station is a late-night safety standing area. It's marked with a pink box and blantantly has cameras pointing directly at it.

The train seemed to take much longer to get back to Hsinchu and make many more stops than the train I took out in the morning. Turns out, I got on the regular train, and not the high-speed rail. As a result, I ended up at the station in downtown Hsinchu, far from my hotel, instead of the walking distance one. My feet were dead, so this was a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to take a cab back to the hotel.

Posted by spsadventures 23:42 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Welcome to Taiwan!

Hsinchu, Taiwan


View Working in Asia on spsadventures's travel map.

I got in to the hotel relatively late last night. I asked the lady at the front desk where I could grab some dinner. She informed me that there's really not much open after 9, except the hotel's 24-hour food. The room service isn't too expensive, so I seriously considered it. But I decided that there had to be SOMETHING open, so I ventured out.

The city was very shut down, but I saw an area with a few promising lights and headed towards them. The Starbucks was already closed, but the McDonalds was still open. I kept going.

I came across a convenience store with tables set up outside, almost like a street restaurant. Many people were sitting at the tables and eating, so I decided that this store must have something decent. Most of what I got would really be considered junk food or snack food, but I did manage a bowl of cold noodles with a sesame sauce and vegetables.
Convenience Store Food

Convenience Store Food


For whatever reason, I am entitled to hotel breakfast at 2 locations. Today, I tried the regular buffet on the 2nd floor. It was incredible! Indian food, Chinese food, Korean food, Japanese food, American food, salads, fruits, cereals, cheeses, vegetables. They "only" had about 6 choices within each category, but they had something for anyone. I have to say that I'm impressed.

The cab to work was relatively cheap, and work was pretty normal. The cafeteria had lots of very affordable choices. I wasn't 100% sure what I was eating, and my local host didn't know the details, but it was all decent.

When I got in at night, I took a walk out to dinner. I passed a gym with about 300 mortorcycles parked out on the sidewalk in front of it. I passed some interesting buildings that appeared as if somebody built a skyscraper, but then decided that they needed a piece of ancient Greece on top.

I found a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. I asked the waitress what her favorite thing was, and got that for dinner. It was some sort of stew that comes out with a flame under it. It was tasty and spicy, although more mushroom-heavy than I usually prefer. My favorite vegetable in it was the squash. They mellon-balled it so it was both juicy and crispy.
HotPot

HotPot


I turned in early, with hopes to be able to have an early start tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 23:39 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Achzivland

Achzivland

Technically, Achzivland is its own country. According to the guy who lives there. I heard about this "micro country" via a BBC article a while ago. I hadn't been there, so we went on a little day trip.

Nearby, there's a national park, Achziv Forest (and beach), so it's relatively easy to find the parking lot. Then, there's just a sign with a guy's name on it telling you how to get to the "country" proper. It's a few shekels to get in, but once you're in, you have access to all of the fun.
Welcome to Achzivland

Welcome to Achzivland


Achzivland

Achzivland


First, we were shown to the museum. There is a short video that explains some of the history of the "country." Basically, some guy decided he wanted to set up his own country there, so he did. There were some legal battles, but not really violence. Israel just sort of tolerates him at this point. Achzivland Museum

Achzivland Museum


The museum is filled with artifacts that he has found over the years both at sea, and on land. Some are "modern" from Ottoman times, but others are pretty ancient Roman artifacts. His collection is probably worth a fortune, and it's all in a pretty accessible museum. It's just kind of sitting around, with a few pieces behind glass. The whole thing is in an old building with amazing tile work. It's a bit eclectic, but also fairly impressive.
Inside Museum

Inside Museum


Next, we were told that we are entitled to use the beach. We weren't really in the mood for beach, but we did take a brief walk out to see it. We could see that the nearby national park beach was jam-packed, but the Achzivland beach was pretty empty. If we wanted to sunbathe, this would have been a better choice.
Nearby Beach

Nearby Beach


From there, we ended up heading toward Ein Kamonim. Ein Kamonim is known for their goats and goat cheese. It's not cheap, but they have an all-you-can-eat cheese lunch that is delicious! It comes with a large variety of locally-made cheeses and a bunch of salads. The cheeses are bland enough that most people would like most of them, but not so bland that those of us who like exciting cheese are bored. (There's no stinky-feet cheeses though, you have to go to Barkanit by Afula for that.)
Cheesey Lunch

Cheesey Lunch


Lastly, we attempted to find a "Statue of Liberty" we had heard about in Araba. We were unsuccessful, but we did get quite the tour of the town. Maybe another time I'll actually make it.

Posted by spsadventures 11:14 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Bukchon Hanok Village

Seoul, S. Korea

Today was my last day in Seoul. I made an early attempt to visit the Bukchon Hanok Village. My two maps disagreed as to where it was.
Bukchon Hanok?

Bukchon Hanok?


First, I followed the wall of the Palace north. I found a quiet neighborhood with beautiful old-style architecture. The doors to the houses were engraved with exquisite designs. I loved the juxtaposition between the modern cars sitting on the streets and the traditional buildings. People actually live in these homes, some of which appear to be hundreds or years old.
Bukchon Hanok?

Bukchon Hanok?


Bukchon Hanok?

Bukchon Hanok?


Next, I went to the actual intersection with the name of the village. In this area, I didn't see much. The area I think was marked incorrectly was much cooler to see than the real area.
Bukchon Hanok?

Bukchon Hanok?


I had heard about "Dr. Fish," one of those spas where the fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Myeongdong market was supposed to have a place, so I checked it out. I saw a sign for a spa. The sign cotained pictures of fish swimming and doing the foot spa thing. But when Iwent inside, they said they didn't have that. False advertising! I wandered the streets a bit, but it's mainly just regular shopping stores at this time of day- nothing too exciting going on in the streets.

And that was it. I had to get back in order to catch my flight. My adventure in South Korea is over... for now.

Posted by spsadventures 23:29 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)