Adventures in Amusement Parks: EDA World, Kaoshiung

Every year the schools treat their Grade 6 students to an outing to celebrate them finishing primary school. In Taiwan, Grade 7 is considered the first year of junior high school. Lucky for us, the teachers are also invited to join them! The trip is to a roughly Greek-themed amusement park in Kaoshiung, called Eda World.

If you’re expecting Disney Taiwan, you will probably be disappointed. It’s a small park, with just a few rides, but it has all of the essentials for a good time! There are bumper cars, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, two small roller-coasters and one big one, a haunted house, and two unnecessarily high, unnecessarily fast rides for crazy people who think being upside down is fun.

The Greek theme provides a good source of entertainment, as the decor was clearly done by someone who just did a Google image search of “Greece”. Overall, the aesthetic ancient Greek. The centre piece is a huge Trojan horse, around which the monorail track curves. One of the adrenaline rush rides is watched over by Polyphemus the cyclops and Odysseus. The big roller-coaster is partly a water ride, and is presided over by Poseidon and various water creatures. However, it goes a bit wrong when you encounter the big, three-headed dragon, wrapped around a distinctly Medieval looking castle tower. The parks mascots are also an interesting mix: Eda the Rhino, DianDian the Pelican and Donkey the… Donkey, are accompanied by Apollo and his sister… Diana? Oh well, close enough, right? The gift shop section of the park has been done up to look like Mykonos – not exactly ancient, but at least it’s Greek! And it is very pretty!

(Note: Apologies for poor photo quality – I forgot to charge my camera battery, and had to use my phone camera for most of these)

Overall, the park is good fun! Once you pay your entrance fee, all the rides and attractions are free, so you can do everything as many times as you like. We were also there on a quiet weekend, so the queues were short, which made everything much more enjoyable! The park is also joined to a very big mall, so if you get tired of the rides or need a break from the sun, there are plenty of shops and restaurants available.

While this isn’t the sort of park you could spend the whole day in, it is definitely a fun place to visit, especially with a group of fun friends. There’s something for everyone and, as is typical of Taiwan, it’s a relaxed and safe environment to wander at your own pace.

 

The long haul #4: Tainan

As we gradually make our way through our wish list of places to visit, Tainan was the last of the city destinations (for now… the list keeps changing all the time). While it doesn’t exactly trigger the radar of tourism hotspots in Taiwan, there is a lot to see in Tainan, especially for history enthusiasts! The local government is also working to make English the ‘second official language’ of Tainan, and a list of “English Friendly” businesses was given to us when we checked into our hotel!

The city is roughly divided into two sections: Tainan proper and the Anping District, where they keep all the history. Tainan itself is one of the prettier cities we’ve visited, but it isn’t easy to get around in. Plans for a metrorail were abandoned due to lack of funding and the shuttle buses just aren’t quite able to provide the same blissful feeling of ease and comfort as the underground systems in Taipei and Kaoshiung. However, we highly recommend Anping as an interesting, tourist friendly and easy-to-get-around place. Now on to the highlight reel:

We arrived in Tainan late on Saturday morning and made a bee-line for Anping. The shuttle buses do a fine job in this respect. Getting to Anping was really straightforward, and as the whole area is one sprawling tourist attraction, even getting off at the wrong stop is easily remedied on foot.  We started out at the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House, a former Dutch colonial era building, which has been converted into a museum about the history of Anping (essentially a long list colonisations by different countries). The old house is right next to one of the most famous attractions in the area, the Anping Tree House, a huge, abandoned warehouse which has been almost totally overgrown by Banyan trees, to the point where some areas are more tree than building.

Having explored the alien horror movie-esque Tree House, we began strolling along the pretty cobbled street towards the other sites in the area. This led us down a long narrow street lined with street food stalls of every description. As Tainan is a port city, there is a lot of seafood to be found! One of the first things we tried was a mountain of brightly coloured shaved ice, in various fruity flavours. There were also a dozen or so people handing out free samples of prawn crackers, not unlike the ones we remember getting at Chinese restaurants when we were children. We also found some mysterious spiral shaped fried pastry things which were stuffed with green onion – mysterious yet absolutely delicious – and some coriander peanut brittle, a famous creation in the area. Tragically, we did not buy any of the famous brown sugar cake, but we watched a few demonstrations of the unique cooking methods and tried a small sample, which was also delicious!

Our next stop was the Anping Fort, also called Fort Zeelandia. The fort was originally built by Dutch settlers to watch over the merchant houses in Anping. It was then taken over by Chinese settlers and then by the Japanese settlers. There is a watch tower in the fort which you can climb up to look out over the city, and a portion of the massive original outer wall still stands, and the combination of different architectural styles makes the whole area very pretty to walk around in, even if you aren’t into the history.

Close to the fort is a temple to Mazu – one of many tributes to the goddess who protects sailors. The temple itself was very beautiful, with all the usual levels of detail and bright colours, but outside the temple was an special treat: Sun Wu Kong the trickster god, dancing around, collecting money to fund his next trip into the underworld (maybe). Of course we gave him some money, and in return he taught me the art of balance, which I suck at! From the temple, we continued our meandering until we found ourselves in a beautiful park under a giant statue of Mazu, looking out over the harbour. It felt like we had walked into a diorama for some utopian future project. Children were flying kites and chasing bubbles, dogs were playing together, young couples were having picnics, all under the smiling gaze of  Mazu.

Naturally, we followed this up by stopping to look at a naval destroyer anchored in the port. You can actually go onto the ship to look around, but by this time our feet were tired and so we just sat in its shadow and ate our lunch.

Our last stop in Anping was the Eternal Golden Fortress. This military fort was commissioned by the Chinese rulers and built by a French architect to defend against pirates and other sea-based threats. The fort is surrounded by a moat with only one way in and out, through a big archway which opens into the former training grounds, now a big grassy courtyard. This isn’t the kind of place you can spend hours, but it is interesting to look at the old canons and see how the fort was designed for visibility over the sea and defensibility (defendability?).

Having made our way back to Tainan, we checked into our hotel and then set out to find some dinner. Our plan had been to head for the Garden Night Market (not actually a garden), but on the way we found ourselves very near to Shenggong street, a walking district which now hosts trendy craft shops and liberal arts students with old fashioned cameras and asymmetrical haircuts. Here we found a lovely restaurant/bar/cafe/shop thing, run by a young Burmese couple. First of all, the shop was called Do Right Coffee and Green Kitchen, which sounded like a win right off the bat. The style of the shop was casual and homey, with the cafe and bar in the front, and if you are looking for food you simply go to the kitchen at the back, see what the chef is cooking and choose what you want. All the food is vegan, and there is a fridge of eco-friendly craft beers from around the world, as well as a really interesting menu of coffees and teas. We did eventually get to the night market too, which despite not being in a garden, was a surprisingly pleasant experience. Normally, I hate night markets because of the sheer volume of people in a confined space, but the Garden Night Market has multiple entrances and exits, wider pathways and loops around on itself a number of times, creating a good flow of people and preventing that claustrophobic feeling that other night markets have.

We may have over done the walking a little because the next day we both felt distinctly tired and just a little bit grouchy, but we had things to see! Outside of Anping, sight-seeing requires a little more effort as points of interest are much further apart, and the shuttle buses are a lot less helpful here! One of the main things to see in the Chihkan Tower, also known as Fort Provintia (yep, another fort. The Dutch settlers were a little obsessive). This fort was meant to connect this part of Tainan with the Anping district to strengthen Dutch influence in Taiwan, except that it was also captured by the Chinese settlers, and the story continues! The building is now a temple to the god of learning and is often visited by students about to write important exams.

The largest and more famous Grand Mazu Temple was closed for renovations, so we weren’t able to visit it, but this did give us more time to explore another walking district where we tried Thai milk tea (green tea with condensed milk, yum!), waited in a long queue outside a famous ice cream shop but eventually gave up, and bought some cute Studio Ghibli figures. From here, we visited the Blueprint Culture and Creative Park, a small stretch of old street which has been closed off and turned into a very pretty boutique shopping district, with striking murals on the walls, and a cool mix of modern  art and old architecture.

Our final stop, before our legs gave out, was the Tainan Confucian Temple, the oldest temple to Confucius in Taiwan. It’s one of the most famous temples in Taiwan too, and is right next door to a former martial arts academy built during Japanese occupation, which is now not open to the public, but still very beautiful to look at.

Although Tainan was not the most convenient city to visit, it was definitely worth it. If you are a history buff like Brendan, Anping is like Christmas town, and if you can get the hang of the buses, or don’t mind spending the money on taxis, Tainan itself is a lovely city to be in. It’s quieter than Taipei, but doesn’t have that massive, sprawling, overwhelming feeling of Kaoshiung. Also, the push to make English ubiquitous could make it a fantastic tourist location in the near future!

The long haul #3: Taipei

Last week we actually took time off from work, like real grown-ups who can take leave and stuff, and headed up to Taipei for four days. A few of our colleagues were puzzled by this because “you can do Taipei in a weekend”, so they couldn’t understand why we’d use precious leave to just go a few hours north. Yes, you *can* do Taipei in a weekend but you’d be a total zombie by the end of it! Having done a packer-jam trip to Kaoshiung, which made every minute at work the next week feel like an hour, we wanted to take a longer, slower trip to Taipei. You know, the kind of trip where you actually have time to sit down to eat. Because there is a LOT to do in Taipei!

Before I really get into our full itinerary, I have to take a moment to rave about the fantastic public transport in Taipei, in particular the underground metro rail (MRT). Basically, our trip would have been a thousand times less fun without the super speedy trains, the handy lockers where we could store heavy bags at almost every station, and the frequent (and slightly death-defying) city buses which saved us from miserable walks in the rain. Also, apologies for the occasional lack of photographs. It’s a lot easier to take photos from under an umbrella using a phone, than an actual camera, but phone photos don’t look great on a computer screen!

Our first day was a classic tourist day. Our hotel was conveniently situated within easy reach of two major tourist attractions: Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall and Taipei 101, with the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Garden and Da’an Forest Park in between. The Sun Yat Sen Memorial Garden is a lovely, Japanese style garden, complete with cherry trees, a pagoda and giant koi fish in peaceful lily ponds. There is also an old house which seemed to be a museum, but it was closed when we went, so we aren’t really sure. From there we set off for Da’an Forest Park, which has the prettiest MRT station, with bronze frogs lounging on lily pads set into the floor, and a view over a small pond and water fall. The park itself would have been a wonderful place for a scenic stroll, had it not been raining torentially! Even so, we got a fair amount of bird watching done around the small lake, and rain-soaked squirrels are the funniest things! We also visited the beautiful amphitheatre, where a group of teenagers was practising for something, and walked through the wonderland of a playground, complete with roller rink, brightly coloured jungle gyms and slides, and a big open area for riding bikes and trikes.

Our next stop was the famous Taipei 101! Ask any young Taiwanese child what’s famous in Taiwan, and they are guaranteed to say Taipei 101 – partly because it’s name is the same in Chinese and English. Our intention had been to ride the high speed elevator to the viewing deck and get the full tourist experience, but due to the rain the top half of the tower was shrouded in cloud, and we didn’t really want to spend NTD600 to look at clouds. There is also a Starbucks on floor 85 which you can visit for free, but this requires you to book an appointment a day in advance, which we had not done. I mean really, it’s a Starbucks, not Gordon Ramsay… Who would think to book ahead for Starbucks?? So we snapped some pictures of the building itself, and looked at the cool modern art outside, and then set off for our last stop: The Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall. The hall itself is enormous, and striking with two huge white staircases leading up to it, and a royal blue roof topped with gold. Housed within the hall is statue of CKS, not dissimilar to the Lincoln Memorial statue I have seen in so many movies. The statue is flanked by two royal guards, and there is a changing of the guards ceremony every hour, but as we arrived at 16:15, we didn’t really want to wait to watch it. We were very lucky (and quite smart) to visit the memorial on a week day, as it is apparently a madhouse on weekends! This allowed us plenty of time to take photos, look at the beautiful garden surrounding the building, and feed the fish and terrapins in the pond.

(Disclaimer: To be honest, I had no idea what the memorial was about, or even that Chiang-Kai Shek was a person, and I realised later that what I had thought was the CKS Memorial Hall, is actually the National Palace Museum *sigh*.)

Day two got off to a shaky start as our efforts to buy coats in the morning were severely disrupted by everything only opening at 11am. This lead to us basically riding the MRT in circles for almost an hour trying to decide what to do, and then eventually getting a coffee, buying a coat and FINALLY setting off for Taipei Zoo. While zoos aren’t necessarily our favourite thing ever, Taipei Zoo has put a lot of work into helping endangered animals, raising awareness about environmental issues, and rescuing local animals which have been hurt or abandoned. All causes we can get behind! The zoo is big and sprawling, and if you want to actually take time to look at everything, you can easily spend half a day there. As every school in Taipei was on tour that day, we prioritised some exhibits, and others we just peeked into and moved on. There is an amazing range of animals at the zoo, divided into seven main areas: animals indigenous or endemic to Taiwan, other east-Asian animals, animals of the Americas, African animals, the reptile house, the bird house, and the insect house. There are also special areas for the pandas, the koalas, the hippos, and the cranes. The zoo is a bit of a labyrinth, and the map isn’t the most helpful, but if you follow the paths and don’t try to get clever and take short cuts, you can meander quite comfortably and see everything. There are also well written info boards by each exhibit, which are very interesting and sometimes very funny! Having defeated the minotaur that was a million school children screaming in unison, we left the zoo and walked five minutes down the road to the Maokong gondola, a 4 km long cable car system which takes you high into the mountains above Taipei city. There are two kinds of cable car: glass bottomed, and not glass bottomed. Naturally, we went for the glass bottomed option! Who doesn’t love to see the ground shrinking alarmingly right below their feet? The ride up probably took about 30 minutes, but the car is so quiet and the expanse of the forest below is so great, it feels like much longer. At the top most station there are a number of tea houses and cafes, which were very welcome in the cold rain. A spirit guide cat with crazy eyes and only half a tail, led us to a cat-themed tea shop, where we ordered two pots and sat in the warmth until it started to get dark outside, and we headed back to the cable cars to ride back down. While we couldn’t see the trees anymore, the city lights were equally beautiful from so high up!

Day three was a cultural day. We started out at the National History Museum, which had a number of special exhibits on show, including different forms of fresh flower arrangement, the works of Jiang Mingxian, a famous Taiwanese ink painter  who specialises in semi-minimalist landscapes, and special historical artifacts from an excavation site in Henan, China. The museum itself is quite small, but well laid out, and not overly stuffed with too many items. However, from there we headed to the National Palace Museum, which was an absolute overload of things to see and read and listen to… and maybe remember… maybe. This museum is massively popular with foreign and local tourists alike, and Taiwanese tourists have literally zero regard for personal space, so a lot of time was spent trying to move through the museum via the quietest exhibits, leaving large gaps between the group ahead of us, while trying to move faster than the group behind us. Thankfully, like so many things in Taipei, the museum is huge, so it was always possible to find an escape route when an exhibit got overcrowded. There are displays to suits every interest: rare books and documents, jade artifacts, religious idols and paraphernalia,  glass ornaments, pottery, jewellery, royal treasures, calligraphy and paintings. The audio guides were at times very helpful and interesting, and also infuriatingly vague – spending ages talking about the firing techniques used for Ming Dynasty vases, but not explaining how they made the fish brown and the leaves blue using only one type of pigment. Having a tour guide would have been very useful in such cases, and as most visitors are Chinese-speaking, the English tour groups were very small and would have been a pleasure to join! Oh well. We collected a bunch of pamphlets to read later and accepted there was no way to take in all that the museum had to show without feeling like our brains would explode!

Our last day in Taipei was slower and far less intellectual! We accidentally found ourselves in line to get into one of the most trendy breakfast restaurants in the city, Toasteria. Nope, we’ve never heard of it either! But the building was painted a lovely shade of blue and the industrial chic decor looked cool, and it wasn’t until we were already inside that we realised just how famous it actually is. We had a wonderful breakfast, which set the day up well, and then made our way over to the youth shopping district. There is a famous historical building called The Red House, which houses a craft market. Unfortunately the famous part of the building was under construction, but the market was still going on. We browsed the handmade crafts and clothes, bought a bunch of cute things we didn’t need, and made our way across to the Xinmending pedestrian way, which is referred to as Taipei’s Harajuku. It’s basically a number of colourful interconnected streets lined with shops and stalls, selling exactly the kind of stuff young people want to buy – from designer sneakers, to character tees, to Pokemon key rings and knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags, with a liberal sprinkling of street food stalls and movie theatres! The streets were fairly confusing, but we did our best to explore everywhere. The rainy weather kept the crowds to a minimum, which made it a lot easier to browse, but also made the shop keepers extra desperate to sell to anyone who paused for even one second at their door. While we didn’t buy anything wildly exciting here, we were able to pick up some things we’d been wanting for ages, like brown tights and non-knitted scarves. Had we not had to travel home by train, I’m sure I could have bought something from every shop, but the idea of carrying a thousand bags through Taipei Main Station was too horrifying!

Our final stop of the trip was the 228 Peace Park, which commemorates the people who stood up to the oppressive KMT party in the 1940s, and were violently put down. Now the park is a memorial to human rights in general, with flower beds dedicated to LGBT rights, and modern art installations dotted throughout in honour of important historical figures and events. 228 refers to February 28 1947, the day on which the government massacred protesters. As we were there on February 27, the park was full of marquees and flower arrangements in preparation for the memorial ceremony the next day, and a choir and orchestra were practising/performing for a small crowd in the amphitheatre. The beautiful background music and the bustle of people made our visit feel very special (auspicious?), and it was a wonderful way to round off our trip.

Compass Festival 2016

Last weekend we headed back to Taichung to visit the Compass International Food and Music Festival (or Compass Fest). We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but as it only happens once a year, we thought it was the kind of opportunity you shouldn’t waste.

It was hosted in a public park area called Calligraphy Greenway; a really pretty stretch of grass, partly sandwiched between enormous office blocks and busy main roads. On this day, it was all set up with red and white striped tents, filled with food from all over the world. Just from memory, I recall seeing German food, Russian food, Indian food, Mexican food, and even a good old boerewors roll stand! There was also ice cream, candied popcorn, jewellery, clothing, beer, crafts, wine, champagne, sangria, and any other drink you could imagine for sale. There was also a magician, and a couple of buskers to watch in between browsing stalls, and eating food.

To be honest, the music was not particularly amazing. One of the acts was apparently quite famous among the ex-pat crowd, but we were not especially blown away. But as we were there quite early we probably only saw the openers, and the later bands may have been much better! There was certainly a long line up of performers, with a great mix of foreign and local groups. However, the food was great and it was lovely to do something different for the day.

Markets

Like many Asian countries, street markets are a big part of Taiwanese life. While you can buy all your food from a grocery store on any day of the week, the markets are a cornucopia of variety: fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, meat, bedding, clothes, shoes and underwear, as well as street food stalls, tea shops and snacks like nuts and dried fruit.

In Changhua, there are two notable markets that we have encountered (so far). The morning market on Changshou St (and surrounds) is particularly good for fresh produce. It suffers from being on the street and so vehicle traffic competes with pedestrian traffic, making it a bit difficult and dangerous to navigate, but the sprawling lines of stalls and stands means you can virtually never see the whole market. Prices are generally excellent, but we’ve found that smaller stalls will give you a much better deal than larger stalls, because they value their reputation and customer relationships more. However, “tourist prices” can be a problem, so we try to only shop at stall where the prices are clearly displayed. Learning to understand numbers in Chinese has been helpful too, as people will generally warm to you quite quickly if you have even a smattering of Chinese! Haggling is an acceptable practice at markets, but it requires a level of confidence neither of us has in English, let alone Chinese. Complimenting a store keeper on a good price is also a good thing to do, but it can take a while to work out what a “good price” is.

The Night Market on Yong’an St is even listen on Google Maps as a point of interest. This market is more like a fair in many ways.There are carnival style games where you can win prizes, stalls selling cheap electronics and factory shop clothes and even pop-up pet shops. Most of the food stalls sell snack food or ready made meals, ranging from sushi, to sweet potato chips, to western style braised steak. We are slightly cautious here, because there are a number of stalls selling traditional dishes such as offal and blood sausages, and it’s not always immediately obvious what anything is. If you don’t like crowded places, then the Night Market is not ideal because you are obliged to move with the flow of people, unless you are stopping to buy. There is very little space for standing around if you are indecisive, and all of the seating area seems to belong to specific stalls, so if you aren’t eating their food you don’t seem to be able to sit there. The stall owners are very friendly on the whole and will try to explain their products to you as best as possible, and if you are confused of indecisive they often see it as their own fault. Again, you can haggle prices, but the market is quite loud, so it can be difficult to hear. Once you get familiar with the market it becomes easy to get a routine going, because the stalls are fairly consistent week-after-week, so if you are going to be in Changhua for a while, it can become a real feature of your Thursday nights!