Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Shameless Plug: Book Excerpt

Our book, The Taiwan Adventure:  An Expat's Observations of Life in Taiwan is on sale at and other bookstores throughout the World.  It's now out in the Kindle Version, so it has become quite accessible.  You can purchase the book at this link.  Today in a shameless plug I want to present and excerpt from the book:  The Number 7 Cross Island Highway.

7.1 The Number 7 Cross Island Highway

A Poppy Field in Daxi

One interesting thing I've discovered is that the meaning of certain words is different in Taiwanese English than it is in English-English. Huh? What does that mean? Take the word Highway, for instance. We've driven the #7 Cross-Island Highway from Daxi Township all the way to Yilan. It starts out
as a beautiful highway. It’s wide with double yellow lines down the middle
and moves along easily at 60 km/h (38 mph). In essence it lives up to the
name highway. 
One minute we’re zipping along in beautiful mountain scenery. We 
passed a huge field of orange poppies: Then the immaculately manicured
Chiang Kai Shek mausoleum. Then something happened to the road. The
highway was like a road with dual personalities…and suddenly the evil
personality showed up.
The complexion of the road changed. It narrowed a little, then a little
more. Then it began to snake through the forest and up the side of the
mountain; twisting and turning; even the switchbacks had switchbacks. Until
the Cross-Island Highway looked more like the Cross Island Goat track: And
then I’m sure I saw a goat refusing to get on the road.

A remote temple in the mountains

At times it felt like I was driving the car in the cartoons where the tires
on one side of the car stayed on the road and the others hung out over a
yawning abyss. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating here, but not much. Then the
road got really narrow and the sun began to set.
Then it got darker and darker. The conversation turned darker as well. It
was like driving through a horror movie. It got so dark that we couldn't see to
the trees on the side of the road. And then it got really dark. I thought it would
never end.

A waterfall near the road before it went all Twilight Zone/Zombie Apocalypse on us.

We had decided to drive over to Yilan. People have been telling me what
a wonderful place it was, so we thought we’d make it a day and drive the 7.
Because I hadn't been there before, I was watching the mileage signs; just
before dark we saw a sign that said 28 kilometers to Yilan. So we drove in the
same direction for at least 10 kilometers then we saw the next sign. Yilan 32
kilometers…wait…we were traveling in the right direction how did it get
farther away. Then I’m sure I saw him…In fact, I’m positive I saw Rod
Serling hitchhiking with a sign that said “The Twilight Zone.” Then it got
really, really dark; it got so dark that the boogieman had a night-light.
Eventually about an eon later we came out of the mountains and into a good-sized city.
We stopped for gas and a man gave us a road map so that we could find
an alternate route home. One of our friends had commented to us that we
shouldn't stop for anyone walking on the road. He said that many people had
reported seeing ghosts on the side of the highway waving to people. I just
passed it off as a legend. You know where I grew up we lived with the legend of
the “White Witch of Nortonville.”
This woman was apparently a nurse in the 1800s during an epidemic of
small pox in Northern California. Legend has it that she overturned her wagon
while trying to reach some sick child in a remote cabin in the hills near the
Somersville mines in Nortonville. Now she supposedly wanders the roads
around the cemetery she’s buried in. We would go out and visit Nortonville
looking for her but didn't really expect to find her.
Then, I saw a guy, standing there, I couldn't help but stare he was
completely pale, like he hadn't been outside in years. He had dark circles
around his eyes and walked with a shuffling gate, sort of dragging one leg
along. He had a double-bitted axe in one hand and chainsaw in the other. He
was headed for the mountains… on the road we just came down.
When he heard we’d just come out of the mountains he looked a little
peeved. He just muttered something that sounded like, “I knew I was late.” I
wonder what he meant by that…

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hey it Works: Public Transportation in Taiwan

Buses at the Banciao train station
One glaring difference between California and Taiwan is seen in the use of public transportation.  In California, you see lots of empty buses, trains and rapid transit trains.  The Amtrak commuter system is rarely used.  Bus after bus passes by empty or with just a few seats being used.  Californians rarely travel by train. 

Of course, one reason that people rarely travel by train may be something like I experienced.  I was traveling to Northern California from Riverside in Southern California.  Because of the mountains near Bakersfield, there was a need to travel for a while by Amtrak bus.  So as I went to board the bus with my luggage the driver told me I wasn’t allowed to travel with luggage.  Yeah that works, if you have to stay the night somewhere, or are planning a stay for a while, I guess you have to wear all the clothes you might need.   

In Taiwan however, buses are full to overflowing, the MRT stations are crowded, and the trains are a popular way to get around.  It might be because the train system seamlessly connects with bus and MRT routes.  There are two types of trains; local and express.  They’re inexpensive, clean and pretty comfortable.  A trip from Taoyuan to Taipei takes approximately 30 minutes.  There are bus stops and MRT connections (In the MRT Service area) at every train station.

The Easy Card:  It is aptly named
Because the buses and MRT are so frequent there is rarely more than a ten-minute wait, except during peak commute hours where buses are full.  In those cases you may have wait for a while to get on a bus. 

The other nice thing about the system is that it can all be accessed with one card:  The Easy Card.  You can put an amount of money on the card at kiosks in the train station, 7-11 and other locations throughout the city.  In fact, the easy card can be used at a variety of shops and places in addition to transportation system.  Here is a look at a small part of the system between Taoyuan City and Banciao.


Passengers waiting for the train at the Taoyuan City station.  There are many different types of users for the train:  People commuting to work, high school and college students commuting to class, shoppers and tourists. People commuting to work into Taipei, can make a trip to the main train station in Taipei in about thirty minutes.

All of the train stations have a safe "waiting zone for female passengers at night."  These are well-lighted areas with camera surveillance.  The trains run until late at night and sitting in a poorly lit, nearly empty train station isn't particularly comfortable. The waiting area adds safety and comfort for female passengers.

Crowded trains mean that many people have to ride the train standing up in the aisle, so  handy grab rings hang from the ceiling.

The photo above is the Banciao Train Station.  In addition, to transportation services, there are shops, and restaurants in many of the large train stations.  There is an entire shopping mall underneath the Taipei Main Station.


The MRT station is also clean and well lighted.  You can see the red lights in the platform at the center of the picture.  When the train is approaching the station the lights flash off and on, then remain on as the train gets closer to warn passengers to stand clear of the oncoming train.  Note the "rough tile" next to the waiting line in the center of the photo.  This is to notify blind people that they're too close to the track.


People line up at Banciao train station to catch the bus to almost anywhere they need to go.  Buses run from here to almost every point in the city of Taipei.

Every bus is equipped with an Easy card reader, which automatically deducts the NT$ 18 (US$ 0.57) fare.

Disability Access:

This sign on the bus shows the different levels of accesibility available on the buses.  All the trains station make some provision for access.  There are elevators for going above or below the tracks to access different platforms.  There are even people who will lift wheelchair bound people in and out of the train.  One time a man wanted to carry me on his back out of the train, I declined however, for reasons of dignity.

The turnstiles at the Banciao MRT station are equipped for easy card access and you can see the turnstile at the far right accommodates wheelchairs.  All MRT trains are designed to have the floors level with the platform for easy wheelchair access.

All Photos by Emily Banducci