I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, discovered that I couldn’t rent a car at the airport, then took a bus to Taichung, Taiwan’s second city, and a taxi to a car rental office. As I drove in my rented car to Sun Moon Lake, I noticed that Taiwan is kind of a mess. It was not easy to read the road signs and it was thickly overcast and gloomy, plus, of course, I was tired from the long flight. The rental car clerk gave me “The Club” to keep the car from getting stolen, which is a device that one hooks on the steering wheel so it can’t be turned, and hence driven.
I drove by gol and by gosh and by luck to the Aboriginal Village where they had authentic restorations and reproductions of nine villages. Formosa Aboriginals were in costume but it seemed to me they looked more like South Sea Islanders. It was a bit “Disneyesque” as there was a fountain that ‘danced’ to the Hallelujah Chorus, played with a rock beat!
There was also a ride area where many children were holidaying. One junior high school-age boy spoke to me in a little English. His favorite thing to say was, “This is a cool place!”
Back in my car I drove, again with good luck, to head toward the Taroko Gorge across the island, which was said to be very beautiful and was where I intended to go. Unfortunately just a few km short, the road ended on the side of a mountain. I retraced my route and encountered a taxi driver who asked me if the road were closed. He motioned me to follow him, which I did on a really breakneck tiny mountain road. This road turned out to be closed as well, and when we got back to the highway, the taxi driver showed me on a map how I had to go all the way back to Taichung, then go north and then south again to come at it from another direction. When I got back to Taichung I got hopelessly lost and after driving around for an hour, finally ‘took a taxi’ (taxi leads the way and I follow in my car, paying the fare, of course) back to #3, the road that I had lost. I finally arrived in Kukuon in the mountains, and got a hotel that didn’t have an English name.
I had another adventure the next morning, driving from Kukuan to Lishan. What a road! This was absolutely the worst highway I had ever driven on. It was really only one lane but there was two-way traffic. It was on a steep mountainside and it was under repair. They had a mirror on every hairpin turn, and there were many. Then the fog rolled in and I couldn’t even see the road in the mirrors! At times I had to just crawl, especially through the areas under repair. I finally stopped for breakfast at a little roadside restaurant at Taysung.
I drove to the end of the gorge, which was on the opposite shore of the island, turned around and drove back to Lishan. Altogether the driving took about eight hours. The Lishan Guest House where I stayed was a pretty Chinese pagoda-like building that didn’t look much different from the temples that I saw.
The following morning I drove back to Taichung through the mountains. I had planned my strategy so that I could find the car rental office, which, amazingly, I did! I took a taxi to the train station and then got a train to Taipei, and to the hotel where I was scheduled to speak at a healthcare administration meeting. In the hotel I connected with others attending the meeting and quite a few of us were taken out to dinner in Snake Alley, a funky place full of little restaurants and bars. The ‘little restaurant’ where we ate served a wonderful dinner on Wedgewood china and good wine in lovely crystal.
The meeting was interesting; I gave my talk as did others and at noon we all visited the University Hospital with Dr. Han, having lunch at the huge, 1500-bed hospital.On the way back we toured Chiang Kaishek Square, visited a folk museum and had Mongolian Barbeque for dinner—a very nice day!
Later we went to tour the 2300-bed Veterans Hospital and have lunch. When visiting the National Palace Museum we learned that the enormous number of artifacts can not all be displayed because of lack of space. Only about 2% of their treasures are displayed at any one time.
Late in the afternoon we heard three student presentations at the University hospital. That evening we were treated to a huge farewell banquet at the hotel that had 14 courses. The Taiwanese hosts were very warm and friendly and the banquet was superb—a full, but very good day to end the meeting!
Now we had a chance to be ‘tourists.’ Two other women and I took a tour the next morning to see Yehlin. On the way we stopped at Keelung for a view of a large Goddess of Mercy figure, looking toward the sea as she protects fishermen,
That evening I went alone—the other women weren’t interested—to the Taiwanese Opera at the National Theater at Chiang Kaishek Square. Buying the ticket was most interesting. The desk clerk at the hotel told me that they were for sale at a bookstore just down the street. I went there, discovered I needed to go downstairs and at a crowded counter finally made myself understood as to what I wanted. The price of the tickets was about $100 and when I asked about the location of the seat, the clerk swept lots of papers and books off the counter, revealing a seating chart to which he pointed to a seat that was 8th row, center! That gave me pause. It was now 3:00 PM and the opera started at 7:00 PM. Was this on the level? I took a chance, bought the ticket and that evening, sure enough, I was seated in the 8th row, center!
The auditorium was completely full by the time the opera started, and many of the patrons were young, unlike at our opera. The orchestra was in the pit and was quite shocking when it started playing as it was terribly loud with lots of percussion gonging and banging. I wondered if I would be able to stand it, but interestingly, I got used to it in a few minutes. There were odd Eastern instruments and some interesting stringed instruments, too. The opera was called “Dust in the Wind.” A man vows to be uncorruptible, but then is blackmailed regarding a murder and doesn’t know what to do so he kills himself! All of the acting and singing were very stylized and dramatic. The men looked quite effeminate. The audience was rapt and murmured when something dramatic happened. There were Chinese character supertitles on both sides of the stage, which, of course, didn’t help me! There was a 20-minute intermission and the whole production lasted about three hours. The costumes were wonderful and enhanced the story—they really ‘used’ the costumes. The opera included sensational acrobatics and stylized fighting. It was definitely the high point of my visit to Taiwan. If they ever come touring, I shall attend!
The opera was really great, a lucky find for me as Taiwan, especially Taipei, was not my favorite place. The drive across the island was good but hard work; the meeting was fine as meetings go, but the streets seemed ‘mean.’ The people were friendly but pushy and no taxi driver would dream of helping you with your bag—ditto for small hotels. They’re also having a love affair with plastic and styrofoam, even way out in the country. A million scooters pollute the air, the freeway is stop and go all the time, but in spite of all that, I’m glad I came—it was worthwhile.
Tomorrow I’m going to Viet Nam.