Visit to Taipei

Trip Start Apr 26, 2008
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Trip End May 09, 2008


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Flag of Taiwan  , Taipei,
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I did not sleep well last night. I keep blaming it on jetlag. It was nearly midnight before I dropped off, and I was wide awake at 3:30a. The last time I looked at the clock it was 4:30, and the alarm went off at 6:30am. Ugh. Not a good way to start the day.

Instead of going to breakfast downstairs, I ate a pastry that I had bought last night at the market across the street from the hotel. I bought it because it looked like a cross between a doughnut and a cheese danish. Though not quite what I expected, it was similar. Instead of being cream cheese flavored, the filling was a milky coconut, like the middle of a Mars bar. No matter, it suited the purpose.

With some creative packing, I was able to squish everything I needed into my two small bags. At 7:30a we loaded everything into the van and left to pick up Dr Wu. We are going to the Tainan Airport to catch a 8:40a flight to Taipei. The airport in Tainan is a combined military base and consumer airport. Right now there is only 1 active airline left that services Tainan. Dr Wu explained that there used to be 3, but with the completion of the Taiwan HSR it has undercut the airlines. It is still faster to get to Taipei by air (it takes about 45 min) versus HSR (1 hr 30 min) but the HSR is cheaper.

We checked in our luggage, which they weighed on a mechanical scale and totaled on paper. We passed through security which did involve going through a metal detector and a luggage scanner, though I was very surprised that they didn't ask me to remove my CPAP machine for further inspection. When our flight was called, we exited onto a bus and rode quite a distance to a propeller driven plane about the size of a 727, maybe just a bit smaller. It had 4 seats across and about 30 rows. (Interesting note on human dynamics follows) In the US, the entrance to the plane is in the front so people prefer to sit in front of the wings. In this plane, the entrance was in the back and while the back half of the plane was packed full, I had seat 6D by the window in the front and there was no one next to me or Shuying who had the window seat on the opposite side of the row.

Despite the early morning start I remembered to take some Dramamine as I was afraid the flight would be bumpy. Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad. They did serve tea during the flight, which was a pleasant diversion. Also, one of the buttons on Ted's suit coat fell off the day before, and I offered to sew it back on for him. Since we weren't allowed to use any electronic devices on the plane, I was all too happy to have something to do to pass the time.

We landed at the Taipei city airport, a different one from the one we arrived at on Sunday. It was about 9:50 by the time we picked up our luggage and headed out to find a taxi. If you could have seen me in the taxi, I'm sure my eyes were the size of dinner plates. Taipei reminds me of Manhattan, but with an even more diverse palatte of aromas, if that is possible. In comparison to Tainan, it is muggier, and definitely smoggier. As Patrick indicated, the traffic in Taipei is more orderly than in Tainan, but not much. Scooters still fly by but their movements seem to be more controlled by the addition of another traffic lane.

We were due to meet the Director General of Taiwan's Water Resources Agency at 10:30a. What a sight we must have been getting out of taxis at the Water Resources Agency main building, complete with luggage. Thats like going to meet Bill Ross, the NC DENR Secretary, at the Archdale building and wheeling your luggage behind you to the meeting. I had the theme song from the Beverly Hillbillies running through my mind, but the Director General's staff was more than gracious and agreed to keep an eye on our luggage during our meeting. The pile took up most of their visitor waiting area. I should have taken a better photo.

Our meeting with Director General Shen Hsien Chen went well. His english is very good and he was able to describe the reason behind their program and what questions they would like to answer. Again Shuying's translation skills were very appreciated when the discussion turned to more technical matters and it was easier to converse in mandarin. We said good bye and caught a taxi to our hotel

It only took about 5 mins to get our hotel, The Howard International Hotel. The lobby is beautiful, with leather sofas and marble floors, very sleek and modern. The desk staff spoke English, which was a pleasant surprise. Although our rooms were not ready, we were allowed to leave our heavy luggage behind the hotel desk and head off to our second meeting with the Director General of the Central Geological Survey.

We set off walking to the closest subway station, to ride across town to the CGS and lunch. I like Taipei's subway. It is very clean and the trains are much wider than any other subway I've been on. You can walk in between the cars without opening a door, so if you are looking down the train and there is a bend in the track, you can watch the front of the train move in response. At one point the track we were following made an S as it went under Taipei's main river and it was fun to watch the train cars in front of us turn in response.

Dr Wu decided that he would give us a taste of home, and we ate lunch at a McDonalds near the CGS. It is amazing to me that I can be 9,000 miles away from the US, but a big mac and fries still tastes the same. The joys of franchising. And I have to admit, I enjoyed every bite and I ate every single fry. One very unique difference however, Dr Wu, was able to call ahead and make reservations to reserve us tables.

Our meeting with Director General Chao-Chung Lin and several members of his staff was at 2pm. We started out in a small but very formal conference room. The furniture was carved from a very heavy dark wood and each of our chairs were separated by an end table. Dr Wu explained our project briefly and introduced us. Again, more questions about the cooperation thing and some raised eye brows. When we were finished we moved into a much larger conference room where we were joined by about 10 additional staff geologists and hydrogeolgists who asked many more questions. This time questions seemed to center around site selection, but they still kept us occupied for at least an hour. As we were leaving they gave us some maps of the geology of Taiwan to take home with us.

One thing I have to say, is that there must be some universal dress code for geologists, and it includes a field vest with pockets, jeans, and comfortable shoes. Oh, and other than secretarial staff, I have only seen one female professional, and she must be a geologist based upon her dress.

About 4:30p we left and went to another building where they store core. We basically sat around and killed time until 5:15p when it was time to attend yet another formal dinner. Shuying and I rode by car with the Deputy Director of the CGS to the restaurant. In Taipei, this restaurant is evidently very famous for it's chicken soup made with a whole chicken that is cooked in broth all day. Every table around us had a bowl of this soup sitting on it, so it must be popular. The soup was served in a very big bowl and sitting on the bottom of the bowl was an entire roaster chicken, bones, neck, and all. It is served by using a combination of chop sticks and a large spoon to break off a piece of the chicken to put in your bowl, then ladling broth over it.

I think there were about 14 people at dinner, and we easily had 14 dishes served, but not all at once. There was a little bit of everything: pork, duck, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and lots of drinking. I ate something that looked like small deep fried curly noodles, which I later discovered was a mass of tiny fish. The black spots I thought were pepper were tiny little fish eyes. There was some sort of pork dish that tasted a lot like BBQ with a sweet honey sauce, and duck that tasted more like ham. By the time dinner ended at 8:30p, I was dog tired and dragging. I could not wait to return to the hotel.

We picked up our luggage from the front desk and located our rooms on the 9th floor. I was given an electronic swipe card similar to those we use in the states, but it is made of a bit thicker plastic. I was able to open up my door easily enough, but when I tried to turn on the lights nothing turned on when I flipped the switch. I found another switch, nothing. Same Ted, Melinda, and Shuying's rooms. Then we discovered a funny slot further inside the room that when you put the key inside it, it allows electric power to flow to the room and all the lights turned on. Pull out the key, and everything turns shuts off. It's probably a great idea to prevent electricity waste, but I was so tired it was difficult to wrap my brain around the concept.

My room is larger than the one I had in Tainan and it contains a tv, small refrigerator, desk, and twin bed. At this point I could be sleeping on the floor and I don't think I would mind. It's 9:30p and I can barely keep my eyes open. I have no doubt I will be catching up on some much needed sleep.
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