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Taiwan (Part 1)

The pandemic has interrupted many events over its almost three long years. One interruption has been visiting my brother who has lived in Taiwan since July 20th, 2011, where he teaches children English. In Taiwan many parents want their kids to learn English. There are many schools around that teach English to students as young as preschoolers. They will continue going to these schools throughout their schooling. My brother Dave works at one of these schools in Taichung (T ī chung), the second largest city in Taiwan. My parents and I would take turns going to visit him since he can’t come home very often. These trips stopped with the Corona Virus lockdown in March of 2020. Finally, towards the end of 2022, Taiwan opened back up for tourists, so my family planned a trip to go visit. This time we would all go and stay in Dave’s apartment.

On January 22nd, 2023, we left for the airport. Normally when we go to Taiwan, we leave through Dulles. Though it is a convenient airport, flights to Taiwan out of it are never direct. There’s a layover either in San Francisco or in Japan. These layovers add to the already lengthy trip. This time, Mom discovered a nonstop flight to Taiwan. This was the first time for such a flight! The catch? The airport was JFK in New York City, which is farther away and less familiar. We planned to visit during Chinese New Year as Dave would have some time off to spend with us.

On the way to JFK, we made a number of stops. The airport itself was in a different section of New York than I was used to going to. Normally, when I think New York City, I think Manhattan, where Times Square is, as well as Broadway.

To go to JFK, we actually went by Brooklyn. This borough of New York City is where Mario Mario and Luigi Mario (The Super Mario Bros.), supposedly have their plumbing shop. We also saw exits that led to Coney Island. We used a “Park and Fly” at a Radisson by the airport. To use a Park and Fly, it’s required that the guest stay overnight for a night. We would use this night on the way back from our trip. The Radisson had a shuttle take us to and from the airport. The driver of our shuttle was very talkative.

At the airport, we had to wait awhile to check in. Check in only opened four hours before the flight. We waited in a small food court in the airport with our luggage. Being hungry, and not knowing what to expect with the food schedule, I had two slices of pizza and a drink from the pizza shop while waiting.

Eventually, we headed to the check in line. Since we had Business Class tickets (my first time), it allowed us to check our luggage in faster, as well as get through security faster. Our tickets also gave us access to a nice airport lounge. They had a selection of food and drinks, including alcohol that was for free. I had a glass of beer, as well as a soda while I waited. The lounge was comfortable and quiet. Out the window, I was able to see the airplane that we would be riding.

Boarding the flight was disorderly. They had more families with young children to preboard than I guess they expected. We waited in line for a long time before our zone (Zone 1 is for Business Class) was called. The plane took off two hours late! The flight itself was sixteen hours long, and took off well after midnight.

Business class was interesting. The food was better than what you would receive in Economy. The seats also reclined flat, making it easier to sleep. Again, all drinks were free including alcohol. Even the restrooms were nicer. They were larger than the lavatories in Economy. There was a learning curve. Mom had to explain to me how to get my seat to recline. I remembered how for the trip back. In case you’re wondering, on EVA Air, the button with the picture of the moon on it, reclines the seat, and you won’t disturb the person behind you.

EVA Air itself also had a learning curve. Unlike on many flights, they wanted all carry-on luggage stowed up in the bins for take-off and landing. This caused a couple of difficulties for the trip to Taiwan. My luggage was in different compartments on the way, due to not realizing that it all had to be stowed in the bins. Mom, being short, had trouble getting the bins to open and close, as they were too high. I had to help her since Dad was in a different aisle, even though he was beside her.

Most of the trip, I tried to get some sleep. Towards the end I did indulge in playing a few on-plane games. I played Solitaire and Uno. One neat thing was there were lights on the ceiling that looked like constellations when the cabin lights were down.

We landed in Taiwan on January 24th, very early in the morning. We lost thirteen hours crossing time zones. Dave met us, and we made the trek back to his apartment. The airport was in Taoyuan (Tou yen) which was a city close to Taipei. Now, Dave lives in Taichung. We took the MRT (Metro Rapid Transit) first, and then the High-Speed Rail to Taichung. There we hired a taxi big enough for four people, plus luggage.

For lunch, Dad and Dave brought pizza back to Dave’s apartment from Pizza Rock (a local pizza shop). They came back with a chicken pizza and a pepperoni pizza. Due to pizza sizes in Taiwan, it took two pizzas to feed the four of us. By the way, as you read this blog you may wonder why I talk so much about food. In Taiwan, local food is cheap! Many people eat out. Kitchens tend to be small and limited in equipment.

After lunch, Dave opened his Christmas/birthday gifts. Some highlights included a plush frog (“Froggy” from the “Poo Panties” series of books) and “General Tso’s Surprise” which is a seasoning. My parents also planned to shop more for him in Taichung.

The jetlag from flying halfway across the world started to takeover. Mom was tired and fell asleep on Dave’s couch. Dave and I decided to take naps. Dave wanted them to be limited to around an hour. Dave had us try a new way to sleep, with our feet up in the air. Apparently, this is how the Navy Seals get their power naps. Well, I did not find this to work, and my nap was unsuccessful.

In his dining space, Dave had a little bar area that he built, complete with two wooden stools. He had various posters decorating his walls in the space. Two of them were from bands he watched in Taiwan, and another one was a specially printed poster with the words “Mali’s (Molly’s) Cash Bar” on it. The room also had a strand of silk hops leaves and a string of white Christmas lights around the perimeter of the room. Dave said that when the lights were turned on, “the kitchen” was open. A small television/ VCR combo was also in the area with a video game console attached to it.

I was still tired when Dave wanted me to come back there. He said to me, “I know what you need,” and went back into his storage room. He came out with a blue Super Mario Bros. balloon, which he proceeded to blow up. Dave showed me a unique game he received from a friend of his. It was a platformer Mario game based on the Dr. Mario franchise. We also tried to play Duck Hunt on this small TV with a rather large “light gun” which didn’t work so well.

When it was time for supper, Mom was still tired so the rest of us went to Moss Burger. It is a Japanese chain. They had a burger where the bun was made of rice and the “meat” was seafood. Some seaweed was also in the burger. They also had chicken nuggets. I saw some Christmas lights lit up in the trees by the Moss Burger. We brought food back for Mom.

Back at the Mali’s Cash Bar, Dave introduced me to Famicom cartridges that contained music. It was like a CD only on a Famicom cartridge. The music was performed in “chip tunes” which made it sound like video game music. The music on the cartridge was not from a game, however; it was original. The music was specifically created for the cartridge and to be simply listened to like a music CD. A combination of a game and music is the cartridge, Kira Kira Star Night DX. In this game the player is an anime-looking girl. The goal was to collect so many stars in a set amount of time. The concept was simple, but getting enough stars to clear a level seemed to be complex. I felt that the game seemed to be a lot about the music.

Dave and I used an inflatable Intex bed for sleeping. It was large and quite comfortable. It even had a headboard. Something new happened that night. Years back I had discovered I wasn’t allergic to cats anymore (as mentioned in an earlier blog). Not wanting to push the envelope, our cat Misty still had to stay out of my bedroom. I also wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of sleeping in a room with a cat, in case it would be “pushing my luck.” Well, due to the setup of Dave’s apartment, I needed to sleep in the same room as his cat Richard. As it turns out, I had no problems! I got a good night’s sleep that night. Though it happened later on the trip, the cat discovered that he liked to lay between my legs at night when I was asleep. I would find this out when I woke up in the morning.

Also, Dad got to sleep in for once. At home he normally would need to get up early to let the dogs out and feed the cat. Here, he didn’t have to do either of these things, so he had a chance to get some well-deserved rest.

Lunch the next day was at a restaurant that served steak and noodles with an egg on top. It’s similar to a dish that they also serve at the night market. Dave and I spent the afternoon out. He drove us on his new-to-him scooter to two locales. For those who don’t know, a scooter is like a motorcycle, but smaller and less powerful. In Taiwan a person would need a different type of license for each. Dave upgraded his scooter since the original days he drove me on it. His new scooter was larger. It gave me more room. It also had a better place to put my feet. I felt more secure on his new scooter (I thought riding on his old scooter was scary.)

On the way to the first location, we stopped at a 7 Eleven to get a Mountain Dew. From here we went to an antique market. It was basically an upscale version of the flea market Dave would go to on Saturdays, but held in a park. We also stopped at a second-hand shop. By the time we were ready to go back to the apartment, Dave had bought a single video game and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure. After closely examining the action figure, Dave figured out that it was not one of the four turtles, but was actually Slash, who was Bebop and Rocksteady’s pet mutant turtle. The belt he wore contained the letter “S.”

We all planned menus and went to Carrefour to buy groceries to make meals. Carrefour sells groceries like a supermarket, but also sells many other items as well. This time when we went, they had balloons on sticks inside a container at the door for purchase. We bought food to make several meals.

Mosquitos were a problem in the evening after the first couple days as it got a bit warmer. For some reason they let Dave alone, thus him claiming to not notice them. Only Mom and I had problems with getting bit. These weren’t your average mosquitos either, they caused allergic reactions. Mom would go on a mosquito hunt in the evenings before going to bed to try to get rid of them. There weren’t many, but both of us would usually get bitten multiple times during the night anyway. Dave didn’t seem to understand why they were a problem. He didn’t want us to use pesticides because of Richard.

On Thursday, I got my first cooking experience with Dave in Taiwan. We made corn soup and grilled cheese for Mom and Dad. They loved it! For ourselves we made fish on rice with peas, corn, and fermented black beans.

Remember me talking about 7 Eleven earlier? Today we went to another 7 Eleven. I know you may be wondering what is so special about 7 Elevens. In Taiwan, they are called “The Seven” and are a big thing. They are everywhere. They make ours look sickly. A person can do many things at a Taiwanese 7 Eleven that they can’t do in any American location that I’ve ever seen. One can receive and mail packages. They can order taxis. They can get a warm meal, and in many locations, there are tables a person can sit at to eat their meals. Close to Dave’s apartment, is a special 7 Eleven. This is a two-floor location, and it is decked out with Pokémon characters. It was very impressive.

Mom wanted to shop in a store which sold higher quality things. There was such a store, Holas, housed in the same building as Carrefour. There was also a nice store called Workhouse where Dad found some things.

For supper that night, Dad helped Dave in the kitchen. They made spaghetti and meatballs. It was apparent from where I was sitting (at the Mali’s Cash bar) that they had different styles of cooking, though they got it figured out, and produced good food.

The weekend came! On Friday, we went to visit some Taiwanese friends. We brought a complete set of Dad and my Poo Panties books for the family to enjoy and to help them with their English. At their house we sat in a large room with a bowl full of fresh chunks of pear and pineapple which was on the table. We distributed the books to the ladies. The ladies’ dad, Mr. Wang was also there. He brought out a tea kettle. He tried to explain how to “taste” tea with your throat. Did I mention he was speaking Mandarin Chinese? Dad’s first attempt at doing this was similar to gargling the tea, and was not the correct technique. Later Mr. Wang explained that tasting it with your throat is drinking it very slowly and letting it drain down your throat. We had green tea and black tea. We also were offered various cookies and candies. Eventually we were offered some really delicious and expensive black tea.

In front of our friends’ house, Mr. Wang showed us his small trees. He had grown a miniature pine tree and blue spruce tree. There was also a small orange tree.

The ladies drove my family to a shopping complex for supper in Wuqi (ū chē). The complex was a combination of a shopping center and a shopping mall; part was indoor and part was outdoor. It was very cold and windy that night. Some stores were standard outlet stores, such as Clarks shoes. Other stores were more unique. Dog Day was a store that sold items for pets.

We went to Café Gracie for supper. They offered set meals which is a meal kind of like a fancy value meal of sorts. It could be compared to a Prix Fixe meal in New York City. A person who chooses to buy a set, gets to pick a choice off of the menu in various categories for their meal. Here the categories included a soup, appetizer, entrée and a drink. I had a chowder soup, fried chicken, a clam spaghetti and an apple/pineapple drink. The women also ordered two pizzas for the table, a pizza Margherita and a Hawaiian pizza.

To Be Continued……….


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