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Published: September 30th 2009
(Day 535 on the road)
Going back to Taipei to complete our loop around Taiwan, we opted for the high speed train that connects Taiwan's major towns. The system is very efficient and the stations and trains sparkling new. The next train to Taipei left less than twenty minutes after we bought our tickets, so soon we found ourselves going north at 300 km/ h.
The next morning I accompanied my mum to the airport, where she caught a plane to Hong Kong for a three day stopover in this amazing city before flying back to Germany from there. We have had a wonderful time together first in Singapore and then in Taiwan, and I am amazed how quickly those three weeks went by.
In the afternoon I made my way to the Museum of World Religion
, one of the few of its kind worldwide and located right downtown Taipei. It was utterly well presented and documented, and their amazingly detailed miniatures of some of the world's greatest churches and temples was especially fascinating. They had even installed tiny remote-controlled video cameras inside the models so you could check out the interior using a joystick, with the live video being shown on monitors
on the outside. What a great idea!
A convinced non-believer myself I found it more than interesting to compare the different aspects of the major world religions, their (common and non-common) characteristics, their respective claims to be the one and only true religion, and of course their very specific practices doctrines. I am forever stunned by the very phenomenon of religion itself, and am especially puzzled by some of the ridiculous claims and customs the respective narrow-minded religious bodies have created for their followers. The widely discussed Catholic church's position on the use of condoms in HIV-ravaged Africa is but one of these completely senseless and outdated rules. Or the outright condemnation of homosexuality
in Islam in most Islamic countries with harsh penalties including lifelong imprisonment or even the death penalty
. There are countless other examples. Why people chose to follow these often idiotic doctrines is beyond me. Does faith make people blind to any form of scientific evidence or common sense?
That same evening I had arranged to meet Julia, a Taiwanese friend of my former university colleague Frances from our joined time in Hong Kong many years ago. On her scooter Julia took me to possibly the most famous restaurant in Taipei called Din Tai Fung
They specialise in dumplings and the queue outside this utterly unremarkably looking place was horrendous. We got a ticket with a number that read 72. They were just seating number 31 and gave us an estimated waiting time of 45 minutes
We passed the time by chatting about Taiwan's unfortunate political situation and its relationship with China. Before my mum left for Hong Kong she was joking that if I write my opinion about China's politics too openly in this blog they will in the future refuse to issue me a visa. Well - I value my freedom of speech tremendously and am of course not prepared to change that because some of my thoughts don't appeal to a ruthless Chinese dictatorship-government. At the same time however I have no intention to turn this into a political blog, so I won't go into detail what Julia and I discussed about regarding China's bullying policies towards Taiwan. But I think you might nevertheless guess our common point of view on that matter. Anyway, the food that we were being served about an hour later was well worth the wait, it was absolutely fantastic. Luckily they now have outlets worldwide, with
one being on my future route in Sydney. Henry, Carmen and Miranda - get ready to reserve a table for us. I can't wait!
The next morning I spent wandering the Ximen district of Taipei, which was close to my hostel. There were thousands of people about as it was Sunday, and the atmosphere was charged and relaxed at the same time. I also identified the winner of my personal award "Shortest hot pants in Taipei". It is really incredible just how some of the teens here dress and how much time they must spend in front of the mirror each morning. Amongst all the coloured toenails, heavy makeup, fake eye lashes and dyed hair Carly Simon's old song "You're So Vain" crossed my mind, and I was happily humming along as I was aimlessly walking about.
Later that day Julia picked me up with her car and we drove to the mountains just outside Taipei called Yangmingshan. They offered a very welcome retreat from the hot and humid city below, and we started the day with a fantastic lunch that included a dish called "Three Cup Chicken" (thanks for the wonderful recommendation Frances). If you are in
Taiwan you have to try this, it is simply delicious. Later on in the day we stopped at a sulphur spring where the hot stinky steam was coming right out of the mountain face, and finished our little excursion with a stop at a lovely hot springs area in the late afternoon. The hot springs only have a Chinese name, but Julia told me it translates as something like "flower art village"
We ended this perfect day with a leisurely stroll across the packed Shilin night market, where I tried the local speciality of "Pig Blood Cake". This culinary delight recently topped Reuters' list of "Most unusual food of the world"
. However, blood cake or sausage can be found in various other countries around the world and it really tasted good, and I am not sure what all the fuss is about - especially as some in my opinion truly weird dishes like "alive monkey brain" don't appear on the Reuters list at all. Anyway, thank you Julia for two wonderful days - the perfect ending for my time in Taiwan.
Well, and the next day it was time for me to say my good byes to this lovely island (can't really call it country with the current political situation, can I?). I am very glad I came here and didn't shun the place as most tourists do. Even though it doesn't have the spectacular natural highlights of some other nations in the region, I am taking with me some wonderful memories. Bye bye friendly Taiwan!
Next stop: Honda Bay (Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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