July 17, 2005

Lovely Warwick people in Taipei

It was great to see to friendly Warwick faces, and even better to hear a language that I could understand. It was pretty confusing for the first hour as we were all mixed up with Thai, English and Chinese, but we soon converged to Thai so that we could 'nin tah farang' — gossip about foreigners! After checking into a hotel we headed out on the underground (or MRT). Once again the electronic sign in the train amused me. This time it had a message in English as you get off the tube: "Thank you for your patronage." Now I know my English is not that strong, but I am fairly sure that riding the tube doesn't imply that you have patronage. Maybe someone can explain?

We visited lots of great places for eating, drinking and shopping — I did all three. By 9am, whilst eating ice-shavings and mango (man gua bing), we were wondering what to do the following day. When it was suggested that we visit the hot springs, Lyn said we could do it that evening. After a couple of phone calls we set off across town — Thai girls are so motivated — in search of the hot springs. We found one open in a posh hotel and rushed in to make the most of the little time we had left. It was my first experience hot springs, and what a pleasurable one it was — the water was a very relaxing 43 degrees. I managed to tolerate the heat for nearly an hour before I took a cold shower and we left the hot springs feeling completely refreshed.

The next morning I checked out of the hotel and set off with Lyn to the National Palace Museum. But not before two cups of soya milk. The museum has an extensive collection of Buddha images from all over Asia — even if most of them had been stolen at some point in time. Next stop, after some iced tea and veggie buns, was the Longshan Temple. This famous temple is a confusing mix of Buddhist and Confucian images where we paid our respects to not only the Buddha, but gods of knowledge, money and [most importantly] love. I have been very confused in Taiwan about what sort of Buddhism is here. The conclusion I am coming to is that there is very little real Buddhism being practiced. It has been absorbed by worship and superstition. I have seen glimpses that there are places were monks actually meditate, but it is so mixed up with blind-faith that I feel it is far removed from the way that we practice. The Taiwanese don't seem to know much about Buddhism, unlike Thailand where everyone shows an interest in the practical aspects of the teachings, even if they don't understand it well. I guess some Buddhist culture has been lost as Taiwan become more like the Western world. We should always be aware of the negative effects of globalisation — it dilutes cultures.

Back in Taipei and a big lunch was in order to prepare me for the long flight. After this we headed back to Lyn's place to pick up my things and take a quick shower, before setting off for the airport. I had to say goodbye to Gate, but Lyn escorted me to the airport. When I arrived there was a long queue for checking-in. After 30 minutes I had moved near the front, but then everything stopped and there seemed to be a bit of a panic on. It turned out that there was a mechanical problem on the aircraft and it had to be cancelled. Myself and poor Lyn waited a couple of hours before they got me tickets on an EVA Air flight to Paris at midnight, and a connecting flight to Birmingham. In that time I met a guy who lived in Warwick — strange how you can travel halfway around the world and meet someone who lives just down the road. I had a long wait so I went with Lyn to find the best restaurant in the airport and spend my remaining paper money, as well as thank Lyn for waiting for me. After the meal I sent her off to get a bus back to the city. I found some other Thai people to chat to in the airport for a couple of hours. They told me their exciting story that they worked as magicians, employed by a disrespectful boss in Taiwan, who had escaped because their boss treated them unfairly. We had a good laugh and they tried to teach me some black magic. Before long it was time for me to board the EVA flight, which was much better than KLM — the airhostesses smile!

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