Monday, July 02, 2007

Taiwan Tales

A few weeks after my Singapore trip, I went to Taiwan. It was a bit stressful because I had to process my visa myself for the first time. I was so tensed because I did not know if it will get approved or not. Fortunately, at that time, I already had my UK visa and my Schengen visa, so that should have convinced them I will not overstay. I also had a letter from Academia Sinica inviting me to speak in the International Symposium on Grid Computing.

After three days (or was it a week? I can't remember anymore!) I was able to get my visa and was pleased to know that they approved my visa. I was pleased and relieved because I already bought a ticket! If you are going to apply for a Taiwan visa, their embassy is at RCBC and you have to acquire a number from the reception and wait outside alongside human chimneys! On my first visit, I was able to go through the process without a problem but on my visit to claim the visa, I was annoyed that I was to claim the visa in the afternoon and I did not see the time thanks to the small notice at the back of the receipt!

My mom had to get my visa for me.

I had minimal budget so I decided not to take the taxi from the airport. It was around 1,500 NT from airport to the university. I was going to stay at the University guest house, however, to get there, I had to take a bus from the airport and alight at a hotel and then walk to a bus stop and ride another bus.

When I got to the lobby of the airport, I went to the tourist information center first and obtained all the maps and then proceeded to the bus booths. Everything was in Chinese characters! I was lucky that there was one person who could speak a little English. She gave me a bus number to ride. I had to wait for a few minutes for the bus to arrive. The bus was very luxurious! I think I failed to capture it in the picture above. I left the memory card of my camera so I had to just use my phone camera. The old Taiwanese was getting freaked out from my cam-whoring so I had to stop after a few attempts of self-portraits.

The driver only spoke Chinese so I had to get my Chinese map and point to where I wanted to go. Apparently, the bus number 5 had two routes! There was a blue route and a green route! I was to take the blue one but I took the green one! Crap! I was a bit off from where I should be so I took a taxi going to the hotel. It was pretty near so I did not have to pay so much to the driver and I did not want to drag my suitcase all over Taipei.

Once again, the Lord sent me an angel in the person of a bellboy who knew how to speak English and he pointed me to the direction of a bus stop. I rode the bus there. An old lady told me that my stop was to be the last one. She also told the driver to let me know if it is already my stop. I waited for the last stop and guess what?! I ended up in the bus yard!

Though I felt like I would never get to my destination, I began to pray and a driver who spoke English came and he took me into his bus. I had no more coins left and their machines do not give change but he said I did not have to pay anymore. Thank you Mr. Bus Driver!!!

My stop was two stops after the bus yard so the lady was more or less right. I dragged my suitcase out the bus and rolled it across the street. I asked a Taiwanese to point me to the direction of the Guest House and after a few blocks, I finally got to the building. I was so happy to see my Taiwanese friend! Whew!

He found my adventure rather amusing! He let me rest for the afternoon since I was already able to attend the tutorial he offered. I went up to my room (which was pretty nice considering I only paid 800 Php a night) and discovered that I have left my lens tray! Immediately, I decided to go to the city. With a city map and a few instructions from a newly found Taiwanese friend, I went to the city.

This time I took a bus and transferred to their nice subway. I walked and went around their many malls! They had really big malls filled with designer stuff. The fanciest was Taipei 101 which happens to be the tallest building in the world as well! I got my lens tray first and then went around the shops.

As I was cam-whoring again, a Taiwanese guy took pity on me and took my picture. He also asked what I was doing in Taiwan. He was a salesman and he was sellin SK-II products but of course I did not buy. After that I went to New York, New York and Taipei 101. The sales ladies were so nice and acommodating that they even asked me to try a Cartier ring and a Tiffany & Co. saleslady was insisting that I try a Tiffany diamond ring! I said no. I should not even be looking at rings! I so wanted an engagement ring at that time. Little did I know my ring was coming very soon!

I was soh tired when I got home! I almost forgot I was going to give a talk the following day! I prepared still! I think I slept early morning already!

The following day, I gave my talk. I met a Filipino woman who works for CERN! How cool is that?! We also had our picture taken that day. I am the one wearing the pink jacket in front. The dinner was also during that day. After my talk, I got to meet people who were into Grid computing and I was able to meet a German guy who is now offering me a PhD position (as in research assistant) in his supercomputing institute. I might take it next year around September...

That night, I went with the Filipina whom I just met, along with a Vietnamese who I met in Thailand and the Malaysian who I met in Manila's APAN. We went to the night market which devastated me because everything was so darn expensive! I was only able to buy some cellphone charms and not particularly cheap but really cute cherry earrings!

We also went to the supposedly market for techie gadgets. They had cheap flash drives but apart from that, everything else was so darn expensive! Even the laptops made in Taiwan are more expensive there than here or in Malaysia or Vietnam. I checked when I was in Europe and yes, it's even cheaper there! I do not know why but it is expensive there.

So, defeated and tired, I went home with the Viet and the Filipina. The Malaysian guy was too tired and so he went home before the three of us did.

It was fun getting lost while looking for the techie market but it was no fun knowing that they do not have accessible money changers (only in hotels and banks and the banks were already closed) and knowing that everything is so darn expensive. It was probably better that way though because I did not spend too much.

I had to go home the following day. I knew already how to commute in Taipei like the back of my hand but I knew I had to be early because I had to catch the bus. Fortunately, I was just in time and the bus driver knew exactly where my gate should be. Whew! I do not want to miss my plane!

At the airport I met an old woman with such a cute granddaughter. Her daughter married a Filipino who was working for a Japanese firm in Taiwan. She only had a tourist visa so she had to go home already after a month of stay there. She was very sad about leaving and I felt bad for her. I made sure that she was able to board the plane properly but I did not see her get out but she probably got out before I did because my seat was at the far end of the plane.

I was seated beside another Filipino who worked in Taiwan for two years. She worked for a nursing home 24/7 because she lived in the nursing home. She was younger than I was yet I know she has aged more than I due to the kind of life she lived in Taoyuen. This is a town near Taipei and according to her, this is where the bargains are. It's 45 minutes away from Taipei if I remember correctly. She has never been to Taipei because she had a curfew in the nursing home.

Soon she will be applying to UK. I do hope that her fate there will be better.

My mom picked me up from the airport after Taiwan since my boyfriend still had work when my plane landed.

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