An Evening with Popeye, Ryogoku

After a long afternoon of trudging around Tokyo, I decided to finally make a stop in Ryogoku, at Popeye. Not Popeye's. It's a good-sized bar which claims over 40 different beers on tap - impressive anywhere in the world. And there's no Bud or Coors taking over half the taps. I think there might have been an Asahi tap somewhere in there, but this is a craft beer establishment.

It's pretty close to the station, so in no time I was seated at the bar during happy hour. What's so happy about happy hour at Popeye? Free half-orders of one of eight appetizers with the purchase of certain beers (a choice from about 24). In no time I had my first beer.

I started with a chocolate porter from Shounan Beer which wasn't too chocolately, but still a very good porter - smooth, rich, with a somewhat burnt taste. I enjoyed three free chicken tenders with that one.

Next, I went all the wiser with Fujizakura kougen Weizen. I have a small, welcome place in my heart for wheat beers. Maybe it's the flavor. Maybe it's the fact that it's different from other lighter beers. This certainly didn't lack in taste, with definite fruity hints. I'm not going to get all beer-snob on you, but this is a good brew! There's nothing wrong with a lighter beer, but this is so much better. Talk about drinkability. And it's so sweet you almost forget you're drinking beer. Anyway, I went wacky and ordered the sausages, which I should have probably done with the porter. Oh well. How were they? Good enough.

I also tried a piece of wheat bread. It's a bit costly at 200 yen, but it was delicious!

As I was nearing the end of my stay tonight, the guy next to me struck up a conversation. Well, that's a bit of a misnomer - he was deaf and mute. And Japanese. But he knew a little basic small talk English and wrote everything down on scrap paper. Add in some gestures and you have a wordless conversation in two languages! He was a really nice older guy, and I think it was his first visit too.

Unfortunately I don't have a bottomless bank account and beers aren't cheap. Plus, my phone died (thankfully I had planned my route home before it lost its juice). So my stay at Popeye was done. But I got a membership card (not free, I think) as I plan to return and enjoy some more random beer.

It's only a 2km walk from Akihabara station, after all.

Busy busy busy.

It's been kind of hectic around my place since I it back from Taiwan. I've had lots to do at work, plus I've been working on some projects at home. There have been a couple (welcome) social commitments, such as an all-night karaoke marathon with Akiko. And right now I'm headed for dinner with Amanda.

I have plenty to post about as far as trip reports go. In depth looks at my Kyushu and Taiwan vacations. Random foods and adventures. Etcetera.

This weekend was the summer festival in my current hometown, Koshigaya. I watched a little bit of the stage dancing and processions this evening. Here are a few pictures. Enjoy!

402! Another personal milestone broken!

Hello. My name is Ryan. And I'm a ride-aholic.
For my regular readers, you know that last week's trip involved a lot of amusement parks. I knew it would happen on the trip, just not when - I have broke the 400 count mark for number of different roller coasters I've been on!
I wish I knew where to put my blame for my love of roller coasters. I claim to have four hobbies in my life: card collecting, photography, travel, and riding roller coasters and other amusement rides. I love the thrill and I haven't really met a coaster that really scared me. That is, when I finally started riding them!
As a child, I was scared to death of rides. I remember really wanting to go to Great America, near my home in Santa Clara, every summer. But I never really rode many of the rides. Instead, I spent my time climbing on the jungle gym-type of play areas. Of course, I eventually outgrew those.

After moving to Georgia when I was 13, I returned to California and spent a day at Great America with my childhood friend. Eventually it came time to ride a roller coaster, and we jumped on Greased Lightnin', a coaster that shot forward through a loop, up a spike, and back down through the loop. I was really nervous but I didn't want to seem like a wimp so I braved the ride. That's a lie - I had an absolute blast.
We walked around the park riding several more rides, including the somewhat-new Vortex stand-up coaster (one of my favorites). Of course, I was hooked, and when I returned to Atlanta I had to go to Six Flags. That started my lifelong love of coasters.

I returned to California frequently as a teenager, and always made a pilgrimage to Great America and later Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to ride those rides. I was a Six Flags season pass holder in high school, and drove out to the park in Georgia several times a year once I got my license. I worked at the park for two summers after graduating high school.
I've spent the past twenty years of my life traveling around America and parts of the world, and I've made it a point to visit as many amusement parks as possible. When I went to Europe for a couple weeks in 2002, about half my time was spent at parks in several different countries. Almost all of my vacations in America were spent somewhere I could experience new amusement parks. One of my big reasons (not the biggest) for coming to Japan was the abundance of roller coasters.

Since arriving in Japan six months ago, I've done what I can to get to theme parks. I've made only a small dent in the country's offerings, and I haven't even been on all of Tokyo's offerings yet! I've been on 38 of Japan's coasters, but the "important" ones are out of the way - I conquered Fuji-Q in April.
But one of my goals was to ride over 400 coasters. When I set that goal, Japan was just a country on the other side of the world and I was stuck around 200 coasters. It had taken me at least 15 years to get that far, and I thought it would be another 15 before I doubled that number. But in the past couple years, I have had some extraordinary opportunities and my coaster count grew by leaps and bounds.

But 400 was still a little ways away. With summer in Tokyo comes crowds, and I had put riding in the region on hold for other important things anyway. My trip to Taiwan was coming up, though! I left Tokyo two weeks ago at 387 unique coasters. By the end of the trip, I had been on 15 more. 402!
There was no ceremony. I didn't even think about it at the time. Coaster 400 happened at E-Da World, on a little dark ride nestled in the building. The coaster really is called Dark Ride, in English. It can be seen in the picture above, as it comes out of the dark to go up the hill back into the station. I'm glad I took this shot, otherwise I wouldn't have any photos of a milestone ride, as small as it is.

I discovered long after my riding mission began that the coaster community loved to count coasters. In the past, I just remembered that I had been to such-and-such park and liked such-and-such coaster. But a few years ago I came across a website called Coaster Fanatics (it still exists, though it hasn't been updated in nearly two years) which I started using to track my ride counts. Since Coaster Fanatics isn't updated anymore (and doesn't include any Taiwanese parks), I found a replacement just today - Coaster-Count. It's maintained by people connected to RCDB, probably the most-respected coaster database in existence. And you can visit it by clicking on the banner below, which will also let you see an up-to-date count and list of my coasters.

Looking at the rankings, I'm 222nd in my coaster count. I'm not trying to be the best of course. But with the reaching of one goal I have to set another. I would like to reach 500 coasters before leaving Asia. A tough task, for sure, but there are 217 operating coasters in Japan alone, of which I've been on only 38. China has nearly 600 working coasters! By the way, I'm at 402 if I count all coaster types, while removing those which some might not considered coasters puts me at 387. For simplicity, I use the big number.

I'm not just interested in roller coasters. I love all kinds of thrill rides, but there is no way to really keep track of the other kinds of rides (normally called flat rides). In fact, my favorite rides are mostly non-coaster rides.

I'm not sure where my next coaster trip will be, though I am hoping to take a short trip to Osaka next month!

Until then...

Taiwan: A (realistic, negative) look at the people

Talk about culture shock.

I had read all the information I could - Lonely Planet, Wikitravel, forums, etc. my students had told me about their visits. I heeded warnings about language barriers and made sure I was prepared for everything I could conceive.

One thing I didn't consider was manners.

I lived in America for almost all of my life, but I had traveled to Europe and met people from all over the world. I've lived in Japan for six months and figured the rest of Asia would be about the same, in most respects.

A culture steeped in tradition and respect, a push for high education and a hive mentality. That's a small part of what I've seen in Japan.

But Chinese/Taiwanese people are nothing like this.

I don't mean the people of Taiwan are dumb, unreligious savages. But there is a serious lack of manners that is hard to ignore.

People push and shove to get through a crowd. They don't say anything, so I know they aren't saying a Chinese form of the phrase "excuse me" or "I'm sorry". In fact, in the Taiwan guide book I was looking at (Lonely Planet I think) there were no translations for these words. There's no remorse for disturbing others.

Along the same lines, people stop and block narrow sidewalks or passageways. At an intersection in a night market, a couple stopped to ponder which way to go... right in the middle of the intersection so nobody could get through. People walk down the middle of the path slowly, spread out wide in groups. (Sure they do that in America too, but not as much in crowded areas). Just you try walking through a convenience store with narrow aisles. People don't make way. Maybe that's why everyone just pushes through, since nobody makes way anyway.

Are you trying to take a picture? You'll probably have a Taiwanese or Chinese person in your way. They may literally look right at you and see you're trying to take a picture exactly where they're standing, but they won't move out of common courtesy. The same goes for looking in stores.

People cut in line. Like, you're in line and then they're all of a sudden in front of you, like they have a right to do that. I told you about one incident that happened at Taipei 101, but it happened a few more times too. At vending machines, convenience stores, everywhere. I was next in line to buy a single item at the convenience store, when a guy literally walked right up in front of me, and when the next register opened, tried to go ahead of me. I had to shove my item into the clerk's hand and say "I was next".

People spit. On the street, in the subway, everywhere. Gross.

And they smoke without concern to others around them. Walking with cigarettes, or standing in major crowded areas, or in front of doors to businesses. I was resting at a temple yesterday afternoon, and guys who sat down on either side of me were puffing away, no concern for me. In fact, I ended up with cigarette ash on me!

Motorbikes are everywhere, but that means they're parked all over the sidewalks. And sometimes driven on the sidewalks or the wrong way down the street.

People burp and fart audibly without modesty. I was on a train early in my trip, and heard a nearby passenger let out a fart. And several times I've heard men burping.

And speaking of men, do they not wash their feet? I never noticed women's feet but I certainly saw nasty, nasty looking toenails. Yellow or brown, needing to be cut, and jus disgusting.

Now not everybody is rude, dirty, and has no manners. Shop clerks always say thank you when buying something, and some of the people I had a chance to talk with we're friendly (see yesterday's post about the junior high girl looking for some conversation). But to travelers to Taiwan, be warned: people there are completely different from western culture or the Japanese. And now I see why the Japanese don't consider themselves to be Asian.

Don't think I had a horrible time on my trip. People in Taiwan are generally more sophisticated and more in touch with politeness, and even with the rudeness, grossness, and general incivility I witnessed I really had a great time. I just felt it is important to make these impressions made, so others can mentally prepare themselves for the trip. (And I was told by one Taiwanese person that mainland Chinese are even ruder.)

Olympic Marathon, Taipei Touring Style

I finished out my Taiwan trip with a bang. Or at least the bang of the gun that begins a marathon.

Once again I was up a little later than planned, and I forgot to turn on my alarm (I could have sworn I set that thing last night). The damage wasn't too bad - I only slept in until a little after eight when I planned on being up at seven.

I took a shower and cleaned myself up before heading into the oppressive heat that is the Taiwan summer. It's been nearing (and probably breaking) 100 Fahrenheit here every day. And it's no LA dry heat, either. This is Georgia/Florida style, high humidity, rain shower style heat that only seems to get hotter after the rain. And it's rained nearly every day too.

But into the heat I did embark today. Today's plan included eight stops, scattered around the west side of Taipei. My first stop was the Lin Family Mansion and Garden, a nice complex located out towards the western edge of Taipei. It had several outbuildings I could explore, similar to yesterday's homestead, though this time the tones were darker and the gardens a little more compact and scenic. I didn't get into the house (because I was late I was unable to take the house tour). But I get the feeling it might have been underwhelming. Perhaps I can find out for myself on a future trip.

From there I headed clear across town to the northern hills, where the National Palace Museum is located. Spread across three expansive floors are some very impressive works spanning most of China's history. The building itself, like most national buildings, was attractive just to look at. I enjoyed the snuff boxes, curio boxes, and examples of early calligraphy the most.

But time was short, and soon enough I took a bus and a long walk to the National Taiwan Science Center. Another museum with three floors of exhibits, this one focuses on providing hands-on science education in all the major physical and life sciences. The most popular were the physics displays, where children could play with toys and learn about physics (which is probably the same way I first became interested in physics and science in general). I thought some areas could have done a bit more to be more entertaining - there was a lot of missed opportunities in the body exhibits - but overall it was a fun place to explore. There was a special exhibition on fear that turned out to be just a haunted house, which was kind of disappointing as well. One day, perhaps I'll be asked or able to create a real quality set of exhibits.

By now it was about 3 pm. Yes, three locations, almost six hours. I had five more to see and the shadows were warning me that I needed to pick up the pace.

Stop four was on the south side of town, but along the same metro line as the previous two museums, so I got there in about 30 minutes. This and my remaining locations were all in the same basic area, and all relatively quick locations. But being in the same area meant walking, and lots of it.

My hike started at the 228 Peace Park. The park is a place of remembrance of a massacre that occurred on February 28 (hence the 228). But among all the monuments and such it's a nice park to visit. There must have been a rare bird nesting in a tree because a lot of people had their cameras pointing at a hole in the wood. I haven't really examined the photos I took with my big camera to see if I can even identify that there is a bird in the hole.

One full metro stop away is the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. I have no idea who he is (I never got a pamphlet to figure it out and it's been a long time since I read about him) but his monument is really impressive and has two armed guards watching over it.

From there I walked another kilometer or two to the botanical gardens. Smaller than the imperial gardens in Tokyo but perhaps larger than SF's botanical gardens, they have a decidedly tropical feel. That's to be expected given the climate.

It was early into my visit at the gardens that I was approached by a junior high student who wanted to talk to practice get English. It turns out she's a real good speaker (though with a British accent because her English teacher was British) and she even told me I talk a little slow. I guess that comes from choosing my words more carefully and changing my speed for my students in Japan. She was a real nice young lady and I enjoyed the conversation! She said her name is Annie if I heard pronunciation right, though I'm guessing it's spelled with Chinese characters and in English might be spelled more like Ani. Anyway, we took some quick pictures and parted ways, since I still had two more stops!

My last photo stop of the day was a somewhat-large temple called Longshan. I didn't plan it this way, but my timing was perfect to see the after-work crowd come to pray.

My day wasn't over yet. I had to return to Ximending, where I saw all the fashionistas and ate on the toilet. This time, my target was a building I must have walked past but didn't know about, supposedly selling all kinds of novelties. Well, this was no Akihabara, but there was a large number of geek-type shops on the fourth floor. Many of them carried models to be assembled, or other imported products from Japan and Korea. I didn't see anything Chinese or Taiwanese to add to my collections, though I found a couple (most likely unlicensed) posters for under a buck each to keep as souvenirs.

With the sun gone and the evening to kill, I wanted to get one more try at a Taiwanese baseball card store. I was able to find the location I missed yesterday but they were closed. I grabbed dinner in the nearby mall and here I am, almost home. Or, back at the hostel.

Tomorrow, a morning flight back to Tokyo and I'm home for real. Until then...

A day of Not Nothing

Ever need a vacation after going on vacation?

My friends and family know that my trips are anything but relaxing. I have a great time, but as you can see I'm usually very active. While others spend their time relaxing at the beach or pool, chilling in a restaurant or cafe, or spending a whole day slowly wandering around, I pack in the attractions by the dozens. Rarely is there a day of nothing in my travels, unless I expect to need a "make-up" day for missed attractions and can fit it in my time off.

So I've been going nonstop since last Sunday, sometimes staying up as late as four AM and getting up as early as five AM (not on the same day, thankfully). It's not uncommon for me to go with only about four hours of sleep at a time though. Yesterday was a big day on about four hours of sleep, and I didn't get to bed until almost 2am.

Today, I was supposed to go to Hualien, a small city on the east coast, where I could visit one more amusement park in the morning, and spend the rest of the day exploring Taroko Gorge. But I decided that I'd rather save that for another trip, when I could sped more time on the coast and devote a full day to the Gorge.

I left the alarm off.

And I slept.

And I slept.

And then I slept some more.

About 12 hours later I forced myself out of bed and saw that it was already 2PM!

Wow! The day was basically over before it began. But with the evening available, I had to figure out what to do.

I was still on a mission for Taiwanese baseball cards, since only one team issue had been found. And I wanted to do a little shopping for some fun, unique items, plus some gifts. And hopefully I could fit some culture in there with a museum. To finish my day, I wanted to dine at another theme restaurant.

I'll tell you now, culture ended up being tossed out the window. It was too late in the afternoon to make it to any museums or such with enough time to enjoy it. I had read about a jail-themed restaurant not far from my hostel, but it turns out that it locked up its last patron years ago. And my initial baseball card store lead fell through.

I spent an hour or so browsing shops under Taiwan's main station, buying only some gifts to bring back to work. But an enquiry at the visitor center brought about more hope in baseball cards. I was headed back north.

I don't know what this shop was called or how she found it, but success was finally had! In one of the last places in the store I was able to look, I found a binder of a bunch of cards including many cards from Taiwan! Most were $5 each (about 15 cents US). I haven't really checked to see how many unique sets I have, since dating them will be a big chore and many subsets are included in main sets. I also grabbed a couple autographs and some insert cards. All told, I spent a big chunk of change in there, but I am happy about it! Those of you who read my baseball card blog will get details when I get back to Japan.

That store pretty much wrapped up my day. I might check for another theme restaurant (I hear there's a hospital bar where they serve shots in syringes) or just crash for tomorrow's final sightseeing frenzy.

As I was heading to the subway platform at one of the stations, I saw a strange piece of art thing. There's a cooked egg on the wall and some chick-headed woman. You can tell she's wearing panties because their outline is very visible. And water pours out from the chick head-neck area to kind of flow down the body. I didn't stop to read the text, which I'm sorry about now. Strangeness.

Until next time...

Getting High and Getting Wet in Taipei

With only two days in Taipei, I don't have a lot of time to really explore. So I had worked out an hourly plan to get me everywhere on time.

I slept in a bit because I stayed up late talking with someone else staying at the hostel, who also teaches English. But I still made it to my first destination only 30 minutes late. That would be the Taipei Discovery Center located in City Hall, right next to Taipei 101.

The Discovery Center is a three-floor museum that aims to teach a bit about the history and current state of the city. It manages to tell tiny pieces of stories, but it feels like there should be more. For example, there is an exhibit on waste management in Taipei, which tells just a little bit about a law passed a few years ago requiring a charge for using throw-away plastic bags. The display seems to indicate that the law alone directly and indirectly caused a 67% drop in annual burnable waste. But it's free and worth a quick stop. One of the volunteers was very helpful and recommended a bunch of places to go, though many I won't be able to do on this trip.

Of course, my next stop was the top... of Taipei 101. At about $14, this is my most expensive non-amusement park admission ticket. And of course, being that it's a summer holiday Sunday, there were lots of tourists wanting to go to the top at the same time I did. It was about a 30-40 minute wait to get to the elevator. While waiting they take your picture in front of a green screen so you can pay a lot of money for your image in front of the building at day and night. I'm not sure why they made everyone go individually - wouldn't there be more interest in getting group shots?

When I first entered the line there was a woman directly in front of me. At some point a guy behind me in line decided he was going to try to cut in front of me. Taiwanese people do this ALL THE TIME. At stores, getting on the train, you name it. In general, Chinese people are very rude and self centered. I'll get into this more at some point, but back to my story. The guy just tried to slip past me in line like he was entitled to it. He stayed next to me in line, trying to fully get ahead of me, for several minutes. At one point he tried rocking from side to side to get me to give up my spot. He would whistle some annoying stupid tune too. But I held firm and eventually cut him off around a corner. Then I just made sure I didn't give him any room to get past me again. If I knew some Chinese I would have told this guy off. Would it have mattered if I had let him go in front of me? In this case, yes. I was the last one I get on my particular elevator.

But I got to the top of the tower in under a minute and took a good number of pictures. Those of you who follow me on Facebook saw a picture from the top. The weather was pretty nice at that point.

It was hot as a crotch today (just like every day in Taiwan!) but I decided to walk to the golf ball mall (Core Pacific City). It's nothing special, except there's a giant 10 story ball in one third of the building, and half the mall is inside it. I wanted to see it up close, so I took the 20 minute trek to check it out. Also, since it's a mall, I also had lunch. They have a decent food court in the bottom floor. McDonald's and Subway in addition to several Asian restaurants. I saw a shabu shabu place and a hibachi style grill. I also tried out some of Taiwan's massage chairs up on the sixth floor.

My favorite massage chair to date is a Panasonic model. It just hits me right in all the right spots. But there's a Taiwan company called Nikko, if I remember right, that had a fantastic chair as well. If I see another one I have to give it another go. After a full week of amusement rides and lots of walking (my second pair of walking shoes this year are already falling apart) it was a pleasant fifteen minutes.

Unfortunately, the rain started. And kept going. Pretty hard. I needed a taxi to get to the Miniatures Museum anyway, and got there in no time. It's a
Few bucks to get in, but it's worth it. Sure, there are some things that look like glorified dollhouses, but there are some awesome scenes from all over the world and some famous mouse-related movies. It was pretty busy there, surprisingly, though it was Sunday on a summer holiday.

Again my original plan called for a taxi to take me the 4 km or so over to the Lin An Tai Old Homestead. It was still raining when we arrived (which took quite some time, because my taxi driver didn't know where exactly this place was since its in the middle of a park. The homestead is a really nice complex, with gardens, outbuildings, and a tea mountain to explore. I saw all of this while getting fairly wet, since I spent most of the time outside. But again, it was a nice location and turned out better than I expected, other than Mother Nature.

The rain finally stopped as I left Lin An Tai for the Taipei Story House. This is on the other side of the park, and signage is minimal, so I had a little bit of trouble figuring out which way to go. Time was getting short but I managed to arrive at the house on time. I decided to skip going in the house, though, and instead visited the Fine Arts Museum next door. The exhibits were pretty nice and focus on contemporary art. I saw a nice collection of minimalist paintings, a style I really like. You can blame Looney Tunes for that!

Again, time was not on my side as I walked another long distance past the MRT station to the Confucius Temple. I must not be meant to visit these, because I once again got there just after closing time. The gates were still open and I was able to take some quick pictures, but I couldn't visit the inside of the temple.

Now, due to the heavy rain, tonight's baseball game was canceled but I went to the stadium anyway. A quick stroll around the grounds and a few photographs later I was back on the MRT headed for dinner.

I won't get into it too much, but I Ate at Modern Toilet, a themed restaurant. You sit on toilets, eat on a glass tabletop over sinks, and are served food in little toilet bowls. I had the spicy Sichuan pork hot pot. Originally they brought me chicken curry, which was kind of blah - since I never had hot lot I didn't realize what I had and it didn't look like my curry anyway. They realized the mistake though and eventually I had my spicy pork. Unlike the curry, this was pretty good. I don't have anything to compare it to, but I was certainly happy. My meal came with a drink (I had green tea) and ice cream. Again, Facebook buddies saw my picture from the restaurant.

I was in Ximending, the hot teen fashion capital of Taiwan. I literally said to myself as I walked off the subway escalator, "Wow, I'm in Taipei's Shibuya!" I didn't spend long here, as I wanted to get to Shilin night market in another part of town.

Night markets are crazy, busy places like Ueno's big shopping street. Most of the stuff for sale is clothes, souvenirs, or snack foods. I saw a good variety here though and found a couple cheap souvenirs and gifts.

I didn't get home til 1am, on one of the last trains I think. It's now almost 2am and I'm exhausted so I'll end with that.

Not sure what I'm doing tomorrow by the way. I planned to go to Hualien but I might skip out and chill for the day.

Until then...

Tainan, Taiwan: Happy birthday, God of War

After spending most of my first five days at amusement parks, I finally came to my first full day of Taiwan's culture. I couldn't have picked a better city to start in!

Tainan is Taiwan's first capital, and I believe it's first real settlement. I'd verify this but I don't have Internet while I'm writing this post. A lot of historical locations have been preserved in some manner or another and as such it's a great look back into old Taiwan.

Funny thing is, most of the heritage places are related to the Dutch.

I started in Anping, at an old Dutch warehouse that has been invaded by trees. It's a great site of ruins and is preserved well. There are some catwalks so you can also see the trees from their growth points where the roof used to be. The roots then tangle through the brick and reach to the ground.

Next door is a merchant house with some historic exhibits, with a lot of focus on the influence of the Dutch. And just beyond that is a memorial hall, but everything there is in Chinese.

A short walk away is Anping Fort. The key structure here is the lookout tower, which you can ascend and see most of Tainan. In the area, I picked up a shrimp roll, which is a local food item. It's basically shrimp inside some shrimp paste or something, and breaded and lightly fried. It's really good! I only had one stick (two shrimp) because there was much more food to explore.

But first, it was time to make the long trek across the canal to the Eternal Golden Castle. In the high heat of midday, this is a walk that nobody else was making. I could have waited for the convenient tourist bus, but decided to make the journey myself. I somehow survived and saw yet another Dutch ruin. The Castle is really the remains of a Dutch fortification. It's nice to see but there isn't much to do other than stroll around the perimeter. So I was soon on my way back to downtown Tainan.

I wasn't done, however. My next stop was a pair of temples (there are about 300 in Tainan) and a pair of towers. I first took a quick look at Matsu Temple. I'm not sure why I thought I wanted to see this temple, and I probably missed what I was looking for.

Just around the corner was the temple of Sidianwu, the God of War. There was a lot of stuff going on and several tents and such set up, plus lively music an a puppet show. While I was taking some pictures a local informed me that today was Sidianwu's birthday!

Everybody was there to pray to him in hopes of something. I'm not sure what benefits the Martial God can bring your family (again, no Internet right now - maybe justice or peace to your family, or victory against those who try to wrong you?). I took a while exploring the temple's grounds. There were several buildings besides the main temple hall, and they were all full of incense sticks from worshippers (and the workers at the temple worked very quickly to remove them - maybe once every five to ten minutes so there was more room for the others behind them). Plus, lots of other offerings were made, including lots of fruit baskets and whole pineapples.

I wonder what happens to all that food. I know it's wrong to take it, but do the priests/monks/etc use that as their food, or is it donated to needy families, etc? Or is it just thrown away?

Anyway, it was pretty cool to get to see an event like this, even if I only saw a small part of it. My eyes still hurt from all the incense smoke!

Just across the street from this temple was Chikhan Towers, a pair of buildings that look similar to shrines in Japan. In fact, one of them seemed to have a small shrine upstairs. It turns out these were Dutch buildings too at some point, I think. It used to be called Fort Provintia. I believe the fort was torn down and the towers and a small school were built in it's place. A pretty nice little stop.

It was 5pm and time for some grub, so I took the advice of people at my hostel and tried two more Tainan specialties. First, a bowl of rice pudding - it's actually a meal with meat and vegetables (I think) beneath the rice pudding layer. There's nothing sweet about it but it was delicious.

Two doors down was a place that made coffin cake, yet another specialty that sounds sweet but is actually a meal. Take a piece of bread, carve out most of the inside so you have something like a coffin, then fill it was vegetables, meat (oysters and chicken if I know my seafood), and some sauce (kind of like a white gravy). The bread is lightly fried, by the way. What's with all the frying? But again, it was another delicious item and made me quite full for a while.

Again it was time for a long walk to the city's Confucius Temple. The first Confucius Temple in Taiwan was built in Tainan, though it was closed when I arrived. I could wander the external grounds and see a little of the temple through the gates. My view is seen in one of the pictures below.

Finally, I took a leisurely stroll (well, not that slow) walk back to the train station. Along the way I saw a store that seemed like it would be worth browsing, and luck was with me (maybe from all that temple visiting) as I finally found a few Taiwanese baseball cards. They're a team issue for the Elephants apparently sold through Family Mart. I bought a couple packs and was on my way.

I forgot that Tainan's high speed rail station is so far from Tainan's regular station, and I ended up missing my planned connection. I'm on the high speed train now as I write (I'll post once I get settled at the hostel) but I'll be about 30 minutes late again. Ugh, I hate when that happens!

But tomorrow is another day of Taiwan exploring, as I'll spend Sunday exploring Taipei, including 101. Hopefully the weather cooperates in the morning so I can get some nice pictures! Until then...

What exactly does E-Da mean, anyway?

I've been in Taiwan for five days now, and I've been to seven of the eight amusement parks I know about. My final park of this run is E-Da World, Taiwan's newest park. It opened in the past couple years, and is part of a big complex including a mall, two hotels, a university and a school, plus what looks to be residential development.

E-Da is the most expensive park on the trip too, ringing in at about $900, which is about $27. Still not bad compared to US and Japan parks, but pretty high for the number of major rides. There are now three coasters plus a large collection of other rides The park claims over 50 rides but many of those are kid rides or even games. No, they don't call them attractions. They're called rides. Regardless, there was a handful of rides to keep me busy.

I went to the mall during midday to grab lunch and see what kind of stores I'll find. This mall is just like any US mall. On the other side of the mall from the park is the ferris wheel. Actually, it's on the roof of the far side of the mall.

It's too far away from the park for great pictures but the view into the valley wasn't too bad. It would have been better but most of the day was overcast with clouds as low as the top of the ferris wheel. In fact, a major rainstorm passed through when I first arrived at the park.

Overall today was another great day for riding, and nothing I wanted to try was closed the whole day. I took my time getting to the park in the morning though I didn't sleep in as much as I should have. I'm still not getting home til 10 or later tonight (I'm writing on the train back to Tainan) but I probably won't leave tomorrow until nearly 10am so I can rest up a bit.

OK. So I realized early in this trip that there were a lot of culture observations I could write about. I still have to get to driving, food, manners... But let's talk about kids. I've seen a lot of them these past couple days.

I don't think most Taiwanese children see western foreigners in Taiwan. Especially ones not in Taipei (I'm sure the ones in Taipei have more chance for exposure to multiple nationalities). I get the strangest stares from preschoolers and younger school kids. They look at me like I'm from outer space. It's funny at times, though some of the looks are downright scary. I'm afraid one of these second grade boys is going to decide to protect the country from my invasion with his fighting skills.

Today, while eating lunch, one little girl kept looking back at me from her table. Eventually she got the courage to say hello to me, so I replied hello back. She didn't know what to do! But all her friends (she was part of some field trip group) all wanted to say hello to me as well. I think that poor girl said hello three times since she couldn't say anything else in English.

Actually, a lot of Taiwanese people say Hello when they want my attention. I picked that up pretty quick.

Another little girl and boy are in front of me right now on the train and they couldn't be more delighted. The boy waved at me a couple times and the girl keeps looking up at me. She poked me at one point. Not sure why. Maybe a fat joke. But whatever. Her mom seems to think her daughter is doing something wrong so I'll assume she is saying something bad. Still, kids are funny.

The older ones (high school age or so) say hello to me when I'm walking, and expect a hello back. And they love getting the hello. "I talked to an American" they say and giggle bak to their friends. At least that's what I guess they're saying.

Western foreigners are an even bigger novelty here than in Japan, by far. It's a big deal whenever I go somewhere. It's kind of cool most of the time.

So tomorrow I'll visit a bunch of cultural sites in Tainan, the old capital city of Taiwan. Then I'll take the Taiwanese high speed rail back to Taipei for the final third of my trip.

Fancyworld, Fancy Pants

I realize these posts are kind of long. But I have busy days and lots to share!

I took a cue from my experiences the past few days and did as much verifying yesterday as I could about today's route to be sure I wouldn't have to worry about missed connections or confusion. I already planned an extra hour between the rail and bus connection due to timing, but the peace of mind was welcome. I ended up using a different service to get to Fancyworld, a mountain amusement park about halfway between Douliou and Tainan. It was another package deal, with van service to and from the park.

Because I used the van, I got to the park a good bit earlier than I planned, and spent the first 30 minutes walking around the east side of the park. The west side, where all the rides are, didn't open until 9:30, and even then many of the rides opened after that point.

Again I met two big disappointments: one of the coasters was closed, and another cross-your-fingers hope for a ride still running turned sour. The Fly Away ride seems to be permanently out of order, and the floorless coaster was closed for maintenance (which should have ended on the 9th).

Like yesterday's Waikiki Wave, the Fly Away is a really rare ride. There are only two more I know of running - one in England and the other in Europe. It is near the top of my list of rides I want to try.

However, all the other rides were up and running in short order - even the Top Spin which looks like its missing unless you walk right up to it, and which was running the strangest program I've ever seen. At least it's different, if a bit boring.

The other major coaster was pretty good for a short, simple ride, and I had a good time rotating my ride experience between a bunch of rides I don't usually go on. I even saw two shows.
First, I caught most of a Heidi kids program (you know, the girl who lives in the Alps, who has a dog and little boy friend). I loved the movie as a kid, and since the show was for kids I could still follow almost everything even though I didn't understand the words.

in the heat of the afternoon, I made a planned escape into a different air conditioned theater for a decent acrobatic and dance program. I think only one of the performers was Asian, with the rest being Western or Indian. Don't debate with me over India being part of Asia. It is. But Indians have a completely different look and culture from the other Asian cultures I know.

I really need a hat and suntan lotion.

I was basically done with my day after the show, but there was enough time for a few more repeat rides and a second trip through the haunted house. I had a 5pm departure scheduled with the van company.

I somehow managed to just make an express train an hour earlier than expected after leaving the park. The van driver was pretty speedy, and we left the park a little early. A four minute train delay made everything come together nicely.

Baseball was on the schedule for my evening, and it was off to Tainan's stadium for nine more innings of Taiwan's number one professional sport.

I've been hunting for baseball memorabilia all over the place since I arrived. I was told I might have luck in the convenience stores, but it hasn't happened. And the night market in Taichung turned out to be a bad idea as far as baseball stuff comes. (Of course as I said yesterday I had a good time at the night market.) I hope that I can find some stuff in Taipei this weekend, though I did pick up a couple small things at the game on Tuesday.

I joined the game in the second inning, after waiting quite some time for a bus that was supposed to be "coming soon" - for those of you using next bus technology like SF MUNI has, you know how frustrating it can be. But it's not just an SF thing.

This stadium has a late 1960s feel, most likely because most of the structure hasn't been updated in a couple decades. The seats in the infield seem new though, and there is a nice scoreboard and underutilized video board in the outfield.

When I got off the bus a girl also got off at the same stop, and in our short conversation she told me her dad worked with the Lions (Tainan is their hometown). From her description it sounds like he's either a coach or trainer. Anyway, as soon as I went to buy my ticket I received a very warm welcome by the Lions boosters. They insisted upon giving me a ticket, hat, and bento box. That food was *awesome* and not just because it was free. I think that's my first steak since coming to Asia and its my first full real meal in Taiwan. Pepper steak, tofu, veggies (zucchini?), cabbage, rice, and even a nice canned drink were all presented to me.

Being a foreigner has its advantages.

The home team took the lead right after I got settled on a two run homer.

Then, in the top of the fourth, the visitors finally answered back.
Three homers in one inning, including back to back jacks. The last one was so high, if the plane flying overhead had been about 20 seconds earlier it probably would have been hit by the ball. Five runs scored in the inning. I think that's the first three-homer inning I've seen in person, though I have seen back to back home runs before.

It was a fun game, and my second-favorite since coming to Asia. The Hiroshima Carp still hold my top spot.

Tomorrow, one more amusement park - E-Da. I don't know if I'll spend all day, so I might get to catch up on sleep after I get back. My face is getting redder by the day. But after tomorrow, I won't be outside as much because I'll finally be doing more culture "credits" in Tainan and Taipei. So until then...