On the Way to The Beautiful Island


October 18, 2007

Sawadee krap,

Or should I say "Ni hao?"

Since last June I have been mostly home in Bangkok although I did manage brief trips to the Thai beach resorts of Phuket and Hua Hin and an automotive jaunt up north to the fresh air of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

At the moment, I am feeling the itch to sniff a whiff of aviation fuel.

On Friday, 19 October, I fly northeast across the South China Sea and the Luzon Strait to a place the Portuguese called "The Beautiful Island." I will be there for three weeks.

Taipei: "Fur Elise"



Republic of China

October 24, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

I am shocked, shocked to find that "Für Elise" is the "national anthem" of Taiwan!

As I check in to the Han She Hotel in Taipei, "Für Elise" flows forth from the lobby sound system. It's not a very good version; it's too heavy for my taste, and not lovely and lyrical as Beethoven intended. 

As I stroll around Taipei, and in the streets of other cities and towns, "Für Elise" pours forth. But from where? At first I thought it was a loud mobile phone announcement or maybe an inducement from a shop or a restaurant. But it's playing on every street, morning, noon and night. Finally I found the source.

Taipei 101 and Beitou, Danshui: "A Soak and a Sunset"



October 28, 2007

Taipei. The capital of Taiwan. 2.7 million well-educated, well-dressed, energetic, hospitable people. Everyone carries a colorful umbrella.

It's crowded, busy and glitzy. Modern buildings. Modern fashions. Some boys wear spiked hair and the girls "accessorize." Spotlessly clean. Lots of bright yellow taxis with drivers who accept any destination without question.

Juifen, Fusing, Hualin: "Molded Rocks and Waterfalls"



November 1, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

The first test of my dormant driving skills begins in Taipei. Did I say "skills?" I am so intimidated by the city traffic that I insist the car rental agency chauffeur me to the edge of town, and deposit me at the entrance to the Expressway, National Highway 1. Alone now, I ease on to the truck-filled route. I hug the right lane and chug north towards the port city of Keelung.

Taroko Gorge, Mt. Huhuan: "Driving Blind"

Shuishe, Taiwan

November 2, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Imagine driving alone through the mountains over an endless, tortuous road with multiple hair-pin turns. Imagine one narrow lane in each direction. A yellow line bisects the road and a white line guards each shoulder.

The road curves up, only up. There is almost no other traffic. Now, imagine that you are blind. Blind. And alone.

From Taroko Gorge to Mount Huhuan, I steer up and up and up on the side of the mountain through a translucent, nearly opaque oatmeal fog, a green pea soup so thick I can barely see beyond my nose.

Shuishe, Puli, Longshan: "Moon Lake"


Taipei, Taiwan

November 6, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Shuishe Village hugs the shore of Sun Moon Lake, the largest body of fresh water in Taiwan. The brochure reads, "A magical crystal lake . . . dialogue between sun and moon, link between mountains and water." My stroll along the waterfront, the boat excursion and the short climb to hillside temple all confirm that this is "one of Taiwan's most spectacular natural landscapes." * The indigenous Thao tribe sells food and handicrafts at the tourist-filled market.