Back in Taiwan

Over a year ago I was in Taiwan to check out Taipei and the art scene. Since it was a long holiday for me and the flights going to Taiwan was cheap, I immediately booked a flight to Taipei. The main agenda for this trip was to see and hike Taroko Gorge and to see exhibits in MOCA Taiwan. I only had 2 weeks of planning to make everything possible.

We stayed  right at the center of the city. After breakfast we went to see the Miniature Museum of Taiwan. The museum was founded on March 28, 1997 by Mr Lin Wen-ren and his wife. It is located in Zhongshan District in Taipei. Taiwan’s museum is the first to specialize in contemporary miniatures and features two formats: “doll house” and room box with cut away views. It is ranked second in the world, with a collection of nearly 200 items. Founder Lin Wen-Ren and his wife sourcing each item while travelling in Europe and the United States.

The last time I was in Taipei, I wasn’t able to see Museum Of Contemporary Art because they were closed for an upcoming exhibition. After a year, I finally get to visit and see “Zero-Gravity Paradise: Kawaguchi Yoichiro’s Algorithmic Evolution”. The exhibition begins with the creation of a large coral-like sculpture “growth model” in front of the door of the contemporary museum, leading the audience to spy on the artist’s unique creative performance and the delicate observation of life. The exhibition consists of two thematic structures: the first floor shows the various forms of art developed on the basis of the development model of Ichiro Yokogawa’s “growth model”; from static graffiti manuscripts to computer programs, high-definition computer graphics, and physical sculptures and interactive sensing devices. The second floor is the artist in the 90’s experimenting on “artificial life” as the proposition of all kinds of creation, showing a very different appearance with the early works; the audience can not only see the Japanese traditional culture and estuary Yoichiro’s computer image creative mix and match, but also participate in an interactive project carefully planned by the artist. “The paradox of the echelon of the estuary” reflects the sensibility of life and the rationality of mathematics. The two seemingly disobedient worlds, the power of modern science and technology can be skillfully combined and coexist. 

We went to Taipei Fine Arts Museum next. I had a hunch that they have new exhibitions on display. I was delighted to see Mist Encounter by Serendipity Studio right at the entrance. A square within a square structure stands in the large outdoor plaza in front of the Museum. The summer sun and breeze drifts in and animate the scaffold and mesh structure. An indistinct mist rises from the outer square and draws visitors to come closer. As visitors walk from the outer to inner square, they will be gradually enveloped by the mist, and things will appear and disappear as the mist alternately gets heavier and lighter. The effect is similar to an experience of passing through a heavy fog in a magical forest.  Visitors can stand under the cones and breathe the moist and misty air, gaze out as they sit in swinging chairs, or chat with one another in the dense fog.

After the gallery tour and a short trip to Huashan creative park, I wanted to go back to the fish market and take my friend there because I really enjoyed the last time I went. Waiting time wasn’t that long but the place was busy, we decided to grab a glass of wine while we waited.

I understood long before my trip that the trains going to Hualien get filled up quickly so I booked  the train seat reservations in advance and picked up the tickets at Taipei Main Station. We almost got in the wrong train but thankfully we got out on time! The train ride was comfortable, it took us 2 hours reaching Hualien. It was also great that our hotel (Meci Hotel) is walking distance from the train station. Check in was at 3 pm, since we got there early, we decided to go for a bike ride to find a place to eat. We were surprised to see Hualien as a big city with big roads, we surely underestimated it. We followed one of the suggested bike paths which according to guide books was supposed to be a “scenic” route.

It started to rain and I was getting hungry so we decided to try Yankee Roadside restaurant. Food was good and cheap, they have gamey meat and seafood in the menu which would be a delight for many food bloggers, but we’ve decided to have the steamed tilapia and the beef with apple and pineapple.

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It was drizzling when we left the restaurant, we decided to go check the beach. Not as scenic as what we saw in the pictures, it felt like a ghost town. We were still excited about biking around so we decided to go to a brewery and winery nearby.  Much to our surprise it wasn’t the winery we were expecting. For us a winery is like a big warehouse with wooden barrels, vivid greens all around, similar to what you see in Australia or Italy. But it’s China after all, it was a warehouse filled with alcoholic drink and other quirky stuff not related to wine at all. We decided to just leave and check out the brewery next door but it was closed. Since it’s great moving around in our bikes, we decided to go back to our hotel because it seems like a ghost town especially that it was raining quite heavily. The bike ride itself was good and intimidating in a way, there were big trucks passing through, going to cement factories.

The night was young, after dinner, we went to Ginsman. My friend Pete said it was one of the most talked about bars in Hualien. The bar had excellent reviews and most of them say good things about the bartender. It got us curious. They make customized drinks, we tried different cocktail drinks and everything tastes great!

The big day has finally arrived. We finally get to see Taroko Gorge and a hiking tour with Hualien Outdoors. I like that they were responsive when I talked to them via email. They gave a very detailed itinerary of the tour so I reserved a slot for my friend and I for a personalized tour of Hualien. They picked us up at our hotel, had breakfast and went straight to the Taroko Gorge visitors center to get our names registered. We had to bring our passports with us to verify our identity. We had to do a few stops at checkpoints before we started our hike. Researching further, they can only allow 60 people in the trail regulated by the Ecological Protection Area. The hike itself is hard with some areas that are narrow, steep and slippery with a chance of rockfall. It’s more rough than the hike I’ve had in the Great Wall and at Katoomba but the complexity is less compared to the Great Wall. You’ll go through a steep climb up, the first few kilometers of the hike which will make your heart pumping. Relative to the hike to the Great Wall this is the 2nd hardest hike I’ve had, the trail is about 6.2km long. The easiest part of the hike is going through the rope bridges. We had a quick break at the end of the trail, having fruits and nuts.

Lunch was generous with fruits, nuts, eggs and bread. We also had hot tea which was a treat. Peter (our tour guide from Hualien Outdoors) did a great job touring us around. Later that night we went back to Ginsman cause it seems to be the only place to get proper drinks.

Since the weather is not so great, we decided to head back to Taipei early and exchange our booked return tickets to an earlier train ride so we can spend more time in Taipei before I get back to Manila. I reached out to friends early in the day so we can have dinner somewhere. My friend Maggie, thought it was a great idea to have dinner at the original Din Tai Fung in Xin Yi since I’m also craving for Xiao Long Bao. We left our stuff in a hotel in Xin Yi and still managed to get to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial hall and beers at Zhang Men Brewing. It was a delightful dinner, the finale was the truffle xiao long bao. It was delicious.

The best part of the trip for me is the company.  I like going to different places alone but it’s always a pleasure meeting new people and friends. It makes the trip worthwhile.