Day 12: Taiwan

Quite possibly the most boring port of the trip, but in the best possible way. As my photos download in the background, I'm recounting today in my head realizing that we spent the entire day doing the most touristy thing possible, and little else. Other people are coming back onto the ship talking about museums and temples. I suppose that when all is said and done, I just needed a skyscraper and a shopping mall.

So of course, Taipei 101 was in order.

Upon our arrival, tourists are greeted by a giant Buddha overlooking the port. Obviously, Buddhas are everywhere in this part of the world, but this one seemed to be the most prevalent, and reminded me of O Cristo Redentor overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Of course the port workers were busily getting ready for the disembarkation, and despite being cloudy, it was pleasant enough on deck that the passengers were busy snapping shots of the port. Of particular note to me was the fact that there was a Starbucks nearby.

After disembarking, we headed into Taipei after a quick exploration of Keelung port (and some confusion about train directions and the like).

The 40 minute train ride into Taipei was pretty uneventful. The view that rolled by started with dense patches of habitation set in large expanses of forested mountains and hills. As the proportion of population began to increase, the train went underground, blocking the city from view until we ascended out of the busy train station into the city.

In the interest of simplicity, we took a taxi to Taipei 101, the everyday lives of the citizens whizzing by as the driver dodged the rather chaotic traffic conditions. It looked as if the lines on the streets and traffic signals were meant to be mere suggestions. Nevertheless, we arrived safely, and after a browse through a shopping area that rivals Rodeo Drive, we purchased our tickets and were being catapulted into the air on the world's fastest elevator.

One of my quirks is that I tend to get intensely fascinated with very strange things. It's usually something very random, but some things just click in my brain and for a short time, become the most important thing to me. I never know what it's going to be, but I've learned that rather than fight these little obsessions to just roll with them. In this case, it was what appeared to be the mascot of Taipei 101, the "Damper Baby." I didn't know what it was, but I knew I just had to have one. Of course, the damper is the giant counterweight to control the sway of the building, and the Damper Baby is a resulting character.

I hate to say that I was rather unimpressed with the height of the structure initially. I remember WTC being much more dizzying, though I now attribute that to the fact that WTC was a single monolith rising out of the ground, as opposed to 101, which is visually broken up, so the brain can digest the building in pieces rather than as one whole thing. The immensity here is felt at the top, especially after realizing that you're looking way down on really all buildings. To add to the effect, the glass is angled outward, so that instead of looking down a building, you're just looking a 468 meter drop. To give myself a little "lizard brain" thrill, I leaned against the glass and held my hands out to the side. I only weigh about 150 lbs, and even though I'm intellectually sure the glass can support me, there is the irrational animal part of the brain that fills me with a sense of danger.

It is from this dizzying height that we also noticed the large expanses of green areas all over the city that seemed so dense and packed from the ground. To say the least, the views were impressive (crappy viewing conditions aside), and the sense of how high 468 meters really is combined with the amazing feat of engineering a structure like this is, and for however touristy it happens to be, it's well worth the trip.

We headed back down to the mall area, but not before I got my little Damper Baby figurine and a t-shirt. We stopped for a bite in one of the restaurants, and after leisurely strolling past Chanel, Prada and Armani, we were once again in another taxi heading back to the Taipei main station. It must have been the route the driver took, but on the way back the building really seemed to dominate the sky much more than it did initially.

The ride back was much busier, though it was a Sunday, so imagine during the week these trains get packed to sardine capacity. I love it though, and think that photographer or not, busy trains are the best people watching in the world.

We decided that we weren't quite ready to head back to the ship. We explored the dock, discovered that the Venti Mochas are chocolatier here than in the US. The ultra modern lighted letters spelling out "KEELUNG" were just beginning to light up, while people sat and chatted on the bench areas of the letters.
At the suggestion of someone we knew from the ship, we took one last dive into that most ultimate of Asian experiences. A nearby street market was the perfect cap to the day. Even though on this particular occasion we waited to get back to the ship to eat, the advice I give is still the same. Go for it, just remember to ask what it is AFTER you eat it. In this case, some of the food looked, to say the least, questionable. But that doesn't subtract from the intense entertainment value a sea of people all packed onto a tiny street, browsing for everything from snacks, vegetables and houseplants to bras and Hello Kitty piggy banks. After a stroll along the "Zen Siene", and a nice view of a man meditating in front of a building, we headed back to the ship.

I gave some tripod-less night long exposures of the port a go, but once my battery died, it occurred to me that even my camera was convinced they wouldn't turn out.

Last real day of the cruise tomorrow.