Taipei – Standard Chartered Marathon 2015

It was a cold, windy 5 o’clock in the morning with a drizzle plunging the already chilly Taipei pre-spring temperature to around 10 degrees. I missed the warmth of my hotel bed and chided myself for being gungho to take part in a marathon while on vacation.

Then again, I’ve been to Taipei a couple of times and seen most of the attractions so I figured that the next best way to experience one of my favourite Asian cities is to become one with the locals in the nation’s favourite sport — running. In 2012, there were only close to a hundred running events in Taiwan. Today, more than 300 marathons happen year-round in the country! This is one holiday where my luggage packed on the kilos but not me.

Starting of point of the Taipei Standard Chartered Marathon 2015 was in front of the Presidential Office Building. I was fighting goosebumps from the cold but unbelievably, some of the runners were clad in just a singlet and short shorts (see the couple in blue tank-top and black shorts behind me). I shiver for them.

I signed up for the 8km run. It’s not an eye-popping distance but for someone with asthma, a bad knee and who runs as often as the moon is blue, this felt like I’m going on a mission to Mars. I began training a month prior to the marathon but due to a couple of long-haul travels, I was never able to complete 8km during my practice sessions. I seriously doubted I could reach the finish point without being delivered on a stretcher.

Flag off and my heartbeat was synchronised with the pulse of the Taiwanese. I’m no longer a tourist.

In most marathons, anything under 10km is considered a fun run but the Taipei participants were very serious during the 8km run. I felt delinquent skiving off to make frequent photo stops.

When breathing became laborious and my knees started to tingle and the temptation to just stop running and walk the rest of the distance was strong, I looked to the blind and paraplegic participants for strength. If they can do it, so can I!

I’m terrible at taking selfies but can’t resist snapping a memento of this rare scene in the middle of a Taipei highway with a horde behind me.

One of the great things about running an overseas marathon is you get to act like it’s your grandfather’s road in a foreign country.

I wasn’t the only one running a marathon. It was a snap-a-thon for my handphone too. Love the photo opportunities 🙂

The adrenaline of the masses was fuel to complete the marathon.

Finally reached the finishing point at Da-Jia Riverside Park. I didn’t think I could complete the marathon unscathed since I haven’t ran such a long distance in a long time but I made it! Having so many ‘companions’ on the route really helped made completing the run much easier.

8km conquered! I actually didn’t feel the distance because of the cold and the freshness in scenery of a foreign route. Felt great after the run knowing I’ll return home fitter! This is definitely a holiday off the beaten track 🙂

This post has been made possible by CTC Travel (Singapore) who can help plan and realise a sporting vacation in Taiwan.

Day 239 : See You Again, Taiwan!

From the smoky mountains of Alishan in Chiayi to the Southwestern fishing coast of Taiwan to the picturesque isles of Penghu, it has been an awesome 9 days of basking in the nation’s abundance of natural wonders and beauty. This experience wouldn’t have been possible if not for the hardworking team at Bysan Marketing Ltd (百昇传播事业有限公司) and Yusan Guide Public Relations Consultant Ltd (羽晟加得公关顾问有限公司).

Due to the unexpected turmoil caused by Typhoon Tembin, our original itinerary went through a few rounds of changes with some parts being fixed while on the go. After an exhausting day of sightseeing, the team had meetings late into the night to ensure things ran smoothly the next day. But above their professionalism under the pressure of a foreboding natural disaster, they kept their cool and remained unfazed while  ensuring that we are well taken care of and having a good time.

The people behind Bysan and Yusan. They are like an extended family in my wanderings of the world. I’m am very grateful for their hospitality and really touched by their friendliness.

What I really enjoyed was their enthusiasm in the activities. It felt like they were enjoying themselves and invited me to join the party. It didn’t feel like they were working and that dissolved the barrier of us being invited blogger guests and they being our nannies. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with Bysan and Yusan and some of the top bloggers in the region and becoming friends over the nine days. I was in the company of giants!

Heart you peeps! Thanks for a lovely time and adding your bit of personality to make this trip so memorable for me.

The full length of the hosted trip was 10D9N but I couldn’t get more unpaid leave so I had to depart today with Haruka while the rest stayed one more night at Penghu. Damn. I need a job with more leave days! LOL. As we’re all in different parts of the world, hopefully we’ll get to catch up again.

My heartfelt apprecaition also goes out to the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area Administration (雲嘉南滨海国家风景区管理处), Penghu National Scenic Area Administration (澎湖国家风景区管理处), the hoteliers, shopowners, sponsors, tour guides, drivers and service staff who made this blog-cation such a bliss and for expanding my mind. Thanks for showing me what Taiwan is all about on a personal level. Many thanks for a great experience!

Boarding Uni Air from Penghu to Taipei Song Shan Airport. 还真舍不得离开…

Leaving the vast greenery of Alishan and relaxing island life of Penghu behind, I rejoined urbanisation. With time to spare, I decided to explore whatever slice of Taipei time permitted before heading home. I wanted to go to Ximen which I visited the last time but decided to check out something new instead.

I didn’t plan or research the excursion or know I’m in for. I just got off at the Taipei Main Train Station and walked around. And here’s what I found…

Taipei Main Train Station is colossal! I walked for about 15 minutes before getting out of the massive central station.

Advertisement street opposite the Taipei Main Station.

This unusual portrait of a smiling Jesus brought a smile to my face. I’ve not seen Jesus depicted without his long-suffering expression.

I was very hungry upon arrival at Song Shan Airport but I held on and searched for my last authentic taste of Taiwan before going back. I found it at a shop along Gong Yuan Road opposite the station selling Taiwan’s definite mee sua with oysters and pork intestines. Yums!

Futher down Gong Yuan Road is the National Taiwan Museum. due to time constrain, I didn’t check out the interior.

Around the museum is the 228 Peace Park (二二八和平纪念公园). A very delightful accidental discovery.

Apart from a conglomerate of fountains featuring different architectural styles, the park houses some rather unusual wildlife.

After baking under the Taipei summer heat at 228 Peace Park, I stink till cows also don’t wanna come home. So I dropped by the Smell Library, a boutique perfumery retailer at the underground mall of Taipei Main Train Station to freshen myself. So cheapo hor? Got a gift here too and the perfumes definitely don’t come cheap!

Goodbye Taiwan! A last photo with a gong zai (公仔) in traditional religious embroidery. Here’s wishing one and all auspiciousness in every undertaking! Gosh… my eyes are all red from being sad to leave. Haha…

My initiation to Taiwan as a travel destination only started this year and even though I ‘ve been here twice, I felt there’s still so much more to see, do and feel. It has just become one of my favourite places to come to for a vacation. Think I’ll plan a trip here again next year 🙂

Day 238 : A Day at Jibei Island

The great thing about visiting Penghu is that the surrounding islands possess unique characteristics and attractions so there are always things to see and explore. The highlight of today was a trip to Jibei Island (吉贝岛) and spending the night there in an immaculate postage stamp sized hotel.

But before leaving the main island, we paid a visit to Penghu’s Reclamation Hall and the old village where two of Taiwan’s most beloved singers, Zhang Yu Sheng and Pan An Bang, grew up in…

Entrance to Penghu Recalamation Hall, a bungalow built during a period of Japanese occuption of the island.

Retro voguing… Adopting a yester-year pose to fit the environment.

I would make a very bad Japanese because my legs fell asleep sitting like this for less than 5 minutes. The Reclamation Hall has a very strong Sino-Jap flavour.

Hometown of Taiwan’s respected muscial talent Tom Zhang Yu Sheng (张雨生) and the man introduced Penghu Wan to the world, Pan An Bang (潘安邦).

Zhang Yu Sheng’s family kitchen.

Sculpture in front of Pan An Bang’s house depicting his maternal grandmother looking at him while he played by Penghu bay. A scene that inspired his evergreen hit, 外婆的澎湖湾 (Granther’s Bay).

At about 4pm, we took a boat from Penghu main island to Jibei Island.

The bumpy boat ride took about 15 minutes.

Woohoo! Haven’t rode a scooter in a long time. Jibei island is very small and the best mode of transport would be by renting a scooter.

MY FIRST TIME DRIVING A SCOOTER that is not in an arcade. Love the feeling!

Our accomodation at Jibei Island – Down Home, a pop-up residence that stood alone on the face of a gentle hill. A really relaxing and great place to stay!

The biggest draw on the island is the seemingly endless stretch of coral beach called Jibei Shawei (吉贝沙尾).

We had the very, very rare opportunity of having the beach all to ourselves. Usually the place would be crawling with beach-goers and holidaymakers. The beach was deserted because of the typhoon threat looming over Taiwan.

The tip of Shawei beach. The beach and water are pristine clean.

Cheers! A BBQ dinner with high-energy karaoke wrapped up a super fun trip to Chiayi, Alishan and Penghu. And this marked the end of the trip as I’ll be heading home tomorrow…

 

Day 233 : In the Mood for Wood

Alishan, 阿里山

Earlier this year in February, Alishan welcomed me for the first time with the blush of early spring where the rogue of cherry blossoms awakening from a wintry slumber coloured the highland terrains.

Slightly over six months later, I’m back again and this time, an air of mystery hung thick as playful autumn fog veiled the mountain’s beauty while dissipitating at times for a game of peek-a-boo with the scenery.

阿里山, Alishan

雾中体验不一样的阿里山。。。

Wet, wet, wet… Even in the rain, Alishan remains generous with its good looks.

Rainfall was plentiful during my 2D1N stay due to the approaching Typhoon Tembin. Coming from a tiny island devoid of any natural disaster, I was actually kinda excited about the prospect of experiencing a typhoon.

Thankfully though, it didn’t happen and I got to observe first-hand how closely the Taiwanese watch their weather, something we Singaporeans take for granted.

Alishan, Long Yun Ju, 龙云居

Stayed at 龙云居 (Long Yun Ju, which translates as home of the dragon clouds), a cosy mountainside hotel with the toothed spine of Alishan at its doorstep and towering woods as its backyard.

The typhoon alert and unpredictable precipitation dampened this visit a little but the sense of danger heightened the adventure as we tried to stay one step ahead of the weather.

But it is still very safe as the roads of Alishan would be closed off and not passable to traffic if bad weather is anticipated to ensure the safety of tourists and locals.

Highland weather can be very unpredictable. Although it was rainy the previous day, the sun was out the next.

During this visit, we were brought to the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area which I came to as well during my last trip. The difference this time round was that we were in the company of a tour guide brimming with geological, botanical and cultural knowledge of the mountain and sights.

I learnt nothing about Alishan the last trip but brought home a deeper appreciation this time round. A good guide really made a big difference.

Alishan, 阿里山

Under the canopy of wild cypresses, I watched the ancient race of these tress towards the sky.

Alishan, Heart Tree, 阿里山, 阿里山神木, Alishan National Forest Recreation Area

This tree forming the shape of a heart is just one of the many atonishing living sculptures crafted by nature. It will be so special to get one’s wedding portraits taken here.

One of the main highlights on this trip was a visit to the Tsou tribe’s cultural village. The very well-kept theme park invites visitors into the lives of the tribespeople and get under the skin of their folklores and history as well as to feel the pulse of their tribal heartbeat.

Seeing Alishan through their eyes takes one into another realm of relishing this green majesty!

Alishan, Yuyupas Village, 阿里山, 邹族文化部落, 优游吧斯

The Tsou people have a greeting pronounced as “YuYuPas”, and it is adopted as a name for the theme park as well. Will share what it means in my travel blog Explore Life Lah!.

A Tsou warrior exploding with vigour as he performed an ancestral battle dance.

Alishan, Yuyupas

I have in my hands, the source of the warrior’s gallantry! Muahahahaha… got to try the Warrior’s Bento at the cultural village.

We are travel tribe 我们是旅游族! From left to right : Diego, Kitty, Xiao Yu, Xiao Zhu, Boon Ho, Yuca, Shu Juan, Haruka, and Sharmaine.

More info and details about visiting Alishan and YuYuPas Cultural Village will be posted soon in Explore Life Lah!.

Day 232 : Orient Luxury Villa Motel

Orient Luxury Villa Motel, Feng Hua Motel, 风华汽车旅馆, Villa Motel

I can’t believe this is a MOTEL! Eating off Hollywood’s motel menu of murders, sex, drugs and sleaze, I’ve always imagined these drive-in lodgings to be squalid and stuff of nightmares (remember Bates Motel from the movie Psycho?).

So when I was told our first night’s stay in Taiwan was to be in a motel, I thought the organisers were kidding. They assured us that the motel is 5-star… it’s like telling a kid an injection isn’t painful.

Then the door to my room opened… True to their words, the motel was simply, for the lack of a better word, AWESOME! The room is huge and the bathroom is a wonderland! Definitely great for a romantic escapade with a loved one to spice things up between the sheets.

Too bad I enjoyed it alone…

Orient Luxury Villa Motel, Feng Hua Motel, Taiwan, Taichung

Huge room with a lot of space to romp. Each room is different in theme and design and comes with an attached garage below.

Orient Luxury Villa Motel, Feng Hua Motel, Yun Lin, Taiwan, Taichung

Facade of the motel at night.

Luxurious motels are unique to Taiwan where they are no longer just a convenient, budget rest-stop and Orient Luxury Villa Motel (风华汽车旅馆) is the cream of the crop. I was told it is the best-of-its-class in Taiwan.

Although I’ve never stayed in any motels before to evaluate that praise, but I think it would be hard for any of them to measure up. The stay was such an interesting start to the Taiwan trip!

Day 231 : Hello Taiwan!

Taoyuan Airport Terminal 2, 桃园机场, 台北

Thanks to an invitation by the Penghu prefecture of the Taiwan Tourism Board(交通部观光局澎湖风景区), I am on my way to explore the famous Alishan as well as the unspoilt island beauty of Penghu from today till 26 Aug 2012!

Together with 4 other bloggers from the region (Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Kaoshiung), we will journey deep into the mountains and across the ocean to suckle the green thumb of Taiwan and experience the spellbinding allure of these geo-ecological and cultural gems.

I hope I will be able to capture the full flavour of this trip on photos and videos to share here and on Explore Life Lah! where detailed info about the attractions and travel tips will be painstakingly documented.

A new world of adventures in Taiwan awaits… 🙂

Taoyuan Airport

Took the 7:20am flight from Singapore to Taipei and arrived at 12:10pm but had to wait for our Malaysian blogger friends who will be arriving from Beijing.

Taoyuan HSR Station

Hui Min and her husband, Boon Ho, arrived at about 7pm. After waiting for half a day, I was so glad to see them! They are such a nice and lovely couple. Finally, our Taiwan escapade begins with a ride from Taoyuan High Speed Rail (HSR) to Chiayi, the home of Alishan. Woohoo!

Day 056 : Sun Moon Lake Video Editing

Spent the whole day sieving through footages and photos taken at Sun Moon Lake to compile a video of my recent trip there. There are 4 points of attractions at the lake and the quickest way to get to them is by boat. They are about a 10 – 15 minutes boat ride from each other.

We stayed at the small town of Shueishe and made a trip to Itashao, where the Sun Moon Lake cable car is to get an aerial view. The cable car leads to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. If you don’t want to go into the theme park, there’s basically nothing else to do there. So I went in and stayed half a day there. I missed isiting the other attractions as a result.

That gives me a reason to go back to Sun Moon Lake again! For the meantime, I can relive the place through photos and videos…

结树

Husband and wife trees at Taiwan's Yushan (Jade Mountain).

在游台湾时,从阿里山往日月潭的旅途上,我们来到了玉山的著名景点之一 – 夫妻树。我问德士司机为何取名为此,他答不上来,只说是命名而已。我恍觉这样胡乱给个名字好没意思。

可当我来到两颗庄严大树的面前时,我思海里却涌起了另一种想法。这两颗树早已枯萎,但还是默默的陪在对方的身边。可以说它们俩并无选择,种在相旁,只能原地听天由命。

但缘分何况不是如此?世间上有那么多的人,可你我俩却遇上了,陈诺长相思守。尽管已绿颜凋零,但还是愿意守在彼此的身边,寸步不离、不舍弃、毫无怨言。这景木太美啦!(我是故意把‘幕’spell 成 ‘木’来贴近题材。)

司机告诉我们,这两颗树本来更高,但被一次雷霹过后,矮了点。这更加显示了夫妻原当应有的精神;共患难,同甘共苦,you die I die。可是现今时段,这理念都过时了。谁还愿意为所爱的人受尽委屈?

我相信还有。还有相信真爱无敌的人。我很庆幸看到了这两颗树。不知道它们还能维持多久,但终究它们有一段璀璨的结束。

Day 047 : A Poetic Send-Off

It was time to bid adieu to Taipei and as we passed through a corridor leading to the departure hall of Taoyuan Airport Terminal 1, a poetic mural added the finishing touches to a fascinating week here.

One of my friends who’s also in Taiwan for the first time commented that it is a failed imitation of Japan. I’ve never been to Japan so I don’t know if the Taiwanese are trying to copy the Japanese or merely them building upon the remnants of a 50-year occupation by the Japs (1895 – 1945). Perhaps the similarity is a matter of cultural residue rather than an attempt to emulate.

Then again, many places have shadows of each other since pursuits in urbanisation has created a homogenous, global village. What sets a place apart is its natural endowment and inherited culture. In that aspect, every place has its own character despite an observable mirror effect.

And to me, the place with the most character and personality, is of course one’s home! I missed my parents and 2 dogs so, so much!

 I’m four-and-a-half hours to my favouritest destination in this world… HOME.

Day 046 : Last Night in Taipei

How time flies. Eight days passed by so quickly and tomorrow I’ll bid Taipei farewell. It has been a great first trip to Taiwan and what left the deepest impression in me is the friendliness of its people.

The past week of non-stop sightseeing and touring the different counties left me pretty drained. So today, I took it easy and dropped by the historic Ximen Red House for some leisure browsing to learn about its background and significance to Taipei. Our second hotel is diagonally across from it so it’s a no-hassle visit.

As the vacation comes to a conclusion, I reflect upon what I learnt about myself on this trip. And I realised photography has made me a loner.

Day 044 : Sun Moon Lake

Sunsets are always the most poetic time of the day for me. Unlike sunrises where a day has yet to unveil its potential, at sunset, I can look back at the day and reminisce how I’ve lived the minutes.

Because life passes so quickly. I want to milk every moment, every encounter. Perhaps that’s why I blog. To record my brief footprints on this vast and wondrous journey of life.

Today, I arrived at Sun Moon Lake. A very topographically picturesque destination in Taiwan but I received the news that one of my favourite Taiwanese singers, Feng Fei Fei (鳳飛飛) has passed away at age 60.

Yesterday, I heard news of Whitney Houston’s death. She’s only 48.

As I was shooting the sunset at Sun Moon Lake this evening, I can’t help feeling a tinge of remorse. The day leaves behind something so beautiful before darkness takes over. Doesn’t matter if the day had been warm and sunny or frosty and stormy. Rich or poor, famous or not, everything shall pass.

The sun and the moon will continue their ageless cycle. Not even the mountains and lakes can remain unchanged. Doesn’t matter if we are not eternal.

But our deeds flow on. Just like the big voices and talents of these 2 incredible women.

Day 043 : Discovering Alishan

“高山清,涧水蓝,阿里山的姑娘美如水呀,阿里山的少年壮如山。”I grew up with this song and it’s just amazing to come to this place the song talked about.

And it’s true. The mountain ranges are beautiful, the stream clear and blue, and the ladies wonder-full! 😀

Visited a teahouse to try the famous Alishan highland teas and was served by 2 absolutely lovely 邹族 (Zou Tribe) aborigine ladies - 安惠萍 and 阳惠珊. Such a joy to appreciate fine tea in the company of great travelling companions and jovial Alishan folks.

Standing on the ruins of an old Shinto shrine at 奋起湖, an old mid-mountain town once occupied by Japanese.

My encounters with Cherry Blossoms have always been through photots or of the plastic kind. So thrilled to see them for real!

Sunset on Alishan. A pity the view was blocked at the place we were staying in.

Day 042 : Cultural Taipei

From appreciating the natural outskirt of Taipei yesterday, we stepped back in time today to catch a glimpse of Chinese cultural treasures.

Photography is strictly prohibited so I didn’t take any photos of the exhibits. My favourite artifact was a stone that looks like a piece of sio bak (roasted pork).

I was also enthralled by the elaborate storage mediums and great emphasis the ancient Chinese placed on preserving literary works and paintings. It seems that words are as priceless as jade and gold.

But now, words come cheap.

Day 041 : Wet and Wild

Exchanged Taipei’s metropolitan landscape for a little nature sleuthing at Shifen. Shifen is an old mining village and home to a waterfall dubbed as Taiwan’s little Niagara Falls.

The day’s excursion was a refreshing trek of Taipei’s outback although the waterfall didn’t impress me much. Perhaps it’s due to the misty and gloomy weather that drapped everything in a dull shade of grey; thus making the waterfall more of a flushing toilet, less of a wonder of nature.

Day 040 : Slither

Visited the famous Taipei Shilin Night Market and was drawn to the billboards advertising snake soup. Wanted to have that but ended up trying the blood-gall-venom combo instead for NT$250.

Red is snake blood, green is gall bladder and white is snake sperm venom. How do they taste like? Will share that in an upcoming travel post about the experience.

But the effect was amazing. I don’t know if it’s psychological or physiological, I felt really warm after downing the shooters and didn’t need my padded jacket the whole night.

Ssss…ssimply fantassss…stic!

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