2/07/2011

Buying Train Tickets Online to Hualien, Taiwan

I get some emails from time-to-time from "foreigners" asking how to book train tickets online to Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan. As far as I know, you can't using a credit card, unless you have a local card, which is incredibly hard to obtain if you're not a Taiwanese national (if you are, though, they're handing them out like candy). This probably means you can't buy a train ticket to Hualien (花蓮) online for yourself if you're a "foreigner." I'll digress some more to say people could buy tickets online to Hualien with "foreign" credit cards up until 2008. Coincidentally, a week or so after the Taiwanese government dumped some US$30 million into promoting tourism in the West in the spring of that year, the policy was changed and credit cards from the West were no longer accepted. 

Anyway, back to the point. If you want to order train tickets online to Hualien and are already in Taiwan, these are the steps you can follow:


1. Go to this Web site: http://163.29.3.96/TWRail_EN/index.aspx

2. Click on Guided Query (on the left)

3. Imput Taipei (or the city you're coming from) as well as the station. Then hit Next Step

4. Imput Hualien

5. Click on Hua-lien and then Hualien below, and hit Next Step

6. Click on the date and time 

7. Choose the train type (I recommend the fast train - the Tze Chiang). Hit Query

8. Choose the train you want. Remember the train number

9. Then click on http://www.railway.gov.tw/en/ticket/ticket-1.aspx

10. Click on Internet Ticketing (it's in the column on the left-hand side)

11. Click on Order Tickets Using Train No. (it's the first option)

12. Put in your passport no., ARC no. or local ID no., the station of departure and arrival and the Train No. (From no. 8 above)

13. When the successful booking memo comes up, copy the page (I usually cut and paste it in Word)

14. Print it and take it, along with ID, to either the post office or train station

15. You'll have about a day or so to do this. If you go to the post office, you'll have to pay an additional NT$10 (30 cents US) as a handling fee

2/06/2011

Wanhua's Qingshui Temple

 A recent shot of Qingshui Temple

Qingshui Temple as it once looked

I've already blogged about Qingshui Temple (清水祖師廟): http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2009/09/qingshui-temple-in-wanhua.html, but I returned yesterday for another look. Here's the address:  台北市萬華區康定路81號.  I should start off by saying it's easy to miss if you're walking down Kangding Street. Qingshui isn't on the street, but rather at the end of a lane. The people out eating and drinking at the shops (they set up tables in the lane) can easily distract your view.

Here's a rundown of important dates:
1787 Qingshui Temple was first established in Taiwan, to house items commemorating Chao-ying Chen, the guardian spirit of immigrants from Anxi (安溪) County of the Quanzhou area in Fujian, China
1853 Qingshui Temple was destroyed during a clan-like feud between immigrants claiming to be from Anxi and immigrants claiming to be from Tongan (同安) County, an area near Xiamen
1867 Qingshui Temple was rebuilt
1922-25 Qingshui Temple was used as a school and was called the Taihoku Prefectural Second High School, which is now known as Cheng Keng (成功Senior High

According to the blog The Battle for Fisherman's Wharf, Qingshui Temple also briefly housed an important wooden plaque (功資拯濟from Danshui, which commemorated China's success during the Sino-French War (1885). Interestingly, the people of Monga (Wanhua) refused to return it. This led to ll sorts of new feuding lawsuits, etc. that continued well into the Japanese era. It's possible the plaque is still in Qingshui Temple right now: http://danshuihistory.blogspot.com/2011/01/clear-water-zu-shi-temple-in-danshui.html#comments

2/05/2011

Regaining Monga



Wanhua Plaza 406

I spent the afternoon wandering around Monga (艋舺), otherwise known as Wanhua. My wife was at her maternal grandma's and was free to do as I pleased. I took all of the shots on this post at Wanhua Plaza 406, which is directly south of Ximending. The park is a work in progress, and seems to be part of bigger effort to restore the district of Monga, seen by many as the ghetto of Taipei. I've blogged about the area before. Resting between Ximending, around ten blocks south of the Taipei Train Station, and the Hsin Tien River, Monga is one of Taipei's most historic areas. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was known as a vibrant center of commerce and activity. Ships from all over the world called at her ports. Taiwan's important companies normally had a stake here. Centers of culture, such as Longshan and Qingshui (清水巖) Temples, were located near her banks.


Unfortunately, the Hsin Tien River started to silt up. By the time the Japanese colonists arrived in 1895, big ships could no longer navigate her waters. The Japanese, realizing they would be fighting a losing battle against erosion (Taiwan has the highest mountains in Southeast Asia) and a meandering river, decided to let the Hsin Tien at this juncture go. Now if you read about Monga, it is often suggested that after the multinationals left, brothels and the organized crime that fed off them filled the void. With all the traders, sailors and bureaucrats coming and going, the industry already had a firm foundation and thus officials either encouraged it or turned a blind eye. I'm not so sure that this is how an entire community gets by though. Monga does have a long history of prostitution, but can this sustain the economy for an entire district, or let's say town as Taipei a couple hundred years ago wasn't really a unified city but rather a collection of independent places? One thing is for certain. Monga's glory days are behind us. Household income is 25 percent below the city average. Only one in five people living here has a university degree (as opposed to one in three for the rest of the city). Property values are two thirds what they are in the rest of Taipei. And oh yeah, we have twice the population density and then some. 

The optimist in me tells me projects such as Wanhua Plaza 406 are good for the neighborhood. Not only do they remind us of Monga's history, but they also attract visitors or, in other words, people who spend money. I'm not exaggerating. Today, this park had lots of people obviously not from Monga; I had to wait again and again to take my shots as they were posing in front of these excavation works. I grabbed a cab home and we were immediately in a traffic jam, on account of all the people coming to see another popular tourist destination, the 300-year-old Bo Pi Liao (剝皮寮) Street. The driver, a Yong Ho resident, immediately started to complain about what he saw as chaos. When I said: "Look at all these people checking out the neighborhood," he spat:

"Bah. It's even worse where I live. I can't stand it." I still think the focus is healthy and I certainly don't mind the people every now and then. We'll have to see how it goes. 




Note: The inflatable pink bird and transformer Mayday were also part of Wanhua Plaza 406. This is a part of Taiwanese culture I don't really get. To me, pop culture is repetitive if not completely boring. Mixing these two monstrosities in with the old buildings (at the top of this post) seems weird.

2/03/2011

One Man's Junk


After 3.9 years, hundreds of kilometers, most of Taiwan's major (and many smaller but also important) cities and several countries in Southeast Asia, my daughter Ahleena's stroller was laid to rest tonight. Notice the garbage heap. During the Lunar New Year holiday, such dumping on the streets of Taipei and other places in Taiwan is usually condoned. Traditionally, the Lunar New Year holiday has been seen as a time to clean house in Taiwan. And if you don't get rid of your big stuff, you'll probably be stuck with it for another year.

I have a recap of the circumstances leading up to our abandoning of Ahleena's trusty stroller below: http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2011/02/tis-season.html. If you'd have asked me just yesterday if I was going to dump it, I would have said "you're crazy."

Note: I folded the stroller up after the shot so it would be easier to toss on the garbage truck.

*****

On a different note completely, I came across this post on An Expatriate in Taiwan. It covers the WWII POW camp that was at Douliu (斗六), Taiwan. I've been to Douliu before, but I didn't think to look into this. I wonder how one goes about confirming whether or not the facade in the picture was a part of the camp. I guess there must be some old pictures out there: http://www.expatintaiwan.net/2010/10/19/world-war-ii-history-goba-elementary-school/#more-565

2/02/2011

'Tis the Season?

When you want to see how deep the river is, don't use both feet.

If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.

Fix the pen only after the sheep are gone. 

If you've never done evil, you need not worry about what or who's knocking at your door.

It is easy to dodge a spear that comes from in front of you. Just try to get out of the way of an arrow shot from behind.

Today is Lunar New Year's Eve and I've been looking at Taiwanese sayings. I threw up a few that I agree with or am amused by above. Speaking of the Lunar New Year, which is Asia's version of Christmas, meaning a holiday when families come together, people forget grievances and everyone is full of cheer and goodwill toward his or her fellow man and woman, we had an interesting visit to start the day. This is how it went down.

There was a knocking outside as our doorbell is broken (we've been asking the security company that looks over our building and to which we pay NT$1700 a month to fix such things to fix for the last eight months). Getting the door, I was greeted by an old woman I didn't recognize. Actually, I wasn't greeted. I was simply told to remove my shoe rack from the hallway and to stop leaving our garbage and recycling in the fire exit. The old woman didn't complain about the stroller, however. That was weird. After three and a half years, and hundreds of kilometers, the thing is a battered and filthy eyesore. 

When I went back inside, my wife asked what it was about. "Oh, just the security company. It was the usual nagging about keeping the landing outside neat. She says the fine for not complying is NT$40,000 to NT$200,000."

"If they want it neat, they should try mopping the floor and cleaning the windows once in a while, like we pay them to do." 

"Yeah. And by the way, they were the ones who told us to put our garbage in the emergency exit." You see, after we complained to the city that we were paying NT$1700 a month in building fees but didn't have garbage removal services, the security company came up with this solution: I would pay an old woman that they knew NT$300 a month. She would come and take our stuff away every day. This was their idea. "Let's go talk to them," I said.

When we arrived at the main lobby, my wife, as usual, explained how we were unhappy with paying so much money and receiving very little service in return. She talked about the broken security system and the eight months' time we'd waited to get it fixed. Then things escalated, so much so that I twice had to tell the security guard not to raise his voice to my wife. He was shouting and my wife was cutting him off repeatedly, saying, "I don't want your excuses!" Then something funny happened. He said:

"We are a new security company. We took over October 1st. So, we need time to sort things out." He escorted me to a sign on the wall, with information about the company as well as the chain of command. "See, this is how it is," he said. "And yes, we can't have you putting your garbage and recyclables in the emergency exit." The reason this is funny is the new security company has hired all of the old security guards. The only thing that has changed is the color of their uniforms. They used to be a dull orange. Now, they're white. The same old men remain.

"What is this guy smoking?" I asked my wife. 

"No, he's serious. It's an excuse to start again," she said. "Now we have to complain to the city a second time about how the security company isn't taking out our garbage. Then the city has to call them. Then they have to find the old woman and get her to accept NT$300 to take out our stuff. Plus, they can stall another eight months on fixing the bell and camera. He thinks everything has been reset."

We decided our best course of action was to call the building rep. Ten minutes later, he was on the scene, smiling the usual reasonable and friendly smile. My wife started to explain, but he had the perfect answer: "Let's go over to the building so you can walk me through your grievances. Let's see what's what."

When we showed him how our buzzer, camera and doorbell weren't working, he was just as annoyed as my wife. "This is impossible," he said. "Why don't they fix it? OK, they'll fix it, I promise. Let's go up to the eighth floor to get a better lay of the land." While we were out in the elevator landing, something unexpected happened. The old woman representing the security company, the one that had knocked at my door to complain about the shoe rack, garbage bags and recycling on the emergency exit for a few hours every day until they were picked up, got off the elevator. 

"This is the woman who came to complain this morning," I said, wiping the dust off my fingers from the dirty windows. I'd been showing the building rep how the security company had not been keeping up its part of the deal.

"I'm not from security company," she said. "I'm visiting my son, who is your neighbor." 

"Then what's your problem?" asked the building rep.

"I don't like the shoe rack. Plus when I open the emergency exit, I sometimes see a garbage bag or recyclables." Never mind that it never blocks the stairs. Never mind that there is a second emergency exit about a foot away.

"How about this stroller," I asked, pointing at my daughter Ahleena's worn out stroller. "Why don't you care about it?" The answer was quite simple. My neighbors normally leave their bikes and stroller in the landing, so they were going for the status quo on that count. Unfortunately, none of their stuff was out today. I guess they'd pulled them in before complaining. 

"If you can't understand what I'm getting at, I'll show you," she said. "Nobody else in the building leaves things out." This was dubious. I know because I often go up to look at the scenery from the roof. We're close to the Hsin Tien (新店) River, and I enjoy seeing the sunset as it unfolds across it. There is a bike locked to the railing between the eighth and ninth floor. There's a ghost money burner between the tenth and the roof. I don't know what there is going the other way, as I always take the elevator, but it's unlikely to be completely clear. There's just too much good storage room to be had.

"No need," explained the building rep. "You don't live here, so it doesn't concern you." But I was already worked up. After moving the shoe rack and stroller inside, I said:

"If I ever see your stuff out here, I'll photograph it and file a complaint. Get rid of that doormat too," I demanded, pointing at a red plastic thing they have in front of their door." To kind of comply, the woman moved it about ten centimeters. 

"No, get rid of it," said the building rep.

The outcome is that we'll be chucking out the stroller. Sorry, Ahleena. But you're a big girl. And we can ditch it on a city-sanctioned garbage pile during the holiday. If we keep it, it's for another year. As the shoe rack was a gift from my mother-in-law, we'll be keeping it, to clutter up our entrance hall.

I shouldn't be surprised by my neighbors. I'm sure that it just doesn't occur to them that they should be neighborly, especially during the holiday season. My wife and I already had a pretty good feel on the kind of people they are, namely, a tired man and his tired wife, plodding through the steps of a life they imagine has to be exhausting and bland. The old woman is an extension of that feeling. We tolerated the endless noise coming from their apartment when they were renovating, including jackhammers late into the evenings and on weekends, because we figured they were our neighbors and we'd have to face them. More importantly, it seemed like the neighborly thing to do. When they didn't come over to apologize for the inconvenience, or clean up the mounds of dust this left in the landing, we excused them, thinking they were busy people. I have on numerous times tried to reach out to them. But they simply avoid me. They are the kind of people who, upon coming out and seeing me (or the neighbors, I suppose) waiting for the elevator, will pretend they have forgotten something and flee back into their apartment. They are the kind of people who, upon seeing another neighbor, a kind elderly lady for example who has fallen and broken open her forehead and a hip bone, will simply bang on my door and say, "Look at that," before scurrying off for work. They obviously want to be anonymous, to grind it out alone and expect Taipei will serve this purpose and leave them alone. Okay, that's their right. Nonetheless, I will be bringing the community that is our building to their attention, and them to it, the moment they leave a thing, even a pair of shoes.

Or, hopefully, things won't have to be this way. We'll see.