Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taiwan Day 4: Tainan

After a somewhat restful night of sleep, I woke up at 3am mostly refreshed. As usual, I found something to occupy my time until my wife was up and we went down to breakfast by at 7 am. We ate a more normal sized meal, after two days of having food crammed down our throats (OK, I admit we voluntarily did the cramming because the food was good and you just can't get Chinese food like that in the states).

When the stores opened up, we went to buy some jade and pearls. And it was over so quick that we had time to relax until my friend picked us up. This day we were going to Tainan, she said it has more touristy type things than Kaohsiung. At around 9am she and her husband picked up up to go. They do have freeways in Taiwan and the traffic there is as smooth as the traffic on freeways in the US (nothing like the city street heart stopper). We stopped at a rest stop on the way up and if you replaced the Chinese characters with English words then it would have been like any rest stop in the US.

The first place we went in Tainan was Anping Fort. This fort was originally built by the Dutch in the 1600s. Then after a war with the Chinese it was taken over by the Chinese. Later the Japanese cleaned house and built up more of the fort. Finally, the Chinese got the fort back after WWII, and being the good capitalists that they are, turned it into a tourist attraction. It was definitely as good as some of the historical sites I have been to in the US. There were a couple of museums with lots of artifacts that had been excavated. Map placards denoted where each part of the fort was and plenty of posters and maps explaining the history and different uses of the fort. In both Chinese and English. And of course, they had the gift shop which we naturally had to spend some money at.

My friend mentioned to me about the Taiwan lottery for our receipts. Basically, every receipt you get has a lottery number that is part of a drawing every two months. Prizes are up to $2 million (Taiwan). It seems the government found a way to "crack down" on under the table purchases by offering the lottery. All of the registers that print the receipts are connected to the lottery system and so the revenue department knows what your total sales are. People will ask for the receipts so they can have a chance to win. I like this idea, maybe we could adopt it in the states (or at least my state).

After Anping, we ate lunch at a small fast food place (Chinese fast food, not American fast food). My wife and I insisted that we don't get too much as we wanted to save plenty of room for the evening meal. After lunch we went to the Confucius Temple. At one point it had been a school but now it was more of a tourist attraction. The best thing about it was the traditional Chinese architechture with the rolled up roofs, pagodas, entry gates, and lacquer. My wife even found a sign in the ladies room that the English translation didn't make much sense, but sure sounded a awful lot like something Confucius would have said. In the middle of the courtyard was this giant banyan tree that had to have been a thousand years old. It's branches were being held up by posts since it had "died" and been brought back to life. Banyan trees are neat to look at with all of their knarled, intertwined roots and branches.

Those were the two main places we went in Tainan and then went back to do some shopping in Kaohsiung before dinner. I had a simple list: some presents for the kids and some paintings/caligraphy for our home. I also wanted to get some of the Chinese New Year door hangings, but since it wasn't near New Year, I figured it would be unlikely to find them. We first went to a department store and found some of the gifts that we needed for the kids. My friend's husband did some haggling in Taiwanese (which I barely understand any of) and got us about 30% off. Haggling is almost a requirement of shopping in Taiwan. They had some paintings, but they were rather pricey and I didn't want them. The best Chinese paintings and calligraphy are found in mom & pop shops.

After talking on the phone to her parents, my friend led us to a couple of other artwork and calligraphy shops. In one shop I found a calligraphy work that I wanted. It was done in various ancient forms of Chinese characters. Since it was unsigned (it didn't have the calligrapher's stamp) it was very reasonably priced. I didn't care about the stamp since I wasn't going to be selling it anyway. After some more haggling, we were able to get the mounting (basically smoothing out the wrinkled paper and gluing it to another piece of paper) included in the price. We would pick it up after dinner.

For dinner, my wife and I treated my friend and her husband to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. We hadn't been to one before and never lived in a city with one, so why not have an American steak halfway around the world. It was just as expensive in Taiwan as in the states, their portions are just as big, so my wife and I split a meal, and my friend and her husband split a meal. The food was great. We had an 8 oz filet minion and they had some other kind of steak. We ordered julienne potatoes but got french fries. I guess french fries are sort of like julienne potatoes. For desert we had the chocolate cake and they had the cheesecake. What we noticed is that everyone else in the restaurant was also splitting meals. (At $75 for the full meal - appetizer, steak, side, salad, and desert - it makes sense to split it.)

In the middle of the meal we had a surprise. My friend's parent's showed up with a Chinese painting to give us (from their home) and a set of New Year's door hangings. The door hangings were done by a famous artist and had his stamp on them. My friend told me that these were very valuable and I should hang them on the outside of the home where they would be weathered and ruined. I assured her that I wouldn't. I offered to pay her father for the paintings, and I gladly would have, but he refused. He wanted them to be a gift for us. Of all the things we brought back from Taiwan, I will probably treasure these gifts the most.

Since we had a flight at 8:30am, we said our goodbye's back at the hotel. We stayed up and packed our stuff until around 11pm.

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