Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Asianess: Valentino Rossi...Baby!

Check this…. Centrifugal clutch, front and rear disc brakes, 150ccs of raw rice-burning power, the Valentino Rossi design complete with #46. Okay, so it isn’t a Harley, but I bet your Harley doesn’t cost $5.00 USD to fill up and give you about 100 miles to the gallon.

Scooters are by far the best way to get anywhere in Taiwan. You can go around traffic jams; you can travel at the speed limit when all the cars have to go much slower. In Taiwan, in order to get a license to drive a car you have to already have a license to drive a small motorcycle. A small motorcycle is 50cc to 150cc anything bigger than that is considered a heavy motorcycle.

Scooters come in many varieties and sizes. They range from 50cc two stroke engines to 650cc four strokers. Of course, price and gas mileage are as variable as the size. A 100cc Yamaha scooter is around $60,000 NTD that equates about $2,000.00 USD. Before coming to Taiwan I was looking at scooters in the US, just to get an idea of what they run. Of course, most of the ones you see there are European. They ran around $2,900.00 USD for a 100cc. I paid about $2600.00 USD for mine but it needed some modification so that I could ride it.

The mods aren’t what you’d think. I wasn’t looking for a custom high performance looking scooter. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I didn’t think I’d have the strength to use the rear handbrake, so I added a foot brake. I also added some side wheels so the bike would be a steady platform for me to dismount. The problem is that I can’t just stand up, I have to use my arm muscles to compensate for the weak back muscles because of the Muscular Dystrophy. Once on I could ride without the outriggers, but I wouldn’t be able to get off the bike. So the mods added about $600.00 to the cost.

My scooter is the Valentino Rossi signature version. It is designed to look like the Yamaha racing bike with which he won the World Championship most recently. I felt kind of stupid at first, here I am this old fart riding a bike designed to appeal to kids. I mean really, it’s like buying a car with the same paint job as the Dukes of Hazzard car. For those of you under 45, please check Google to find out what I’m talking about. It somehow seems undignified; you know what I’m talking about. But I have gotten amazingly positive remarks from everyone. “Hěn Kù!” (very cool) being the most common.

It is amazingly powerful for such a small bike; and very fun to drive. Rain or shine I’d rather take the bike than the car. That kind of drives the kids nuts, they’re a little embarrassed, I think, to be seen on it.

The rules for driving a scooter are different in Taiwan than in the US. In the US, all laws that apply to motorcycles apply to scooters. But it’s different in Taiwan, that’s why they have the designation between small and heavy motorcycles. Most major roads have a designated scooter lane. (If there’s room, that is. Taiwan’s houses are built pretty close to the street.) It is illegal to go over a bridge if there is no scooter lane that is separated from the other traffic. And you can pass on the right. Every intersection has a designated area for scooters to wait for stoplights and because of that on most intersections do not allow a right turn on a red light. Some will have a green right turn arrow but then you can only turn right after a stop. Neither scooters nor heavy motorcycles are allowed on the freeway. You must be 18 years of age to ride a motorcycle of any kind.

There is one problem and that is that scooters have a tendency to get squished. The biggest problem lies with the fact that scooters are everywhere. If you signal to make a turn in your car, you have to look in every direction to make sure no scooters are darting around you on the side that you are turning towards. The scooters are very agile and easily maneuvered and many times scooter drivers have a tendency to depend on those things to keep hem safe. This is a flawed hypothesis: it is only an illusion of safety. Safety comes from driving defensively and expecting the unexpected.

Driving in Taiwan is complicated. There are a lot of driving laws; in fact, Taiwan’s vehicle code is much the same as California’s. The difference is that enforcement is minimal. The cops have a strategy of focusing on one particular type of violation a month. If you don’t do that, then you’re home free. So, driving here is a lot like anarchy, minus the bombs and guys with long beards. Nobody follows any rules.

(Part 1 of a three part series on Scootering in Taiwan.)

Photos by Emily Banducci:  Thanks to our companion blog, "Glimpses of Taiwan" for Video

Other posts you may be interested in:

Scootering in Taiwan:  New Helmet Technology
Traveling with M13:  Custom Scooters of Taiwan

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pathetical Analyticals: Blog Statistics for 2010

Taiwan Travelogue Part 2 11/28/2010
 A number of years ago a man I'd just met told me, “You’re so analytical it’s pathetic, I bet you have all your socks lined up in the drawer in a certain way…just right.” Just to show you how bad it really is, my immediate reaction was "Of course, is that weird?” But I have to tell you, he absolutely nailed me. One of my great delights is analysis.

One of the things I really enjoy doing is tracking statistics for everything. So, since we are nearing the end of 2010, I want to present the statistics for the Taiwan Adventure Blog (the Blog). The Blog is one year and five months old, but I have only been tracking stats since July of 2010, about six months.

Here are the results:


Traveling with M13: The Return 9/13/10
 Since July there have been 1,754 unique visitors to the blog. A unique visitor is an individual IP Address. This is registered the first time an IP Address shows up. The next time that IP Address shows up it isn’t counted. The total number of visits to the blog since July is 3,889 or an average of 2.2 visits per unique visitor. However, some people are regular visitors and others are one-time hits, so the value of this number is negligible, it’s just cool. People have visited the Blog from fifty-two different countries. The United States and Taiwan provide highest number of visitors with 1,188 and 1,141 respectively. Canada is a distant third with 109, and it all goes down hill from there. In the US, California, Arizona and Texas provide the most visitors. For the month of December, California had 44 unique visitors, Arizona had 14 and Texas 10. There were a number where the IP Address couldn’t be tracked to a particular state. These may have been mobile devices like a smart phone. December has averaged 36.35 visits per day.


Blog Listings: The Blog is listed on three websites that list Taiwan blogs.

Taiwan Bloggers – This blog site lists English language blogs written about Taiwan. They range from personal blogs to political blogs and all other categories in between.

Life is Taiwanderful – This is travel and information blog based in Taiwan that posts a lot of information about Taiwanese life, culture and politics, as well as other things. It has a list of Taiwan Blogs and hosts the "Best Taiwan Blog" competition, of which the The Taiwan Adventure, was a participant this year.

Expat Blogs – This website lists blogs from all over the world in an effort to give information to those who would be moving to a particular country as an expatriate.

Traveling with M13 5/24/10
 Each of these provides many visitors to the blog. Taiwanderful has provided 87 unique visitors since November when I added myself to their list, whereas Taiwan Blogs has provided 24 visitors since October. The Expat blogs listing has provided 18 visitors since last week when we were added to that web listing site. One reason for the larger number of visitors from Taiwanderful is probably due the Taiwan’s Best Blog competition. In the last week Expat blogs has been the largest provider of visitors from any source.

Other sources: I have registered the Blog with all search engines. Since July Google has resulted in 803 unique visitors to the Blog. This can be broken down by country to a certain extent as well – 529 – 66 Australia – 66 Canada – 64 Taiwan – 56 United Kingdom – 42 Philippines

Overlooking Taoyuan City  4/15/10
 The most popular search keywords are: Dragon Boats, Taiwanese Traditions, Chris Banducci and Mordeth 13. Dragon Boats and Taiwanese Traditions often mean the same thing, people interested in the Dragon Boat Races or Zongzi.

I also post on Facebook every time there is a new post on the Blog. Facebook has resulted in 126 visits to the Blog since July.

Incoming Links: One way in which blogs measure authority is through the number of external sites pointing to the blog's domain. In other words the number of other sites that have some kind of link to a particular blog or website. The number of external websites with links leading to the Taiwan Adventure Blog is 191. The Blog is a relatively new blog, so as it ages and more people pick up links to the blog this number will increase.

Local Color: Temples of Taoyuan 10/1/10
The link can be anything where the link  is used,.for example a photo or publishing credit or just a link to the blog.

Popular Posts:

I find this very interesting I have done a number of fairly popular posts. I usually use a special heading depending on what the post is about:

Cultural Unawareness – Where I make language or cultural mistakes
Eating my Way Through Taiwan – Different Taiwanese foods that I’ve tried
Random Asianess – Things that are done differently in Asia than in the west
Taiwan Travelogue – This is relatively new but relates to Traveling
Taiwanese History – This is self-explanatory
Taiwanese Traditions – A look at religious and cultural traditions peculiar to Taiwan
Traveling with M13 – Locations that You Tube Vlogger Mordeth 13 has shared with me.

By far the most popular post to date has been, “Taiwanese Traditions: The Dragon Boat Festival" – 6/21/2010.  621 views since July.

"Typhoon Conson: Here it Comes" – 7/13/2010.  158 views since it was published

"An American Presence: What I don’t Miss in Taiwan" – 10/1/2010.  57 views since it was published.

Taiwan Travelogue: Taipei 101 11/22/10

Other popular posts are:
Cultural Unawareness – 5/10/2010 Taiwanese Traditions: Ghost Month – 8/29/2010
Taiwanese Traditions: Selling and Brewing Tea – 12/06/2010
Overlooking Taoyuan City – 4/15/2010
Storm Chasers: Driving into the Belly of the Beast – 9/20/2010

I appreciate all of you who have read The Taiwan Adventure Blog for the last year and look forward to new and different material for the next year. I also want to thank Emily and Elizabeth Banducci for their contributions to the Blog in photos and video. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Look for some format changes in the next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taiwan Travelogue: Old Ceramics Street

There is a little city (probably 350,000 people) near Taoyuan City called Yingge (pronounced Ing Ge [Hard G sound]). The city is famous for ceramics. There are a lot of places where they teach you to throw pots and other things. Not throw…throw…on the wheel, not at someone.

But there is a particular part of the city that’s really very nice. It is somewhat of a touristy area. In fact, they have a parking area for tour buses just below this little section of the city. It’s called, "Ceramics Old Street."  It is filled with many little shops where you can purchase fine art quality ceramics at a reasonable price.  To get there from Taoyuan City, take Shiren 3rd Street to Tao Ming Road (110) and turn right...follow that to Ceramics Old Street.  Along the way the name changes from Tao Ming Road to Ying Tao road. 

It rains in Taiwan

The street is a type of cobblestone, with raised sidewalks. These are sidewalks you can actually walk on. Rick Creamers, who was the founding pastor of the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship Church in Zhongli, when speaking about the sidewalks said, “Look down and live.” I know exactly what he means, the sidewalks are all different heights, it is very easy to trip and fall. But not on Old Ceramics Street, the sidewalks are level and broad. 

Inside the stores are many beautiful items. There is one store that sells ceramic and wood sculptures. There is another store that specializes in fountains; the kind where the water spins a huge stone ball that is held up by water pressure. But the main item sold is ceramics: They have tea sets, tea tables, mugs, plates and just about anything else you might want in ceramic.

The atmosphere in Old ceramics Street is very nice. There are benches all along the sidewalk where one can sit and enjoy the parade of people walking by. If you know me you know that for obvious reasons I’m not much of a walker, but I like to find a bench and watch the tourists and locals walk by.

It’s funny when you see the tour groups following carefully after their guide you can tell the ones from Mainland China…All the men are wearing white socks. I don’t know what that’s all about but white socks are all the rage in Mainland China, I guess.

Finally, there is an excellent restaurant on Old Ceramics Street the name of it is: Something in Chinese that I can’t read. But they have an excellent Niu Rho Mian (Beef Noodles). The owner is a very friendly guy who takes time with each customer, helps you to order the perfect meal and serves you himself. The tea that he serves is Wheat tea. It is made from wheat, it has a nice flavor and beautiful honey color, but no Caffeine. His restaurant is on the main street just up a few blocks from tour parking area. If you need less vague instructions email me, the address is on the “Contact Us” page.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Taiwanese Traditions: Selling and Brewing Tea

(Click on Photos to Enlarge.)

I have lately become very interested in tea. Tea is grown in Taiwan and you often see tea growing on the side of the road. I have seen Tea fields in Taoyuan on Hu Tou Shan (Tigerhead Mountain), Daxi and Longtan.

Buying tea is an interesting experience. The seller prepares a variety of teas in different price ranges, growing and harvesting methods for you to sample. An evaluation cup is warmed with hot water. Then 5 grams of tea is placed in the cup and 100-Celsius water is poured on it. It is brewed for 6 minutes. Then the seller will take a ceramic spoon and heat it then dip it into the brewed tea so you can smell the aroma of the tea. Then will pour a small cup for you to try.
We recently took a friend to Union Tea in Bade to purchase some tea to take back to America. The seller set up some teas for us to sample. They ranged in price from $30.00 USD to $300.00USD for 600 grams (approximately one pound.) All of the teas were organically grown; some of the teas were harvested by hand and some by machine. The more expensive teas were harvested by hand. You can simply tell when you begin to brew the tea and the leaves unfold. If harvested by hand there is a cluster of three leaves together. Machine harvested tea will have only one leaf and may be cut or torn. As you see a field you can tell the harvest method by the look of the plant. The machine-harvested plants will be flat across the top.

Union Tea has a tea that has been judged as the “Best in the World” by tea masters. It won a competition against teas from sixty other countries. This tea sells for $3 Million NTD for 600 grams. That’s $90,000 USD. But you can buy it in packages of 200 grams, for about the price of a Toyota Prius. That’s a little more than I want to pay for tea.

There is a whole ritual and tradition that goes with drinking tea in Taiwan and so I have learned to brew and serve tea Taiwan style. I purchased a tea table that is made from a large stump of a tree. The table is hollowed out and has a drain in the bottom to drain water from the brewing process. There are a number of varieties of tea tables, some are modern functional stainless steel, while others are made from stones or wood like mine. The wooden and stone ones are much more traditional as they mix function with beauty, which is part of the Chinese mindset.

Brewing Pitcher
 Prior to brewing tea it is necessary to warm the ceramic pots by pouring hot waster into them. Then you put in a small amount of tea, the amount depends on the size of your brewing pot. Pour 100 degree Celsius water over the tea and then pour it out immediately into serving pitcher and then into the cups. This washes the tea leaves and warms the ceramics. Then brew a pot of tea for 20 seconds. Then pour into the serving pitched and then into the cups.

If you don’t have a serving pitcher pour the tea from the brewing pot into each cup. But fill only partway, then fill the cups the remainder of the way. This will keep the tea at a uniform strength. Then rebrew. You can rebrew up to seven times with a high quality tea. (Four times for a lower quality tea.)

Serving Pitcher


Tea Cups

Tea Field photos:  Union Tea Company

Monday, November 29, 2010

Taiwan Travelogue: The Taipei 101 (part 2)

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

My recent post about the 101 was lacking one thing that I think is amazing about the 101.  I didn't include this in the original post because it wasn't a part of the trip that we took last weekend.  But one thing the 101 is known for is that they shoot fireworks off of it every year, so I want to add a few photos from the New Years 2010 fireworks display.  It's a pretty amazing sight.

Photos captured from a video by Emily Banducci

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwan Travelogue:  The Taipei 101
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taiwan Travelogue: The Taipei 101

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

We recently had a visitor from the US and we wanted to show him around a little. Taiwan is an interesting place so we took him to a number of “must sees.” There was a trip to Hu Tou Shan (Tiger Head Mountain) above Taoyuan City. We took him to Ying Ge’s famous Ceramics Old Street and of course the most popular tourist destination in all of Taiwan, the Taipei 101.

I wasn’t sure that I could easily find the 101, but then again, it towers over the city so, really, it would be hard not to find.  In fact I drove to it quickly and easily. Exit, Freeway 1 East at Jian Guo N. Road, turn right and drive to Xin Yi Road and turn left, this route will take you directly to the 101 and all it’s glory.

The 101 is the second tallest building in the world. It was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the Dubai Towers, but as they like to say at the 101, it is now the tallest "inhabited’ building in the world.

The 101 is designed to resemble the Chinese pagoda type of architecture. It stands at 508 meters (1,667 feet) tall. There is an indoor observation deck located on the 89th floor and an outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor. Two express elevators carry passengers to the observation floor at 1010 meters/minute (55 feet/second). In order to stabilize the structure an 800 metric ton steel sphere is mounted at the 88th floor. The sphere acts as a counterweight and uses a dampening system to mitigate the building sway.

The tower is home to Taiwan Corporate Headquarters of many international companies and also houses a very high-end mall with many beautiful (and expensive) stores and restaurants. If you are an expat living in Taiwan and want to see other foreigners, this is the place.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taiwanese History: The Chiang Kai Shek Mausoleum

Chiang Kai Shek was the president of the Republic of China from 1949 until 1975. he died in 1975 and was buried in a Mausoleum outside of Daxi, in Taoyuan County. You can get to the mausoleum by traveling the #7 Cross-Island Highway.

The Republic of China Government was the ruling government in Mainland China from 1912 until 1949 when the Republic of China’s Aqrmy was defeated by the People’s Liberation Army under Mao Ze Dong. Chiang fled to Taiwan in 1949 and reestablished the Republic of China on the Island of Taiwan. He remained president of the Republic of China, in Taipei until his death in 1975.  (Please see the Taiwan Adventure Blog post for October 21, 2010, "Taiwanese History:  Double Tenth Day," for more information about the formation of the Republic of China government on Taiwan.)

His presidency was not without controversy.

The 28 February 1947 arrest of a woman selling cigarettes without a license was the spark which led to large-scale public protests against repression and corruption. For some ten days, Chiang still on the mainland and his governor Chen Yi kept up the pretense of negotiations with leaders of the protest movement, but at the same time they sent troops from the mainland.

As soon as the troops arrived, they started rounding up and executing people, in particular scholars, lawyers, doctors, students and local leaders of the protest movement. In total between 18,000 and 28,000 people were murdered. Thousands of others were arrested and imprisoned in the "White Terror" campaign, which took place in the following decade. Many of these remained imprisoned until the early 1980s.

(  Remembering 2-28)

The mausoleum was closed in December 2007, by the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) under then president, Chen Shui Bian. On May 20, 2008 it was opened to the public as the KMT (Kou Ming Tang, the party of Chiang Kai Shek) once more took power under President Ma Ying Jiu.

Statues of Chiang Kai Shek were brought in from all over Taiwan and set up on the mausoleum grounds.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Random Asianess: The Rest Stop

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

If you’ve ever driven down The Golden State Freeway, I-5 in California you’ve come across rest stops. They’re a place where you can stop your car, catch a little rest, use the rest room, empty your dog and walk around a little before you go on. Caltrans puts these places up every so often on the freeways in California. I suppose they are in other states as well.

But if you’ve ever used them you know that they’re pretty basic. There a restroom facility, usually pretty large and clean (well, functional at least). There’s a place to walk the dog and sometimes, if you’re lucky they might have vending machines. If you’re super lucky there might even be some entrepreneur with a catering truck, that is, if he can avoid Caltrans and the CHP. But that’s about it. Not much to write home about if you will.

This week my family drove National Highway 5 to Yilan. That is about a one and one half hour drive. The drive is remarkable because in the midst of it is a 12 km or 7.5 mile tunnel that crosses under the mountains that we drove through last week. [“Random Asianess: The Cross Island Highway,” November 1, 2010]. This isn’t as scary as driving over those mountains after dark, until you consider the millions of tons of dirt, rock and trees over you, or the air quality inside a tunnel.

The other remarkable thing about this freeway is the rest stops. Like Caltrans, the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau (TANFB) erects rest areas. The idea of course is to promote safe driving. But these rest areas are beautiful. As a man, prior to marriage I never really saw rest stops all that often. I’d drive until I needed gas and then use the rest room at the gas station. But since marriage and children I often get to view rest stops, this trip was no exception.

We stopped in a Service area. This is a little different than a rest area because you can get mechanical services in addition to the regular amenities. In the rest area, in addition to the restroom facilities you are able to find a store, a food court, ATMs, A monument, a freeway information person, and a TANFB office.

The information booth person will tell you the quickest way to get where you’re going from where you are. He’ll tell you which freeway you’re on and what obstacles are ahead, the points of interest along the way, as well as a lot of other useful information.

The restrooms are clean and well lighted as is the rest of the rest stop. The restaurants have a choice of foods available from small restaurants. We decided to have lunch there. My daughters ate Chicken Fingers, Onion rings, French Fries and soda. My wife had a type of chicken, in a broth and I had Fried Fish, Kelp, Togan, (A type of smoky flavored Tofu), Seaweed Soup and Rice. It was a lot better than a soggy vending machine sandwich without condiments and tepid water, which is what I had last time I ate in a California rest area.

The Restaurant Entrance
The freeways are well maintained and safe. The speed limit most of the time is 100 kph or about 65 mph. (62.5 mph for you purists who always write and correct me.) The freeways are all toll roads and cost $40.00 NTD ($1.25 USD) to travel 30km. From Yilan we paid $120 NTD. ($3.75 USD).

You know, it occurs to me that I really ought to be charging "Taiwan:  Touch Your Heart" the tourism bureau for all of this free publicity.  But I guess before they'd be interested I'd have to prove that I'm not the only one reading it.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwan Travelogue:  The Cross Island Highway
Random Asianess:  Driving in Taiwan

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Taiwan Travelogue: The Cross-Island Highway

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that the meaning of certain words is different in Taiwanese English than it is in English-English. Huh? What does that mean? Take the word Highway, for instance.

Today we drove the #7 Cross-Island Highway. It starts out as a beautiful highway. It’s wide with double yellow lines down the middle and moves along easily at 60 kilometers and hour. In essence, it lives up to the name highway.

One minute we’re zipping along in beautiful mountain scenery. We passed a huge field of orange poppies: Then the immaculately manicured Chiang Kai Shek mausoleum. Then something happened to the road.

The highway was like a road with dual personalities…and suddenly the evil personality showed up. The complexion of the road changed. It narrowed a little, then a little more. Then it began to snake through the forest and up the side of the mountain; twisting and turning; even the switchbacks had switchbacks, until the Cross-Island Highway looked more like the Cross Island Goat track: And then I’m sure I saw a goat refusing to get on the road.

At times it felt like I was driving the car in the cartoons!  You know the one; the tires on one side of the car stay on the road and the others hang out over a yawning abyss. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating here, but not a lot. Then the road got really narrow and the sun began to set. Then it got darker and darker. The conversation turned darker as well. It was like driving through a horror movie. It got so dark that we couldn’t see to the trees on the side of the road. And then it got really dark. I thought it would never end.

He tried to get Emily
We had decided to drive over to Yilan. People had been telling me what a wonderful place it was, so we thought we’d make it a day and drive the 7.  Because I hadn’t been there before, I was watching the mileage signs; just before dark we saw a sign that said 28 kilometers to Yilan. So we continued to drive in the same direction for at least 10 more kilometers when we saw the next sign: Yilan 32 kilometers…wait…we were traveling in the right direction how did it get farther away. Then I’m sure I saw him…In fact, I’m positive I saw Rod Serling hitchhiking with a sign that said “The Twilight Zone.” Then it got really, really dark; it got so dark that the boogieman had a night-light.

Eventually about an eon later we came out of the mountains and into a good-sized city. We stopped for gas and a man gave us a road map so that we could find an alternate route home.

All in all it was fun and beautiful trip through the mountains.  We were all glad we made the trip, but next week we're going back to Yilan and then to the beach but we're going on the freeway.  It may not be as scenic, but it's a lot faster and a freeway here is what I call a freeway.

The following are some pictures that we took before the road went all Twilight Zone/Zombie Apocalypse on us.