Thursday, May 27, 2010


I'll start off with a confession for all of you guys who wonder if I will ever settle down or want to. I was really sad to leave the Philippines. Really sad to leave all the friends behind and say goodbye not knowing when I'd be going back to see them again (I will definitely return though). The confession is that by the 2nd day of being in Taiwan I forgot I was supposed to be sad and was busy making new travel plans to return to Taiwan too! I do like where I am most of the time and get quite comfortable, but I just can't get enough of the new stuff still. This was a good thing for me to discover, I was getting a little worried after taking such a long break without hitting the road in a real way that I might not enjoy it as much.
I know I shouldn't compare one country to another but even though I'd stopped missing the Philippines, I couldn't help but suffer from the beginnings of first-world culture-shock and compare the two. The first impression and still the strongest difference for me was the food. I never found a food in Taiwan that I didn't like. Even the stinky-tofu dish that everyone had warned me off of is actually really good. It does smell like something decaying but if you can get close enough to actually put it in your mouth...yum. I was seriously hurting for some real food after all that Korean and Filipino stuff and the flavours and food on offer at the night markets and little restaurants blew me away. Yes this is an Ammon post and not one from Savannah.
The great news is that I was hosted in Taipei, but actually in a place called Xindian to the south of Taipei at the very end of the metro line. My hosts are an awesome couple, the guy is an American whose been here for 20 years as a translator. They were very helpful in getting me adjusted and finding all the good food.
So what's Taiwan like? Hmmm... well, I'm reminded of China with all the Chinese signs lighting up the streets at night. But it's much cleaner and nobody is spitting. It is very mountainous and very green. A few times I've actually thought the word "Ireland" out here but that is crazy because they are totally different but somehow I guess something is reminding me of it, probably because it's green and an island and has old stone houses on the coast. I also had to keep reminding myself that I was not in Korea as well. I'd moved into Northeast Asia (the China, Korea, Japan trifecta) so the people here have a more similar look and fashion style to the Koreans.
My first full day it rained non-stop all day. I honestly can't remember the last time I had a full day of rain (and this is a very good thing). The temperature was still hot in the high 20s but a few degrees cooler than I'd been used to recently. My biggest annoyance so far with being in the first world again was waiting for a bus at a bus stop. Once you figure out the crazy jeepney system it's nice to be able to flag them down anywhere and have them pass by all the time. In Taiwan most of the vehicles are private cars. Other sudden little changes included people wearing shoes instead of flip-flops, free public washrooms, scooters with helmets instead of motorbikes without and an orderly and uncrowded metro.
I don't know how much English is really spoken at the street level, certainly a lot less than in the Philippines, but Taipei is actually really easy to navigate with many signs and maps posted in English to point the way to go. In the city itself I visited the Royal Palace Museum, their big one here, the Taipei 101, still one of the tallest buildings in the world, and the memorials to Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek, the founders and most influencial people of modern Taiwan. I was a little surprised to get the feeling that Taiwan is actually a pretty young country and although there have been tribal people here for a long long time, it always seems to come down to the last 60 years. I did visit a temple 200 years old, but 200 years is nothing in a region so rich in history.
I was also able to visit a few spots a short distance from the city, including a tea town in the mountains, a gold-mining village converted to a museum complex, and part of the north east coastal area. It's mostly a rocky shoreline. Pretty though and I'd still like to come back again someday.
After only 6 days in Taiwan I flew back to Manila where I had a day and a half to spend with Nikki and say goodbye one last time. I'm off to Japan tonight to start yet another short adventure.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Manta Bowl

Last weekend I finally got to go diving again. Ida and I went to Donsol, the small village that mom, dad and I went to with Flager back in Jan '09 to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. It was a little strange to be back again as not much has really changed. The first thing I noticed was all the backpackers though. Sorsogon city itself has no westerners and I have enjoyed standing out in Iloilo as well. Donsol meant back to the hassle of taxi drivers and getting overcharged for stuff. Something I didn't miss....
Anyway, Donsol is the jump off point to a dive experience called Manta Bowl, which is a dive specifically to see Manta rays. We saw dolphins on the nearly 2 hour ride to the dive site, but it was totally worth it as we saw multiple mantas up close as well as some white tip reef sharks. I was surprised at how big the mantas were and how not worried I was to dive with sharks nearby. Very beautiful, I enjoyed being in the water again.
As for Sorsogon itself, not much is going on. I am mostly just hanging out and relaxing all day. Sorsogon is a tiny provincial capital. So small it doesn't even have an airport and all the traffic seems to be tricycles. I'm staying in Ida's tiny home with her roommate JD about 3km from the centre. It's funny because you only have to go a couple km from a city centre to end up living in a subdivision neighbourhood with cows and water buffalo wandering around...
In other surprising but not too surprising news, apparently as soon as I left the school in Iloilo it went bankrupt and shut down. We all saw it coming but were not expecting it quite that fast. Looks like I left at the perfect time.
I am finally leaving here this weekend. Taiwan next...