It’s all about the moments…

I have a little confession to make… I’m not really getting the high pitched buzz out of Taipei that I thought I would.  I keep walking around and comparing everything here to everywhere else I have traveled and feeling generally very underwhelmed.  It’s kind of odd because when the students complain to me that Sydney isn’t good because, for example, you can’t just stay in your room and buy and pay for everything through WeChat… you actually have to leave your room, or that curries here aren’t good because they’re not spicy enough.  I’m always telling them, “It’s not bad, it’s just different and that’s OK”.   Travel is about experiencing life and seeing how people live in other parts of the world.  I really need to remind myself of this.  I’ve been feeling just a tad let down. *hashtag first world problem* … Taipei is not an obvious city like Tokyo or Bangkok, but that’s OK!  The magic lies in the moments.  And the great thing is that you can get on a train or bus for 30 minutes and be in the country side soaking in a hot spring.

So far, I’ve made two trips to the Beitou Hot Springs.  Beitou is the closest and most convenient to Taipei City.  It’s only about 20 or 30 minutes on the MRT red line.  It was also the first hot spring area to be developed in Taiwan. The first hot spring spa there was actually opened by a German, but it was the Japanese that really developed the area and the whole “onsen” culture.  They needed somewhere to relax and unwind after a hard day of raping and pillaging the land.  You can certainly feel the Japanese influence in the area.

On the first trip to Beitou, I went to Kawayu onsen.  It’s located a bit further up the mountain so I took the MRT to Xin Beitou and then cabbed it from the station.  It calls itself by the Japanese pronunciation of the characters for “River Spring”  (Kawa + Yu) but of course all the cab drivers only know it by the Chinese pronunciation.  Fortunately the kanji for “river” is pretty easy and I could half remember the kanji for “spring”, so I drew them in the air with my finger.  The cab driver eventually worked out my air kanji and whisked me off to Kawayu.

It was raining that day, as it has been pretty much every other day, so it was difficult to take many pictures and you can’t take any pictures inside anyway…  The few snaps that I have don’t really do it justice.

The onsen was great and felt very Japanese, although it was a little more “rustic” than you would find in Japan.  There were no cabs to take me back so I bussed it to Shipai MRT station.

For the second trip to Beitou, I couldn’t be f***ed drawing air kanji and dealing with cab drivers again so I just went to Beitou Hot Spring Resort, two minutes’ walk from the station.  The resort itself was of a much higher standard, but of course you didn’t get the mountain view.

The other bonus of going to this resort was that “Thermal Valley”, a river of steaming spring water, was just up the road.

Yesterday, I went to visit Shen Keng “Old Street” which is a rural township in southern New Taipei City and is famous for its tofu dishes because apparently the best tofu is made here and the restaurants here use a distinctive cooking method.  There’s A LOT of tofu!  Pretty much everything is tofu… All different kinds like regular tofu, stinky tofu, dessert tofu, fried stinky tofu, BBQ stinky tofu, tofu cheese, tofu cake, sweet tofu drink, dried tofu, and tofu ice cream. As well as the tofu, they have a lot of sweet snacks and candies. I wasn’t too hungry so I only tried the tofu in spicy soup and deep fried stinky tofu.  Apparently people like stinky tofu.  Personally, I don’t get it.  It smells like rotting garbage… It’s like “Let’s take a perfectly good food and make it smell and taste bad just for the hell of it.”  I had to soak the deep fried stinky stuff in the spicy soup in order to mask the smell and taste.  And when you walk past a stinky tofu restaurant, it’s like walking through an open sewer.

I had a “temple” day.  I walked around the city and checked out a few of the Buddhist temples:  Longshan, Dalongdong Baoan, Confucius and Tian Hou.  As is the case with cathedrals in Europe, unless you are a worshiper of that religion or have a particular interest in the history of the structure, they all tend to blur into one after a while, especially Buddhist temples which are mostly built on a standard design.  The beauty of these temples lies in the small details: the colours, the flowers, the incense, and the intricacies of the design.  The structures themselves are all relatively modern as the original structures were destroyed one way or another.

I discovered this too on my temple walk: Toffee cherry tomatoes on a stick which were surprisingly good!

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I witnessed this mother/child bonding moment on the MRT the other day:

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Recently at work, there has been a lot of discussion about the issue of smartphone usage, in particular internet and smartphone addiction.  While this may have been an isolated incident and probably not the norm, it does make you wonder about the future generation.

And on that note..

I’m off to have dinner in Taipei’s Modern Toilet restaurant.   It’s completely toilet themed… Right up my alley… You can get such delights as “Modern toilet turd sub sandwich”, “Poop stuffed pancakes” and “Urine beer”.  Yummy, yummy… can’t wait!

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Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs

Today, I went to visit Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and several generations of his family are thought to have lived and are now buried.  Hebron is a divided city, under both Palestinian and Israeli control.  It’s divided into areas H1 and H2.  Area H1 is entirely Palestinian, contains 80 % of the population and is under Palestinian control.  Area H2 is contains the Jews and the remainder of the Arabs and is under full Israeli control.  The border between the two sectors runs right down the middle of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It’s a weird situation and unique in the West Bank in that the Jewish settlers have settled right smack dab in the centre of the old town, quite literally on top of the Palestinians.  In other parts of the West Bank, they build settlements next to and around the Palestinian towns but not actually in them.  The people moving to other settlements in the West Bank are motivated mainly by economics.  It’s cheap.  You can get a big comfortable house for a fraction of the cost of Jerusalem and it’s an easy commute.  The Jewish settlers in Hebron on the other hand, are a different breed. They are hardcore Zionists.  As a result there is a lot of tension between them and the Palestinians. The settlers are under protection of the Israeli Defence Forces with apparently four soldiers to every settler.

To get to Hebron, you have the choice of taking an Arab bus or an Israeli bus.  I opted for the Israeli bus simply because it’s easier.  There’s free Wi-Fi at the bus station, the bus is direct, you don’t need to deal with checkpoints; you get waved through… And… the bus is bullet proof!  When I got to the bus station though, the bullet proof bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so I thought I could save time by taking a different bus which stopped at Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement just on the edge of Hebron and then taking another bus from there.  I don’t know what I was thinking… It was like getting off the train at somewhere like Woy Woy and expecting it to be a major transport hub.  Imagine the smallest, quietest ‘burb you can think of, divide it by ten and populate it with grumpy Jewish people… Well, then you’ve got Kiryat Arba! The only busses passing through there were the same bullet proof ones coming from Jerusalem, so I still had to wait the hour.

While I was waiting I approached a man on the street to enquire exactly where I should wait for the bullet proof bus. It turns out he is a Jew from the north-east of India, somewhere close to the border of Bangladesh.  I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing: North-east Indian Jews.  You learn something new every day! … Anyway, I think he took pity on me and offered to drive me to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  We get in his car and drive off.  We start he chatting… He tells me he is from north-east India and I tell him I’m from Australia.  He starts laughing and says, “My gun is from Australia” and points to the gun on the dash.  “That’s nice” I replied, smiling on the outside but quietly freaking out on the inside.  “Ha ha, no, not really” he says… “I work in security for the Parliament” … “Oh, you jokester, you!”  And then, we arrived at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  I thanked him, shook his hand and off I went to explore Hebron.

Arrival at the tomb on the Jewish side…

It was Muslim prayer time when I arrived, so the tomb was closed to tourists for about thirty minutes.  While I was waiting, I went through the checkpoint to explore the old city of Hebron.  For me, as an obvious non-Jew and non-Muslim, it wasn’t an issue passing in either direction through the checkpoint.  You could see the Palestinian guys get a really hard time when they pass back.  The Palestinian guy in front of me had to take off his shirt, shoes, belt, roll up his pants and even then they made him walk through the metal detector multiple times.  When I walked through and the alarm sounded, they just asked me, “Do you have a knife or a gun?” Of course I replied “No”  They took my word for it, waved me through and wished me a nice time in Hebron.

The old city of Hebron is very attractive and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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As you walk through the old city and you look up, you notice that the alley ways are caged in with wire and bars covered in rubbish.  Above the bars and wires live the settlers who through the rubbish and stones onto the Palestinians below.

Beyond the old town is the modern town.  It’s quite a bustling city.  It seems that the dodgier the city, the cheaper the felafel.  In Tel Aviv it’s 20 shekels, Jerusalem it’s 15, Bethlehem 5 and in Hebron it’s only 3!

Then it was time to enter the tomb from the Muslim side…

They wanted me to go in drag, as a sign of respect.  Standing in front of Rebecca’s tomb…

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Inside …

Time to go home, so it’s back on the bullet-proof bus bound for Jerusalem.

“I’m bullet proof, nothing to loose… Fire away, Fire away.  Ricochet, you take your aim… Fire away, fire away.  You shoot me down, but I won’t fall… I am titanium.”

Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem

I rented a room through Airbnb at Number 11 Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem.  This video gives you a little tour of the house.  For the last 20 years of his life, this was the home of Ben Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language.

Here are some photos of the house from the outside:

And a few shots of the Ethiopian Church at Number 10, Ethiopia Street: