Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Travelling across Taiwan – from Yuli to Puli

Risk of the Day
Being driven around the crowded highways and back streets of Kaoshung by a man who is continually cracking business deals by text, emails and mobile phone.
Classification:     NTD (Nutty Taiwanese Drivers)
Control:                little (2/5) How can you argue with somebody in the middle of a big deal?
Likelihood:          2
Impact:                 3
Score:                   6

Taiwan looks like a simple teardrop-shaped island on the map, about as long from one end to the other as it is from London to Newcastle, and from side to side about as far as Manchester to Birmingham. But in fact is a bit more like a doughnut – where you can’t get across the hole, because that’s where the impassable central mountains are (impassable, that is, except for some very slow and treacherous mountain passes). So, with Yuli half way down the rural and thin eastern coastal strip, and Puli right in the middle of the island, west of the central mountains, the distance from Yuli to Puli is just under 50 miles as the crow flies. But, because of the doughnut effect, we took all day travelling about 280 miles between them to do it – in an enormous loop around the south of the island.

And, to make matters more interesting still, we used almost every conceivable mode of transport we could – except a helicopter, which would have got us there in half an hour and not been half as interesting. So we walked out for our usual breakfast, got a taxi to the local station and then the ordinary train – four hours from Yuli to Kaoshung (the country’s second city). Then the deal-cracking friend drove us around Kaoshung, including lunch on the harbourside with a Ferrari and Lotus parked outside – now I’m not a car buff, but I know that they are seriously rich men’s (almost certainly) toys. Inequality is more important than GDP as Wilkinson and Pickett have taught us, and as Lue was explaining in its Taiwanese context to me last night. Anyway, so it must have been a good quality restaurant – and indeed we were not to be disappointed once inside: fish, fish, and fish and then a bit more fish. Then unknown fish organs (which looked a  bit like kidney flesh). With a little bit of rice noodle and vegetable on the side. And we saw them all wriggling and crawling when we arrived and chose them  – so as fresh as could be (except the organ bits didn’t wobble or quiver – obviously).

Then we took a ferry boat across the harbour to visit the old British consulate, and had tea – colonial style - with a commanding view over the ocean and harbour entrance. Two friendly nations, both with an obsession about tea – but, despite the elegant Staffordshire bone china,  I’m afraid the English Tea was like nothing I have ever or ever will drink in the UK. Very pleasant, just a quite different drink. But then I very much doubt that London Taiwanese tea – like Oolong - can be made to taste anything like it does over here.
Tea at the old British Consulate in Kaohshung
As dusk approached and the dealing activity increased, the friend drove us through the rush hour to the terminus of the High Speed Rail line. More like an airport than a train terminus, we booked onto the 1830: I had a quick phonecall to a Singapore colleague-to-be while waiting, as it’s much easier to phone without an eight hour time shift. And I got a very easy deal of my turn to buy dinner – Lue thought it would be best if we buy two made-up plates of food to eat on the train. Extremely inexpensive, may I say – and I couldn’t even buy drinks, because they come free on the train.

The train was extraordinarily fast, smooth, quiet and comfortable – and wide. The indicator at the end of the carriage read that we were doing 292kph, about 185mph. Exactly 42 minutes to zip up from the far south to the middle of the west coast – hardly time to get to the noodles and nuts at the bottom of the dinner plate. So four hours to go half way down the east coast, and less than three quarters of an hour to go half way up the west coast – which means it must be a pretty wonky shaped doughnut to flog the analogy to death…

Then the bus to Huli – a bustling brightly lit city of about 100,000 with what seems like an endless succession of roundabouts: the Milton Keynes of the Far East? Finally to Lue’s home village, a few minute taxi drive into the mountains from Huli. Journey’s end, for today at least.

New Thing of the day:
Travelling on a train which feels more like a (super luxury) plane, and barely having time to finish a plate of food in 120 miles.

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