Thanks to a newly established budget airline in Japan called “Peach”, Asia has become a lot more accessible within an affordable budget. I took a brief trip to Taipei, Taiwan. This trip could have changed the way I live my life indeed. All the people mentioned in the article below have been changed to characters from Disney’s popular movie FROZEN to keep identities anonymous.
Couchsurfing is an excellent way for people to meet each other and bag a free night in (usually) comfortable accommodation. This is how things could have ended up being very different for me. I sent a request to Anna who lived very close to Taipei, but in a different town called Keelung (pronounced Chee-lung). She sent me her address and I ventured off to find her palace.
I arrived in Taipei without any glitches. I looked up transport options out of the airport into the city centre and found arrows pointing to a high speed rail network that could get you in quickly at a premium price. However, being the stingy individual that I am, I opted in for a local train option where the station was a short bus ride away. Splendid I thought, but this bit me back hard when I arrived as apparently this was not an option for me to get into the city centre. Eventually, I coughed up the money to get the express train to Taipei Main Station. Finally, I found a local train to Keelung and took it. I must say, after experiencing the trains in Taiwan, I would highly recommend everyone to avoid them at all costs. They’re a little costly and extremely slow. Later, I found that taking the highway bus is infinitely cheaper and significantly faster. I arrived at Keelung station and was greeted with a Hollywood sign in the mountains – only it read “Keelung”. Perhaps this area is huge on acting talent in Taiwan, or they just liked the way it looked in LA so they adopted the same sign for their own town. I never asked and I guess I’ll never know unless I google it after writing this.
Chain Me Up and Baptise Me
I took a taxi to the location which is very unlike me even when I am hopelessly lost in a country I have never been to before because I love the feeling of being lost and anonymous. However, this time called for a taxi because I was on a tight schedule and I was hopelessly lost. I showed a taxi driver the address I wrote on a piece of paper in Chinese and bargained a price to get there. He argued with me that it’s metered and I argued back that he can give me an approximate price. Eventually we got to an answer and I agreed to enter his pride and joy. But of course he got “lost” in a ruse to get a few more measurements added on to his glorified calculator. Eventually I found the palace where Anna resides and I tried to work out where her room was. I took the lift up to the floor and knocked on a door assuming it was her place. But to my surprise a different girl answered the door. Could this have been a Tinder match gone horribly wrong? Perhaps she used MySpace angles for her photo but I was pretty sure that this person was completely different. “Anna?” I asked.
“Anna is inside. I’m Queen of Arendelle. Nice to meet you. Come inside.” Well, the exchange was slightly less formal with smiles and hugs but to keep with the character, I wrote it as such. Anna came out into the living room and finally I saw a face I recognised. Phew, she didn’t use MySpace angles. She introduced a guy that followed as her boyfriend “Kristoff”. We greeted each other and discussed plans for my trip. They all seemed to be a little busy with University projects and church but the Queen was more than willing to show me around her kingdom for the day. Kristoff then suggested I visit their Mormon church the following day as they will have a service. He strongly suggested I accept or he will take extreme measures to chain me down, bag me up and baptise me in the eyes of Jesus, God, and Joseph Smith. Anna slapped him and asked for forgiveness for his joke, and we all laughed it off. I politely declined his invitation to the church so he said I could borrow his missionary bicycle to look around Taipei the next day and we could all meet for lunch. In the meantime, I could visit Jiufen market with the Queen. The plan sounded excellent.
The Road to Heaven
The Queen of Arendelle threw me a pink helmet and said I’ll need it. I questioned her suggestion of needing a helmet to visit a market, whilst quietly pondering what kind of market this is, and also her choice of colour for me. She explained that we will be taking her moped up the mountain to the market. Sounds good, I thought. So long as she kept to the speed limit, I hoped. I had hoped…
We bolted through traffic at an incredible speed, dodging cars, buses, giant trucks, and various potholes and dead animals before we reached the base of the mountain. I shouted for her to slow down but she laughed at me and told me to hold on tight. Crap. We eventually stopped to refuel and hit the mountain. Looking back on this moment, I realise I should have been most worried at this point swerving and dodging traffic on narrow mountain roads, but the views were incredibly spectacular for me to give any amount of attention to my personal safety. As the Queen magnificently manoeuvred us through the traffic, I looked on the stunning landscape of gorgeous green trees and mist floating so gently above them. Incredibly run down buildings nestled themselves into the mountains, adding to that touch. I was in awe and eventually we arrived at the market. Her Royal Highness guided me through the market, encouraging me to try all different parts of different animals in an array of different sauces before committing the sin of being too gluttonous. The food there was quite exceptional, bringing light to taste buds I didn’t even know I had. Eventually, sunset hit and we shot back down the mountain.
The following day was Sunday. Church day. The Queen and Anna took me on my first ever trip to an LDS temple. Kristoff was already there with his bike. They told me to return around lunch so that we can all eat together. Excellent. I grabbed his missionary bike and headed to Daan Forest Park nearby. This large park in the heart of Taipei was great, with large fields to play in and plenty of benches under trees to rest. I decided to chill here for a bit before cycling around tourist hot-spots such as the 101 Tower and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Lunch hit, and I cycled back to the LDS temple. I sat outside and looked at the great building before me, and the water fountains that made the gardens peaceful. Through the window, Kristoff beckoned me in and introduced me to some of his friends. I walked through a hallway filled with paintings of Joseph Smith and eventually met him. He introduced me to a range of people, and finally to Elsa. She looked at me funny, like who’s this non-Mormon, but said hello anyway. After all of the pleasantries ended, we headed over as a group to a pancake shop followed by ice cream – excellent lunch food indeed. We talked about all sorts, and about England and Japan (where I live). Elsa made a comment that I look like Harry Styles from 1D (hip enough to use the abbreviated form of the band’s name!) and everyone laughed but agreed profusely. Elsa told me that she doesn’t live in the palace with the rest of the royal family, but in an ice castle far on the other side of Taipei. She continued to explain that Danshui is considered the most romantic place in the whole of Taipei. I couldn’t resist but to say yes and join her, much to the sniggers of the other friends. Anna also encouraged this short trip as she was busy again, but that we should meet for a late dinner. Excellent plan.
Starry Night, Dimly Lit Lamposts, and a Very Long Pier
We arrived and it was already dark. We couldn’t stop talking and laughing which made for an excellent evening. We walked over the bridge filled with couples overlooking the waterfront and we slowly walked down the pier. The night got cooler and the dimly lit lampposts got dimmer. It was bizarre. I had only met Elsa a number of hours before, and yet it felt that we had known each other for a very long time. By this time, we had exchanged a lot of stories about each other and knew each other somewhat well, as if we were long-term acquaintances. Things were complicated though, without one converting to Mormonism or the other denouncing her faith. We enjoyed the time we had left together and exchanged contact details. What may have appeared as a clichéd holiday fling actually turned into a novel-worthy holiday romance. If only things had panned out differently after that, and given the chance I’d like to think I would have treated things a little differently after. Regardless, I suppose she was right – it truly was the most romantic place in the whole of Taipei.
To be honest, before I met these great people in Taipei, I, like many others, were a little sceptical about the Mormon faith and the people who practiced it. For people who were not born into the faith, the historical aspects that support the faith does seem a little peculiar with lack of evidence to support its claims. The constant changes in the way of life, from stopping polygamous marriages to opening the church to all races make the faith a little unstable from the outside. But is it all peculiar because we weren’t taught about this faith throughout our lives? Take a look at the more common faiths in the world and you’ll find a lot of instability and bizarre stories from creating the world in 7 days and creating a woman from a man’s rib to a boy bearing an elephant’s head. Yet we accept these as faiths that people practice and that it should be regarded as normal. When faced with something we haven’t heard too often, a lot of us are too quick to judge. These people I met have been some of the most accepting and hospitable people I have ever met in my life. Though I may not practice the faith myself as it’s not for me, I don’t particularly want to judge others for doing so, and this trip allowed me to become open even more so to anyone with any belief or background.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints – Here is some more information about the Mormon faith.
Taipei Travel – Taiepi Tourism Board website