Feeling at home in Taipei By Beth...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

January 13, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Feeling at home in Taipei

By Beth Snowberger

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last summer my parents came from our hometown of Westminster to visit me in my current home of Taipei, Taiwan. I came to Taipei to spend a year studying martial arts. That was three years ago.

I found myself addicted to the sensation of learning new things every day without even trying. After a year of job-hopping, I landed a fun position teaching English at a Taipei university.

My parents spent several days exploring the city, taking in the sights and smells of the dry-goods market, the sounds of chanting and firecrackers from the Taoist temple near my apartment, and the tastes of stir-fried clams with garlic and hot pepper.

They also got a taste of Taipei drivers. In a taxi going home from the National Palace Museum, their driver discovered he'd made a wrong turn. Without a glance, he made a quick U-turn directly into oncoming traffic. Nobody collided, honked or even raised an eyebrow.

Although my folks are accustomed to Maryland summers, they were exhausted by the oppressive humidity. Even on an 80-degree day, one drips just walking down the street (unless one is a native Taiwanese, in which case one looks cool as a cucumber at all times).

After spending a few days in the city, we got out into the countryside. Before heading to the hot springs in the southeast, we spent a few days in Taroko National Park, midway down the east coast. My parents have backpacked in some of the most beautiful parks in North America, and still the Taroko Gorge, much of which is carved through marble, took their breath away.

Above the chasm, the mountain peaks are covered with lush vegetation, and are home to wildlife, waterfalls, temples and aboriginal villages. The bit of rain we encountered kept most other tourists off the winding trails and wreathed the mountaintops in thick, eerie mist. It seemed as if we had walked right into a classical Chinese painting.

We were pleased that the hotel at the top of the gorge, the Grand Formosa, can arrange tours or drop-offs and pickups at trailheads.

The hotel restaurant served Western and Eastern food, so we could be adventurous depending on our mood. I nearly coaxed my father into eating snake eggs one morning. While these cured eggs taste good, their appearance is a little jolting: the egg whites look like semi-translucent black jelly.

Hiking and relaxing along Taiwan's east coast turned out to be the perfect counterpoint to our urban touring. My parents enjoyed seeing Taipei but got the most pleasure from the fresh air and astonishing scenery of Taroko.

Beth Snowberger lives in Taiwan.

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