May 12, Taipei

Phil, Alicia, Avery, and I all arrived at the Taipei airport around 6 in the morning. The Malaysian Air flight went well for leaving at 1 in the morning, California time. Avery was delightful, assisted by the hour delivery of presents from Alicia. Phil and I were both entertained and disappointed by the non-Nintendo game system in each seat. Phil managed to soothe himself with a viewing of Torque.

We knew we were in foreign lands upon arrival; lack of communication nearly put us in the waiting room for Kuala Lumpur. Customs gave us no hassle as we made our way to Mom, Dad, and Paula. The conversion rate was 31 Taiwan dollars to 1 American dollar, like winning the lotto. NT dollars in hand, we boarded the bus to the hotel in Taipei. The bus ride offered a spectator view of the street level scooter madness inside of the big city.

Our hotel was located near the train station on the fourth floor of a shabby looking building. In Chinese, the word "four" sounds like the word "death". This was to be our first of several rooms found on the "death floor." Paula struggled us through our first ordering of breakfast type foods at the local Dante's Coffee. We would return that same day later for lunch.

Paula had a full schedule for us, and we were back at the train station. This time we went underground to discover an entire civilization under the streets. Coffee spots, malls, and of course, 7-11 stores were found throughout the city in subterranean subway stations. Our train was waiting for us about five levels down.

First stop was the presidential Memorial of Chiang Kai-shek. This would be equivalent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. It was located on a giant park containing an ornate concert hall and theater building. At the memorial gift shop Paula discovered her Hello Kitty wedding cake topper, completing her year long search. We climbed the stairs to the top to avoid the elevator lines. Every hour there is a changing of the guard, and we arrived just in time. It is a serious looking event, but made light by the faint sounds of a student band in the park. The guard changing was serenaded by hit themes, such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars. On our way back to the subway we stopped in the park to feed the giant coi fish. Unfortunately they were well fed and played coy from us.

We made a quick stop at one of the local temples. This one was large compared to most which were only a room or two scattered around the city. This one was a city block of buildings and outdoor passageways. Many Taiwanese follow a mix of Buddhism with Ancestor worship. Two religions that don't appear to mix have been combined. There was a sort of worship session in progress, which made it awkward to get around. The temple is largely open to the public, but we had to avoid sampling the tables with tons of food and fruit out. The incense was thick, and billowed out of large pots. Everyone had several sticks in their hand.

We had to hike a ways to make it to Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. It consists of a six level mall and a giant tower. We took a ride to the observation floor, on level 89. The elevator is the fastest in the world, and we made the climb in 27 seconds. The skies were hazy, but still offered an impressive view. We all made sure to enjoy the ice cream shop at the top. For a few dollars more, Phil and I climbed up to the open air observation. At level 91 we unveiled the deceit of Taipei 101. The top 10 floors were a small set of rooms stacked to the top of the building, unusable. We finished the evening with shopping and dining in the lower levels. The high priced stores didn't offer anything in the way of purchases. We did get adventurous in the large food court in the basement.