Day 1-ish – Melbourne to Hualien City, Taiwan

I arrived at Tullamarine Airport just after 2pm on the 3rd October with only six hours to spare -before l I could check my luggage in – then the countdown would be on. Fortunately, my boss had asked me to comment on a report that had recently been published. The first hour or so, I settled myself into a lovely Irish pub, ordered a glass of wine and some bread and dips and sat down to read the Parents Next Evaluation Report -as you do when on annual leave and traveling overseas!

The report however left me feeling guttered, angry and sickened. Our governments here in Australia spout out aspirational goals for social welfare and social services to become more evidence-based yet continue to publish evaluation reports disguised as supported by evidence + research but that under minimal scrutiny show themselves to be poorly produced. Evidence used is often based on data that is more than five years old, has rarely undergone a peer review process and rarely uses more than one source of evidence to validate ideas or reasoning. The people producing these reports – and yes I am also including the cashless debit card reports I have read in this – appear to be producing results that they think the government want to hear while at the same time using ‘evidence’ that undermines the integrity and quality of the findings. As my boss so beautifully and efficiently wrote back to me – so technically its a ‘crock’!

As I packed everything up I realised that I still had my work things with me. So it was off to the car via the bus – at least that would fill in another 30 mins! The things that give you joy when you have time on your hands!

Finally I was able to check in and after being selected to be scanned for bomb residue and passing with flying colors – phew! – I now only had three hours before we flew out. Of course, I headed straight for Brunetti’s! There I drank a glass of wine, ate cake and enjoyed a coffee while reading ‘The Jane Austin Book Club’.

The flight was good. There was a spare seat between myself and the next passenger and would you believe it – he was from Coorop! Sometimes it really is a very small world. He was off to Bangkok to visit his brother and attend some kind of motor racing. The food was good, as were the movies and I did dose for a bit. Just before I left the flight a flight attendent suggested, when she found out i was heading on to Taiwan, that I stay in Bangkok for a few days until the typhoon passed. She was rather insistent that I stay safe. Well as those who know me can imagine that information brought anxiety into the mix but with no Internet and only an hour to transfer, I did not have much time to make up my mind.

Arriving in Bangkok, the first thing I had to do was try to find out where my gate was and to get there. Showing one of the attendents my boarding pass he put me in a fast lane for check in and then I raced to the gate – only to find I had to wait a further 50mins. As per usual I couldn’t access the free wifi so I couldn’t check the weather and when I did try to ask no one was able to help. I decided to keep going. I reasoned that I was only talking to Gene the evening before and she said nothing. If I arrived and a typhoon was anticipated the I would head straight to Kaohsiung rather than Hualien. After I was allowed into the next lounge before boarding a most handsome Italian business man sat beside me and I asked him what he had heard. He did even better and bia the internet showed me a map and we both agreed the typhoon would miss Hualien. We enjoyed a great conversation. He was off to South Korea via Taipei.

For this flight I enjoyed the whole seat to myself and ate a 2nd breakfast!!! As we flew over Taiwan I had my first glimpse of the island. Wow! The hills really are mountains!

Arriving in Taipei at Taoyuan airport I took a moment to contact the hotel about the typhoon. Well they couldn’t find me on their books but weather-wise it was sunny. Communication was difficult over the phone so the guy gave me his Line name and asked me to screenshot my booking. By the time I had downloaded and set up Line, he had found my booking – in a different hotel that they had and was making sure that they knew I was on my way. He also went on to give me instructions on how to get there and made sure I arrived safely.

Next navigating the trains. There is high speed puple trains and normal blue trains. My mistake – getting on a blue train from the airport to Taipei. Needless to say I made it and then purchasing a ticket and finding the platform. At the same time I realise I am hungry. Everything is written in Chinese – even other people’s internet and phones. When I say it’s written in Chinese, it’s not the English alphabet being used but the Chinese script. Needless to say my senses were bombarded with being excluded from the very signs that were designed to communicate. And yes, it made me think of the refugees who are escaping such tragic circumstances and how many would experience the same sensation but not from choice and nor because they were on holidays.

The train however was great to ride and because we traveled down the east coast of Taiwan, I managed to get a glimpse of the ocean – and under stormy conditions.

By the time we were in Hualien, the skies were clear and it was quite easy to walk to my hotel.

My hotel was pleasant enough and clean. Again the staff struggled with my English but they did teach me how to say hello and thank you in Chinese.

Once I had settled in, I went for a walk to find food. Walking and crossing roads was an adventure but I was determined to work it out. I still wanted to get to ride a scooter.

Finding food was a challenge and by that mean it was more than just the way it looked. It was also how the shops were set up, seating arrangements and the smells. Everything smelt so different that I could not connect any with the sensation of ‘yummy’. So I decided to ditch allowing my sense of smell to help me, and my sense of sight and just go in. Of course the menu was then written in Chinese and so the waiter had to sit and explain everything. I ended up selecting pork and rice (delicious), cabbage and bacon (very nice) and dumplings (not so delicious).

After that I picked up some ice-cream and went back to my room. Sitting up in bed eating my ice-cream I turned on the TV! Yes – you guessed it – all speaking Chinese. I did managed to find a James Bond movie in English with Chinese sub-titles!

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