Much of our first day in Taiwan was spent in some mighty high places. This morning, after we figured out how to use the subway system, we traveled downtown and made our way to the Taipei 101, the tallest building on Taiwan and a very unique piece of architecture. It was a cloudy, miserable day, so after riding what was billed as the world's fastest elevator up to the observation room on the 89th floor, we found ourselves wrapped in fog, more so than usual, and not able to see much from the enormous windows. There was a very large and very beautiful collection of carved coral on display on the 89th floor as well as much coral jewelry for sale - and plenty of assorted tourist junk.
Our afternoon excursion was also well into the air up there. We rode the subway out to the edge of the city where we planned to get on a gondola dangling from a cable and ride to the top of a mountain to visit a tea plantation. As we were trying to figure out the process for getting the ticket to board the gondola, a young Taiwanese lady stepped up and offered to help. Her name was Jasmin and she was showing her friend from Ireland, a young man named Terry, around Taiwan.
Jasmin, whose real name Ya-Fen Chen, is a tour guide by trade. She met Terry at the university in Belfast, Northern Ireland, several years ago while she was there studying business management. Terry Needham has a PhD in music history and theory - and plays piano. We had a wonderful time getting to know them, and they were our traveling companions for most of the rest of the day.
The gondola ride up the mountain proved to be a thirty-minute ride up and across several mountains and forested valleys in a swinging contraption that often had us hundreds of feet above the ground. When we reached the end of the ride, we disembarked and spent some time walking through apricot orchards in full bloom. We concluded that part of the trip at a tea house where Jasmin prepared tea at our table. We were also provided with several types of treats to go with the local tea including pistachios, pumpkins seeds, fried tofu, caramels with nuts, and hard boiled eggs that had been boiled in tea. Jasmin said that the eggs are boiled about four hours before serving - and they were really good.
Tonight when we were walking back to our hotel, we stopped in a 7-11 so Valerie could get some gum. While we were there, I came across a large pot of eggs boiling in tea!
The valleys up near the tea plantations were deeply forested. I asked Jasmin if there are habus on Taiwan. She said that she believed there were, and she added that cobras are also found on the island. Fortunately we didn't encounter any of those reptiles.
There were several stops on the trip back into the mountains where passengers could get off. We rode straight through going up, but coming down we got off at the first stop to visit a group of Buddhist and Daoist shrines. (That is where we separated from our new friends, Jasmin and Terry, because they had to get into the city and pick up a friend who had just arrived.) The shrines were beautiful, and as with everything Buddhist, very peaceful.
I had planned on becoming a Buddhist in my next life, but based on those whom I have gotten to know during this jaunt across Asia, I may make that leap of faith during this lifetime. I am, after all, respectfully known in some circles as the "happy Buddha!"