Quick Reflections – Dubai Day 3

Given the fact that I was not able to get out of the hotel very much and explore all the amazing things that Dubai had to offer, I only got a limited view of this city. It is one of the most talked about destinations in the world, and people claim that they would love to see this city for all of the things that they can bring to this little corner of the desert. The following ramblings are just casual observations that I was able to make at the short time I was there, so I could have a different perspective on the place if I ever get the chance to go back and visit someday.

To start off, it is a beautiful city. The architecture is truly something to marvel at, and the people who are designing the rest of the city are really thinking about how to make this place a unique one with its own character that would make want many people put it on their bucket lists of places they have to go and see someday. I don’t know how much history is related to these new creations, but if you look closely, you can see the tour groups being led to the next exciting place. The strange thing about this is that the next exciting place happens to be another mall where the tourists are expected to spend their money.

This has attracted many business people to try their hands at trying to grab some of that currency by setting up shops in the various places where they know the tourists will travel. Some of them are very creative, such as a place where you can get served a bowl of cereal while sitting on a bed and watching old Saturday morning cartoons, but for the most part these are far and few between. Most of the shops and restaurants that I encountered were the same kinds of place that you can find littering the malls of America. It was just one big chain after another that never offered anything new or exciting to the experience of being in Dubai. It gave me the impression that money ruled this city, and everything in it was there to make the ex-pats who came over more comfortable as they worked hard to make and spend more money.

But it is this circulation of cash that has turned this country into one of the most wealthiest in the world. It allows the people that live here to dream about doing things that are bigger and better than anywhere else. It is the reason that you can find skiing in a place where the coldest temperature it might ever see is in the high 60s. It is the reason that there is constant construction all over the place because people want to capitalize on this influx while it is still going on. It is the reason that you can come out here and see the tallest building in the world right now, and even though there are others being built that will eventually surpass it, one of them happens to be in Dubai, so this city can keep the record for just a little bit longer.

I really don’t know how I feel about this city, but being able to grabs small snatches of what it has to offer, it has made me want to come back so I can learn more. Hopefully someday that will be able to happen.

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Shopping – Dubai Day 2

The conference was exhausting with meeting after meeting, but around 5:30 in the evening things started to wind down. We were finally given the opportunity to run away from the hotel and catch a little of the nightlife in Dubai, so of course we went to the one landmark that sets this city off from every other city, the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. It stands outside of the Dubai mall and looms over the city. It is the needle that beckons for everybody to come and visit, and the tourists comply to see what it is all about. It is quite the impressive structure, and the most amazing thing about it is that at night, it puts on a light show for all who stand on the bridge just outside of the mall, and jockey for the best position to see one of its many shows that run about every fifteen minutes.

The shows are worth the wait, but it is not the only thing that is worth seeing at this spot because in-between the light shows, there is another display that wows the crowds just as much. There is a fountain right below the tower that puts on a fountain show too. This is also coordinated with various songs as the water is show up into the sky while lights dance underneath the spectacle. It is this constant rotation of entertainment that keeps the crowds hanging on the bridge, and coming back night after to night to see how it will be different then.

It is what I have found that Dubai is really about. This city wishes to be the best at everything that it does, so it sets up different opportunities to show off its greatness. It has the tallest buildings, the greatest light shows, the most spectacular water works. It is a lot like Las Vegas except for all of the sin. It is hard to find a beer, and if you do get one, it is really expensive so you do not want to drink more than one of them. I am not sure if it has gambling or not, but it does not look like the place that would support that extravagant kind of lifestyle. Public displays of affection are even looked down upon from people who are not married, even though I am told that they take a more liberal approach to this than other countries in the Middle East do. Their excess comes in the form of shopping, and finding the unexpected in a place where it should never be.

I had heard about the indoor ski resort that the city brags about, but they also have an ice skating rink in the middle of the biggest mall in the city. It shouldn’t be too surprising from a desert city in which you can go skiing in, but it still took me by surprise that many people world come into this indoor attraction to show their children what it is like to ice skating. The part I liked the most about it was once every hour snow would start to fall down in the middle of the rink as the crowd started to gather underneath it so they could catch a couple of the flakes on their tongues. It really made it me start to wonder exactly where I was in the world, and why I was stuck in a hotel all day long, not given the opportunity to explore this a little bit more.

The answer was pretty obvious. I was in Dubai, the happiest city in the world, the place where all come to be awed with what the imagination of man can come up with. I did not need the extra stimulation that I look for in other places in the world because every turn I took would give me amble stimulation with what I would see. That is kind of the magic of this place, and I can see why it has become a tourist must see for so many people. I have only caught a little corner of what it has to offer, and I am already hooked by its pull. It will have to be a place that I will have to venture back to when I do not have to spend it in a conference and I can explore it a little more.

Under Construction – Dubai Day 1

My first trip to the Middle East is not for pleasure. I have made the long voyage out here to go to a conference, so I have not been given the opportunity to do the tourist thing as much on this trip. But I have landed in Dubai. It is easy to instantly see the wealth that is in this city on the edge of the desert, and understand why it has made a name for itself as one the bigger destination places in the world. Walking through the airport gives an indication of all the fun things that you can do to make a great vacation. There are theme parks, performances, and many opportunities for shopping all over the place. The most telling sign to indicate that you have arrived at a tourist paradise is from the signs on the floors right next to the baggage claim that states that Dubai is “The Happiest City in the World”.

Of course, I have not been able to participate in any of this fun. I have been stuck in a hotel room preparing for this conference. The only thing that I have really noticed about the city is that there is construction going on all over the place. There is another saying that states, “You know you are in Dubai because you will be walking through a construction aone.” This is another indication of the wealth that is being gathered in this place. It just shows that everybody wants to grab a little chunk of the magic that is happening here right now. I do hope that as I stay out here over the next couple of days, I get to experience some of that happiness, and see what everybody is talking about when they think of Dubai.

The Night Market – Taiwan Day 7

If you are looking for nightlife in Taipei, you should not go try and find the fanciest club or the greatest bar, but instead, you should head to one of the many night markets, and participate in what the locals like to do for fun, eat street food. It is a great tradition here, and the food that you find at these markets is not just good, but it might be some of the best food that you can find in the city.

I went to the Raohe St. Night Market, and the city sections off the street to traffic so vendors can set up their stalls and cook their food. You know you are in the right place because you can smell the aroma of good coming at you from a few blocks away, and as soon as you enter, your stomach just yearns to be filled with some of the things that it is smelling. That is except for the stinky tofu. It is a fermented tofu that is a delicacy of Taiwan, and when you get close to a booth that sells it, you know why it now has that name. I did not try any partly because of the smell, but partly because I am not a big fan of tofu, but that does not mean that I couldn’t find other regional delicacies there.

One of my favorites was a steamed peppered pork bun. Basically it was peppered pork that was rolled up in a dough and then baked on the wall inside of a round oven. They would pull them out hot, put them in a wrapper and sell them to you. I knew it would be good because of the queue of people that lined up to get one.

That was the best way to find out which type of food was the best. Besides smelling something that would grab your attention, there were always those lines of people. If it wasn’t for one of those lines, I would have missed another one of the better dishes that the market had to offer.

There was a desert that could only be found in the market, and it was fun to watch the guy make each individual one. Basically it would start off with a crepe, that he would first fill up with the shavings from a block of a peanut brittle. He would then add in three scoops of a pineapple ice cream, and then add a little cilantro before wrapping it all up in a small little burrito.

It was the perfect treat to end the night with, and it was one of the more memorable experiences from going to Taipei. It is a stop that has to be made while visiting here, or it would be like you never learned what the place and people were actually like. It is the heart of the city, and it doesn’t matter which one you go to, you’ll always find a pulse there.

The Typhoon that Never Came – Taiwan Day 6

We were lucky on this trip to Taiwan. The whole time we were in Taipei, there were rumors rumbling around about a typhoon that was supposed to hit the island on Friday and Saturday. It was to bring with it heavy wind and rains, and most of our time looked like would be spent indoors as we tried to ride out the storm. It was to be a big one too. The first reports of the storm talked about it as being a category 5 typhoon. We even got an alert early on in the week to see if we wanted to change our plans to avoid the destruction that was soon to be unleashed on this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.

But as the week progressed, the tale of the typhoon soon changed. The course it was going to take started to veer away from the island and took a more direct course towards Japan. The power behind it started to diminish as well and the typhoon turned into a category 3 storm. This did not mean that we were not supposed to get rain on the last days of our vacation, and we spent those days carrying around umbrellas in case we started to get hit with the downpour that was predicted to come.

But the rains never really came. Yes, we did get a few bursts of rain here and there, and we even got to use those umbrellas that we carried around with us all over the place, but for the most part, Taipei is used to the rain, and built its city accordingly. All of the streets have really wide sidewalks with at least half of the sidewalk covered with part of the building. It makes the city a great walking town, even in the rain. Yes, if you forget your umbrella, there are couple of moments you need to dash across the street so you do not get wet, but for the most part, if you play it right, you can stay pretty dry.

The city also knows that the rains can create some beautiful scenery. I have been to many other cities in the world that do not get this fact. They build their buildings and let the rain pound on the outside of them until they look like dirty representations of what their glory used to be. They could go out and clean those buildings or repaint them, but why do that? The rains are just going to come again and turn them into the dirty eyesore that they are destined to be. Taipei definitely takes this attitude as well, but they have also built some great parks with lots of trees and flowers that distract you from the ugliness of the buildings and give you a little reprieve from the bustle of the city.

One such location is Elephant Mountain, or as the locals know it, Xiangshan. It is the last stop on the red line of the subway and takes you out to the far reaches of the town. If you go there, you do need to walk through one of the more beautiful parks that the city has to offer, and find your way to the path that will take you up to one of the best viewing spots of the city. The hike is not that hard, but as soon as you hit the forest that covers the mountain, the humidity jumps up a couple of notches, and drenches you in sweat. It is also the perfect environment for mosquitoes, so if you do go, I would recommend bringing some bug spray with you because without it, you will be eaten alive. Or all of this might have been that we went to do this little hike when there was supposed to be a typhoon hitting the city of Taipei, and we were just getting the residual after effects of what it really could have been.

Despite these minor annoyances, the hike was worth it. The views were spectacular, and there is even a little platform that was built so people could see the perfect spot to watch the crazy fireworks that come whenever Tai Pei 101 decides to shoot them off. It is also really close to that building as well which would make for a great day if you start with the hike and finish with food and exploring that area of the city of Taipei.

Outside of the City – Taiwan Day 5

One of the nice things about Taiwan is that it is a small island, and it is not always focused on its biggest city, Taipei. In fact, the real heart of this country comes from getting outside of the city and connecting to the natural surroundings that can be found on the island. There are many beautiful hikes that are waiting to be explored, and there is a huge coastline with beaches, and other features that are worth your time. The best part of all of these features is that they are not that far away from the city. By bus, it only takes a little over an hour to get to Yehliu where you can explore a geopark there with many crazy rock structures.

The battering of the sea, and the unique geology of this place has created its own natural art gallery. Everywhere I turned I was able to see a new piece that would allow me to come up with my own interpretation of what it is. Some of them are a little more famous than others, such as the Fairy’s Shoe, and the Queen’s Head, but there are enough of them that did not have a sign telling me what other people have called them, so I was able to come up with my own names for those stone structures. These were also the ones that were not crowded with tourists, so it made it not as bad to stand there and look at them for awhile.

And yes, the tourists are here. Like any other natural structure in the world, people will flock to get their pictures with the sights. But once again, I was lucky. I went on a day that was promising to dump rain on the tiny island, and this kept many people indoors afraid of what would happen if they would out in the open when it started to rain. Luckily for me, it never rained. Instead, I was able to enjoy the sights with the cool ocean air blowing in, and I got the added bonus of being able to watch the waves crash into the shore, and watch as the slow chisel of time continued to create the sculptures.

There is also a path at this place that lead to the northern tip of the island and the lighthouse that is perched on the cliff there. For some reason, there were not many people on this path. It could have been that there was long stretch of stone steps that I needed to climb up in order to get to the top of the cliff, or it could have been that there just wasn’t that many people there to begin with, but either way, it was worth the hike. The views that were offered because of the extra effort were amazing, and it was nice to get away from what crowds were actually down by the rocks.

There were also some other structures that were a ways away from the other ones that nobody seemed to care about. They seemed to be ignored, but were some of the best ones out there, and only a couple of brave photographers made their way out to these structures to get the picture of them. The best part was, I do not think that any of them had been named yet. I could be wrong, but this one will always be called New Moon Rising in my mind. It is not important what the real name is because that is what it is now.

All in all, this little day trip from Taipei is worth the hike out, and if you are patient enough, and go on the right day that is a little overcast and threatens rain, you will be able to get a bunch of pictures that make it look like you had the whole beach to yourself. It helps to get you away from the crowds of the city for a little while, and find something new and interesting that is not one nature’s artistic eye can create.

And Then Came the Rain – Taiwan Day 4

Like all big cities of the world, Tai Pei is more a collection of small boroughs that come together to create one metropolitan area. Each little corner has its own distinct flavor and attractions, and people make their way to spot to see what they have to offer while never really leaving the loving embrace of the city. I wish I could say the same of Xinbeitou, but when I took the subway to this part of the Tai Pei, I felt as if I had traveled out of the city and found myself in a small mountain town on the island of Taiwan. It had more of a sense of community than other places I have seen here, and it gave off a slower vibe than the heart of the city.

There was probably two reasons for this feeling. The first was because of the rain. This little corner of Tai Pei is really a touristy part of the city, and I am sure on nice sunny days, I would be able to see people wander all over the paths that this place has to offer. But like all rain storms, more people found the shelter of indoor activities instead of braving the weather and coming out to this place.

The second reason is because of the hot springs that are located here. If you have never immersed yourself into these healing waters, you never have understood what it means to unwind and let the problems of the world disappear. There are public pools that can be found by taking a short hike up the hill from the subway station, and it houses three different pools with varying levels of heat to them. Unlike other natural hot springs, this one does not smell of rotten eggs, and the waters here are so relaxing.

Granted, being one of the few people that come from the western part of the world, I had many people stare at me, wondering what I was doing at this location, but it was the perfect outdoor activity to do on a rainy day. While I soak myself in the water, the cooling rain beat down on my head, and I was constantly in balance between the two varying ways that water can cleanse. It also helped with what would have been an overcrowded situation. I am sure if it was not rainy, there would have been more people at this location.

I am sorry that I was unable to get pictures from inside of the hot springs, but the place has a strict no picture policy that makes sense to me. People are going there to relax and they probably do not want to be a part of many people’s vacation photos, so in order to respect their privacy, nobody takes any pictures. If you do ever go, you need to make sure that you bring the right kind of swimsuit. This mean that the fabric has to be a swimsuit and not beach shorts. They checked my suit before I entered, and I did not have the right one. Luckily, they sell the right kind of suits at the place, and are willing to let you buy one after they yell at you a bit for not bringing the right swimsuit, but I am used to this. It seems to be something that happens to me on a regular basis while I live in Asia. I am always doing something wrong based on the customs out here, and they are quick to let me know this.

Even with these minor stresses, it was still the place that allowed me to breathe for a moment from this busy life that I live. It wasn’t only the hot springs that made the voyage worth it, but the small town feel, and the beautiful sights that were around every corner. This is a must do thing for anybody coming out to Tai Pei, and it doesn’t matter what the weather is like when you go. I would assume that the colder and wetter it is outside, the better the experience will be.