Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

Today rode the high speed rail about 35 minutes from the central Taipei Station to Hsinchu. The train is very nice and speeds along at its highest rate at about 185mph. I think we got up to a bit less than that but its a beautiful ride especially with reserved seats in the business section. Hsinchu is windy so I think its known as that here. People wear warmer clothes here like big jackets or sweaters yet its not really any colder. It’s just the wind blowing. I have 5 days here to wander around starting tomorrow so basically will just go each day as I like and then eat dinner, drink some beer, and reflect on the day.

I ate dinner at this very nice restaurant owned by a Canadian that I found. The Park Restaurant is more expensive but I figure you get what you pay for in this game and I had a delicious sandwich and a vanilla milkshake. The owner came in so we chatted about living in Taiwan and his travels throughout Southeast Asia for awhile. It’s always interesting to only be at a place for a week like this since the chances of me going back may be less given the other places I may want to try here. There are some “chop houses” which are steak places to try, a few different noodle houses, and other places to find. I paid for breakfasts in the hotel so each morning will take what they offer.

Hsinchu does not have the sheer number of attractions as a Taipei so the type of wandering changes for me and becomes much more random where I just go each day. I know how fast the days will go by before going on to the next city. Then the next city and then the final city before heading back to Taipei for a few nights.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have days to let roll by and let them go as slowly as possible with no interruptions for places to see or go. I intend on finding nothing at all but still seeing a few things. It’s my best bet for wandering. Once I lock into things my fear is I would then grade the visits as failures or successes if I hit the places or tried to do it all in one day.

Hsinchu leads to Taichung which leads to Tainan. Cities in front of me and a month in Taipei behind. I got a final SIM card for a month of unlimited data which they do here easily. They do require two forms of ID which is a bit unusual and one has to be a passport. Luckily my California drivers license is still good. But the act of getting the SIM card here is to walk in, take a number, tell the clerk what I want and they do the activation and check. I walk out with unlimited data on the phone. I believe I have a phone number as well but I never use the local calling.

Today seemed a longer day because I was up earlier to get some things done like shipping a package to Vietnam for my L. That took about 30 minutes at the post office in New Taipei City. It’s not difficult but they want the form in a certain way with signatures and then they want the destination address clearly written on the forms. Now its my evening in my hotel room and the room is very nice. I had a basic airbnb apartment that worked well but having the hotel room is nice too.

Tomorrow its breakfast here and then some kind of wandering somewhere. More pictures with the iPhone. More memories taken. More moments spent. I’ll be writing here of a city I have never been in which is exciting to me. It’s new streets, new parks, a walking park I heard of today to go see. I have a week. Let’s see what I don’t do :–)

Today was the last day wandering this beautiful city. I just took off in any direction and walked. Beautiful buildings, small markets, then Oldies Burgers. Do that was a lunch stop for me. Very nice burger in an American style place. I walked back to the MRT station and rode back to the Bridge Station. 

So the time wandering Taipei for a month ended like all the other places have. A final walk thinking of the last month seeing this city. I let my Airbnb host know I would drop the keys off at her breakfast restaurant and then she gave me a box of pineapple cakes in individual packages just right for packing away. 

After some time taking a break in the room decided to go to this Japanese ramen shop and had spicy dry noodles and beef with soup. Poured the soup over the noodles and ate. 

Now it’s occurred to me that this is like so many other places I’ve walked for the month. I hate to see the time end. Cities like Taipei are made to be walked and seen with moments to spare. The rush of travelers and tourists with their 5 days to see everything reminds of this one person on a FB group that had one day to see Phnom Penh. A waste of time really. You can see the Wat Phnom and the palace and maybe the museum. You can drive around in a tuk tuk. What have you really done? You’ve seen a city in a day and you saw nothing. Same with a week and doing the Instagram moments or the travel blogger itineraries. I see them in Taipei and Tokyo forever hurrying to stand still. 

Here they have a schedule and a momentum. You can tell them a mile away. In Phnom Penh I fell my friend AV you can tell the tourists by their hurry up nature. 

only one beer tonight sweetie. Has anyone told you are a cute little Khmer girl? No time to eat. Got to go to the Wat Panom

AV just laughs and wishes them away and comes back to talk to me at the restaurant when their time is done. 

Hurry up. I remember that lingo. Hurry up and wait. So is the millennial lingo for traveling. But I have bad news; cities and temples and museums all change right after you leave. So you one visit wonders with your 40 countries and your instagram influencers you just move on. And on. And ever on. 

It’s good really because it leaves room for me to go so much slower. To ride the slow roads and see the little places with small temples and non tourist markets. But even with my snails pace the time ends. Moments conspire and the next city calls me. Tonight I’ll drink a bit and wonder a bit more. What does the rest of 2019 look like. But I know. 

It looks like nothing. Things pass me by that move slow but I just will continue. Now another month of Taiwan in 4 different cities a week each because i want to. Next Philippines and then the US. I told my darling L that the US is no bargain when I’m used to the edge. She knows. She waits. Saigon waits. Vietnam knows I’ll be there. To live and have more in Da Nang next year. 

Now it’s goodbye Taipei. Thanks for all the things you gave me and generously letting me take a few. Next blog post from Hsinchu City. Another place to spend some moments. To wander a street or two. Such it is. I love it. 

The moments always come to this even with slower wandering. I reach the last weekend. I chose a month in Taipei months ago because I felt the city had a lot to offer this old retired guy. I could spend weeks and weeks simply walking wherever but still see the touristy sites. I made it to a number of tourist sites here but some of my favorite things are not those. Here is a little list:

  1. Sanhe night market. This is a non tourist night market close to where I stay. It’s blocks and blocks of food, clothing, games and even nicer restaurants. I’ve enjoyed a steak dinner, Taiwan corn on the cob, and Banh Mi sandwiches. I also buy fresh fruit there. Skip the tourist night markets. Go to the local markets for the real market scene in Taipei.
  2. Historic districts and small neighborhoods with side streets and alleys with small shops give you the flavor of the city away from the big instagram moments. You can find them on google maps easily.
  3. Food is good here. Coffee is a big deal here. Find local coffee houses like 85 degrees but I also really like louisa coffee shops. I don’t do a lot of street food but I will partake if it looks sanitary.
  4. The MRT! What a great transit option to wander the city. I got a 30 day pass. You can reach just about all the places but I like riding to some random station and then walking.
  5. Finally walk the city! You cannot see it from a motorbike or a bus tour. You can see it up close and see the glitter and grit. It’s the same whether In Kuala Lumpur or Tokyo.

I’ve really enjoyed the city. I found a good Airbnb for only $400 a month. You can spend longer. You can really stay as long as you want. Try it. You don’t need to count Instagram moments or countries. Count the real moments. Those that link you to the places you slowly found and assuredly so many places you have missed. You will still miss them and even more with 5 days here. Stretch and slow down. What’s to gain from reading the travel blogs with their impeccable itineraries. Build your own. You may not do the amazing hop on or off tour or cram it all into a week. Who gives a F?

I don’t. I won’t judge you. Go for it. Be a hobo.

It’s a coffee morning down the street at 85 degrees cafe. I always stop first at the nearby bakery and get some pastries fresh and then walk to the coffee shop and sit outside to peruse the day, consider their news, give some thanks where it’s due that I don’t have a life like some others I know. They worry about trucks and houses and debt and cycle through relationships much like one of those old Rolodex things. Somehow divorce becomes a holy grail of sorts. A mantle to be worn forever that publicly shows you as someone hurt and anguished and going through the 5 stages. I don’t pretend to have advice for them. I know I never reached the final stage myself but life has gone on. Hell, if not for the divorce I would not be sitting with coffee time in Taipei. I would not have left and found a new home and people.

I never give advice for people facing dire times. Inevitably it will be bad or worse. I do know that Facebook and twitter are not the places to chronicle your changes.

So today it’s fitting perhaps to enjoy my coffee time. Change my remaining days around a bit and do something random today later.

I’ll always remember not so fondly the other days maybe more over beer time. Often though when I sit in Phnom Penh or Saigon and L smiles that mysterious Vietnamese woman’s smile I realize all is as it’s turned out to be. It’s destiny she would say.

Bring it on. Coffee and destiny and moments to spend with no regard. A life spent with no goals or tasks. It’s all good. My latte served with smiles by the barista here warms inside and out.

I made the decision to leave the FujiFilm X-T30 and two lens with L in Saigon before leaving on this 7 months. I had gone through both wanting to take and wanting to leave it behind. The real thing came around to what I wished to carry, how I wanted an easier flow of going out for the day and taking photos and then making them available to friends. Call it a workflow if you want.

I’ve spent almost a month with just the iPhone and it’s been very good for me. I can move around easier and the weight of camera, lens, extra battery and other stuff is gone. Then there are the photos themselves and my happiness. In the end it’s my happiness and joy with the images and then letting friends see. I post the images here sometimes but more often to Facebook and my Mastodon instance.

It’s been good but I want a little more. So here starts the second part of the fun.

Halide and Darkroom

Halide is a camera app that I moved toward before. It offers the ability to shoot in raw but they also take advantage of some of the latest goodies in iPhone photography like Deep Fusion and you can choose an option to apply the best of processing to images. Darkroom is a nice raw file editor to learn and play on as well. You can apply different prebuilts or save your own.

So when I combine the two apps I get a new method to get images. It’s fun because nothing really changes on the iPhone. I just get the choice now to shoot differently. Choice is good. I think learning is good again.

What I want is the option to more deeply edit the images but maintain the entire simple workflow. I don’t desire some dedicated camera to heft around. The iPhone 11 has been a very nice choice for me. It gives me the things I wanted before leaving vietnam for 7 months. I get a lighter kit to carry. A simpler workflow that still is flexible. A single multi use device over multiple single use gizmos.

Would it work for you? I don’t know. My needs are pretty simple. I don’t publish or sell photographs or ever intend on doing any more than having fun. I don’t need to print images. I want to host the images on google photos. Your needs are probably different. It’s all good folks. Do what makes you happy. What challenges you. I will.

I have walked for about 5 to 6 or 7 miles every day for three weeks. Even with a slight head cold I got out to walk. I end up doing about 13k steps every day which puts me at about 5.5 to 6 miles. Sometimes I go higher. Today though due to a combination of factors out of my control, I am taking down time. No time spent seeing more of Taipei besides around my airbnb today. When I decide to take some time, I remember like this morning over latte down the street that I go to places longer for expressly this purpose. If I only had a week in Taipei, I’d feel duty bound to go for that day’s tour or location. With a month in Taipei, even with only a week left, I have narrowed down the must see places and have them marked. They get done next week. I like doing the museums and historic places at the end and I also will do the Taipei Zoo. A friend from Taiwan told me about the Gondolas there so I will go and ride them.

Last night for dinner I went to the night market and there is this most excellent steak restaurant right on the market that I ate dinner at. I had a nice Ribeye steak, noodles, and egg smothered in this delicious and spicy sauce. So good! I also visited what is called a tourist market and I don’t think I will opt to visit them. I prefer the non tourist markets like the one by where I stay. It’s authentic and the food is terrific there and its all over the place. Language can be a little problem but all the places have pictures and the owners go out of their way to sell me stuff. I buy all the fresh fruit there at night. Melons and pineapple and watermelons and some really nice apples.

So Friday is a good down day for me. I may go out later and have some latte down the street or not. I don’t think I will just sit in the room because I get bored so will see what I decide to do. Down the street is this 85 degrees Taiwanese coffee shop I like. Very friendly people there and I can sit and watch the people arriving and leaving the Taipei Bridge MRT station. I think people watching is a global thing every where I have been. Here the young men watch the young girls who may furtively watch the young men that are watching them. Life in Taipei is an interesting study to me. People are genuinely kind and want to help and most speak English. I was trying to buy an extended pass on the MRT and this woman heard me and asked if she could help. She did all the talking to the MRT clerk for me and told me how much to pay and what a great deal for 30 days it was. I get many many rides on the excellent MRT which is my default way of getting around the city now. So on down times I consider the remaining days a lot here.

Another thing worthy of consideration during down time is Vietnam. I think of Vietnam a lot because I guess its just part of my fabric now. I miss the frantic pace of Saigon and the laid back nature of Da Nang. Hanoi appeals to me for its both leisurely and rushed nature. I don’t particularly care for the Old Quarter so I try to get out of there when I can to places like West Lake or the wider tree-lined streets where the Mausoleum is. Most of all I think I miss the coffee culture there. I miss the shops in Phu Quoc Island right by the night market that I could sit at for hours and watch the boats and people going by. In Saigon it would be meeting my L for coffee or seeing other friends. Down times mean I think more of them which is a good and bad thing. I also know I have another 7 months before getting back to Vietnam so down times are not so down because of where I’ll go next.

Another thing for down time is some healthy self reflection and introspection. I do this while walking too but often when walking I slip into a semi ecstatic state where the steps just carry me away. In the room, I have more of a chance to reflect on the life of just being a hobo. No home, no pool, no pets. No nothing. I have so little of things that they fit into a 45L backpack. My worldly possessions are experiences and not things. Moments not times. So playing back them may be remembering that time in Hanoi when the woman asked me for boom boom from the back of a grab motorbike or the times in Siem Reap spent wandering the Angkor Wat temples or seeing my favorite of all time Bayon Temple.

Finally perhaps I dwell on the social media left behind. I think relatively rarely about twitter and instagram these days besides being glad to be gone. There is no upside to twitter folks. It’s just what it is. The absolute worse is Instagram though. Why people persist in that site with the elaborate selfies posed in front of beautiful UNESCO sites perplexes me. Perhaps even during down time I will not understand it. Finally there is blogging here versus at wordpress.com and what I have found of value after bailing on wordpress. I’ll just say there is nothing of real value at wordpress for me. I left because of the gradual decline of happiness at the act of creating I felt there. I felt a kind of moral and intellectual constipation there. No number of posts or contributions or likes or comments fixed it. What I wanted was a place to create and not be constipated. I wanted away from the ads and the marketing and affiliate links. Most of all, during down time, it comes to me that this is blogging again. This is creating for its own sake. You can read all the sites you want to be popular at blogging, host a site with 9k followers, have 8 kazillion followers on instagram or twitter. None of it matters during your down time or mine. Here I don’t worry about judging or being judged. I create here because I wish to and that is all. I feel that the last 20 years of blogging has been a downward spiral of the art and act of creation over the sustainment of currency.

So the final act of down time is to consider that blogging here is not valuable in any kind of financial or other sense except to me. To my desire to sustain and create and to also unfold my own little journeys here and there. Perhaps not limited by who finances me or gives me money to write a post.

Down times have arrived. Long live down times. For today. Tomorrow I go forth again and claim the sidewalks and the trails and the little things in Taipei I so like to find. Getting lost on purpose is always the goal in Tokyo or Taipei or Saigon. Find yourself by losing it all. Then my phone rings in Saigon and its L calling to ask if I am ok. If I have eaten lunch. If I am happy. Life is very good and I enjoy the moments. I have mentioned before that finding L was something I had needed but had decided I would never find again. I’m lucky. But as L says,

dearest Mike I am the one so lucky

Thank you my love.

It’s a day touching other days. Moments wind around and give me a coffee shop with a toasted bagel. Taipei is delicious this time of year. Cool temperatures, wonderful places to find perhaps hidden away where my feet and camera can find them.

I have a week left give or take. It’s been an interesting almost month here now. My first real stop on 7 months of slowly going. A week from Monday I start riding the high speed rail south along the western coast of Taiwan to 4 different cities. I spend a week in each and then return to Taipei for two nights. I’m truly grateful for the free visa exemption that gives me 90 days here.

Touching the moments has let me see that my way of going is a good way. The slow movements let me settle in to the places a bit. Find the coffee shops and night markets. No rush in translation. Just meandering steps as each moment evolves to an experience. Now with a week left I can add up visiting a little bit of Taipei. I’m so glad I came here to start the longer wandering basically around the world.

But now it’s coffee in Louisa Coffee Shop and the pace of the morning as the latte warms my morning soul. I read an article about a retired couple that overland in a truck with camper. Good for them I think. But to me the truck and camper is a huge liability. It’s a big piece of debt waiting to break down, require service, towing, gas and vehicles no matter their purpose are made for frustration. I’m glad I got rid of it all. Anyone can go. Choose your method. But go slow. See the places. Treasure the moments. Kinda like this morning with the latte in the coffee shop. A stop that transforms to a blog post.

Sometimes the mornings with pastries and coffee are enlightening here in Taipei. I can sit here at the coffee shop with pastries and just feel the blue skied morning telling me today is gonna be good. I’ll venture out later today for a new place and some wandering there. Taipei is a good city to get lost in. Very safe and clean and most of all fun.

I went last night to the night market which is not a tourist market. It’s all Taiwanese people shopping and eating. I prefer this to the tourist markets. I don’t need souvenirs or toys. I had a Banh Mi sandwich for dinner and bought fresh fruit. Also walked around looking at everything from socks to silverware. There is street food! Oh yeah. So much food there.

With a little over a week left in Taipei I start thinking of the longer stretch. Back to the US in January and then on. On to other places. The edges slips away. My home is Southeast Asia. My life is there now. But I must also go.

Sitting at coffee made me realize I must go. Steps and tracks and cold beers and people that either matter or not. But it’s the road in front and left and right. That crooked path that will lead me back to Vietnam. Back to my L again. It’s just a long path but I know it’s about the moments and what I must do. She knows too.

One of the joys in finally finding someone is how it all fits together. So here I go. Not the same as that Mike from past moments. Alone but not lonely it’s always been the solitude and only a few that matter. The others have eroded away or simply don’t matter. Perhaps I’ve realized going back to the US is just a place. Not the home or the country or the feelings.

I am at middle point in my Taipei times. I have two weeks to see whatever things I think are worthwhile and there are more than a few left I have marked on maps or kept. Many of the last week things are museums so will spend a day at each getting to them, seeing them, wandering around and taking photographs. Other places include one night market to see and the Taipei 101 World Trade Center area. I also may walk up Elephant Walk to see the sunset if its not too crowded.

Today though is Sunday and I did plan out an endeavor for today. I want to make it to the Botanical gardens here today and then wander around the area its in. My rule is to not get off on the closest station but to walk from whatever station looks good at the time. Any time works since I don’t go by time any longer.

steps and moments will rule

My favorite things are the steps and the moments. Each thing lets me see a place that perhaps is hidden in plain sight. Taipei is full of them really. There are the small blocks of shops and restaurants and the big blocks of shopping centers and malls. Each thing though has a thing next to it that may not be found. Maybe I won’t find them either. It’s hard to only have a month in this city. There is just so much of the ordinary to see. I told my friend L that Saigon is like that. You can go for a week and see the sights. Visit Independence Palace and Ho Chi Minh Square. Maybe see some museums. But let’s face it. Saigon is vast. It’s so big that big does not work for it. It’s Fucking Big! My darling L, who is Vietnamese and lives there, does not know the city’s intricate passageways and secrets sometimes although she can take me to places I would never reach without her. Restaurants are wonderful with her since I get lazy and her English is good and she just orders for us and talks with the folks waiting on us. She also guides the Grab drivers in Vietnamese which is quite handy. But yet I tell her of a place I am at and she does not know it. It’s because Saigon is so F’ing big.

But the real steps and moments for me in Saigon or not are the little steps and moments. Coffee shops like Lousia’s here down the street where I am so warmly welcomed and the latte and breakfasts are so damned good. The little breakfast places like Yummy Burger where the food is cheap and the menus have pictures. I like pictures. Easier to order. The places that serve American style breakfasts are varied here but I skip around to always get back to my favorites which are the up scale coffee shops. I just like those moments more here. In Vietnam though its the local coffee shops with the Iced Coffee with Milk that I love. So moments are moments and cities are cities.

Moving on is moving

I also know moving on will happen from Taiwan. No matter how much I enjoy the city and will soon see the 4 different cities I picked along the High Speed Rail route, moving on will happen and the moments will dwindle to a flight to Manila next. I don’t have any feelings about Manila at all. Not good or bad. I am just going. We shall see what three weeks is like in Manila, Cebu, and Davao. I do have friends that live in Manila to hopefully see. Friends from the other days. The .com days and the startup days from the way back machine. Will I see them? I don’t know. Moving on is moving. Sometimes I feel that those friends are the most transient and least established. With my wonderful L its easy to put a value on what we share. She is a dedicated, warm, loving person that will always call me, message me, ask how I am and worry about me at times. Those other friends have crossed the line to the other kind of friendship I think exists. They want to not hear firsthand but FB is fine. If I visit perhaps they will see me. I have two weeks in the US; anyone wanna bet how many of those friends I will see? I also want to see some work colleagues at my last place before I retired and left the US for good (almost).

But then I move on. Across the US on yet another thing I have wanted. To Florida to see my daughter force and then on to the Middle East for months. I end up back where I basically started from — Phnom Penh Cambodia. Just in time to see my friend AV there and take her out for a dinner. But I know that my moments are limited in Cambodia. I go for a few reasons but then I leave again.

Because moving on is moving and I feel I must slowly move. I own nothing of value. No home, no car, no pets. No big things to worry over or to get back to. So I move on.

And on. And its good.

It seems the longer I stay the less I feel inclined to do. Perhaps it’s because I just arrange the places with no real things to see or do. I arranged a month in Taipei awhile ago. Then I looked for an Airbnb that would be close to some things but without the usual backpackers and their sounds. So I found the Sanchong district and a place there for about $400 for the month. I get a basic room with AC, some really good WiFi, and I’m close to a MRT station. One of the things I wanted. No backpackers. A thing I also wanted.

Now it’s my second week in Taipei and I have a SIM card for a month with unlimited data and a MRT pass for a month. Restaurants are all around me and I’ve settled in to life. Found a local market I like with just about everything in it. Today I bought more fresh fruit. Then I stopped at this Taiwanese coffee shop where some of the baristas are from Vietnam. That’s fun! Then back to my room for awhile. And lovely messages from my L.

Now I’m gone again and writing this on my iPhone 11 in a digital mall downtown. I stopped and ate some cheap Chinese food that cost about $1.00 USD. Soon will go to a park I want to see.

These days it’s all possible but nothing is planned. The walking is everyday and the beer is every night. Life has only moments and experiences for me in Taipei. I know in weeks I will leave. Will I have seen it? No. But neither will the backpackers that spend three days or a week here. The difference is I don’t try. I just go. Trying is for wimps. Clocks don’t count. Schedules and instagram places don’t exist in this life.

Give it a try sometime. Vagabond so slowly you can see the gap between the seconds. After all, it’s not the number of countries and continents seen. It’s not pinning the number in your Twitter. It’s the experiences you have. So what if you only see 5 countries or 3 in a year? Who is to say the better experience and moments?

You won’t though. You will forever hurry and meet the challenge. But what if there was no challenge and no one cared. What if the only thing was you and the streets you got lost in. Then what?

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