A refreshing November morning at 6 AM, after an overnight stay at Taoyuan, the gateway city of Taiwan with two million people, I took a bus to the new THSR (Gaodi) Taoyuan Station, following advice from my Lao Taoyuan friend, TM Alex Hsiao (in a telephone message awaiting for my arrival at the hotel).
The bus journeyed through the dawning hustle and bustle of downtown, picking up THSR passengers at key spots and corners, gradually filling and almost fully loaded by the time I reached my destination. This was a special bus, exclusive for THSR passengers, (gratis) free.
I was at the newly built Gaodi Station by 7 AM, bought my seat ticket and waited for the train to have a rendezvous with two special friends, my Tokyo friend Shimada and Janifer Quo of Taipei (see January 2010 Riosloggers post). Kazunobu Shimada, President of IQM, an ISO-9000 auditing company, was born in Taipei and studied at Nanmen Grade School. He had to return to Japan at the end of World War II before graduating. I had introduced Shimada to Janifer, asking for her assistance, should Shimada make a return visit to Nanmen, Nanmen and Ximen are two different grade schools in Taipei, but under one Taipei City Government.
Janifer, now retired, but an ex-teacher of Ximen Elementary School, talked to the principal of Nanmen Grade School and arranged to have Shimada awarded with his dream Nanmen diploma after 60 years. They were heading for Taichung together to serve as judges at the Taiwan Toastmasters Conference and a Japanese language contest, and I was joining them.
While I was congratulating Shimada on his diploma, Janifer handed us her homemade breakfasts, consisting of cut wax apples, star fruits, dragon fruits, pineapples, grapes, custard apples, etc. along with youtiao, a roasted rice cake. The care packages were prepared by Janifer so the two of us could try tasting Taiwan fruits and we really appreciated her thoughtfulness. Shimada told me he had eaten some of them in his childhood but not all. Custard apple is shaped like the Buddha’s head, called "Shijia" in Chinese. It was new to both Shimada and me. We scooped up white flesh grain with a spoon, totally enjoying the delicious, sweet taste. I was told many Japanese expatriates leave Taiwan without being baptized of the taste. The fruit, from Pintong area, needs 20 weeks or so to become ripe. Australians call it "Bull's heart".
Our train reached the brand new Gaodi Wurih Station in an hour, just as we finished our breakfast. It was so quick. Luckily, the Conference venue was close to the station and we did not experience any confusion in changing trains from Gaodi to Taidi, on the old Taiwan Railroad.
I was back to Gaodi Wurih Station alone by taxi to return to Taipei at 5 PM the following Sunday. The station was packed like a can of sardines and had many long lines at the ticketing stations. I waited for about 30 minutes to get my ticket. The waiting lines were orderly and even prioritized people with disabilities. I had to present my passport to the ticket counter service. I got a senior discount (65 and above), half the fare of an adult. No wonder I saw a good number of senior passengers. I didn't see empty seats so the THSR promotions must be working. I noticed that the green car passengers got free coffee and a pack of snacks.
I observed that all THSR workers, including those serving foods and drinks, were quite enthusiastic. Their morale was high. The THSR's BOT (Build/Operate/Transfer) prerogative formula seems to be finally paying off after the initial disappointing years of low passenger levels. In 2011, monthly users hit 3 million, recording over 100,000 daily passengers.