Friday, June 14, 2013

New Taipei City

On Finishing Strong (if Damp)


Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013
Uni-President 7-11 Lions vs. Brother Elephants
Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium
Chinese Professional Baseball League
New Taipei City, Taiwan
16:35

Outside the Game:
So this was going to be my last day with boots on the ground and head on the pillow in Taiwan. Making the most of my now critically limited time in country, I slept in and took my damn time getting out of bed.

Eventually dragging myself out of my room, I trudged down to the subway station and headed off to the Taipei Zoo. At the end of that particular subway line was not only the zoo, but also the Mokdong Gondola, which was advertised everywhere as the way to view Taipei. As I understood, it was a glass-bottomed sky ride that was usually closed due to weather conditions.

I decided to go to the zoo first, and as soon as I paid my admission, some desultory rain began plunking down from the sky, just to underline the situation. Undaunted, I took my ticket and went in.

I have to say, as zoo facilities go, it was a very well-done enterprise. First of all, it is frankly massive. And it is all well-landscaped. As you are walking around, you get lost in the place as you walk through stone arches and tree canopies shuttering the outside world. It is well-organized also, with logical animal groupings, including a special section dedicated to native Taiwanese wildlife. The rock-star pandas, of course, got their own big building to deal with the adoring masses of Chinese who can't get enough of them, though there were no real lines to speak of today. The koalas also got their own building, for some reason. They may just be popular or Taiwan, or it may be because koalas are bastards and need to be alone or they go nuts.  Either way.

When I'm on these trips, I've taken to using bottles of water as a unit of distance, as in, it took me two bottles of water to get from X to Y. The zoo was an eight bottle of water endeavor, with the gross distances and insane mid-day temperatures. Thankfully, vending machines for sundry liquids were available at fairly regular intervals. I'd throw out my empties, load two more bottles into the backpack, and go on to meet and greet more wildlife.

Orangutan
Ook.

The place was just massive, though. Even still, they had closed down some areas (such as the nocturnal house) and some were under reconstruction, such as the hippo hut. The hippos must have been popular, as they had a rather expansive area right in the middle of the zoo, near a gift shop and snack bar. While all the construction was going on, all the hippos were in a small concrete pen where they were all splayed out in a way that made it look as though someone how just used a dump truck to drop a palette of hippos off at a loading dock.

Not content with all of the animal enclosures, they also had a small natural history museum on the grounds much in the diorama spirit of the NY Museum of Natural History (with one showing a panda getting treed by some wolves), with the added benefit of awkward life-size animatronic dinosaurs in the basement level. It was all to a good cause, as there was an extensive display on evolution and extinction, so if it was in the course of education, a brachiosaur whose head only loudly moves about two feet is an acceptable price.

Panda
Treed panda

I eventually made it through all the animals (and all the water), and stopped at one of the commissaries to get a late lunch after my obligatory trip though the gift shop. Looking at the time, I realized my decision on the gondola had been made for me, as I had to get back to the hotel for the game.

Before I went up to the room, I decided to check with the concierge desk to see if they could help me out with tickets after my experience the previous week. They'd said they take a trip to the 7/11 and let me know. On my way up to the room, I noticed a welcome sign out for the Uni-President Lions (the visiting team for tonight's game) and asked if they were staying here. And they were. I found out that this hotel has a bit of a history with baseball, hosting the Yankees coaches, Japanese stars, and others. I had no idea this was the case when I booked the place, but funny how that kind of thing works itself out, is it not?

So I went up to my room for a shower, and as I was getting dressed, the front desk called. It turns out that you could only use the convenience store machines for games a day in advance, but they had checked for me and assured me that there were infield seats still available.

This being the case, I headed off to the park to get there right when the ticket windows opened. I got to the stadium at a little after 4, and a small line had already formed for tickets, which I joined. At 4:30, the counters promptly opened, and I was in possession of an infield ticket on the home field side. I then set about amusing myself for the hour until the gates opened, wandering around the adjacent sports park and generally poking around. A little before 5:30, I queued up at the end of the line to get into the stadium, and, just as the gates opened up, it started to rain.

But more on that in a minute.

After the game, I headed straight back to the subway and had an uneventful trip back to the hotel. As I was walking up, the Lions' bus was just offloading its passengers, and I shared an elevator back to my room with about a third of the team, who were looking to get some sleep after the game as quickly as possible.

The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium
Home plate to center field, Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium

Due to some creative CPBL scheduling, the first game where I saw the Elephants at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium, they were actually the away team. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to get this last game in, as I would never technically have seen the Elephants play a game at home. So it all worked out, as it often does on these trips.

This was my first visit to the stadium where I was in the infield grandstand, so I was able to do more exploring that my first quick trip through the grandstand at the end of my first game here. There was the one promenade walkway at the top of the seating bowl, which was one section down from the walkway. About half of the seats in the lower deck were covered by the upper deck, which extended almost all the way around the lower deck seats. There was special seating similar to the Taoyuan park on either side of home plate, with desk seating that included power outlets.

You access the upper deck through stairways at regular intervals along the promenade. The upper deck as well had one walkway at the top that allowed access to all the seats below. The awning up here covered nearly all the seats in the upper deck. The upper walkway dead-ends on one end in the outfield where the deck ends and at the other inside at the handicapped seating next to the luxury boxes surrounding the press box.

You have to go downstairs for any amenities. The visitors merchandise gets set up on the third base side and the home team on the first base side. There is no permanent store for the merch on either side, which was unique in Taiwan. Food options were a little scarce on the visitors side (which turned into a ghost town past third base), but there were plentiful options on the home first-base side, ranging from a full-fledged convenience store, to Pizza Hut, to duck burritos, and (no kidding) pork blood sausages.

All of that talk about overhead coverage was very important, because the rain that started as soon as I came in changed to a torrent rather quickly. The tarp was out, but there didn't seem to be any move to call the game, so I was never too worried. When the rain slowed down, however, it was all hands on deck to get the field playable. First, the tarp came off and the grounds crew started laying down DiamondDry like it was going out of style. The infield seemed easy enough to fix, but the umpires were spending a lot of time looking at the outfield, which had several small lakes. Everyone except the players, but including the ball girls and what appeared to be some office staff, converged on the outfield with towels and buckets and began to sop up all the water possible. It was quite an effort, and in the end, the umpires cleared the field for play. To look at it, it only seemed if a small shower had graced the field. Here's to the grounds crew: the unappreciated heroes.

Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders work for their supper

Given the weather, there was still a sizeable crowd in the stadium, especially after a half-hour rain delay. The covered area of the home side was mostly filled, with a smattering of people upstairs and dei-hards out in the bleachers. On the visiting side, the Lions had about a quarter of their seats filled, and their cheer squad was in attendance.

Rain cheers
Rain cheers

The Elephants' band and cheer squad were not down on the stage by the dugout, but at the top of the walkway safely under cover. I was pretty close to them, and the horns and drums get loud when you're that proximate to them. While the singing and cheers were mostly normal, being this close, I was able to pick up on a lot more of the little things. For example, on any two strike count, the home fans say a drawn-out out "See ya" as the pitch goes in to send the batter on his way.

And even on this rainy day, there was a proposal in the stands during the game. It was hard to see because they were in the section closer to home plate, but judging by the reactions, I think she said "yes."

At the Game with Oogie:


$500 NTD
Slow realization

While I was waiting in line for my ticket, I noticed for the first time in the two weeks that I had been in Taiwan that the $500 NTD note had a baseball picture on the back of it. I have to wonder if that is the only instance of baseball on money in the entire world.

Luckily, the seat I had for the game was already under the second deck, so the rain wasn't as much of an issue for me. I was sitting in a seat one away from the aisle, but it seemed my entire section was mostly filled by teenagers on dates. Two of them showed up next to me, and the male of the pair managed to get across that I was the one that was keeping them from sitting together, and would I mind moving? So I moved over one to advance the good of humanity. To perhaps offset this, on my other side was a teenage kid going to the game with his mom. I'm sure it means something, but I was too damp to care.

Pork blood pudding
Pork blood on a stick

The one good thing about the rain delay was that it gave me a lot of time to wander around the concession stands for food. Of course I got the pork blood pudding. It was fantastic. One of the first things I did when I got back to the states was talk to the Taiwanese people I know at work and make them tell me where you can get it in America. (The answer is Queens.)

The Game:


First pitch, Lions vs. Elephants
First pitch, Lions vs. Elephants

The game started about forty minutes late due to the rain delay.

This was a tale of a game with sporadic, but intense, scoring, and a bunch of double-plays. The Lions went in order in the top of the first, while the Elephants had a leadoff single erased on a double-play, and a reached-on-an-error stranded by a ground-out to the pitcher. The top of the second began with a homer deep to left by the Lions. Two outs followed, then another homer deep to left, leaving it 2-0 Lions at the end of the half. The Elephants went in order.

The third started with another Lions' homer deep to left, before the rest of the lineup went in order. The Elephants went in order again in the bottom of the inning, as did the Lions in the top of the fourth. The home team finally showed some life in the bottom of the inning. They got three straight singles to bring in a run and leave it first and second with no outs. The next batter tried to bunt the runners over, but the catcher threw the ball away, loading up the bases with no outs. A short single brought another run in and left the bases loaded, but the pitcher struck out the next batter. But he walked the one after that, bringing in a run, and then alternated with another strikeout. A single to deep second brought in another run and completed the Elephants' batting around for the inning. The tenth batter finally flied out to second to end it, with the Elephants in the lead for the first time at 4-3.

The Lions eked out a two-out double in the top of the fifth, while the Elephants went in order. The sixth was another scoring frame, as the Lions got back-to-back singles to start the inning, and a sacrifice fly brought in a run and moved the tailing runner to second. A deep single to left brought the runner from second home before the pitchers got a strikeout. He then gave up another single and got the hook from the game. The next pitcher got a fly-out to center to end the bleeding at 5-4, Lions. The Elephants only had a stranded hit batsman to show for their half.

In the top of the seventh, the Lions got back-to-back singles again to start the inning, but stranded them with nothing across. The Elephants, seemingly forgetting how to hit, again went in order. The Lions didn't fare much better in the eighth, with just a two-out single. The Elephants tried to get something going in the bottom half with a single and the inevitable sacrifice bunt to move the runner to scoring position. But a grounder to the pitcher nailed the lead runner at third, and the runner remaining after the fielder's choice was picked off first base to end the threat.

The Lions got three straight singles in the top of the ninth to score another run, before a strikeout and a double-play ended their half. In the bottom of the ninth, a one-out walk went for naught as another double-play erased the runner before a fly to left ended the Elephant's last licks at 6-4 for the visiting Lions.

The Scorecard:


Lions vs. Elephants, 06-14-13. Lions win, 6-4.Lions vs. Elephants, 06-14-13. Lions win, 6-4.
Lions vs. Elephants, 06/14/13. Lions win, 6-4.

Once again, I was with the Baseball Writer's Association of America scorebook. As previously mentioned, there were a bunch of pitcher's best friends in this game, the most exotic of which was the "DP 1-6-3" in the ninth.

Easily the oddest thing in the game was the home runs. While it was also the most I saw in any game in Taiwan, the second and third dingers were of particular interest. The second homer to left in the top of the second looked like it hit the wall, but it was, after a brief congregation of umpires, ruled to be over the line and a home run. I made that note and thought I'd never think of it again. Yet two batters later in the top of the third, the exact same thing happened in the exact place with the home run to lead off the inning, and so the note was improbably re-used.

It was mostly conventional besides that, except for a "1-5t" put out in the bottom of the eighth to nail a lead runner not in a force situation.

One Elephants pitcher had quite the pitching line: infinite innings pitches (recorded no outs), 3 hits, 1 earned run. That does not help one's ERA.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Imperial again, along with the winning team from that night's baseball contest.


On Bad Decisions, Such as Leaving

Airport pagoda
Airport pagoda

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Outside the Game:
So it came to this.  It was my last day in country, and something had to be done about it. And that something turned out to be sleeping in as late as possible, and then having to pack all my crap before checkout came at the very civilized hour of noon.

Through some herculean effort of physics and organization, I managed to get all of my crap into the two bags I started with, even though I had far more stuff than I began with. I did worry about the structural integrity of both bags, but you can only bother yourself with so many concerns.

I dragged my bags down just shy of noon and officially checked out with the good folks at the hotel. I asked them to hold my bags for a while, as I wouldn't actually to have to head to the airport realistically any time before 3 PM, and even at that it would be early. I then had an afternoon to fill, with several strictures imposed upon it. Firstly, I couldn't go too far, as I needed to know I'd be able to get back to the hotel in time to leave. Secondly, I couldn't really do anything outside in the afternoon, as it was again a thousand degrees out with a thousand percent humidity, and I didn't want to take a sixteen-hour plane ride smelling like wet death after being soaked through with sweat from being outside. Not only would it be uncomfortable, but I'd likely be lynched by my fellow passengers in first class.

So  within the parameters given, I did what I could. My first action was to get a four-course steak lunch at one of the restaurants in the hotel. And even given the luxury of the experience, it only cost about $30, which is cheap for the offering in the US. Suitability luncheoned, I set out into the afternoon. Given my limiting factors, I took to the underground, and grabbed the subway back Taipei Main Station. I had partially passed through an underground mall they have there in previous trips, and I figured it was worth a visit through now.

The mall, as it turns out, is not just one thing, but a series of sections starting at Taipei Main Station and following the subway line for two stops. It is probably the longest straight distance you can travel underground in Taipei. The first stretch of mall between the first two stations was mostly clothes and the like. But the second bit was the "Underground Book Mall," with nothing but book shops for the entire stretch of it. Although there was limited material that I could comprehend, it was a good way to pass some time. And then, in about the third or fourth store I stopped in, I saw a shelf of English-language instruction books, and on it was a book about learning English through baseball. It is a small world sometimes. It would have been more useful to find a book with the Chinese translations for every possible baseball terms at the start of the trip, but who am I to argue?

Purchase in hand, I went through the last stretch of the mall, which had a section of public mirrored dance studio, which was filled with Taiwanese teenagers of both genders spending Saturday afternoon practicing their dance moves in great numbers. When I got to the end of the mall at the second station, I took the subway back to the main station. There was a stage set up for what looked to be an audition for the Taiwanese version of "American Idol," or some such. Having successfully murdered the necessary time, I left them to it and got on the subway back to the hotel.

I got my bags from the hotel and had them call me a cab to the airport a little shy of 3:30. My flight wasn't until 7 PM, but I needed to get there 2.5 hours before, and the staff had told me that with traffic (as was likely on a Saturday, for some reason), it could take up to an hour. So off I went, in multiple ways, as I managed to conk out in the cab early in the trip and awoke to find that we hadn't hit any traffic, and I was at the airport at 4.

I paid the cabbie and headed into the airport to get this whole process started. Since I was in super-mega class, or whatever, I got to use the special check-in counter and quickly checked my erstwhile and over-laden carry-on bag and got my boarding pass and permission slip for the frequent flier's club. After I turned in my bag, I had to wait to see if it got through security before going through security myself. Presumably, if there's a problem when your bag is scanned, you deal with it before security, and life goes on. So I waited by a little video screen until I saw my bag being conveyed to loading, and went on my way. Since I was so extraordinarily early, I took a walk around the outer area of the airport to see what I could see, which wasn't all that much.

I then went to security, and it provided a very effective American detection system. When the Americans got up to the actual checkpoint to go through the metal detectors and bag X-ray, they started disrobing and pulling crap out of their bags, while everyone else just threw their bags on the conveyor and went to through the metal detector. Drunk with unimagined freedom, I stopped taking off my belt, and just threw my backpack on the conveyor and walked through the metal detector... Aaaand I got my bag, and went on my way, and the terrorists didn't win, and freedom didn't collapse, and I felt a little sad thinking about the next time I had to fly. Which seems to happen an awful lot when I fly in other countries, for some reason.

I had to wait in another quick-moving line to clear customs, where a very serious-looking young woman asked me a bunch of questions no-doubt designed to catch smugglers and terrorists, and stared seriously at me as I answered, and then smiled sweetly at me and sent me on my way. Why can't more transactions go this way?

Still incredibly early, I decided to take a look around the airport to kill some time. I bought some pineapple treats for people at work at the duty free shop, and then I just walked around. Because it was actually a legitimately interesting building instead of just an airport. There were sporadic art, cultural, and historic exhibits you could walk around in. They even had a play area for the kids (well, the girls at least) all themed out in Hello, Kitty. As I passed, there was a little girl rapturously watching some cartoon or other on the screen, and I yet again saw another child that was happier under 10 then I'd ever be again in my life.

Well, almost, because down another corridor was a "relaxation room," that had 15-minute massage chairs that you could get free tokens to use. And while I might not have been quite as happy as that little girl, after fifteen minutes, I was doing A-Ok.

I eventually gave up walking around and went to the EVA Air club at the terminal. There are apparently several different levels to the club, as you get screened when you come in and get sent down one of three corridors that are carefully watched. The passage I was sent down ended in a nice enough lounge, with big comfy chairs and electrical outlets. There was also a nice free buffet in another room, and in that buffet was a drinks tray, and on that drinks tray was an open bottle of KaVaLan single malt. So, with my plate of free food, I was in a comfy chair watching the ballgame on one of the TVs, freshly massaged, and drinking some free Scotch, and all of a sudden, that little girl was getting a run for her money.

Civilized
Civilized

This debauchery went on until it was time for boarding. I went down to my gate and got there just as they were finishing pre-boarding all the special needs and families with young children. I went in with the first batch of first class, or business class (or whatever) passengers, and was led to my seat by a stewardess. I stowed my bags and began taking advantage of all the stuff to which my ticket price entitled me. I took off my shoes and socks and replaced them with circulation socks and slippers. I arrayed my free headphones and got everything plugged in. I moisturized on up with the lotion in my kit, and arrayed my pillows and blankets accordingly.

It was a relatively quick wait until take-off, and no plague-carrying miscreants delayed us going this way. We took off and got altitude, and as soon as the seatbelt sign came off, I went and got my bag, and really started to abuse the privileges. I had my iPod plugged into my seat jack to recharge and provide music, I plugged in the iPad to get it juiced up as well, and I played some games on the entertainment system while I awaited my three-course dinner.

As much as I was enjoying myself, the little Chinese girl in the pod behind me thought she had died and gone to Disney Land. She was in this big chair that might be as big as her bedroom, and there were buttons, and lights, and clothes to dress up in, and a blanket to hide under... and then she found the big magic screen that would play whatever cartoon she wanted. It really put my own limited enjoyment in perspective. But then my steak dinner came, with its free Scotch, and once again, the kid would get a run for her money from the old white guy.

Dinner
Also civilized

After dinner was all cased away and the cabin was darkened for night time as we defied time and space and flew eastward against the date line, we started to hit some turbulence, which sort of dampened the festivities. Or it at least delayed everyone getting to sleep for an hour or so. And had that sleep disturbed by being buffeted around like a present being guessed by an impatient child.

But even with that, everyone slept through most of the flight. I woke up with under three hours until we landed, and all of the things I had hoped to achieve on the flight quickly took the wayside to "sitting around and eating and watching TV." I make no apologies.

We actually pulled in about an hour early and had a bit of a taxi to our gate, but we were eventually disgorged early into the NY evening. We had left at about 7 PM Taiwan time, and we arrived about 9 PM ET, thus setting up some rather epic jetlag. With unsteady steps, I made it through immigration and went to baggage claim to get my bag. I gave my father a call, as he was picking me up, and he was already parked and waiting for me on the other side. After a moderate wait, I managed to have my bag be one of the last of the "priority" bags to come off the plane, and, enjoying my last first-class perk, I wandered through customs and out to my waiting parent, who graciously took me back to my apartment.

After exploding my bag open at my place, I eventually started to get a little sleepy at 2 AM and made the awful decision to take a sleeping pill, thinking it would get me back on my sleep cycle faster. In reality, it left me wide awake at 4:30 AM when I awoke again, but too drugged to do anything but loll back and forth impotently on the bed.

The Accommodations:
Home Hoboken, relievedly and regrettably


Epilogue:

Loot
Loot

I'm not exactly sure what next year will bring. There is the (largely theoretical, at this point) Chinese mainland league. After that, pro ball is only to be found in Australia, which has inverted seasons from us. Besides them, there is the Netherlands and Italy in Europe, and then all the leagues in South America, which will need to wait until the further reaches of the globe are completed first. Time will tell.

Mascots
All the guys


2013 Taiwan

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taoyuan

On Still Having One Job

Xingtian Temple
There be dragons

Wednesday, July 12, 2013
Taoyuan, Taiwan

Outside the Game:
I had to get up relatively early this day for the train back up to Taipei, so it was with murder in my heart that I was awoken by a person in the next room being amazingly loud in the shower. Upon looking at the clock and discovering that it was only two minutes before my alarms were due to go off, my violent rage passed into the sullen determination to stay in bed the extra two minutes until the alarm sounded "officially."

I eventually finished the last of my packing and dragged myself downstairs for the breakfast buffet. It was a more modest affair than in Tainan, to be sure, but it got some pork, dairy, and carbs into my system successfully, so there is only so much criticism I can have for it.

I checked out and made my way to the largely deserted subway station, which seemed particularly odd since it was a quarter to nine-ish on a workday. I got the train up to the high-speed rail station, negotiated far too many stairs with all my bags, and eventually dumped myself into my seat on the train for the super-express ride back north that was only scheduled to take about an hour and a half. The trip was alternately spent sleeping and typing.

I was dumped out into Taipei Main Station yet again, and I took the subway to the north end of town. In my previous stays, I was in the Old Town and East Taipei, so I picked a place in the Zhongshan district in the north of the city. In keeping with my policy of getting nicer and nicer places as the trip went on, I was staying in a five-star hotel in the posh part of town. Posh or not, I found out that it was raining pretty heavily when I eventually exited the subway station.

My hotel was a bit of a walk up, located halfway between the subway line and the parks that run along the north river that borders that end of Taipei. Most of it was covered, so the rain was less of an issue, but I could have done without dragging all my bags all that way. I got to the hotel entrance, and several people in suits were falling over themselves to help me get into the lobby and out of the rain. As with my other rather posh hotel, even though it was mid-morning, they were more than happy to let me check in early and help me get my bags upstairs.

Upon arriving in my room, I immediately grabbed out some pants and shirts for the hotel laundry, as the last couple of days in the heat had done a number on my dwindling wardrobe. I called housekeeping to pick them up, got my rain gear and my guide book out of my bag, and went out to spend my afternoon.

As I was a short distance from a couple of museums in the art park just to the north of the hotel, this seemed as good as any indoor place to spend the day. I marched up a bit until I reached the south end of the park, and then wandered around a bit to find the museums in question. Some construction had altered the paths directed by the signs, so it took some doing.

My first stop was the Story House, a Western-style house dating from the Japanese-occupation era that has been turned into a curiosity museum with rotating exhibits on various topics, such as comics, matchbooks, or the like. This seemed a slam-dunk to me, so it was my first stop. Upon entering from the rain, I found out that the exhibit at the moment was greeting cards. The museum was interesting in equal parts due to the subject matter of the exhibit as well as the house itself, which in turn was interesting because of both its historical value and how out of place it was in Taiwan. Given that the exhibit was on historic greeting cards, I suppose I should have been prepared for how inappropriate some of them were, but even with the amount of expectation I had, the actual items were still surprisingly discordant with modern sensibilities.

Antique greeting card
The past is horrific

While I was on the second floor of the house, one of the staff saw me looking at one of the displays and stepped in to show me that there was another bit to it that I was missing, as some of the panels actually opened up as well, which showed the other half of the display. As can happen, we started talking. He wanted to know where I was from, and when I told him, he was very impressed that I was visiting their little museum. I told him that it was in a very popular guide book in America, and it sounded interesting, so here I was. He thanked me for coming and then asked about why I had come to Taiwan. I took a deep breath and told him that I was there for the baseball, and that I was a writer visiting all the baseball stadiums. He didn't think that anyone would actually pay me to go visit all the baseball stadiums, to which I replied that it wasn't my "real" job, but something for which my real job paid. He thought that I must appreciate my real job a lot if it let me do all these things, and then I felt intensely guilty.

Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Taipei Fine Arts Museum

After my fill of the Story House, I essentially went next door to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The rain had finally let up, so I didn't have to re-don all my rain gear; I just went across the plaza and paid the small admission fee to go in. Now, fine arts museums aren't really my thing, but I always attempt to try again every now and then because that's how you don't stagnate. Everything seems to happen for a reason on these trips, so I just went with it. Most of the museum was a lot of modern art that I didn't quite get, but could at least see what they were trying, but the conceptual exhibits just tried my patience beyond all endurance.

Here comes an art rant. Skip to the next paragraph should you not care about such things. I fully acknowledge that I am not really a "high art" person; I am far more a craftsmanship person. And even within that limitation of my capabilities (that I readily acknowledge), I can usually still appreciate art, if only from that perspective. This piece of art was done with great skill, or this piece of art was done with this concept in mind. At least on that level, I can always get behind it. I even can even get behind some abstract expressionism after reading Breakfast of Champions. I am also a person of above-average intelligence and something of a literalist. If I have to do homework or have additional information to "get" what you are trying to convey with your art, you have already failed. There was one piece on one of the museum's upper floors that was a foldable ruler unfolded and at an angle on the wall. No. There is no way I can possibly get your point without some extra information, and as it was, it just wasted my time. I just looked at a ruler. I realize that it doesn't make me avant guarde, but I will live with that burden.

After visiting all the exhibits in the museum, I had a late lunch in the cafeteria in the basement and then headed back to my hotel to get ready to head out for the game that evening. I put away my waiting laundry, showered, changed, and grabbed my game bag to head out into the late Taipei evening.

My game for this evening was in Taoyuan, a city west of Taipei that holds the international airport. It was a little too far to be connected to the Taipei subway system, but it was the second stop on the high-speed rail line that runs from Taipei. It was a scant twenty minutes away on that frequently-running service, and the trains continued until midnight, and even after the trains stopped, Taoyuan's proximity to the airport ensured access to cabs should they be necessary. The train fare was also a little under $10 for a reserved round trip, so it wasn't even expensive.

I took the subway down to the high-speed rail station and bought my ticket for the next train that stopped at Taoyuan, and then I went quickly and boarded said train, as it was leaving in ten minutes. I got in my seat and just stared out the window for the short ride out to the Taoyuan high-speed rail station. Upon exiting, I made a bee line to the information counters, which were plentiful since the station was this close to the airport. There was a lot of information for visitors, not to mention kiosks for some of the major airlines that let you do some check-in activities before you even got to the airport proper.

I got a time table with the schedules for the trains and then went to the tourist booth. I asked what the best way to get to the baseball stadium was, and he said that one of the free transit buses at the back of the station was the way to go. While I headed off to the buses, I was looking at the map I had from America, which showed that the stadium was pretty much a straight line down a road. But that road turned out to be a highway, so it was probably not the best route to take. At the bus pen, I couldn't figure out which was the correct bus, nor what the correct stop was, and not thinking I was able to walk, I decided to go back into the station and get an area map and either walk it or take a cab.

It was then that the drizzle that had been falling turned to honest-to-god steady rain, and I retreated into the station to get my poncho on before proceeding any further. I went back to the tourist counter and asked for a map and told him that I was probably taking a cab instead of the bus. I headed out the exit for the taxi stand and was standing under the cab stand overhang looking at the map it when the tourist staffer sprinted out and told me that the game had been cancelled because of the rain and not to go. Well, check mark for customer service, right there. I thanked him and rather annoyedly retreated to the station to figure out my options. This wasn't a big deal, as there were two more games this week being played at Taoyuan, which is why it was good to have some flexibility worked into your schedule.

Rain
Waiting out the rain

Of course, I had just missed a train to Taipei, so I had to wait about twenty minutes. As I was buying my ticket, some other damp people came in from the rain in baseball gear, most likely fellow fans who just made it back here when the news about the game being called came through. I bought my ticket and went to the MOS Burger in the station to get some dinner. I put in my order and went to the tables in back by the windows and started quite angrily at the rain that was still falling heavily outside.

Xingtian Temple
Xingtian Temple

I ate and got on the train back, and I think I may have taken a nap, or not. I remember nothing about the train ride except being annoyed. When I got out of the subway by my hotel, the rain had, of course, lessened. I returned to my hotel fairly early, as the game had been called at least an hour before gametime, so it was before seven. With an open evening ahead of me, I decided to take a trip down to Xingtian Temple, which was a bit of a walk from the hotel. Along the walk, I passed a business called "Monarch Butterfly," which just made me remember that after two years, there were finally new Venture Brothers episodes airing, and I would have to wait until I got back to America to see them.

The Monarch
The Monarch

I got to the temple, and even with the rain having just stopped on a mid-week evening, the temple lived up to its reputation as one of the busiest in Taipei. Even with humid steam wafting from nearly every surface, the exceptional building was bustling with people. As with most of the noteworthy temples in Taiwan, it was an explosion of color and detail. I forget how much time I spent just wandering around there and looking at things.

Ching Kyang Night Market
Ching Kyang Night Market

Even after spending my fill of time at Xingtian, there was still some of the night left to be had. I stopped at the Ching Kyang Night Market to get a snack or two on the way back, and then tried to make it to Jing Fu Temple by the hotel, but I only got there as it was closing up, which was an interesting enough experience, as I had never seen a temple be closed up for the evening before. It was finally getting late, so I took the short walk back to the hotel to call it a soggy, unsuccessful evening.

The Accommodations:


Imperial Hotel
Imperial Hotel

For my final stay in Taipei, I decided on a luxury hotel in the north end of town, the only area I hadn't resided in previously. I got a great discount deal on the impressively-monickered Imperial Hotel that lay just south of the major parks in that area of the city. And impressive it was. I got another amazing rate on the hotel from Agoda, but I only got a regular room and not a suite for that price.

Not that it was anything to shake a stick at. I got the gignormous bed opposite a dresser, desk, and flat-screen TV. There was a proper wardrobe that held the de rigur fluffy bathrobe and several drawers for clothes (that I used to stash all my purchases so far). The cabinet under the TV held a full drinks and tea service, while the end table had a plastic-covered New Testament, along with the HBO Guide. The bathroom to the left of the entrance had an electrical toilet from the future from Japan, a marble sink, and a combo bath and shower that was of the correct size for Western stature.

There were two floors of restaurants downstairs, along with a sweets shop in the lobby. When you checked in, you get a voucher for a free packet of pineapple cake, which was, surprisingly, the first time I tried it while in the Taiwan. A fully-stocked, high-end gift shop was also on the first floor, for those that couldn't be bothered to leave the hotel and go a block or two to the dozens of shops that lined the streets around the hotel.

There was also a sign welcoming FedEx to the hotel, no doubt being housed there as part of the conference. The hotel was used to hosting foreigners, as they not only had hotel cards that one could give to the taxi drivers, but they also opened up to include common tourist destinations, so you could just check off where you wanted to go and give it to someone in the lobby and have them arrange a taxi to take you exactly where you wanted.

And as if I was meant to be here, the hotel also had a bit of baseball lineage. A wall of photographs of famous visitors included the NY Yankees coaching staff, various Japanese baseball personages, and Taiwanese baseball teams. It is funny how these things manage to come together.

My only real disappointment was that breakfast wasn't included in my package, so I never got to see what kind of spread they put out, and if it challenged the Tayih Landis for the most elaborate ever experienced.


On Succeeding at One Job


Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium
Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium, 2013


Thursday, June 13, 2013
Brother Elephants vs. Lamingo Monkeys
Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium
Chinese Professional Baseball League
Taoyuan, Taiwan
16:35

Outside the Game:
After the rain-out the night before, I was absolutely ecstatic to wake the next day to a half-hearted rain already falling. But since it pretty much rained nearly every day I was in Taiwan, I tried not to think too much about it.

My pre-game itinerary for the day was to start out with the Taipei Confucius Temple. It took a bit of navigating from the closest subway stop, but I found it fairly readily. It was one of the largest temples I had seen in Taiwan, and in addition to the temple, park, and grounds, there were several buildings that went in-depth on every aspect of Confucism, talking about the basic tenets, history, and ceremonies, as well as each of the Confucian arts, including calligraphy, math, archery, and chariot driving. It was all very interesting, and more importantly, each of the exhibits on the arts had interactive stations where you could practice them. You could write some calligraphy, prove out the square roots theorem with blocks, try drawing a bow, and, my favorite, play a video game that simulated chariot driving. You raced slalom courses or had to hunt pigs, and it was way more fun than it had any right to be.

Taipei Confucius Temple
Main temple

After spending most of the morning at the Confucius Temple, I went across the way to the Baoan Temple. In between the two was an odd little park that wasn't labeled on the map, though I assume that it belonged the campuses of one or the other temple. The park was laced with pool and canals, with small, odd little pathways leading up rock outcroppings and through waterfalls. All along the park were tiny dioramas of people, and tigers, and monkeys. I'm sure it would have been interesting to know what it all was about, but it was just as interesting not knowing. They were setting up a stage for some performance later on. I wandered across the way and eventually visited the Baoan Temple itself, with its notable statuary, landscaping, and architectural details.

Baoan Temple
Nice tiger

As early afternoon was upon me, I stopped off for a quick lunch and then headed down to find the Dihua Markets, one of the few streets with old merchant buildings on it from various periods in Taiwan's past that still specialize in Eastern medicines and traditional wares. The markets end up right near the City God Temple, and I managed to arrive there right as a festival procession was arriving. Several musicians in adorned cars were driving up to the temple, to be met by several elaborately painted performers who came out to meet them and get on the cars to continue to the procession. It was pure tourist bait, and I saw more white faces in that ten or so minutes than I saw the entire rest of the trip. Perhaps distracted by that, I didn't notice I was standing close to a mesh basket into which someone from the temple threw a match, which set off the fireworks to ward against evil spirits that were inside. They are also effective at warding off effective hearing for a minute or so if you are inadvertently standing too close.

Festival
Festival

With a little more time to kill before I had to head off to the game, I wandered down to the river, because I hadn't actually seen it yet in all of my stay in Taipei. I headed over to Dadaocheng Wharf and spent some time walking around and watching a musical performance that was taking place in a small riverside pagoda.

Suitably relaxed, it started to rain on me. I just left myself to fate, and realized I need to get back to the hotel pronto, so I hailed a cab and gave my hotel card, and in under five minutes, someone in a suit was holding the door for me as I ducked out of the cab and away from the rain. I showered, changed, and hopefully grabbed my game bag, as I headed back to the train station to try Taoyuan again.

I got a ticket for the same train I took the day before and hoped for a different result. As I went up the escalator to the surface-level station in Taoyuan, I was relieved by the lack of rain so far. I decided to just hail a cab to get to the stadium, and after a bit of pantomime bat swinging by the cab driver to make sure he was taking me to the right place, I made it to the stadium. The ticket office being open, I secured a seat on the home team side of the park in the infield and then went around to take all my pictures.

After the game, I wasn't quite sure how I was getting back to the train station, but I knew now that the CPBL usually ran shuttle buses back to the city after the game. As I exited, sure enough, there were the buses. I almost got on the wrong one, as the first one I saw was actually going to downtown Taoyuan. I eventually got pointed in the direction of the buses behind the stadium, which were going back to the train station. Halfway to the buses, I saw a cab, and decided to just grab the cab back so I wouldn't have to wait. After another bit of pantomime on her part to make sure she was taking me to right place (I was getting pretty good at bi-lingual pantomime at this point), she took me back to the high-speed rail station quite quickly.

I got a ticket for the next train back to Taipei, which thankfully was leaving in about ten minutes. I stopped in at the 7-11 in the station to get some drinks and snacks for the trip and had an uneventful ride back to Taipei. And a similarly placid subway ride back to the hotel, where someone in a suit held the door for a sweaty American dragging a bag and a camera back up to his room.

The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, Taoyuan International Baseball stadium
Home plate to center field, Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium

Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium is the newest ballpark in the league, and it shows in its more contemporary styling and amenities. Its problem is that it is located in the middle of nowhere. Well, technically, it is part of Qingbu Sports Park, which is in the middle of nowhere. It is a little over a mile from the high-speed rail station, which is a little over a mile from the international airport, but it is also not really near anything else. Downtown Taoyuan is over five miles away, so it is just the sports park and nothing else around except for the train station.

The park itself has an erector set vibe going for it, with exposed ribs circling the park in its middle section, and an angular shade roof extending inward over the park. There's a big pavilion in front of the park, filled with bat sculptures, a circle of flagpoles, and mitt-shaped concrete benches. The tiled walkway goes all the way around the stadium, and it is actually a second level over a lower level where parking lots and the bus parking all lie underneath.

The ticket booth lies just to the left of the main entrance, and other entrances, vending machines, and bathrooms extend around the stadium at fairly regular intervals. The vending machines were a new twist, as for some reason, there weren't any at all in the other stadiums in Taiwan, nor many vending machines in general. Around the back of the stadium is the entrance for the bleachers and nothing much else. On the road to the right of the stadium, freelance food vendors set up before the game for the budget-conscious.

There were two other ballparks surrounding the main park. There was one that looked like a little-league field in the back, but there was a rather old-looking but professional number next door. Since the sports park and the main stadium were relatively new, I assumed that this was the old ballpark for a previous incarnation of the team, but I'd been unable to find any information on it until I got home. (It turned out to be just another park they built next to the main one.) It looked a bit run down, but was still all together, but it seemed anyone could go in if they wanted. I did poke around a bit until I got to a playground that was between the old park and the new that was occupied by a rather sizeable pack of wild dogs, and I decided on discretion being the better part of valor and went back to the main stadium.

Once inside the main entrance to the park, you are greeting by a giant flat-screen TV that was showing an extra-innings Dodgers/D-Backs contest this night. I'm not exactly sure who this was to appeal to, outside of general baseball fans and the occasional American who wanders in. The drop ceiling in the entrace way was done in a bat and ball pattern. The desk for the fan club was also located in in the foyer.

The main walkway extended out from here in both directions. Various concession stands lined the walls and kiosks stood on their own in the hallways. The official Monkeys concession stands had drinks, salads, and snacks, and something called a "Subber," that was some manner of submarine sandwich with meat and vegetables. And then there was a giant corn dog stand, and you sort of felt like home.

On the visitors side, in addition to the food stands, there was the table for visiting team merchandise and a model of the stadium. The further back towards the outfield you went, the more abandoned the hallway started feeling. On the "home" third base side, there was a table and rack selling jerseys, and then a more upscale merchandise shop with dim lighting and muted colors that sold all manner of Monkeys trinkets. Further down the same hallway was a hip shop for parent company "La new" that sold some of their signature sneakers, for people who wanted to buy shoes at the ballgame.

The seating areas were separated into the segregated outfield bleachers, and an infield grandstand and upper deck. The outfield bleachers had actual seats, and were split into two section by a walkway in left and right-center, and, for some reason, three sections in right, with an added level in the section right next to the scoreboard. Both the outfield and the upper deck infield were closed off for this game, likely due to lack of demand. A medium-sized foul ball fence extended from the home-base netting all the way down to the outfield seating.

The lower-deck infield seats had one path that separated the seats into an upper and lower level, as well as an upper walkway at the top of the seating bowl. There were some concession stands perched on the top walkways for everyone stuck in seats at the back. They also had an entrance into the luxury boxes that lined either side of the press box behind home plate. There were two scoreboards: a large, detailed game scoreboard in left-center, and a big video number out in right-center.

There were the prerequisite stages build into the home and away dugouts where the cheering squads held court. The Monkeys had an MC and a cheerleader group, as well as the nominal monkey mascot, who spent most of the game either dancing with the cheerleaders or out and about the entire home side of the field, meeting and greeting fans. One negative point was that they had speakers to pipe in additional crowd noise. The Monkeys are the youngest team in the league (and also the worst), so I don't know if they are having problems getting people in the seats, but, man, pre-recorded crowd noise is never the answer. The crowd was about half-full on the home side, and the visiting Brother Elephants from just down the road in New Taipei had about a quarter of the seats on the visiting side filled.

Mascots and cheerleaders
Mascots and cheerleaders

Songs and cheering were pretty standard for Taiwan, although they did have a more Western-style "Let's go" chant (in English), and in the middle innings, they had everyone whip out their smart phones with their Monkeys app and did a sing-along while they swayed their phones in the air. Asia, man. Asia. The victory celebration included a small fireworks show (that no doubt terrified the feral dogs back there) in addition to the normal MVP awards.

At the Game with Oogie:


Corn dog
"Corn dog"

After all my ramblings around to take pictures, there was a line at the main entrance to get into the stadium. I managed to find myself positioned right before a busload of schoolkids who were lead by their teachers or chaperones or whathaveyou into line right behind me.

This was inevitable. All the kids started whispering to each other and pointing, and it was just a matter of time before one of them got up the nerve to do it.

"Hello," one said.

"Ni hao," I said back.

I was clearly doing it wrong, as he looked confused.

"HELLO," he said again.

"Hello," I said back, giving them what they wanted.

And that was all it took. They all started shouting "Hello" at me, and I had to answer them all until we got into the stadium.

I spent a bunch of time and money in the swank merchandise shop. Of all the teams in Taiwan, the angry gorilla branding was easily the most compelling. T-shirts, buttons... it all went in the bag.

And when you have a giant corn-dog concession stand, you have to get yourself a giant corndog, especially if you're in Asia.

When I got to my seat, I was surrounded by families, and there were a couple of guys out for a night of baseball next to me. Somewhere in the middle innings, the guy next to me tapped me on the shoudler while I was writing away on my scorecard. The monkey mascot was in the aisle and would not leave until I gave him a high-five. High-five collected, he went on his way down to schmooze with the other fans in the area. So that, children, is how I high-fived a guy in a monkey suit in Taiwan.

Also somewhere in the middle innings, the home fans were getting quiet as the MC and the cheerleaders took a break from the heat. It was then that an older white guy got up and sarcastically said how he liked it over here because it was too noisy on the Elephants' side of the field. I can only assume that he was the father of one of the American players on the team. Or maybe he was just an insane baseball fan like me. I'll never know.

He proceeded to go back and forth in the cheering section and whip the crowd into a frenzy and lead the cheers himself. People came up to him and gave him high-fives or hugs, and all by himself, he had the crowd back in it just as the Monkeys pulled together a big inning. I'm not saying that Turbo Whitey was responsible for the big inning, but I am noting that it happened right after he got the crowd back in the game.

The Game:


First pitch, Elephants vs. Monkeys
First pitch, Elephants vs. Monkeys

The Monkeys and the visiting Elephants faced off for the first time this trip, and, for the most part, it was the most conventional game I saw. The Elephants started with just an infield single to show for the top of the first, while the Monkeys got a walk and a single with nothing across in their half.

I say "conventional" game, and then there was the top of the second. A leadoff double was followed by a booted ball by the shortstop to make it first and second with no out. In good Asian fashion, the next batter bunted them over to second and third. And then the next batter lined a shot to third. With the lead runner going on contact, the third baseman threw over to first, who threw back to third to get the slow runner from second on a routine 5-3-5 DP. The lead runner scored before the end of the play, leaving the visiting Elephants in the lead, 1-0. The Monkeys got a leadoff single in their half, but he was eventually erased on a one-out grounder to short where he tagged the runner from first and threw over to first for a little "6t-6-3" double play.

The Elephants got a one-out single to center in the top of the third, and the runner promptly stole second. A two-out single to left scored him, but the new runner promptly got picked off at first after a small rundown, leaving it 2-0, Elephants. The Monkeys went weakly in order in their part of the frame.

In the top of the fourth, the Elephants scattered two singles to no effect, and the only runner the Monkeys had in the bottom was on an error by the third baseman. The Elephants went in order in the fifth, but the Monkeys put together quite an inning. There was the leadoff single to right, moved to third on a double to left. The pitcher struck out the next batter, but then fell apart. He hit the next batter to load the bases, and then, after an epic at-bat that went into double-digits pitches, he walked in a run. Then he walked the next batter to bring in another run. Finally, the catcher let one get away from him to bring in another run, before the pitcher settled down to get two more outs in order. But the damage was done, and the Monkeys went ahead, 3-2.

The visitors scattered a single and reached on error in the top of the sixth, but the Monkeys kept their train running. A one-out single chased the Elephants starter, but his replacement gave up another single to center to make it first and third with one out. A grounder to second got another out, but the runner from third scored. A strikeout closed the inning with the Monkeys now up 4-2. The Elephants had something in the seventh, though. A leadoff single was followed by a one-out single and a walk to load the bases and chase the Monkeys' pitcher. A sacrifice fly brought in a run and the new pitcher uncorked one to move the runners up to second and third, but he got a ground-out to third to end the half, 4-3 Monkeys.

The Monkeys had something of their own in the seventh, with a leadoff walk and then a hit batsman that chased another Elephants' pitcher. The new pitcher walked the bases loaded, but a numerically satisfying 1-2-3 double play gave him some room, and a fly out to second ended the half with no one across. In top of the eighth, a leadoff walk was followed by a one-out hit batsman, but a more conventional 4-6-3 double play ended the threat by the Elephants. A new Elephants' pitcher struck out the Monkeys in order in their half.

The Monkeys closed it out by getting the Elephants in order in the top of the ninth, cementing their 4-3 win.

The Scorecard:


Elephants vs. Monkeys, 06-13-13. Monkeys win, 4-3.Elephants vs. Monkeys, 06-13-13. Monkeys win, 4-3.
Elephants vs. Monkeys, 06/13/13. Monkeys win, 4-3.

As always, I was using the BBWAA scorebook. This was more a game of odd double plays. I'm not sure I had ever got to write in a "DP 1-2-3" from the seventh inning of this game before, and I know for a fact, I never did a "DP 5-3-5" before. There was also a "CS 1-3-6-3" in the top of the third. The only other scoring bit of note was the epic at-bat by the Monkey's third baseman in the fifth inning where he drew a walk to force in a run. I just used the gem symbol ("!") in his frame.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Imperial again this evening. I didn't spend much time in the room at all except for sleeping, both in the afternoon and evening.



2013 Taiwan
Kaohsiung

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kaohsiung

On Having One Job

ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium
ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Uni-President 7-11 Lions vs. EDA Rhinos
ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium
Chinese Professional Baseball
Kaohsiung, Taiwan
18:35

Outside the Game:
Since the high-speed rail ride to nearby Kaohsiung was only about fifteen minutes, I could afford to sleep in a little before heading down to my inconceivably large breakfast buffet again with my free paper. I ate until it was necessary to leave, and then grabbed my stuff, checked out, and went across the street to wait for the free shuttle bus to the high-speed station. It came, I went, and I got on the train for an inconsequential ride to Kaohsiung.

Train station
Trains ahoy

Kaohsiung was always the "problem" of this trip, in that the main baseball park in the city is near a recreational area northeast of the city and not near anything resembling mass transit. It seemed a flaw for the biggest baseball stadium in the south, but who am I to judge?

A Taiwanese co-worker had helped me work out some buses that seemed to offer some hope, but this was always a little more mushy than I like my plans, so I was looking for some more solid information once I got boots on the ground. At the high-speed rail station, I stopped at the information booth, and the man there gave me a map and several places to catch the buses that my co-worked had correctly identified.

Buoyed by that information, I bought a ticket for my train the next day and then went onto the subway to get to my hotel. The Kaohsiung subway was much like the Taipei one, in that it had either the casino-chip, single-trip tokens, or a multi-use refill card. Since I was only using the subway once or twice, I opted for the tokens and a quick and uneventful ride to the station by my hotel.

After a bit of back-and-forth to find the right alley that held my hotel, I was able to check in early and dump all my stuff in the room. As this was going to be a one-day wonder trip, I got all my clothes and whatnot ready for the next day and re-packed, and then sat in the welcoming air conditioning for a while.

Since getting to the stadium was such a sketchy endeavor, I just decided to make a day of it, and at around two, I headed out. I walked up to the main local-service train station, which was just one more subway stop to the north. I went to the information desk there to ask which bus to take to get to the park. The woman at the counter gave me a bunch of useful information, but also offered the caution that the buses stop running at 10-ish and there aren't usually many cabs up by the lake district, so I also asked her for the number of a cab company, figuring I'd work out the logistics of actually calling a cab later.

So I popped out to wait for the bus, which was supposed to come every fifteen minutes or so. A scrolling sign informed me that the next 60 bus would arrive in about 20 minutes, so I figured I had just missed the last one. Over the next twenty minutes, the line behind me got longer, until it was snaking all around the waiting area. The sign said "bus arriving soon," and then a 60 bus drove past without stopping, and the sign changed to the next 60 bus arriving in 30 minutes. I seemed to be the only one who noticed that, and I wondered if they were repeating this message in Chinese or not, or if there was a different message in Chinese.

And so we waited. And waited. And another 60 bus finally showed up, and we all got on. I had a vague idea of how long I had to go on the bus until we got to the lake area, but standing around in the heat for so long waiting for the bus had gotten to me, and I promptly fell asleep in my seat. Fate had my six that day, as I woke up about a minute before the ChengCing Lake stop was announced. I groggily got off the bus and tried to work out my next move.

I had some Google maps printed out, but they were not of a resolution that would make precise navigation possible. The bus stop was right by a university in this area of the town, so I tried to find another point of triangulation reference nearby. There was such a thing with the huge, gated entrance to the ChengCing Lake park, which was located a little down the road. Inside was presumably the man-made lake itself, along with, if the signs could be believed, an aquarium located in a former Presidential bomb shelter. As enticing as this was to visit, I had to be sure I knew where the ballgame was being played first. I thought I had the bearings I needed, so I started off.

There was a nice little wetlands park along the route I was travelling, and I eventually got the idea I was going in the right direction. I passed a hospital on my way, and that became fallback position one on getting home, as it would probably be pretty easy to get a cab at the hospital if the game went too long. The local buses only ran until about 10 PM, so I needed to be thinking about my way back if things went all pear-shaped. A little past the hospital was a small mall, with a bread shop and a 7-11. I took the opportunity to load up on snacks and water, as I still wasn't quite sure where the park was from there.

I set out again, at least fed and hydrated, and then I thought I saw something on the horizon, so I cut across a road and another park until I definitively saw what had to be a set of stadium lights. Triumphant, I marched as directly as possible towards them, until I inevitably met up with the stadium.

And then I was in a bit of a situation. It was still about three hours or so before game time, which was not quite enough time to go back and visit the lake and the aquarium, but not close enough to even line up for tickets (which presumably wouldn't go on sale until two hours before the game). Especially given how popular the Rhinos game had been in Taipei, I didn't want to risk being sent out to the bleachers for this game.

So I spent some time walking around the park and taking pictures and dodging the packs of wild dogs that seemed to be some sort of feature in Taiwan. About twenty minutes before the tickets were to go on sale at the one ticket window open for early sales, I went back up to the top level by the ticket window and stood on what passed for a line.

I say this because it was still in the heat of the afternoon, and the ticket window was on the upper level, unprotected from the sun, except for the shadow that the ticket booth itself cast on the walkway. And all of us early-comers (all guys, go figure) were in some manner of line, cowering in the shade until the booth opened. I was clearly a curiosity, but no one could spare the energy to say anything, as we all waited as coolly and unmovingly as possible for the booth to open.

After a seemingly endless amount of sun-addled time, it did, and I was able to acquire my ticket and go wandering again. I found out that there was a bus stop actually behind the stadium, so I could have walked even less if I had known, and then I wandered across the street to a small military memorial museum. The museum itself was closed that day, but the small park in front of it was open, with various tanks and planes to hold one's interest while running from patch of shade to patch of shade. It eventually was time to enter the game, so I went back across the street to get in the stadium.

Upon leaving after the rather lengthy game, I was concerned about how I was going to get back downtown to the hotel. The last public transit bus had stopped running, and I was a long way from home. It was then that I found out that the CPBL runs free buses back to downtown after the games, and I was greatly relieved. I followed the crowds to the buses, and I saw a taxi parked there. Deciding that the convenience of going directly back to my hotel outweighed any potential costs the cab could incur, I asked if he was engaged yet, and when he said no, I gave him the card for my hotel and piled into the back seat for a rather relaxing ride back to town. In the end, I think the taxi was about $10 American, which was among some of the best-spent money I think I ever transacted. A fifteen-minute or so taxi ride had me back at the hotel, where I trundled up to my room to wash the disgusting off of me before hitting the sack for an early train the next day back up north.

The Stadium & Fans:


Nome to center, ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium
Home plate to center field, ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium

ChengCing Lake Baseball Stadium was the most imposing stadium I saw on the trip. It was a giant oval in the image of a lot of 70's era American ballparks, but not in the generic, multi-use way that they were. The park was perched in a large surrounding plaza, with government offices off to another plaza to the right of it, and a small field of something off to the left. In the far distance was the lake itself. Across the street, as mentioned, was a veterans memorial park and museum. Slightly over from that park is where the third-party concessioners set up for the game for those looking for more discount food before entering the stadium.

You can walk around the entire base of the circularish-stadium. There is a brick walkway that extends all the way around. Near home plate is the main VIP entrance, which is flanked by walls on both sides. It wasn't so VIP that a small group of random dogs wasn't allowed to lounge around in the shade it offered. Concessions were located in an area to the right of the VIP entrance, which not only included food, but also a food massage booth for the weary. There were various offices on either side of the first level, and toward the back on the right field side was the bus and parking entrance. Given the workers there, it also seemed to be the maintenance area. All the way around back were the bleachers entrances, with its own wide stairway that led to entrances on either side of the top.

There were two other loops around the most of the infield on higher levels. Several sets of stairs and some ramps led up to a second walkway level on the park. This is where the main grandstand entrance was located behind home plate, and it was flanked by the ticket booths for the stadium. On either side of that was what promised to be a hall of fame and a baseball museum, but neither seemed to be open the day I was there. There were also CPBL offices to be found, so this may also serve as the league center, which would be odd for a stadium so far from the city center.

There were also stairs and elevators up to a third level, which was presumably for the upper deck of the stadium, but since the upper deck was closed for this game, all the ways up were locked up, so I couldn't test out that theory.

Once you enter the park, you are immediately greeted by various merchandise stands, most, if not all, selling merchandise related to Manny Ramirez. Manny pictures, Manny balls, Manny towels... it was all available to you. On either side of the merch table were food vendors. There were smaller kiosks selling specialty hot dogs or sausages and larger stands selling more drinks and food that included grilled vegetables, donuts, and hot dogs. The lower interior walkway ran all the way from left field to right field. There were scattered bathrooms to be had, and the closed entrances to the museums, but outside of the visitors merch tables on the first-base side, the hallway was largely deserted. There were a couple of concessions stands, but they were all closed. The walls were covered with some great moments in team history as well as historical achievements for Taiwanese baseball. The hallways also ended in the entrances to the luxury seating areas.

Manny Ramirez
Manny

The infield grandstand seating bowl was separated into a lower and upper section by a promenade that extended all around the stadium. There were large stage areas on top of the inset dugouts of both teams for their cheering section, and, more in keeping with Asian parks, there was a relatively low foul ball fence that extended around the entire infield seating area. There was a special, roped-off seating area for VIP fans right behind the dugout stage, and there were other special seats with tables and power outlets under cover of the upper deck located at the top of the first and third base seat areas. A ring of luxury boxes also extended from about first to third base.

There was also an upper walkway at the top of the lower infield seating area. It held a couple of small concession kiosks and bathroom (as well as another entrance into the luxury boxes), and it led back down to the main walkways through regularly placed stairwells.

Towards the end of the seating areas in left and right field, the seat order got a little sketchy, with some restricted-view seats located somewhat haphazardly at the end of the sections. The outfield bleachers were once again segregated from the infield area, with their own entrances in the back of the stadium. They were "bleachers" per se, as they all had seats, and a walkway separated them into a lower and upper area all across the outfield. The largest scoreboard in Taiwan so far dominated the left-center area, with space for full lineups of the players, as well as the umpires.

There was an upper deck with its own sun shade that extended from a little beyond first to a little beyond third, but it wasn't open for this game. I imagine that they only open it up when demand dictates. The only people up there for the entire game were some cameramen, who no doubt had their choice of the various foul balls that made it up there over the course of the game.

Cheerleaders and mascot
Cheers and mascots

The Rhinos mascot and the cheer squad were both present for all of the game, and the Rhinos mascot did more schmoozing with the fans throughout the entire seating area than the other mascots so far seemed to do. There was a bit more to the interactions with the fans between innings that the regular dance numbers with the cheerleaders and mascot. There were some contests to pick the best fan sign that were brought to the park that day, and some guessing games, but much less than you'd find in the MLB of MiLB. Chants and singing were mostly Asia-regular, although there Rhinos fans did have a thing they did with balloons (thought not the rocket balloon launches common in Japan) in the later innings. There were some Japan-style beer girls (and beer boys) moving through the stands throughout the game, as well as some other concessions that came through for other food and merchandise.

Both home and visiting sides of the infield seating area were mostly filled up, with a nod to the home fans. There was a thin crowd out in the bleachers for the game, and both crowds were very much into the game, and it got very loud in some places. The biggest cheers were, of course, for Manny Ramirez, who only managed to go 1-3 with a run scored this night, but no one seemed to care either way.

At the Game with Oogie:


Scoring
Taiwan scoring

I scored some seats a little up on the home third-base side, near the stage. Because of the ticket I bought, I apparently got to go in for batting practice before the rest of the hoi polloi, which gave me some extra time for taking photographs. Despite my obvious racial failing, I was given an CPBL Taiwanese All-Star ballot, which I still do not know how to read. They had a special area set up by the entrance for fans to fill them out and return them, so they were clearly taking the whole proceeding very seriously. Since my only option was to fill out some random ovals and hope for the best, I just held onto the ballot.

I grabbed one of the sweet sausages in a rice bun and a lot of water for my dinner that evening at one of the concession stands that opened up after the general admission was allowed in. I took that back to my seat, where I was surrounded by young men who, in various groups, were all there to take in a game that evening, or perhaps get close enough to ogle the cheerleaders. I'm not sure, and I'm not one to judge. Groups of them would pop out and back with various food and beer throughout the course of the game, and all of them stayed the four hours until the end of the game.

The Game:


First pitch, Lions vs. Rhinos
First pitch, Lions vs. Rhinos

There was one game on this trip where I was worried about the time. As mentioned, before the game, I didn't know that the CPBL ran buses to downtown after the game, so I was worried about the game ending after the regular city buses stopped running at 10 PM. But that would only happen if the game, say, went four hours or something. So you know exactly what happened here. Nearly everything conspired to make this game go as long as possible.

And it was not helped at all by the Rhinos starting pitcher for the evening, who went to Traschel-eque lengths to delay between pitches to the point where I completely hated a stranger I had never met. Every pitch was followed by at least a minute before the next pitch, and it drove me entirely crazy, both as a baseball fan and observer, and as someone who had to get out of that place at some point.

Despite his slowness, he got the Lions 1-2-3 in the first, though the Rhinos also went in order, although more quickly. Captain Slow did less well in the second, giving up a leadoff single to center. A one-out single to left made it first and third with one out, and if at all even possible, the Rhinos' pitcher was even slower with men on base. It didn't help him, as a sacrifice fly to center gave the Lions the lead, 1-0. The Rhinos came back in their half, with Manny Ramirez leading off the second with a single to right. A double only got him over to third, but a sacrifice fly of their own tied it up, 1-1, before two  straight outs ended the inning.

After getting two outs to start the third, the Chinese Rain Delay gave up back-to-back-to-back singles. The first runner stole second and was brought in by the second hit, and the second batsman took second on the unsuccessful throw home. The third hit brought him home... and then the runner at first was called out. I'm not exactly sure what happened. As the throw from right came to the first-base side, the only reason I can possibly imagine for him being called out was an interference call, as it didn't look like he left the bag at first to be tagged. Either way, he was out to end the rally at 3-1, Lions, and there was no explanation I could discern of the call made in English. The Rhinos unceremoniously went in order in the bottom of the inning.

The fourth went in order for both sides. The fifth started off with a leadoff double for the Lions. A one-out walk made it first and second, but Sergeant Molasses almost got out of it with a foul out to first. But a single to right brought in the runner from second before a fly-out ended it at 5-1, Lions. The Rhinos started off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, who moved over to second on a single to shallow center. With a 1-2 count on the next batter, the pitcher was removed due to injury, and a new pitcher came in, prolonging the game further. He got the next batter to ground to first, where the first baseman took the force at first and then threw to the shortstop covering second for a tag-out double-play. A fly to left ended the threat and the half.

The Rhinos finally put in a new pitcher, who only gave up a single in the top of the sixth, and the Rhinos went in order in the bottom half. The seventh started with a leadoff double to center, but the next batter lined back to Lions' pitcher, who made the play, but was then also replaced due to an injury, dragging in another pitcher to extend the game more. A grounder to second got booted, making it first and third, but a grounder to short erased the runner at first, but brought the player from third home. A strikeout ended the half. The Rhinos got three short singles in the seventh that managed to load the bases, but strand the runners, leaving it 5-2, Lions.

The Lions got a one-out single in the eighth that moved to second on a ground-out and scored on a single to center. Another short single to left made it first and third with two outs, but a grounder to short ended the top of the inning. The game was long-since decided at this point, but the Rhinos decided to see how long they could make a half-inning. The bottom of the eighth began with a drizzling rain, which seemed intent on testing my patience with reality. There was a leadoff walk and a one-out walk that chased the current Lions' pitcher. The new pitcher promptly walked the bases loaded, before a ground-out to third scored a run and left it first and second with two outs. A short single to center loaded the bases again before a fly-out to center ended the inning at 6-2, Lions.

With two outs in the ninth, the Lions decided to get their run back with three straight singles to score the run before a ground-out to second ended the half. The Rhinos only managed a two-out walk before a strikeout finally ended the four hour endeavor at 7-2, Lions.

The Scorecard:


Lions vs. Rhinos, 06-11-13. Lions win, 7-2.Lions vs. Rhinos, 06-11-13. Lions win, 7-2.
Lions vs. Rhinos, 06/11/13. Lions win, 7-2.

I was using the BBWAA scorebook again, and there were some odd ones this night as well. In the third was that play that I'm still not sure what happened. I have it recorded as "Int-3?" on the scorecard. In the top of the fourth, there was an "inning extension" error as the left fielder dropped a ball in foul territory and earned himself an E7 for the effort (recorded in black at the bottom of the batter's frame). There were the two injury removals of pitchers in the fifth and seventh. I noted the count on the batter in progress for the first Lions pitcher who was removed. I also noted the failed sacrifice bunt in the top of the fifth that led to a 2-3 put-out.

Also in the fifth was the rather rare "DP 3U-6t," where the first baseman got the put-out and threw to the shortstop to put on the tag. Everything else was rather straightforward, if loooong.

The Accommodations:


Kindness Hotel
Kindness Hotel

For a one-night stay where I wasn't particularly expecting to be in the room that long, I picked the Kindness Hotel, a mid-ranged business hotel that had a bunch of locations around the city. I selected the one right by the Formosa Street Station, which is a transit hub in the city. It provided me pretty much exactly what I needed, in that it was convenient to the high-speed rail station and was convenient as possible to the stadium out in the middle of nowhere.

It had the smallish building all to itself, but similar to many of the other hotels I'd run into in Taiwan, the rooms were crammed in every possible crevice. The rooms also had a weird double-door system I hadn't run into before. There was an outer door, and then a larger, heavier interior door, that made we wonder if crime was an issue in this area or it was just something to give a little more soundproofing.

The room itself was fairly standard. There was the main area dominated by the bed, with a TV and small desk ledge on the opposite wall, and a connected bathroom. There were required shower slippers for the bathroom, and the shower itself was quite interesting in that it had three settings. There was the more familiar handset sprayer and shower head (which completely shot off the housing when I turned it on, but that's another story), and then there were a number of smaller, horizontal-facing shower heads that seemed to serve as a hose-off function (though designed for someone slightly smaller than me).

All the necessary shower fluids were provided in dispenser tanks on the wall of the shower, but the soap and shampoo were curiously differentiated by gender, though the conditioner was apparently unisex. So there's that.



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