The journey went pretty smoothly, with a quick transfer at Hong Kong. The Cathay Pacific staff were well aware of the urgency and shepherded us through the formalities – mainly so that the alphorn could be specially buckled to its seat. They kept calling it a ‘cello for some reason.
At Taipei airport, our luggage miraculously arrived at the carousel before we did. Then under threat of severe fines, we declared our two half-eaten sandwiches, one containing meat. The sandwiches were granted entry to the country after the offending meat was eaten.
Our guide Jimmy (well he said that’s his western name) was waiting as we came out. He is a local tour guide with excellent English and will be with us for the whole trip. He helped us buy a local SIM card and cheap phone so that we could call within Taiwan without crippling roaming charges.
A car was waiting to whisk us to Taichung, 2 hours drive away, where we are now based. Once checked in I was able to reassemble the accordion after its passage in two hand baggages and (another miracle) it works!
Having settled in an excellent hotel in the centre of Taiwan’s 3rd largest city, our first bit of touristing was a taxi ride to the ‘night market’ – a feature of these parts – dozens of streets filled with stalls open every evening till aroud 3am, alive with exotic food stalls, inexpensive trendy clothing, leather goods etc, and plenty of cheery music, some of the general world cheese variety, some oriental, some seasonal. Although primarily a Buddhist country, they’ve imported much of the American Christmas / santa atmosphere.
This morning was our first engagement – a press conference, with local and national TV and radio. The mayor and various local dignitories, lots of speeches, a beautiful dancing display from schoolgirls from one of their 14 or so local aboriginal cultures. We performed then – some traditional swiss melodies but our proffered ‘party piece’ was not required: we’d spent the day before we left the uk learning to play the Taiwanese national anthem. No – they wanted Jingle Bells instead. Surprising what you can get out of an alphorn if you have to!
We’ve been asked here to play for four occasions over 11 days: this publicity event, and three parties for government officials up a mountain on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and sunrise NewYear’s morning. 3 different mountain locations, I think. They promise to be spectacular. It also means that we have quite a lot of free time in between, so we plan to see what we can of the country. Taiwan is about the size of Wales, but has mountains as high as the Alps, so there’s a lot of promising things to see. And it is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer, so is pretty mild (T shirts) even at the end of December.