We didn’t wake up too early to begin this wonderful day. Our family ate our breakfast leisurely, packed a backback and got on our motor scooters. We headed to the train station in Sanhua, by way of Anding and a straight shot down Highway 178. It was a briskly cool morning, about 58 degrees F, so we all wore coats. Finding parking among the sea of motor scooters took a bit of time.
Buying train tickets was very efficient, and we all made it to our platform to wait 15 minutes for our train. Our fast train to Kaohsiung was going to be 3 minutes late, as indicated by the sign. Trains are so efficient and timely in Taiwan, that a 3-minute delay seemed very out of the ordinary. But by American standards, it seemed insignificant. The five of us shared 3 comfortable seats, so the 50-minute train ride went very smoothly and quickly.
We arrived at the Kaohsiung Train Station on time, and grabbed some lunch at the 7-11 inside. We bought milk tea, sandwiches, and sushi rolls. Shu-min bought some chocolate bread for our kids to snack on during the day. We made quick work of our inexpensive lunch ($7 for the family), and left for the subway. We walked a short distance to the MRT (subway), which is a relatively new, very clean system that is a pleasure to ride. The tokens cost about US $1 each, and the subway trains come about every 5 minutes.
When we left the Subway Station out into the open air, we were surprised by incredible activity and sounds. This was not a typical Sunday in Kaohsiung. There was a huge crowd gathering, and workers preparing giant balloons for a parade. The balloons resembled those that one would see at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with colorful characters high in the air held in place by a small team of workers. These balloons were the cartoon characters created by Uni-President, one of the largest retail companies in Taiwan. They own the Dream Mall, all 7-11’s and many products that are sold in retail and convenience stores. They use cute cartoon characters in their branding, so children can relate to their marketing efforts. These cartoon characters were now on display larger than life.
Loud classic parade music was blaring along the wide avenue leading towards the Dream Mall. We decided to take a slow walk to the mall to absorb all of the sights and sounds. There were little tents along the route, with vendors and giveaways. There were performers getting dressed inside these tents as well. I looked throughout the tents for coupons for Starbucks or Cold Stone Creamery.
As we got closer to the mall, the crowd became denser. Just as we got to the corner where the gigantic mall started, a parade of LuxGen 7 minivans drove past. LuxGen is a new Taiwanese automaker. We did a quick look-see of these vehicles, and I felt the quality wasn’t as good as the Toyotas, but I didn’t examine them well enough to make a sound judgment. It was just nice to see Taiwan making a strong effort to get into the auto industry.
There was a lot of excitement just outside the mall, with tents and people everywhere. We bought a small dish of ice cream from a Cold Stone Creamery tent, and I bought an iced latte from a mobile Starbucks vendor, just so I could grab a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. We also enjoyed free samples of Nestea and apple juice with aloe. With so much to see inside the mall, I made an effort to rush the family to get inside.
I can’t say enough about the size and contents of the Dream Mall. One has to see it to believe it for themselves. All I can say is to take the footprint of a typical large American mall, give it 11 stories, with a ferris wheel and carnival on the roof, and you have the Dream Mall. There are enough American stores there to make me less homesick. TGIFriday’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, and Toys R Us just to mention a few.
We had been there once before, but only saw a fraction of the mall, so we took a different approach. I decided to take the elevator to the roof, and then go down one floor at a time. We could see a gigantic ferris wheel on the roof, from outside the mall, but we had no idea what else was on the roof. When we walked onto that rooftop, we were amazed. It was a full-blown carnival, with Midway, arcade, and many rides. I didn’t even feel like I was on top of a building.
The two youngest boys rode on small arcade rides. We gave Johan the opportunity to try the most interesting ride that I saw. It was a huge rubber air-filled ball that a child could go inside of and roll around while floating on a large pool of water. Johan traversed through the pool several times very well, doing rolls and flips inside the big rubber ball. he seemed much better at it than any of the other kids,who struggled to keep their balance.
After giving our boys some exercise, we went inside to check out each floor. On floor 9, we saw fashion stores and restaurants. On floor 8, we saw children fashion stores. On floor 7 we saw Japanese stores, restaurants and a small auditorium,where there was a classical piano competition for kids happening. We tried Italian gelato samples,ate some of our snacks and took a rest there near a restroom. I spotted an interesting shop for a line of high-end aromatherapy air diffusers. I spoke to the owners of the company, who was a designer, and discussed his business. He had a great eye for design, and branded his company to appear Japanese. Shu-min and I enjoyed conversation with him and his engineer about their invention, while they gave us some latte from their latte machine.
We made our way to Floor 5, where the kids enjoyed Toys R Us. Shu-min enjoyed looking at a line of toys that taught kids how to build green toys that generated solar power, or wind power. She almost bought a box. On Floor 4 was a huge Lego exhibit, where amazing Lego artwork was on display, and there was a large area for kids to play with Lego blocks.
At 6 pm, we were pretty hungry and had a lot of restaurants to choose from.TGIFriday’s was way too expensive (US $8 for a cheeseburger), so we chose a nice Korean buffet. It was all the food we could eat with drinks and ice cream. We had a hot pot grill that had a surface for barbecue as well as an area for boiling soup and hot pot items. We enjoyed grilling pork, beef, and chicken for lettuce wraps. There was sushi, soup, shrimp, mushrooms, octopus, seafood pancakes and more. I was super-stuffed, but we didn’t waste any food.
By the time dinner was over, it was 8:30 pm. We walked slowly to the exits, looked at the giant parade balloons outside, rocking in the strong gusts of wind. We walked about a half mile back to the subway station, hopped the subway train back to the main train station, and then got on the train.
This was one of the more memorable parts of the adventure. We had to take the “slow” train, as it was the only one available. This means there were no assigned seats, and it was packed like sardines. We ran to the train and got there just as it was about to depart. We were lucky to get our kids and our baby stroller aboard. The kids were tired, and Jaden was starting to cry and throw a tantrum. At every stop, people were getting on the train, and squeezing more people onto our car. I couldn’t believe how many people tried and succeeded in getting in. It was very difficult to deal with, when we had kids on the floor trying to pass out between people’s legs, and the baby throwing a super-sized tantrum. Fortunately 30 minutes into the train ride, a few passengers gave up their seats, feeling sorry for us, and we managed to get the kids under control during the 1 hour and 15 minute ride. We packed the tired kids onto the motor scooters, where they slept until we got home.