Adventures In Taiwanese Medicine

Having run out of time in those United States of America on out last major vaccine for the trip, Japanese Encephalitis, Katie and decided it would be okay to finish it on the road, especially after reading how much cheaper it would likely be in other countries.
Our first stop (and therefore first option) is Taiwan, so Taiwan it is. Knowing that many airports have travel clinics, this is our first attempt. After landing at 5:50am we had some time to kill as the SIM card stand would not open till 8 and the clinic 8:30. We passed the time getting coffee, finding our bus into the city, and walking around. The airport is filled with somewhat disturbing Welcome figures, which were as photogenic as anything else at that time of the morning. IMG_0584 Eventually 8 and then 8:30 rolled around.
SIM card = success.
Vaccine less so. After several minutes spent explaining and writing what we want we discover: 1) We are in the wrong spot and need to go vaguely leftward to another clinic, and 2) they only have one treatment.
So, with our first failure out of the way, Taipei hospital, here we come.

A few short days later it was time to pull the trigger, and thankfully I was able to find a XLB place near enough the hospital to make for a very likely lunch spot.
The hospital itself is an older brick building with a lot of civic charm including walking gardens and an odd fresco celebrating medical achievements and siamese twins… IMG_0581

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Having done a little reading on the interwebs, we were armed with the general knowledge that we wanted Family Medicine. Heading in one of the side entrances, we find a map and are on our way. When we are near enough to where we think we need to be, a reception desk is ready and waiting for us with a brisk moving line. Thanks to grades 1-5 and Bay Area coffee, I am very good at waiting in line. At the head of the queue however, we are met with a little more of a challenge. In spoken and written word we describe what we need. The woman at the desk does not think we are in the right place, and gets a doctor walking by to tell us we need Family Medicine up stairs. Our receptionist friend nods, that is what we need. Okay, onward to Family Medicine.
Up some additional stairs and down a hall or two, we find the culmination of our great search, and a line for a receptionist no less. As described above, we can queue very well. However, once again, resistance can at the front of said line.
After much conversation, we come to understand that A.M. doctors’ hours are over and we need to make an appointment at Reception. This stop was not for naught though, because we are given a note in Chinese that good money says will explain what is required back down at Reception.
And back to the first desk we go.
At the front of the line once again we proudly present our note. It’s appointment time! Wait, no. This is not where we want???? But, note… Oh, this is just a reception desk, not the Reception desk down in the lobby. Okay, moving on (weeks later I will discover this desk is for checking into the cancer ward).
Finally, we get to the lobby and the real reception area, a place that would have been very hard to miss if we had come in through the main entrance to begin with.
Here the wait is handled not by a line, but by taking a number and watching for your turn. This we do. IMG_0579

Once called, we present our note; success! A few short moments and two additional receptionists later, we have an appointment for 1:30.

——– Lunch Break (XLB very good, stinky tofu less so) ——-

Our appointment comes with a time, a clinic number, and a patient number. Our clinic room, 10, is back in Family Medicine, our time is 1:30, and our numbers are 6 (Katie) and 9 (me). We find the clinic quickly and for good measure check in at the desk, an unnecessary step, but it makes me feel better. IMG_0576

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Each clinic room has a “Now Serving” sign. Katie’s #6 is first up once the doctor comes back from lunch. After a few mins she waves me in as well. Katie has done much of the heavy lifting in regards to explaining what we need. My paperwork is quickly sorted out as well, mostly regarding getting my height, weight, and temp recoded (187cm, 79kg, and 36.2 celsius respectively).
This clinic is primarily for travel-related issues. It holds several testing instruments, a bed, a few chairs for patients, and a pair working desk for the doctor and her aide/scribe. I know this practice is becoming more common in the States, and it really does seem to make things run very efficiently. By the time the doctor has finished explaining everything, the aide has recorded it all and gotten our prescriptions ready. The doc reviews and signs, followed by a flurry of stamps from the aide, and we are ready to go back to reception with a grip of paper work.
In Reception luckily we get the same registrar as before, which speeds things up, and are all paid up and sent over to the pharmacy a few steps away across the lobby.
Here, prescriptions are doled out in an alpha-numeric system. Once your number (or any number higher) appears above your letter it is your turn to pick-up. Or rather it is the turn of the older Taiwanese dude with a number near yours to push his way up and get his prescription, then it is your turn. IMG_0574

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Vial in hand, the last step of the process is to go to the, “injection room” and get our shot. Okay, where is that…
We look around, no signs, shit…
There are a lot of retirees in orange vests that seem to be helping people. We are people, we need help, “Ni Hao” retired lady in orange vest. Here, look at this bag I have, where does this bag go, I say with my eyes. And off we go!
First stop, a blood donation room, that makes sense, cause needles. This is very likely the thinking of our new friend as well, but no. The nurse there directs her, who in-turn walks us down a few halls to an elevator, then though an indeterminate and unrepeatable number of turns to arrive at, you guessed it, Family Medicine! “Shei shei”, orange vest friend.
Next to the clinics is an open room with a nurse. Here nurse, have my bag. You need my passport, okay. Shot time! Katie does the same, and we are one step closer to our eventual immunity to all known aliments. IMG_0575

In Taiwan, the immunization serum they use for Japanese Encephalitis is a three-shot regiment rather than two in the states. Our one in the US counted as the first one here, so we needed to come back for one more. So upon returning to Taipei after our adventures elsewhere in Taiwan it was back to the Hospital for James and Katie, but this time we were in the know.
Our appointment was set up the last time we were here, so events went as follows:
9:01 – Arrive for our 9:00 appointment block.
9:04 – Go into our appointment.
9:17 – Pay for our second appointment and prescription.
9:21 – Prescription in hand
9:31 – Both of us have received our shots.
– 30 mins in and out!
As bureaucratic as this whole process was, we did it with minimal issue, and between the two appointments, without insurance in Taiwan (though I think my FSA should cover it), the total cost was a little under $40 a person, compared to the $265 per shot per person in the US.
I cannot imagine navigating Kaiser without knowing the language (I do know the language and can barely manage it) and even if you managed it, the outrages comparative costs are enough to stop you from putting in the effort.

Sanxiantai Taiwan: More than a walking bridge

We made our way to Sanxiantai with very low expectations, believing we would find a very photogenic bridge to a small island, overcrowded with tourists. It’s true, that is all there, but the island holds an amazing hike with truly breath taking views and a unique / dramatically changing landscape. Also, thanks to the fact we went on a weekday, and the weather was overcast and windy, the abundant tourist issue took care of itself the further we trekked.

First up the bridge and beach, mainland side:

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Now, onto the island proper. The walk starts with a raised wood path. At the onset, the surrounding vegetation is well above even my head, but this gives way to misty views of the mainland and sea:

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Once, past this path, it really gets impressive. The original path washed out, and visitors are not really informed that you can scrabble on, but not stopped either. You move through a rocky lunar stretch and then up to an abandoned lighthouse. Views abound.

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There are two paths around the center of the island, so a few more photo ops greeted us on the return trek out.

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The Alleys of Tainan, Taiwan

Tainan is a historic city in the south west of Taiwan. The former capital of the country, it has a long past much of which predates automobile. There are certainly big roads here, but much of the city is connected by tiny alleys, where all the living is actually done.
Here are a few random pics I snagged on our walks:

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We’re on the road!

So, we all but abandoned this blog over the past several months. A lot has changed in that time…but the good news is that we are finally traveling!

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Our plans are different than they once were, but for now we are in Taiwan. We left on January 27 so we’ve been gone almost a week now. We are here for 3 weeks total, then we head to Hong Kong for 9 days (during Chinese/Lunar New Year), and then Japan for almost a month. After that, James will be returning to the Bay Area for work, and Katie will continue traveling for several months.

We have a lot of great pictures and stories already from Taiwan, so stay tuned. We just got the mobile app – we are traveling with iPhones and an iPad only – so we hope to use this space to actually document our travels.