my Angkor Wat trip

I joined a 5-day, 4-night Taiwanese tour group to Angkor Wat, Cambodia [1] in mid January 2017, which cost me about $1000 USD with everything included. This tour uses a chartered airline (Far East Airline), and it has no mandatory shopping. The fees for the Cambodia visa and all meals are included.
The paperwork was so streamlined that our passports were collected and processed as a group. The departure date stamp was on our passport before we actually were in the airport on the last day.  They have all the form and appearance of an international formality, but much of the meaning, like departure stamp, has been lost in the process.  Similarly, gratuities for the tour leader, local tour guide, bus driver, and bell boys all have fixed prices and are handled as a group. These fees are not truly voluntary with this practice. The lodging accommodation was excellent with all four nights at Angkor Palace Spa and Resort [2].

Angkor Wat and Tuk Tuk Car
This tour includes not only the traditional Angkor Wat [3], but also the Angkor Thom (Great or Large City) [4] and the nearby freshwater lake, Tonle Sap [5].  There are more than 1000 temple ruins in Cambodia today, but most of them are in the Siem Reap area. These monumental temples were originally for Hinduism, but later the country embraced Buddhism.  Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia today, practiced by more than 95 percent of the population. Mahayana Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Chinese and Vietnamese in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat at Dawn

Angkor Wat and its Reflection
Angkor Wat means "City of Temple" in Cambodia language and is in the Siem Reap province.  It was prosperous between 800 and 1400 AD.  Today, it has an international airport, mainly for tourism.  Tourism is the second largest industry after the textile manufacturing. If you google "Angkor Wat" images, you'll find many good pictures.  I have no intention of outdoing those.  Here is a small collection of my images reflecting my particular viewpoints. 

Tree Grown On Top of a Temple Gate

Bas Relief with Hands Flapping to Fly

I am not an art person per se.  But the tour guide was nice enough to explain many special features of the bas reliefs seen in many temples.  I enjoyed very much this animated bas relief with its hands flapping to fly up.

Unfinished Temple with Narrow and High Steps

I enjoyed the strenuous climbs of one unfinished temple. During its construction, the temple was struck by lightening, which was viewed as a bad omen and thus never finished. This temple has no carvings, statues, and other decorations. It has very narrow and high steps and make the climb a little challenging.

Tonle Sap means "Freshwater Lake" in the Cambodian language.  It is a huge lake about 12,000 square kilometers in area during monsoon season. That is 1/3 of the size of the Taiwan island.
Police Station Floating on Tonle Sap
The total area of the lake shrinks to 1/4 of its maximum size in dry seasons.  Many of the houses and structures are thus built on stilts.  Other permanents structures or institutions are on floats like this police station shown here.  You can see schools, churches and shopping venues on floats.

Coconut Drink Treat on a Hot Day
Cambodia has two seasons, that is, the rainy monsoon season from May to October, and the dry season from November to April.  Rainy season can have 22 degrees Centigrade, but the dry April can go up to 40 degrees. Visiting in a rainy season would be quite messy walking about. January and February are usually a great time to visit, with the "mild" temperature of 30 degrees. I enjoyed very much a cold coconut drink after a hard day of walking around the ruins.

Roadside Elephant Ride

The elephants were very much part of the ancient Cambodia history and culture. I only saw a few of them in this trip. This photo shows a roadside opportunity for people to ride on an elephant. The local tour guide explained that much was lost in this war-torn country, and there is not much to be spared or left with when more than 1/4 of the human population was killed. You can watch the award-winning movie "The Killing Fields" that depicted the horrors done by the Khmer Rouge [6].

A simple two-room CTEP school
I took the free/shopping time in town on the last day's afternoon to visit a non-profit project CTEP [7]. CTEP (Cambodia-Taiwan Education Project) is a Taiwanese outreach program in Cambodia with 30 small schools that train young school-aged pupils to be employable in the labor market.
The schools teach computer skills, the English language, and the Chinese language, with the ultimate goal to educate the students enough for the many industries in Cambodia.

The picture shown here is a simple two-classroom structure attached to one of the local elementary schools near Siem Reap.
CTEP class/exam in session
The other photo was taken while a class/final-exam was in session.

The project founder and director is one of my acquaintances in my National Taiwan University days forty years ago.  I find his personal vision and persuasion in doing this work at the grass-root level very convincing and meaningful.  He has a good model going for this war-torn country that regained peace only as recently as 1998.

[1] Cambodia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia
[2] Angkor Palace Spa and Resort - http://www.angkorpalaceresort.com/
[3] Angkor Wat - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat
[4] Angkor Thom - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Thom 
[5] Tonle Sap - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonl%C3%A9_Sap
[6] The Killing Fields - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Fields_(film)
[7] CTEP - http://camtw.com.tw/


my Badain Jaran Desert trip

This six-day trip, October 10 to October 15, 2016, covered 2000 km in distance. We had 12 persons in total, including the tour leader. The tour leader is a thoughtful and experienced young man who specializes in outdoor and exploratory trips. More information can be found at http://www.worldhey.com/.

The starting point was the capital city YinChuan [1] in Ning Xia Hui Autonomous Region. Historically, this was the capital of Xi Xia [2] at the time of South Song Dynasty.  We traveled in and around Alxa League, Inner Mongolia [3].  This league has three banners, i.e., the Ejin Banner [4], the Alxa Left Banner, and the Alxa Right Banner. We started from east (Alxa Left Banner) to the very north at Ejin Banner first on the north side of two deserts, Tengger Desert [5] and Badain Jaran Desert [6], then south to the west (Alxa Right Banner). After the Badain Jaran Desert exploratory visit, we traveled back on the south side of two deserts.

On the way to Ejin Banner on the west, the driver pointed out to us a couple of times a mirage [7] in the desert, which was discernible as a few islands spread over a sea or lake. That was my first mirage, not counting the less phenomenal "fake water" on the hot-road during the summer time in the United States' Southwest.

Here are some annotations and background for the pictures throughout the trip.
Guang Zong Temple on the west side of Helan Mountains

1) Guang Zong Temple (also known as South Temple or Nan Ssu) on the west side of the Helan Mountains [8] that purportedly is the resting place for Dalai Lama VI [9]. His death or disappearance was mysterious during the Qing Dynasty.
   This temple had more than 1500 monks a century ago. This legendary Dalai Lama was born outside of the Tibetan region.  He was a very talented poet and spawned many legends during his life.

Huyang Trees in Ejin Banner area
Huyang Tree Reflection in Ejin

2 and 3) Huyang (Poplar Diversifolius) trees [10] reflections at Ejin Banner.
  This is a species of poplar tree in the willow family. It can be found in many desert areas around the world, and it is very much adapted to dry conditions.  The forest of these trees in the Ejin Banner area is famous for its formation and water reflections, as experienced by many travelers in recent years.

4) Sea gulls near the reed wetland in Juyan Lake [11]
   The Juyan Lake is one of several terminal lakes for the inland Heihe River (Black River). There are few rivers that don't flow to the oceans. Heihe is one of them. I normally associate sea gulls with oceans. Apparently they don't need oceans to exist, they just need the right water environment, I imagine.
Sea Gulls in Juyan Lake

Juyan Lake Sunset

5) Sunset in Juyan Lake
   This was a rare chance to take good pictures during the sunset in this wetland area with many reeds.

6) Strange Huyang Forest
Strange Huyang Forest

We went to this forest before sunrise. Supposedly the environmental changes in this area caused all trees to die, but the arid condition in the desert areas prevented the trees from decaying further.

7 and 8) Ruin of the Black Water City and Walled Fortress
   This was an important city for the Xi Xia (Tangut) State on the western end of its territory. It was known by a few different names, including the Mongolian name Khara-Khoto [12]. It was conquered by Genghis Khan in 1226, but it continued to flourish.  It was abandoned, though, for more than seven hundred years after the Ming Dynasty defeated the Mongols and took the city in 1372.  Its importance was lost during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Interestingly enough, this city appears in the "Travels of Marco Polo" as Etzina.
Various expeditions and excavations in the 20th century unearthed many books, xylographs (woodblock prints), scrolls, and manuscripts in Tangut language. The Mongolian Buddhist stupas [13] traditionally house the sacred scriptures and religious articles. Dictionaries were among the unearthed items, including a Chinese-Tangut glossary that made the Tangut (Xi Xia) study possible today.
Stupas of the Khara-Khoto Ruin from the Distance

The Mongolian Buddhist Stupa in Khara-Khoto Ruin

9) Badain Jaran Desert Jeeps - Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
10) Mongolian Yurt
11) Sand Dune and Desert Lake
12) Badain Jaran Desert ridge at sunset

Expedition with Desert Jeeps with Camels in the distance

Sand Dune and Desert Lake
The Badain Jaran Desert [6] covers an area of 49,000 square kilometers, which is about 30 percent larger than the island of Taiwan. It has more than 140 lakes, and many are in the southern region of the desert.  These lakes provide life sustenance for the herds and limited vegetation. This desert is home to the tallest stationary dunes on earth. The Bilutu Peak measures 500 meters from its base, and is the tallest stationary dune in the world.
   We hired three desert jeeps for our group for an excursion trip going up and down the sand dunes and visiting/viewing the oases.  We stayed in a guest house for one night with dinner and breakfast served.  There was no shower.  Water was precious. We got the the place early enough and did not have to stay in a yurt/ger.  We have 5 twin-sized beds for men and similar ones for women.  The tour leader told us that the yurt is usually not as well heated as our small brick compound.
Mongolian Yurt

Sunset on Sand Dune Ridge


I was very fortunate to be in good health throughout this trip.  I was able to take many good pictures with my simple iPhone and iPad. Nevertheless, there are many challenges for the unprepared and uninitiated.
1) Difficult and unacceptable toilet facilities on the road.
2) Dry air that caused allergic reaction for one team member.
3) Huge temperature swing between day and night for the travelers who had to get up around 5am three times to see the sunrises.
4) On the rough and exciting desert jeep ride, two members had to bail out after the first 5 km due to severe motion sickness. Fortunately, there was a decent hotel near the entrance of the geopark in the desert.

[1] YinChuan 银川 - Capital City of NingXia Hui Autonomous Region -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yinchuan
[2] Xi Xia 西夏 History in China - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Xia
[3] Alxa League, Inner Mongolia 内蒙古阿拉善盟 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alxa_League
[4] Ejin Banner 额济纳旗, Inner Mongolia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ejin_Banner 
[5] Tengger Desert 腾格里沙漠 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tengger_Desert
[6] Badain Jaran Desert 巴丹吉林沙漠 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badain_Jaran_Desert
[7] Mirage 海市蜃楼 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirage
[8] Helan Mountains 贺兰山 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helan_Mountains
[9] Dalai Lama VI - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Dalai_Lama
[10] Huyang Tree 胡杨树 - Diversifolius poplar - Euphrat-Pappel https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%83%A1%E6%9D%A8  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_euphratica https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphrat-Pappel
[11] Juyan Lake 居延海 (Gashuun Nuur) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juyan_Lake_Basin
[12] Black Water City 黑水城 /Walled Fortress and its XiXia Cultural Treasures - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khara-Khoto
[13] Mongolian Buddhist Stupa - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stupa


English with an American Corporate Accent - 040

This is another collection from recent meetings and trips. It works best if you can find a native English speaker with exposure to corporate America to elaborate on the finer points that I cannot cover well here.

* They are squatting in our device name space. [They are simply sitting in our device name space.]
* Peter said not to hold our breath for that decision. [Peter said not to expect that decision to come anytime soon.]
* Pre-allocating them will give us some head room to operate. [Allocating them beforehand will give us some leeway to operate.]
* Let's sort them out in chronological order so that we can formulate a punch list for execution. [Let's sort them out in chronological order so that we can formulate a to-do list for execution.]

* There are bigger fish to fry. [There are more important things to worry about.]
* We should hold their feet to the fire, otherwise, nothing gets done. [We should keep the pressure on, otherwise, nothing gets done.]
* They made a valiant effort to deliver that project before the gate closes. [They tried their best to deliver that project before the gate closes.]
* I am going to write an email to them for a waiver. This requirement at the 11th hour is impossible to meet. [I am going to write an email to them for a waiver.  This late requirement is impossible to meet.]

* We are in the weeds for the last forty-five minutes. [We are overwhelmed with details for the last forty-five minutes.]
* It will be an unbounded path if you enable that feature by hand. [It will be an uncontrolled path if you enable that feature manually.]
* Is there a chance that the rug gets pulled out from underneath when you are traversing that linked list? [Is there a chance that the linked list gets modified when you are traversing that linked list?]
* That stock is certainly on the up and up, although we don't know why. [That stock is certainly reliable and honest, although we don't know why.]


My first Vietnam trip - Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

This was my first trip to Vietnam.  I learned from news and various media that communist Vietnam is also going through incredible market economy changes to modernize herself. I have many Vietnamese friends, and almost all of them or their parents came to America when the American and the South Vietnamese lost their war in the mid 70's. They don't like the communist regime.

I joined a 5-day, 4-night Taiwanese tour group, which cost me about $1100 USD with everything included. This tour uses Vietnamese Airlines and it has no mandatory shopping. The fees for Vietnamese visa and all meals are included.  The visa is on a separate piece of paper, and there is no trace of the visit on your passport. This becomes a common practice when visiting certain countries. The lodging accommodation was excellent with one night at Ha Long Bay Novotel, one night at the Indochina Sails Cruise Junk, and two nights at the Hanoi JW Marriott.
Indochina Sails Cruise Junk

Logistically, the flight from Taipei was very early, so that we managed to visit a couple of tourist spots in Hanoi before we took a 4-hour-long bus ride to Ha Long Bay in the afternoon.  The bulk of the travel on the road is of State Highway caliber at best and often goes through small towns.  It will be a quick 2-hour run in the future for this 200-kilometer trip when they upgrade to true Interstate Highway caliber roads.

Ha Long Bay is truly beautiful and is a mature karst and limestone landscape.  It is Guilin on the sea, but at a much larger scale.

Panoramic View from the top of Titop Island

Sunrise in Ha Long Bay

Early morning in Ha Long Bay

Vietnamese straw hat at the Boat Terminal
I had my Vietnamese straw hat before the bay tour.  It was handy and good thing to have for the weather in this region.  But it immediately conjured up the image of a Viet Cong from the Vietnam War era.

Like many developing nations, Vietnam had to balance the zealous development projects with environmental and ecological concerns.  This half-finished amusement park near the beach was an example that many of my tour group members felt unnecessary at all.
Half-finished amusement park near the Ha Long Bay beach

On our way to Ha Long Bay, there were many unoccupied resorts and buildings near the beach.  We were told that they were yet to recover from the 2008 economic recession because of over-development.
Unoccupied beach-front resorts and buildings

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It has more than one thousand years of history, and for the most part, it was dominated by the Chinese.  Hanoi was taken by the French in 1873. It became the capital of French Indochina in 1887.  It became the capital of North Vietnam in 1954 when the colonial period ended.

Spectacular telephone pole wiring in Hanoi's Old Quarter
Modern-day Hanoi is divided by a river.  The New Hanoi quarter was built in the last twenty years, and roads and streets are well planned with many new modern buildings and hotels. Old Hanoi quarter is the original Hanoi. This picture shows spectacular telephone pole wiring.

Typical tall and narrow buildings in Hanoi and suburbs
The architecture and style of the houses and buildings are heavily influenced by the hot and humid weather and by the French adaptation of existing Chinese structure. They are in general tall (high ceiling) and narrow.

Temple of Literature (Confucius)
Ancestral Workship Hall

Chinese writings are visible only in temples and ancestral worship halls. The Temple of Literature, aka Temple of Confucius, followed the Chinese civil examination system to promote study and to select government officials.
The Vietnamese pronunciation has very strong similarity to some of the southern Chinese dialects. Modern-day Vietnamese romanization/writing is based primarily on the Portuguese pronunciation system.  I was told that the grammatical structure is a mixture between that of Chinese and French.

The French brought in Catholicism to Vietnam. I visited the St. Joseph's Cathedral in the old quarter.  My old habit of looking for Catholic Church happens to be part of the tour :-)
Hanoi St. Joseph's Cathedral

Hanoi Hotel Metropole (Sofitel Legend)

The historic 1901 French colonial-style Hotel Metropol is charming and beautiful.  Our tour group had one of the lunches there.

Ho Chi Minh Museum is a place to see Vietnamese history from the North Vietnamese perspective.  The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is next to the Ba Dinh Square. The tour guide said that there is an annual maintenance trip to Moscow in the Fall. This is quite unbelievable to me though. The communist party did not honor Ho Chi Minh's wish to have himself cremated. He was out of the country for 30 years, traveling and residing in many countries, until he came back to Vietnam in 1941 to lead the independence movement. I was fascinated to learn that he was in Canton, China between 1925-1927 at the Whampoa Military Academy, where he would presumably have been acquainted with many Chinese Nationalist and Chinese Communist pioneers. It was documented that he married a Chinese wife, Zeng Xueming, in that period.  But this is denied by the Vietnamese government to perpetuate the myth of his celibacy.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

We went to see a water puppetry show in a theater.  It is pretty interesting to think about the techniques required to perform with controlling sticks under the water.

We visited the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in whirlwind style.  It was best to do it that way, because the humidity level was quite unbearable for the June weather.
Vietnam has many small ethnic minorities, who need education and job training to keep up with progress in the whole country, and there is much to do.


Three-hour Ferry from Pingtan Island, China to Bali, Taiwan

This is to wrap up my crossing ventures from China to Taiwan by sea.  My last attempt was two years ago from Xiamen to Kinmen, and it was less than 30 minutes on a commuter ferry.

The Strait-Crossing Ferry
Most travelers fly from mainland China to major cities in Taiwan these days.  Crossings by ferry have only been available in the last few years.  I took a short ferry run from Xiamen to Kinmen a couple of years ago in July 2014.  That was symbolic, since Kinmen is still 100 plus miles away from Taiwan proper.  This ferry from Pingtan Island crosses the Taiwan Strait in 3 hours with a top speed at 39 knots (nautical miles per hour).

A five-kilometer-long bridge to the Fujian mainland was completed in November 2010. Pingtan Island is about 120 km from the nearby city Fuzhou, and it takes about 2 hours in bus/shuttle.  The destination Bali is a port at the Tamsui River outside of Taipei city.  There are bus and subway connections nearby.
Armed Guard at the Beijing South Railroad Station
After my business travel to Beijing this time, I took a high-speed train, G27, at 9:45am from Beijing on June 4, 2016 and arrived around 5:30pm in the city of Fuzhou.  The one-way ticket cost me 719 RMB (about 110 USD). June 4 is a particularly sensitive day in China these days, and the security was tight in the train station. The armed police/military was clearly visible in the Beijing South Railroad Station. Fuzhou is the provincial capital of FuJian, which is directly across from Taiwan over the Strait.

There is one ferry crossing from both sides of the Strait every day, you can find the schedules on these two websites [1] [2].  Use either site to book and purchase tickets for passengers with a will-call arrangement.  The Monday morning ferry run is at 9:00am from Pingtan, and the transportation is iffy if I tried to take that ferry from Fuzhou.  I decided to stay in Pingtan Island, and I used Airbnb app to book a hostel-like room near the beach. It was my first excuse to use Airbnb.
Fuzhou City Light
Fuzhou WuYi Square from Shangri-La hotel Window
I used my Shangri-La points to book the hotel in Fuzhou, which allowed me to have comfort and leisure before my comparatively rougher day ahead.  Fuzhou is quite a modern city now.  I took my limited time to see the city and its old quarters before I left for Pingtan Island around 3pm.  

Saint Dominic Cathedral
FuZhou local snack- mostly sticky rice based

As usual, I found my Catholic Church in the city.  Saint Dominic Cathedral is in the Cangshan district. Fuzhou was one of the earliest ports open to foreign trade in Qing Dynasty. 

The Lin Zexu museum was an interesting visit, as I came back to read a whole lot more about the significance of the First Opium War and the unraveling of Modern Chinese History. Lin was a Fuzhou native and was sent to Canton as the envoy from the Emperor in Beijing to enforce the ban on opium trade. 
The old town was interesting and layout of the residential clusters dated back to the Jin Dynasty around 300AD. I enjoyed some local food for lunch in the old quarters.

Lin ZeXu Museum


Deity in the unregulated Super Shuttle
The concierge at the Shangri-La hotel found the information for me on the Fuzhou South Bus Station that has hourly bus runs to Pingtan Island.  I took a cab to the Station and bought a ticket for 55 RMB. It turned out to be from an unregulated private super shuttle van.  They have ticket-selling stalls, looking quite official, at the alleyways before the entrance of the bus station.  I was mislead to buy a ticket from such stall.  When some gentleman came up to help with my luggage right after I paid for the ticket, I knew that something was not right.  Anyway, I could speak the language and decided to go along with it.  That was not the first time.  I had to wait a little for the driver to gather enough customers, and later the van had to stop at two places to pick up the last two passengers.  It was quite packed with a total of 8 people including the driver.  The driver wasn't too crazy in driving by the Chinese standard, and it was safe enough for the 2-hour ride.
He dropped me off at the Pingtan Bus Station.  I had to take another cab to my beach-front BnB place. Fortunately I had a Chinese phone number, and the driver could talk to the BnB owner to get me that. It was not easy and straightforward. Although the island is changing rapidly, Pingtan Island still is a big fishing village. The day was cloudy with light rain.  It was not a good thing to be left out in nowhere. They didn't use meters for the taxi ride and this was usually not a good sign for visitors.  I got to the place for 40 RMB.  

Pingtan Island Beach BnB - near Island Research Center
Pingtan Beach - near Island Research Center
The lodging itself was 21USD (135RMB) for one night.  It was a reasonable accommodation, including a clean room, a queen-sized bed, air conditioning, and a TV.  I rarely turn on TV in China except in major international cities and when I am feeling extremely bored.  The owner gave me the WiFi password; the Internet connection was quite useful.  The concept of "B and B (Bed and Breakfast)" is different in China and probably in many other places.  The Bed part is there from privately owned lodging facilities.  The Breakfast part is not translated and observed in this setting.  Fortunately I had an instant noodle package with me. With hot water, I could get by.  The instant coffee package from Shangri-La came in handy also for the morning. Food option were limited at the beach-front venue.  This beach was frequented by Chinese visitors for day-trip group outings.  A cookout at the beach and BBQ were available, but arrangements had to be made beforehand.  Otherwise, choices are limited and you also have to take food quality and hygiene standard into consideration.

Panoramic View of Pingtan Beach - near Island Reseach Center
Pingtan Ferry Terminal Ticket Office
I did not do much for the evening except talking to the owner and his family members at their dinner table. The owner is a young entrepreneur running a 6-room beach house. Both his father and grandfather are still fishing during the season. I recall that they said that May to August is their mandatory off season to leave the sea to replenish itself. I took a bit of rice congee as a courtesy for their invitation.  The rain stopped overnight.  I rose early enough in the morning to take advantage of the quiet and serene moment.  I took an hour or so strolling around the beach.
Pingtan Customs and Border Control
To be on the safe side, I asked the owner to order a taxi for me at 7am.  It was again a negotiated fare.  It went through multi-tier arrangement and ended up paying 90RMB for the 20-minute ride.  I was one of the first few arrived at the ferry terminal.  The ticket office was not open until 8 o'clock.  The customs/immigration/border-control facility was not open until 8:30am. I was early, and I eventually saw six tour groups either going to Taiwan or coming back from their mainland visits.
I pre-ordered my ticket online with a travel agent [1].  The transaction was reasonable.  The fare was 600RMB (about 90USD) and the service charge was 30RMB.  I had a piece of paper printed in Beijing to exchange for the actual ticket.  Basically it is a will-call transaction.

Ferry Boat middle Section
The ferry boat was about 1/3 full on my trip. It can accommodate 700 or so people with three cabin sections.  The ride was smooth this time of the year. 

Goddess Protecting the Ferry Boat in the Front Section
When it got to Bali, Taiwan, a shuttle bus took us to the customs/immigration office area.  
With my pre-trip research, I was planning to take the bus to Taipei City Center or take the subway from GuanDu/HongShuLin. Either way, I realized that I had to take a short taxi ride to Bali town or to the subway station.  I was quite tired and with a large luggage, I ended up taking the cab all the way to the city.  It was about 30 minutes and cost me 760NTD (23USD).
Arriving at Bali Port at the mouth of Tamsui River

This travel route still needs a lot of ironing out, and it is not yet ready for individual travelers, especially non-Chinese speakers.  I saw that about six tour groups from both sides of the Straits on this ferry. I think this is an interesting experience from both side of the Straits and might be less expensive as well.  The tour operators could arrange the lodging and transportation to bridge the gaps that are not convenient for individual travelers.

Waiting for Shuttle at Bali Port, Taipei

[1]  http://www.csf.com.tw/ocean/price.php  in traditional Chinese
     台北市龍江路962  02-25169779, Boat ticket from Pingtan -  电话:0591-23192222 传真:0591-24199222 ATTN. MS CHANG J
[2]   http://www.amoytrip.com/book-pingtan-taiwan-ferry.html in English