Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 01 2011

Three Days in Kaohsiung

It’s been a long slog through this winter in Taipei, so when I realized that a three-day weekend was coming up, I decided to go as far south as the bullet train would take me. Of course, on the Saturday morning of my departure, the weather in Taipei was actually brilliant and warm. But I’d already gotten tickets, and I needed to get out of town in any case.

I picked up my ticket at the main station, pleased to find myself upgraded to business class for the first time due to a shortage of regular seats, around noon, and a few minutes later I was ensconced in my purple velvet seat next to a woman who was toilet training her child with a cute book of photos of various animals pooping in a non-threatening manner. We departed, and the faster the train went, the better I felt. Faster! Faster! I thought as we sped away south. As usual, it was a smooth, solid ride. Shortly after departure a foreigner approached the lunchcart lady looking for a vegan lunch. Halfway through a bite of Yoshinoya pork rice, I looked up to discover that it was my friend Maurice, famed thespian and advertiser of air fresheners extraordinaire. “Maumph!” I called, my mouth full. As we were chatting about what a coincidence this was, a thickset, black-clad Aborigine man with dreads and sunglasses came stomping up the aisle. Of course, this was none other than my friend Matzka, followed by the other members of his band. They, it turned out, were playing a gig in K-town that night, at the new performance space near the Fisherman’s Wharf district.

As we passed Taoyuan and Hsinchu, the scenery outside was obscured by fog. This wasn’t right, I thought. The weather’s supposed to be good all around the island all weekend. An hour and a half later, we’d reached Kaohsiung, where the sun fought its way through the haze that covered the city. I accompanied Maurice and his friend to Central Park Station, from which we walked towards their hotel, the Ambassador. Maurice was voicing his concern that I didn’t have a hotel booked as I snapped pictures of people’s houses and the dogs that defended them.

I left Maurice at the hotel and headed towards the Yancheng district, stopping to be interviewed by a student about Kaohsiung’s tourism infrastructure, and then wandering towards the harbor, where I lounged around until I noticed that my phone, which had been charged on the train coming down (one of the perks of business class is electrical outlets in the seats), was rapidly losing power. I found a cafe to charge it, but it seemed to take forever. I read a book and pushed thoughts of the iPhone4’s expanded power capacity aside.

The sun had set by the time I’d gotten the phone charged to a quarter of its capacity. I walked towards the harbor mouth, taking the subway to the Sanduo Shopping District, where I met a friend, John Lin. We had dinner at a cafe, Donutes or something, where I could charge my depleted phone once again. After we left, I saw a man unloading stuff from a van, and, as is my wont, I tried to grab my camera before realizing that I’d left it at the cafe. Fortunately, everyone in the place was waiting for the 5D mark III and didn’t want to bother nicking the old version. We went out to the wharves to catch Matzka’s show, which was brilliant as usual, passing the fireworks display on our way back downtown. I found a business hotel near the Sanduo district and checked into a swank room for NT$1800 a night, luxuriating in the clean sheets and towels and large-screen TV. Sleep that night was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

On Sunday I met Chenbl and Ray, who had come down on separate trains that morning, as well as Professor Wu and his friend Ah-he. Professor Wu teaches art and is responsible for the slew or contacts adding me on Flickr whenever he uses one of my photos in his classes, and Ah-he is a budding photographer from Tainan. His Minnan is classic Tainan style, effortless in a way most Taipei people have a hard time emulating. We piled into the professor’s van and headed out to the sandy landscapes of Moon World (“For all your lunar needs!”). Moon World is a bit less stark these days, thanks to encroaching vegetation growth, but it was entertaining nonetheless. We wandered amidst the formations, taking photos and chatting. The dust was bothersome, however, very fine and unfortunately very breathable.

On the road back we told ghost stories and laughed at the remote positioning of the metro stations in the middle of empty fields, obvious plots by land speculators with connections to the city government. So far the MRT had been packed whenever I’d been on it, but I was told that it was usually rather empty. A shame it had to be so poorly designed. We had lunch at a mutton shop, and then headed back into town to Lotus Lake, near Zuoying, where we walked around the edge of the lake. Then we headed out to Xiziwan to watch the sunset from atop the pier. The temperatures dropped rapidly, and the ocean wind made me wish I’d brought a jacket. Still, the sight of the great ocean-plying freighters moving majestically into and out of the harbor were worth the trouble.

After the sun disappeared into the darkening sea, we piled into the van and joined a long cavalcade of cars heading back to the city. Escaping meant heading through the campus, up the mountain to a vista just below the Martyr’s Shrine. A large group of Japanese tourists were waiting for the fireworks at 7 p.m., but aside from a few aaaah and ooooh-provoking pops, none were forthcoming. It turned out that the fireworks were at 9, and the group left, disappointed.

Dinner was fried noodles with special sauce. A-he had to go back to Tainan. The rest of us went up to Professor Wu’s creatively messy apartment to view some of his amazing artwork. By this time I was tired from the cold and the dust.

Monday we went back to Lotus Lake, where we met John at the Confucius Temple, which was closed, before walking around the lake a bit more, exploring some of the ancient houses in nearby alleys. Chenbl was caught photographing a strangely acting carrot vendor, and we struck up an awkward conversation. Later we skirted the navy base where Chenbl had done most of his military service, before heading back to the Yancheng District, where we hiked up to the old British Consulate overlooking the harbor mouth. It was probably hell there at times, I mused as I examined the old structure, its verandas and wooden plank interior, but sometimes it must have been a really cool posting.

We descended the hill again to talk with some residents of the old buildings. One old woman was heating bathwater with a wood-burning stove while her middle-aged daughter tended plants on the roof. Nearby, we talked with two old men, obviously friends. One was from mainland China, while the other’s family has been in Taiwan for generations. They sat outside an old warehouse that had been converted into small but usable living quarters. It smelled of cat piss.

Walking up the road, we settled on a deck right by the edge of the harbor mouth to watch the ships again as the sunset before walking back to the docks filled with private yachts. John had to leave, so Ray, Chenbl and I caught a bus to one of the bridges across the Love River, where we watched the fireworks. It was an impressive display, far better than the ones I’d caught glimpses of through the clouds in Taipei.

The Hanshin Department Store shuttle took us back to the Sanduo District, where we had a delicious dinner of sushi and other Japanese food under the few stars that remained visible amidst the glare from the lights of downtown. Our train (regular class this time) was at 9:30 p.m., so dinner was a leisurely affair, though the waiter kept messing up our orders.

I slept most of the trip back. It was good to get out of town.

posted by Poagao at 10:48 pm  

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