Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 23 2002

Getting to Green Island by air is a snap. Of cours…

Getting to Green Island by air is a snap. Of course, that’s if you’re smarter than I am and don’t try to sneak weapons on board the plane. Kirk and I met up downstairs and caught a taxi to Songshan Airport on Thursday morning with plenty of time before the flight to Taitung. After we purchased our tickets and were sitting outside the arrivals area, Kirk smoking a cigarette and me wondering why a guy nearby was wearing two watches, it occurred to me that I had forgotten to remove my customary butterfly knife and police baton from my backpack. I mentioned this to Kirk, but he just shrugged, saying if they had any objections we could just check them as baggage.

Ah, surely it couldn’t be as simple as that, you’re thinking. And you’d be right. As soon as my bag went through the X-ray machine the operator told me that, while the knife was ok to go as checked baggage, the baton was illegal and would have to be confiscated. Also they would have to write out a report, by hand, selected from a large, incomprehensible stack of forms, during which a great deal of pointless banter would be exchanged among those filling out the report. “You’re not going to make your flight,” she summed up as one of the other officials waved the baton around, marvelling at its destructive telescoping abilities.

“But we have a connecting flight,” Kirk protested as I walked around the office saying “fuck” over and over. The woman was not impressed, however, laughing at my naivete in assuming that, just because something was widely available in stores island-wide, that it was legal to have one. I should known.

Luckily, one of the other officials seemed sympathetic to our cause, and allowed us to leave without giving me an official criminal record, so that we run across the tarmac and into the waiting MD90. The Uni Air flight was smooth and uneventful, and less than half an hour later we were in Taitung, where we hopped on a small propeller job for the jaunt across to Green Island. This flight was a great deal less smooth, the airborne equivalent of a ride on a 50cc scooter. We landed on a suprisingly short runway on the coast and stepped out of the plane immediately, no waiting around. The handful of passengers dispersed quite rapidly, the plane took off, and suddenly we were practically alone outside the small airport.

Whereas the weather in Taiwan had been overcast, Green Island was baking under bright blue skies. The wind was hot and fresh. We found a scooter rental place and I went to pick up the scooter, since Kirk refused to learn how to drive. We took a tour around the island to get a feel for the place and also to pick where we wanted to stay. One trip around the entire island only takes about an hour, but most of the hotels are within walking distance of the airport on the side of the island facing Taiwan, the mountains of which were just visible floating above the clouds across the ocean. Off to the south was the faint outline of Orchid Island, which is slightly larger but less populated than Green Island.

We tried to get a room at the Kaixin Hotel, the largest on the island, but it was too expensive, and full already in any case, so we went next door to a smaller place and got a room for NT$800 a night. It was small but servicable, with a bathroom, AC and cable. We put our things away, slapped on some sun lotion, and walked down the street to a small restaurant for a lunch of fried rice and shaved ice. Hardly anyone was around, and most of the shops were closed. Construction workers were putting the final touches on a row of buildings. I guess they work fast on Green Island because there’s not a whole lot else to do most of the time.

After lunch we rode out past a series of interesting caves to Da Bai Sha, a beach that looks seductively nice from a distance. When we got down to the sandy bit, however, we discovered that the “sand” wasn’t sand at all, but just bits of rocks and shells. Undeterred, we spread out on the beach and just listened to the surf. It was lovely, utterly desolate. For a while we had the whole place to ourselves, but then a group of loud tourists came along, the women complaining about the heat, the beach, the rocks, the water, etc., while their husbands/boyfriends made Important Business Calls while standing knee-deep in the water.

The atmosphere pretty much ruined, we rode back to town and had dinner at a restaurant right on the seawall, so that we could watch the sunset. The sea breeze was also handy at cooling down our food and blowing things around a bit. The food wasn’t bad. Kirk was expecting Green Island, like everywhere else, to be “the Seafood Capital of Taiwan”, but he was disappointed. I was just happy to be able to sit down and eat.

After dinner we walked up and down the small strip, looking in tourist shops at inexplicably tacky wares such as paperweights and fake dreamcatchers. Kirk bought a shirt and a sarong, but I didn’t see anything I liked. One shop had a small goat tied up in front. Dinner, a pet, or both? I wondered.

That night I was reminded how loudly Kirk snores, but I solved the problem by sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed, not only to get away from the irritating noise of Kirk’s snoring, but also to get closer to the AC unit, which masked said noise quite nicely.

Friday morning we had a typical Taiwanese breakfast at the island’s only Mei-er-mei joint, and then we set off around the island in the other direction. The one road leading into the interior of the island afforded great views in all directions. When our forward progress was blocked by the entrance to a radar base, we dismounted and walked along a mountain trail until we realized that it went all the way down the other side of the island. Also, there were spiders.

We then went and poked around the old Green Island Villas, a euphemism for an infamous jail no longer in use, and then rode around to Guan-yin Cave, which is just a small cave with a stalagtite someone apparently thought resembled the goddess Guan-yin. I couldn’t see the likeness myself. The whole place was creepily deserted, and the only sound, besides the constant wind, was a scratchy recording of a Buddhist chant. Garbage from generations of tourists lay rotting in a stagnant pond.

We rode on to Yezi Lake, which isn’t actually a lake. At least, not any more. I think it was a lake in time’s o’ yore, but then the island grew, or the ocean sank or something, and the lake disappeared, leaving an old deserted village around a rocky shoreline wrinkled with small inlets. Someone had just opened a bar near the beach, but no one else was around, so Kirk and I spent some time exploring the various inlets before finding one where we could shed the trappings of civilization for a dip in the cool ocean water that rose and fell, the water burbling gently through the rocks with each incoming wave. Yes, we were skinny dipping, and it felt great. We even took pictures, but you’ve got another thing coming if you think I’m going to post those here. No, those are going straight to the personals ad.

Several hours later we were on the road again, this time up to a pair of pavilions overlooking the coast. Unfortunately a large group of tourist was occupying the area, but they left soon enough after realizing that they had no cell phone coverage. From the cliff you could see straight down into the clear ocean water, where the black stone that makes up the island dives deep into the blue abyss. It’s been years since I’ve seen such clear waters.

We raced down the hill to the saltwater hot springs, famous since they are only one of two in the entire world (the other one is in Italy), but they were closed for construction, so instead we climbed the cliff beyond the springs and walked out onto the grassy peninsula to take in the 360-degree view there. In the distance we could see an abandoned hotel located in a seemingly perfect spot, so we headed over to take a look.

The Green Island Hotel was once the nicest, most expensive hotel on the island. It had manicured grounds, a restaurant, a dance club, even its own helicopter pad. It was abandoned several years ago, however, when the lease was up. I went inside to take pictures and found an old brochure showing the hotel when it was in good condition. The place has so much potential; I really hope that someone buys the place and refurbishes it, perhaps in a 30’s flavor, with the music, décor, maybe even an old car or two. Anything else would be a waste of material.

The sun was setting as we rode back around into the village where we were staying. After dinner we walked around some more and found a prison-themed store, where I finally found a shirt I liked. It reads “Fuck it’s hot here in Green Island” in Chinese and “Fuck very hot” in English. Cute. Afterwards we sat out on a wooden deck at a teashop, drinking herbal tea and listening to the waves and wondering why there weren’t more stars. It was Friday, and the weekend visitors were beginning to arrive. I saw my first foreigners, surfer types, riding around on a scooter. We retired to our room and watched a movie involving blondes and a stolen dog, “The Real Blonde” or something like that.

When we walked out of the hotel on Saturday morning we were shocked to see hordes of scooters, vans, tour buses and people all milling about the small road. All the shops were open now, and many sold stuff from the Philippines and other southeast Asian countries. I noticed for the first time that I couldn’t even get FarEasTone, my usual carrier, on my cell phone. The display read “TransAsia” instead. Many of the shopowners even thought Kirk was Indonesian or something. We decided to get the hell out of there, although we had to wear helmets now to escape police attention, unlike on previous excursions.

We rode up past the jail complex to another little cove, where we found a huge cave with old building foundations inside, and more tempting little inlets to swim in, although the heightened possibility of being seen by tourists prompted us to wear swimming suits this time. The inlets were full of tropical fish, coral, and other varieties of aquatic flora and fauna. Fishing boats full of snorklers putted by on occasion.

We rode up a challenging path to the top of the cliff, where we could see down into the ocean. Well, actually, we had to walk part of the way, much to Kirk’s chagrin. He blames me for having longer legs and not smoking, of course. I had to take a picture of myself, since he refused to come up to the edge of the cliff.

By this time it was past noon, so we made our way back through the throngs of tourists, checked out of the hotel, and went to the airport to catch a flight back to Taitung. There happened to be one boarding, so we took it. The flight was rather bumpy this time as we flew back to cloud-covered Taiwan. The pilot flared too low, slammed onto the runway and skidded sideways for a ways before righting the plane. Kirk immediately vowed never to take a small plane again.

There was nothing to do in Taitung except lurk around the small airport for a couple of hours, so we found a drink/tacky gift shop and sat around listening to a guy with a handkerchief on his head make Important Business Calls while we waited for the flight back to Taipei.

That flight was a lot smoother. Every time I fly Uni Air they seem to do a good job. But my pleasure at the smoothness of the flight was tempered by my return to this city. I went online when I got home and discovered several dozen pieces of spam, more inane bickering in the oriented forums, and bills stuffed under my door. I need more than a few days on Green Island, I think.

posted by Poagao at 4:56 am  

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