Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 08 2006

I originally planned to leave for the south as soo…

I originally planned to leave for the south as soon as I got off work on Friday, but due to an impromptu romantic interlude I ended up taking a bus from the new Taipei terminal on Sunday at around noon. I’d stopped by the train station to check, but there were no seats to be had. Usually I prefer travelling by train over taking the bus, but there was no choice. I got one of the “Wild Chicken” variety of busses, with big comfy seats, but it was badly in need of a cleaning. The floors and seat were slightly sticky, naked wiring snaked underneath my seat, and there was a TV attached to the ceiling above me, necessitating yoga-like maneuvers to get in and out. I made sure I knew where the emergency exits were as we departed, though I had no idea if they’d work when the time came to make a hasty escape.

The TVs on the ceiling, it turned out, didn’t work. The bus people, oblivious to this fact, put on movies anyway, and I heard something with, I think, Robert Redford, and then something with a lot of rap music. Perhaps a Jet Li movie. Not sure, as the volume was just low enough to be annoying without being loud enough to understand. Traffic was stop and go as we drove down the foggy highway. The couple behind me kept pulling on my seat and muttering about something or another. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, and didn’t even think to bring bottled water along.

We got into Kaohsiung at around 6, and I had some dinner before making my way through the taxi touts shouting “Kending!” and offering low-low rates for the trip. I declined, wondering how often they stopped to “renegotiate” the fare, and instead got on another bus down to Kending.

It was after 9 when we finally reached Kending proper, and I was alarmed to see the crowds shuffling down the street bent against the wind and rain. I called Maoman, who was going to come pick me up, and started walking down to the Caesar Park Hotel to meet him. He showed up in Ironman’s Saab, along with MJB, and we drove down to the southern tip of Taiwan, where the campsite was. They told me that it had been raining most of the day, which was depressing. Fortunately, my tent was already set up when I arrived. The Forumosans had taken over and were trying to maintain their dominance over a small field at the edge of the forest, at the back of the campground, but otherwise the place was filled with locals’ tents, all crowded together and surrounded by loud children, complaining wives and happy husbands. Every time a non-Forumosan drove into the Forumosan Field, they got a warning from Maoman that he and his wife V liked to be very loud at night. It seemed to work most of the time. Every ten seconds the light from the lighthouse would sweep across the sky.

I had trouble sleeping my first night in the tent due to the wind buffeting the material next to my head the whole night. Sandman lent me a sleeping bag, but I only needed the liner as it wasn’t cold enough.

The next day the weather was better, and Maoman took me down to the rocky shore just down the path and through a hole in the fence into the Eluanbi Lighthouse Park area. A walkway with dangerously deceptive levels had been built over the sharp rocks, but we went down anyway to have a look at the ocean, which was still roiling from the storm the night before. Fishermen stood out in the surf.

The major activity of the group, it seemed, was sitting around the fire in collapsible chairs, chatting, poking the fire, and wondering when Durin’s Bane was going to finally arrive. I went up to the chaos surrounding the lighthouse and took some pictures. Redwagon showed up later in his bright red Subaru, as well as Mingshah and his family a day later. Mingshah had to put up his tent in the rain after a long and heavy downpour that night.

We used the cars to take up more space in the field to discourage any outsiders from camping in there with us, but one night a whole bunch of people showed up and barged in anyway. They had a tent attached to the top of their Honda CRV and were offended at Maoman’s attempts to dissuade them from moving in. The cringeworthy phrase “Fucking foreigners” was heard a few times. They set up an elaborate campsite, complete with a pavillion and a portable WC even though the bathrooms were 50 meters away, and promptly left the next morning.

All this time V and MJB’s wife Wanda were preparing wonderful meals for us to eat. Wanda even had Pop-tarts(!). Most of the food was from Costco, and Maoman had to take the back seat out of his Civic just to get everything in it. It was such good eating, I’m sure I gained a bit of weight from it.

I think I was the only lone camper in the group. Everyone else had brought their families, their wives and kids, so it was pretty lively. The kids, the boys of course, caught a crab and played with it, using it to scare the one girl, MJB’s daughter Meghan. Some frisbee was played, even though I suck at frisbee. I would have enjoyed some badminton, but the wind was too strong.

Every day at some point we would travel up the east coast a bit to an isolated stretch of coast under some cliffs. Apparently there had been a shipwreck there, and the beach was covered with driftwood, logs and garbage. There was even a refrigerator. Some stretches were nice, though. A farmer herded black goats through occasionally, and the tidal pools were full of little fish. We went to swim in the surf, walk along the beach, and gather firewood to haul back to the campsite on top of MJB’s Rodeo. I spent a bit of time wandering around the beach, taking pictures of things washed up on the beach, while the others played in the surf. We really only had one hot day the whole time, so I wasn’t all that eager to be swimming anyway. I did a bit of snorkling with Maoman, but the water was murky and I couldn’t see much.

At night, we managed to get the lights in our area turned off so we could watch the stars, and they were quite beautiful, very clear and bright. You could even see the Milky Way, faintly.

Durin’s Bane finally showed up, along with his family, and as the Chinese New Year holiday began to run down, the campground emptied out a bit. Our own group dwindled until, on Friday morning, it was only me, MJB and Co., and a couple named Aaron and Lisa, with their small spotted dog. Whenever the dog would misbehave or look like he was thinking of misbehaving, Aaron was look at him and say “Whaaaaaat are ya doin’?” Maoman’s dog Gustav, by contrast, was uncannily well behaved. I swear, you couldn’t program a robot to behave that well, and I’m reasonably sure that Gustav isn’t a robot, because robots don’t tend to drool that much.

But my time at the campground was over. I packed up and caught a ride Aaron’s VW bus along with MJB and Lisa, who were going diving in Kending. From there I took a bus to Kaohsiung and then the train to Tainan, where I was hoping to meet an old friend, Steve Crook, who lives around there. He wasn’t answering his phone, however, so I walked around the city looking at old buildings and landmarks like the Chihkan Tower, which used to be a Dutch Fort and has a neat statue of two Dutch guys bowing to Koxinga out front. I never knew the Dutch were so short.

Steve called later and said he couldn’t make it out, but suggested I go check out Fort Zeelandia, or rather what remains of it. The fort was originally on a spit of land stretching out into the sea along the port, but Tainan’s port was silted in during the Japanese colonial period, and now the site is surrounded by dry land. Only a few bits of the fort remain, but it must have been impressive in its time. After looking at the fort I wandered around the neighborhood. Night fell, and I got some nice nighttime shots of nearby buildings and a temple.

I decided against taking a taxi and walked along the river back into town. My feet were pretty sore by the time I arrived at the train station, so I checked into a business hotel, the Majesty, and enjoyed a shower and clean sheets for the first time in nearly a week.

Steve had time the next day to show me around, so after snapping shots of a nearby lobby near the train station, I took a bus out to Xinhua, the village where he lives with his wife and kid. He picked me up in a nice new Nissan, and after driving past some interesting old buildings in town we headed out to the country, where he showed me old Japanese waterworks and facilities, the “moonscape” area where landslides have created a barren, moonlike area, and his in-laws’ house and fields. We walked out into the fields to have a look; they’re quite nice. The signs for the waterworks were suspect, however: “This building was erected in 1997” read one sign in front of an obviously ancient piece of Japanese/colonial architecture. Later I had dinner with the family, and chatting with his father-in-law was quite a workout for my Taiwanese.

I still had a day left in my vacation, so I decided to take the train that night back to Kaohsiung and have a look around that town, as it’s been years since I’d done so. Steve recommended a cheap hotel called The Plum and drew me a map before seeing me off at the tiny Xinhua bus station.

Kaohsiung was eerily empty by the time I stepped out of the train station. Even though it was 10 or 11 on a Saturday night, hardly anyone was around. I took a taxi to the intersection indicated on Steve’s map, but couldn’t seem to find The Plum. I walked around several blocks looking for it, but no dice. Eventually I just stopped at the place it was supposed to be and looked hard at the storefront. There, above the shut, darkened doorway, was the outline of the words “Plum Hotel”. Furniture was piled against the door inside. It was closed down.

I walked to another nearby hotel and asked about prices, although I was pretty sure it was out of my league, and sure enough, it was. I asked about other hotels, and they sent me a few blocks away to the Kingship, which turned out to be the tackiest hotel I have ever seen. The outside was done up in fake castle-like stone, while the interior was a mishmash of tudor, Greek, Victorian, Chinese, 60s and whatever else they could think of, all thrown together with no regard to taste. My room door had a steel knocker. But it was cheap enough, though over three times the price the Plum would have been, so I decided to stay. That night I watched Shaolin Soccer, which I’d never seen, and really liked it. Now I have to see Kung-fu Hustle.

The next day I set out for the port area by bus. While I was waiting for the bus, I took some pictures in an interesting building with a covered alley running through it. Little walkways connected the upper floors. It reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of Alcatraz.

The weather was sunny and warm, perfect for a long walk. I got of the bus near the fishing harbor and walked through the tunnel to Chungshan University, where I found the old Packard Chiang Kai-shek used to drive around Nanjing. I walked along the shoreline to the mouth of Kaohsiung Harbor, where the huge ships come and go. Umpteen years ago I took a ship out of that harbor to Macau. It was called the Macmosa, and I’d like to take it again, but I doubt it’s still running. I wonder where else you can go from Kaohsiung, though.

After a pleasant lunch at the fishing port with a view across the water to Kaohsiung’s downtown, I took the ferry over to Qijin Island, and walked around there, going up to the lighthouse at the top of the cliff and back down. There were some nice older buildings, but all in all it wasn’t that interesting. If I were to live in Kaohsiung I’d prefer the area by the fishing port.

I was really glad to be walking around a town I wasn’t familiar with. It just felt so good after being overused to Taipei, knowing what’s around every corner and doing the same thing every day. I really needed this.

After walking up another mountain, I hailed a cab and rode over to the banks of the Love River. The last time I was in Kaohsiung it stunk, but now they’ve cleaned it up. I walked up the west bank, from the crowded area near the harbor up to the sparesly populated bits, across the bridge to an abandoned factory that seems to be in the process of being renovated, and back down the east bank. Tourboats putted up and down the river, full of tourists. At one point I stopped to take a picture of an extraordinarily narrow temple, when I was engaged in conversation by a seemingly homeless man clutching an almost empy bottle of rice wine. Later I explored a tributary, but found that it stunk as badly as the river used to. A night market ran along one side of it, and dogshit covered the sidewalks. So I returned to the riverbank and proceeded back down towards the harbor. I had Japanese food for dinner and then walked back to the Kingship. I figured I’d wait until Monday morning to return to Taipei, as the rush of returning crowds would have abated by then.

Sure enough, I arrived at the train station at 8 the next morning and got a seat on a fast train back to the capitol. I got in to Taipei after 1pm and went straight to work. I didn’t get home until 10pm. So far, being back has been a dreary experience. I didn’t even want to come home last night, so I went out to watch Fearless, the lastest Jet Li movie, at Warner Village (“Where Uncomfortable Seats Live”). It was good movie, with amazing fight scenes, but it wasn’t exactly Once Upon a Time in China.

So that was my Chinese New Year Break. Now, back into the rut! Actually, it’s not a bad rut; it’s just nice to get out of it sometimes.

posted by Poagao at 2:49 am  

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