Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 12 2006

My old Chinese classmate Prince Roy is now in Taiw…

My old Chinese classmate Prince Roy is now in Taiwan after a long absence. I met him 17 years ago, when we were attending classes together at Tunghai University in Taichung. Now he’s been posted to the American Institute in Taiwan for a couple of years. We arranged to get together on Sunday for some kind of outing, along with Mark from Doubting To Shuo and Wayne from the now-defunct A Better Tomorrow.

The plan was to do Keelung, a scheme I found unlikely due to the fact that it had been raining for a week, but as luck would have it, Sunday dawned clear and blue. I got on the MRT a bit late, having just missed the departing train, and wondered at the fact that, now that there are new stations open I haven’t been to, the whole system seems a lot more appealing. Perhaps this is the difference in feeling between Taipei’s metro and, say, Hong Kong: If there’s unexplored bits of the system and the city, it has a greater attraction to me.

We all met up in front of Taipei Main Station, and then went downstairs for some lunch at the underground mall. The mall was pretty busy, and we sat in the middle of it all at tables set up out in the hallway. Wayne had to go after having curry that took roughly an age to make, but the remainder of our party decided to hop on a train to Keelung, the Rain Capital of Taiwan, as the weather looked like it was holding up.

The ride was pleasant, even though we found ourselves sitting in the “female-only” car. Nobody, including the conductor, seemed to care, and besides the signs on the windows, in both Chinese and English, there was no indication that the car was anything but just another railway car. I guess the only reason they implemented the policy was to seem all Japanese and Advanced or something. I took a picture of PR sitting by the sign, and we chatted about blogging and the curious phenomenon that, among a certain subset of Taiwanese society, foreigners who learn Chinese are regarded as spoiled goods, while those who are blissfully ignorant about Taiwan are somehow “pure”.

As we travelled through the suburban/industrial belt that stretches from Taipei to Keelung, PR remarked that, outside of Taipei, Taiwan didn’t seem to have changed that much during his absence. It’s true; while Taipei seems leaps and bounds ahead of where it was a decade ago, the rest of Taiwan doesn’t seem to have quite kept up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re nostalgic for Ye Olde Taiwan of Lore, but nonetheless the difference is quite striking.

We arrived in Keelung and caught a cab up to Zhongzheng Park, which lies on a mountain adjacent to the downtown area. The cabbie was quite talkative and tried to convince us that a trip to Jiufen was what we really wanted to do. He painted a nice picture of the place and even included good-looking women. We must have looked to him like a gang of sailors on leave or something.

We got out at the top of the mountain, which is adorned with a temple and a large, hollowed out Guanyin statue. Vendors sold smoked sausages just ouside of the gate, and bumper cars whined around banging into each other both inside and out of the temple grounds. Occasionally a big bell in a tower boomed as tourists pulled the large log of a ringer back and forth.

PR bought a bag of incense, and we paid our respects to the temple gods and then lined up to go inside the hollow statue. Except people kept coming down the steep, narrow stairs. More than seemed possible, actually, like a clown car that keeps disgorging clowns. Eventually the stream stopped, and we climbed up, but the head of the statue was off limits, so we only got as far as the shoulders. Still, it was a nice view out the peepholes.

We rang the bell in the tower and then visted the wishing well, a grated hole with several white-gloved spinning hands that looked like they once belonged to a giant eight-armed Mickey Mouse at the bottom. The idea was to throw a coin and get it to land on the specific spinning hand with what you wanted to wish for printed on it. Some said riches, some said health, etc. Mark eventually got a 10-yuan coin on the “health” hand, after exhausting his supply of 1- and 5-yuan coins.

We navigated the bumper cars and avoided being hit by the young learners on our way to the library, where a small girl was shrieking at her parents at the very idea of even approaching a room full of books.

We’d read about some fortifications in the area, so we got directions and then started walking along the road in search of them. On the way we passed some tanks and airplanes, old jets, maybe F104s or even older. Beyond a motocross course we found the artillary emplacements and the ruins of an old Qing-dynasty fort. Unfortunately, it lay at the bottom of a long series of moss-covered steps. A sign warned that the steps were slippery and dangerous, and they were especially so after so many days of continuous rain. Mark fell on his ass almost immediately, and the rest of us proceeded with extreme caution. I could just envision my camera and lenses bouncing down the steps after a nasty fall, so I went even slower than the rest.

The fort, which is just a bunch of low green walls that look like they’d have a hard time keeping anyone taller than Herve Villachaise out, was interesting. Nearby were three graves, of whom we couldn’t make out because the characters on the stones were nearly obliterated by time. I wonder who they were and why they were so special to get such treatment.

After gingerly making our way back up the Steps of Slippery Death again, we went back up to the motocross area to watch the sunset, which was disappointing, and to also be partially eaten by flying insects. Luckily I had some Off with me. Since we had time before Wayne joined us after his frisbee-playing, we decided to walk back down the mountain and into town. It was my favorite time of day, just after sunset, and perfect for walking. After we got off the mountain, though, we had no idea where we were, so we took a cab back to the station, electing to wait for Wayne at the dockside Burger King. I know, how pedestrian.

Wayne joined us presently, and we set off for the Miaokou Night Market, just a few blocks away. It was awash with people, of course, and we paused once or twice to sample different kinds of food. I got a chicken dish that bore absolutely no resemblance to the picture of it on the menu, and had to wring the grease out of it before putting it in my mouth. Later we stopped for corn on the cob, which was quite dry and hard, but tasty, and the stall operator even gave us special service by manhandling each stalk before applying the special sauces.

At each intersection of the night market I noticed two things: a big bunch of balloons and a buddhist monk or nun. I wonder if some tourist took a photo of such a combination, and then it got published somewhere, and now they require it.

It was getting late, so we headed back to the station to get a train back to Taipei. As we passed through the gate, we noticed a commotion. A couple of workers were trying to restrain a rather violent man in a white shirt. “Oh great, a fight,” I said. When we got on the train, we found another violent person, this one a middle-aged woman in a pink pullover who was shouting at the train employee. It seemed she had part or party to whatever altercation had just occurred. “Don’t treat me like I’m not Taiwanese!” she screamed at the poor fellow. “I have an ID card; I’ll show it to you if you want!”

Just then the man in the white shirt lunged toward the train. “Closethedoors closethedoors close the doors,” I said quickly, and thankfully the doors closed before he made it to the the train. As we pulled out of the station the woman in pink harangued the people in the car, asking us for the number of the police. Everyone ignored, some staring, some just talking among themselves. The woman used the phrase “You Taiwanese people” several times and finished her little speech with “report over!” leading me to believe that she was from the mainland, probably Fujian since she spoke partly in Minnan. She shattered the peace of the train several more times after that with phone calls. I silently pitied the people on the other end of the conversations.

When we got to Taipei, I came very close to leaving my camera on the train. Thankfully a kind soul reminded me about it, though. That was close. We then went down to the MRT station and went our separate ways. It was a fun outing; I should do that more often. Between filming and music and bicycle-riding and rough weather, I don’t get out of town as often as I should.

posted by Poagao at 2:55 pm  


  1. I didn’t know I had comments. How did this happen?

    Comment by TC — June 15, 2006 @ 7:36 am

  2. I just noticed them the other day myself. I could swear they weren’t here a couple of weeks ago.

    Comment by Mark — June 17, 2006 @ 8:59 am

  3. Unfortunately they show up as black text on the post page, requiring a mouseover to read. And I can’t seem to get the backlinks to work.

    Comment by TC — June 17, 2006 @ 9:01 am

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