Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 06 2008

Matsu: Sunday

I was woken up this morning not by the washing machine, but rather two loud blasts from the Taima ferry’s foghorn. Pulling back my curtains, I was met with a white wall of solid mist. “Someone stole my view,” I texted Prince Roy downstairs.

Over the next couple of hours, however, the fog gradually lifted to reveal a sunny, warm day. PR and I took a short walk down to the village to look at a particularly interesting little house we’d seen the night before. On the way, we stopped to chat with a woman who was watering the plants in her yard. She told us that nobody was selling land or houses in Matsu, for various reasons.

Back at the hostel, we rented a couple of scooters and set out to explore Nangan island. We rode the curving white road through the hills of the center of the island to the highest point, Mt. Yuntai, but although there was a helpful concrete map telling us where to look for other islands and mainland China, the view was shrouded in mist. A military situation center was located at the peak, decorated with black murals of Chiang Kai-shek in Dirty Harry poses. The KMT emblem part of the flag had fallen off the mural, and Chiang had bird droppings on his shoulder. Soldiers peeked out of the gunslits, the emblem painted on the ceiling of their little room.

cannistersWe rode back down and on to Jinsha Village. At first it appeared much like a Chinese city, with a group of people sitting on the curb. It turned out, however, that the group were all tourists. We visited the local temple and helped a frog caught in the sun to a shady spot. Then we walked through the alleys and by a local hostel constructed with traditional materials. At one point we ran into a couple from Canada, who were staying there with their dog. They said their flight had been canceled and that there was no ferry on Monday, which was alarming news. We still held out hope that our flight, at 5:30, wouldn’t be canceled as the sun burned the fog away.

Along the waterfront was a bomb shelter decorated in the blue and white of the KMT, featuring small pieces of art inside. The old stone houses reached up the side of the mountain, and more were being built near the village’s mail road.

We rode on to Matsu Village, where The Matsu Temple was located, along the beach where Matsu’s body washed ashore. She is supposedly buried under a concrete slab in the temple, though some say it is just some of her clothes, or her father. I take it nobody’s thought of exhuming the remains to check. A pavillion next door features lovely chairs in the shape of upturned hands. Mine was wet. Monkey! I thought.

b/w boatlineSome WWII-era military transport ships were beached along the shore, as well as a supply ship. PR and I walked along the edge of the bay, examining the various fortifications and their decreptitude, and I explored part of a tunnel that appeared to be abandoned, but still features two 80’s-era video games. Unfortunately, they weren’t plugged in.

Matsu Village was full of soldiers, the main street positively hopping in comparison with the other parts of the island we’d seen so far. It also features an ATM and a 7-Eleven. We had lunch at a local restaurant that smelled like barracks due to all the soldiers there; a bank of small fans were no match for their numbers. I had egg rice covered in barbecue sauce, which was better than it sounds. PR had soup with a side of soup.

It was around this point that PR discovered that, for some strange reason, his travel agent had booked our flights out of Beigan Island, instead of the island where we actually arrived and where we were staying. In a desperate bid to change this situation, we raced back across the island to the airport, breaking speed records and cameras along the way. Once PR ran into the curb and nearly crashed.

When we arrived at the airport, we were told that all the flights had been canceled. This was bad, as we both have to work tomorrow. What was worse, all the flights on Monday were booked solid, as well as standby. The ferry, however, was running, so we rode back to the port and booked two tickets for tomorrow morning back to Taiwan. It will only arrive at Keelung at 4pm, effectively ruining any chances of work that day, but it’s our only option at this point, other than just settling down here for good.

snowboarder?Our dilemma resolved, after a fashion, we continued our tour by riding to Siwei Village, at the northwest corner of the island. There we found temples with interesting carved figures, one apparently wearing skiing goggles, and another I thought looked uncannily like me, and elaborate chandeliers overlooking the sea.

One temple, the White Horse God Temple, marked the spot where the bodies of two mainland generals washed up on the shore. The local people buried them, and then a light would shine out at sea warning fishermen of inclement weather. At another village we visited later, Qingshui, another body had washed up on shore, yet another mainland general, and when the villagers buried it, they found the fishing quite good for the next few seasons. So they erected a temple on the spot. It seems that Matsu is quite The Place for washed-up generals.

The afternoon was wearing on when we reached Renai Village, which is located on a steep hill rising from a nice little bay. We parked at the top and walked down the main street to the harbor, where some residents had made great efforts to restore their buildings to their former glory. It was the first place I’d seen here that rivaled Fuxing Village, where we’re staying. We toured the local temple, the interior of which was ancient despite the exterior being touched up in 1984. The tables were scarred with decades, if not centuries, of daily temple use.

Next stop was the Stone Fortress, which meant riding through an army base gate and along the coast to a place where a stone outcropping had been hollowed out and made into an impregnable fortress. Inside was a long, dark hallway, lined with shelves for soldiers to sleep and machine gun holes, two toilets, water tanks, a sentry post and a room for the dog, which apparently not only had a rank, but was an officer. I’ll bet the guys who served there have stories to tell.

beach boat lightWestwards, the sun was settling into the haze, so after figuring that we liked Matsu Village best, we rode back there on the winding coast road, past a reservoir adorned with a cool wooden pavillion, though to the village, where we bought some snacks and sat in front of the temple watching the day come to a close. The supply ship was completely beached by this point, but apparently men live on it, as it was lit up. Soldiers finishing up their weekend leave milled around on the main street and at the bus station.

After dark, PR insisted on trying the nearby Pizza King, so we barged in on what was obviously a boistrous family meeting and ordered two small pizzas. When they came, approximately 27 seconds later, they looked pretty much like regular pizzas, but tasted almost nothing like any such thing. The bread, for one thing, was sweet and soft. The sauce was barbeque sauce, and although we managed to stop them from putting raisins on our pizzas, they did feature carrots and quite a lot of pepper. It was sort of like Teppanyaki in pizza form, and it actually wasn’t bad once you got over the fact that it looked like pizza.

Matsu villageWhen we left the restaurant, the streets were almost deserted; all the soldiers had gone back to their bases. The ride back across the island was nice and cool in the night. The harbor lights flashed as we descended and then climbed again on the way back to Fuxing Village to the hostel. After handing in the keys, however, I didn’t quite feel like turning in just yet, so PR and I went for one last tour of the village, including the temple by the bay, the broiling water a symphony of gurgles and crashes I would love to record and play back at home.

Tomorrow we have to get up by 8am or so to catch the ferry. We snagged another cabin this time, but PR called window bunk already. It will be interesting to see how the trip is experienced in real time, without sleeping through most of it.

posted by Poagao at 11:49 am  

1 Comment »

  1. Once PR ran into the curb and nearly crashed. Oops! I was hoping you were admiring the cut of some soldier boy’s gib and didn’t see that!

    Comment by Prince Roy — April 7, 2008 @ 8:19 am

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