Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 07 2008

Matsu: the Return

The guy who ran the hostel knocked on my door at 8am with a bag of fried things and doujiang for breakfast. I was gathering my stuff together and stuffing it into my backpack, which fortunately can be expanded to accommodate the…wait a minute, I didn’t buy anything. Hmm….accommodate the instant noodles I was taking on the boat, then. Prince Roy was busy watching a black-and-white, blurry version of a baseball game in his room. The world outside was white with fog even thicker than the day before, and we heard the Taima ferry’s foghorn repeatedly as it tried to make its way into the area.

After settling our bills, we were driven down to the port, where a fairly large group of people, mostly soldiers, waited for the ferry, still making its presence known via foghorn. PR and I sat on the waterfront and watched it appear out of the fog and sidle up to the dock. Back inside, a short, bespectacled MP checked the soldiers’ papers as we lined up. MP’s are allowed to arrest up to three ranks above their own, so everyone from sergeant on down was at the mercy of the little private.

Once on board, we put our things away in our cabin, the very cabin we’d had on the trip out (this time sans interlopers), and went up top to watch the departure. I struck up a conversation with a soldier who turned out to be one of the few volunteers in the new experimental program. He told me that he makes NT$37,000 a month, and gets nine days’ leave in Taiwan every three months. He is in for five years and will be discharged at the rank of sergeant-major. Now, a year and a half in, he is a corporal. He was also born the year I arrived in Taiwan.

on the way outFuao Port disappeared into the mist, and we slid along the surprisingly smooth seas with only a slight rocking. Perfect sleeping weather, so that’s what we did, getting up for a lunch of gooey microwaved curry rice in the restaurant. Then we went out and stood just below the bridge watching the ocean and wondering where all the garbage we saw on the water came from. PR thought there might be a wreck somewhere ahead.

The sun came out; we were making good time. Keelung came into view before 4pm, though it took us a while to weed our way through the harbor and dock. For a while, PR and I stood stupidly by the upper-deck exit, wondering when they were going to extend the gangway, before we realized that everyone was headed below to the car gate at the rear of the ship.

Keelung skyKeelung, and Taiwan, were pretty much as we’d left them, albeit about 15 degrees warmer. Summer came while we were away. Keelung, of course, is a depressing place to arrive, even from as undeveloped a place as Matsu, but my spirits were lifted somewhat by the atmosphere of the soldiers just starting their 9-day leave. We walked to the train station and caught a train back to Taipei. At each stop more and more students would crowd onto the train, and it struck me how different they seemed from the soldiers only a few years’ older.

An hour of cell-phone-related chatter later, PR and I parted ways in the MRT station, him to sort through the 478 photos he took, and me to sift through the 609 pictures I ended up with after deleting the obvious duds every night to save CF card space. Not that we were competing, but it will be interesting not only to read his version of the events I’ve described here, but to see the pictures he took as well.

And now, over 6,000 words later, we return to life as we know it. Just 15 degrees warmer.

posted by Poagao at 12:29 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. definitely a trip for the ages, made all the more so by your most excellent companionship. I’m glad we got to do this.

    Comment by PR at-large — April 8, 2008 @ 12:45 am

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