Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 02 2009

Tainan trip, part 2

The first thing I did on Saturday morning was take pictures of the curtains. The air outside was smoggy, but the sun was out. We walked from the hotel back downtown, passing a construction site. I took some shots from the sidewalk as a guard walked over and told us that we couldn’t take pictures. “We actually can,” I said, wincing internally at the tone of my voice. “We’re on the sidewalk.” The guard didn’t press the point, but I felt that, especially in a place like Tainan, being friendly and sociable will get you a lot further in such situations than quoting the law. We walked a scooter store that featured a big red retro model I would love to ride, and then through a school campus to the park, which reminds me of the Taichung Park in it’s style as well as its relation to the city center. Men were fishing in the lake. “I once caught one THIS BIG!” a fisherman told us, holding out his hands. I was pretty sure that the fish he had caught was an ornamental koi fish.

Leaving the park, we walked down Gongyuan Road, dipping into alleys occasionally when we saw something interesting. Chenbl pointed at something as I was snapping pictures of an old man’s knobby sandaled feet. I rounded the corner to see a heartbreaking sight: a sick kitten lay gasping on the ground as two of its siblings looked on. One of the kittens retreated when I approached, but the other stayed. As I watched, the sick kitten lay down and became very still. I was sure it had died. I couldn’t see any movement or breathing. The other kitten bent over it and nudged it a little, then looked up at me with startling blue eyes.

We continued on, passing The Armory where I once played with Tarrybush years ago. I found people in Tainan to be generally better about having their pictures taken. Where I would get suspicious glares from people in Taipei, Tainan residents are more open and friendly about the prospect of being photographed. It was both refreshing and confidence-inspiring.

We had lunch at a Japanese restaurant whose design featured lots of wood. The sashimi was fresh and delicious, and it was relief to get out of the sun and lay the huge camera and lens on the window sill, where I took a picture of it for Facebook.

After lunch we kept walking through the older parts of the city, which is saying something in Tainan, a very old city. We stopped by ancient houses, neglected by the government despite their obvious cultural value, and were given impromptu tours by the residents. One man took us upstairs to see the ingenious upper story of his neglected Qing Dynasty structure; he opened a door, surprising his two sons, who were playing video games inside the air-conditioned room.

The tourism department has set up little maps here and there with local attractions on them. One of the descriptions puzzled me; it read “Well of Black Africans” in English, while the Chinese meant something more akin to “Well of the Evil Ghosts”. A translation error, most likely, but really something they should have caught. Some men at a small temple tried to draw me into a political discussion, but I bowed out. We passed a large Western-style building that looked in good condition, but a group of elderly ladies chatting nearby said that it was abandoned since the children of the deceased owner all lived in Taipei and weren’t interested in the house. A shame; it would be a very nice bed and breakfast or restaurant with a little work.

Not far away was a warren of wooden-partitioned dwellings, all a story and a half high, taking up a small city block. It was originally meant to be a market, but over the years it has become a dilapidated slum, the narrow alleys covered with a variety of plastics that results in all kinds of colors and shapes shining down into the mostly empty hallways. Only a few people wandered about, listless and shirtless in the heat. A man tethered a dog in its cage as we approached, apparently fearing it would attack us.

The skies turned dark in the mid afternoon as we walked down street after street, each older than the next. I was getting tired and cranky, but the Chikan Complex was a good enough place to stop and sit for a while, and nearby temple complex, a series of several temples next to each other, is always interesting to walk through. We walked back towards the train station, through the more trendy, modern areas, full of young people, loud rock bands and puffy hairstyles, having dinner at a “My Home Steak”-kind of establishment. I find that when you avoid the sizzling plate and just ask for the steak on a regular plate, it tastes much better. Sadly, the “mushroom sauce” was just ketchup, and I wondered how badly they had to hate admitting they were out of mushroom sauce to pull such a stunt.

We walked back to the train station to catch the bus back to the HSR depot, but we had to wait, so I walked into a nearby building’s lobby to take some pictures. When I came out, I found Chenbl talking with an older man on the bus stop bench. I snapped a few pictures before the shuttle arrived. Once we were on board, Chenbl told me that the man was his long-lost uncle, whom the family had not seen nor heard from in 20 years. It was fortunate that I got some pictures of him, he said, as he wasn’t able to wrangle an address or phone number from his uncle, who apparently had a huge gambling problem and multiple children from various wives.

I was tired, dirty, covered in sweat and looking forward to getting home at that point, but it was not to be. When we finally arrived at the HSR station, we found to our dismay that there were simply no tickets left; the trains were sold out. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised; it was a holiday, after all. Rather than risking an eight-hour wild chicken bus ride, we found another hotel, closer to the station, and got tickets for Sunday morning instead. The only problem with the ride back was a child kicking the back of my seat and yelling; other than that, it was dreamy.

posted by Poagao at 12:30 pm  

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