Angkor Wat |  Cities |  Laos |  Kinmen |  Myanmar |  Penghu |  People |  China Portraits

Thursday, March 31, 2005

New Links

You may notice that there are some new links here. Why? I guess because I have received positive feedback on a lot of the pictures I have posted. I decided that it would be good to have some sites devoted just to the pictures and the stories that go with them. These pages, then, will be more purely photoblogs. I hope to add a photo a day (when not away for long weekends and such) to each page until I run out of material. Any comments and feedback, as always, are greatly appreciated!
Some people hang out their clothes to dry, others their least they don't hang them together.  Posted by Hello
I always enjoy walking through fishing villages because, despite the smell, you always can find sights you just don't find in other places. All of the fish here and in the previous picture were hanging outside someone's house in the village of TongChing on Lanyu. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

This was my goal this weekend: to make it to Lanyu. This is looking out over part of Yehin on the road leading up towards the weather tower and across the island to HongTou. Posted by Hello

Getting to Lanyu (Orchid Island)

I am back from Taidong (台東), my face, neck and hands red, my legs tired from three days of long walking. I had planned to get to Lanyu (蘭與), or Orchid Island as it is known in English, without any real plan for how to do so, and with no plan for what would come after. I am happy to report that I did in fact make it Lanyu, and that the hassle was well worth it. In a bit of an unexpected twist, I ended up visiting Green Island (錄島) as well. What follows is the story of the trip, combined with some information meant for those living in Taiwan who might be looking for a worthwhile weekend trip. I’m breaking the post up into several parts for easier reading. Also, if you get bored with the text, keep scrolling down as there are several pictures posted from different parts of the trip.

The journey began with a night train down to Taidong, and at the very start, good fortune visited. As I had not yet bought a ticket, I was planning for a very long and uncomfortable journey either sitting on the floor or standing on the train. Natalia asked if there were any seats on the train, and the man said no. One minute later, as I was looking for money, he changed his answer. The man in the next window was returning his ticket, and I had my seat. I said good-bye to Natalia (who was soon leaving for Bangladesh) and headed for the platform. I slept very little on the train down, as the lights in the cabin were left on, but I could hardly complain when up and down the aisle were people stuck standing for several hours.

I arrived in Taidong a little after 6, and asked a man about getting to Lanyu. He disappeared before answering. I decided then, that the best thing to do would be to go to the airport and see about buying a ticket. When I told my cab-driver what I wanted to do, he informed me that the previous day all the flights had been cancelled, and he did not know if there would be any on Saturday, either. I told him to take me into the city instead, so that I could first go to a travel agency to find out about tickets, and possibly save myself a useless trip to the airport and a long wait for nothing. The problem was, it was not yet seven, and the travel agency did not open until 8.

I found a breakfast place near to the travel agency and had a couple danbing and some coffee. I asked the woman working at the shop about getting to Lanyu. She told me something I would hear many times in the hours to come - bu yi ding (不一定) – which translated means, its not certain. She then informed me that Lanyu was bu hau wan (不好玩)– not fun – even though she had never been there. I thanked her for advice and headed on my way. With an hour still to spare I walked up to the high point in the city, less than a kilometer away from the travel agency. As I got close to the park at the base of the hill, atop which is a temple, I heard loud music and a man calling on a microphone somewhat to the beat – yi er san si we liu qi ba – in other words, counting to 8 for the people doing there morning exercises in the park. Along the narrow road, vendors were selling fruit. On one side of the road were the people exercising - the average age of who was well over fifty. Most of the exercises consisted of hitting themselves on the shoulders, chest, thighs or back.

On the opposite side of the road was a set of stairs leading down to a small amphitheatre. Here I found a group of women, aged between forty and seventy, dancing in unison to a variety of old fashioned Chinese songs. Further up the hill, in front of the temple, I found more dancing, this time in the form of couples dancing to ballroom music, salsa, and traditional Chinese music. This is a somewhat common scene in Taipei, so I was not surprised to see these people or their obvious enjoyment. However, some of the people did catch my eye, especially one man, probably in his late sixties, 5’6” or shorter, his button down shirt stuffed into his pants so that his slight paunch was accentuated. His face was expressionless, bored and detached, which led me to believe at first that he was just humoring his wife. Then, however, I noticed his hips, which were in non-stop motion. I also noticed the way in which he spun his wife and twisted and flipped his hands as he moved around and realized that he had probably been coming to do this every weekend for years.

When I went back to the travel agency, I was told that there were four flights daily to Lanyu, and that it looked like they would be flying. However, she said, all of the tickets were reserved so I would have to go to the airport, sign my name on the stand-by list and wait. By the time I arrived at the airport, I had missed the first flight out, and 8:30 flight, and as I put my name on the stand-by list, I saw with dismay that I was about the fifteenth on the list. The next flight was scheduled for 10:30, and after that there would be none until 12:50.

As the time for the flight approached, I looked around to see if people were coming. There was a large group of kids, I think two baseball teams, waiting for a flight, but they were obviously not going to Lanyu. A foreign guy showed up at the Lanyu counter and walked off to check in. Other than that, there was little activity. Then, about fifteen minutes before departure, one of the women at the desk began calling names. Name after name went by, and no one went to the desk. I realized that I was going to be in luck, and when she called my name I was already at the desk.
This is one of the canoes which the Ami tribe build and look after with such care. Posted by Hello

Lanyu - Day 1

The ticket cost 1400 NT, or about 45 US. I went through the small security area and up to the departure lounge. Then the group of us waiting, about fifteen in all, walked out onto the tarmac towards our plane. The plane was small, little taller than the van it was next to. I told my stomach to relax and went on board. The flight turned out to be quite smooth, despite passing through some dark gray clouds out over the ocean. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to take some pictures from above of the farmland near Taidong and on approach into Lanyu.

As the island came into view, and then came closer still, I felt as if I was in Jurassic Park, the scene where they first come to the island surrounded by clear blue water and mountains covered by jungles. Ahead were the mountains, some rising as high as 500 meters, and below, water near the shore a brilliant turquoise that would stop me in my tracks several times over the weekend as I walked around both Lanyu and Green Island. As we descended, we passed over a school and its track and then we came lower and lower over the water, with no land in sight. No more than ten feet below I saw water, and then large stone pilings. Five feet below, and finally land. When the plane came to a stop and I disembarked, I saw that the airstrip was sandwiched between the ocean and a steep hill, with very little room for maneuvering between the two.

Now I was on Lanyu and I had accomplished my most basic goal for the weekend. Now I had to figure out what I was going to do now that I was here – those little details like where I should stay. There was an information counter at the airport, but nobody was there. I saw the foreign guy who had been on the plane and I asked him if he knew whether or not there were shuttle buses from the airport to the few hotels on the island. He did not know. A group of Taiwanese saw me and asked if I needed help. I explained to them that I was not sure where to stay and that even if I knew where to stay, I did not know how I was going to get there. They suggested I rent a bike and I told them I was planning to walk around the island. Then one of them told me they were staying at a minsu (民宿) – a homestay – with someone they knew living on the island and that if I waited they could ask him if he had rooms. I was doing all of this in Chinese as they spoke limited English, so my head was spinning a bit. Throughout the weekend, though, I found that being able to speak some Chinese was an invaluable tool and it both saved me a lot of trouble and provided unexpected opportunities.

The man who owned the house and his friend gave myself and the other foreigner a ride to the house. It was in the village of Hong Tou (紅頭) and was very nice. Sadly I can not find the name card they gave me to pass along the address, but if I do I will pass it on. The owners are an aboriginal couple, with the wife quite obviously expecting a child. We decided to stay and share a room. We then introduced ourselves. The other foreigner, a Brit named Shaun, who I figured was another teacher in Taipei had actually come to Taiwan to travel for a month and Lanyu was one of the stops along the way. I was a bit shocked to hear this, as I think he may be the first person I have met who did not come to Taiwan for business, to work, to study, or to see a friend living here.

After setting our bags down, we headed out. We both like to walk, and we decided to head south. It was a little after eleven when we left, and due to my excitement at having arrived, I did not yet realize the following facts: that I had been almost sleepless for almost 30 hours, and that I had only eaten those two danbing (蛋餅) way back at 6:30. We headed south. The temperature was comfortable, although clouds passed over the island with great speed, which meant the temperature might fall or rise a few degrees every few minutes. On the left, a narrow strip of farmable land led up to the steep slopes of the jungle-like mountains that make up the majority of the island. On the right was the ocean, the beach leading to it rock and shell and coral strewn. On the beach we saw some of the canoes that the island is known for – which are apparently made from 27 pieces of wood that are intricately placed together. They were all painted with a similar black and white compass like design with flashes of red.

The residents of the island are mostly from the Ami tribe, and these canoes represent their handiwork. Over the past several years, it seems that many of the younger members of the tribe have left the island to seek more opportunities to make money. The majority of those who have stayed, as I was to see, tend to be older, with deeply wrinkled skin and mouths long-since stained red from chewing betel-nut – men and women alike. Alcoholism is also a big problem, and this was evidenced by the large quantity of empty bottles of beer and of whisby (more on this later) that have been collected around the island. While walking around the island, both on Saturday and Sunday, Ami that were just sitting around, or passing on motor bike would call out greetings or smile. However, if I asked them to take their picture, or lifted up my camera, they could turn downright surly. Shaun and I found this out almost immediately when we wanted to photograph a woman working in a field.

Lanyu is about fifty km all around, and could probably be walked in a day, if one really wanted to. There is a main road that circles the entire island, for the most part hugging the coast, and there is a second main road that cuts through the island linking Hong Tou with a town almost directly east of it. Shaun and I decided to walk the southern perimeter of the coast as far as the cross-island road and then to cut back to Hong Tou. As we walked, the scenery never stopped captivating me. The island, volcanic in nature and more similar to the Philippines in both appearance and in culture, as a rugged coast line dotted with huge rocks which jut from the turquoise water and possess names like Battleship Rock based upon their appearance. The Ami will make it quite clear that these are not names they have given the rocks, but names that have been given by the Taiwanese. At times the water was so achingly clear and blue that I just wanted to stare at it all day, or find a way to transport myself into it. For all of its coastline, though, Lanyu has no sand beaches, and because of the coral rock formations on the coast, most of it is not accessible to swimming. Shaun and I agreed had the island been blessed with several tons of well-placed sand, its appearance and pace now would be nothing as we found it.

Along the southern coast, we both realized we were getting hungry, and as I had no water, I was quite thirsty as well. Near the nuclear waste facility was saw a group of men out in near the water fishing, and along the road a group of women and children not doing much of anything. A few of the women started speaking the only English they knew (Hello!) and were surprised when I asked in Chinese if they had any food or water for sale. They had water, and they had whisby. The water they sold me, the whisby they gave me. To best describe whisby I would say it is something of a cross between Red Bull, cough syrup, and moonshine. In other words, it is not very good. It packs a punch, though, and thanks to my empty stomach, my limbs were soon nice and loose.

We reached Yehin sometime in the early afternoon, maybe around two. As we approached the town, the first thing that we noticed was that most of the houses were literally underground, only the tops of their roofs visible in the grave like holes the buildings had been place in. To get an idea of what this looked like from above, skip past all the writing to see the pictures posted on 3.28. The town was quiet with little movement, and we decided to see if we could find a place to eat. Past the buried houses were one and two story above-ground buildings where we hoped to find a restaurant. I was informed by two young girls who took great pleasure in laughing at my Chinese that there were no restaurants in the village but that we could buy instant noodles and munchies at a small, dusty convenient store that was more of a garage with shelves of food than it was a store. We ate here, while a man and woman spoke in an island dialect and the kids continued to make jokes about my Chinese. After the lunch, I asked a woman which road we should take to head back across the island. She was likely no more than forty-five or fifty, but she looked as if she was at least sixty. She pointed out the road, and then she began talking about her house, one of the buried houses. She asked if I wanted to look at it, and I said OK, knowing that she wanted us to stay there. The town was set up with three main larger roads running down into the main road near the coast. Running between these, then, were smaller walking paths. Leading from the paths were sets of two and three steps leading down into the bunker houses. Next to the house the woman showed us were four Ami tribal women, including one who must have been in her seventies or eighties, and whose face fascinated me with its deep-cut lines and twinkling eyes. Her legs were exposed to above her knees, revealing swollen and wrinkled knees, which hinted at great arthritic pain. The women were kind, and loved to talk. When we left, all but the old woman were moving on to somewhere else, talking and cackling in their native dialect. The old woman, meanwhile, sat and smiled, and kindly informed me when I asked to take her picture that I could not.

The walk back across to Hong Tou was mostly uphill, and offered great views out over the village of Yehin and out into the ocean. Along the way up we chatted with a Taiwanese couple (the guy was teaching on the island for a few months and had lived in America for awhile) and were told that we should definitely go to the weather tower at the top of the hill. With this advice in mind, when we arrived at the point where the road branched to the right and led up, we took the turn. The road was in good shape and would handle scooters just fine. For walkers, it is a little bit steep, but if you have walked around the southern part of the island already, it should not be much of a problem. It is worth the trouble, at any rate. Looking south, one sees the lush jungle-like slopes of Tasenshan (a 480 m high mountain)falling away into the ocean on both sides. Looking north one sees a similar sight, but on a larger scale, as Hongtoushan rises to 522mm and as the island to the north is much thicker around the middle. While up there, I chatted with a young man who is doing his compulsory military service at the weather station. He spoke some English, and he suggested that the following day we go to Tianchi, or Heaven Lake which is hidden high in the hills on the southern part of the island. I thanked him for his advice, and we returned to Hongtou.

Once back in Hongtou, we showered and relaxed on the balcony overlooking the ocean. The balcony is wide with several café style tables set up, and, if one looks past the mess of building materials piled up directly across the street from the minsu, offers brilliant views. I went back into the room after awhile and drifted off. I was awakened by a knock on the door and the sounds of Chinese. The owner of the house was asking us if we wanted to join the group of Taiwanese who had helped us back at the airport. I woke up and Shaun and I headed out with a group of 8, including the owners of the minus. We went to the nearby Epicurean restaurant/bar/café, which is a very nice restaurant, run by an Ami who was educated in England and speaks English very well. We had a meal with 7 dishes, including two fantastic squid dishes and a plate of fresh fish. There were some vegetable dishes as well, from a type of root found on Lanyu that was too bitter for my taste, and some fresh bamboo which tasted very good. As we ate, we I translated as much of the conversation as I could for Shaun, and translated his answers into Chinese for them. This was a great deal of fun, and made me think that maybe I should work harder on my Chinese so that maybe one day I could really do that. What made it even more fun was that a few of them told me I looked like someone they had seen in the movies. I have been told this many times before, for a wide variety of actors (and not all of them flattering – remember the show Life Goes On? Someone once told I looked like Corky…) Anyway, this led to a brief interlude of one of my all-time favorite Chinese language games, trying to figure out how you would say an actor’s name as transliterated into Chinese, or conversely guessing the English name from the transliteration. Great fun, really. All of this only cost 1800NT total, and it did not matter anyway, because no one was going to let Shaun or I pay. After dinner, the Taiwanese group went out with the man at the minsu to look for owls (apparently there are tiny owls that make strange noises living on the island) and Shaun and I went up to the balcony to have a beer before bed.
Through the clouds, this was my first sight of Lanyu. I knew immediately that I would enjoy being there. Posted by Hello
Despite the clouds, it was quickly apparent that the water along the coast of Lanyu is very, very blue. Posted by Hello
One thing we quickly learned as we walked around the southern portion of Lanyu is that there are a lot of goats wondering around both the coast areas and the mountains of Lanyu. Posted by Hello
This is the outline of one of the many rock formations lining the coast of Lanyu. Posted by Hello

So You Want to go to Lanyu...

While we drank, we tried to figure out what to do. Lanyu is a beautiful island, but it is hamstrung by the fact of the uncertainty of travel to and from the island. I knew that there were four flights scheduled on Sunday, but I was not sure if they were booked. I had also heard there was a boat leaving at two that would stop in Taidong and then head down to the southern beach resort area of Kenting. I did not want to leave the island so soon, but the people we talked to had heard the weather was going to turn bad on Monday, in which case there would be no flights, and there was not another boat scheduled until mid-week. Shaun had booked a return flight for Tuesday, but he began to wonder about staying that long and risking the weather changing for the worse. In the end, we decided that on Sunday we would start the day by renting a scooter to drive to the sanitation facility on the southwest coast of the island, opposite which is the trail head to Tianchi. We would hike up to Tianchi, and then use the scooter to drive around the northern part of the island, after which we would see about getting on either the 2:30 or the 4:45 flight back to Taidong. For anyone wanting to visit Lanyu, then, a word of advice: it can be done in a weekend, by taking the overnight train to Taidong on Friday night, getting the a morning flight out to the island, taking the 2:30 flight back to Taidong on Sunday, and taking a late afternoon (4:34 I think) train back to Taipei (and this is assuming you are coming from Taipei). You could also take the later 4:45 flight and a later train back to Taipei, but after that 4:34 train, I think it is a few hours before the next one runs. It would be wise to reserve your airline in advance (I suspect this is especially true starting in May) by calling down to Taidong and the Mandarin Airlines office. Also, it would be wise to have a contingency plan, or a Monday off to give yourself some breathing room in case of an unexpected delay.

Lanyu - Day 2

We were up by 6:45 on Sunday, and went to have breakfast at the 早店 or breakfast store down the street. They had excellent danbing, black coffee (an unexpected treat), and mantou (steamed buns) to take with us on our hike. We then headed off to find Tianchi. When we arrived at the trail head, there was a large group just starting off. Everyone in the group was between forty and sixty, and they live in Tainan where they teach at (I think) a police college. I found this out when we joined their group about twenty-five minutes into the hike.

The hike started out being pretty moderate, as the trail was wide and some steps had even been built leading up the bottom part of the hill (though a good number of the steps were gone). However, once we entered the forest, the trail became narrow and quite slippery thanks to the drizzle and the rain of the previous days. This made for treacherous footing, and more than once I almost fell. We made good time, though, and soon passed the group from Tainan. After descending a particularly tricky passage, though, we were faced with a wall, the base of a huge rock I think. It seemed as if we were standing in a dried out, rocky river bed, and it led both left and right. Shaun remembered reading something about this, and thought we needed to go left. We called up to the group above us to see if they knew and they suggested left as well. So we went, soon being forced to swing our bodies in and around ill-positioned fallen trees, and then coming to a point where we could go no further. The group from Tainan had by then descended and they were calling to us to go back, as they had given us the wrong directions. From that point on we stayed with them.

The rest of the hike alternated between steep uphill descents (one of which required the use of ropes that had been installed in the hillside) and pleasant gentle uphill rises that brought us into openings that offered great views again of the ocean and of the thick vegetation we had just ascended through. Then we were walking through more forest, and then we came to the lake, about forty-five minutes after we started. The lake itself was not much to look at – more of a small pond, really, filled with muddy brown water. What was fascinating though, were the surroundings. The lake was in the middle of a large clearing that was mostly devoid of life. There were trees fallen near the lake, and a group of dead trees standing maybe fifteen feet away. The ground was reddish-brown dirt with just the sparsest of green grass trying to sprout through the surface. It almost seemed as if an object had landed there with an amount of force large enough to create the clearance, and the pond itself was water collected in the hole left by the object. What made the sight of this barren area more striking still, were the green hillsides that surrounded us in every direction. In fact, it was something like standing in bowl where the sides are a deep green color, the bottom brown with just a little bit of water left, waiting to be finished.

While at the lake, I chatted with the group from Tainan and they informed me that they were planning on taking the 2:00 boat as it was first stopping at Green Island. When they said that, I made up my mind to do the same thing. They invited us to lunch with them as well, but I told them we still wanted to see the northern part of the island, so I suspected we would not have enough time to eat a sit down lunch. We hiked back with them, and said our good-byes, and they promised to call me to remind me about the boat. We then set off north. Unfortunately, less than five minutes after we started, our scooter conked out. We thus had to walk for about twenty minutes back towards Hong Tou until a car came by that we could catch a ride with. That was one thing I found on both Lanyu and Green Island – there was traffic to be sure, but it seemed to come in groups – whether they be large tourist groups, or groups of islanders on their way to fish or dive. On both islands though, I could walk for a long time without seeing a scooter or a car.

We got back to the minsu and got a new bike. Then we headed off north again. We stopped at the airport so Shaun could change his ticket to a 4:45 departure. The northern part of the island was much like the southern part of the island in that the scenery was at every moment phenomenal. Again we saw crystal blue water, huge black, volcanic rock, and steep green hills. We passed some of the people we had gone out to dinner with who were snorkeling with the man who had given us a room. Then we passed a few small villages, one of which had these long tunnel-like houses built to keep their boats in. Inside one of them we saw a man hunched over his boat doing some sort of work. From his dark hideaway he looked out at us once and then went back to work. It seemed as well in this village that there was some sort of celebration going on, but I have no idea for what. Later, as we drove, we passed an old couple vegetables and wood back to their house, the woman decked out in a traditional red Ami-style dress, the man with no shirt and little more than a loin cloth around his waist. I felt, as we passed them, that I was an incredibly distance away from Taiwan, and that this place, only a twenty minute flight away from Taidong bore no relation at all to the place where I live. Before we went back to HongTou, we stopped in the village of TungChing where we ate CongCe (or TsongTse), which is a type of sticky rice filled with pork, mushrooms, or red beans and wrapped inside a banana leaf and that is a common snack around the time of Dragon Boat Festival here in Taiwan (which, I should mention, is where I met Natalia last year). We ate down by the water, looking out at the Battleship Rocks, and a coral and rock beach dotted with scattered canoes. As we ate, a boy rolled down a hill on a makeshift wheeled sled while other boys played a Chinese board game while sitting on a raised platform that would have looked at home in Cambodia or Laos. Needless to say, I found myself feeling very happy. We went back to HongTou then and I just had time to wash some mud off my legs from the morning hike, and to brush my teeth. The people from Tainan called me to suggest I go to the harbor, and I told them I was on my way. Shaun drove me to the harbor, I bought my ticket, and I was on my way to Green Island.
I wish the light would have been of a better quality when I took this picture. This does not do the character of the mountains justice, with their many ridges and folds. Shaun and I passed this as we scooted our way along the northern part of Lanyu. Posted by Hello
This is one of the tunnel like houses for the canoes on Lanyu. Posted by Hello
This is the bottom of the bowl, and gives a good idea of the lack of anything in the immediate area around "lake" Tianchi. Posted by Hello
This is the majority of the dead trees near Tianchi, the hidden lake on Lanyu. You can see how the dead area suddenly stops and life begins again. Posted by Hello

Green Island - Hot Springs

I slept for most of the almost two hour boat ride the island, although I did wake up in time to see the island as we approached. The late afternoon was warm and pleasant, and the island seemed, as its name would indicate, quite green as we approached. As we disembarked, I was not sure where I was going to stay. One of the people from Tainan asked a man holding a sign about a minsu and the man said he had one. He told me to wait until he had taken care of giving everyone motorbikes and then he would drive me to take a look at the place. He told me it was near to the ocean hot springs that make Green Island famous (it is one of three places in the world known to have such a feature), which was true, and he told me it was near to where the group from Tainan was staying, which was not true. The room was very nice, with two large beds, and ocean view, TV (no cable), and a clean bathroom. I could not complain (and at 800 NT it would be a great deal for two people traveling. He also sold me a ticket to the hot springs for 150NT instead of the usual 200NT.

After dropping my bags off, I saw that it was almost four. The light was growing heavy outside and I did not feel much like heading off on a big walk. The minsu was just up a small street from the main road around the island, and across that road were several benches set along a raised walkway, facing out to the ocean. The water came in small, steady waves, pouring over rows of rock. To my right was a huge boulder jutting out into the ocean, to my left the town and further down, a stretch of green reaching like a finger into the ocean, and behind me a low, steep hill beyond the town. It seemed like a good place to relax, so I bought a Taiwan beer and sat down on a bench to read as the sun set behind me. Before I could get into my book a young boy – probably twelve or thirteen – came up to me and started talking. He could not speak English, but he could understand enough of my Chinese that we managed a decent conversation. I was a bit surprised to hear him say how much he liked living on this small island (only 17KM around, with one school of about 80 kids), but he told me he would hate living in a city, especially a big place like Taipei. Eventually, thanks to our age difference and the language gap our conversation petered out and he went rode his bike back across the street. I read until about six and went home to take a shower. At seven I went to one of the three or four restaurants in the village to eat. They were all right along the main road, and though I had planned to go to a hot pot place advertising 250 NT for all you can eat (吃到飽 – literally eat until full), I changed my mind and went to the place next door. Women at each of the two tables with customers came called over to see if I needed help. This led to more Chinese conversation as I ordered my fried noodles and mountain pork. I asked how long it would take to walk to the hot springs from the village and they told me about twenty minutes. By the time I was done, though, two women from visiting from Ilan (a city and county along the East Coast) and their friend told me they would give me a ride over if I wanted to wait for them to sing some KTV. I said no problem, and it really was not. As I sat there at my big plastic picnic table with a plastic table cloth that kept trying to blow off with each large gust of wind, I watched through the open sliding doors the moon rise orange and full over the ocean. We all commented on the beauty of it, even the residents of the island, and then followed a string of photo opportunities (hey – it is Taiwan) in which I was encouraged to play a role. I think I must have been in about twenty pictures by the time I left Green Island yesterday, about ten of them with that moon behind me. As we took the pictures, a drunk islander kept calling me 帥哥, or shuai ge, which translated would be something like very handsome man. Flattery is good in any language.

After many photos, and some KTV singing, they took me to the hot spring. Then one of the men arranged with a friend of his who worked at the hot springs to give me a ride home after I was done. The top part of the facility was something of a spa, with a series of swimming pools filled with hot spring salt water of various temperatures. I started here, but then decided to go down to the pools that were closer to the ocean. This meant walking along a dim walkway to the pools. These were not pools so much, though, as big holes sunk into the ground and lines with mossy rocks. The water was pretty deep, and when sitting, it came up to my neck. These two main pools were hotter and more comforting than the pools in the spa area. I was sharing the pools with a group of twenty-nine students visiting Kaoshiung and soon we were playing counting games in Chinese. I would see this group again and again on Monday, and it was with them, both in the hot springs and on the following day that I was involved in the rest of my photo-ops. Besides the two small deep pools of hot water near the ocean, there was also a shallow pool of cool water which directly abutted the ocean. The water was clear and crisp and the pool was long enough to swim in. When visiting hot springs, I love to jump from hot to cold water as it leaves my nerve endings tingling and my heart beating loudly in my chest and I always feel, for a few minutes at least, very much alive.
This was from a house less than two minutes walk from the minsu I was staying in. A number of houses in various villages around the two islands are built in this fashion, and the effects of the elements (wind and rain) are quite apparent. Posted by Hello
This is one of the houses in the village I stayed in. Many of the houses were about as tall as I am and were made of this gray white stone. The style of construction lends a certain air of decreptitude to many of the buildings on both Green Island and Lanyu. Posted by Hello
The minsu I stayed at was in a village tucked just behind the green hill pushing the road towards the sea. You can get a bit of an idea of what I saw as I read my book on Sunday night. Posted by Hello
This is one of the trees that stood out simply because it was not green. Posted by Hello

Green Island - Day 2

I left the hot springs at about eleven and went to bed almost as soon as I returned to the minsu. I wanted to get up early on Monday so as to hike around the island – a walk that I anticipated would take 3.5 - 4 hours without stops, and closer to 5 hours with stops. I woke up at 7, and was off by 7:30, without breakfast and without water. I walked through the small town I was staying in and took a few pictures of the white and gray stone homes that were barely (and in some cases, not even) taller than me. I then headed out along the coast road, going east and then north. The sun rose quickly and by 8 I was sweating freely. The sun brought the island alive, though, and throughout the morning, I would marvel at the brilliance of the green. Purple and white flowers jumped into sight as well. What I enjoyed even more was the blend of scenery, with pine trees standing just behind tropical ferns. Next to the pines there might be a slim trunk of a tree bereft of leaves, but contrasting well with the deep blue sky behind it. There were also areas of wild grass and of fallen, burned out trees, The coastal scenes were brilliant as well. One area of interest was Youzihu (釉子湖), a small grouping of ancient, abandoned houses just near the water. They are visible from the main road above, and there is a road leading down to them which is easily walkable or drivable. The houses themselves, though gray and forgotten, seem right for their placement just in front of a steep green cliff and just next to a rugged strip of beach and rock. I did not spend much time walking around this cluster of ten buildings, though, as I instead wanted to walk along the beach towards a large rock that has been partially hollowed out with what appears to be, from a distance, a cave. The rock and old coral in this area were full of a variety of fascinating patters, some looking like a thousand worms crawling, others like brains, still others like hardened sponges. The only problem was the amount of litter strewn amongst the rocks.

After visiting this area, I continued on. I finally found a place to eat and buy some water near the Guangyin Cave site (觀音洞). I also ran into the Kaoshiung group while here. After eating, I continued on, stopping at various sites to take pictures. The sun moved ever high and turned ever hotter. Despite the many layers of sunscreen I put on, my too big nose turned a bright red one more time, and the back of my hands and legs crisped. By the time I reached the north coast, I was soaked through, but despite the many people who drove by offering to rent my a bike, I decided I wanted to walk the whole way. Near the village of GongGuan (公館), I saw several decent places to stay, some bars that advertised staying open until 3, and several shops geared towards snorkeling. It was near here that I stopped to sit on a wall near where a group of Taiwanese were snorkeling. I wanted to go into the water myself, but had no swimsuit. Instead I left my shoes on a shell littered stretch of beach and walked amid the small pools of water filling the holes in the coral beach. Some of the pools were deep enough to reach my shorts and so clear that I could watch the fish swimming in them. Directly ahead was the island of Taiwan hazy and large-looking in the distance. There were also several nice cafes near this stretch of coast, as well as several places that once must have appeared nice but are now closed, with patios overgrown by wild grass. The north coast is full of snorkeling places, restaurants and hotels, and this is where most of the action seems to be centered. I also saw some small twenty-four hour grocery stores, most of them in between ChungLiao Village and NanLiao Village, a stretch of land which wraps around the northwest corner of the island and down halfway along the west coast. This area also includes a large number of souvenir shops, the airport and the harbor. By the time I made it here, I decided to speed the pace of my walk just a little bit, as I was becoming quite overwhelmed by the heat.

I made it back to my minsu just before 2. I wanted to take a 2:30 boat back to Taidong, but I had no ride to the harbor. The owner of the minsu was not around and so I knocked on the door of the neighboring house. An old man answered the door and I told him I wanted to take a boat at 2:30 but I had no way to get to the harbor. Did he know someone who could help me? I was pretty sure he said yes, and so I went up to my room to take a quick shower and pack. I was back downstairs by 2:10 and found the man separating some fish drying in the sun on a mat on the ground. He told me that he would take me himself, and this was how I found myself being driven to the harbor by a seventy year old man who had no real reason for taking me and had no intention of asking me for money. When I think about all the nice things that people did for me on this trip, I am really overwhelmed – embarrassed really. I am also thankful for the Chinese that I have picked up, and have gained a bit of confidence for the summer/fall trip to the mainland.

On the boat ride to Taidong, I saw the group from Kaoshiung again, and one of the guys saved a seat for me, as I was one of the last to buy a ticket and the boat was nearly full. Then, at the train station in Taidong (incidentally, for those curious, the cab ride from harbor to train station is, on a metered taxi, 300NT), I ran into one of the couples I had eaten dinner with on Lanyu. They told me that the weather had stayed nice after all. We shared stories of our days and took pictures. Then we boarded the train and headed back to Taipei. On the train ride back, I took great pleasure in watching the sun set over the rice fields and mountains as I chatted with two young South Korean boys who were born in Taiwan and going to an American school. They were very curious about me and they were just like what I imagine American kids to be these days, playing with game boys and cell phone cameras and talking about the crazy things they found on the internet. I also talked with their father, a pastor who had studied Chinese literature and we talked a lot about traveling and about education and about life. By the time we arrived in Taipei, as the family departed, they all called out their good-byes, and the boys even said “We’ll miss you, Alan!” What a great ending to the trip.
This is the top of one of the abandoned houses at Youzihu. Trees grew in and around the houses. The blurred green in the background is the side of a cliff. Posted by Hello
This is looking down at one of the rocks along the coast near Youzihu.  Posted by Hello

A Postscript

As an afterthought, I am very determined now to see as many of the rest of the islands around Taiwan as I can before I leave. The people on Green Island and Lanyu were friendly, and the Taiwanese I met were kind beyond words. There is something about being on a small island that fosters a spirit of unity, I think, and as one runs into the same people over and over again, a certain bond is created. Being a foreigner adds to it, of course, especially when one is trying to learn Chinese. People take an active interest in you, and you, in turn, in them.

As I was walking along the road on Green Island yesterday, and person after person riding by waved and smiled and called out some form of greeting, I could not help but think back to a day in Cincinnati maybe four years ago, when I was living at home and saving money for my trip to Europe. There is a steep hill near my house, and people driving along there often throw their trash out the window. I walked up and down that hill a lot as a form of exercise and as a form of limited escape when I was at home, and one day I got sick of seeing so much trash littering the side of the road. I grabbed to big plastic bags from home and began collecting aluminum cans in one and trash in another. The bags were more than half full after walking just a few hundred meters, but this was not the worst of it. As I was collecting the trash, a truck drove by. Someone yelled a profanity at me and threw a can at my head. As they drove away, their laughter trailed behind them. I thought about that yesterday and thought about how happy I am to be where I am at, and though it is hard to be so far away from my family, happy to not be in a place where something like that would happen.
On this particular Monday, under a blistering hot sun and a crisp blue sky, Green Island lived up to its name. The tropical plants were a violent shade of green and seemed to glisten under the light of the sun. Even the walls that on occasion ran alongside the road did their part...  Posted by Hello
When I was a child, I loved Crayola crayons, especially the bigger boxes that had aquamarine, which was my favorite color then. I was so happy this weekend, then, when around every corner, on both Green Island and Lanyu, I was presented with the color in its purest form.The different shades of blue in the water along the the coasts of the two islands were fantastic, and it often seemed as if someone had added blue food coloring to get such a vivid effect.  Posted by Hello
Despite the name "Orchid Island,"I did not see many flowers on Lanyu. While I saw plenty of them on Green Island, I only saw one like this, just to the side of the road and hidden in the shade. This is why I like to walk...I never would have seen this if I was on a motorbike. Posted by Hello
The people of the Ami tribe, while generally being quite friendly (with the exception of one very aggressive and annoying man in Yehin), did not like to be photographed. The majority of those living on the island were very photogenic with their wrinkled faces and stained mouths. The only person who I was able to photograph, though, was this young girl, on Sunday afternoon outside a small church as her mom chopped vegetables and her brother watched me. Posted by Hello
This is from the weather station on Lanyu, maybe 350 meters above sea level. It is easily accessible either by motorbike or walking, and provides great views of the island. Unfortunately, though the weather was very comfortable (despite a strong breeze) the light was pretty bad due to the mostly cloudly conditions the first day I was there. This is looking south, and the ocean would be just visible to the left and right if it was distinguishable from the clouds. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 28, 2005

This is looking down on Yehin village in along the east coast of Lanyu. Many of the the people have built their house under ground, so as to protect themselves from typhoons. For about 400 NT a night you can stay in one, though I do not know how appealing it would be. The one I looked at had a long wooden plank that might hold six people, and a pile of blankets and pillows next to it. Besides, I think it would be a little too much like sleeping in a grave. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Taking Off

The week is over at last, and it is time to head off for a long weekend. I am leaving in a few hours for an overnight train to Taidong, which is in the Southeast part of the island. I am not looking forward to the train ride, as I will likely not have a seat (this will mean trying to find a semi-comfortable spot on the floor on which to lay my head). I am also a little sorry that I won't be here for the (hoped for) million person march tomorrow against the anti-secession law. I am sure that would be a great chance to take some pictures and here differing viewpoints about the complicated relationships in this part of the world.

I will get in to Taidong at around six in the morning, and then I will find a travel agent who can help me get to Lanyu, or Orchid Island as it is known in English. The only problem is, the planes flying there are small prop planes, and if there is any kind of wind, I have heard the flights are cancelled (or if there are not enough passengers), so I am a bit worried I might get there, but then have a problem coming back. The island is a small one, and is supposed to be quite beautiful - more South Pacific than Taiwan. There is a drawback though - a nuclear waste site on the southern tip of the island.

Anyway, I hope that when I come back on Tuesday (if I get back by Tuesday) I will have some pictures and thoughts to share.
I thought this might make a good album cover for the Stone Temple Pilots or some other grungy early nineties band. Posted by Hello