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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

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.

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