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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

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.


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