Monday, May 12, 2014

Made in Taiwan (Part 2)

Day 4

The next day I went back into Taipei by myself and found a really nice vegetarian buffet, aided only by a laughably simple hand-drawn map (lack of planning was a running motif of this trip) showing four main roads. Needless to say, I was pleased with myself. 

I wandered around the garment district and some random parts of the older Wanhua area, an outing that culminated in a visit to Longshan Temple. It was really impressive. The heat was stifling, and I took a video of everyone chanting together. It reminded me of the Indian people in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

So much of this country is like a post-apocalyptic futurescape. I flipped through Steph's 
travel book, which actually described Keelung as "the most Blade Runner-esque" of the 
Taiwanese cities. Yes. So true.
After that, I went to what I considered the last obligatory tourist stop: The National Palace Museum. It houses one of the world's largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork, making it an incredibly popular destination for mainland Chinese tourists. I'm glad I went on a weekday, because so many people bitch about them online. On the weekend the museum is apparently packed with loud, rude Chinese tourists with a penchant for shoving (that they obviously passed on to Koreans), so watch out.

I was dog tired and dragged myself around the place pretty slowly. At this point I was also trying to avoid spending any more money, so I skipped paying the $3 for the audio supplement, which I regret. I was just too tried and couldn't be asked, but it would have made it much better.

Found the original Kung Fu Panda.
Original rook of tremendous disapprovar.
"Bitch, I'm fabulous"
Later that night, I went back to Shilin Station and met Evanuska so we could walk around the famous night market there together. We were both too tried to do anything, really, but I got a sour plum juice, she got a cranberry juice, and we made the rounds either way. I also got a squished penny to add to the collection my parents started for me when I was little, but I forgot to select the design; I don't even know what mine is, some lame bridge or something. I really wanted the boba one!

Walking by a stall cooking a large amount of stinky tofu for the first time was.. ah.. gag-inducing? It was way worse than the first time I smelled bondaeggi (boiled silk worms), and I immediately clapped my hand over my face. People can get used to anything!

There were so many cute clothes, way more than Korea, and they're much cheaper as well. I don't know why Japanese tourists don't go to Taiwan to shop more instead; I wish I had felt like it! I was too exhausted to even be asked to browse lightly. There were also a crapload of UFO catcher machines, each with a whole bunch of the same toy inside. I also really wanted an adorable little plush Sully but was too tired to go back and play for it.

Day 5

On my last full day, we decided to try to go to the island that looms off the coast of Keelung like an enormous mist-shrouded pork dumpling. After much wandering in and around terminals and asking of questions to very friendly ladies at a local childrens' museum, we thought we had looked everywhere the departure point was supposed to be, and failed. But then, we were walking past the Burger King next to the Starbucks and I was like, "WAIT!" Understandably startled, Steph was like, "What?!", at which time I pointed up to the glorious sign on the building, that was a picture of a boat going to the island. I pointed back and forth from one to the other and was like, "I'm getting an idea.. Wait.. I think.. I feel like there's a connection, if only I could just figure out what it is.."

Anyway, yeah. If you want to go to Keelung Island, the ticket counter is in the Burger King, and the dock immediately behind it, out the back door. It costs about $20.

We went to Heping Dao beach/geopark on the other side of the city during the time we had to kill waiting for the next tour. 

We were talking about how there should be more swimming pools like this one around the world: shallow coastline blocked off by concrete walls that lets water circulate but that keep sharks, jellies and rip tides out. 

We decided to walk around the park first, hopping over the ubiquitous painted red lines you're supposed to stay behind along with everyone else who was there. We crossed a narrow bridge and walked out to the edge of the rocks - which are much like the hoodoos at Yehliu but more worn-down - checking out tidal pools and views in between.

Poseid-asian Wants YOU For Beach Corps! 

Steph wasn't wearing her swimsuit, but I was, and I was dying for a dip in the cool water, so I hopped in for a few minutes before we had to scooter back to catch the boat. The ocean pools were full of little striped fish that didn't seem too concerned about all the people around. They come right up to you out of curiosity, and sometimes give you a little nibble; I could almost grab them. 

Back at the dock, we saw that the other foreigners we'd noticed signed up for the boat tour were a couple of 50 or 60-something Aussie guys. We stood around joking as we were given super useful safety instructions in Chinese, and then hopped on.

We were told that the whole thing took about an hour and a half, and at first I was honestly worried that we weren't going to get to set foot on the island, but the boat just circles it for the view. And for the informative bit, I'm sure, but that of course is also in Chinese. All I know is that the Japanese used this island during the war.

Once you dock, you can follow the slow-moving tour or strike out on your own to either walk the coastal pathway or take the steep staircase up to the beacon at the top. I straight up told Steph which way we were going, my feet being too blistered to muster even a fairly tame climb.

Of the two small shrines on the island, this is the less-creepy and less-spider-infested one.
And we did see a really big spider. Like, almost face-sized.
Look at him. He's all like, "Soon."

There was also a small family of dogs on the island, but only the father was friendly enough to approach and touch. The three cute little puppies just yapped and freaked out of anyone made any sounds at them or walked in their general direction. 

When we went back to where the boat was docked, we noticed how amazingly clear the water was while we were waiting. It was maybe 30-35 feet deep, and you could look straight down to the bottom. A random fisherman who was just next to us hauled up what I guess was a crab or lobster trap, but he'd accidentally caught a couple of other fish, including what was apparently the king of the puffer fish (since it looked like it was wearing a crown).

I, for one, embrace our slimy new fish overlords.

That night, I finally got to meet some of Steph's friends. The downside to teaching in a place like this is the isolation; she didn't get many chances to socialise. We all met up at a restaurant not far from Heping Dao (on the other side of Keelung from where she lived), and then went down to the rocky beach to have a bonfire. The lights of a small neighbouring village in the distance were like a little patch of fire on what we had to assume was a mountainside; it couldn't be distinguished from anything else because of the blackness.

We found a seemingly abandoned fire - there was no one around - and stole some of it to start our own before putting it out. Sitting around it drinking beer (fruit-flavoured in my case), we were pretty surprised when some friendly local divers crept out of the sea like frogmen. In those rocky shallows they clearly made a good haul with little effort, and carried small nets and even little baskets on belts. It seemed like you could just go in with a light and grab the critters of your choice. One guy's Taiwanese girlfriend went over to apologise about their fire, but it turned out not to be theirs afterall, and the smouldering embers were exactly what they needed to cook the lobsters they'd caught.

They'd caught several puffer fish, too (like I said, they're that common), and it was actually pretty fucked up when they tossed them still-living onto our fire. They flipped and flopped their little fins and spit out all their water and slowly deflated. They didn't die nearly fast enough. I wish my camera's battery hadn't died, but I did manage to get a video of it.

The fishermen happily offered us some of everything they'd caught, and everyone but me partook. They all said it was the freshest lobster they'd ever had.

Even though I didn't taste of the spoils, it was a really cool experience. Taiwanese people are so friendly, and it was a great last night there.

For my last half day, we decided to try one more beach, again stupidly close to Steph's apartment, and it was glorious. It looked really ancient, with the clearly-defined layers of rock jutting up at an angle the way they were. We were taking turns with Steph's goggles (because I didn't bring mine, like an idiot) and at first it didn't seem like much, but someone had brought a little fine mesh bag of bait and drawn in tons of little tropical fish with it. You could just stick your face in the water and be surrounded by them, and they couldn't have cared less that you were there. They'd just sort of swim right by your eyes. That made me want an underwater camera, and to learn how to dive.

There was also a group of people learning to swim with the aid of a lifeguard instructor, and while we were talking about them as we watched and applauded their courage for going right out into fairly deep open water, they looked hilarious. They were all strung together, covered in life jackets and various other flotation devices, and looked like the wayward survivors of a holiday boating accident. After bobbing out in open water like adorable pathetic corks, they were towed back in.

Back up on the shore, we found a smoothie cart and I had yet another fresh, delicious mango treat. The guy seemed disgusted by our foreignness, but he was the only one I ran into over the course of the week with an even remotely outwardly negative attitude.

A pretty bad photo, but I'm happy in it, so whatevs.

I actually had trouble catching a bus to the airport because they were all full, and had to blow my leftover money on a taxi (really glad I had enough o_o;) to make my flight. But that's okay. 

Taiwan is a wonderful place and I can't wait to go back one day. Steph was so gracious, letting me stay with her and scootering me all around. We had a conversation about how inexpensive a country it is and buying property there, and I'm still genuinely interested in doing that someday, too.

Here's a great blog entry about more of the sights around Keelung if you've found this looking for things to do there :D