Thursday, July 9, 2009

REWIND: Taiwan

In keeping with my new blogging feature, here is a quickie-rewind version of my adventures in Taiwan, a whirlwind recounting that will hopefully whet your appetite for more detailed posts in the future.

Taipei, part 1
*Joined by my university friend, Mel, I spent a few days exploring Taipei's old neighborhoods, many temples, and hotsprings. We spent a lovely evening in Danshui in the northern part of the city, a community resting on a riverbank where fishing boats ply the waters and a carnival-like atmosphere rules the open-air shops that line the shore.

*No trip to Taipei would be complete without a visit to the t night market, where a multitude of delicious food and cheap fashions await your discovery. My favorite part of the night market: very real looking rolls (the bread kind) made out of foam rubber, sold at virtually every stand. Neither Mel nor I could divine their purpose-- they all had silly faces piped onto them with brown ink, so they couldn't be for tricking your friends. Maybe, we thought, they're like pet rocks?

Worshipping at a temple in Taipei

A man fishing at Danshui
Some of the wonders at the night market
Sun Moon Lake
*Coincidentally, I have several friends who ended up in Taiwan this year, either teaching English or returning to their families to plot their next post-university move. So my next step moving south from Taipei was to meet up with Sam, a very old friend from middle school. He showed me around his neighborhood, Jhubei, and then we took a brief weekend trip to SunMoon Lake, one of the foremost tourist attractions in Taiwan. The lake featured an interesting aboriginal population, several beautiful lakeside temples, and a good deal of the misty-mountain scenery that one associates with Taiwan. On Sunday before parting ways we took a boatride along the lake. Very pleasant, indeed.

Beautiful masks hanging in one of the aboriginal villages lining the lake
A ferocious lion guards a temple

Lake scenery
*From Sun Moon lake I took the train south to visit another university friend, Maya, where she was teaching in Kaohsiung, an industrial city in the southwest. I got to go to school with her for a day to see her teach, and I also spent a lovely day roaming the city with a couchsurfer who took me to the top of the highest hill in the area for a beautiful view of the city and also introduced me to PigDog Cafe, a haven for the city's independent thinkers, half art-gallery half cafe. It was a day of great conversation and scenery. On the last day before I left Kaohsiung, Maya and I went to Lotus Lake, which is famous for its temple- and shrine-lined shores. There we stumbled on the birthday of a local god, and were treated to a live orchestral performance, after which we were made to eat many delicious bean-paste sweets and other goodies.

My new Kaohsiung-native friend, Jolie

Along the shores of Lotus Lake

*While in Kaohsiung, I took a day trip to Tainan, a city filled with temples. I spent the day wandering among a variety of fascinating, beautiful temples, a day tempered only by the fact that my cell phone was stolen in the afternoon as I was preparing to return to Kaohsiung.

*The highlight of my time in Taitung was the opportunity to attend an Aboriginal Taiwanese wedding. Through a series of convoluted connections originating with people I met on couch surfing, I was invited into the hills to a wedding celebrating of the Bunun people. A German couchsurfer picked me up on an old-fashioned Kawasaki motorbike (the first motorcycle I'd ever ridden) and sped me into the hills, where we feasted with a cast of hundreds, eventually retiring to the bride's family's house and then to an unlikely karaoke location. It was in this way that I found myself huddled, freezing in the chill of a Taiwanese spring night in a tiny house/shack that passed for a karaoke club, perched on the edge of a deep gorge that divides southern Taiwan in half

Wedding festivities
The East Coast-- Hualien and Taroko
*On the recommendation of friends, fellow travelers, and guidebooks I took an extremely scenic bus trip up the eastern coast of Taiwan, where I couchsurfed with a very friendly Taiwanese med student who came out to me, locked her keys in her sixth-floor apartment, and engaged in an extremely daring/foolhardy caper to get back in (which included swinging briefly off the roof of her building, much to my terror)-- all in one night. Then I taught her the word "badass" and we went to another of Taiwan's fabulous night markets.

*Taroko Gorge has got to be one of the most impressive and stunning places I've been. Short on time and independent transport, I joined a small tour for a day and soaked in the remarkable scenery, which I utterly failed to capture with my little point-and-shoot camera.

From the Hualien night market

Not doing Taroko Gorge any justice

*Given my interest in aboriginal culture, Maya agreed to help me get in touch with one of her fellow Fulbrighters who was working in an aboriginal school in Nan'ao, a little southeast of Taipei. I stayed with Julia for a few days, and she was an amazing host. On the first night we took her scooter out to the beach and made a fire, eating dumplings and roasting tiny, sugary marshmallows among the dunes. The second day I wandered the town and visited the school where Julia taught. And on the last day we took her scooter into the countryside, where we climbed up a river valley to a beautiful waterfall and then road to a hotspring.

Language learning at the Nan'ao school

If you look really closely you can see Julia on top of the waterfall, on the left side
Taipei, again
*I returned to Taipei, and to Mel, for another few days at the end of my Taiwan sojourn. This time we visited several museums and went to the top of Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world. Nothing quite like that feeling, being higher than pretty much everybody. That soaring feeling gave me a good push, energy that would last me until I had landed in my next destination-- Osaka, Japan.

The tallest building in the world, modeled after a bamboo shoot

View from the top

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