Finding the Rabbit
So here’s the mother of all postings! This one's really long, with lots of pictures. We had the Moon Festival in the end of September, and then 10-10 Day, which is Taiwan’s Independence Day, on….well, October 10th. Those two holidays falling so close together meant that most schools had a five-day weekend, though Shane was open on Monday, October 9, much to my CE14 class’s dismay. And then the government did something funny: it announced on Thursday, October 12, that Monday should not have been a holiday, and that if all businesses and schools wanted to make the following Saturday a regular work day they could. And they did. Jennifer cancelled all of our Saturday classes because our students had to go to their regular schools. My housemate, Eva, has some friends who’d been planning to get married that day, but then suddenly couldn’t because they (plus everyone invited) had to go to work or school instead! Quite a mess was made that week, and it certainly didn’t help the image of a presidency hanging on tenterhooks anyway.
Flags along the harbor
And the canal. Keelung does Independence Day very well, I think.
About a month ago, I came up with the idea of hooking my CE15 class up with pen pals in America. Jennifer was very excited, and the idea quickly expanded to include my Saturday reading and writing class, as well as a few individuals who aren’t in any group classes. I tried to contact the few teachers I know in America to set this up, but nobody responded. Then I tried my own school in Michigan, which is K-12 and which I had attended in high school. No one responded to my emails there either, but my mom went over there in person and was able to connect with some of the middle school faculty. And it worked - there are now 18 fifth and sixth graders in Michigan ready for pen pals in Taiwan, and I have about eighteen 9-12 year olds in Taiwan ready for pen pals in America! Nothing has happened yet, but I hope in the next week or so we can match them up and get them started on writing their letters.
During some of his time off this month (because of the holidays), my friend Rodger came up from Taichung to visit for a couple of days, and then I went back to Taichung with him for about a day and a half. While he was in the north, we took the MRT all the way to the end of the red line to a city called Danshui (“dan - shway”), which is at the top of the island and the mouth of the Danshui River. It used to be Taiwan’s biggest fishing harbor, but now Keelung is. We were there on a Thursday, so both the MRT trains and the city itself were rather empty and quiet. It was hard to believe that this little place is at the edge of Taipei.
Looking down the length of the MRT train. What can I say? We were on the train for 45 minutes.
We had to change trains in Beitou. When I'm with Rodger I tend to take a lot more pictures, usually of the people around us. I wanted to get the train coming into the station, which sort of worked - I'm not yet very good at doing action shots - but then I saw this little girl and her mother hurrying along next to it, and decided to focus on them instead. The girl was a perfect shot until the last moment, when she put her hand up, but I had to live with it. They got on the train before I could try it again.
Danshui has the most beautiful MRT station I've ever been to. When you get far enough outside of Taipei, the trains run above-ground rather than beneath it, decidedly more enjoyable.
Fishing boats along the wharf in Danshui. Many of them are painted in indigenous Taiwanese patterns.
We caught a ferry over to Bali, the touristy area across the river. As it turned out, we paid very little heed to the shops and restaurants over there, preferring instead to follow the boardwalk along the river. Here's Rodger on the ferry; I don't have nearly enough pictures of him on this blog!
Danshui, as viewed from Bali. It was a warm, hazy day, and very quiet, making it easy to forget that Danshui is actually a city, and an extension of Taipei at that. We did a lot of sitting in the grass and just talking here.
Of all the things to stumble across in Bali - a high ropes course! It was built behind a riverside cafe, and would have been quite jarring in this setting if there weren't enough trees around for it to blend in with. When I saw this, I started missing all my outdoor ed folks kind of a lot.
And the climbing wall
There were several people wading out in the river, which, on the Bali side, was very shallow, out to a sandbar in their long socks. This woman was one of them, someone I took for a professional oyster-digger, or at least someone who looked like she'd been doing this for a very long time.
She didn't know she was being photographed.
Fishing nets tied to a bamboo pole. We'd waded out past the amateur oyster-diggers to the big sandbar beyond, which is where this pole is.
Putting the "dan" in Danshui? We stumbled upon this giant egg on our way back (it's about six feet long and maybe four feet wide) and could only take it for a piece of randomly placed art. Later, it occurred to us that it might be a pun. In the city's name, "dan" means fresh, and "shui" means water. But the word for egg in Chinese is "dan," albeit with a different written character and a different tone. Maybe this egg is somebody's idea of a play on the city's name.
For some reason, Che Guevara has quite a presence in Taiwan. I can't tell you how many banners and T-shirts I've seen with this image on it.
Several homeless dogs were hanging around the cafe where we had lunch. They looked healthy enough, so they weren't starving, but it was clear they depended on handouts. They hung back very politely, hoping that something might fall.
I enjoyed watching these roly-poly twins as they came scampering by. Then they ended up sitting across from us on the train ride home, but I couldn't comfortably take pictures of them there.
TAICHUNGRodger and I had planned to travel back to Taichung on Thursday night after my classes were finished, but since that was the eve of the Moon Festival, getting on a bus or train turned out to be impossible (think airports on Christmas Eve). There weren’t any trains or buses to Taichung available, so we decided to try for Friday morning. Heh – that too was a bad idea, but at least it was doable:
We stood crammed into this circular bus station for an hour, which was actually much shorter than I’d expected us to be there. The bus ride down took the better part of three hours because traffic was awful on the freeways too. Our seats were in the very back, next to the bathroom. The handle on the bathroom door was backwards and tricky, and the little white sign telling you to pull down first was in English only, not in Chinese. So Rodger had to let everyone in and out of the bathroom on that trip!
Being in Taichung itself was literally not anything to write home about. We didn’t do very much besides walk around almost aimlessly, take a lot of pictures of people and things going by, and just hanging out. That was the best part. I feel very happy when I’m with Rodger and Aimee, and it was a very relaxing twenty-four-hour vacation for me.
Some new sculptures in the park: I was drawn to the motion implied in their bodies, the tumbling in the lower man's back and the flailing of the higher man's legs. I also like how their heads are not whole, especially without faces, implying that it doesn't matter who they are, and reemphasizing the motion of their bodies.
Shocking discovery downtown: the concrete dragon that was being assembled in this park has disappeared! For some reason, they decided not to build it and took it away, leaving only its little stone dais instead.
While Rodger spent several minutes taking reflective pictures off the parking barriers (on the far left), I noticed we were being watched by this little guy on the toy backhoe. He sat in that one spot for a long time, watching everyone who walked past him, but always coming back to us.
This time we came here on a sunny day. I was attracted to the bright blueness of the boats.
This elderly woman eyed the tree for several minutes before reaching out to touch it. I wondered what she was going to do to it, so I had my camera ready.
Old men playing mah-jong. Clara once commented that old women still have families to run, but old men have nothing to do. That certainly seems true enough. This is a very common scene to behold in Taiwan.
Rock-hopping up the creek that runs behind the art museum
MY FAMILY’S VISIT
In mid-October, my sister, Heidi, her husband, Jon, and my father, Randy, came and spent a week with me in Taiwan. Not only was it wonderful to see them again, but I had some instant travel-buddies, which allowed me to go places on the island that I hadn’t been to yet, didn’t feel like visiting alone, and couldn’t see otherwise because everyone else I know had to work. They flew in late Saturday night, had a short night’s rest in Keelung, and then I booted them back onto a train early Sunday morning, which we rode for three hours down to the city of Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. Hualien and neighboring Taroko Gorge National Park are in what is arguably the most beautiful part of the island, a place that I’d been wanting to visit since before I even got here. Well, one year later, I finally made it. (When I got back to Keelung, I asked Jennifer if she’d consider moving her school down there, but of course she said no. Some silly excuse about making money, I don’t know.)
I apologize for how fuzzy this picture is, but I wanted to show you some of the furniture in the dining room. This hotel was very playful and artsy in its decor, though tastefully, and here is one example. It all appeared to be hand-carved, and made from bits of wood, metal, and stones. Every chair and bench was different, and there were people made from scraps of hardware standing around the lobby too.
Heidi in front of our hotel
Another piece of art belonging to the hotel. The bicycle is real - though pretty old - and the whole thing lights up at night, making the wheels look like they're spinning.
After a scenic train ride through the mountains, we arrived in Hualien and checked into our hotel. Even better, the jetlagged among us were still awake! After eating a good lunch there at the hotel we decided to take a walk along the bike path that ran across the street from the hotel. Now, according to the map, our hotel should have been close to the ocean. And it was, but it turned out to be Hualien's shipping harbor, which is a good deal smaller than Keelung's, but it was noisy, ugly, and industrial enough. Heidi found a whale-watching spot on the map and tried to march us all the way around the harbor to it, but we were too tired (even me) for that. Here are my dad, Jon and I somewhere above all the construction and shipping docks.
Waiting for ice cream on the hotel's front porch. We spent evenings out here, eating ice cream and playing cards.
A small public garden off the bike path.
Playing with reflective surfaces, Rodger-style. Heidi sitting on the front porch of the hotel, and the wind vane across the street. Through the window you can see some of the chairs of the dining room inside.
The entrance to the Central Cross-island Highway, which also runs through the park. The highway is supposedly very beautiful, as it first goes through the highest mountains in Taiwan, and comes down onto the western plains surrounding Taichung.
We spent all of Monday at Taroko Gorge National Park, which is known for its stunning cliffs of marble. The park pretty much follows the Li Wu River, though there were some other trails, tributaries and hot springs that we didn't get to explore. This picture was taken near its mouth at the coast, and you can see how low the water level was.
This was our first stop inside the park proper. This trail had been cut out of the rock by the Japanese, who'd done an architectural overhaul of Taiwan in much the same way the Romans had redesigned Great Britain. We spent a lot of time going in and out of rock walls the day we were here!
Our taxi driver with Heidi and Jon, on the bridge over the river.
The marble rail along the bridge, carved with protective lion statues. We had to walk over this bridge in order to get to the stairs down to the path, which was itself plenty of feet above the river.
A laughing lion. You can also see the trail and river below.
My dad was forced to choose between walking beneath the low ceiling and walking next to the rail (and hence the cliff). You can see which was the lesser of two evils.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson