Monday, July 28, 2014

Some Time Up North: Beaches and Mountains

I certainly can’t say I’ve been too busy with work these past few weeks.  Ever since my replacement started taking over some of my classes, I have watched the gaps in my schedule grow.  Late starts, early finishes, big breaks in the middle of my day, it is a strange pattern for a workaholic.  Still, I will admit that the extra time has been nice for travel purposes.
Speaking of travel, last weekend I found myself out on the east coast of Taiwan again, this time in Yilan county (to the north of the island).  After another all-nighter singing karaoke, I found myself on a catching my night’s sleep on a train.  It is times like these that I am thankful to still be young, because I know, short bursts of sleep on the floor of a train between stops (I was in a doorway and had to stand at each station) is not a proper way to get through the night.  My friend, who was possibly wiser than me, caught a few hours of sleep, jumped on the High Speed Rail, and caught up to me only a couple hours after I arrived. 
When I arrived at my destination, Luodong, I went straight to the National Center for Traditional Arts.  As the title suggests, this is a living “museum” area, where vendors can showcase not only their completed ‘artwork’, but the process by which it is made as well.  Artwork is a broad term in this case, it can be used to describe anything from hand-painted parasols, to pottery, to soap, to sugar-glazed fruits.  The variety of goods lining the streets was pretty impressive.  My disclaimer for the center is that, many of the items for sale could be found in markets or along the old streets of countless cities around Taiwan, making you question why an entrance fee ($150NT I believe). 
The center appears to be a great place for children, and school field trips.  A large number of the stores provided a DIY (do-it-yourself) craft, and I can picture parents and children enjoying attempting to complete all of the projects.  For as much as I enjoy that kind of thing, weighing my bags down with hand-made knick-knacks seemed like a poor choice, so I stuck to window shopping instead.  As I was nearing the end of the street, an announcer dressed in a Cosplay outfit caught my eye.  She was directing people off of the road and onto the sidewalks, and my confusion only lasted a few seconds before the Japanese music had filled the streets and several more costumed-people were marching towards me.  I feel like, if my Chinese was stronger, I could have expected this show, but it isn’t, so I didn’t.  Instead I followed blindly like a sheep as people help up their cameras to record the fake fights, and it wasn’t until a few minutes later that I remembered…I don’t care about any of this, so I walked away.  It was interesting to see the costumes and the choreography, but trying to follow the plot was impossible, and the crowds made it very hard to see. 
Some of the actors from the Cosplay show.
The main thing that surprised me about the center, although I should come to expect these things, was the assortment of stores at the back of the shopping street.  Starbucks, 7-11, there was even a locker of phone charging stations. I can’t complain though, by that point I was so hungry, I appreciated the selection.
Mid-afternoon I made my way back to the train station to pick up my friend, then we rented a scooter and began our less-than-easy adventure to find the hostel.  We carefully read the maps, and got lost.  Then we followed the hostel’s written directions, and got lost.  Finally we just called the desk and they came to track us down in a van.  I have never seen such a well-hidden building before, truly impressive. 
Unburdened by out bags, we went into town, and almost as if I have a homing mechanism on them, I immediately found the night market.  I know they are common, but I am often impressed at how many markets I manage to find (especially because not all markets are open daily).  The Luodong Tourist Night Market forms a good-sized square around Zhongshan park which (at least while we were there) hosts entertainment and art.  There were a few stages, with performers showing of singing, dancing, and instrumentals, and along the footpath from them were themed lantern displays.  The area was very nice to walk through at night.
Uncomfortably stuffed (from pizza, we weren’t in the mood for street food), we went back to the hostel, and wasted no time getting to bed (all-nighters leave you quite tired the following night).
The next morning, we traveled south a little ways to the port of Nanfang’Ao.  Despite its reasonably small size, Nanfang’Ao is one of the busiest fishing towns in Taiwan, housing more than 800 boats.  The streets lining the water’s edge are filled with countless stores, market stalls and restaurants.  In one of the fresh fish markets we watched a boat unloading buckets of shrimp from its latest catch, undoubtedly on their way to an afternoon auction.  Inside, vendors were selling all cuts of fish, and many stalls were providing sashimi free samples (uncooked fish, as delicious as it may be, is still a strange food to take samples of in a market, however). 
Hundreds of boats, tied to each other in Nanfang'Ao.
Ready to move on, we jumped back on a train and went north to the mountain cities of Jiufen and Jinguashi.  Long ago, Jiufen was the center of gold mining in Taiwan, attracting miners from around Asia, but since the decline of mining, the city’s popularity has decreased.  It is now best known for its role in the film “City of Sadness” (and since I am not a movie person, I know nothing about it).  The main attraction of Jiufen is the old street, which winds throughout most of the town and spends almost every weekend packed with shoppers.  
The stunning view from Jiufen.
The crowded shops of the Jiufen Old Street.
If you wander past the shopping district, and into Jinguashi, you are rewarded with views of the Golden Waterfall, which is so easy to find that it literally runs under the road for parts of the journey.  The waterfall was so named because of the color of the rocks and the water that flow over them.  The water has picked up deposits of copper and iron from the nearby mines, tinting it a light brown color.
One of the sections of the Golden Waterfall.
Even further along the road, as you descend the mountain and near the Pacific Ocean, is a sight I first witnessed over a year ago on my road trip around Taiwan.  What is now set of ruins which seem to stretch over the entire side of the mountain used to be the Shuinadong Smelter, a ore and smelting plant for the Taiwan Metals Mining Corporation.  Looking up at the 13 stories of the plant, I was desperately trying to see a sign that we could enter the facilities, but it appeared to be pretty abandoned (to the relief of my travel companion). 
The 13-Story ruins of Shuinadong Smelter.
Exhausted, it was time to call it a day, but as we approached the bus stop and saw the hoards of people waiting, we agreed to splurge and hire a taxi.  We approached the queue and were told by the driver that the cost would be $500 NT per person, and I bit my tongue and quietly agreed (though I was mentally fuming because of how overpriced that was).  I was even angrier when we were placed into a taxi with two other girls…overpriced and lacking the luxury of our own space, unreasonable.  Then we got to the bottom of the hill and passed the train station, and I couldn’t believe he would waste our time by not going directly to the destination.  I worked up all my arguments in my head, and even figured out how to say the bulk of them in Chinese, by the time we boarded the expressway.  The expressway? Why is that part of the journey into town…OH! It clicked in my head at the same time that it clicked for my friend, we weren’t going back to Ruifang, we were going to Taipei! My anger was completely gone, our trip just got significantly easier, our timing actually worked out, we even had time to grab dinner before the bus ride back to Changhua.  Just perfect.
These weekend trips have completely worn me out, but every adventure has been worth the lost sleep.  How strange to know, there will only be a few more weekends like this.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cooling Down in Houli

Ok, my phase of denial is over.  My flights are booked, and I have begun the process of sorting everything I own into one of three piles: “pack”, “give away” or “throw away”.  When I left the states two years ago, I told myself, “The next time I move will be so easy, I won’t have much stuff”, apparently I forgot how much of a hoarder I am regardless of which country I live in.  My apartment is full of stuff, but somehow I will only be leaving Taiwan with two bags of it.
When I’m not holed up in my apartment making arrangements for my departure (which is quite frequently, I’m a terrible procrastinator), or at the school, I’m still finding time to get in those last few, truly unique, Taiwan memories.  Two weekends ago was some friends and I made our way north to a district in Taichung called Houli.  I had visited Houli once before, for a biking trip last summer, but this was not a cycling weekend, it was a water weekend.  Houli is home to one of Taiwan’s (surprisingly numerous) theme parks, known as Lihpao Land.  Lihpao land is divided into two sections, the water pools and slides of Mala Bay and the coasters and amusement park rides of Lihpao Land.  Unfortunately, you need to decide before entering, which park you want to cash your ticket in for.  Hot as it was that day, I was far more interested in the amusement park than the water park, but I compromised and bought the two-park ticket.  Walking through the gate to Mala Bay, I was quite glad I had decided to give it a chance, it was unlike the sad, falling apart, life-guardless parks I had seen in other parts of Taiwan.  There were proper rides, slides, pools, and tubes, which could rival parks in the States, and more surprisingly, it was full of people.  I have never see so many Taiwanese people actually in the water!  You know what is unique about water parks in Taiwan (most of Asia, I hear)? Use of swimming caps is strongly enforced.  In a country that barely cares about covering children’s heads with helmets while on scooters, they absolutely require every head be covered with a swim cap to go in any pool or on any slide.  I had never thought to own a swim cap before Taiwan, now I own three.    The only benefit I could see (since I am not concerned about a few stray hairs) was that no one ends up with a sunburnt scalp at the end of the day. 
Suited up and sporting our swim caps we got into the wave pool, which was…silly? Strange? You can pick your own adjective I suppose.  The pool was packed with people, and once you got more than 3 feet into the water you were greeted by large signs saying you needed a life jacket to enter further.  I’m sorry, I’m 25 years old, and I need a life jacket?  I kept to the shallow waters, uninterested in spending 100NT on the rental, and prepped myself for the first set of waves.  Suddenly, everyone around me started slapping and splashing the water upwards, essentially to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and the waves started.  It was a spectacle to see, and the wave pushed me back a few feet, and then, it was over.  I’m not kidding, one wave, then it was over.  I suppose their name was accurate, it was only a “wave” pool, no plural –s on that. 
Easily the most entertaining part of the pool was the Foam Party.  Anyone who has been to a spring break style city has probably seen advertisements for a foam party, but most, myself included, have opted that to be a nightclub best avoided.  However, in the middle of the day, when no alcohol is involved, and you are already in your swimsuit, it is ridiculously fun to bop around to a DJ’s dance mix while foam rains down over you and everyone around you.  
Buried in the foam party.
The other rides included a lazy river, bumper boats, body slides, tube slides and an adorable children’s park.
The last ride of the day (with the longest ride).  So many screaming people!
When the sun set and everyone was ready to go home, my friend and I redeemed the second half of our two-park passes in Lihpao Land.  We rushed in and went straight for the scariest roller coaster.  Despite the park being open until 9pm, when we arrived just before 7 the roller coaster was already closed.  In fact, as we walked around the park we watched the maintenance signs flipping to close essentially all of the rides.  The ride attendants directed us to the main stage, telling us that was what we should be doing, so, with no other choice, we found some railing space and watched oversized stuffed animals and tropical-themed dancers jump around to popular Chinese and English songs for half an hour.  I do suspect the show was cute, and it was hilarious to watch the “rain dance” result in the sprinklers soaking the audience, but I was still bitter from not having any rides to go on.  A few things reopened for the final hour, most of which didn’t have lines, but it was still a bit of a disappointing part of the day.

Sunday I needed to get some travel taken care of, so I went north a few hours to Taoyuan to visit Daxi.  Daxi has been named one of the “top 10 small towns” by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, but I would not place it in my list of favorites.   I award “cute points” to the baroque architecture that lined the old street, and to the statues of spinning tops that were almost everywhere, but I didn’t find there was enough to keep me entertained.  Perhaps if I had ventured across the bridges, perhaps if I had been early enough to visit the mausoleum, perhaps if I had been hungry enough to enjoy the local food, I could have made some real memories in that town.
The architecture of Daxi's Old Street.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kenting's Second Chance

I’ve officially been kicked out of my state of denial, my replacement is here in Taiwan.  My students have started finding out about my upcoming departure date (I haven’t had the heard to personally tell most of them).  It has been very strange for me to see their reactions, a lot of the kids are genuinely sad.  I know, people who haven’t been in a similar situation will say “of course they are sad, you have been their teacher for two years!” but buxiban students are used to seeing teachers leave.   It is normal to change teachers fairly regularly, in fact, one of the older classes counted having 10 teachers in their last 4 years, can you imagine that? 
I am not the only teacher leaving the company, this is a major over-turn season for my franchise, with about half of the staff members from the 6 schools leaving in the span of a month.  On Friday, most of us went to Taichung to a “goodbye” dinner for the 2nd-longest-term employee. Usually getting to Taichung is an easy process, but all the chips were stacked against me that night.  My co-worker and I left the school late (which is an unfortunate, but common occurrence for us) and began to scoot back to Changhua, when, I got a flat tire.  We pushed the scooter back to the school to call a repair shop, but they were all closed, so we called for a taxi to take us to the train station, but the temperamental driver drove off before we could get in.  We called for another taxi, and it took over 20 minutes to arrive, causing us to miss the last train to Taichung, and forcing us to spend way too much on a taxi ride into the city.  Still, the night was worth it.  We started at a BBQ and seafood restaurant, and ended up in a karaoke gay bar until the sun came up.
The nice thing about staying out so late, is that it made my next day’s travel times work better.  Still making the most of my last few weeks, I decided to revisit the city I had previously declared “my least favorite city in Taiwan”.  As you may recall, I went to Kenting for Tomb Sweeping weekend well over a year ago, and despite the great company, I considered the trip to be terrible.  It was raining, I didn’t have any money, I had lost my graduation ring, and I just couldn’t bring myself to be in a good mood.  Still, I told myself it was unfair to let those memories taint what is supposed to be one of the nicest vacation spots in Taiwan.
My co-worker and I boarded the train and spent the next few hours trying to make up for lost sleep (which didn’t work very well).  We arrived in Kaosiung in the late morning, and caught a bus to Kenting around noon (where I got the news of one of my best friend’s engagements!).  In total, the travel time to Kenting took around 7 hours (with wait times).  I still don’t know if I would say the travel time is worth the destination.  Perhaps if you have a car, or perhaps if you live in the south, but for someone coming from Changhua the travel is too much of a hassle (especially during a normal weekend).  Immediately upon arrival we rented a scooter so we could avoid taxi fees.  Tourist city that it is, the streets have plenty of rental stalls (not even shops, just vendors on the market streets with a handful of scooters), and licenses are completely unnecessary for obtaining a scooter.  After a quick lunch, we went off in search of a hotel/hostel/ anything with a bed, which proved to be more difficult that I expected, but not impossible.  We skipped from one place to the next, quickly asking for a room, being rejected, asking for directions to the next hotel, until we ended up a practically deserted “resort” in the nearby city.  Bags ditched, we got back on the scooter and started our sightseeing at “sail rock”.  Sail rock is meant to look like the sail of a ship coming out of the water, or the head of Richard Nixon, but I just thought it looked like a large rock in the water.  Still, I skipped across the jagged beach until I was as close to the rock as possible without going in the water, before leaving the beach.  
This is "sail rock", or as I like to call it, the rock that looks like a rock...
The goal of the evening was to make it to Eluanbi lighthouse just before sunset, and we managed to be in the area, and see the top of the light house by that time, but could not figure out how to access it.  Still, the nearby signpost alerted us to “southernmost point of Taiwan”, so we followed the trails down to the water’s edge.  The point is marked by a strange, sail-like marker and does not provide the stunning views that other parts of Kenting are known for, but there is still something rewarding about knowing you have traveled “to the end of the country”.  
The southern-most point of Taiwan.
It isn’t a trip to Kenting without spending some time of the beach, so we went to South Bay only to discover that all the beach-goers had packed up and left.  Sure it was after sunset, but with the swarms of people we had previously seen occupying the area, I was surprised that no one was around to wade or lounge in the sand.  I found the beach very relaxing (though I had no urge to swim), and I was surprised to find that I could walk quite into the shallow waters without finding a drop-off in the water.  As the day drew to a close we wandered back to the busy streets of the city, which turn into a night market by the early afternoon, to find dinner before getting a much deserved night’s sleep.
The next day I was excited to discover how close we were to the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, which has been on my “To Do” list, so I dragged my friend along (though I didn’t manage to drag him past the café at the museum’s entrance) and saw some animals.  The museum was much more of an aquarium than a museum, which kept me more entertained.  The bulk of the exhibits were divided into three main sections: Coral Reefs, Waters of Taiwan, and Waters of the World.  The design of each section was very creative, for example, the coral reefs section demonstrated how sunken ships become inhabited by sea-life and why certain animals are more drawn to different areas of the boat.  As you walk through the underwater tunnels, you see the sunken ship in the distance, and when you leave the tunnels you are surprised to find you are “in the ship” with the floors textured and the lighting limited to further portray that.  The section ended with a large tank for two Beluga whales to play around in.  The Waters of Taiwan section was designed in a very typical aquarium style (reminding my of the aquariums at my local zoo in Minnesota), and nicely represented the country’s aquatic life.  It included a hands-on tank where people could feel some of the anemones, snails, and starfish that can be found around the shores, and several large fish tanks where I caught a feeding show.  A short distance away from the main building is the Waters of the World exhibit, which I imagine is most visitors favorite part.  The layout centered around a large kelp forest and took guests “through polar waters” to see penguins, puffins, and seals.  It also featured a virtual “deep water” display that walked people through the depths of the ocean using projections that I imagine could terrify small children.  Though I was intending on racing through the museum, it still took me two hours to complete everything (without reading all of the signs), so it easily could have been a day trip. 
Who doesn't love penguins?
Look at that playful Beluga Whale!
Slightly more successful than the previous day, we got back to the Eluanbi lighthouse in the early afternoon and actually found the entrance this time.  Essentially ordered to build the lighthouse because of the number of sunken ships off the southern tip of the island, Eluanbi was built in the late 1800s.  It is one of the few armed lighthouses in existence, equipped with a trench and lookouts to defend against local aboriginals.  Now the lighthouse is known as the “Light of East Asia”.  The area surrounding the lighthouse was absolutely gorgeous, which perfect palm trees and an ocean view in most directions, but the lighthouse itself is a little underwhelming.  With time limited, we had to pick whether to walk the beach trails from the lighthouse or go to the National Forest Recreation Area, we chose the later and found ourselves on a twisting mountain round.  We reached the park and paid our entrance fee (which was the theme of the weekend, everything in Kenting cost money) to enter one of the top botanical gardens in the world.  The forest is believed to have formerly been underwater, and even now it is only about 150 above sea-level.  The whole area is layered with rare, tropical plants, and a few unexpected animals (monkey, lizards, and a lot of crabs).  The trails took about two hours for us to complete our full circuit.  Spotted along the path were quite a few naturally formed tourist attractions.  I was most interested in the stalagmite/stalagtite caves and the banyan trees.
Making friends in the "Fairy Cave", stalagtites everywhere!
Finally, accepting the trouble we would be in if we stayed any later, we returned our scooter (already three hours late) and began the bus ride, then high-speed train ride back to Changhua, arriving just before midnight.  Again, I am impressed by how much I can accomplish in a 48-hour period, and I will give this trip credit, it did change my impression of Kenting.  While I still think it is a pain to get to, and I find the crowds and "Spring Break" atmosphere unnecessary, I found a lot of good things to outweigh the cons.  It was a good weekend.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sights Set on the South-East

Another week later, and I still can’t report solid plans for my departure.  I am clearly in an avoidance stage, even though thing are wrapping themselves up for me every day.  This week, my Chinese teacher told me it would be our final lesson together, seeing as her school was about to begin “summer hours” and we wouldn’t have time to continue lessons.  It is weird to think that after studying for so long that it is over.  I hope to continue studying on my own, mainly for my love of languages, but I can’t predict how successful that will be (it would probably do wonders for me reading and destroy my speaking). 
I feel like it has been ages since I have mentioned classroom activities, but there were a couple of lessons this week that were particularly enjoyable.  The first of which was a “blue folder” (supplementary) lesson for my intensive class.  We have just been working on story-building words like ‘first, next, then, after that, and finally’, so I decided to take the story concept into actual book making.  I the students folded their books and then were surprised when I handed them each a pair of scissors and asked them to cut 4 slits in the page to create five ‘flaps’.  The students were then asked to write several 5-part stories, starting each sentence with one of the story-building words, and writing each sentence on a different flap in the book.  The result was a ‘flip book’ that allowed the students to mix-and-match their sentences to create new, funny stories.  The thing that was best about this project wasn’t the idea though, it was the fact that, as I called break and began collecting the books, my students begged me to let them continue working during break time.  How often do children request more work? Especially when it is writing work!  The final products are really entertaining, I’m proud of my little ones.   Even younger than that, I seemed to keep my youngest intensive class pretty entertained with a treasure hunt this week.  I typed a series of clues, each showcasing a preposition, and sent the students on a quest to find hidden letters in various rooms of the school.  The students carefully read the clues, and impressed management as they went from bathrooms, to classrooms, to cupboards collecting their letters until they were able to spell out a sentence: ‘LOOK UNDER A DESK’.  I’d like to say they were surprised to find their reward candy, but some of the students had already discovered the treasure before the game began.
When the work week was over, it was my turn to play.  Sometimes I get a crazy idea, and I run with it, this weekend was a good example of that.  On Friday night, as I was out to a late dinner, I realized I wanted to go to the east coast for the weekend.  Despite the last minute nature of the trip, I even managed to convince a friend to tag-along with me.  A train ride to the city of Taitung, which is in the south-east of the island, takes about 6 hours so we planned to forgo sleep and leave on the first south-bound train (6:53am).  We both dozed off to the steady chug of the train, and woke up only minutes before our destination.  We made our way to Fuli station where we rented a scooter and drove through the mountains to the coast of Chenggong Township, our destination for the evening.  With nothing booked for the day (due to the spontaneous nature of the trip), we weren’t certain what our plans should be.  We wanted to go whale/dolphin watching, but arrived at the port about 45 minutes after the final boat departed, so we had to book tickets for the following morning and distract ourselves with other destinations for the evening.  About 10 minutes from the pier was our other intended destination of the journey: Sanxiantai.  Sanxiantai is a small, volcanic island situated just off the coast near central Chenggong and connected to Taiwan by a long footbridge.  The footbridge takes walkers over 8-arches, which are intended to resemble a dragon (the result is similar to representations of Loch Ness Monster).  Once you reach the island, a wooden boardwalk leads tourists on a short walk, which strangely fails to showcase any of the island’s attractions.  Realizing that we would need to leave the path, we skipped (or possibly a less graceful verb would be more appropriate) across the rocks as the waves and rising tide threatened our path.  We came across a two-forked signpost and followed to the left to see the “sea-eroded cave”.  The snake on the path and rickety staircase weren’t deterrents, but our lack of flashlights finally convinced us to turn back from the pitch black cave and explore higher grounds.  While I imagine my friend would have preferred returning to the boardwalk at that point, I was determined to see the island’s light house, so I kept moving forward, (though halfway up a staircase to the highest point on the island the steep, unending stairs made me question that decision).  Finally, we reached the top and were rewarded with…the most unimpressive lighthouse I have ever seen. It was little more than a shack, but at least the view from the top was photo-worthy.  As the sky began to darken, we realized we needed food and shelter for the night.  I’ve joked that my spontaneous nature will eventually get me into a lot of trouble, but I will say that luck was certainly on my side this weekend.  We could have been stranded with no where to stay, we could have missed all of our trains, we could have been bored, but that wasn’t the case.  We began driving own the road and were directed to a cheap little hotel about 10 minutes away that was surprisingly spacious and well furnished.  Quick showers to remove the day’s sweat, and we were asleep almost instantly upon hitting the pillow (I haven’t gotten that good of a night’s sleep in ages). 
The view of SanXianTai with it's 8-arch bridge and pebble beach. 
Island-bound, walking over the Pacific Ocean.
Sunday morning  we awoke early (by my standards, though I was fully rested due to the early night), and went to the pier for our whale/dolphin watching cruise.  The trip started with a 30 minute “seminar” about local marine life, but with the information being solely in Chinese, I worry we missed the majority of it (though I was able to translate a few of the group poll questions).   The cruise lasted for about 2-hours and took us a fair distance from Taiwan’s coast and into the Pacific Ocean.  We only saw two groups of animals, one believed to be a parent and child Pygmy Killer Whale, and the other identified as several Risso’s Dolphins (unfortunately, although we were very close-by, I failed to catch a decent photo of either group).  When the cruise ended we raced to get our scooter back to Fuli so we could return to Taitung City in time to see one of it’s famous museums.  With luck on our side we returned to Fuli before exceeding the 24-hour rental on our scooter, and made it to the train station in the knick-of-time (so much so that they let us board before buying our tickets, and paged the conductor to hold the doors for us as we ran to the platform).  
Back to the shores of Taiwan after a beautiful day at sea.
Almost time to return the scooter, it's been a long day on a hard seat. 
An hour later we were back in Taitung City, and shortly after that we were at the doors to the National Museum of Pre-History.  While I don’t typically consider myself to be a “museum person”, this site was on my ‘to do’ list so I had to give it a go.  I was very impressed with the design of the entire museum, each room was strikingly unique, and displayed the artifacts perfectly.  The museum is divided into three main sections: Taiwan’s natural history, Taiwan’s indigenous people’s history, and Taiwan’s pre-history.  The artifacts of the pre-history portion of the museum were primarily excavated from Beinan Cultural Park, which is a nearby archaeology site (which inspired the museum’s construction) boasting both the titles of “largest Beinan cultural site” and “most complete archaeological site” in Taiwan.  The Beinan culture was active during the Neolithic Period around the Rift Valley in South-eastern Taiwan.  Most of our information about the tribes of this region come various pottery pieces, stone coffins, and jade tools/jewelry, many of which are now on display in the museum. 
Assembling pottery in a hands-on exhibit at the Museum of Prehistory.
The rest of the evening was only about as memorable as and train journey could be.  We arrived back in Changhua county just before midnight and I stayed awake only long enough to run a load of laundry before sleeping off the weekend.  I still have a few more cities to scurry off to before I leave, so I imagine there are some adventure-packed weeks ahead of me, I can’t wait to see what I get up to next.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fun in the Sun

I hit a strange milestone in my life abroad this week, I looked at flights home for the first time.  I don’t have words for it, especially since I haven’t made any purchases yet (I suspect that is this week’s hurdle) but it has made my upcoming departure seem much sooner.  Knowing that my time is coming to an end, I know I need to make the most of all of my weekends left.
It seems a silly thing to say, but I often forget how much I love being in the water.  I have always enjoyed swimming, but when if you asked me what I wanted to do on any given weekend, going to the beach or pool probably isn’t my first thought.  Perhaps it is because I feel like I have been to all of our standard swimming holes? Regardless, I had a sunny, water-filled weekend, and loved every minute of it. 
Saturday was the summer solstice, so to celebrate the longest day of sunlight the year will provide us with, a group of locals and foreigners alike gathered Zhunan’s largest beach.  Zhunan is about 1.5 hours north of Changhua, in Maoli county.  I had only been to Zhunan once before this weekend, and that was during my Chinese New Year (2013) road trip when we slept in the park and woke up to the red-face of the agricultural deity staring back at us.  This weekend we were not on the lookout for temples however, we were heading straight to the water for some swimming, barbequing, and bonfiring.  I have been told before that the beaches in Zhunan can get pretty windy, which makes them idea for kite surfing and wake boarding (someday I’d love to learn how to do either of those sports) and it lived up to that reputation (the windmill-lined skyline can attest to that).  When the sun finally set on our day we set up a grill and cooked up some barbecue meat while we sat around talking.  Before I knew it, it was time to catch the train home.
Summer Solstice in Zhunan, this is the "volleyball court".
This morning I met up with some friends for a ‘small trip to the waterfalls,’ which turned into a massive group adventure through the mountains of Taichung.  I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting a full-sized group, but by departure time there were 18 of us, helmet-clad and ready.  We drove out to Taiping (which is an area I have explored several times now) and made a brief stop at the bat caves.  Though I swore to myself well over a year ago that 1-time through the caves was more than enough, I grabbed a flashlight and crept inside.  The bat cave is an interesting experience because the walking trails are only about the size of a person, and when you have a flashlight (I didn’t last time), you see the mud and poop-caked walls clearly the entire way.  We made the mistake of entering the caves from two different directions (past exploration of the caves had lead to dead ends), and ended up colliding with each other (both groups equally scaring the bats closer to the other groups’ faces).  Squished against the walls we managed to slide past, and a few minutes later we were back in the light of day and on the road to the waterfalls.  The waterfall itself was particularly difficult to reach today.  Last year was a dry summer, but the rains this year have caused a slippery layer of moss along the tops of most of our climbing rocks.  We must have been quite a spectacle, falling all over each other or flat on our butts the whole way up the river.
The "scooter gang" making our way through Taichung
Climbing up the rocks as the river rushes by.
We made it!

Now, as a temporary memory of the weekend, I am surprised to see I have a slight sunburn.  Hopefully that fades quickly, I don’t think countries with vast assortments of whitening products will be impressed with my new color.