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.