Monday, July 27, 2009

Swimming in the Danbau River

(Post by Alisha)
I've been really wanting to do some swimming in the rivers of Taiwan, so this weekend we ventured out to Manyueyuan again. It's near the same area we went hiking a while back, but in a different location well before the trails and mountains begin. We got dropped off by our crazy cab driver (he took corners he couldn't see around on winding mountain roads) and walked along the roadside until we spotted the place to swim. (Side note: I love just walking down a busy street and seeing strange fruit growing in clusters and banana trees towering above. I've said it before, but Taiwan's lush and varied natural scenery continues to amaze me- especially in comparison to the urban industrialism that surrounds it). We walked down some rickety stairs built into the hillside and down a dirt trail leading towards the river. A vendor selling sweet pork sausages and tangy ice cream directed us on our way- after, of course, grilling us up some of his tasty food :) A few beers and we were set for a little Taiwan river picnic.
We snaked through a very narrow grassy pathway and through a small tunnel before arriving at the river. This spot seems to me to be a perfect example of local Taiwanese culture: multitudes of families and friends gathered on the stony banks of the green and blue river under brightly colored umbrellas "grilling out." This basically amounts to making a little fire between a few large rocks, setting a small metal grate on top of them, and cooking up an assortment of vegetables and meats. Children were splashing in the river armed with many floating devices and catching little fish and minnows with nets while the adults enjoyed some pi jui (beer). The first picture is my favorite; it's such a beautiful representation of a classic Taiwanese scene.
We ate some food here and then carefully picked our way across the rocks down the banks to where the river turned into mini-rapids. There was an awesome little swimming hole next to a rocky cliff and waterfall- complete with a very unsafe rope swing. We wanted to cross the river to get to this side, but the current was very strong even in the parts of the river where the water only reached below our waist. we observed that many people started crossing until they found a rock jutting out in the water they could hold onto while the water rushed and pulled around them. That's exactly what we did, and it felt unbelievably cool, like being bombarded with pressure jets from a hot tub while trying not to succumb to the beckoning current. The water was yanking at us as we struggled to resist being sucked down the rocky stream (although this ended up happening to me later haha).
I eventually worked my way to the other side, slowly going from underwater rock to underwater rock, and finally convinced Bacon to attempt as well...he was a bit more hesitant that I was. After we crossed, we walked over to the swimming hole and watched some Taiwanese boys swing from the slippery rope, hitting the sides of the wet rocks surrounding them before dropping into not very deep water under the whooshing waterfall. Bacon said if I wouldn't let him get a scooter, there was no way he was letting me attempt the "roped death machine."
Later in the afternoon a Taiwanese boy saw me swimming about like a little fish in the water and pulled me by the hand over to him and his friends on the shore. I was excited- here was an opportunity for me to practice my Chinese! He was a big jokester, and he kept teasing me and asking me rapid questions. I was, however, much to my surprise, able to understand some of it and we talked for quite a while. Obviously much of the conversation was strengthened with actions and his little bit of English, but I still felt accomplished that my Chinese lessons were paying off in a real-life situation. One of the girls in his groups spoke really good English (she said she had been studying for three years) and she came over and did some translating. Irene was so incredibly nice, just like the majority of locals we meet here. Among the questions they asked me were:

"What do you think of Taiwanese people?"
"How do you like living in Taiwan?"
"Where are you from in America and what did you do there?"
"Why did you come to Taiwan/how long will you stay?"
...and of course, the classic: "How tall are you?!"

They kept giving us food and beer, and when I protested, they motioned to their circle of friends in a circular fashion and kept saying the Chinese word for share. They insistently informed me that sharing with friends and strangers is a major part of Taiwanese culture and to refuse is considered "unhappy to your hosts." Irene complimented my Chinese (which was nothing compared to how much English she knew) and said I was so sweet and pretty. The guy kept pretending that Bacon was going to beat him up for talking to me, and we all cracked up when they acted out a little fight scene. They asked me and Bacon, "Do you want play with us?" and we all jumped in the deep part of the river for the rest of the afternoon and splashed around.
I gave the boys some swimming lessons, which was hilarious because they're our age and don't really know how to swim at all. It was so fun making some local friends and great feeling like Bacon and I are slowly breaking down the communication barrier, at least at a very basic level.
Friday, July 24, 2009

New Kitty Cat

(Post by Bacon)
Most of you already know that Alisha and I are huge cat people. We almost didn't come to Taiwan because we didn't want to leave our cats. Well a couple days ago, on our way to a Chinese lesson, we found a cute kitten looking for a home. It was sitting in the bushes next to the Yongning MRT station meowing like crazy. It was dirty and covered in fleas, but too cute to leave alone. We took him home and instantly fell in love with him. I just happened to have my video camera with me when we found the cat, and this is the video I made about him. I hope you enjoy. (His name is Chou, it's Chinese for stinky.)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A lovely afternoon in Danshui

(Post by Alisha)
Step off the MRT and into the lively commotion of Danshui, a sea-side town in Northern Taipei. Fish bodies glisten and pigs feet sway in the crowded, colorful Old Street, where the fresh fish smell overwhelms the narrow alleyways. It was a great place to get a feel for a traditional fisherman's marketplace, complete with peachy pink squid and shrimp as big as my hand.

We then followed the river down to a fun little stretch of waterfront bursting with carnival games, salty snacks, and great views, often referred to as the Coney Island of Taiwan. We enjoyed some ice cream and sampled a variety of local food, from crispy fish balls to shrimp roll-ups, before finding the ferry docks. Two tickets across the river to Fisherman's Wharf cost less than $1 American and got us there in around 15 minutes.

Fisherman's Wharf features a funky little boardwalk with smoothie shops, shaved ice vendors, sidewalk artists and little benches. The towering "Lover's Bridge" creates a bright white silhouette against the sky and was created to resemble a sailing mast. It's beautiful for a stroll and a great place to view the setting sun over the river. We read books by the river for a while and munched on some delicious hand-battered and spicy-salted squid.

We wrapped up out night with dinner at Waterfront restaurant with a booth peeking right out at the water. A ferry ride back as the sun was going down was a great end to our outing in Danshui.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hohaiyan Rock Festival at Fulong Beach

Wow. This past weekend was hot, sandy and fantastic. I found out the 10th annual Hohaiyan Rock Festival was taking place directly on Fulong Beach, which is on the Northeast Coast of Taiwan. As soon as I heard the unbeatable combination of music and ocean views, I was in.

We (over) packed Friday night and left at 7 a.m. Friday morning, which should establish my level of eagerness to get there. Actually, the main reason we left so early was to beat the insane crowds of people that would be jamming in every nook and inch of floor space on the 1 and 1/2 hour train ride there. A friend who was going to moped there later asked if we would meet up with two girls new to Taiwan who would also be taking the train. We set off with our two awesome new friends bright and early, practically all glowing in our pale skin, blissfully unaware of the degree of sunburn that was in store for us later...

The Longmen Campsite has beautiful grounds just ten minutes from the beach and is only 800NT a night for a four-person tent, so we thought that would be the perfect accomodation for the night. I tried to call earlier in the week and make reservations, shakily asking in Chinese if they spoke English, but to no avail. We decided we would just chance it and check it out when we got there. Well the fact that we ended up camping on the beach under the stars should tell you how that went.

It was literally one of those perfect, straight-from-a-movie days. Deep blue skies, fluffly clouds rolling over the mountains, and waves strong enough to knock you over standing up at knee-level. We set up far enough down the length of the beach to be away from the crowds, yet close enough to hear the music playing in the background as they were setting up the stage. In the afternoon we wandered down the beach to where there were endless rows of red and white striped tents selling drinks, ice cream, snacks, beach apparel, sunglasses, etc.

We loaded up with treats and spent the rest of the morning/afternoon jumping in the waves and hanging on the beach. After we finally noticed that, despite our repeated slathering of sunscreen, we were getting fried, we went over by the pay part of the beach to where the Taiwanese were (wisely) all taking refuge from the sun under giant umbrellas, over-sized floppy hats, and tented shelters. It was too late to rent one of our own, but we made some friends and shared their shade.

Night finally rolled around, and we had some great Taiwanese food- delicious pork and vegetable dumplings covered in soy and a sandwich loaded with grilled veggies and meats, covered in different spices. A few cold Taiwan beers and our group of about 10 was all set for the music festival. We arrived at the concert area, and noticed that virtually everyone had dug deep trenches in the sand, kind of like the beach version of concert bleachers. We started digging and soon had our own comfy sand seats- we lined them with our towels and settled back to enjoy the tunes. The music from mostly local bands ranged from rock to beach reggae- Some of it was great, some was terrible, (most of it we couldn't understand) but we had a blast anyway. Randomly a band would throw in English in a song and then we would all try and sing along to the few words we recognized :)

We finally all got kicked off the concert area of the beach when the show ended, which left us all wondering what to do. We were unsure if we were going to be allowed to stay on the beach, but finally succeeded in convincing the officials we would be staying far, far down on the beach (therefore we wouldn't be a liability, as last year someone drowned). We made a bonfire and had a great time hanging on the beach until we finally succumbed to our exhausted state from the day in the sun and decided to skip the midnight swimming and try and get some sleep. Some of our friends had the foresight to bring tents, but Bacon and I just had a blanket and pillow each. It was definitely a cool experience camping out right under the stars and waking up to the sunrise, though our sunburns and sand whipping in our faces all night made it hard to get a good sleep.

We were planning on staying the whole next day, but we knew it would be not be a good idea as we were literally burned out :) We trudged back to the train station, sticking out even more than usual. All said and done, an awesome weekend that will stick out as one of the highlights of the summer thus far.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Celebrating the 4th- in Taiwan

(Post by Alisha)

Two weekends ago, in honor of the 4th, Bacon and I decided to have a thoroughly "American" weekend. It was the first occasion tinged with wistful thoughts of home that we've had since being here. However, the feeling has since passed and we just commented to each other the day how much we thoroughly feel at home now in this country so far from anything resembling the land from which we came.

Friday night we went to a funky outdoor bar and restaurant area in Ximen for some piping hot stone-oven pizza and tasty beverages. We ate on a cute deck upstairs overlooking the action down below at a pizzeria called Alleycats. The pizza was pretty good, and on our way out the owner came up to us and asked us: "You stay in Taiwan- long time or short?" When we told him we were going to be here for quite a while, he asked for our names, snapped a picture of us, and told us we get a free pizza the next time we come in. Ah, just one of the perks of sticking out as over-sized foreigners.

Saturday night rolled around and we were armed with dangerous explosives and cold drinks, but sans the grill we wanted for a cook out in the courtyard. We ended up just ordering pizza and garlic bread, which we figured could still pass as Fourth of July food. We spent the night with friends reminiscing about American pastimes (like eating lots of food) and shooting off fireworks in a large field behind the apartments.

Though most of them were hardly what could be considered amazing, there was one rather large rocket at the end that burst into a huge sparkly display- our mission was accomplished- we felt at home :)

*We miss and love all of you-!*

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