Wednesday, July 27, 2016

City of My Heart: Part 1


I make no secret of the fact that if it were a viable option, I would live in Tainan. Part of it is the temples and "traditional culture", yes - though I am sure people are sick of that cliche - but my main reasons are a bit different. I like the general feel of the city - I like that people will default to Chinese when speaking to me rather than assume their English is always better than my Chinese (hey, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't). I like that when I meet new people they are more laid-back and unguarded - random locals in temples have been known to give me their calling cards and say to ring them if I need anything...and mean it.

I like the more languid, tropical tempo of life. I like that, despite being further south and in the actual tropics, it's often cooler than Taipei (though I have to make more of an effort to stay out of the sun). It probably has some of the best weather in Taiwan: I don't count Taichung because that concrete jungle has always struck me as more smoggy than pleasant. I like the food scene quite a bit. I'm a fan of the hip culture popping up around town as artists, designers, aspiring cafe owners and "digital nomad" types settle in what is a cheaper and more manageable city. And, yeah, I feel like I "get" Tainan politically, and it gets me.


I also love Tainan because it's where Brendan and I decided to try out the idea of a relationship. I wouldn't say we 'started dating' as we never really dated - we went from being best friends to being an exclusive couple immediately. You always harbor a bit of a soft spot in your heart for the place where you got together with the love of your life. (I would say "the place where you met the love of your life" but that would be the Thurston Hall basement computer lab freshman year of college and I can't say I have a soft spot in my heart for that particular place). A decade of friendship and best-friendship in which we danced around our ebbing and flowing, sometimes-mutual-sometimes-scared feelings for each other, and it was Tainan that brought us together. Also good timing and the fact that we could finally act and communicate like adults. That helped too. But also Tainan. How could I not love that?

So, it is not only figuratively the city of my heart. I don't remember which of my Tainan photos are from our trip there the first weekend he moved here, and which are from his parents' visit a little later on, but let's just go ahead and say that this one is from that first trip.

So yes, including those two trips and another trip later when I was sent down for a seminar, I had been to Tainan three times before ever blogging it. I still can't say I've seen everything the city has to offer.


I can't move there, though, first because my job doesn't exist there - I don't want to teach in a typical buxiban and I don't want to teach kids, at least not primarily - and second because I do value public transportation. It's not just a preference, it's a dealbreaker. A value. I want to live my values, and that includes taking public transit rather than smogging up the atmosphere with a stinky, loud, annoying and dangerous scooter. Also I'm a terrible city driver, you do not want me to drive in a city and I do not feel comfortable doing so, for your own safety.


So, you can imagine how chuffed I was after five years of not visiting to have two opportunities to spend the weekend in Tainan: first to take my cousin down there for the Yanshui fireworks festival, and second as an add-on weekend after a Friday seminar (yay for business travel that makes vacation planning easy!)

For ease of posting I've decided to roll these two separate visits into one connected narrative, but will feature them in two posts just because I have so many photos to share.

For our first trip, back in February, we took my cousin Blake down to Tainan for a day or so then Yanshui for the fireworks festival. I had previously been on the fence as to whether I wanted to go to this particular festival not out of fear of getting hurt (though that does happen), but because apparently not everyone in town thinks the local temple god actually likes said festival.

Then, I thought about it and realized that, well, I'm an atheist. As I see it, that temple god is an extension of the imaginations of the people who believe in him. Therefore, he likes whatever they say he likes, because he doesn't actually exist. It's only rude and disrespectful to him if they say it is, and they clearly don't think so.

So while some people may think the fireworks festival is displeasing to that particular god, other people clearly feel differently, and it's not really for me to decide who's right - and in fact, from my perspective, both sides are, and neither are. That's how it is with something that was invented by people and exists in their minds. So, as enough people think that the fireworks festival is inoffensive to the gods and as it doesn't offend my morals, which unlike, say, the dog meat festival in China, it doesn't, in the end I decided I was OK with going.

I would like to go back during the day someday, however, to check out the old street and other assorted architecture.

Old Marlboro advertisement outside of Tung Ning Hostel

On this trip we stayed at the Tung Ning Hostel - Brendan and I got a room (all bathrooms are shared however) and my sister and cousin got hostel beds. I do recommend it - in the low season it's very inexpensive and has a lovely old Taiwan charm to it. The owner/manager is extremely friendly, and one can find hot water, tea and sweets in the common area, whose vintage decoration matches the property's age.

Everyone says Tainan is about temples - they call it the "Kyoto of Taiwan" (which I think is kind of over-selling it, but I've never been to Kyoto). Accordingly, we took my cousin to a pile of different temples, to the point that I think he got kind of bored with them (I never get bored with temples). I had been hoping to run into a festival  - and we got a small one with sexy temple dancers - but no luck on a bigger procession. In one day we hit up Chihkan Towers (not technically a temple but there is a shrine to the Literature God, Wenchang (文昌帝君), the Matsu temple, the God of War temple, the City God temple and the Confucius temple before chilling in the Hayashi (Lin) department store, having various beef dishes at 阿村牛肉湯, going to the Flower Garden Night Market (花園夜市) and buying cheap motorcycle helmets for the next day's festival. On our second day before departing for Yanshui, we went to Shennong Street (神農街), the Wind God temple (風神廟), hung out at a cafe that now appears to have closed down, and bought military surplus gear.

阿村牛肉湯 (A-Tsun's Beef Soup)
#41 Bao An Road
West Central District


If you go at dinnertime prepare to line up.


One of the big downsides to Tainan is the near complete lack of public transportation. This means that if you are a sane person who wouldn't be caught dead (sometimes literally dead) on a scooter in an urban area, you have to either walk or take taxis strategically. Tainan is reasonably compact but not compact enough that you can get away with just walking everywhere, so we did hop taxis several times on this trip. It adds up, and if Tainan wants to attract a larger population and more tourists, they are going to have to build better public transit infrastructure. Like any at all - I am told city buses exist but I have honestly never seen one.


Being near Lantern Festival (the Yanshui Fireworks Festival is on 元宵節 or Lantern Festival), there were lanterns strung up all over the city which appeared to have been created for a lantern decorating contest. Although there were no processions the day we were there, the quieter streets strung up with these lanterns gave the city a cozy, unique feel.



One thing I love to do when traveling around Taiwan is collect smashed pennies from those machines. In Tainan you buy a blank copper piece that comes with a little case and put it in the machine, unlike other cities where you have to insert your own NT$1 coin along with the fee to smash and press a pattern on it.

What do I do with them? I make jewelry! Being stretched out, the metal is really easy to poke a hole in with a hammer and small nail. I don't go to the lengths the person linked here does - I prefer the shiny copper look for one - but anyway, once you have holes in your pressed coins it's fairly easy to make whatever you want.


I'm not going to say a lot about the various temples and historic sites we took Blake to - you can read any number of guidebooks, and we missed as many as we saw as we didn't want to temple him out. But what I will say about Tainan is that I love how there is a sense of pleasant, easygoing eccentricity about the place. I love that you can walk down the otherwise-normal streets and find all manner of odd, interesting or unique things. You can do that in many cities of course, but there seem to be more of them in Tainan, and somehow they capture my heart a bit more, too. For example, randomly coming across someone making those larger-than-life god statues for temples:



...or this sticker which I still don't really understand:


...or a small turtle riding a large turtle:


...or this fantastically creepy sign:


...or a monkey riding a lobster. Which has got to be some allusion to Chinese literature I am unaware of (Journey to the West had a monkey, so maybe?) but even so, it's a monkey riding a lobster.


...or the various things people write on wish placards and other prayer paraphernalia at temples:


...or these, which can be found all over Taiwan but I happen to like this one in particular:


Tainan is known by some as something of a heartland for sexy temple dancers, and this trip did not disappoint. I do not intend to judge, or laugh, or crack jokes - I think they're great. I mean, clearly the dancers choose to do this and seem to enjoy it, and it's a robust part of local culture, so I say carry on with your sexy selves.

Blake was also a fan (obviously). We mused on how it was not that much different to pole dance for a temple than to join a youth group or some church activity in the US - things we had done, or had been made to do, as children. Could you imagine if "sexy dancing for Jesus" was one of the activities at, say, Springfield Presbyterian Church that you could join? That would have been awesome. But no, our cultures are destined to be different.

It is, however, a strong indicator of how Taiwan is not as conservative as people (who don't know Taiwan) think it is, or rather, that Taiwanese culture can't even really be measured on a Western liberal-conservative spectrum.



Lots of cake for the gods - so much cake. I want to be a god. 

A bit more street-level eccentricity:

Boy For Sale



In fact I had thought the shop in the photo below was just odd, since my last trip I realize it's a cafe and actually a pretty good one (the sandwich I had was mediocre but the coffee was pretty good and they have beer). It's called Taikoo, and they are technically in two buildings. This one, the cafe, is on Kangle and Shennong streets, whereas a quick walk down Shennong will bring you to their second location, within sight of the first, which is more of a bar and gets hopping at night. The link above is for the bar, but the cafe is not hard to find.

Taikoo 太古
#94 Shennong Street (bar) and Shennong and Kangle intersection (cafe), Tainan


We went to the Wind God temple - one of my favorites for the old arch out front, also, it isn't a common god to find a temple to - before wandering down Shennong Street, which is in the newly hip part of town and looking in a few shops. It was deadly hot and we were all exhausted at that point, so we went to a cafe called Vegane for lunch. Delicious noodles with vegetables and vegan dressings, sadly, when I returned last month they seemed to be out of business.


Come my brothers! Today we win our freedom!

We made a few mistakes in shopping for our fireworks festival clothing. First, we should have taken care of it in Taipei where we know our way around better - we probably could have gotten better, thicker protective gear than the military surplus jackets we found. They were okay, but too light: a firework went right through the sleeve of Blake's and got him in the wrist. The motorcycle helmets - which we later gave away at the Really Really Free Market because we don't ride scooters - were also fine, but I recommend that you find the sort that has a bit of helmet under the visor (like this one) rather than ones where the helmet ends with the visor (like this one).

Why? Because to be truly protected you have to tape a towel around the bottom of the helmet and if you do that with the open face helmets, you have to tape the towel to the visor, which means you can't lift the visor. That means you are stuck in a hot, sweaty, towel-covered helmet that you can't safely take off around the fireworks. Also, you'll be basically blind as the helmets steam up after a few minutes. Not a fun time. If you have the closed kind, you tape the towel around the bottom but can still get some air by opening the visor, which can be quickly shut when things get dangerous again.


So, the thing about this fireworks festival was that Lantern festival was technically on Monday, but we couldn't stay until Monday. We'd heard that the town would also host it on Sunday, so we went for that. We noticed that the dancers at the night market were the same troupe we'd seen the day before near the City God temple:


We missed the first go-around of the fireworks trucks, being unclothed in our hot, heavy gear and helmets. But, after running after anything vaguely sounding like fireworks, we finally found a procession far from the festival night market and temple activity. I was quite pleased about this: for awhile it felt like we were going to miss the actual fireworks, which would be disappointing for Blake who can't just come back.

See what I mean? Hot, sweaty and blind. Buy better helmets. 

Being related, my sister, Blake and I all have the genes to do stupid risky things. Blake got the closest to the fireworks being shot out of the carts, so he's the one who got hit. I got whacked a few times too, which is why I don't have more photos. It looks and feels something like this:


Brendan, who is a bit more risk-averse and doesn't like hot thrumming crowds, hung back.

Oh, another piece of advice? Don't wear sneakers, wear boots. The most painful hits were on my feet. I noticed the locals who were participating where sort of dancing and shuffling up and down as the firecrackers sprayed them, which seems like a reasonable way to deal with the feeling of being hit with a barrage of tiny hot pebbles. At least one person caught on fire, but he was okay.

Another smart thing to do is bring a big spray bottle full of water, and keep spraying yourself down, especially your towel (you do NOT want the cloth around your neck near your head to catch on fire while it is taped to your head protection).


Lots of local photographers, with varying levels of protection (some folks had full firemen's surplus uniforms which seems like a smart idea that I should have thought of). I am not sure, however, that cardboard is the best protective choice from a flaming projectile:


This plastic doesn't seem like it's going to do the trick either, but maybe he knows better than I do:


Another reason I was not worried about disrespecting any gods? Plenty of temple affiliates brought their own idols to face the fire.



The easiest way to get to Yanshui is to take the local train from Tainan and get off at Xinying, which is the nearest stop. Then take a taxi (it won't cost more than NT$200) to Yanshui itself. The taxi should know where to drop you off. If you want to do the fireworks then return to Taipei late at night, there is a late night train and we managed to get tickets about an hour before it left (which I think was 3am?). We made a 7-11 run, got on the train and slept fitfully all the way back to Taipei. Then we slept some more. Except for Brendan, whose Yanshui night market dinner made him sick. You don't want details. The details involve noodles. You really don't want to know.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Black Island: A Review

So, over the course of June and July, with long breaks to research and write an article on learner autonomy through note management that will be published in September, I read J. Michael Cole's Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan. This came right on the heels of Officially Unofficial, which I appreciated for its perspectives on Taiwanese society and politics that I had also witnessed in the past ten years here.

All in all, I liked Black Island more than Officially Unofficial - first of all, it was free of the ridiculously irritating "using the third person to talk about oneself" narrative employed by its predecessor. It focused more on events in recent Taiwanese history rather than the author himself, which was a boon because, although I have nothing against J. Michael Cole, I am more interested in Taiwanese political history and current affairs than I am the personal history of a journalist I happen to have read. Being lightly annotated republishings of previous work, the present tense (employed because that's what those stories used for obvious reasons) gave the narrative a sense of urgency and contemporariness rather than feeling like "history" (and, in fact, the events documented didn't happen that long ago). The present-tense tone gives one the feeling, while reading, that these events are happening as you are reading it - it makes you want to go to Dapu and protest, rail against the destruction of the Huaguang Community or surround the Legislative Yuan yet again. Then you remember, no, this is all a few years in the past. It's 2016 now, Taiwanese society has processed these ideas and is looking to the future. You, the reader, must do the same. The interesting question that Black Island leaves open - as it must - is what happens next.

Like Officially Unofficial, Black Island was a good chance to go back and review my memories of the past few years of Taiwanese politics, and pick up on threads, ideas and smaller events I'd missed. Having, as I mentioned before, been more concerned with completing my teaching degree than being fully invested and informed of Taiwanese affairs, there are things I missed. I was more intellectually present during the actual Sunflower occupation - but I think that electrified and reawakened quite a few people; I'm not unique in that regard. I hadn't had a Delta course going on at that particular time, and I actually spent a great deal of time outside the Legislative Yuan, including heading down after work and staying until the MRT was about to close for several evenings in a row. I wasn't there to report on events, however - I was there to support the students. I enjoyed going back and reading (in some cases for the second time) actual reporting on the events of those weeks.

For someone who had already read a lot of the work published in Black Island (I experienced a distinct sense of deja vu several times not only because I had been in Taiwan when those events took place but because I had in fact already read that exact same article two to four years ago), it is a fairly strong compliment to say that it held my interest upon re-reading.

Finally, this is neither a point in favor of or against the book but, as it triggers interesting thought, I think it fits in the "good" section: Cole's work mentions more than once the idea of civic nationalism over ethnic nationalism beginning to take root in Taiwan. It can hardly do differently, not only because there are "ethnic" (if the entire concept of ethnicity means anything, and depending on where you draw the lines) differences in Taiwan itself, between waishengren and Hoklo, "Chinese" and aborigine as well as Southeast Asian immigrant, that must be overcome to realize the idea of Taiwan as a nation, but also because as much as many won't admit it, Taiwan is very ethnically similar to China (again, if ethnicity means anything at all). To differentiate itself from China Taiwan simply cannot turn to an ethnic base for their desire for self-determination as an independent nation. It must turn to a civic one; there is no other reasonable path...
...but this is not the main reason why I find discussion of that concept interesting. Instead, I am invested in it primarily as an immigrant in Taiwan. I call myself an immigrant because, while I am not a citizen and retain something of an American identity, if I had a reasonable chance at citizenship (the double standard of being forced to give up one's original citizenship to attain Taiwanese nationality, while Taiwanese are under no such edict, is simply neither reasonable nor acceptable) I would be highly likely to seek it, and because I have no real plans to return to the USA. It is true that we may leave someday for professional reasons or because we face difficulties as non-citizens, but it is unlikely that the country we'd leave for would be the one we come from.

If Taiwanese identity is one of civic rather than ethnic identity, and therefore anyone who buys into, contributes to and participates in that identity can be "Taiwanese" even if they can never be ethnically Chinese, then the next logical step is to relax immigration and naturalization laws. This affects me directly, for reasons stated above. It has the potential to change on a fundamental level how I relate myself and my past to Taiwan and life in it. To legitimize, to some extent, the contributions I want to make and the participation I would like to offer. To see Taiwan as a home that genuinely wants people like me here and feels we help rather than hinder the nation's progress.

Right now I have to admit that while I feel welcome here, it is not uncommon for events in my life to give me the feeling that Taiwan wants me to come and teach their people English and wants to give me very little in return, and certainly doesn't want me to assimilate or stay permanently or have a say in political goings-on that do affect my life. A "nation of ethnic Taiwanese" is not likely to see people like me differently. A Taiwan that values civic over ethnic nationalism, however, is one that might.

This is, again, why I am disappointed that the party of young activists, who seemed to be the most likely to welcome immigrants like me, instead want to keep us on the fringes. Yes, I will say it again and I will ever, ever, ever, ever shut up about it until things change. They are the direct results of the events described in Black Island, and so far they have not been great allies to the logical conclusion of civic vs. ethnic nationalism.

Anyway. There are some things I didn't like about Black Island, but I'd say they are considerably fewer and markedly less annoying than in Officially Unofficial.

The first is that, as this is a collection of previously published journalism, as is often the case when one journalist covers related or ongoing events, there is quite a bit of repetition. Editing some of that out would have made for a stronger narrative.

My husband pointed out, and I agree, that the little interlude of pieces focusing on the fight for marriage equality felt a bit jarring in its discontinuity. I would have rather seen either the book divided not only chronologically but also by events. What I ended up doing was skipping the middle section at first, reading straight through the student activist/Sunflower narrative, and then going back and reading about marriage equality and the outsize influence of churches with evangelical ties in Taiwan. It made for a much cleaner narrative.

I would have also liked even more detail on the actual Sunflower occupation, but I suppose I can read a history textbook for that. A bit of a deeper look into the Next Media acquisition would have also been of interest to me.

Brendan also noted that if you are looking for stories about other events of that time - such as the tussle between Ma Ying-jiu and Wang Jin-ping for power within the KMT, you won't find it here. I understand why, but I actually think the story would have been strengthened by including such seemingly unrelated events. In fact, as the Sunflowers and a few political commentators understood at the time and as most people understand now, Ma Ying-jiu having both KMT chairmanship and the presidency, and using that double-barreled power to not only twist arms to get the Legislative Yuan to rubber-stamp his increasingly autocratic-seeming demands, but for the president to try to fire the speaker of an entirely separate branch of government because he wasn't falling sufficiently in line was nothing short of a constitutional crisis.

If you think this attempted ouster of Wang and the power grab that represented was not done in part with forcing passage of the CSSTA, without proper review, in mind, perhaps you are not paying attention. I wouldn't say CSSTA was the only goal of that attempted consolidation of authority, but it was certainly one of them. One directly relates to the other. The smartest activists and commentators understand this, though they don't always elaborate on it because it feels like something of a rhetorical cul-de-sac. Pointing this out would have made the book that much stronger.

Finally, I did feel that a few asides in which Cole expressed more personal views and ideas detracted from the overall narrative. For instance, his rant about cell phones on the MRT and the feeling I get that he feels he has the right to pass judgment on how people pass their commuting time or other downtime. While I agree that using one's various electronic devices to keep abreast of current events, maintain professional and social ties and engage with the wider world is preferably to using it to playing Angry Fruit Crush or whatever, it doesn't matter. We all have our vices and our stupid things we like and it's just not a great path to go down to judge that. I'm sure Cole loves some music I hate or owns a shirt I think is stupid or has a habit I find a waste of time. So what? It's not for me to judge. Besides, while at the height of stress working toward the Delta, I played game after game of iPhone solitaire (I am nothing if not an electronic game traditionalist, also, I'm an Old). Why? It helped me de-stress, gave my mind something else to concentrate on without taxing it too much, and was almost meditative in its repetitiveness. It helped mentally. Don't judge.

The multiple references to hired thugs or other "unsavory" types as "high on betel nut" or as tattooed, smoking, beer drinking betel nut chewers were also off-putting. When talking of actual hired thugs you don't really need to treat their appearance or lowbrow habits as damning evidence - treat what they actually do as evidence. I would be willing to bet just as many tattooed betel-nut chewers showed up to support the Sunflowers. What substances they imbibe or what they choose to put on their bodies is simply not the point and reeks of condescending classism. There is just no reason to do it.

Two little extra things: I agree with Brendan about the lack of translation for quotes in Chinese. We can read them (perhaps with the help of the Chinese dictionary on my - gasp! - iPhone at times) but I would gather many can't. An editor would really help with these sorts of issues. And I really didn't need to read two or more (I didn't count) references to Cole being definitely straight and not gay at all. I literally could not care less if he prefers hot dogs or hamburgers. Doesn't matter and not relevant to the story.

 But, these are relatively minor complaints. The overarching narrative is interesting - and perhaps would be even more interesting to someone who hadn't read these articles when they were originally published - and would be a useful addition to the research of a political science student learning about student activism in Taiwan.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Indonesia: Baluran National Park


I actually rather want to finish these Indonesia posts so I can get into some traveling I've done in Taiwan recently (two trips to Tainan, one to Kaohsiung and one to Yunlin) as well as put up a few photos from our weekend in Hong Kong, so here's the last one!

After hiring a driver to take us to the airport in Solo, we flew to Banyuwangi, which is not exactly the most hopping town, but the only way to get from Solo to Baluran is to do it this way (other options include train with transfer in Surabaya, or a very slow train service that takes a more direct route but is so exceedingly slow that it will take you a good day and a half to get there with a transfer in some no-name town about halfway. There is no bus that I know of). We wanted to get away from the usual "temple, temple, temple, shopping" tempo of the rest of our trip and thought a stop in a little-visited national park, especially one known for having a beach overrun with monkeys, would be just about right.

When we got to Banyuwangi's Blimbingsari airport, we realized two unfortunate things: first, that there is no public transit from the airport to anywhere; and second, that the airport is 9km south of town while the bus station with buses heading to the park is several km north of town. There was literally no other choice but to take a taxi, as expensive as that was (and it was - it came to over IDR400,000 which is quite a bit for Indonesia, though not that expensive by other standards).

So we took a taxi to the bus station, bus (which tried to cheat us) to the national park entrance, and scooters from the entrance 12km to the coast, past some gorgeous scenery. We started at 7am and got to the beach just after sunset.

We didn't do much at the beach - the weather was grim so we didn't even really swim (we did go wading). I have a thing about not liking to swim on very overcast days unless I'm indoors. We rented the wooden bungalow farther from the hotel and canteen and immediately wished we'd rented one of the concrete cabins just because the very first thing that happened was a mouse scurrying about. We saw two mice in total and scared them off, and got the park rangers to seal off the mouseholes and spray something to repel them...we didn't see them again but also didn't sleep particularly well. This was also the only accommodation we had with a mandi (local-style bathroom), but we knew that going in so it wasn't a big deal. I prefer Western bathrooms when I can get them but I'm not averse to using something like a mandi.

Oh yes, and the canteen was closed the day we were there, so the rangers were nice enough to pick us up some food when they went to the other cabins further inland with the mountain view (where there is a general store and small restaurant more likely to be open). So we got gado-gado with rice for breakfast and ramen and local potato-chip-like snacks for the rest of the day. We'd also brought some cookies, coffee and tea. It was not fun at all keeping the food where we didn't think mice would come after it.

Also, we couldn't eat outside even though we had a lovely little patio overlooking the beach, because the place really was overrun with monkeys (and you do not want a troupe of monkeys to see you eat). They were literally more of a herd, a force of nature, than a group. Locals who day-tripped to the beach and weren't prepared found motorcycle helmets stolen, bags grabbed, unzipped and rifled through, snacks seized and gobbled down. They would try to come on our porch when we were reading and we'd have to wave a broom around and talk to them sternly the way we'd talk to our cats. Once, one of them figured out we were eating inside and got up on the porch, perched himself in the window and watched us eat, his little macaque face pressed against the glass as we slurped instant noodles.

This is not to say we didn't like our very rustic stay. I loved hanging out on the porch reading books as the weather changed above us, walking to the mangrove estuary, walking in the other direction to a string of more secluded beaches where we found interesting seashells (which we did not keep) and played in the water, or just sat on the beach and talked, watching the monkeys play.

The next morning we got up, had a leisurely meal of nasi goreng and coffee, arranged scooter rides back to the main road and caught the bus to Surabaya. We had to change buses once to one that was decidedly worse, and we got caught in traffic and had to navigate the dodgiest bus terminal in perhaps the entire country, but on the bright side, I had a nice long friendly chat with a local guy who could speak English and had a refreshingly feminist worldview (and knew a lot about Taiwan as his job was gathering edible seaweed, and he sold it to a Taiwanese guy).

Unlike life in Taiwan, or my study abroad in India, or to some extent life in China, when you take these short excursions, you don't get the same chances to interact with locals and understand, a little more deeply (if not terribly deeply) the lives, experiences and perspectives of people with experiences very different from your own. So, when the chance does present itself I'm always pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, we landed up in Surabaya later than we'd have liked, had dinner at a fancy shopping mall and a few drinks at the Hotel Majapahit with our Hungarian friend in Surabaya, and flew out the next morning. We had half a day and an overnight in Singapore on the way back which I thought was great, because I'm always happy for a chance to enjoy some time there, and then it was back to Taipei and the daily grind. (Perhaps in a future post I'll throw up a few Singapore snaps).

As usual, here are the links to the other posts about this trip:

Solo (Surakarta)
Baluran National Park