Showing posts with label beach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beach. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Culture x Water


My last paper of the term is done, and I took the Tomb Sweeping holiday to travel around in southern Taiwan simply enjoying time with Brendan and meeting up with some friends. I read Crystal Boys (review coming soon), didn't write anything, generally relaxed and re-learned what it was like to be able to take a nice short trip without academia weighing on my mind.

I sent in that final paper at 6pm on Wednesday. The next morning, we hopped on the HSR to Zuoying, arranging a pickup from the HSR station to the ferry terminal in Donggang (NT600 for the trip - not bad). Little Liuqiu (小琉球), where we spent two nights and, on account of my being thoroughly exhausted from the previous day's push to get my paper in, still didn't manage to see everything. After this we spent the final two days of the long weekend in Kaohsiung and Tainan.

I enjoyed the island's rural sights and did not feel the crowds visiting them were overwhelming. Baishawei, the island's main town, was a different story. I suspect Baishawei is a fine little town to relax in on a non-holiday weekday; over the long weekend, though, it was horrible. Really horrible! I understand getting on a scooter to go out of town - there is a bus that circles the island and you can ride it fairly easily to get anywhere you might want to go - but to get on a scooter to go around Baishawei, whose streets are narrow and made for pedestrians, and the sights within walking distance of it? Come on. I get that it will be crowded, but if people realized that and used their scooters more judiciously, it wouldn't be so bad.


Beyond that, a thought struck me while navigating around Baishawei, which I shared over drinks with a friend who happened to also be on the island - a thought about water, and our orientation to it, and what that means for Taiwanese identity.

People explain away Taiwan's less-than-ideal beach infrastructure and general lack of well-maintained beaches, and the fact that many Taiwanese don't know how to swim despite living on an island, by pointing out that Chinese culture isn't a water-oriented one (leaving aside the fact that historically, Chinese fishermen, explorers, traders, pirates and seafarers have absolutely been an integral part of Chinese culture.) They point out that China doesn't have great beaches - I've been to the one in Qingdao and yeah...not great, and I haven't heard great things about Hainan. Or they mention that Chinese cities tend to be built "with their back to the sea", or generally thinking of the sea as the end of China and not an integral part of their lives. As that same friend pointed out, for a large portion of not-too-distant Chinese history, access to the coastlines was banned (which of course didn't work at all as intended).


You can see that in Taiwan - for a long time, despite being an island, the coastal waters were off-limits and people "were living more like residents of a landlocked country." In terms of specific beaches, Wai'ao could be a really nice destination, except it's just off a strip of noisy road, backed by ugly buildings and an entertainment complex that is both uninviting and behind a parking area, not actually on the beach. Kenting...I don't like Kenting, let me count the ways. Baishawan allows 10,000 people to churn the water in approximately half a square meter of a long, gorgeous beach. Fulong has that hideous bridge (yes, it needs a bridge, but couldn't it be nicer?) and ugly hotel and is flanked by a lagoon to one side that smells, as one friend who worked in health care put it, "like my sick elderly patients' pee." And that's just to name a few. (Some of the outlying islands fare better.) Taiwan doesn't have a lot of gorgeous, sandy beaches, but what it does have could be better than they are.

I mean, in Taipei we live an MRT ride from the ocean and hardly ever go, because the infrastructure needed to make the beaches really nice places to swim and relax just isn't there. Taiwan's cities do indeed feel as though they are built with their backs to the sea.

But, in Little Liuqiu, I got the sense that it could be different. More kids in the younger generation are learning to swim, Taiwanese Millenials go to the beach and hang out in a way that feels distinctly familiar to me as a coastal American. On Little Liuqiu, I dare say that, while not a "great beach" (too many rocks and coral to cut your feet) Baishawei's beach was a pleasant place to hang out, and other rocky beaches have good snorkeling - and people were taking advantage of that. People were going in the water and enjoying themselves in ways I just didn't see in China (though I haven't been to Hainan).

Note how all of the cultural attitudes towards the sea that I mentioned above are in relation to Chinese culture. But Taiwan is not China - it doesn't have to be this way. Taiwanese history is rooted in Austronesian indigenous culture, and who are seafarers if not Austronesians? Taiwan's deepest history is tied to the sea. It doesn't need to hold to Chinese notions of how the sea fits into their lives, and in fact such an attitude doesn't suit it. Taiwan isn't like China, not least in terms of geography. So why have a Chinese attitude to the ocean?


Taiwan can - and I'd argue should - grow its existing beach/sea/ocean culture as a way to not only acknowledge that it is not only a subtropical/tropical set of islands and it makes sense for warm-water island nations to be sea-oriented, but also as a way to differentiate Taiwanese culture from Chinese culture. China can turn its back to the sea - we can turn to face it. It can be a barrier for them, the "end of civilization". On our beautiful ball of mud, we can do things differently.

Taiwan doesn't need to be defined by ideas central to Chinese culture. It has its own culture and can define itself accordingly. Just because something is culturally Chinese doesn't mean it needs to be applied to Taiwan.

And that will be one small, but notable, nail in the coffin of this "Taiwanese and Chinese culture are exactly the same! They have the same history and think and act in the same way!" nonsense bandied about by people who don't know what they're talking about. It's not true, but it's hard to see that if you're just passing through (or are just some Internet bloviator). We need it to be more demonstrably untrue, and a country where the beaches are both lovely and popular would help in its own small way.

This isn't a crazy outsider idea. I'm not trying to push my foreigner thoughts on a local culture - Taiwan is already going down this path and already has more of a historical and current orientation to the ocean than China. So there is no reason why Taiwan can't [continue to] cultivate a sea-facing, sea-loving, ocean-integrated culture that is well-suited to its geography and actual non-Chinese history. Improvements need to be made, but it would be unfair to say we're not on our way.

Anyway, enjoy a few more shots of Little Liuqiu:







If you are wondering whether my feet are dirty or just dyed by my sandals, the answer is...they were really cheap sandals.





Monday, April 18, 2016

An East Rift Valley and Taimali Adventure

I'm going to apologize in advance for the vagueness of this post - I took this trip over a year ago but, due to the vagaries of life (having to return to the US yet again for my dad's surgery, finishing the Delta etc.) I just didn't get around to dealing with the photos, which means I didn't post anything about it. When I finally did have time to do a photo-heavy post I opted for Kinmen, because it was so unlike the rest of Taiwan.

I'm ready to fix that now, but this trip happened so long ago that I'm now a bit fuzzy on the details. So, I can't actually direct anyone to the places I visited - good travelers experienced in Taiwan should have no problem, though! That said, this post is just not up to the level of quality detail I try to bring to my travel posts, and I'm sorry about that.

So, here goes:

About a year ago we took the train to Taidong, rented a car, and wandered the southern East Rift Valley before taking a scenic road over the mountains to the East Coast, driving down to Taimali before returning to Taidong, dropping off the car and taking the Puyuma Express home. We had four days in total, two of which involved train trips, one full sightseeing day which was merely okay (it poured on and off) and one which was amazing.

On the train down I couldn't help but note the tendency to put factories in some of the most scenic spots:


We got to Taidong, went to the night market (at least Brendan and I did, our friend Joseph stayed at the hotel), woke up in Taidong, rented a car from CarPlus and were on our way. Or, at least we were in fits and starts thanks to wildlife blocking the road:


I believe, but cannot be sure, we took the 197 from Taidong up over the mountains to the southernmost edge of the East Rift Valley - we missed the turn-off for the bridge to Luye (鹿野) and ended up on a stretch that was more like a forest trail than a road - completely unpaved and grassy in spots. Storm clouds loomed overhead. It was pretty scenic though.


We passed a few aboriginal villages and came down a steep set of switchbacks to another bridge, which I drove across screaming with my hair in my face thanks to the open window, and headed south back to Luye. The main thing to do in Luye is to go to the Luye Gaotai (Luye Pavilion, or 翱翔飛行傘鹿野高台) where in theory parasailing and hot air ballooning are possible, tea is grown, and the scenery is supposed to be nice. You can also sled down a grassy slope, which looked kind of fun. Given the weather, we didn't see any sort of air-based sports. The scenery was nice, but honestly I was a bit underwhelmed. Also, we couldn't find a decent meal in the whole town and got some underwhelming noodles.


We then drove up to Guanshan (關山)  where we checked into our next hotel - a homestay, really, well out of town and off the highway. You'd need a car to get there. I can't find it on Google Maps and I can't remember the name, so you'll just have to trust me that there is a pretty good homestay in Guanshan if you have your own transport (it would also be easy work for cyclists).

In Guanshan it rained on and off - the most interesting thing I noted was how you could see far down the valley and across to the mountains on the other side, so you could see the storm cells moving about like mobile fire sprinklers. The advantage of this, other than being lovely and scenic, was that you could tell when you were about to get soaked.

Guanshan has a bicycle trail for tourists that is quite popular, so we walked around that - the on-and-off rain made cycling unappealing, and from our homestay we weren't near the place to rent them - and saw some more local, uh, wildlife.


Rain making its way down the mountains near our homestay.


The train passing through the valley as it rains on the mountain ridges.


I imagine this is what it's like living in a flat area, such as the Midwest, and watching rainstorms come in - something you can't do where I'm from, with hills blocking the view.


Just before we ourselves got soaked, we spotted this interesting-looking building out in the fields. We determined it was a Hakka restaurant, and our homestay owner said it was pretty good. The rain made us not really want to go back out once we returned to the homestay and changed into dry clothes, but it's not like you can get pizza delivery in Guanshan, so we got in the car and drove out here for dinner. It caters to larger groups but overall it was quite good.


Whereas this is just terrifying:




...apparently this is some sort of thing owned by the Guanshan Farmers' Association - kids come here on field trips to learn about rice farming, I suppose.

We ran back to our homestay as the rain really set in. This guy, however, continued working.


Fortunately the next morning brought perfect weather and azure skies. We got to see our homestay's garden and pet peacocks before checking out:



We then drove up to Chishang (池上), which is something of a tourist destination. I liked the old cluster of houses downtown, which we walked through very peacefully, and the views on the drive.




I was less impressed with Chishang's main tourist draw, the "Mr. Brown Highway" (which to me just sounds like a euphemism for a butthole, but hey). Apparently it was made famous in Mr. Brown coffee commercials, and then if you cycle down it enough you get to the "Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree" (金城武樹), because Takeshi apparently made a famous movie where he waits at that tree. The tree was knocked down in a typhoon but apparently has been re-planted. Because it's famous.

We, however, were not that impressed - it was pretty, yes, but the views just driving around were prettier, and it was clogged with tourists and annoying family bikes. So...we got a cup of coffee - interestingly, there was a Lavazza Cafe but not a Mr. Brown which is just a missed advertising opportunity - and went on our way.


We got lunch further down the road in a no-name town (in fact I'm sure it did have a name, but I can't remember it nor be sure what that name is on a map) where we happened across a shop that makes those god-and-other-celestial-being statues for temple parades.




Then we took a turn up the mountains on Dongfu Road (東富路), which I think (?) is Highway #23? that led over the mountains and through paradise (including a place known as "Little Tianxiang" - 小天祥 - after its supposed resemblance to the famous Tianxiang in Taroko Gorge). Unable to stop at Little Tianxiang (there aren't many places to pull over), we stopped at this rickety little pavilion to enjoy the view:


This time, I was more impressed. We passed mountain ridges, betel nut palms, rocky gorges and green valleys, taking a break at an area along the way known for its troupe of monkeys that can usually be found hanging out by the side of the road. These monkeys are so famous that tour buses actually stop for them. 


We wisely locked the doors to our rental car.



Dongfu Road comes down from the mountains and hits the coast at Donghe, which is something of a foreigner-populated surfer town. We continued south and took our next break in Jinzun (金樽), where there is a coffeeshop conveniently called Jinzun Coffee (金樽咖啡) with a stunning view of the beach.

I mean, look at that.


We walked down the cliff - there is a trail and stairs - to the actual beach - and it was nearly deserted (but not great for swimming). 



We then made our way down to the foreigner enclave of Dulan, where we didn't go to the beach as it was getting late, but we did stop at the Dulan Sugar Factory (a little post-industrial spot now filled with cute shops) to pick up some beer for later from an expat who brews it before having a cold drink and some dessert at a little cafe run by a Frenchman.



At this point the sun was truly setting, so we continued on past Taidong to the tiny aboriginal town of Taimali.

I didn't know what I wanted to do in Taimali, but I'd passed through on the train years ago and thought it'd looked just peaceful and lovely and scenic. We ended up at an unexpectedly great homestay, which from some Internet sleuthing to jog my memory I believe was this place - 濾池畔民宿. Afraid we were going to have to drink our Dulan beer in some dank little love-hotel like room with absolutely no charm or even proper lighting, we were delighted to get a large, breezy room with a strangely fantastic bathroom and massive balcony, with light and chairs.

So we showered, cracked open the beers, listened to music and talked until it was time for bed.

The next day, after a surprisingly good breakfast (toast and fresh fruit and French press coffee!) we drove through Taimali - not a lot to do but we got some good shaved ice, drove down to the beach, walked around a bit, found an old temple and chatted with a 94-year-old Mainlander who came with the KMT diaspora, married a local aboriginal woman and settled here.



Downtown Taimali isn't exactly hopping:


Then we drove up into the hills behind the town looking for lunch. Joseph had read in a local guidebook that there was a well-known aboriginal restaurant up here. On the way we passed an adorable little church:


And some murals.


The restaurant was called "Good Place" (好地方) which I love for its simplicity. And it really was good - it's the sort of place where you don't get a menu, they just bring you enough food for your party. What's sad is that I can't remember exactly what we ate - although I know I avoided the dish full of bitter gourd - but that it was damn good. I'd recommend it, if you can find it. Perhaps not for dinner when the karaoke starts up though.



Nearby are more aboriginal settlements, some in government-built housing. We didn't linger, though I did stop to admire some particularly inspired artwork.


With some time to kill we drove up further into the mountains for some great views before the roads got too narrow and we had to turn back.


Our train left that evening for Taidong but we still had time to kill - so we drove a bit north of the city to a place called "Little Yehliu" (among a few other stops). I was really less than impressed:


I mean it was fine and all but regular Yehliu is way cooler.

So, we turned around and headed back to the train station, dropped off the car and hopped on the Puyuma.

All in all I'd say it was a great trip!