Showing posts with label monkeys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label monkeys. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Postcards from Hamasen

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 After several months of being too busy and lazy (and just plain lacking the energy thanks to work problems and worries over family illness), in the past few weeks I've started trying to rejuvenate and recoup my old zeal for going places and trying new things.

I know that sounds horribly cliche, but really, I had been in a slump of not doing much, not going out much, for the first half of the year - punctuated only by our trip to Sri Lanka.

I've begun to lift myself out of it - which is why you're seeing so many posts (some of them backlogged from weeks past) on doing stuff in, around and outside of Taipei.

A few weeks ago, when I had a free HSR ticket to Kaohsiung for work, I wrote a post about spending the night in a Batman-themed room at a love motel. Well, the next day we stuck around Kaohsiung, and I feel like our ramblings around the older part of the city - Hamasen (now called Xiziwan or 西子灣, the last stop on the east-west MRT) and then up Chaishan - were also worth a picture-based blog post.

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 First of all, Hamasen may retain its traditional architecture, but it's actually changed a lot in the past decade or so. It's become a favorite spot for a day trip - second only to Pier 2 in local and tourist popularity (and of course there's always the Love River, Dome of Light, Qijin Island, Lotus Lake and the 85 Building and the overrated Sanduo Shopping District) - with "famous" shaved ice shops, restaurants and cafes near the waterfront and ferry terminal. There's even a giant, hideous Hello Kitty store (like really hideous, like so horrible that Brendan said if I went in - and I didn't - he would wait outside. Across the street. Possibly around the corner).

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I just liked this guy's orange cowboy hat.

I have a student from Hamasen - he grew up in a house very close to the ferry terminal. "Damn tourists," he always says. "It used to be a quiet fishing village. Now it's like Danshui."
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This guy's tempura was great. In fact, usually this kind of tempura is better in southern Taiwan than in Taipei. I can't tell you where his stand is (but it's on the road somewhere between the MRT station and the ferry terminal)...if you see him, however, go ahead and get his tempura. I highly recommend it.

My student: "Damn tourists! There used to be really good, famous food stands. They were famous because their food was so delicious. Now, I went back to those places, and they weren't as good, because the tourists don't know. Damn tourists!"

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I like this photo because it's of a building that I think most people - especially expats - dismiss as an eyesore. I don't see it that way - I like the curve, and the style is retro. I think it's a cool reminder of midcentury Taiwan, decades past.

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Chen Chu is the enormously popular mayor of Kaohsiung. Most Taiwanese politicians have a cartoon avatar, but her cartoon is by far the most famous, possibly even more than Ma Ying-jiu's (which is kind of terrifying). Even Chiang Kai-shek has one, which makes him look like a benevolent bobblehead.

Every Chinese New Year, Chen Chu's people give out spring scrolls - the red calligraphy scrolls you see on doors that call for good luck, health and prosperity in the coming year - adorned with her avatar doing something cute vis-a-vis that year's Chinese Zodiac animal. This year's is snake, as you can see. I try to collect them and hang them up in Taipei to annoy my neighbors a little (my immediate neighbors think she's great, though, which I like).

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Old Japanese era shophouses give Hamasen its distinctive character, especially as they haven't yet been turned into shops on an Old Street selling the same old toys and food (although I like the toys and food, I have to admit). Hamasen as you see it today was mostly built up by the Japanese, and as such the buildings, road planning and infrastructure has a vaguely Japanese feel about it. In fact, Kaohsiung's entire layout, with its wider roads and often vintage buildings, have something of the stamp of Japan on them.

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Hamasen's famous shaved ice shops - at the one pictured at top (which features, prominently, the Chinese word for fuck) you can get shaved ice bowls big enough for up to 5-6 people, depending on your appetite.

My student: "Damn shaved ice restaurants. All the tourists go there, then they take the ferry and create traffic problems with the crowds. I hate it. Damn tourists!"

At all of the shops, you can ask for markers and write on the walls - or bring your own colored markers or white-out pens. All of the shops are about the same, although some are more "famous" than others. I recommend in-season fruit ices, and matcha tofu ice (the shop pictured immediately above has a matcha tofu with mango and condensed milk ice that is delicious).

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We also had very good cold Korean noodles. I strongly recommend the place - 韓月冷麵王 on 濱海一路57號, a short walk from the ferry terminal and shaved ice shops.

We passed these two women, as well - one was clearly amused by the foreigners. Wish I'd gotten a clearer photo.

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Here's another building people may be wont to dismiss, but I like. It's plain, but there's clearly some history there, and it's more attractive than a lot of modern buildings. Could stand a lick of paint, maybe (but not to be tiled over)!

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...just a few random things you may see hanging from windows and doors.

Then we made our way to the British Consulate (英國領事館, or 打狗領事館, Dagou being the old name for Kaohsiung). You can easily take Bus #99 to the entrance, which is not far at all - if you wanted to you could probably even walk it. Great views across the harbor, but you'll have to walk up several flights of stairs. Once there, you get a splendid view of Kaohsiung harbor, the old consulate building, a lighthouse on a rock enscarpment and the bay.

Tickets cost NT30 each, but you get the money back as a discount if you buy anything at the coffeeshop or gift shops - it's a way to generate revenue at the shops, I suppose.

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There's a BigTom coffeeshop up here with a shaded courtyard and great views (the best views have no shade though). We saw a cute lizard as we sipped iced coffee under the trees after the hot climb. In fact, it was our first stop, before we even explored the consulate. To be fair, we'd been there before several years ago.

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My student: "I know that view! When I was a boy, the consulate was not open. It was just some old building. Nobody cared about that. Actually, it was closed, but if you are a local you know the ways to go up there. So I would go up there, and I used to take a pee from that side. It was very nice! I had a nice view, sunny day, a nice breeze, taking a nice pee on the hill. I could even see all the ships coming and going in Kaohsiung Harbor. It was very refreshing. You can imagine!"

Other student: "Maybe you could wave to the ships and say 'Welcome to Taiwan'!"

Me: "Well, I can't take a nice pee like that, so I can't imagine. But maybe you could have a contest with your friends to see if you can hit the ships."

Student: "Yes, we would do that!"

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And there are some Chinese! photo 378065_10151681837751202_946937238_n.jpg
Check out these "Chinese People" as imagined by Dutch colonists.

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There is a small temple just near the consulate.

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Windows in the consulate have been changed to colored glass for
pretty light effects.

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From the consulate we took a taxi up Chaishan, past National Sun Yat-Sen University (中大). Chaishan is famous for its views over the bay, rocky shore and monkeys!

Monkeys are my favorite animal - well, monkeys and cats, and I like dogs too, and foxes are cool, and I also quite like birds that can talk and weird-looking fish - I like to joke it's because my Chinese Zodiac sign is monkey (so is Brendan's). So whenever there's a chance to see monkeys, I take it!

The taxi stopped so we could see a few monkeys, and then dropped us off at a famous coffeeshop on the shore.

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No, he's not jumping off.

You wouldn't know that Chaishan Road - the main road up the mountain - is full of cafes taking advantage of the ocean views, if you didn't know the area pretty well.

We went to Hai Jiao (Cape) Coffee & Tea - 海角咖啡 at #103 Chaishan Road, which has basic juices, coffees, teas and smoothies, and a small array of food. We had Thai lemon fish for dinner, which was pretty good. The calamansi lemon juice is nice and sour. The view is great if you can get a good seat, and you can watch the sunset from the rocks just beyond the parking lot.

It's down a steep hill - best to drive, but you can take Bus #99 to get close enough, or take a taxi, get his card and call him to pick you up later.

Another friend recommended 海岸咖啡, a cafe at #31 Chaishan Road, famous for its big mugs of ramen. Also worth checking out.

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Then we watched the sun set over the bay, had our dinner and called the taxi to come take us back to the MRT, from which we returned to HSR Zuoying Station and Taipei.

We were sad to go - one day is too short to cavort around Kaohsiung, even if you've already been. A couple of beers on Love River and a good local dinner would've been nice, or a nightcap somewhere with a good view, but we had to head back to our hectic lives in cloudy, rainy Taipei.

Too bad.

Next time I guess.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Monkey at the End of the World


Philosopher Monkey Likes To Philosophize

All photos below - not in order - were taken either on the train between Kandy and Ella, in Ella itself, or on our hike a few hours away from Ella at World's End and Horton Plains National Park. The monkey above is enjoying the view at World's End.

I"m kind of going backwards in my chronicle of our Sri Lanka vacation, but that's just how the desire to write struck.

We left Kandy by train - the Kandy-Ella train being extremely popular among foreigners for its scenic backdrop, and being a nicer train than most in Sri Lanka (we saw some other trains in various stations), most likely because it is so heavily used by foreign tourists. And the views are stunning:









But the train is also the beginning of Foreign Tourist Saturation (which I realize I'm a part of, I don't deny my own culpability). The train has a few locals on it, but the vast majority of passengers are foreigners transiting from Kandy to Ella on this famous rail route. They take so many pictures - as I did - that they're practically taking pictures of each other:


Ella town...well, let's just say I could take or leave the place. I really enjoyed our stay in the mountains but not because of the town. That said, I chose it specifically because if the weather was bad, a tourist-filled mountain town would probably provide other diversions, even if those diversions were drinking tea and souvenir shopping. And the weather was often pretty bad - it rained for a portion of every single day, so it wasn't entirely a poor decision. However:


Go ahead and enlarge that menu and enjoy the "Spagatti Bololesis" and "Frid Rice", and reflect upon a restaurant named, ostensible, for a director of weird and violent movies, printed in a Haunted House font, on a tiki hit painted reggae colors.

We did not try the "Spagatti Bololesis", and I found the local food in Ella - we didn't go all the way to Sri Lanka to eat pasta - to be...meh. There were no good views from the town itself, the weather was crap, and the stores and restaurants were weak-tea backpacker joints. I was not terribly impressed. It reminded me yet again of a reason to love Taiwan (let's say this one is #30):

Not too many tourists. It's getting to be a problem, and to some extent I do wish the rest of the world would cultivate a better appreciation for the charms of Taiwan - its night markets, its seafood, it's stinky tofu, its mountains, its coastline. It feels like the last undiscovered gem in Asia. On the other hand, I wouldn't want Taiwan to be dotted with little Ellas, or little Mirissas (that wouldn't happen: Taiwan doesn't have the beaches. I was not impressed with the beaches at Kending, and that's among the best Taiwan has. You have to go to Penghu to even come close to what's on offer in Sri Lanka, Indonesia or the Philippines).


I wouldn't want the festivals - both temple fairs and aboriginal festivals - to become performances for tourists. I like 'em authentic. I don't mind battling a crowd of local would-be photographers but I would mind battling an even larger crowd of people with no emotional investment in the performance itself. I can accept Old Streets and towns like Lugang cashing in on their heritage by appealing to domestic tourists and the occasional Japanese who wander through, because they are popular with locals. I wouldn't want them to become backpacker hovels where every other old shophouse sells banana pancakes, and the stinky tofu, oyster omelets and brown sugar cake aren't as good because the proprietors figure that foreigners don't know any better.

I like that there is no Khao San Road in Taipei. I want it to stay that way. I like that mountain towns in Taiwan, such as Lishan (my favorite), aren't overrun with tourists and what infrastructure you find there is for locals.

The two things that made Ella wonderful were our hotel, and our hike in Horton Plains National Park. The hotel was outside of town, about a kilometer along what is basically a hiking trail, and built so that most of it was a sheltered outdoor cafe setup with stunning views through Ella Gap:




We'd go out, do some hiking or walking, get stuck in the rain, and come back cold and muddy. Then we'd change into comfortable, dry clothing and sit in the cafe area - the rooms open directly onto it so it's like an extension of one's room - to drink tea and eat coconut sambal sandwiches. It was truly a gem. I could have spent a couple of days just relaxing there and not going out.

We then hired a car and driver to take us to Horton Plains. Hiring a car with driver is not difficult in Sri Lanka, and not terribly expensive. It'll cost slightly less than chartering a taxi in Taiwan (something I've done when I've wanted to visit areas without good public transportation, but as usual was not willing to drive. I do not drive and will not drive in urban Taiwan, which is one reason why I live in Taipei. You might get me behind the wheel in the countryside, though). We shared the car hire with a German couple to cut costs, and they were very pleasant hiking companions.


The trail is at about 2300 meters above sea level - not so high that you'll get sick, but high enough that hiking uphill causes you to become slightly more winded than you might normally feel. Only slightly, though. The land is classic moorland - chilly, foggy, scrubby grassland reminiscent of northern England and parts of Scotland.


It's a circular trail that's approximately 9 kilometers in total, maybe ten. You walk four or five to World's End, where the moorlands just...stop. They go from being rolling plains of grass to being a steep cliff quite literally immediately, with no warning that the landscape is about to change.


The view is stunning if it's not foggy - as you can see, we got something of a view, but we didn't get the full deal. So...instead, enjoy the cute monkey. The "Philosopher Monkey" at the top of the post is also looking out over the cliff, called "World's End", to give you a better idea of the view.

On a clear day you can see straight to the coast. We weren't so lucky.

We were so cold, so wet (it rained pretty hard on our hike back), so muddy and so achy when we got back that I changed into soft, warm pajamas immediately and refused to make the trek into town. We spent the rest of the day in the cafe area of our hotel drinking tea and resting our tired muscles.

Ella had a few other good things, too: a few hikes and walks to temples and scenic spots:


And a couple of good photo opportunities:


I don't regret going, not for a minute.

Monday, November 15, 2010

it's iPod Touch Photo Day on Lao Ren Cha!

Ahem. Uh. Guys. Yeah, guys? So. We need to talk. I hate to tell you this but...YOU ARE NOT COOL. You are not 'hip', you are not 'with it', you are not 'all that', and this is a 'fail', not a 'win'. Eric, you are not and never will be James Bond. "New Taipei City So Happy?" Really? Couldn't you have taken the money you threw away on those sunglasses and paid an English editor, perhaps?

Oh yeah. And guys? That stance and the sunglasses makes me feel a little too much like you're about to have me shot for political subversion. Y'all have kind of a *history* with that if y'know what I'm sayin'.

(Photo by Brendan)

Considering the interesting comments on my last post about women and marriage in Taiwan, my next long post is likely to be about men and marriage in Taiwan. I'm no sociologist, but I have been asking around in a very informal, unscientific way (and a way appropriate for class: basically having them read a current events article on birth rates/marriage stats in Taiwan and having it be a discussion question) and am collecting a fair number of Taiwanese men's views on marriage here on the island.

I'd just ask friends, but I seem to have this thing where my expat friends are quite varied by gender (that is, I have some of both), but my Taiwanese friends are almost exclusively female.

Anyway. I'm still working on that because I have to do actual research so in the meantime, please enjoy some fun iTouch photos from around Taipei, including some of election-related gems.

Some of these were taken on Brendan's gadget, but only one was taken while I was not actually there.

Oh, and I cheated with two - the photos that are actually of decent quality were taken on a real camera. But they're still funny.

Domo is gonna eat the kitty. Clearly he likes his meat marbled and fatty.

Young boy on the stairs at an oddly deserted Taipei Main Station, around 11:45pm.

MONKEY! Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Took this one in Nicaragua.

"No Frills Seasoning" kind of scares me.

Jurassic Jewelry...home of the renowned T-rex tooth necklace.

Run of the mill campaign ad, but look at his little cartoon guy in the bottom left. He's Popeye! For real!

This is my favorite guy, the siphon brewin' coffee guy at Drop Coffee House (I mistakenly called them "People Say" but it's Drop). Go spend exorbitant amounts of money on their amazing coffee, and enjoy sitting in a restored Japanese house! Go now!