Showing posts with label swimming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label swimming. 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.





Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Longdong Bay (and Bitou Cape...Not)

Further along the cliff you can see the swimming hole below, and peeking out beyond that is Bitou Cape

So, yesterday we took a day trip to Longdong (龍洞), an area with beautiful natural scenery, striking blue water, good hiking, diving and snorkeling (I'm not sure how good the diving really is, but it seems to be popular). Our plan had been to follow the route on page 112 of Taipei Day Trips 1, and hike along the coast from Longdong to Bitou Cape (鼻頭角), but we enjoyed lingering at the natural swimming hole at Longdong that we never did make it to Bitou.

If you want to do both in one day, you can, but leave super early, don't get off the bus at the Amazing Hall (the big ugly white building) as we did, get off at the stop before it, just after the tunnel. Otherwise you have to walk back up about 500 meters. It's easy, but the pavement is hot and the exhaust fumes from trucks barreling by are disgusting. Also, don't linger too long at Longdong. Consider driving if you are really hell bent on one day trip to see the entire northeast coast - buses are infrequent. Alternatively, you could turn this into two or more decent day trips. 

One thing I love about living in Taiwan that is markedly better than life in China is that there are more and better opportunities to swim in the ocean, or just to swim naturally (i.e., not in a pool). Although I am not terribly impressed by many of Taiwan's beaches (overcrowded, oversupervised, but hey, at least they're generally clean and safe), I do appreciate that the opportunity is there. I have been to beaches in China, Generally not my bag.

But from Taipei, you can catch a bus from Danshui or catch a train to Ruifang and be at any number of swimmable spots in a fairly short time. If you're not that interested in Taiwan's mostly lackluster sand beaches - at least the beaches on the main island (the outlying islands are another story: Penghu is fantastic and I am excited about going to Orchid Island next week!) - and you really just want a dip in the ocean and don't mind rocks, Longdong is a great alternative. 

To get there, you can take a bus from Fulong that will take you all the way to Cape Bitou and beyond, but I recommend the route we took yesterday: the 9:35am train to Ruifang, breakfast in Ruifang and then the tourist bus to Longdong (exit the train station, turn left at the main road, and walk past the police station, almost to the elevated highway, to the bus stop. It gets crowded on weekends, you can't miss it). It'll take you over Jiufen and Jinguashi and down again before dropping you off at Longdong. Again, get off right after the tunnel, not at the big white building called "龍洞四季灣" (also labeled "Amazing Hall" in English - it's a chain). If you make it there, you've gone too far. This drops you at the trailhead to the coastal path over some stunning cliffs - if you just want to swim, you can skip this part and get off one stop early, in Longdong village.

The path starts just after the tunnel (on the left if you're coming from Ruifang), and bathrooms and vending machine drinks are available. Follow the clearly marked trail and do be sure to stop at the viewpoints - they're gorgeous. There is a trail leading down, and I suppose one could swim down there towards the start of the path, but we saw nobody doing so. There may be a current or it may be otherwise unsafe.

So inviting, but not sure if it's safe

From one of the vantage points (the top picture), you can see all the way to a safe swimming hole. A trail leading down will take you there via Longdong village. Exit the trail and turn right towards the ocean. Keep right, and enter the rocky area via a path that widens, then narrows before widening again and taking you to the coast.

Of course, by "rocky path" I mean, basically, a horizontal rock scramble. There is no real path. Taipei Day Trips 1 makes it sound easy: it is not. It is definitely possible and safe (although watch out for sprained ankles), but it's not a walk in the park. It's also hot - the rocks are hot and there's no shade. Wear sunscreen.

Taipei Day Trips 1 says there's some "supervised swimming". There is swimming, but it's not supervised. When you get there, there are several points at which you can jump safely into the water, and one spot where you can lower yourself in gently if you're afraid of jumping.

The water is crystal blue and clean, and tiny tropical fish swim around you as you swim or tread water.  Bring snorkeling gear if you'd like to get a closer look. You can swim to the far island (pictured below) and climb up via ropes - it's safe to jump from the top -  or beach yourself on a lower rock and enjoy the sun.

I stole this photo from my friend  - hope that's OK, Joseph!
Two things to watch out for: I did get stung by a jellyfish - painful but only temporarily so, and obviously I'm not dead - but be careful. There's also a current - it's not strong, and it's not fast, but it's there. If you're not a strong swimmer you may find yourself carried along a bit by the current.

It's safe to stand on the rocks in the shallow areas, but the rocks above water have barnacles on them, and generally speaking river tracing/snorkeling shoes would be a good thing to wear if you have them.

If you don't linger you can then hike around Bitou and catch a bus back to Keelung, Ruifang, Jinguashi or Jiufen. Heading up to Jiufen at sunset is a lovely ride, and you can eat or drink tea there. Alternately, you can head all the way to Keelung and go to the night market - the bus will drop you off nearby. If you have a car, there are several other great spots to stop and enjoy before the sun goes down. If not, be careful of time.

One final note - bus stops are spaced out weirdly: one bus stop doesn't necessarily cover all available buses. For example, the Keelung tourist bus stops a little further up the highway from Longdong than two other buses, and generally won't pick you up if you're at the wrong stop. This is idiotic, and the government really ought to do something about it. For now, though, check the times and wait at the appropriate stop to the best of your ability.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swimming Lessons

I've been going to Zhongshan Sports Center for awhile now to try and get in shape. It feels good - and I love knowing that I'm doing this for me and not some weird notion of societal approval. It makes the workouts more pleasant and the rewards - to the tune of better health and some weight loss - all the sweeter.

The sports center itself is, while not exactly top-of-the-line fantastic, certainly very good for a municipal facility. Better than anything most American cities seem to throw together.

Every Tuesday and Thursday it's an hour on the treadmill followed by stretching (I am also starting to do crunches and the like at home to help tone a few petulant muscles), and every Friday (and sometimes Monday) I head to the basement and do 15-20 laps in the pool followed by a lovely soak in the hot tub.

On many of these days, there's an elderly man who comes to the pool and occasionally ends up in my lane or one next to mine. As the regular swimmers all know each other by sight now, if not by name, swimming near each other is becoming more common. We gravitate to the people we know - at least we know they won't kick water in our face, cut in line and then swim a very slow butterfly stroke, or spit in the pool.

I’m no Michael Phelps, and I never took proper swimming lessons (just learned on my own) so you can imagine that my form is pretty awful. I know this.

The man, despite being about 75 to my 27, can swim dolphin-like circles around me. He claims that this is because he “is from an island” which means “of course he is a good swimmer.” I assumed he meant Taiwan, whether the main part or an outlying island.

He started giving me tips on my form, from how to move my arms to how to get my body to glide through the water, when at that point it was more like bumbling through it. I listened to him, because I was jealous of his ability to sluice through his laps while I gurgled along, competently but in a very ungainly way.

But every time I tried to chat with him in Chinese he seemed confused, uninterested or just plain uncomprehending. I think it’s rude to ask about ethnicity so I never asked, and just assumed that my pronunciation was tripping him up.

One day he finally said that he is, in fact, Japanese so he barely understands when anyone speaks Chinese to him. Well there ya go.

I was curious about what brought him to Taiwan, what he thinks of Taiwan as compared to Japan (Taipei reminds me more of Japan than of China, though the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share this similarity), what he was doing in Taiwan and other culturally-minded questions. The barrier down, I began to ask.

He, however, just didn’t feel like telling me. He grew quiet - even a little distant - when talking about Japan, but very animated when talking about swimming; he obviously did not mind the chat.

I realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t interested in cultural exchange or even chatting about his origins – he just wanted to get down to the business of swimming or at least talking about swimming, and wanted to help the nice (if talkative) foreign girl swim better.

And I have. I don’t quite glide seamlessly through the chlorinated lanes the way he does, but I’m a little less like a swimming Labrador and a little more like a creature who was born to the water (not a dolphin or fish, maybe a walrus or polar bear) and I don’t look so embarrassingly clumsy. I’m faster and stronger, as well.

You can find Zhongshan Sports Center in the lanes between Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRT stations. Take the Red Line MRT to Zhongshan Exit 2 and immediately U-turn into the "park" area. Walk straight back and keep right, and on your right you will soon see a sign for "Beautiful and Breakfast" and a lane just after that with a sign for the center. Turn right in this lane - the sports center is the huge gray building right ahead.