It’s 6:00 a.m., and I’m sitting by a little pavilion on the island’s east coast to watch the sunrise. There are clouds over the horizon, but a golden glow is flaming between them. A dozen or so other people have shown up in the last twenty minutes to this site advertised as the best spot for watching the sunrise, but I was here first.
|My persnickety camera did manage to take this
sorta-decent sunrise picture before it decided not to
cooperate any longer.
The sun itself has finally shown its face between the strips of cloud. Everyone else is standing there taking pictures, but since my camera isn’t cooperating this morning, I’m limited to the pictures I can produce with words. (Thank goodness I bought this notebook yesterday!) The sun is spilling golden light over the lower layer of cloud, turning its overly-hardboiled-egg-yolk-gray (wouldn’t that be a great name for a crayon color?!) to a translucent pearly gleam. I can just make out the mountains of Taiwan below it, only their crisp upper edge visible through the cloud. The blue-gray ocean below glitters silver-yellow in wriggling wrinkles as diagonal shafts of sunlight stretch down toward it.
The rhythmic pulse of the surf and the twitter and squawk of birds mostly cover the voices of the tourists not far away and the ticking of the newest-arrived scooter that a couple parked right by my bench. Now that the sun has fully ascended, most of the others have left. But this pair, munching their breakfast on the next bench, apparently didn’t look up the time of the sunrise last night.
Speaking of last night, Janice and Kenny and I went out to dinner at a restaurant advertising mahi-mahi cheeseburgers. I’m not usually a big burger fan, but it was good! Afterward, we stopped at a tea shop, and I tried a “mango cheese tea”. It came in three layers, with fruit and crushed ice on the bottom, sweet milky juice in the middle, and a foamy, salty froth of some sort of whipped cream cheese mixture on the top. It was strange but delicious, with the best results (in my opinion) coming when I mixed the top two layers.
We had signed up for a night-time scooter tour, so at 7:15, our hostess at our bed and breakfast took us to a place in town where a big group of people on scooters were waiting to meet the tour guide. He led us all first to a place where we all dismounted and looked at a tree with big, beautiful blossoms that apparently only bloom at night and for four hours at a time. He said a lot about these flowers in Chinese while we took pictures, and then we all got back on our scooters to go to the next tour stop.
|Aren’t all these flowers pretty?
Actually, they’re all the same flower,
seen in our tour guide’s different flashlight settings.
The top one is its original color.
Unfortunately, I had trouble getting my scooter started. Janice and Kenny were nice enough to wait for me, and by the time I realized to my embarrassment that I simply hadn’t turned the key far enough in the dark, the rest of the group had gone. We took off after them as fast as we could, but when we came to a fork in the road, we had no way to tell which direction they’d taken. We picked one at random and hoped we’d catch up, but sadly, we never did. So the three of us ended up doing our own night-time scooter tour in the form of another circuit of the island (always fun) before returning to our B&B for the night.
As we got back, Kenny joked about getting up early to watch the sunrise, which inspired me. So here I am, still sitting by the coast, squinting while the now fully risen sun peers down intently to see what I’m writing about it.
Now I’m off to take the coastal road around the island again. I should just have time to make it back before our breakfast arrives at the B&B.
It’s almost 9:30 a.m., and I’m sitting on a bench partway along the Wild Boar Ecological Trail in the Wild Boar Trench (“ravine” would be a more accurate word). It’s the only one of Xiao Liu Qiu’s three main scenic spots that I didn’t get to yesterday. For some reason, I couldn’t find it, although I realize now that I drove right by the trailhead at least twice.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to announce that a family of Taiwanese tourists just walked past me, the oldest son carrying their pet bird on a leash. Might as well bring the whole household when you go on vacation, right?!
Anyway, I feel as though I’m barely in Taiwan anymore. There’s actually an option to step off the walkways with their pavement and handrails and onto – gasp! – DIRT trails!! Craggy cliffs loom all around, plastered with climbing plants. Spindly trees perch precariously at the top, their snake-like roots weaving their way clear to the bottom, clinging to the vertical rock face. Some don’t even try to find a footing in the rock, but stretch through the air and plunge directly into the soil like freestanding pillars. Vines of several varieties twist their way down the cliff, decorating its surface like intertwining ribbons. Some dangle in midair like tangles of braided rope. Coral boulders lie tumbled here and there, surfaces dusted with bits of dead leaves, live vegetation peeking out their pores, hinting at long-ago earthquakes and landslides. (How did chunks of coral get hundreds of meters from the beach and dozens of meters above sea level, anyway?)
Some trees straddle the ravine, trunks and roots and stiff projecting vines splayed across the open space, clutching the rock on either side. Stringly vines dangle like lifelines, swaying in the faint breeze.
Shards of sunlit sky are visible between the tangle of trinks and branches and leaves directly overhead, but it’s fairly dim here on the floor of the ravine. Insects peep and rattle around me, leaves rustle, and birds shrill from above. But it’s peaceful here, though more humid than the surrounding rea. I feels as though I’m sitting in another world.
For now, I’m going to leave this one to the mosquitoes who are trying so valiantly to defend it, and move on.
|I didn’t see any wild boar (or any indication that they actually
live on Xiao Liu Qiu), but there were a lot of these little
cave mouths that probably lead to ideal homes for them.
10:40 a.m. I’m back in the B&B, waiting for the others to be ready to check out.
There are definitely more people visiting Xiao Liu Qiu today. (The island’s name gets easier to write every time – just in time for us to leave. 🙁 ) Many of the roads are narrow, obviously designed only for 2-way scooter traffic. But you round a bend and suddenly a colorful, hulking bus is trundling toward you, stopping at every scenic spot to disgorge throngs of distracted tourists who stand around in the street as though it was made for that purpose. Or you see herds of matching scooters go zooming down the little highways, most with passengers calling to each other or pointing at things or holding Go-Pros. With tomorrow being a holiday (Ten Ten), I’m glad we’re leaving today. It will only get more crowded.
Written from home later:
|The line outside the restaurant after we left.
We fought with the crowds for the next few hours before our boat left. Janice, Kenny, and I decided to go out for an early lunch before the restaurants filled up, so we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that someone had recommended. We got the last empty table and enjoyed our lunch there, but as we were leaving, we saw that the line to get in now stretched out of the door and down the street!
|Janice, Kenny, and me with our bings.|
We wanted to get bings (tasty frozen desserts – Xiao Liu Qiu has a LOT of places that sell them) from another little restaurant that someone else recommended. Once again, we got the last available table. We ordered a mango bing and a caramel-cashew bing to share. (Both were delicious, though I liked the caramel-cashew one better.) Once again, there was a line out the door by the time we left. It seems the tourists were following us!
Behind the bing restaurant, we took a nature walk through a bamboo garden that had ponds full of turtles and fish (and a particularly pretty butterfly). Then it was time to catch our boat back to Taiwan. (It sounds odd to say that, since Xiao Liu Qiu does belong to Taiwan … but I can’t say “back to the mainland” either, since Taiwan is also an island, and the mainland is China.)
|A butterfly (or moth?) in the bamboo garden|
This time I stood outside for the 20-minute voyage. The sea wasn’t too rough, and it was windy and a really fun ride. Then we got on a shared taxi-van like the one we’d come out there on, followed by a train to Taichung, after which I took a taxi back to home sweet home. It was a great trip! I hope to go back to Xiao Liu Qiu again sometime with Floyd.
I’m sitting here in a scenic spot overlooking the ocean in Xiao Liu Qiu (pronounced “shauw lee oh cho”), a small island off the coast of Taiwan. It’s mid-afternoon and I’ve been having a lovely day driving around the island alone on my rented scooter.
|A-Road B&B: the office is to the left,
rooms in the building to the right
(there are more behind it)
We left Taichung early yesterday morning: me, my coworker Janice, and her husband Kenny. We took the train to Kaohsiung, a 3-hour ride, then rode in a shared taxi-van for another 50 minutes to the harbor, then took a ferry across to Xiao Liu Qiu (about a 20-minute ride).
|my room at A-Road|
We rented scooters and found the place we’d arranged to stay, called A-Road Bed and Breakfast. Turns out it isn’t even officially open for business yet, but somehow we’d been able to get a reservation. I love my little room there — as far as I can remember, though I’ve been blessed with opportunities to travel a lot, this may be the first time I’ve ever had a hotel room all to myself anywhere. It has two beds with duvets, a place to hang up clothes, its own little bathroom, and the all-important air conditioning. And a TV that I have no intention of using. The door opens to the outside, and there are two little translucent windows that there’s no point in opening unless you want a view of a wall about eight inches away, or a water tank. The complimentary packets of drip coffee that awaited me on the mini-fridge when I arrived are labeled “Coffee n Fins”, which is the name of the coffee shop right next door. I especially appreciated that there were not only two little bottles of water for me, but a special faucet in the room for drinking water. (I’ve already used it to refill those two bottles plus my original one multiple times.)
After dropping our luggage off in our rooms, Janice, Kenny, and I went out walking to find lunch. It was fun to explore the neighborhood a little. The nearest major cross street is called Zhong Shan Road, because of course it is. (Anyone who’s traveled around Taiwan much will get that.) A-Road B&B isn’t located in one of the main touristy areas, so there aren’t a lot of dining choices right around it, but we eventually found a little restaurant not far away. I ordered curry chicken on rice, which was delicious and not spicy at all.
|following the rest of the tour group|
We had signed up for a tour of the “intertidal zone”, so we hurried back to A-Road to meet the representative who would lead us to where the tour guide was waiting. Since we were planning to go swimming after that, we put on swimsuits under our clothes and brought our snorkel gear.
We joined a group of a couple dozen Taiwanese tourists down at the beach. The tour guide, who spoke only Chinese, led us around in the shallow water and picked up various sea creatures to tell us about. I was thankful to be wearing water shoes as they had recommended ahead of time but wished my shorts were shorter, since they were soon drenched.
|no idea what this guy is|
Afterward, I found a place up the beach to stash my things between a couple of boats that didn’t look as though anyone would be needing them any time soon and went to try out the snorkel and mask I’d bought for this trip. In retrospect, it may not have been the wisest move to leave my wallet there containing my ID, credit cards, and all the cash I’d brought, but since this is Taiwan, I wasn’t too worried. I just wrapped everything in my towel, left it in the shadows, and waded out to look for some turtles.
|I left my things between the colorful boats on the right.|
Xiao Liu Qiu is famous for its sea turtles, and I did see quite a few. It was a beautiful experience, just floating face down, feeling myself gently rise and fall with each wave, swimming just a little as I let myself drift. All around, the water was filled with the gentle crackling sound that I remember from snorkeling in Indonesia and that I’ve always assumed comes from the coral itself, but it turns out it’s made by the tiny shrimp living inside it. The coral was interesting and pretty, though nothing compares to the gorgeous underwater fantasy kingdoms I’d snorkeled over in Indonesia (but what could possibly compare to that?!). Still, I enjoyed watching interesting varieties of fish and avoiding hundreds (maybe thousands) of bristling sea urchins, some of which were the largest I’ve ever seen, about the size of soccer balls.
And the sea turtles. Yes, I swam among sea turtles for the first time in my life. Sometimes they appeared seemingly out of nowhere, so close that I had to hurriedly back away, since there are laws about not getting within five meters of them. They were all sizes: some obviously youngsters, others almost as long from flipper to flipper as I am tall! I got to watch them grazing (is that the right word?) on the algae that cover the chunks of coral.
|instructions at the BBQ restaurant|
Eventually I returned to shore to find all my belongings waiting safely where I had left them. That evening, Janice and Kenny and I dined at an outdoor barbecue restaurant just down the street from our B&B, where it was all we could eat for 389 NT. We chose veggies, sweet potatoes, and various kinds of meat and seafood from the refrigerators that held the buffet items, and then grilled them at our own table. All the while, we were watched intently by several well-fed cats that wandered from table to table trying to convince people they were starving. It was a fun and delicious meal.
For the next morning, the proprietor of our B&B had given us pictures of four breakfast options to choose from, all of which she would pick up from local eateries. I can’t tell you what mine was, except that it involved a bowl of soft, starchy paste topped with ground pork and a few pieces of slightly-sweet Taiwanese sausage. (We had the option of soy milk, coffee, or milk tea along with breakfast, but I forewent them because I planned to try out Coffee n Fins later.) There was also a complimentary package of twisty fried snacks for each of us, and an extra drink that apparently is a local specialty. I’m not sure what the drink was called, but it was sweet and tasty and involved a syrupy base with grass jelly and some kind of little seeds (not basil seed or passion fruit) mixed in.
|one of many little harbors in Xiao Liu Qiu|
After breakfast, the other two went off to spend the day snorkeling in various places along the coast, but I wanted to see more of the island. I wasn’t sure if I’d end up wishing for company, but it has turned out to be a really fun day for me, even spent all on my own. I decided to do a circuit of the island, stopping to see the sights along the way, so my scooter and I set off along the coastal road. It was a lovely, quiet drive with almost no traffic except for the occasional scooter. And the views! It’s so pretty around here, with the ocean on one side and often hills or cliffs on the other, along a gently winding road that dips in and out of shade and sunshine, up and down gentle rises. I’ve been getting more confident in my driving, and it’s been really fun to just feel the wind in my face as I zip along. This little electric scooter can’t go terribly fast — my top speed down a hill was 44 KPH (about 27 MPH) — but everything feels faster and more exciting in the open air!
|Beauty Cave had lots of warnings like this|
My first stop was the “Beauty Cave”, which wasn’t really very beautiful, but involved a pleasant stroll in and out of a series of small caves, under overhangs, and along the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
|me with my popsicle|
|some of the interesting sculptures|
Then I looked through a nearby gallery of interesting wooden sculptures before exploring the cave itself.
|I assumed this was true at the time …|
|an ocean view from the Black Devil Cave|
Once again, the “cave” involved a hiking trail (read: paved walkway with stairs) through and near a series of small caves and overhangs, with plenty of gorgeous ocean views. Several times, I stopped to just watch the waves and talk to God for a while.
|Coffee n Fins|
Eventually, I ended up back at A-Road, where I stopped in my room to replenish my drinking water supply, and then stepped next door to try out Coffee n Fins, which hadn’t been open earlier. It turned out to be a tiny coffee shop less than half the size of my kitchen back home, with a little family-style table in the middle. I saw that others had taken off their shoes at the door, so I did the same. Inside, the proprietor sat eating a bowl of noodles, making conversation with his colleague and two customers who were drinking coffee. Since there was no English menu, I was thankful that the boss spoke English. He offered me various types of coffee from around the world and let me smell the beans. I didn’t tell him I’m not enough of a coffee connoisseur to detect any difference between them! Though they didn’t specialize in fancy ways to prepare coffee, I asked for and received a good iced latte (with one big spherical ice “cube”) that hit the spot on this warm day. When I inquired about sugar, he looked dubious and dug through a cupboard but eventually found some for me. He talked me into staying to drink my latte there instead of taking it to go, as I’d originally requested. His air conditioning argument won me over, along with the fact that I had no other good place nearby to drink it, unless I wanted to sit in my room, which I didn’t. We all made conversation over our coffee or noodles (the others spoke varying amounts of English), and I found out that the two guys who work there also give scuba diving lessons/tours. That explains the name of their business.
Latte downed, I drove off to look for somewhere to get lunch. I explored the main town and tried out some sidestreets before I eventually found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with exactly what I’d been hoping for: an English menu. I ordered a bowl of “mixed noodle soup” that contained clams, fish balls, ground pork, and green leafy veggies. Once again, I spent some quality time with my Kindle as I enjoyed the tasty meal.
As I drove around the town and waterfront afterward, stopping to take pictures here and there, I found myself wishing I could write about my day. I had purposely chosen not to bring my laptop on this trip, but the writer in me is embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even bring pen and paper! I knew I could always blog about it after I got back home, but the details wouldn’t be fresh in my mind by then, and the words wanted out in the meantime.
|the place where what you’ve just read got written|
Finding a stationery store, I went in and purchased a thin notebook and two pens. Then I rode around a little longer, back on the coastal road, sure I would find just the right place to stop and write. I ended up taking a narrow turn-off that led me to a scenic spot where there happens to be a little glass-topped table and a couple of fairly comfortable chairs. It’s the perfect place! I’ve been sitting here for almost two hours now, listening to the surf and recording my simple adventures so far.
(Note from later: obviously the transferring did happen. 🙂 )
I’ll sign off now and write some more tomorrow. Time to go rejoin the others and figure out where to eat.
Well, Clive is bilingual, so we passed the phone to our kind old lady, and the two of them had quite a conversation. A couple of times she passed it back to Floyd so Clive could update him what they’d been saying, and then it went back to the lady again. (But we still didn’t really have a very clear picture of what they were figuring out for us.) Finally the lady hung up, passed the phone back to Floyd, and gestured for me to get on the back of her scooter. What else could I do? I grabbed my purse and the laptop case, waved goodbye to Floyd, and got on behind her.
I didn’t make these up, and not all of them apply to Floyd and me, but I think they’re pretty good! After nearly six years in Taiwan, I can definitely relate to a lot of them (and most of the rest at least make enough sense now to be worth a chuckle)!
1. You can order the entire McDonald’s menu in Chinese.
2. You decide it makes more sense to drive a motorcycle instead of a car.
3. More than one garment has been ruined by betel-nut spit.
4. Someone doesn’t stare at you and you wonder why.
5. You look both ways before crossing the sidewalk.
6. Hsiaohsing Wine tastes good.
7. You turn left from the right lane.
8. 70 degrees Fahrenheit feels cold.
9. You see three people on a motorcycle and figure there’s room for two more.
10. “Squid” sounds better than “steak”.
11. You don’t notice the smell.
12. There are more things strapped to your motorcycle than you ever put in a car.
13. Looking at a dog makes you hungry.
14. You stop conjugating verbs.
15. You drive on the shoulder to pass traffic.
16. The main reason you stop at a 7-11 is to buy tea eggs.
17. You expect a Chinese New Year’s bonus.
18. Firecrackers don’t wake you up.
19. You spend two hours and US$75 to go get potato skins and buffalo wings.
20. You can distinguish the Taiwanese language from Hakka.
21. Your family stops asking you when you’ll be coming back.
22. Taxi drivers are considered “good drivers”.
23. You withdraw your money from the bank during Chinese missile tests.
24. Beer really isn’t so expensive.
25. You stop and look both ways before driving through a red light.
26. “A”, “an” and “the” aren’t necessary parts of speech.
27. You know when the next “big bai-bai” is.
28. Smoking is one of the dinner courses.
29. You don’t mind when your date picks her/his nose in public.
30. You wear out your horn before your brakes.
31. The police call you to get information about other foreigners.
32. You know which place has the best noodles and duck meat at 3:00 a.m.
33. a) You (male) wear white socks with suits and black socks with tennis shorts. b) You (female) wear socks with pantyhose in summer.
34. People who knew you when you first arrived don’t recognize you.
35. You speak Chinese to your foreign friends.
36. You own a karaoke machine.
37. None of your shoes have laces.
38. Chinese stop you on the street to ask for directions.
39. You leave the plastic on new furniture.
40. Forks feel strange.
41. You can spot the differences between the China News and the China Post.
42. The shortest distance between two points involves going through an alley.
43. You wear blue rubber flip-flops at work.
44. People don’t see you for months, and when they do, they don’t ask you where you’ve been.
45. Your deodorant stick has cobwebs on it.
46. You check that the karaoke machine is working before boarding a wild chicken bus.
47. Chinese remakes of Western songs sound better than the originals.
48. You stare at other foreigners.
49. Over half of your clothes were bought at night markets.
50. You become an expert on bug zappers: the best brands and where to get them.
51. The majority of foreigners who have been in Taiwan longer than you are buried here.
52. You find yourself saying, “Oh geez, not ANOTHER Year of the Rat.”
53. You know which turn signal should be on when driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
54. You get homesick for Chinese food while away from Taiwan.
55. Praying at a temple for a winning lottery number becomes a regular thing to do.
56. It becomes a tradition that at least a part of Christmas dinner is stir-fried.
57. Other foreigners give you a funny look when you tell them how long you’ve been here.
58. You can’t think of any good reason to leave.
59. The Statute of Limitations has expired and you still don’t go home.
60. You understand that smiling and nodding is Chinese body language for “Stop speaking bad Mandarin and leave me alone.”
61. Passing a construction site, you realize metal scaffolding is much more dangerous than bamboo.
62. You’ve spent more time on the island since 1990 than any of the Taiwanese you know.
63. The last few vacations you’ve had have been around Taiwan on company outings.
64. You’ve used up more than one phone card on local calls.
65. Locals are surprised to find out you can’t vote in the upcoming election.
66. Your pets are bilingual.
67. Pizza just doesn’t taste right unless there’s corn on it.
68. Your preferred parking spot is on a sidewalk (and you get upset when someone else parks there).
69. Most meaningful conversations take place in doorways or on slow-moving motorcycles.
70. You can de-bone a piece of chicken in your mouth within seconds.
71. Your job title has more than three words.
72. You think the service in the restaurants isn’t THAT bad.
73. You serve Shaoshing wine at home.
74. You’re constantly the first on the elevator to hit the “door close” button.
75. You start cutting off the gravel trucks.
76. You prefer squat toilets.
77. You think having a scooter would be fun.
78. You eat squid on a stick.
79. You no longer find those strange and humorous articles in the paper to send home.
80. Your most commonly used Mandarin phrase is no longer “wo ting bu dong”.
81. Your answer to an “either/or” question is “yes”.
82. The fashions in the stores look really hip.
83. You’re into Sumo on NHK.
84. Chou tofu is no longer stinky.
85. You go to a nice restaurant and look for the rice bowl to put your food in.
86. You wish they had Lazy Susans in the middle of the tables at TGI Fridays.
87. You spend more time driving ON the lines than in between them.
88. You read books from back to front.
89. You start to like Kaoliang brandy more than XO.
90. You think packs of dogs are cute.
91. You are on home leave and you say “hsie hsie” instead of “thank you”.
92. You call it home.
93. You’re ready to name the betel nut as a nutritional supplement.
94. You think that $3,000,000 NT for a golf club membership is a steal.
95. You drive like this all the time.
96. You think the Taipei-Tamsui ferry is world class cruising.
97. You think that Taiwan is really trying to protect endangered species.
98. Your pinkie nail is over one inch long.
99. You stop using spell check on your word processor.
100. You buy round trip air tickets from Taipei.
101. You are worried when you DON’T see the soldiers on a bridge.
102. You think that ICRT is quality radio.
103. You tell the taxi drivers to hurry up.
104. You think your nose IS kind of big.
105. You hum along to the tunes in the taxi.
106.You’ve left umbrellas in more than 3 resturants.
107. You understand ICRT traffic reports.
108. You keep stuffed animals in your car.
109. You think walking up Yangmingshan looks like fun.
110. US $4.00 seems just about right for a cup of coffee.
111. You can tell the difference between Spring rain, the Plum rain, and the rainy season.
112. The last time you visited your mother you presented her with your business card.
113. The latest you can stay out is 11:30 pm, even on a weekend.
114. You can tell, just by looking, which moon cake has the egg in it.
115. You’re getting allergic to fresh air.
116. You get used to being woken up by the “trash-truck tune” instead of a clock.
117. Cable TV reminds you of boring commercials and stock market advisories.
118. Everything you own is pirated.
119. You start to treat your scooter like a spouse.
120. You get used to not paying any tips while traveling.
121. Your first reaction in buying things is to ask for discounts.
122. Your first reaction in hearing the national anthem is to think of the Chinese elementary school.
123. You get addicted to MSG.
124. You get dogdoophobia — the fear of stepping on dog doo when walking around.
125. You say “Wei?” instead of “Hello?” when you pick up the phone.
126. The red light is merely a suggestion to you.
127. You talk on your cellular phone, play Tetris, smoke, and chew betel nut, all at the same time.
128. You always ask your best friend back home when he’s going to get a motorcycle.
129. You greet people by inspecting whatever they’re carrying or telling them how fat they’ve gotten.
130. You can no longer tell the difference between a burp and the hiccups, a cracker and a cookie, or toast and bread.
131. You’re on a first name basis with the staff at the local KTV.
132. The perfect date ends at a KTV.
Can you think of anything else that should be on this list? Feel free to add it in the comments!