Friday, September 26, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Tainan part 3

All these pictures (except for the last) were all taken on Saturday 23rd of August. One of the most exciting things we did was hire a bicycle for my brother so that we could ride around together over the weekend. Note that it was not where we went with the hired bicycle that was exciting but that we hired it at all. Andrea thought that the CPC petrol station on Jiankang Road had bicycles for hire. I, being perhaps less observant than her, had no recollection of such a service. How can I make this reminiscence shorter? Jamie and I went. Talked to guy. CPC guy happy/crazy. Bicycle cost = NT$100/1 day or NT$160/2 days which equates to AU$4/1 day or AU$6/2 days. Beautiful. We hired the bicycle on Saturday morning and by Monday lunchtime we would be in Taipei (after returning bicycle).

After procuring a bike for Jamie we met up with Andrea on her bike and our first stop was... another CPC petrol station. This time Jamie hung out while Andrea and I pumped our tyres up. Jamie took this shot of us and our bikes. We bought our bikes not long after we moved to Taiwan. I managed to get a bike with an extra-large frame, a difficult assignment here in Taiwan. At one of the many bike shops we enquired at, the manager offered to build a bike for me using a combination of new and used parts. He happened to have a few extra large bike frames somewhere that he couldn't sell and I guess I was a prime candidate buyer. The bike is a lot better than the one I have at home so I will be taking it with me wherever I go next.

When our collective tyres were all inflated to their recommended pressure in pounds per square inch we rode a few blocks to the west and came to the Eternal Golden Castle, also known as the Uhrkuenni Battery. According to the great sage Wiki, Eternal Golden Castle:
is a defensive castle in Anping, Tainan, Taiwan. The castle was built in 1874 by the famous Qing official Shen Baozhen in order to safeguard the coast and to defend the island against Japanese invasions.

In 1895, when Taiwan was invaded by Japan, the Taiwanese people fought against the Japanese battleship from this fortress. During the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese government sold some of the fort's cannons in order to help pay for the war. With its cannons gone or obsolete, the fortress lost its military value.

As you can see in the photo, after being approached and greeted by Andrea, the little boy in the yellow shirt is running to tell his mum that a tall foreign girl with long, blonde hair said hello to him and that she looks just like Uma Thurman from the movie he watched with his dad on TV last night.

There are plenty of plaques in English about the fort about the fort (intentional and correct repetition). Apparently this one is a bastion-style artillery fort. It's still hard to realise that people died protecting this place from assault, especially when you're surrounded by merry-making tourists with icecreams and fizzy drinks.

One of the fort's cannons (or cannon; which is plural?). This one is a replica of the original.

Later that day we made our way to the local beach where we were joined by some friends of ours. We enjoyed the end of the daylight hours, tossing the frisbee around and generally enjoying being at the beach. In this shot, John and I are setting up an extremely cunning and convincing optical illusion shot in which it will appear that I am holding a miniature sun between the tips of my fingers at arms length. So clever!

When the last of the light had faded it was time to enjoy barbecued comestibles (edible things). A great feasting was had and a great dinner was eaten by all. The star chef of the evening was the admirable and worthy Andrea Catherine Crowe, barbecue chef extraordinaire, cute culinarian, and heavy heater (sounds like heavy hitter). I think we brought the vegetable kebabs to this one, just like the last one and the one before that.

You know that look on a dog's face when you drop a big bowl of a special treat in front of him? Well I am that dog and Andrea has just dropped a chocolate birthday cake down in front of me. I'm sure she made me promise to be a good boy before allowing me to get my little paws on it. It was actually a week or two after my birthday but we hadn't gotten around to doing anything about it so Andrea got a cake so that we could make a mention of it while everyone was around.

This photo represents the last photo taken while Jamie was in Tainan. Jamie took the photo with his camera. Here you see us standing on the street around the corner from our apartment building. We have just eaten breakfast at the adjacent Laguardia breakfast restaurant and I am calling our friend Craig to take him up on his offer of meeting up for coffee. Not long after this I am downloading the photos from Jamie's camera onto Andrea's laptop. On the morning of the next day, Jamie will pack his bags and we will be driven to the HSR station by a demonic taxi driver and then catch the HSR train up to Taipei to spend a couple of nights before Jamie boards his plane for other lands.

So ended Jamie's time in our adoptive home town.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Tainan part 2

While Jamie was here in Tainan city we got to show him some of our favourite sights and favourite restaurants. These photos are all from the same day. Thus I present to you: A Day in Tainan: A rollicking romp through the land of temples and Taoists and random, day-or-night firecrackers and fireworks. I really just liked the sound of "rollicking romp". This is not really a romp, just a rather plain photologue.

I would be kidding myself if I tried to explain this structure. I don't know anything about it besides that it stands sentinel over one of the roads near the beach. Obviously it looks like it was constructed for military purposes but there are no signs telling us how it might be significant. Just another relic of the island's history of invasion and exposure.

On this particular day Andrea was at work and I was enjoying the chance to take Jamie of a tour of Tainan. The old tower stands on the side of a road to our closest beach and running for about half a kilometre next to the beach is a stretch of four-lane highway (2 lanes either way) that is well lit at night, fenced on either side, and pristine in terms of the condition of the driving surface. The strange thing about it is that it terminates in one end suddenly as though it had been cut from a longer stretch of highway elsewhere and plonked down here in Tainan so that now you would drive straight into thick coastal bushland. At the other end is a barrier of gates that are closed most of the time to cars, but seem to be open sporadically to scooters, fishermen in particular taking advantage of the access. Anyway, it makes a fantastic piece of road for driving practice and this is where I brought my brother to let him drive the scooter around. Watch the video.

See... the two lighthouses that mark the harbour entrance.
See... the long arm of the harbour which hosts so many fishing expeditions by guys with fishing rods and the latest in fluorescent jigs.
See... Adrian the road-hog about to punch the air after winning a game or chicken with a blowfish-laden, betelnut-chewing, blue-truck-driving, swarthy middle-aged Taiwanese man. Nah, just kidding. It's just a dream.

The jade market. An interesting place full of more jade bracelets than you could poke a stick at, or two sticks, or as many sticks as you could find. I know sticks grow on trees unlike money so really you could probably find more sticks than there are jade bracelets to poke them at, even if you limited yourself to one bracelet per stick. But then I haven't talked about how many of them are genuine jade and how many are synthetic. There are means and ways of determining the purity and quality of the jade. You should hold it up to the light and look into it; you can tap it with a piece of something solid and listen to the clink it emits; you can ask the jade-monger (if ever there has been such a prosodic construction) but who knows if he or she is telling you the truth or desperate to make a sale. Of course there are other wares available. Jamie did purchase a couple of things. He was happy to find that you could buy beer at the jade market and that he did. Here he is holding a Heineken in his hands while the buying and selling of green rock continues apace.

This is my class, or was my class last semester. They went a little crazy when we arrived. I took a tube of Vegemite and spread it on some bread and handed it out at afternoon snack time. Most of them liked it, the experience helped along perhaps by my qualification that it was salty and not sweet, tasting like a popular Taiwanese dish. Some of them asked for a second piece. I have holidays but for the students, my holidays mean Chinese class for them and for the Taiwanese co-teachers that means teaching instead of assisting. My co-teacher Miranda is very capable but I'm sure she would rather be assisting than doing the teaching.

This is a short video my brother shot inside the markets where I usually buy my vegetables, pig's trotters, boiled chicken heads, and the other good foods that make for a great dinner.

And at the end of the day Jamie cooked us dinner in our kitchen. He made us a Thai dish that he likes. I swear he always pulls the same face when I photograph him on the kitchen with kitchen utensils. The meal was really good by the way.

So that was one day in Tainan. A day well-spent and immortalised forever on my bloggish blog.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Tainan part 1

Aways back in the first months of the year, my brother and I came up with the idea that he might come to Taiwan to visit us next time he travelled overseas for a holiday. The idea stuck and became a plan with commitments as Jamie organised a flight and booked his weeks off many months in advance. Eventually the day of his arrival approached and the timeline-landmarks that I had seen from a time afar arrived: the school graduation show, the final week of the school semester, and my birthday. Remarkably, my birthday fell on the day after the last day of the semester, and it was on my birthday that Andrea and I took the bus up to Taipei so that we could have a couple of days there before Jamie arrived.

And then the big day arrived. We caught a shuttle bus from central Taipei out to Taoyuan where the airport is. Jamie arrived at 11:50 in the morning at Chiang Kai Shek airport (now known as Taiwan Taiyuan International Airport). After the usual gruelling wait in the chilly airport (AC set a bit too high) Jamie arrived to our relief. Our first stop was the bar/restaurant at the end of the airport where we were able to introduce Jamie to Taiwanese beer, the first of many he would sup at leisure of this isle of free and easy alcohol.

The three of us are about to board the much-vaunted high-speed-rail train that connects the major cities of the west-coast of Taiwan. It is based on the Shinkansen high-speed rail system of Japan and has led to the discontinuation of half of the domestic flights between Taipei and other west-coast cities since it began operation in January last year. A regular unreserved seat from Tainan to Taipei costs about $AU35. It was a good ride and gave us all a chance to start on all the catching up we had to do.

Jamie and Andrea enjoy the delightful shuttle-bus voyage from the fancy, new high-speed rail station to downtown Tainan.

On a random street on a quest to find a second-hand shop, Jamie enjoys a Japanese Asahi beer, not yet having been seduced by the wiles and virtues of local iced tea.

The An-ping Old Canal (or Old Anping Canal) depending on your sense of proper word order. This green and shady laneway not far from our apartment is a rare thing in Taiwan. It runs along the path of, not surprisingly, the old An-ping canal. I love interpretive signage and this piece explains that the old canal system was formed naturally after the Taijiang Lagoon became silted by mud and rock slides following a storm in 1823. The canal was connected with the five major waterways upstream which are today called the Old Five Channels. In 1858 a dragon named Feng-Qi came and boiled all the water away with his fiery dragon breath after being angered by a local fisherman who sang very badly at a KTV stall by the riverside. Okay, I made the last bit up, the bit about the dragon. But the rest is apparently true.

I like the colour of this photo. Our local petrol station is illuminated and glows surreally in the midst of the surrounding dusk darkness.

Friday, September 19, 2008

PTA, art workshop, scooter registration, and riding my bicycle

I thought I might write a normal "what's happening in my life?" post for a change.

Work has been really busy in the past three weeks since we started the new semester. Or should that be: I have been really busy with work for the last three weeks.

Today is Friday and tomorrow morning I will go in to school from 9-12 for an art workshop where we - the teachers - will learn how to make all of the art projects that we will teach this semester. Next week we have PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) on Thursday.

I ride my bike to work almost every day and I'm proud to be doing that. I decided yesterday that I didn't like riding the scooter to work. Perhaps the most accurate explanation I can come up with for why I formed that opinion is that it doesn't feel good, whatever that means. But I feel good about riding my bicycle to work, despite sweating a bit and being a bit washed out by the time I get there. I have a great bicycle here and I'm going to take it with me when I leave Taiwan and go to Canada or Australia.

We just received the new registration papers for our scooter. When I enquired at work the other day I discovered that the scooter registration actually expired back in April and I guess we've been driving it illegally for five months. Actually, the registration is less important than the insurance. If we were to have any kind of accident without insurance then we could face stiff financial penalties by which I mean we might have to pay some guy or girl bucket-fuls of money for the damage caused to their Mercedes Benz or BMW. It's surprising how many imported luxury cars there are here in Tainan. I guess a lot of people much get rich from the businesses they own and run. Or perhaps people have more money to spend on cars because they spend so much less on accommodation. Of course, apartment living is the norm and so the costs of housing are lower, as is the associated upkeep and maintenance.

Before I go I will say that I found an internet site that has song lyrics and Utube widgets so that you can listen to the song, watch the video (often the actual music video that was released to promote the song), and sing along karaoke-style from the lyrics sheet if you want. Brilliant. I won't put a link up here because I'm sure there are better sites than the advertisement/spyware-ridden site that I am using right now.

See you later

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Penghu pt.4: North of Magong

The following day we awoke to a day burgeoning with promise. We had wheels and we had an island to explore. From the windows of our hotel room we could see the southern arm of the island as it curved around under the horizon and ended at Snakehead Mountain where we had been at dusk the night before. The sky was a study in contrast: a beautiful clear blue sky overhead with a thick, ominous band of cloud bordering the horizon. It became apparent in the time it took us to wash and pack our bags that that thick, brooding menace of cloud was rapidly moving in our direction veiling everything underneath as it went with a shadow. As we handed in our room keys to the receptionists the storm broke and the downpour began. After some hesitation we decided to get wet and scoot the few blocks along the street to the local McDonald's where Jamie could get some breakfast and we knew we would be dry. While inside McDonald's a gale drenched the town. The wind was doing its best to blow water through the slim fissure between the glass door and the wall of glass next to our table, resulting in a pool of water building up under our table. However, the gale passed quickly and by the time we were ready to leave it had almost stopped, leaving behind what seemed to be the same beautiful blue sky I had seen earlier. The weather for the rest of the day was perfect.

The main land mass of Penghu consists of three main islands (Makung, Paisha, and Hsiyu) connected by one main road (the 203) and two bridges (Chungcheng Bridge and the Penghu Great Bridge). On our journey north we stopped just before the first bridge to have a look around. We saw this interesting landscape. The tide was out and not at its lowest. At first we didn't notice the solitary figure moving in the landscape. This man or woman was bent over a lot and kept prodding the ground with a pole like a hiking pole. They were obviously looking for something; some kind of shellfish perhaps.

Across the exposed mud-flats from where the man or woman was prospecting for invertebrates the Jhongtun wind-towers arose majestically from the greenery. When we got across the bridge we got a closer look at the windmills. You can't really appreciate the size and scale of these things without getting up close. You can watch the video taken from scooterback (as opposed to horseback).

The Jhongtun windmills (of which there are eight).

The Penghu Great Bridge (also called the Trans-ocean bridge). This photo was taken looking back across the bridge after an interesting crossing. The wind blew really hard against us and occasionally a blast of wind would suddenly come from the side trying to knock us off. We had to slow right down to 30 or 40 km/hr and it took a while to get across because it is a long bridge. I'm sure the conditions made it seem like it was taking forever.

Upon crossing the great bridge we stopped for a rest and had a look around. One of the first things we noticed was an old pillbox (small military bunker or dug-in guard post with a loophole for firing out of) that had been overcome with vegetation. We wandered down on to the now well-exposed rocks that the receding tide had left behind. The sea had revealed a fascinating landscape of small and large pools of clear water, some connected by rills or rivulets and interesting shapes in the rocks. All the while the pools were slowly draining away, the water making its way by charm and fortune to the rest of the sea that lingered nearby. We stopped for a long while there on the rocks exploring that temporary world and the things that lived there.

The Siyu Western fort. Tunnels, passages, cannon sites. I can't remember much about it actually. I do remember that there was a little dog sleeping in one of the cavities in the top of the parapet. I was a bit worried that it was sick or dead because it didn't move the whole time I was there. It's hard to make the connection between military sites like these and real warfare. People probably died in this fortress or around it but that just doesn't seem real to me.

The Penghu Aquarium. Not bad. The tunnel is pretty cool. This shot is taken in the tunnel, a passageway that has been built along the bottom of a large tank in which all sorts of species of fish swim about without apparent conflict. You can watch the video Jamie took walking through the tunnel:

On the way back to Magong city we stopped at a 7-11 for a drink while a rain shower passed. Before returning the scooter we stopped at a bank so that Jamie could change some of his Australian notes. Once our fantastic, new scooter was gone we were left with a sense of disempowerment, reduced to walking on the non-existent footpaths as a means of getting around; but that was okay because apart from lunch at a Shabu-shabu restaurant our only other destination was a terminal one, at the ferry terminal. After a rough ferry crossing that took much longer than it should have and in which water poured in through one section of ceiling, we reached Budai near Chiayi. There we met a man from the agency we had booked our ferry tickets with. As part of the deal he drove us back to our apartment in Tainan city. For company we had a group of seven or eight university boys who had enjoyed a high school reunion on Penghu and needed to get back to Kaohsiung.

We had spent only two days on Penghu but it sits in my mind vividly and splendidly; fresh, heartening sea air, green hills, so much to see and do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Penghu pt.3: South of Magong

Accommodation - check! Hunger sated - check! Wheels - check! Let's explore.

Without really planning it we headed south from Magong towards the southern end of the island chain.

I really wish that I understood more about the temples in Taiwan. There are so many of them and some are incredibly ornate and impressive in a way that no skyscraper, no matter how tall, can be. I remember having an argument along these lines with Andrea: Do the impressive buildings of yore lose some of their impact in a modern world where people have the experience of bigger, larger structures? It's hard to imagine what what an ordinary person living in the middle ages thought or felt walking into a structure like a medieval cathedral. They were built to evoke another world or another plane of existence, a sacred realm made manifest where miracles and religious lore seem so much more real and possible. And they were huge by the standards of the time, grand in comparison and rich beyond the means of almost everyone. I still don't know who was right in that argument, Andrea or myself, but temples in Taiwan really are a kind of portal into another world and I wish I had an entry coupon so that I could understand what it's all about.

Close to the end of the arc of islands in the village of Fongguei and the Fongguei Caves. We had no idea what the Fongguei Caves were but it sounded interesting (I like caves) so we went to check it out. As it turned out, Fongguei is Chinese for "blast furnace" and the caves were actually what we would call "blow holes" back in Australia. The waves come in and push into fissures in or under the rocks and force air out of holes or cracks at high speed producing a sound like... like... a monster breathing. Or a blast furnace. We took some photos of the beautiful setting, the late afternoon sun trying to break through the clouds, lighting up the crags and rocks where the land meets the sea.

I think these particular photos are best seen large.

I think the end of the island arc (on the southern end anyway) is really Shetou Hill. Here, you are actually pretty close to Magong City as the Black-faced Spoonbill flies and when we were there the lights of the city were coming on as the day drew to a close, lighting the narrow stretch of water between here and there with a radiance of colour.

In the foreground you can see... me! In the background you can see Mt Shetou, also known as Snakehead mountain because of the shape of the peninsula and hill.

You can read about the significance of the site yourself. The important bits are that Snakehead mountain was the site of the first western-style fort built in Taiwan. The fort was built in 1622 by the Dutch and then destroyed in 1624 when the Dutch were attacked by a Chinese fleet from Fujian province. The Dutch relocated and built the second western-style fort in Taiwan in An-ping, just down the street from where we live now.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Penghu pt.2: Magong City

The flight from Tainan airport to Penghu was a short one, less than 30 minutes. It was fascinating seeing familiar areas of the mainland from the air. We touched down at Magong airport and then wandered into the terminal to try to get some kind of transportation. Unfortunately neither Jamie nor I possess an international or Taiwanese driver's license so the woman at the car-hire desk wouldn't let us hire a scooter. After a messy bit of negotiation and explanation in broken English and Chinese we got a taxi into town to a scooter rental shop. The first question from the woman at the shop was some form of "Do you have an international license?". My negative reply was met with a negative look. And then she let us rent a scooter anyway. And then we were free on two wheels in the main city of Penghu, Magong.

(from Wikipedia:

Makung (Chinese: 馬宮) is the county seat of Penghu, in Taiwan Province, Taiwan (Republic of China). Makung is on the western part of the main Pescadores island.

The earliest temple in the country to the goddess Matsu is found on Makung. Makung is therefore also known as "Magong Ao" (馬宮澳 or originally, 媽宮澳), or "Matsu Palace Seaport". The first character of the name was changed from "mother" (媽, mā) to "horse" (馬, mǎ) in 1920 under the Japanese Occupation. There had been proposal from the Executive Yuan to revert the character, but there was little support.


Our first two priorities were food and accommodation. Just down the road from where we rented the scooter we found a buffet restaurant with an array of trays scantily clad in an assortment of mediocre-looking comestibles [I used the word "comestibles" here in honour of my friend Richard].

Jamie looks happy with his buffet meal but would later regret it perhaps. It put him off buffet meals.

With our bellies full of food, some familiar and some not so, we took a short tour of the city by way of finding a hotel for the night. We noticed this lovely little park where children may slide down the slide, swing on the swing, and imagine they are fending off waves of attacking Japanese or Dutch soldiers intent on sweeping over the island and subduing any resistance. You have to understand that Penghu, like the rest of Taiwan, has had several masters including pirates, the Dutch, Koxinga (son of a Chinese merchant father and Japanese woman born in Japan and loyal to the waning Ming Dynasty), Chinese Qing (Manchu) dynasty, the French, and the Japanese, apart from the Taiwanese themselves. With a history of being conquered it is not surprising that references to island defense are not hard to find in the landscape or the cultural imagination.

We found this beautiful house constructed of various kinds of bricks, coral rocks, stones, tiles and ceramics. Indeed, coral rock proved to be a very useful building material on the island.

Down by the water side we found several of these boats, unusual for their arrays of huge, incandescent light bulbs. They are squid-fishing boats and the lights draw the squid up from below.

After enquiring at several hotels near the downtown area of Magong, we settled on the rather unassuming Hsinyi Hotel. Being a Thursday, they were not terribly busy and offered us one of the better rooms at a great rate. This photo describes the view from the window of our hotel room. Note the clouds in the sky, reminders of the recent typhoon and how close we came to not being able to travel to Penghu at all.