Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On an island of many names: Xiao Liouciou, part 1

Samagi. Little Liouciou. Xiǎo Liúqiú. Hsiao Liu-ch'iu. Lamay Island. Golden Lion Island. That's six different names for an island that covers an area of just under seven square kilometres. That works out at almost one name per square kilometre!

From Wikipedia:
It has an area of 6.8 km² and a population of over 14,500 residents in 8 villages. It lies 15 km (8 nautical miles) west of Tungkang and it is Taiwan's only coral island.
Anyway, this pretty little island was where Andrea and I spent two days after my brother left. Jamie left in the middle of the second week and I faced the prospect of returning to work on the following Monday. Andrea and I decided to leave for Xiao Liouciou on Friday night and return on Sunday afternoon.

After Andrea finished work on the Friday we caught the local city bus that stops outside our apartment building into the city and alighted close to the central train station. From there we caught a bus to Kaohsiung and then another bus to the town of Donggang further down the coast. After walking quite a distance in search of a hotel we decided to return to a place we had passed by an hour earlier. It was a little expensive but came with a buffet breakfast. Our options were few and our feet sore and so we resigned ourselves to paying more than we would have liked for luxuries we didn't need or didn't have time for (e.g., air-conditioning, flat screen television, refrigerator, etc).

We were up and eating the buffet breakfast early the next morning so that we could catch the first ferry of the day to the island. At about 7am the ferry departed from the less-than-stimulating town of Donggang and we sat back to enjoy the short ride to the prospect of sunny Xiao Liouciou. Well, to be honest we didn't sit down much. It was nicer outside on deck despite the ceiling being a little too low for me to stand properly upright.

I spent most of the journey either sitting on a steel rail or standing beneath an area of the ceiling that was a little higher than the rest of the ceiling. You can see the recess in the ceiling in the photo above, just to the right of my head. I did, however, get the opportunity to talk to a man who told me that he had worked in Australia at some kind of ship-building yard. Obviously an avid conversationalist, he kept me amused, perhaps bemused, for most of the journey to the island with his inscrutable talk of building ships in Australia.

Here he is explaining the laws of the sea to me. The furrow on my brow indicates not doubt or confusion but awe and wonder at this man's grasp of nautical knowledge. Maybe.

The trip was mercifully short and my conversation with the old sea dog was cut short by our impending arrival at the Xiao Liouciou terminal.

Here's Andrea posing in front of the terminal itself. It was a beautiful day to be on an island. It was a beautiful day to be anywhere.

Another view of the harbour, this time of the harbourfront townscape. Strangely, the place felt a little like an Italian seaside town. Strangely, I was able to feel this strongly about this without having ever been to Italy, much less to any Italian seaside towns.

So here we were on Xiao Liouciou. This is a good time for a bit of exposition copied from the Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area website ( click here to explore the glossy side of Xiao Liouciou). Dapeng Bay is one of thirteen National Scenic Areas in Taiwan. I think the designation gives those places a status lower than National Park but still offers some protection.
Liouciou is originally named Samagi. It's history can trace back to 1775 AD (Qian-long year 20, Qing Dynasty), when Mr. Lee Yue reached the island from his hometown at today's Kaohsiung Port (of Fu-jian province, Mainland China then). The first time ancestor Lee stepped on the land was to take shelter from the storms. After scrupulous adventure, however, he found the place inhabitable for its copious catch of fish and nice weather. Taking advantage of its natural resources, Lee called about 20 Lee families to migrate overseas here and started their living by fishery. For being separated from the motherland Taiwan, this island to the Lees was just like a ball drifting on the sea, from which Liouciou (drifting ball) was named. To tell Liouciou from Okinawa, Japan, which pronunciation is the same as Liouciou in Chinese, people here is used to calling it Little Liouciou.
Yeah okay. We'll talk about the island's darker side a bit later.

Our first move on the island was to find our accommodation which we had reserved several days earlier. We had decided in advance to stay at the catchy-sounding Hsiao Liouciou Ecological Camping Area. Luckily we had a map of the island with us. It looked something like this:
(Image copied from here)

You can see the camping area marked on the map on the west coast of the island. It didn't look very far away and we knew the island was tiny anyway. Walking to the camp site seemed like a good idea and we had been told that we would be able to rent bicycles there. And so we walked. For an island that looked so small on paper it took us an awfully long time to get anywhere. It was also uphill away from the harbour and the sun that had been helping to set the idyllic island scene suddenly seemed to be beating down on us with a vengeance creating a slightly stifling air without a breeze to cool us. We stopped close to the top of a rise while Andrea inspected the beads of sweat forming on her legs.

Eventually we did manage to find our way to the camp site, panting and needing immediate refreshment.

(To be continued...)

1 comment:

ltshores said...

Nice blog man. I like your pictures and detailed account of your journey. I visited Xiao Liouciou in November of 2007 with a friend from an exchange program. I was teaching English that semester at Shih Hsin University in Taipei. My friend and I found it on a map and, like you, decided to take a weekend vacation there. Sounds like we took the same route as you and Andrea. Glad we made the trip, quite a breathtaking island. I am living back in America now, but hope I can make the trip back some day.