Monday, October 20, 2008

I found a nice jogging path

Students, knowing that I used to jog back in the US, had been suggesting a nearby resevoir to me as a good place to go running. Yesterday I rode my bike there to check it out. It does, indeed, look like a nice place; now I just have to get off my lazy butt and go jogging.

Here are some photos from Sunday. As always, click to enlarge.

It was a nice day Sunday, affording a clear view of Taoyuan City from the resevoir.

The jogging/bike path at the resevoir.

I think someone's hibachi was leaking.

I love that my camera can do these cool panoramic shots. [click to enlarge]

I left the resevoir and rode my bike through some of north Taoyuan's more industrial areas. Here's what I saw:

The sign says "Shin Shing International School," but it looks more like a hotel.

Down the road I spotted this lost boat, and a woman who was just as curious as I was...

Next door sat a temple.

I had to snap a photo of this place for sale, because it reminded me of San Francisco.

Here's the route I took, marked in red. I would have ridden longer, but my 45-year-old knees were starting to hurt, so I rode home and cooked dinner.

Lest you think I only eat Chinese food, tonight I made an Italian dinner with chicken, pasta, and salad. Yum!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A couple of videos

The Sunday following my trip to Bitou and Jiufen, I decided to make Tom Kha Tofu (ต้มข่าเต้าหู้ tom kha taohoo), my favorite Thai soup. I needed to go to the vegetable market and buy a couple of items for the soup, so I decided to make a video of my bike ride there, and also one of me cooking (oh Lord!).

The videos don't seem to work right when I embed them, so here are the links instead:

Bike ride to the vegetable market - Taoyuan Taiwan 桃園市 台灣

Making Tom Kha Tofu Thai soup step-by-step

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day trip to Bitou Cape (鼻頭角) and Jiufen (九份)

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Friday, 10/10, was Taiwan's National Day holiday, which meant I got a rare three-day weekend. I decided to take advantage of it and planned a day trip to Bitou Cape (鼻頭角), on Taiwan's northeast coast, to take in some beautiful scenery, and then to Jiufen (九份) to experience some historical culture.

I wanted to squeeze every minute from my day off, so I woke up at 5:00am to be able to catch the very first bus at 5:45am to the train station. Here I am, about to leave my apartment. And no, I haven't had any coffee yet.

I arrived at the bus stop at 5:45am—the arrival time of the day's first bus, according to the schedule. I'd never seen Taoyuan at sunrise. Here's an early morning, no-traffic-view, of 中正路 (Zhong Zheng Road), the main drag that leads to the train station.

However, as per my previous bus experiences in Taoyuan, the printed schedule didn't mean squat. Here I am, still coffee-less, and still waiting. A bus didn't arrive until 6:30, although, according to the schedule, four different buses should have been by during those 45 minutes. I can only surmise that the buses were on a special holiday schedule.

[Addendum: I've since found out that the times printed on the bus stops are not the arrival times, but the times that the buses leave the main station. I still can't understand how that would help one know when to catch a bus at a particular stop.]

Bus delays aside, I arrived at the train station (pictured here) in plenty of time to grab a breakfast sandwich and a latte before hopping on a train. Unlike the bus system, I've never been disappointed by Taiwan's trains and subways. So, latte in hand, I settled into my 1.5 hour ride to Jilong (基隆) and studied my Chinese flashcards.

Upon arriving at the Jilong train station I was greeted by this sign. Despite the cheesy English translation, I felt warmly welcomed.

Catching the bus from Jilong to Bitou Cape did not turn out as easy as I had hoped. Lonely Planet said to "catch the bus at the Keelung [Jilong] Bus Co. station." Silly me, I assumed 'Bus Co.' meant that there'd be a building selling tickets with an information booth. Nope, no building, no employees, just a regular, crowded bus stop. I asked a friendly looking older woman which bus to take to Bitou, and she explained by pointing to some Chinese characters on a sign. Hmmm.

This particular bus stop was in a main traffic circle kind of area, and so buses were continuously pulling in, pulling out, and circling around. After about 15 minutes, three buses pulled in together, whereupon the old woman walked towards the middle bus, and motioned me towards to the last bus. I jumped on that bus, and asked the driver if he was going to Bitou. He wasn't, and pointed to the bus in front of him—the one the old lady got on. By this time, of course, that bus was pulling away.

I returned to the bus stop, upset and frustrated, first at the old woman, and then at myself, once again realizing how badly I needed to improve my Chinese skills. Later, when I replayed the scene in my head, I realized that the old woman could have been motioning to her own bus; I'm still trying to get used to Taiwanese gestures and body language.

So, while I scanned approaching buses, looking for the characters the old lady had told me, a man sensed my dismay and asked where I was going. (Thankfully I can understand at least that much in Chinese). When I told him Bitou, as luck would have it, he pointed me to a bus that had just arrived. I jumped on and asked the driver if he was going to Bitou. He impatiently said something that I assumed was an answer to my question, but he had a thick Taiwanese accent and so I didn't understand his Mandarin. As I stood there looking puzzled, his impatience grew and he again barked out some response. I finally realized he was indeed speaking Mandarin and had said "六十五" ("sixty-five"), as in $65NT, as in those three words meaning, "Yeah, yeah, I go to Bitou, now just pay the damn fare so I can get going!"

So anyway, here's a view from that bus (aka "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride"). I'm surprised the photo isn't a total blur, what with the bus rattling my kidneys and the driver careening along the narrow coastal road, apparently late for something.

The very moment I exited the bus in Bitou, the rain started to pour. Oh well, I wanted an adventure today. Thankfully, the beginning of the trail is immediately next to the bus stop, so I started on my trek up Bitou Cape.

[←]The first site was this picturesque cemetery.[→]

[←]Bitou Elementary School, with its million dollar views.[→]

[←]A certain group of my more "Awake!" friends back in the US might find this shot humorous.

The churning sea.[→]

[←]Notice the dark clouds. After about a half hour of hiking, the rain finally stopped.

Prehistoric looking plants.[→]

[←]Damn, the botanists here are a randy bunch. All this talk of hair, prostrate stems, swollen nodes, and labiate corollas has got my sap flowing.

See, what did I tell you?![→]

[←]The sea had beautiful shades of blue that I don't remember seeing in California.

[→]My relaxed and totally natural pose.

[←]Confusing Taiwanese romanization. Bitou Cape Lighthouse and Pitouchiao Lighthouse are the same place[→].

[←]The north side of Bitou Cape.[→]

[←]Cliff walls.

[→]At last, the lighthouse. OK, time to head down to the shore.

[←]Interesting geometric rock formations.

[→]User-friendly coast access.

[↑]Warning signs do not deter...

[←]...those who love to fish[→]

(isn't that right, T!)

[←]More examples of the interesting rock formations found here.[→]

[←]The rocks were swarming with these prehistoric looking bugs.

[→]You know how much I love bugs.

[←]I sat for awhile on the rocks, absorbed in the inspiring activities of man and nature around me.[→]

[←]Enough of this existential stuff, I had to take a leak.

Fortunately, I was able to stay lost in deep thought, even at the urinal.[→]

Video: Bitou Cape Taiwan October 2008 鼻頭角 台灣

At 12:30pm I boarded a bus back to Jilong. It started to pour rain again during the ride back. This bus was more like a tour bus: Upholstered, reclining seats; footrests; pastel curtains on the windows; and a decent suspension that didn't rattle out my fillings. Plus, the driver was more professional ("helpful") and the cost was $11NT less than the first bus.

The trade-off, though, was that this bus didn't stop at the "Keelung Bus Co. Station", so I had to walk about 3 blocks in the pouring rain back to that main bus stop. I found a Burger King across the street, and decided to eat there in honor of Amanda and Austin. Of course, with the rain, the place was packed, but luckily I found a seat.

Getting a bus to Jiufen wasn't difficult, as these seem to be the only buses with the destination printed in English also. On the bus I met a woman from New York named Tabitha. She had won a one-week trip to Taiwan after entering her name in one of those contests held during a travel & tourism exhibition. She had assumed, like me, that those contests were just ways to gather names and addresses for advertising. She was surprised when she won a legitimate prize.

So, we arrived at Jiufun, but, unbeknownst to me (I like to work in archaic language whenever possible) the bus droped us off on the other side of town, whereupon (there I go again) I instantly got lost. I was supposed to meet Marc and Zenny at the main Jiufen Teahouse (九份茶坊), but I got hopelessly turned around. Now, I know you're asking yourself, "How could a member of the gender known for its map-reading skills possibly be lost?!"

First of all, Jiufen is an old Taiwanese city criss-crossed by narrow streets that look like this →

But on the day I arrived, a holiday, despite the rain, it looked like this

After several phone calls to Marc I finally managed to find him.

[←]The Jiufen Teahouse was a former gathering place for the Bohemian artist crowd.

The water is heated old-style on charcoal flames.[→]

[←]The bottom floor art studio, handmade pottery, and beautiful koi add to the charming ambiance.[→]

[←]Relaxing with my friends Zenny and Marc

I try my hand at preparing the equisite tea that's been aged for decades.[→]

After tea we went to a nearby shop for dinner which included pork, chicken, cabbage, rice, and fishball soup. I must be getting used to Taiwanese food: As I munched on pieces of darkly crisped chicken, at one point I realized I was eating the head. Six months ago I would have been aghast; now I casually thought, "Hmm, I'm eating the head."

Now, it was time for dessert! We headed over to the most famous dessert shop in Jiufen, Grandma Lai's Yuyuan (賴阿婆芋圓). Yuyuan are doughy balls made from taro. These, along with other items (yam balls, sweet beans) are added to a warm, sweetened broth. (photo)

The trippy part of this whole experience was that, after ordering and picking up your yuyuan, you had to walk through the owner's house to get to the dining area in the back. If you look at the photo, you can see two aunties watching TV, while a guy—who just had to cross in front of them—enters the dining area.

After dessert we went to a local temple, where there was a puppet show in progress. These puppet shows are to honor a god on special days, even on days like today, where the rain was pouring down in sheets. Unfortunately, because of the dark, wet conditions, the photo isn't too clear.

By this time I think we all wanted to get warm and dry. After waiting a while for the bus—in the rain, with the still-huge holiday crowd—we flagged down a taxi and shared the cost to Rueifang (瑞芳), where we were able to catch a train back to Taipei. In Taipei we parted ways, and I headed back to Taoyuan.

As I walked from the Taoyuan train station to the bus stop, I came upon this man sleeping in the roadway underpass. I don't know if he was homeless, or just tired and trying to stay out of the rain. At that point, I completely understood, and almost considered joining him.

I got to the bus stop at 10:50pm, only to discover that the last bus run was at 10:20pm. Well, nothing else to do but flag a taxi. I got home at 11:15pm, looking as tired as when I started the day.

But it was a happy tired, the end of a fulfilling day.