New roads, Yingge and Sanxia

25 07 2011

The week was filled with lots of cycling along new country roads before class. The Taiwanese countryside continues to mesmerize me with its variety and beauty. Unfortunately, some of the best routes I found this week, were accompanied with a dead camera. As soon as I find these roads again I will be sure to have a working camera.

Almost ate it when I came over the top and found no more road

Road to the beach

Random temple on the way

Cool view from inside the temple

Sweet path I found

Sunday consisted of four of us going to a famous pottery town in Taiwan by the name of Yingge. A quick train ride put us in the center of town. After finding “Old Street”, we slowly browsed the myriad of pottery shops.

The crew deciding which direction to move in

Eventually, we stumbled onto a local stall which would let you make your own pottery for about $7 American. We attracted more than a handful of spectators to watch us fail at writing Chinese characters on the sides of our masterpieces. Can’t really beat that, and in two weeks, I can go pick up my fully glazed and lopsided cup/pencil holder/coin jar; a pleasant little memento of Taiwan.

Pottery Time

After some epic pottery making, we made out way down the road and stopped for lunch. Overpriced subpar food was surprisingly coupled with free pottery at the end of the meal. Sweet deal, although it took forever for everyone to decide on which item to choose. Post indecisiveness we flagged down a taxi to take us to Sanxia, a town a few kilometers away, known for the Tzushr Temple.

Poor pronunciation on my part led to a less than thrilled driver. Sounds, very similar to lasers found in a Star Wars film, were unfortunately blurted out after my attempt to describe a temple to the driver. I immediately regretted it and consequently was harassed by everyone in the car. Lucky for everyone we went by a sign to signal the right direction.

Once within the town, we wondered down to the temple and walked through a busy market street. The temple was under construction, but beautiful none the less. The detail within the temples here are absolutely amazing; it’s too bad that no one actually knows any of the stories behind them. After visiting the temple, we took our journey to the mountains. Our quest for a hike led us about one and a half kilometers away to a beat down shanty, where we believe to have found a dead body. Not really, but just take a look at the photo and see for yourself. Realizing our dreams of a hike were coming to an end we turned back towards town and chilled on a walkway along a river on the outskirts of town.

Crossing the river towards the mountains

No hiking up this way, only bodies

Chilling in the park

While failing to acquire a taxi back to the Yingge train station, we stumbled unto a ping-pong hall. The hall was not normally for community use, but when we asked if we could play a few games, the people there were awesome and let us borrow paddles and balls for a quick few rounds. Thankfully we didn’t have to play with anyone else in the room; I think they were training for the national team.

Scott and Allison playing ping-pong

Eventually, after some embarrassing games, we made our way to a convenience store, where we were able to phone a taxi. Our trip finally came to an end with a post train walk home, stopping by the local shaved ice spot; fresh mango on shaved ice with some sweet cream – delicious!





Cycling Guansi Township and Hiking Yangmingshan National Park

17 07 2011

This past weekend was finally filled with the adventures which initially led me to Taiwan. Saturday morning I set out on my trusty steed and rode south past Longtan into the mountains. After a few kilometers, I decided to pull off the main road and start exploring the countryside. I eventually settled on country road 118 in pursuit of an English translation mentioning something about paradise.

Some rice patties on the way out to the countryside

The roads started to get steep

Ah, 118 you were fun

Towards the top of the climb

Although I never found said “paradise,”after about 15 km of climbing, and exiting Taoyuan County, I decided to turn back around so I could make it back to work on time. The road had little traffic and was great for my first outing into the mountains. I was plagued with flat tires the rest of the day, one from a spike and another from fighting a pot hole at night, which I lost.

Sunday morning I woke up with the goal to get into the mountains and hike. After some quick searches, the easiest and closest would be just outside Taipei to the north. Yangmingshan National Park can be easily reached from Taipei using the MRT (Taipei Metro) and a bus transfer. I managed to convince two new people from the dorms to come with me.

Finally, after a long and surprisingly smooth trip to the park, we arrived just in time for the thunderstorms to roll in. Not today Mother Nature! Ponchos in hand, we embarked from Xiaoyoukeng and left for the trail leading to the summit of Mount Qixing.

Large stones led the way to the peak. Arrow bamboo flourished and was basically the only living plant in the area. We also passed numerous fumaroles at the beginning of our ascent. They were the result of past volcanic activity in the region and an awesome thing to see. However, the stench of sulfur permeated the lower areas of the trail and thankfully didn’t climb further up the mountain with us.

Yo I'm at Yangmingshan National Park!

Simple path to the top. Can you say stair master?

Getting into the trees

Final section to the lookout over Lengshuikeng

Once at the top, after fighting off some crazy locusts, we continued down the path to another peak before descending down toward Lengshuikeng. Beautiful scenery surprised us from time to time when the clouds let up.

Slightly wet at the summit

It was a good little hike to end the week. Happy to say I’m finally am starting to get out into the mountains. I hope to keep the momentum up and visit somewhere else cool next weekend. Any ideas?

Night Market Adventures & Getting Owned at Badminton

15 07 2011

The past week has been full of highs and lows to say the least.

Struggling with reason I am in Taiwan in the first place is, I guess the main thing I’ve been contemplating. Why? Well, because Prague wasn’t a good fit and Taiwan seemed like it had everything I was looking for. A plethora of outdoor adventures, a cycling paradise, industry potential, a new culture to explore, and working with kids – something I’ve always wanted to do; haha, WTF. Yet since I’ve been here the only one of those that I have actually done has been the last; not on the top of the awesomeness scale.

I must say that after getting clip-less pedals installed on my bicycle and a helmet that fit, commuting by bicycle has been exponentially better. Those who have never ridden with pedals where your feet lock in won’t understand what I’m talking about, but the difference is enormous. Control, comfort and efficiency, YAY! High.

Chinese lessons have been engulfing my life. Two hours in the morning coupled with another hour or so studying before going to work everyday. After six weeks I still can’t carry on a basic conversation. Not because I’m not getting it, but because what we are learning isn’t practical, daily conversation. Why am I taking Chinese? Low.

Last night I went to a popular night market with a guy I work with and some of his friends. After trying some of Taiwan’s treats, I’ve realized that I can actually enjoy some Taiwanese food, I just need to know what to eat. Stinky tofu, papaya milk, fried octopus balls, and sweet potato treats were just a few I tried. We ended the night with a special green tea that has some sort of salty cheese on top. Sounds disgusting, like most things, but was actually really good.

Oler, the guy who was showing me around had one rule for me: don’t ask what everything is, you probably won’t like it if you know. Seems a little sketchy, but so far so good – and a lot better than going it on my own and eating something weird that also tasted bad. Oh, and I learned more daily Chinese in two hours walking around the night market with him and his friends than a week in school. High.

This morning I agreed to go play some badminton with him and some of his friends. Sweet mercy I’m sore. Three hours of straight up getting destroyed at badminton is quite embarrassing, but a ton of fun. It was an awesome experience, and I’m hoping that the next time I play I will have the opportunity to actually win a game, although I feel as if that’s a long ways away. High.

Can't see the shuttlecock, neither could I

The past week I made a promise to myself to start eating better. I finally have embraced the local markets. Just yesterday I cycled by a hut on the way to work and grabbed an entire pineapple (cut up for free), some mangoes and a handful of lychee for a couple bucks. It was awesome and cheap! High.

So I guess, for right now life is good. But, it seems to be constant shifts from peaks to valleys, and right now I climbing.  I’ll keep you all posted on what ends up happening.

Stepping forward, although you have confidence.

8 07 2011

Busy last week or so. Here’s a quick overview of what’s been going on in BEAutiful (seriously need to see some nature soon) Chungli.

Squid on a stick - Night Market - too chewy for me...

The quest has begun to find good roads in the area. I began cycling this week to both school in the mornings and the various locations for work in the evenings. I have come to the conclusion that even though I can actually get around the city faster than people on scooters, I am going to slow down and take my time.

People do not expect for a bicycle to be moving with any sort of speed, and after a handful of extremely close calls, I’ve decided it wasn’t worth it and I am going to just ride slow in the city. Plus, if I keep having to perform the huffy skid stop, I will be burning through tires and brakes every couple of days.

Last Saturday I was randomly observed at work. Definitely nervous; it didn’t help that I thought the guy observing me was a student late for class… oops. Anyways, both classes went well and I seem to be doing everything right.

After class, I stopped around the corner at a little mexican cart  (it’s still not ideal, but as close as you can get to the real stuff in Taiwan) and had some quesadillas before randomly starting a conversation with the owner of the tea shop directly behind the mexican stand.

Turns our he lived all over the US and has some great stories; also cycled around Taiwan and told me some good routes to take, along with some possible free places to stay with family and friends of his on the path.

After chatting with him for a while, I went to the bike shop down the road and ordered my clip-less pedals and shoes. While there, they gave me a pamphlet telling the exact route a lot of people take around the island.  Exactly what I’ve been looking for, only it’s in chinese. Oh well, it might be helpful in at least gauging the distances for each day.

When I left the shop, I started to cycle home. I immediately had a man drafting (riding close behind to save energy) off me. He passed me on the downhill (of course) but something wasn’t right. His feet weren’t on the pedals, just hanging off to the side. He was riding a fixed gear going about 40kmph, haha (wish I had a video – funny to watch). Absolutely insane. At the bottom of the hill, as I watched him rub his feet on the wheels to slow down, I caught up with him and began an awesome conversation.

Really cool guy, our English-Chinese fusion provided some comical conversation, and in the end we decided to go for a ride next week. Still hoping to learn some more places to ride, but should be interesting, since neither of us really know how to speak each other’s respective language.

In other news, I finally got my ARC this week! Officially done with all of the paperwork, and now I can legally be in Taiwan for at least a year. Sweet!

Sunday a group of us went to Leofoo Village just outside Longtan. Think Six Flags, but the roller coaster aren’t nearly as big. It was a fun day filled with lots of free falls, spins and hilarious signs translated into English in the bathrooms (see title). Below are some photos of the day at the park and other random shots.

We rode this ride at least 6 times; just a free fall, but best ride in the park

1/2 group shot during lunch

This week marks the beginning of summer camps. I only have one right now, which is fine by me. Crazy busy. Each camp is 3 hours long without a co-teacher. So there I am with 8 elementary school age kids teaching them how to play board games. Seems to be going well, although some games are way too difficult. Seriously Scrabble is difficult for adults fluent in English, let alone kids who know one 5-letter word. Never stood a chance. Either way, it’s been a fun interesting week, but I’m ready for it to be over soon.

Also met a guy name Oler who works at Puxin, one of the schools I work at. He has also cycled around the island. He gave me some great maps yesterday, and I’ve begun to piece together the route, little by little.