Category Archives: Kaohsiung

The ocean at the end of the road

My wrists are almost too weak and tired to type. I wish I could dictate this entry as I do so many of my chat messages now, not because I trust voice-to-text, but because my speed of typing (usually pretty fast) is now too slow to catch up with… my brain, which actually isn’t moving all that fast either. After flying by at 30 kmph, I am now at a complete standstill. Let’s get on with it.

Day 5/9: Kaohsiung to Hengchun (102 km)

I haven’t wanted to go to sleep this badly on this trip so far, but today’s done a real number on me. I unexpectedly met up with my friend Jake last night at the hotel, so after finishing my entry and talking to Steve, I got to bed right before 11 pm last night, and ended up with a square 7 hours, but that’s not quite enough anymore. Blargh. We woke up at 6 am as usual, and after an excellent breakfast buffet as always, headed out of Kaohsiung.

Though it was foggy and somewhat smoggy in the city, the early morning light still felt nice as we wove slowly through the city. We took a waterfront path next to the light rail which Steve and I know quite well from our time in the city. We took in the 85 Sky Tower (Tuntex Tower) from below, and biked past all the newly constructed Cultural Exhibition Center and such in the city. It took more than an hour to go just about 10 km, because we were still in Kaohsiung. When we started out of the city, we started flying down the middle of the road for 20 km at a stretch. After a rest stop for some delicious shaved ice and at another temple, we found ourselves in Pingtung County. All of a sudden, there were mango groves around us, large stretches of short trees whose fruits were painstakingly covered with plastic bags to protect them as they ripened. Though my face was mostly covered by my blue headscarf, I could smell hints of mango as we rode by. By the time we stopped for lunch, people were sufficiently tantalized by all the roadside stalls that they were pretty much ready to demand mango. We ended up having a truly magnificent meal of clay-pot roasted chicken and many, many delicious veggie and meat dishes, finishing with a delicate mushroom soup with goji berries. Other folks went in search of mango, but I ended up going for coffee, which has become a lunchtime ritual. It helps me stay awake on the bike in the two hours or so after we eat lunch, which sounds really ridiculous, but yes, I need help to stay awake while I’m furiously pumping away my legs on a highway. It’s just the truth.

After lunch, we were going to hit three hills between there and Hengchun, which is pretty much near Kenting, the bottom tip of the island. I nearly died on those three hills, pushing myself up and down and cursing. See, I had done better on the hill on the second day than I had on the first, and as a result, while biking through those flat stretches the past two days, I had come up with a Grand Unified Theory of biking on hills. I had concluded that I had figured out hills, because all we had to do was to switch about four or five gears down, and keep biking at the same speed as much as possible, but that was mostly BS, apparently. The theory falls apart when you need to go from a medium gear down to a small gear. This bike has 27 gears, and you can switch between three front gears that you then pedal on, turning the front of the chain. Those are the big differentiators, with a large, medium, and small gear. The back gear has nine different gears, and usually, I only need to switch four or five back gears down in order to make a hill, but these rolling mountains were a bit much for me. But if the back gears stay the same while the front gears change, then you make a pretty big change all of a sudden, not like the very gradual small changes when you switch the back gears.

People in their seventies kept passing me, and while I’m sure that was great for their ego, I felt like I was being destroyed. My speedometer might have said 13 kmph, but you know, anyone can walk at 6 kmph already! Other people also even kept stopping to take pictures of the gorgeous sea scenery, a glittering ocean that stretched into the Taiwan Strait, and all I could do was huff and puff and stay on. When we finally got to the rest stop, it proved to be a lengthy one. They had us lay out our bikes so they could check them up, tune them a bit, put more air into the tires, etc. etc. I just laid back after eating two slices of watermelon and gazed up at the trees above us. It took us a good half an hour to get moving after that because everyone was pretty pooped. Finally, we rode the last 10 km to our hotel, the Grand Bay Resort in Hengchun.

We had a good dinner where people shared out some Suntory they got from the 7-11, and we were treated to some impromptu karaoke by the staff. Now because we’re in a very small town with nearly nothing to do, I can finally for the first time rest before 10 pm! So I’m finishing my entry early and getting ready to wind down.

One of the last things I wanted to note is that despite all the whining, I really am very glad I’m doing this trip, and I think that’s probably obvious. Why is a bit more complex to articulate, but it’s worth it. I recently started reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is apparently a really popular book though it sounds like it’s only for ambitious MBA-types. This book advocates that in order for people to make centered, balanced, principled decisions about what to do with their lives, they can create their personal mission statement according to their own beliefs, values, and ideals. It’s more of a process than just a one-time brainstorming, so I’m taking my time with it. However, even after thinking about it, it’s clear that I’m kind of simple when it comes to my principles. I believe that everyone has potential and value. What follows from that is that I hope I can help people develop that potential and value, which I do a lot in my daily job, and I want to develop my own potential and value as much as possible. This trip is pushing the boundaries of what I think I can do physically, and especially because it’s uncomfortable to climb these hills, I know I’m doing it.

Another statement I want to put into my mission statement is “Give what you cannot keep to gain that which you cannot lose.” And roughly speaking, youth and energy are a fleeting state in a person’s life. I’m already realizing I am less flexible, less impetuous than I used to be, and even have a few small injuries to my body that will never completely heal during my lifetime. But the feeling of accomplishment and understanding of what I am capable of doing are things nobody can take away from me once I’ve got it.

When we biked out of Kaohsiung this morning, I looked up at the 85 Sky Tower, and for the first time, felt something in my chest, and I started getting really a little emotional about this whole trip. Being in a place like Kaohsiung which I’ve visited quite a few times before, having walked where I’m now biking before, I am realizing that I’m really going to be able to do it. To bike places I had only gone on trains before, and finish this trip and come back to Taipei. I stopped getting too emotional because as I reminded myself, I’m not done with this trip yet by a long shot!! But we’re halfway through, and half-done is well begun.

A happy return to Kaohsiung.

Written on the 781
Sunday, July 27, 6:13 pm

It is the evening, and we are seeing our first sunset over the mountains. We’re most of the way through our rail journey from Kaohsiung to Taitung, winding a slow counter-clockwise arc around the southern tip of the island and emerging on the eastern side of Taiwan. Many of our evenings in Taichung and Kaohsiung on the west coast have featured splendid sunsets over the water and a city, but in Taitung and Dulan on the east coast, we will be chasing sunrises over the water and sunsets over the mountains.

The hillsides here are fairly rugged, and the train zips long much closer to the water. For some parts of our trip, we were darting through mountain tunnels to emerge on a narrow railway with the water and a precipitous drop on one side and on the other high mountains that we had to lift our faces to greet. The view is definitely worth it. On the right, the sky fades from a pale distant blue to light pink clouds, and then back to the blue-grey of the ocean. On the left, mountains barely a dozen meters from our left will loom close, and then give way suddenly to large expansive green valleys. Deep in the heart of the valley, we can see the lighter and mistier shapes of more distant mountains, and finally beyond that, the clouds themselves, gilded and illuminated with a deeper richer tone by the sunlight that has already sunk beneath the mountains. It is really strikingly lovely. Continue reading A happy return to Kaohsiung.

An excerpt from the Book of Circumnavacation.

The Book of Circumnavacation
Chapter 25
 Miscellaneous Travel Tips for the Circumnavacator to Make Your Life More Comfortable and to Reduce the Number of Times You Yell at Your Travel Partner

Tip #247: When circumnavacating, it is a good idea to eat out cheaply, until it’s not. Fast local food, like fried rice or a bowl of noodles containing whatever-you-want-to-guess for less than 1 USD, is only novel and tolerable for a few days when you first arrive in the country. In order to ensure good nutrition, pony up for at least one tasty, fresh, possibly Western-style, and usually more expensive meal a day, and you can eat street food for the other one (or two, if you get up that early). Give your body some of what it’s used to eating; otherwise, you may end up with iron deficiency or other bodily complaints.

Cold noodles (凉面) from Tainan.

Continue reading An excerpt from the Book of Circumnavacation.

Travel optimization and other lessons from Taiwan.

In the past few days, Steve and I have been looking back at our three and a half month stay in Taiwan, figuring out what has worked out well, and what mistakes we’ve made that we definitely want to avoid on the rest of this trip. Hindsight can be twenty-twenty, but you have to be willing to look in the rearview mirror, assess your decisions dispassionately, and be candid about where you made the wrong calls. Here’s our attempt at doing that!

Know Your Priorities
People travel for different reasons, and one thing we haven’t done a great job of is really prioritizing our reasons. What Steve and I like best about travel is being able to soak up a particular culture, its idiosyncrasies, and hallmarks. We like to grab a meal on the street and talk endlessly about how you order a meal in China and the endlessly amusing subway jingles in Tokyo. Equally fun is people-watching, like comparing the different school uniforms and bags of Taiwanese high school students. We also want to have plenty of time to read books and plan our own projects (for Steve, websites and games, and for Connie, grad school and social enterprises).

Continue reading Travel optimization and other lessons from Taiwan.

An unexpected setback: getting sick in Taiwan.

On Monday, a nurse asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Taiwan. I told her we came from the U.S., and we were here for travel.

“How did you end up here, then?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “The hospital was not on the sight-seeing agenda.”

There , in a nutshell, is the story of the past three weeks. To drag the telling out is kind of monotonous, and I’ve already had to live through it once. So the short version is that I fell sick with a high fever, and we spent a whole week hoping it would go away, taking lots of Tylenol, drinking water, and visiting a local clinic and getting what Steve called “Dr. Feelgood’s Pills,” because they were just a packet of unmarked fever pills. Finally, we went to the nearby public hospital, and they took my temperature (40 degrees Celsius, or a balmy 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and promptly admitted me.

Continue reading An unexpected setback: getting sick in Taiwan.

Earning an honest living (under the table).

A long time ago, when Steve and I first conceived of our world trip (okay about 8-9 months ago for real) we brainstormed all sorts of ways to earn our keep. Most of them revolved around me getting a job in Asia that would utilize my language abilities, but in the end, we decided against most of them for a) not being in my career plan and b) not being conducive to a life of flexible travel, which was what we were most interested in. What we settled on was that Steve would try to do some contract work, like making mobile apps or websites, and I would try to tutor English. I even made some spiffy business cards and picked them up before I left Chicago. While we hoped to earn some cash, we would operate at a net loss overall, and sure, spend a large amount of our savings, but the trade-off, we theorized, was being able to do exactly what we wanted.

Fast forward to the beginning of our third month abroad, and since we arrived in Taiwan, we’ve been buried under personal projects, a crushing inability to get out of bed before 10 am, trying to make our social lives work in a country 14 hours ahead of most of our friends, and a lot of graduate school applications (okay, that’s just me). So far in Kaohsiung, I have succeeded in passing out a sum total of two business cards. So it came as a surprise that our first opportunity for honest income was today!

Continue reading Earning an honest living (under the table).

Sunsets and the seaside of Kaohsiung.

Living in Taiwan, it can be oddly easy to forget that we are on an island, albeit one that is very large. In each city we have spent a bit of time in, we have never been far from the ocean. A map of Taiwan reveals about a ring of a dozen big cities which hugs the coastline. The middle of Taiwan is mountainous and features just two roads which cross from the east to the west coast. That being said, sometimes it’s easy to forget because we barely budge from our apartment in the middle of Kaohsiung, hemmed in by low-rise apartments and large boulevards and streets.

From Cijin Lighthouse, looking toward Shoushan and Xizihwan.

That all changed when we finally visited Cijin Island. Long one of the attractions of Kaohsiung, it will horrify most residents when they hear how long it took us to finally make our way to Cijin (about three weeks, all right?). Right off one end of the MRT’s Orange Line, at Xizihwan Station, one can take a five minute stroll to Gushan Ferry, and board the shortest ferry ride in the whole world (approximately 4 minutes sailing) and disembark 15NT the poorer on Cijin Island, a long spit immediately off the coast of the city. It actually used to be a peninsula, but was severed at the southern end to create a second port of entry for Kaohsiung, which is Taiwan’s second largest city and 9th largest port, as Steve has become fond of noting.

Continue reading Sunsets and the seaside of Kaohsiung.

Movies and pictures, oh my!

Dear world, we have a lot to report on. The second half of November has been very busy, as you may be able to tell from our updated photos. Friends visiting, Taiwanese baseball, and a trip to Taichung! But first, just to share a short video with you guys.

Steve’s father is celebrating his birthday today in South Carolina, and because we forgot to send him a card two weeks ago (to be on the safe side), we just made a video and sent it instead!

I’m really excited about my directorial debut, not to mention my acting debut, producer debut, etc. etc. For anyone who’s about to downvote this on Rotten Tomatoes, this happens to be the product of about an hour’s worth of fooling around work on iMovie, so enjoy!


P.S. Yes, there is a heavy ’80s influence on my work.

P.P.S. Stella Creations is the default name for any creative efforts Steve and I put together. She’s the inspiration for it all!

On travel.

Long term travel is like a marathon. Now I haven’t actually run any sort of race in my life (not even a 5K) so you know, take it at face value. But from what I’ve learned about exercise and how to push yourself, my take on it is that it is a mental challenge as much as it is a physical one.

I am reflecting on what it means to be traveling for a whole year (when it already feels like it’s been half a year) thanks to a video I first watched several years ago. Christophe Rehage, a German, documented a year of walking through China from Beijing to Urumqi on his camera, and stitched the scenes together with two lovely songs (“L’Aventurier” and “橄榄树/ The Olive Tree”) in French and Chinese.

As crazy as a year around the world sounds, I feel like our plan is a lot more tame than Christophe’s, because we’re not actually sleeping under the stars or trekking 30 km a day on foot. But the mental journey is similar. On his blog, he wrote about what pushed him to do this journey and why he stopped. He originally planned to trek from Beijing all the way to Bad Nenndorf, where he grew up in Germany, but he called it off a year in for personal reasons. He talked about how he looks so free and unfettered on the road, in the desert and under the sky, but how he was also just living by a set of rules that he had constructed about his trip. Occasionally, he felt like even taking a short bike ride and not walking every single step was cheating. Sometimes living under a different set of rules is freeing, and sometimes, you just have to put yourself into a really different environment or frame of mind to discover that there are elements of yourself or elements of life that you can’t escape.

Continue reading On travel.

A day in the life!

It has officially been more than a month since we moved into our Kaohsiung apartment. Has time really passed so quickly? Is this the fifth time on this blog that I’ve bemoaned the passage of time? I’ll move on then. It’s natural that we’ve also settled into a kind of rhythm with certain themes that come up again and again. Enjoy a picture-heavy post about a day in the life of Steve and Connie in Kaohsiung!

Our street in the morning.

8:00 AM The first battle of the day is to get up. I think everyone is familiar with this battle, but not the long-term kind like we’re waging. We have projects, errands, and things that we’d like to do… but practically nothing that we HAVE to do, unless we have a Skype appointment with our friends or family. On the days when we’ve successfully roused ourselves out of bed before 9 am, we try to take a turn around Central Park.

Central Park, complete with dogs.

Continue reading A day in the life!