Tag 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.

The long road to the south

Today was a long one, but we all made it! I’m limp with exhaustion and relief. I don’t have much else to say, so straight into it.

Day 4/9: Chiayi to Kaohsiung (127 km)

Today was the hottest and longest day on the trip so far. I hesitate to say anything with out putting “so far” behind it, because I’m encountering so many new things each day and learning so much that it’s probably a bad idea to make my stand on any particular impression. But it was certainly hot. It was a high of 28 degrees Celsius, and in the middle of our longer stretches (22 or 24 km), the guides forced us to stop at a certain time and take a few gulps of water before moving on. Many people ended up taking off their jackets and long-sleeved jerseys to get some relief from the heat, but other people including me stayed resolutely hidden underneath all the long coverings, with only our fingertips showing. If Southeast Asia has taught me anything, it’s that being covered up is counter-intuitively much, much cooler. I’ve been wearing sunblock everywhere, so I don’t have any exciting tan patterns yet, but it’s clear that overall, I’m getting a little more tan despite all these efforts. That’s perfectly fine – I just would prefer not to be perfectly bronzed by the time we get back to Taipei.

I think some people I told were impressed that I was going on this trip. It is a very long trip of nine days. It is certainly also a long distance of 910 km or just over 565 miles. But by the second day, I was thinking that pretty much most people I know who are physically active can do this. Why? Because even kids can bike. The physics of biking are that if you expend some effort to get up to a certain speed, it takes then less effort to stay at that speed. It’s way easy than jogging around, which never gets easier at any point. You have to keep moving actively or stop. But speaking of jogging, I think that if you can or have run a 5K (around 3 miles), then you can do this bike trip. The most difficult thing about the trip is persistence, which is much harder to access. When you face down an entire nine hours of biking throughout the day, you get intimidated. When you’re at your second rest stop after lunch and starting to feel all that rice you had, you are craving a nap. When you’ve been going through unending rice paddies or, worse, hit the third red light in less than 500 meters, you get frustrated and bored. It’s just like any other “difficult” thing. You just have to keep pedaling and keep going, and after nine days of biking, you’ve done it.

The important thing is that Giant has found a good way to counteract this. When you feel all these pressures, you may feel inclined to easily give in, but the truth is that you can’t, because you’re surrounded by all these people, the majority of whom are twice your age, who are killing it without complaining. That really makes it impossible for you to give in, short of an actual injury to your body. Add that to the fact that nobody here in Asia wants to lose face, and you’ve got a whole bunch of people racing each other to the next rest break. No one wants to be the last one in, sweating and slowly biking your way to the top of the hill, while everyone else eats a banana and watches you. From a nicer perspective, we can support each other. We update each other at stop lights about how many km are left, and exhort each other to keep going and keep pedaling. The group really makes a real difference, and I’m glad that I could do this trip with so many new friends.

I really want to go to bed soon, but I have to give a shout out thus far to our guides. Giant has done an amazing job making this event happen. Every morning, a staff member guides us through our warm-ups and stretches while other staff members load the vans with our luggage. Then they brief us on exactly how many km we’re going through, how many hills and bridges we can expect, and remind us to stay single-file and to stay spaced out. When we set out, there are four people with us, one at the front and one at the end, with two in the middle, riding along the whole way. When we make a turn, there’s always someone standing there blowing the whistle in short bursts and directing us. When we stop at a rest area, the van’s already there with the back door up, snacks ready, and the music blaring. They refill the water as soon as it gets low, and next to the snacks, provide small bottles of sunscreen that are refilled so people can put on more. We even found today after people got sunburnt that they carry aloe vera gel. When your tire gets a hole, these guys patch it together right away. When it’s time to pull into the hotel, there’s someone guiding us down the parking lot ramp to the basement where they are directing us to the right corner to pile our bikes together, and then they guide us again through cool-down exercises before instructing us to come down for dinner an hour later. I know plenty of people do the round-the-island tour without a support van and these folks, but they are so experienced and take care of us so well that I feel free to enjoy the road and not worry about where I have to go. Consider this a ringing endorsement (so far) of Giant Bicycles as a travel agency!

Tomorrow, we’re headed for Hengchun, which is located near the southernmost point of the island. So it’ll be Day 5 when we will reach the bottom of the island, and then turn to start our trip back north. I’m excited to see the East Coast, but not as excited about the mountains. I’ll write more tomorrow about my theory about hills and physics too! Until then.

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.

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!

Let’s import Asian toilets, stop lights, and subway systems.

While living in Asia means that we have to do without some Western amenities (like an oven), Steve and I have gotten quite used to a few innovative things here. We’ve also learned that necessity is truly the mother of invention. Asian cities are some of the world’s most densely packed places, and constrained natural resources and space made these innovations not only helpful but necessary.

One of the first things that we saw in Japan (literally) was a toilet with a small faucet and sink on top. We were at our host Ken’s house, and I swore up and down I’d get a photo, and of course, I forgot, but luckily, plenty of other people online have documented these toilets. Much like some European houses, Japanese toilets tend to be in a different room from your sink and shower business, so to make it easy for you, when you flush, the water comes out of the faucet. You can wash your hands, and the dirty water will flow directly into filling the tank. Pretty brilliant. My family uses a number of water-saving techniques in the bathroom, but it’d just be simpler if versatile water usage were the norm that we strived towards!

Some Japanese toilets have their own faucets and sinks. Brilliant! (Source: Essential Japan Guide)

Continue reading Let’s import Asian toilets, stop lights, and subway systems.

Five Things We’ve Been Up To

Since we’ve been up to a hodgepodge of things, which is too hard to pigeonhole into categories, just enjoy a run-down of five things we’ve been doing recently!

1. Still photography. One of the things that I really want to do is get better at photography; I like taking a lot of pictures of different things I find beautiful, but my technique is really just point-and-shoot. The rest is the gorgeous DSLR camera my mother gave me for my birthday two years ago. Some of it has turned out nicely. Some of it looks silly enough that I don’t even want to put it up on Flickr yet. Here, have one of the more mundane samples that I like somehow!

Our makeshift utensil jar.

Continue reading Five Things We’ve Been Up To

Rubber Duck Fever.

After a week in Kaohsiung, Steve and I concluded that it was impossible to go into any store or down any street without catching glimpses of these rubber yellow ducks that were for sale seemingly everywhere. What was it all about? Was that a Taiwanese passion that no one told us about? A little rooting around online helped clarify things: it turns out that the little duck was really a HUGE duck. This 40 foot tall inflatable rubber duck is the work of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, and had already been the focus of intense attention in Hong Kong for two months this spring. A version of it has entertained the world since 2007. And now it was in Kaohsiung.

Ecce Anas! (N.B. That’s Latin for duck.)

The amount of media attention on the rubber duck has been a little incredible. Everyone from CNN and the China Post to finance blogs and the Denver Post (not to mention every single outlet in Taiwan) have all weighed in on Kaohsiung’s newest visitor, and duck fever effectively gripped the nation. You could buy duck t-shirts, stuffed animals, backpacks, flip-flops, hats, iPhone covers, earbuds, you name it. So, naturally, we had to go see too; Steve and I caught the duck on Sunday, the last day of its scheduled appearance in Glory Harbor. We walked to the nearby Central Park MRT stop, where free shuttle buses departing every five minutes shepherded visitors to the nearby harbor.

Continue reading Rubber Duck Fever.

Moving In

Edit: Added photos, updated information. Many more pics of Taiwan on the Flickr here.

On Sunday, we left Hualien and headed to Kaohsiung. It was a 5-hour train ride, and we had to stand for about half of it due to the holiday weekend. Connie already had appointments set up to see potential apartments, so we started back on that hunt right away. Apartment hunting is tedious and tiring, but we finally settled on a place Monday evening and moved in that night.

Connie hard at work.
The frantic apartment search.

Continue reading Moving In

Terrible Apartment Photos: Taiwan Edition

In the course of apartment hunting in Taipei and now Kaohsiung, Steve and I have frequented Tealit.org, Kaohsiung Connect, and the all-powerful 591.com, which has listings in Chinese. The apartment quality has decidedly been of a mixed variety, since some are very old and shabby looking, but the location and cost go a long way to making up for it. However, aside from seeing some horrible apartments, we’ve also encountered some atrocious crimes against photography.

Great photos in an online listing can help you gloss over an apartment’s flaws or highlight its strengths. Bad photos, however, can put off prospective tenants, or worse, waste their time by making them laboriously puzzle out what the photo is actually of and where that furniture or wall is situated in relation to the other photos. It’s also exasperating because the number of faux pas seem innumerable and so easily avoidable: if you want to make your apartment look nice, photograph it during the day for maximum daylight. Stand still while taking a photo instead of dancing around. Don’t use flash directly in front of a window. Why is it so difficult to take a nice, wide-angled shot of a room? Even more landlords are preoccupied with giving you detailed photos of the bathroom sink from five different angles, what the hot water heater or laundry machine look like, and how many independent electric meters there are on the wall. All we want is to understand what an apartment looks like or would feel like to live in, and these photos have been so ridiculously unhelpful to that end that we felt the need to compile an album of the worst offenders.

Continue reading Terrible Apartment Photos: Taiwan Edition