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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taiwan Day 23 - Traditional Arts Center

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

I have to admit, the sun seems such a long, long time away at this point. Yeah, I see little glimpses of it here and there but we're back to the grime-infested bike ride days. And Monday looks to be back in the 50s (ok, 59 but it counts) and I'm sort of yearning for a nice clear, sunny day. I know, my audience is basically sitting in a foot of accumulated snow with highs anywhere from 5-20. I guess I can't complain. On that note, I was bummed that there were no topless models to give me a hot cup of coffee when I woke up today.

On the bike front, I feel like I've just about ridden the whole county and there's not much left to explore here. I set out today with the idea to ride for 3 hours, with no purpose whatsoever. I was back on the road bike, which just fits me better. The McCruiser is a nice break, and I may actually use it tomorrow. But in all, the bike that I was fit for just feels so much better. The new rear tire is nice, and the new brake pads felt great. I left the house with literally no idea what to do, and there was no clear sky to chase, so I sort of fumbled around before going on a route I've been before, but only once. I soon turned in a direction that I know all too well, and decided to hit the "geothermal" which is basically a hot spring that is used to make energy. It's a tourist attraction that I haven't been to yet. So what they heck, having a target is always good.

I was going to do some fluff miles then hit it, but instead of going out the long way I decided to go directly there because it was wet and I wasn't motivated. As I was climbing up the hill to get to route 7 the long way, some guy on a road bike passes me, smiles, and says good morning. His English was awful, so I assumed he really could only speak a few token things which is why he didn't say anything other than that. I smiled, and of course went into hunt mode.

I was impressed. Dude was wearing real bike clothes, was riding a Giant, looked the part except for the fact he had flat pedals. But he was solid strong and seemed to know what he was doing out there. As soon as he passed me I picked him up and stayed about 20 feet behind. Ok, I'm going to go into race recap mode now, since this was a play-by-play sorta moment. Shortly after passing me, he slowed down a bit and was then soon out of the saddle. I've ridden up this hill several times and I assume he knows it well, so we both knew the terrain. He was going hard, I could tell, and his standing made me think he was throwing it down to knock out the fat whitey on the hill.

As we were going up, we passed some old timer on a scooter towing a food stand up the hill. This is common here, as people set up stands in random spots. So they tow the stands home at night, and back in the morning. As the road flattened out, the old timer passed us back, but the road soon started to get steep again and the scooter just couldn't keep it going. I pulled up to the other roadie and we stayed together for a little bit. He smiled as I rode next to him, and as the road started to pitch up I kept pace to let him know this was for real. I mean seriously, he threw down by passing me on the hill, right?

So we started pitching up, and I was ahead of him, giving it a reasonable amount of gas but not letting it fly. We rounded a turn, and the old timer was quickly coming back. The top of the hill was just about 200 yards away at this point and I started to push the edges a little. Of course, I never look back, not because I'm a big Don Henley fan but because there's only 1 way to see things. I took back the scooter with about 100 yards left to go and then just dropped the hammer to the top of the hill. The other guy was never in my line of sight the whole climb.

I crested the climb and coasted down the hill on the other side. I hit the bottom and just kept a pace for a little bit, then eventually turned around to look for him. Completely gone. Not sure where he went, but he was out of sight. I kept on, shortly after taking the turn to go to the geothermal.

The road out was paved, but a little chunky in spots. It didn't take long to get up to the touristy area. And shortly after I got there, the old timer was right behind me. I guess he hangs out and sells food to both the tourists and the people working he area.

He then went on to tell me that the other guy went straight where we went towards the geothermal. At least that's what I got out of it. When we get the car I may go back with Nat & Julia and have her talk to him and ask what exactly he said. But it probably doesn't really matter. The area was neat, and this was something that was just blowing from the riverbed:

Off in the distance you could see a few others, just blowing away:

There was a "public" one with a stone foundation and a temperature gauge (it was 80C) near the parking lot. But the major one was on the other side of the lot, and was so loud you couldn't help but both see it and hear it:

The area was neat, and I'd like to go back, assuming we ever actually get a car. Taking a taxi would cost us an arm and a leg so I doubt we end up doing that. Not sure any buses go up in that area. Once I start to take my days off we definitely need the car to make the most of it. But that's another day. For the rest of the ride, I ended up heading out to route 7, going north a bit, then heading home on the straight shot that I always do.

On the way home I decided I wanted a rice ball. I could have gone home and asked Nat to go. But I was feeling the need to redeem myself after that piss poor display when I was left on my own. So I decided to go and get one myself. I turned down the night market street on the way home, and was surprised at how many people were on the street at that time. So I went around the long way and hit it from the main road. I had never been thee before but I knew where it generally was. When I got there, I saw the stand that looked like the right one, and sure enough it was.

I have to say, there really aren't a lot of firsts that you as a human being can do. But I'm reasonably sure that I'm the only white guy to ever roll up to that stand on a road bike fully clad in spandex and order a rice ball. What's more, I was actually able to understand the conversation. First, she asked me if I only wanted 1. Then she asked if I wanted egg. Finally, they asked if I wanted hot sauce. Yes, yes, and yes. Or good, good, and good to be precise.

When I got back to the house Nat asked me if I wanted to go to Taipei for the day, and I said to let me think about it. I had no better ideas so I said as much. We sort of bummed around the rest of the morning then did lunch, which was veggies from Nat's uncle's farm, starch sausage, and some duck from Nat's aunt, plus rice. The starch sausage was banging this time. Better than the first time we had it.

At some point we decided to go to the Traditional Arts Center which is in town, not far away. We had gone there last time we were here and it gave us something to do. Here's a picture of the "main street"

As you can imagine, both sides of the street are lined with shops of all kinds. I'm not going to try and describe everything that was there, as I simply don't have the energy and you don't really care that much. There were traditional arts shops mixed with food stores as well as junk stores full of trinkets to buy, the latter being where Julia wanted 1 of everything. There were several shops in particular, but the 2 that were probably most notable were the pottery store where you could pay like $4 to make your own piece of pottery, which Julia partook:

And the glass shop, where we saw the guy making a glass dragon in the back of the store, which was super cool. This guy was the shit:

We also fed ducks, saw an absolutely lousy performance of some sort, and saw a guy making incense which was pretty cool. The performance art, combined with the show we saw down in GaoXiong, makes me wonder how lousy a show has to be for people not to sit down and watch it here. There had to be at least 200 people watching, if not more.

On the walk home from the train station (where the taxi dropped us) Nat looked into the possibility of me renting a scooter for a day. The people at first said no, then yes, and finally no. Apparently if I get a ticket they get held responsible so they don't want to take that risk. We walked away with the impression that if we looked around enough, we could find someone to rent me a scooter. I have to try this before I go.

For dinner, we headed out and randomly looked for something on the other side of town and stumbled on a place we had gone to last time. You basically take a basket, pick what you want, and they cook it for you. Here's an array of the things you can pick:

This meal was damn good. It was a bit more pricey than usual ($6 for the 2 of us) but it was fantastic. On the way back to the apartment, I stopped at the wine store and grabbed a bottle of French Merlot for $12. Since this wasn't made in Taiwan, I figured it was much safer than the beer. I ended up being right about that, thankfully. I'll give the beer a shot once we hit the basement of Taipei 101. But for now, I think red wine is the safest best.

Oh and Julia took this doughnut to the woodshed in a matter of minutes tonight:

Looks like a day trip to Taipei tomorrow to hang out with Nat's cousins.



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