We make holes in teeth!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Taiwan Day 36 - Yangmingshan & Back to Luodong

Woke up to the alarm, I'm tired. I'd rather sleep but the 10 day weather forecast for NJ now includes days that we will have to experience. So if I don't get up and do something, I'm not going to be able to bottle up these days and take them back with me. So I forced myself out of bed, had a coffee and the rest of the bread we got at the bakery the other day, and headed out the door by 6:30.

Before I left, I did manage to squeeze my fat self into a medium jersey, but only technically. It's entirely possible that I'm violating some sort of visual code of ethics doing this to people. Still, I can hang my hat onto the fact that I an still actually wear a medium. Going to need to trim the food intake when we get back a bit.

I headed down the hill to see if I could put together the best way to get to the red bridge and across the river for a future assault on Yangmingshan. This is the mountain that overlooks Taipei, and on a clear day offers awesome views like this:

The bike route tool I use said it would take 3:48 one way to get up there, which seemed steep but it's usually pretty accurate. So I decided to get close and do the math so I can maybe plan on it one day next week. I was able to get across the bridge in less that 30 minutes, which was super fast, and before long I was at the base of the hill and climbing up the back side, which seems to be the preferred route for bikers as the other side is the drive side up from Taipei.

So I started to go up, and I figure, "Ok, let's see what happens." I got there really fast, and I know my target is 3500 feet. By about 1:15 I'm at 1000 and since I know my climb rate, I'm looking at that saying I can get there at maybe 2:20. Then going down is faster and I have enough time to make it. Maybe.

Of course, this is where the climbing is, and the reader at this point expects me to run out of time. So we have bikers, slick roads, a handful of cars, some views down to the valley in the north, and of course a few monkeys yelling at me as I go by. These were fat ones and I suspect that cars stop to feed them, since there's plenty of traffic being that this is a national park so close to Taipei. On the way down some guy was banging a stick in the area, probably to scare them away as they likely tend to be a menace.

As I got closer my eta was getting lower and lower, and at about 2500 feet I plunged into the heavy fog and saw that I'd easily make it, assuming the road topped off and didn't roll at the end. The last 700 feet were in an absolute dense fog with visibility not even 50 yards, and it was pretty damn steep at the end. But I made it and was rewarded with this fantastic view:

Since there wasn't much to gawk at, I turned around and coasted down the hill and froze my bits off, as usual. The tops of these hills are often 1000% humidity, if not outright rain, and cold. So my being dressed for 65 degrees didn't work that well with the temps up there. Before I came out of the fog I was shivering from the cold.

On the way down I was passed by a guy on a Cannondale, clipless pedals, hammering his way down. I was stoked, and jumped on his wheel and started to hammer with him. This is by far the fastest I've gone on any downhill and since we were out of the clouds, the roads were dry and much safer here. We had gone off the 101 extension and it was wider all the way down to the river. It was a good roll and fun to ride with someone for a bit.

At the river he went straight and I left, and shortly after I saw my first whitey on a bike. As I was coming up on him I noticed the shaved legs and full-bore kit. I passed and said "hey" and I think he tried to jump on but I left him for dead instantly. I was feeling great on the ride and the warm temps at the bottom energized me. I was flying at this point and shortly after he was long gone behind.

I got back from the round trip in 3:40, in all 8 minutes less than the one way total was supposed to be. Calvin & Grace had gone to see her grandfather, who is 99 and has been gravely ill for a week. He would pass away later in the day, having made his last goal of seeing in the Chinese new year. Being 99 affords one this sort of lax attitude on the world, I suppose.

We geared up and hit the road around noon, hitting some traffic but in all sailing smoothly down to Luodong where we first grabbed some lunch of intestine noodle soup and then a pork soup of some sort. Both were good, and they are what I would call staples of the diet here. This may be the last time we get them. I wish we could get stuff like that in the states but for some reason the stuff there pretty much sucks.

After lunch we went upstairs to start the "hong bao" process with Nat's relatives. The words "hong bao" translate exactly as red envelope, and wikipedia as usual does a better job describing it that I would. There's a game involved though, as people will try and give stuff to the younger generation, in this case Julia. But as many have said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And any acceptance of anything will later mean that you are indebted to that person in some future way. So there's often a struggle to refuse the envelope in some cases. Of course, Julia gets upset if we try to give her's back, so we lose these games every time.

Here is Nat's cousin and wife, who came over for the holiday. They currently live in China:

The day was awesome, about 70 and partly sunny most of the day. The "partly sunny" means "partly cloudy" and even though there is no rain, visibility is pretty poor overall. Some of the half-rain days are actually more clear in spots. But of course no rain and some sun with 70 degrees is nice. I can't wait for spring proper, which seems far away when I look at the NJ weather right now.

We try to go up towards the Meihua lake/temple area to get some soft guava and hit the Mt. Liu peanut candy shop, but the traffic is so bad we turn off and head towards Nat's other aunt to deliver another of the new year's gifts. We have 6 total relatives we need to see in the holiday, which is just about a week long. We stop off at Nat's aunt as the 2nd stop. This time there is no hong bao game. You really never know when it's going to strike.

Over to Nat's uncle's house for stop #3, and we play our cards wrong and show up too close to dinner. As we walk in we see that they've already started making food, and to refuse would be a serious insult. We were pretty excited to go to the night market, but the spread before us is a ton of fresh seafood, as he lives on the port. So how can you refuse this spread? It's just really good:

The sashimi is crazy fresh, and the stewed pork/egg thing is excellent as well. Steamed fish is good, and the roe cake is one of my favorites. There's also a mixes dish of upside down car fish (yeah I don't know if that's the scientific name or not) that Nat really digs.

After dinner we have some tea, then Nat's uncle breaks out some old pics of them as kids. Nat on the left, Calvin on the right:

Meanwhile Julia breaks out the game face on some apples:

Back to the apartment the traffic is still nuts, so instead of driving right to the the 4th relative stop we park the car, go to the apartment, and walk over. Nat sees her cousin there which she hasn't seen in 30 years. We also don't have the hong bao game, which we did at her uncle's house. So it was 2 out of 4 where we had to play, and lose, the game. Tomorrow we'll hit up the 5th one and I guess, maybe the last of the required relatives.

We walk back to the apartment a different way and go through the night market so I can grab my favorite dessert, the taro ice cream burrito with peanut candy shavings and cilantro. The number of people here is staggering, and they've erected extra tents in the park to handle all the extra vendors that have come in for the week. It's nothing short of a full on frenzy almost all day. Too bad we're not going to be able to experience much of it as we would shortly run into further apartment problems.

On top of the washing machine being a POS, the dryer sort of working, and the dehumidifier trying to set the house on fire, the hot water heater stopped working at some point over the last few days. So now aside from not really being able to wash and dry clothes, we can't wash ourselves. We can, however, dry ourselves as the towels still function perfectly well.

Aside from this, I do like being down here more, as we're in the field more and get to see & do more diverse things. Calvin's area is primarily residential, and thus a lot of people split town for the week and many of the shops are closed for the new year. Here, everything is open and they actually bring in extra shops. Unfortunately, this apartment is trying to be rid of us so our stay here is going to be a 1 night only affair, and we'll be on our way back to Taipei Saturday afternoon.

Pic of the day, shaking things up a bit:

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



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