We make holes in teeth!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Taiwan Day 43 - YingGe and Winding Down

Breakfast shop again this morning - rice ball, scallion pancake with egg, and soymilk. This is too much food but I like it so much that I need to get my fill in. Plus, they say something about eating like a king for breakfast is best. I guess they also maybe say to eat like a king for lunch and dinner too?

The morning is the first official day of Calvin's office opening after the holiday, so we go over there and they do the traditional burning of ghost money and lighting of fireworks and setting up the table with offerings to the gods. Like I said before, religion is just part of the culture here, though something like this is as much a "thing to do" as anything. How can you not agree to stand on the sidewalk and feed a fire?

After this we hit the road and head to YingGe one last time. This is the pottery village where we need to pick up a few more things, including a teapot I ordered to go with the set I bought last time we were there. I'll probably go home and put it away and never use it, which is what I seem to do every trip here. I also got a teapot from my man Darin, which I had forgotten about until it was time to start packing. I probably have 10 teapots at this point.

The traffic was bad, but we didn't have too much to do so it didn't disrupt our day too much. We had stopped at a photo place to print out some 12x18's for Nat's dad but they said it would take 3 days, which seems a little heavy to me but whatever. So we scrapped it and headed to YingGe and found it this time with no problem.

Here we ended up buying like 40 more pounds of shit but at this point my back isn't going to notice the difference between 14,443 pounds and 14,483. Nat liked this and I thought it was cool, but we weren't sure what it meant and we didn't want to bring evil spirits into our house:

After a generally crappy lunch of rice noodles, soup, and turnip cake (which was the 1 good thing) we drove to Taipei to pick up some pineapple cakes at some place which is famous for this stuff. This is the general script here. In the last few days you run to the food & snack shops and buy food that you can't get in the states. Of course, it has to be very good to lug it all the way back home. Once you get home, you'll eat 1/4 of it and let the rest go stale. But much like burning ghost money, it's part of the ceremony of the vacation.

One last look:

We never made it up but I've been there before and I was up on so many mountains with cloudy views that I didn't need to pay for a view of the clouds with 100 other people and a line. Maybe next time we can make it, maybe not. It was cool but I don't feel I missed out on anything.

We made a few stops on the way back for more odds and ends (14,489) and then Nat finished off by making dinner, which was pulled pork on top of mashed potatoes and candied carrots. It was really good, even though it was ultra simple. I topped it off with my last hurrah of beer drinking, what I would consider the best of the mediocre beers, Asahi Black:

Much of the night was spent packing. We have a lot of stuff, somehow we bought more than I thought.

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


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Taiwan Day 42 - Cleaning Up Luodong

Even though I'm done with the bike I wake up early and shower by 7:00. I head out to get breakfast, at this point unconcerned about being able to communicate. I get 2 rice balls with egg and 2 soymilks. Nat and I enjoy a quiet breakfast while everyone sleeps. It's nice to just sit in silence once in a while.

We're out the door early, by 9:30 or so and we get down to Luodong before 11:00, which is a remarkable feat considering our general history and the fact Julia stays up past 11:00 every night these days. Even though the weatherman says rain, he really sucks ass at his job:

We start cleaning up the apartment for the last time and I get the bike a little cleaner and put it away in the back foyer, for lack of a better word. It's a covered area that is open to the air, which means the chain will be a pure pile of rust when I get back. I decided not to clean the chain because the muck on it will probably keep it protected for longer. I cover it with an old sheet as a token gesture to keep the in-laws from getting sick of looking at it.

Lunch is mediocre rice from a place in the night market. The holiday is over so the shops are back to normal business hours, which means not much is open during the day. After lunch we go and feed the fish one last time. They got a treat, as we had at least a pound of food to give up before we left:

One last look from the gazebo-in-the-sea:

After we pack up and leave the apartment for the last time (after Nat realizes she walked out with her slippers on and had to go back and get her shoes) we head over to Nat's cousin's to return the bike, then hit up her aunt's house for a final goodbye, where we are joined by her other aunt. We hang out and have tea for a bit then set sail and head for the hills for a quick detour.

I took the family up to a local road I had ridden on a handful of times to look for monkeys, and sure enough they were there. It's getting pretty easy since they seem to pretty much be everywhere other than the breakfast shop. As we rolled up to the area they instantly started barking at us, and before long we spotted them:

This time I actually took a video:

Finally, monkeys on film!

Up the road we took a look at the aborigine bridge and noted that there was a Catholic church in this tiny town:

After one more drive by past the monkeys on Nat's side, we went to the Mr. Liu peanut shop and got a bunch of cans of various snacks to bring back with us. After that, we headed to the temple for our last stop. This is the Daoist temple that I've gone to several times, the Meihua temple which I've mentioned quite a few times before. Here's a look at the front, coming in:

To answer Terren, I use Daoism though Taoism is more widely used. The pinyin system, which I've used to study, spells it "dao" which of course is the word for path/road/way. So I go with Daoism instead of Taoism. I've seen both used. Either way, it's not Buddhism, even though they both use the Laughing Buddha, which is the fat dude always pictured in the statue, which makes it more confusing, especially since he was supposedly a Zen Buddhist in real life, if he existed at all.

So we did the ceremony as a last step before we left the county and headed back to Taipei. Grace said we should go there, as it's a headquarters for Daoism in the country and before you leave you should go (I mean "should" if it's your religion). When I say "ceremony" here I really don't know exactly what I'm talking about.

Of course, neither of us are Daoist, so we watched what others were doing with the incense and did the same. Apparently we did it wrong, but no big deal really. I have to admit I felt strange doing this. I don't know how to explain "strange" here, other than I felt a bit spacey walking around with the incense.

Nat said she remembered taking a pic at one of the stone lions when she was a teenager, so we took one of Nat & Julia so she can remember when she brings her husband here in 30 years:

We hen drove an hour in rush hour traffic to make dinner with Calvin & family, but thankfully the traffic wasn't too crazy and we were only about 15 minutes late. We went to Tina's again, the organic place. One again good food. This time I got what Nat had last time, the pork:

Back at the apartment, I realize what a huge amount of shit I have to pack still:

It's funny, but a week ago I was ready to go home. Being back in Luodong today made me realize that I'm not. I mean, some part of me is, but then I feel like I've spent so much time building up a comfort zone that I have a lot of the details down here. I no longer feel like I'm vacation but that I partially live here. New Jersey seems years away. In some small way, I've grown roots here in these 6 weeks that make me want to stay.

I'm sure we'll be back. Hopefully there's less rain next time.

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


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Taiwan Day 41 - Out With a Bang

Today was it, the last day on the bike. The whole day is mine to take, if I so choose. So what do I do? Go back to Yangmingshan? Shoot for 100? Something else? I woke up early and really didn't know what to do. I rolled out at about 6:30, the sun pretty much done making it's appearance for the morning, and traffic still pretty light. I rolled down to the bridge the fastest way I could. This opened up any of 3 different ways I could take. I essentially punted the decision until the end.

As I got to the bridge I said fuck it, let's go to the Queen's Head rocks out on the north coast. The bike map looked reasonable, and I was over the bridge and on route 2 in no time. Traffic was normal, nothing crazy, and the pace was solid. No rain, despite the forecast calling for morning showers.

The coast was awesome because it was a different kind of terrain than I'm used to. Gone were the big trees and mountains and instead there were smaller blocks of rock covered in long grasses, almost like an ocean prairie, but vertical. These grasses must be super tough to be able to withstand the storms that ravage the coast. Another interesting thing I noted was that the area was somewhat dead.

Witness this apartment complex. I have never seen anything like this here, just totally abandoned. The shops on the bottom level were in shambles, as if some sort of blight hit and everyone just up and left. I'd love to know why this area is so neglected, especially with the ultra pricey shore town of Danshui not even 30 minutes away by car.

Maybe it has something to do with the weather. Shortly after I saw some massive, power-generating windmills. Maybe it's just too harsh here to support much of anything. Who knows, but I enjoyed the coast today, and in just 2:08 I was at the entrance of the recreation area with the Queen's Head rocks. But they charge admission to go near it. I said screw that and just took a long-distance picture and rolled out.

After a quick stop at 7-11 for some water and a Snickers bar, I turned off the coast road and started climbing up the backside of Yangmingshan. I had looked at the map quickly and saw that 2 connected to 101 up there somewhere. I guess I'm getting a bit blase as far as getting lost is concerned. With the GPS I know what direction I need to go, and where I've been. So unless I fall off the mountain, I should be good to go. Sure enough, it all worked out.

I decided to throw this in as my second goal of the day. Last ride, go for broke. So after the nice coast roll I hit the hills with the big mountain as the next target. As usual, it went up, and I slogged up with it. I think this pic somewhat goes hand-in-hand with what I quoted below. It's pretty epic here sometime. Shortly after I took this pic it started to rain, which was only appropriate for my last ride.

My average speed crapped out on the hills, dropping from 18 to 15 in no time. That happens here, which is to be expected when you go up 3000 feet. As I was getting to where I thought I should turn, sure enough a road took off to the right and said it was for the Datun Scenic area, which is what I was aiming for.

I was riding along the ridge on the side of the mountain and a cloud just started dumping down the hill. It was such a strange and unique moment. I wrote the following elsewhere, which I'll just quote here:

"Gotta say that riding in the hills here so much makes me understand why religion is so prevalent here. I was riding up along a ridge on Yangmingshan today and a cloud/fog just poured down the mountain onto the roadway. I've never seen anything like it, and was concerned for a second that I had found myself in the middle of some insane weather phenomenon. It was like a giant was pouring the cloud down from above. It literally ran down the hill at 20 mph, just rushing down on top of the road. Pure insanity."

It was really awesome. If you live up in these hills and farm them, you likely feel as if you're seeing the hand of god (or some set of probably constantly bickering gods) almost daily. When the clouds go and you can see the valley, I imagine it only reinforces that feeling.

The top was so-so clear. You could see much of the 800 foot detour to the top, but not all of it. I was under no delusion that I'd be able to see anything but thick fog, so I skipped the leg-grinding extension and started down the mountain after a quick pit stop at the bathroom and vending machine at the visitor center. I'm actually fairly sure bikes aren't allowed up to the top, and it was a bit of a mob scene today, as many people have the whole week off.

I took the downhill fast, as everything was dry on this side. It was the very last test of the bike, and it did not disintegrate, nor explode, which is fairly boring as far as the narrative goes, but it did allow me to actually make it back to tell the story.

I came off the hill about 70 miles in. At this point I certainly had to go for the hat trick and bag the century, which is 100 miles for those non-bikers reading (ie, my mom and Maureen). I rolled out another 20-ish on the bikeway and then headed up the hill the most reasonable way I could, which still hurt. At the top, I stopped at the Family Mart for 2 teas and a pork bun. I was 98 miles in at this point.

This was good, regardless of how good it actually was. I sat down and watched the world, and enjoyed the non movement for a bit. I got back on the bike and rolled to the front door of the apartment and the GPS said 99.3 miles. I usually don't do this, but I rolled around the block to top it off at 100.1. On the way, everyone else happened to be coming back to the apartment for a quick stop before going out to get a haircut for Nat & Julia.

So that's it, my last ride of the trip. While I'm ready to go home I do have to say I'm going to miss the biking here. The mystery of this island is such a huge draw to me. Once again, I'll quote myself from something I wrote today:

"I'm going to miss the biking here. I really like it here. So many things are just awesome, new, wild, and raw. Having said that, I'm pretty sure if I biked like this for 2 years I'd kill myself before the 2 years was up. I'm getting way, way too comfortable in traffic now, sometimes riding 6 inches from cars/trucks/scooters doing well over 20 mph. Today I jumped in front of a 5 ton cement truck that was cutting us off at a traffic light and yelled at the guy. Have to imagine that would bite me in the ass eventually."

Back at the apartment, the reality strikes me that the value of salty Chinese breakfast food cannot be overstated. Calvin bought me some stuff and it is nothing short of remarkably fantastic.

I'm going to more or less wrap up the post with that. The afternoon was my doing a lot of email and messages and catching up on personal things while everyone was out. Then I made dinner for everyone, which was a Chicken Florentine Casserole I picked from And I drank some red wine, like 3 glasses of it.

At dinner, I also learned more about the religion of the country, and what I have been calling Buddhism is actually Daoism. I'll cover more on that in the next few days, when I learn more.

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


Taiwan Day 40 - Danshui

Slept in a bit today, felt like I could use it. We bought some bread from the German place yesterday so I had some of that for breakfast then headed out the door for a quick 2 hours on the bikeway. There really wasn't anything special about the ride other than it being an actual loop as opposed to the usual out & back. I did have 1 instance where some dude I passed tried to hang on, but he was shortly obliterated by my massive pectoral muscles (Ren & Stimpy, and no I'm not drinking yet).

Back to the house and I decided to take Julia out to Guanyinshan which is the local mountain I've gone up and over a few times now. Nat decided to go as well and we tooled around the place a bit, checking out the massively hazy view and then the sculpture park, where Julia played the fool like usual:

We then went to the visitor center and talked to the people in there and decided to drive out to the Queen's Head rock out on the North Coast. Nat called Calvin and asked if they wanted to go. He said we could meet for a quick lunch and then go. Or something like that.

I thought about Terren while waiting for lunch. I love that I'm using Terren to take these pics. Ok so this one isn't like Vanity Fair material but the vast majority of people here were salty Taiwanese betel nut-types. These 2 are back to work, just like many people on this day. The holiday has pretty much ended.

Almost 2 hours after we had decided to go, the trip to the Queen's Head is scrapped and we instead go to Danshui which is a touristy ocean-ish town with loads of shops and so on. It's usually good for some solid junk purchases, finger foods, and coffee. On second thought, we really should have gone for lunch since there's so much good food I had to pass on because I was full.

It was a beautiful day, great for checking out Danshui. Glad we got to go here, as it's a middle ground for everyone involved. Not too far, outside, and lots to do. I managed to score 2 team issue bikes:

We sat down to have coffee and people watch, though just as many people were looking at me. I felt sort of like a zoo animal, but I still get a kick out of it. I took a bunch of pictures today, so check the gallery to see a good cross section of interesting people. Today I decided to...Represent!

Who dressed this freak? It's literally 80 degrees out:

Life is pain:

Are the girls here *really* that innocent? These 2 girls embody the look I get from about 100 people a day, often younger kids like this who I guess are just curious. I mean, I see white people every hour up here in the Taipei area. Am I that hot and/or freakish looking? Maybe it's the cute kid.

I like this boat:

After coffee, the kids play. Here Julia is enjoying just running around:

This is blurry but I like it. Some days I think my daughter is cute, but I'm her dad and she's probably just normal looking. Other days I look at her and think that her teen years are going to be really, really tough for me:

On the way back Nat stops to get new glasses. And of course the spirit of Terren was with me here. I admit that I'm pressing my luck now. But if I didn't try I wouldn't be very entertaining would I?

Back at home, we get Pizza Hut by my suggestion. Seriously, I've eaten so much Chinese food that it just doesn't matter anymore. I'm in need for something else. I've had noodles and rice every day for 40 days. A little pizza is good for the soul. And it's actually pretty good here.

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


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Taiwan Day 39 - Beer

Once again running tight on time so I'm going to make this a quick one. I'm almost a full day behind so I need to give the brief details. This morning I was tired, no surprise, hit snooze 3 times, and woke up. I learned from my mistake and "acquired" a bun for breakfast, so I didn't have to eat power bars and cookies for breakfast. Hit the road with the idea to do 3 hours of random river trail exploring.

I shot straight down 106 to the river and managed to get there in about 22 minutes, which is a record time for me. I went up the river and learned how to cut off the duck's head, which I'm sure you've forgotten the meaning of. Then I turned left even though in the back of my head I was supposed to turn right. When I realized it, I was a bit too deep to go back so I took this small extension which brought me to the south side of Yangmingshan. I decided to just go up, this is what I saw:

The thing up there was a temple, and when I got to the top I had 2 options, right and left. I started with the right and there was a small temple more or less carved into the crevice of the mountain. Have to say it was very moving, very cool. I took some incense and did the traditional motions and put them into the urn where many thousands of people have done the same. It's the first time I've actually done this. I'm not entirely sure what that all means.

I went back down then hiked up the other side, which was steps to get to the top. As I was walking up with my bike over my shoulder an old woman was slowly getting herself up, and gave me the thumbs up and a smile. As clear as the mountain had looked, the view down into Taipei looked more like Pittsburgh from the early 1900s:

Coming back home I decided to once again take breakfast matters into my own hands and I swung by the breakfast stand and grabbed 2 rice milks and 2 rice balls. I have to say I feel empowered when I'm able to go out and do this stuff. And the looks I got from people was totally priceless. Aside from the white man in an entirely non-white residential area, me being in full spandex standing in line with a bunch of salty old Taiwanese men is extremely rich. The woman at the stand didn't miss a beat though. I guess she gets all kinds.

Calvin, Julia, Nat, and I later tried to go to the temple for some stuff of theirs but it was too crowded and we turned around, basically making a 7-11 run. We then headed down the hill to go to a German restaurant for lunch. On the way we saw a solid betel nut girl who smiled when we rolled down the window and waved back when I waved to her. I missed a good shot though:

Then I went to have beer, and German food which was quite good:

The kids could care less though, and just wanted to play games:

Back to the apartment, the Family Mart, the apartment, and the playground. We had grabbed some fireworks a few days ago and we lit them off while we were there. As soon as we did people started coming out of the woodwork to see what the fuss was about. It's great, as there are constantly people lighting fireworks here. So there must be people who run at any sound like this.

Here is one of the people who came out, a woman who is not dressed for the 80 degree day we had. I guess she was expecting snow:

Headed into Taipei for some food shopping and to hit up a much nicer mall than we hit the other day. Julia vomited, which is pretty good as she's been pretty vomit-free this trip. Then we did some shopping and I forget if we bought anything of note. We had some vegetarian fare as well as sushi which came on a conveyor past your table:

And I finally said screw it and splurged on the $4 beer:

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



Accommodation in aviemore