Why I Love Taiwan (2)
We had a great night, so the next day with a very large hangover, I decided to stay on in Taiwan for a couple of days holiday and delayed my trip to Xinjiang a bit longer. I said goodbye to my boss, who returned to Hong Kong, bought a mountain bike and decided to go to Hualien(花蓮).
I had bought a map of Taiwan and decided the little road that went from Hualien to Taidong(台東) looked pretty interesting, so I would cycle that. So that’s what I did. I bought a mountain bike, flew to Hualien and then cycled from Hualien to Taidong, over the course of a few days.
When I look back on it, it really was an amazing thing. Everything I did, I just did without thinking, no planning, no preparation really, just went and did it. And everything worked out, everything, it was so amazing.
I remember the first day of riding, I had people cheering me out of the windows of their cars and giving me cold drinks and really just into what I was doing. I just rode into a little town (Feng Bing豐濱) and asked if anyone knew where there was a place to stay and instantly the first person I met had a friend who had a guest house. That lady (Gou Xiao Jie 高小姐) who ran the guest house, became and still is today a very good friend of mine. I even organized to sell my bike to her, for the cost I bought it, at the end of my ride in Taidong I would give it to one of her friends.
Again I never planned it, it just happened. The next day I ended up near Dong He and again asked if there was a place to stay. They directed me to the local church where I was put up for free with the local priest an amazing old guy who had been in Taiwan for over 35 years and was the first foreigner to photograph the people of Lan yu(蘭嶼). He made me tea from binglang(檳榔), we chatted away and he told me about his life. By the time I woke up in the morning, he had left to teach Amis kids, but not before he had left me some Dong He Baozi (東河包子)for breakfast.
And everywhere on my trip I would look out and see these waves, unridden just minding their own business breaking with no one surfing them. I couldn’t believe such a place could exist, and that there weren’t people all over those waves. In the end I cancelled my trip to Xinjiang (新疆)(I still haven’t been there) and spent maximum amount I could stay on the visa I had, two weeks in the East Coast(東海岸).
I fell in love then with the scenery, the waves, the sun but mostly with the humanity and warmth of the people. I think that is what touched me most about the East Coast, the people. I loved the simple genuine kindness of the people.
I remember having to go back to Hong Kong after my two weeks in Taiwan, and I almost wanted to cry when I left. I had only been there for two weeks, and already I had a deeper connection than I ever had with Hong Kong, which I felt although a beautiful city was soulless. I think that is why I love Taiwan so much.
After a time when I really came close to losing it, Taiwan gave me back my soul, and that’s what I love about Taiwan. It’s not perfect, it’s sometimes messy, unfortunately some of the development could have been better, and there are way too many dogs on the east coast (but strangely no owners) but it is all soul. I found a kindness in people and a warmth that I have never ever found anywhere else. Outside of New Zealand, I have more good friends in Taiwan than anywhere.
To continue with my story, after my taste of Taiwan, I had to go back. I got my surfboard sent up from New Zealand to Hong Kong and at any chance I could I would skip back to Taiwan, back to Taidong and the East Coast. It was then I discovered through my own endeavors and though meeting some locals and old time foreigners in the east coast, that Taiwan has a typhoon season and some of the waves it gets are amazing, smoking freight train barrels over coral (and without the crowds). And of course every time I went, everything always worked out.
For example, the second time I went to Taiwan, I know a total of two people in Taipei. The first guy, I happened to run into in the airport in Taipei, he had flown in at the same time as me. The other person, I met the day later by chance in the Eslite bookstore(誠品書局). So what are the chances of that happening? Running into the only two people you know by chance in a city like Taipei?
And it never stopped. About six months later, my consulting job and I were mutually sick of each other, Hong Kong had decided to have a recession, so I thought it was a good time to take a break. I decided to go and live in Taiwan for a bit. Of course I went straight back to the East Coast.
I lived first in a very small village called San Xian Wu, about 15 km south of Fengbing. I taught English 16 hours a week (the amount I needed to live on) to kids in the local middle school and enjoyed a lot of spare time. I started seriously trying to learn Mandarin (one of the reasons to this day my Mandarin has such a strong Taiwan accent) and surfed every day. I slept on the roof of my friend’s house and loved the life. It had its own rhythms and it was at this point I started having my first real contact with Amis people(阿美族).
I would wake up with the sun, go surfing and then study some Mandarin, then just wander around talking to the local people. And it was so easy just to chat away the day with them. I would walk outside and if my neighbors (who were amis) were eating water melon, they would bring me over a big piece.
I would walk down to sit around and talk to them and spend literally hours with my crap Mandarin, eating melon, or guazi(瓜子), or whatever and chatting away. They would always offer me cigarettes and beer, or what ever they were drinking and they were never stressed, and never in a hurry. They didn’t have a lot, but they had a lot if you know what I mean. People were simple, but they were full, conversations were broken, and simple, but they were deep. I loved it, I had fallen head over heals in love with Taiwan.