Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kaohsiung Getaway

Over the 228 holiday weekend, I traveled with a group of friends to Kaohsiung.  “Another vacation?!?” you say?  “Is that all you do?  Just travel around having fun and seeing the world?”
We took the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung, at opposite ends of the island.  The HSR is an amazing modern marvel!  A distance of about 185 miles was covered in only 2 hours!  And that was on the “slow” HSR train.  On the way back home, the “fast” train shot us home in an hour and a half!  Bullet trains are the way to travel.
When we arrived at the MRT (subway) station near our hostel, we were welcomed to Kaohsiung by the Dome of Light.  Amazing what you can find underground sometimes.... 

Dome of Light

Formosa Boulevard MRT Station in Kaohsiung

After a dinner of street food from the Liuhe Night Market, we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf for some fresh air and a couple Taiwan Pijius.  That means ‘beers’.  :)

Xie xie

The next morning, we went off in search of breakfast.  Somewhere between the coffee and the noodles, we found ourselves in the middle of an earthquake!  Now, I’ve felt a few tremors living here in Taiwan, but this was crazy!  People, tables, and chairs were rumbling around, and you could hear the earthquake.  I started to feel seasick.  We found out later that it registered around 5.9 on the ol’ Richter Scale.  Best part?  The lady working at the restaurant went right on making tea during the whole thing.
Now certified earthquake survivors, we remembered that life is short and we’d better make the most of it.  We packed a lot of living into the rest of the day!
Our first stop was Lotus Pond.  We could have easily spent the entire day here, walking around the pond and many temples and pagodas.  At the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, the custom is to “enter the dragon and exit the tiger” for good luck. 

Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

Enter the Dragon

Exit the Tiger

Oh, hello.

Next up were the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, which are dedicated to Kuan Kung, the God of War.  The lanterns were beautiful, and very un-war-like.  

Spring and Autumn Pavilions 

I love lanterns!

We also visited the statue of Xuantian Shang-di, the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, and guardian of the north.  Long name, big feet. 

Xuantian Shang-di

Very Dark Heaven-ly

Lastly, we stepped into the Temple of Enlightenment, which is the biggest temple by far.  Sometimes I feel like, after a while, all the temples start to look the same, but this one had some pretty awesome ceiling art. 

The phoenix and dragon theme was heavily represented at Lotus Pond

Ceiling painting

Ooo lala, fancy gold ceilings 

After realizing that we were too tired to walk to our next sight-seeing stop, we hopped in a couple cabs and rode in style over to Longcyuan Temple.  Now, I know I just said that all the temples are the same and I’m totally bored with them, but this temple really had an effect on me!  I think it was the flags and Buddhist chanting, but maybe it was the elevation.....

I mean.... just look at this!

The sound of the flags flapping in the wind was so peaceful!

The plan was to pick up a trail here at the Temple and walk around the Chaishan Nature Reserve to look for macaque monkeys.  But we were tired.  And we saw a couple monkeys on top of the bathroom.  So.... that counts. 

Just chillin

Back at the hostel, some decided to take a nap, but I was still on a “live life to the fullest / sleep when you’re dead” high from surviving that earthquake.  So, the rest of us journeyed back down to the harbor to take the ferry out to Cijin Island.  

Aboard the ferry to Cijin Island 
Kaohsiung at night from Cijin Island in the harbor

Back on the main island, we met up with the rest of the group to check out Love River.  So romantic!  Not really, but it was a cool river walk.  

Love River

Side note:  At dinner, the restaurant boasted many Western-style dishes.  We ordered the nachos for the table because, well, why wouldn’t you?  I am starting to believe more and more each day that my true reason for coming to Taiwan is to somehow spread the joy of Mexican food to this part of the world.  These “nachos” would not even be allowed  to be labeled as such in the States.  Bowl of tortilla chips. Cup of salsa. Cup of ranch.  Cup of honey mustard.  Tasty.  Not nachos.  End of rant.
The next morning, our group scattered to different parts of the island.  Some went to Kenting, which will certainly be the topic of a future blog here on SamanthaInFormosa, but not today.  I stayed with the rest in Kaohsiung to see what else the city had to offer.  We started at the Pier 2 Art District.  As we walked from the MRT station to the pier, we all commented on the traffic and its superiority over the sometimes-scary situation in Taipei.  The sun was shining, the air was less polluted, and the scooters weren’t constantly threatening to run me down.  I was really enjoying Kaohsiung!
And then we got to the Art District -- I was in love!  

From destruction comes beauty?

The expo was stocked full with these man/woman themed statue things

Graffiti art!

Wishing tree

More graffiti art

My coworker Anna had told me about the huge bowls of mango shaved ice you can buy in Kaohsiung, so of course that was on my to-do list for the city.  I’ve had many instances where my complete lack of Chinese language skills has affected my ability to get what I want or need, but it had been a while since it was this extreme.  I was just about ready to give up..... but I really wanted that mango ice.
Me: (standing around staring at the menu, entirely in Chinese) Ni hao. Wo yao nage.  “Hello, I want that.”  (I pointed to a picture of a mondo bowl of mango shaved ice.)
Restaurant Lady: (She obviously knew about as much English as I know Chinese, but for the sake of the story, and because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I’ll translate her Chinese and gestures into English) Hello, please fill out this order form.
Me: Oh, it’s all in Chinese.  I can barely speak Chinese and certainly can’t read it.  I want that bowl in the picture.
Lady: Ok, just fill in the order form.
Me:  Hmmmm, still can’t read it.  Can I just point to what I want?  That usually works for me....
Lady:  You want that?  Are you sure?  It’s big.  Do you want the big one or the small one? 
Me: Yes, I want that.  I have 3 friends to share it with.
Lady: Ok, cool.  Just fill in this order form.
Me:  (Deep breath)  I’ll be right back.
At this point, I was ready to give up.  Pointing always works!  Luckily, the Restaurant Lady recruited another patron who spoke more English to help me.  Ah, Taiwan, always so helpful!
Me: I want that big bowl of shaved ice.
Helpful Girl: You want that?
Me: Yes.
Girl:  What do you want?
Me:  Umm, I want that big bowl of shaved ice.
Girl:  It has fruit on it.
Me: I know. I want that one. In the picture.
Girl: Do you want the big one or the small one?
Me: The big one. I want the big one in the picture.
Girl: Do you want ice?
Me: Yes, I want mango shaved ice.
Girl:  Do you want white ice or regular ice?
Me: Wow, how can there possibly be this many questions about a bowl of mango shaved ice?  I want whatever is in that picture.  Or in that bowl right there on that table that the other people are eating.  I want to eat that.
Girl: Oh, you want the same thing as this picture right here?
Me: (Sigh) Yes, that is what I want.
It was AAAAALLLLLLLLLLL worth it!  Check out this little bowl of heaven!

Worth the effort

Rejuvenated by our delicious bowl of shaved ice, we hiked up to the British Consulate at Takou.  The cherry blossom trees were in bloom, and there were great views of the harbor.  I kinda want to live there. 

British Consulate at Takou

View of Kaohsiung harbor

I could live here. Easy.

Thanks to my Lonely Planet Guide, I knew where to go for a relaxing and delightful dinner.  We took a cab up and down some winding roads over to a small fishing village right on the shore.  The cabbie dropped us off partway down and pointed us in the general direction of the restaurant.  Apparently the remainder of the roads were too steep, winding, and narrow.  It made for a beautiful and quaint walk, though.  We arrived at Escape 41 and chose a seat out on the patio (in February!!) to watch the sunset.  We ordered beers and appetizers and took in the view.  At some point, the sun slipped behind a cloud or perhaps a layer of that Taiwan haze that seems to be ever-present, and the sunset abruptly disappeared before completion.  But we were not irked -- we had the best pizza in all of Taiwan to console us!  

View from our table

Last bit of sunset

Escape 41

Exhausted and buzzing with the thrill of living life to the fullest in Kaohsiung, most of us turned in early and slept like rocks.  Our weekend in the south of Taiwan was sensational, and it made me wonder: is there a career that involves ALWAYS being on vacation?  Because I think I’d be pretty good at it.

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