Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hualien, Taroko, and Hot Springs

  Chinese New Year!!!! Oh how the heart lightens on a vacation.  We only taught 2 days the week we left and then we were off for to our Trip to Hualien.  Hualien is on the East coast of Tiawan  and is near by the famous Taroko Gorge. We left on our train at 2pm and got to our destination around 6ish pm.  As most of the population of Taiwan travels on Chinese New Year, and we not realizing that this, got tickets but they were standing tickets.  Now it would be silly to assume that there are a set amount of standing tickets that they can sell as well.  The general guideline is that once the seats are filled you can  push, cram, pack, jam and fill to overflowing  every entry way, and aisle on the train.  Our group of ten, not finding a place to accommodate us all, had to separate. I went off by myself, as I often do, and found a roomy bit of ground to sit upon. I was glad that I had claimed that bit of ground for myself, for by the time we had past Taipei 2 hours latter the train was absolutely overloaded by people. If I had wanted to find a place to lay my bum then I would not have been able to find a place.  I was there reading  until a very strange looking Taiwanese man started to pull a pice of paper in and out of his pocket looking a me and then putting it away, and then getting it out again. I figured that he was going to start talking to me as soon a he could memorize whatever English was on that pice of paper. Being by-myself and not wanting to subject myself to  an awkward conversation, gave up my space and went to find the other girls. I stayed with them until we arrived.  
We arrived at our Hostel  and wanting to eat set about wondering the streets. But it turned out that on New Year's Eve, the night that we arrived, families eat together first and then open there doors to the public around 8. We wondered the night market after we had eaten, there was where I found the above shirt. Fabulous, is it not?  The next day, after staying up till 2ish, we got a late start.  It was raining, but it not detour us for going to Taroko Gorge. After stopping at the visitor center, where I captured the picture below of a someone making sure her dog was just a ridiculous looking as she , we hopped on a train, having seats this time, and headed off to the the Gorge.
It was an amazing 15min ride there. The mountains that rose in the distance were absolutely stirring. The clouds draped themselves over them in a scene that I am unable to describe in words.  After a refreshingly short train ride  we got a bus that would take us up the the Gorge. It didn't take long, but on the ride up there the boys in our group had a french braiding contest with Tammy's hair.  Though neither looked like a French-braid, they did surprisingly well for boys.

We finally arrived in the park, after a short pit stop we jumped back on the bus. But unfortunately this was a bit longer than the last ride.  We were stopped in a line of traffic that was caused by an accident. Two of the large tour buses tried to pass each other on a rather dangerous pice of mountain road. One was ran into the mountain pass and the other sat precariously close to the edge of the cliff.  We got off the bus, not wanting  this minor traffic accident stop us from seeing the wonders of the Park. We walked the road and down some steps to a small temple that that was built into the side of a cliff with a waterfall going underneath it.  It reminded me, in a small way, of Frank Lloyd Wrigh's Falling Water. Unfortunately this exploration was cut short when we heard people saying that the buses were moving again.  We had ventured quite a distance form our own bus so when traffic slowed we held out our tickets to another bus and pointed to it to see if he was with the same company, he was and we got on and continued up the Gorge. 

We Got off later and stared to hike around, when I say hike I mean walk on a paved road with cars passing us, but it was still beautiful. We did however do one "hike", called the Swallow Grotto, it was limestone caves that looked over the gorge. 

This Marked the end of the day in the park. The last bus down was at 3:30, and we having no alternative transportation,  had  to go. The next day we tried to head out early to rent scooters to ride down the coast.  We did find a place that would rent to foreigners, but they only had 4 scooters, so sadly two in our group  did not come with us. But don't feel to badly for them, they most certainly had their own adventures as well. 
I having had a scooter lesson( this consisting of going around the block twice and coming back unscathed) was voted to be the driver for this day. It was a little more difficult to then I thought, but I soon got the hang of it and my scooter buddy, Mary and I where off on our adventure. For some reason I got the short end of the stick when it came to picking a helmet, I got one that said "Happy Sister" on it, and it was made for a child. I  strapped  down, and prayed that I would not have to rely on it protecting my head from anything more than wind.

We continued down the costly highway oooing and awwwing at the wonderful ocean that we saw. We then went down a steep and windy road to get the beach. We ate our Taiwanese sandwiches that we got before leaving, my included corn, shredded zucchini and an egg. It was ummmm... ok.  We tried to fallow the trail to get down to the beach, but a man stopped us and said "money" and "200$NT". I, thinking that this man couldn't possibility own the beach, and how ridiculous that we should spend equivalent to 6$US  to go on the beach,  bypassed the man went down a path that was made by people like me, and snuck onto the beach. The others followed and we spent most of our time  walking, dancing, pondering, running, and doing cheerleading stunts on the beach. 
Our next stop was a rest area with the most amazing views of the coast, the above picture is one of many taken form that viewpoint.
We continued down the mountains to another beach that had a hike on one of the adjacent hills.  Like so many hikes here in Taiwan, there were stairs, lots, and lots of stairs. But it was worth it in the end for the awinspiring view.
We left from there to go back home. We did get caught in some rain, which while riding a scooter is like riding though hail. I was surprised when we got back to hostel it didn't have little baby cuts all over my face. The next day we got another scooter, so that the rest of the group could come with us, and  we made a plan to go to some Hot Springs some way down the coast. It was Mary's turn to drive, though she had her reservation about her skills, we made it out of the city unharmed.  The ride down was longer and less eventful then the last, but much colder.  We where all getting ancy to get the hot springs and warm up, and with some help from the natives we made it.  
The boys, Joseph, and Steve, looking manly on a scooter
Me, with my uber-cool Taiwanese face mask that I bought after my experience with the rain the previous day.
A shot from the back of the scooter, as we drove 2 hours to the Hot Springs.
Steve with his large helmet that he never took off. We thought that it made him look special, special in a, I have to ware this because I have balance disorder and fall down a lot  way, and not in  good way. (Love ya Steve)
Oh joy! The Hot Springs! We made it after being chilled for 2 hours on scooters the dirty looking water was to us like the pool of Bethesda(John 5:2,4) It was so refreshing. To be warmed to our bones was surely heavenly.  There were three pools, each of increasing temperature. It restored our sprits, and warmed our toes. Twice while there I braved the unheated lap pool just to cool thing down a bit. But It was just a great! I stayed there for awhile doing some laps, practicing my stoke, and greatly impressing some of the natives with my skills, or my ability to withstand the cold water, I know not. 

We stayed there for about 2 and half hours, wanting to stay longer but not wanting to drive all the way home in the rain, and dark, we left, or tried to.  We all ready get on our way when we realize that one of the tires on the scooters was flat. The good thing is the owner of the spa helped us out by getting someone to come over and fix it, but the bad thing is that it delayed us more than we had expected. 3 of the 5 scooters left and 2 stayed behind to wait for the repair man. 
On the the way back with the earlier group, we had a small accident. It had rained and part of the roads were muddy, and one of the scooters got to close to the back of the mud, lost control and fell over.  We(Mary and I)were right behind them when it happened, it was so scary to watch, my heart jumped.  But they ended up being fine with only some scratches and bruises to show for their accident. I jumped up and drove the rest of the way home with the driver of the scooter that got in the accident on the back. We made it back with most of the crew not wanting to do much more than take a hot shower and hang out at the hostel for the rest of the night. I on the other hand went out for food for the trip the next day, and somehow got lost on the way.  Surprised, perhaps not.  But after about 30 min I got back home much to my relief.  We left on the 9:20 train the next with 5 seat to share this time, and returned home happy and tired.
Sorry for the length of the Blog, but as you see much happened since the last time I had time to Post.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Big Winner

   My hike at the park
 and more stairs
but a wonderful view
One one with her mouth open is Angel. She is one of my kids that  would make a grate cake.(HAHAHA Angel's Food Cake! I'm too much)
My roommate Mary and I are reading the same book,: "The Brothers Karamazov." She is the intellectual and I'm the want-a-be.
Lunch from last week in Tiachung, crazy shrimp.
Dinner, or what is left of, My IGIF's mexican meal.
I'm the god of demolished bathrooms. This is what caused all the jackhammering last week.

Though this week has left me literally sick and tired it was not without its joys.  This last week we put the final touches on our trip for Chinese New Year. I am so excited to get out of my school. This last week I realized that in two day I hadn't even gone down below the second floor of my school, as I work on the 2nd and the 3rd and live on the 4th.  Any other time I would have gone a bike ride or hike but being sick, and teaching kindergarten that consists of jump around and being silly for 3 hours, has sapped all liveliness out of me.  But the good news that after restful weekend I can almost breath out of my nose again.  Another bit of good news is that I won the Taiwan lottery! All 200NT of it. That ends up being about 6 USD. A explanation: In an effort to get merchants to keep things on the books, the government came up with the Receipt Lottery. The theory being, with millions in winnings on the line, customer would start demanding receipts with every purchase  and merchants would wind up with all their income on the books. So I won money that doesn't even cover the cost of the thing I purchased on my winning receipt, but hey, its like eating out twice.
On Friday I made fortune cookies with my older classes, as it was one our last classes before brake.  When planing this lesson I realized that fortune cookies are not actually Chinese, but figured that it would be just as fun.  After doing it though I would not call this experience with the cookie making "fun".  The kids  obviously had a very good incentive to be  good, as there was going to be food. So the kids were not the problem, but I had forgotten that the kitchen did not have a oven.  But that was quickly solved with a toaster oven. But perhaps I should have actually tried to make them before doing it with a good of 7-9 year olds.  The whole concept of putting the fortune in the cookies was left behind when I released that you had to grab the cookie out of a hot oven and fold it before it got cold with the fortune inside.  While there are times when I'm teaching, when the idea to throwing my kids into a 274C degree oven sounds perfect, this was not the time to live out my fantasy.  So I opted for the flat fortune cookie which is sadly no longer a fortune cookie but a very thin, crispy, thing.  But even after having to alter the outcome so it was no longer  what we had set out to do, they,the kids left happy with a half of a rather doughy cookie in hand.  But do not let this culinary disaster make you second guess my skills, I'm still as good as I once was ( If you know that song I'm quoting good for you and please continue to humm as you continue reading). 
This weekend as I have said was very restful. No jackhammering, or trips, just pajamas, and movie watching.  I cut Steve's hair, as he is a little wary of the Taiwanese barbers. For the first time I cut boys hair it looks good, and well, even if he didn't like it, in two weeks he wouldn't be able to tell what I did wrong anyways.  I did however add some excitement to my life when I, with the other teachers that had helped me the day before with the cookie mess, made fortune cookies.  They  looked like the real thing  with fortunes inside and everything.  Even before the first batch was out of the oven I had a team assembled to fold and bend. They look very similar to the real thing, but some of the batches where a bit gooey but they still tasted grate. We made them for a potluck at church today, but unfortunately(get it unfortunately, if not it's ok, I'm really cheesy) the Taiwan humidity took its tole on them. They were no longer crunchy, but bendy.  But other then the other few Americans that are in our ward, no one knew that it was to be different.  As I am leaving for my vacation this week I'll be a bit slow to post again. But feel free to Email me.