When I was in Mexico, I wasn't updating because I was in a bad place. Here, things are a little too awesome to update often. I'm super busy all the time, so there's that. I had a homestay with a Hakka family, an old ethnicity that came over from China around 5-600 years ago, I'm told, and got along fine with the Aboriginals. They were so great - I felt the warmth and hospitality from the first minute I got into the car - a mother, a father, and triplet daughters sixth-grade age. I hope to post about that soon, but now I have to talk about the beach.
The last time I saw the ocean was pretty perilous. I was really cautious about getting back in the water again. This isn't the calm, clear Lake Ouachita water I know so well, this is tides and waves and currents trying to pull people away. I mean, that last experience was a Lesson Learned, and learned well. I desperately wanted to be in water but I was scared, too.
But the intoxicating beauty there... This island is so gorgeous - the Portuguese called it "Formosa," beautiful, and rightfully so. It reminds me of home, only MORE. More green, more mountains, more heat and humidity, and then of course there's the fact that there's ocean to be found everywhere. My study program had an excursion planned to take us to the southernmost beach on a Friday - I planned to stay as long as I could. Booked a room for 10 for Friday night, but everyone was full Saturday. I figured I'd play it by ear.
The school's tour took us first to a sort of museum about what-all could be found in the area. It was fun, but it wasn't beach. Then we were taken to the farthest-south tip of the whole island, which had a lighthouse, and lots of trees, and shops... but it wasn't beach. Then they took us to a spot where we had the single best vegetarian meal yet which was delicious but still not beach. Then we were given some time to stroll around and look in shops which were also not the beach and then they took us...
...TO THE BEACH! Oh...
I mean it was just lovely. A little bay, called "South Bay," and it had some silly music blaring like many beaches do but we went far enough away from it and I slathered up in sunscreen, and we negotiated an umbrella rental from some women who were covered head to toe like mummies because you have to stay white here or you aren't beautiful, and then I jumped in. Even though I was very careful I was caught in something of a weak current at first, but many others were as well, and we worked our way out of it right away. From there I would stand in a shallow part - there was something of a sandbar that went out a good ways - anywhere from knee to neck deep, letting the waves move me around. After a couple hours the buses left, and those of us staying... stayed!
Night markets are awesome here and every town has a few, so once the sun had long set we showered up and headed to drop our bags off in the hostel and check it out. It was great! I ate everything... Stinky tofu, big-sausage-with-little-sausage, fried mushrooms, some japanese gooey rice thing I don't even know what it was with black sugar on it, grilled corn, fried pineapple, mango ice, .... and more I'm struggling to remember. Went back to the awesome room and laughed with 9 friends well into the night, pillow fights, silly jokes, then passed out.
Woke up in time the next morning to check out, left our bags there and headed out for adventure. After breakfast we went to rent bicycles because there is a national forest park that sounded wicked awesome.
Yeah. The map was flat.
After I don't even know how long of biking it felt like an hour but was probably only 15 minutes at an angle that felt like straight up I backed out. I had been going slow because my roommate had too, and I didn't want to leave her behind. Then I realized I had actually been going slow because my back tire was dragging inside the wheel cover, and I was having to fight the friction to get anywhere! Of course this is Taiwan, so it was crazy hot and crazy humid and this was tougher than Monkey Mountain, the sweat was dripping off of me. Turned it around, took it back, turned it in, got my refund, and headed to the beach! I was pretty frustrated because the long version of this story involves a lot of awkwardness due to the size of the group, a lot of "What do you want to do" and "Well what about this" and "What if we" and "Well let's go" and "Are you ready" and "Where's so-and-so" and then even when I got to the beach we were waiting on people and it was getting on toward about 4PM and I had hoped to go snorkeling and I was starting to go crazy from all the waiting and not-doing-anything...
Finally the people we were waiting on showed up, but we'd been waiting to get on their scooters, and they'd gotten too few and didn't have helmets. So they headed off to another beach (Why? The one we were at was fine?) and we had to taxi to get there. More frustration! We started walking and finally caught one and finally got to the other beach and finally spotted our friends (easier than most places - just look for the tall white folk) and then FINALLY I was in the water and oh!
Just wonderful. Again.
That night most of the group that had stayed headed back. I couldn't go back yet. I felt like the day had been wasted and I still wanted to snorkel. We perused the night market again...
...oh! I forgot to say how the night before we met the princess of Taiwan! Yes! She told us so herself! Well, she told us in Mandarin, then a boy told us in English, but he also said, "But this is bullshit!" But then she pointed to a sign (presumably, that she had made) and chattered in Mandarin, and the boy told us that the sign said, Princess of Taiwan, and she laughed hysterically and then showed us that she had been sampling her own wares, which was flavors of millet wine and liquor that I bought a bottle of and she had been forcing us to take shots of. What a great lady! Of course I took a photo with her...
...and as I had failed to find a place to crash and as my friends had crashed on the beach the night before, the one boy who'd stayed behind and I headed to the beach. We had a tent someone had lent us, and we set it up, and promptly strolled around the beautiful night beach. What a drastic difference from the night market! The market was crowded, packed with people, you could hardly move - we stopped at one spot to inquire about foot massages (only to find there had been a price increase over the price our friends had paid the night before - weekend price hike I guess) and ended up just sitting at the table there to avoid the madness for a bit until we had enough energy (and our full bellies had relaxed a bit) to head to the beach and set up.
It was so quiet there, almost no people except for some random fishermen with ten foot long poles with lights on the end, and the occasional bunch of kids come to set off fireworks. Fireworks are pretty popular here; they go off all the time and due to some sort of language disconnect, whenever we ask why there are fireworks, we receive not an answer but another question: "Do you not like fireworks?" No, I think they're swell, I'm just wondering what the reason is. We found a mat someone had left behind and set it up as our front yard and laid upon it, laughing our butts off as we swapped stories about our experiences and interactions in Taiwan thus far. We decided it was just too damn nice sleeping under the stars to climb into the tent so we didn't. We just passed out on that mat under the stars.
While I woke up several times during the night because of how uncomfortable the sand was, I woke up at one point because I was freezing! I remember being crazy excited to feel cold for once. I crawled into the tent and passed back out. I woke up once because the sun was coming up, and we'd talked about watching the sunrise the night before, but having had such a crappy sleep, I couldn't move. Later I woke up again because I heard a pack of wild dogs talking trash outside the tent... and I still couldn't move.
Woke up later and felt tired, sore, and stinky... but then, when I woke up, my front yard was THE OCEAN, so yeah I didn't complain. I jumped in for a swim and a rinse and then we packed up the tent and headed up to the 7/11 for breakfast for three reasons. 1) Money's running out. 2) We had more than enough local cuisine at the night market the previous two nights and 3) They have air conditioning. Anyway, no matter what we get there, it ain't gonna be like home. We must have looked a sight, but we loaded up with a bottle of water, a bottle of Pocari Sweat (the local answer to gatorade), a slurpee, and a mess of food each, paid, and set up in the window seats. Oh how we laughed at our situation and the whole unlikeliness and wonder of it all.
At that moment, I felt perfect. I didn't need snorkeling. I told him so. I had discovered I had twice as much money as I thought I had the previous night so I said I'd like to try to go and find the things I wanted to buy at the night market the night before but didn't. We walked up the road but none of it was anywhere to be found. It's literally a completely different street at day and at night. So we turned around, found a random shop to go potty, and hitched a bus back to Kaohsiung so we could train it on into Pingtung. In the train station, we sat down on a bench next to a woman with a tiny precious dog... and promptly fell to cooing over the dog. She loved us, she kept taking pictures and texting them to her friends, so we took one with her on my camera, and then the train came, and we got back to campus and shook the sand out of our bags just as the rain was beginning to fall...
And that was just two and a half days! Can you imagine? So sorry I haven't been updating, but man it's awesome here! And there's still homestay weekend to talk about! This weekend I'm staying here. We're free, no excursions or plans or anything, but the program switches our study companions and roommates halfway through. That's a whole blog post itself there, the reason I think they do it, but at any rate I love my roommate so much and I will be crazy sad for her to go. We're going to spend the weekend having adventures here and next weekend I'm going to visit her in her hometown.