Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Taiwan trip Day 9 - 14 (July 3 - July 8)

During this week we went for a "round-the-island" trip (I'll call it the island trip from now on). We started from Kaohsiung, went to Taipei, to Hualian, to Taidong, then back to Kaohsiung. After that we met up with some family friends and my high school friends over the weekend.

To be honest, if it weren't my brother I probably wouldn't have gone to the trip. He was the one who had the patience to look up the internet and found the places to stay and the trains to take. I was gonna say "forget it" when I saw how much planning there was. He insisted on the trip so we went. It was well worth the effort. I ended up seeing some great places of Taiwan and made some friends along the way!

For our island trip we stayed in Hualian for two nights and one night in Taidong. All we've planned is the Bed and Breakfast (B&B) that we would stay in and the trains we were gonna take. We talk to the owners of the two B&Bs and asked them about the tour packages that they can provide. We were lucky to have met pretty good owners or we could have been totally ripped off.

Along our train ride to Hualian, on the east side of the island of Taiwan, we could see the sea on our left and the mountains on our right. Taiwan really is a very beautiful place. Hualian itself is famous for its marbles of many kinds. I was told that their quality and variety is on par with Italian marbles. We went to the Toroko National Park nearby and the beautiful marbles and clear water were really breathtaking.

Besides the marbles industry there, Hualian is still rather undeveloped. (Cities on the east side of Taiwan generally are) We still see many farm lands. We'd sometimes drive between the rice farms. The downtown isn't that crowded either. People here move at a slower pace, and there are not that many cars around. Things are quite cheap here, too.

I got a chance to talk to the couple who owns this B&B and the lady told us that she moved here because she loved Hualian a lot. They set up the B&B in the hopes of giving her two kids a great place to grow up. Their house is right behind the B&B and the whole family lives there. Her kids would usually roam the yards of the B&B and enjoy the walkways in front of the house. Sometimes they go into the mountains for a stroll. The owner (Ms. Huang) told me that she's lived in Taipei before but didn't like the pace there. Everyone was constantly going somewhere, doing something. No time to rest, and the land is too expensive. They didn't want their kids growing up there, so they settled in Hualian (the husband's from Hualian). Then from this dream she told us of how they designed and built the B&B. Everything in the B&B has a story. The fence, parking lots, garden, and the pond, all has a reason why it is the way it is. They didn't have much budget so they reused some of the things people threw away. They shared with us how their business grew and we shared our experience in Canada. It was a great exchange.

I really admire the owners' courage to pursue their dream. It's not easy starting up any business. Yet, for a rather simple dream they really went after it until it was realized. I'm really inspired by them.

Before we left Hualian we gave Ms. Huang some tip for the many things she did for us - upgrading us to a better room with a porch, taking us around Hualian any time we're not on a tour, etc... In the end, she took the money to buy some good food that Hualian is known for, came up to the platform where our train was, and gave us the food before the train left. Before we left she told us "next time you're not my customers anymore, but my friends". What a wonderful stay at Hualian!

Our next stop is Taidong, which literally means "Taiwan's east". This city is known for its hot springs and nothing else. Its feel is a bit like Hualian. Daniel and I got our own tour guide who took us around and showed us many sceneries. You can see them in the photo. What really impressed me was the trip to see the natives. I've always loved music and those natives can really sing. The tribe we saw was Bunong. (布農) Each of them are such talented singers and they can naturally harmonize really well. I went to a museum there to learn about their daily lives, but I would much rather live with them for a few days to talk to the people there and hear their thoughts about their lives. There wasn't enough time this time. Maybe next time.

At night we got back to the B&B in Taidong. The owner, Mr. Chen, asked us about Canada. We told them about Canada and they got quite excited. Being the curious person that I was, I had to ask some questions in return! I inquired about their motives for the B&B, how the business is in Taidong, and why he chose to live there. Mr. Chen shared candidly. He's actually from Taipei, but he loved the life in Taidong, and that's why he moved there. He loved how people are so friendly. Sometimes when there are people at his door but he's not home to answer, his neighbours attends the guests and calls him up on his cellphone!

Mr. Chen is an insurance agent and he told us his stories of how this came to be. He was quite shy before becoming an agent. Some considered him nerdy. But for his job he trained himself to be a good salesman. Everything else is history. He started the B&B as a side thing not only to have extra income but also to introduce to others the goodness of Taidong. He shared not only the history for that B&B but also the vision he has for it. What a night of stories!

The next day we left for Kaohsiung and went out with our friends to eat. Overall, I loved this island trip. I got to experience not only some of the most famous tour places but also the culture of the two cities. This is all because our tour guides were from the place. I can see their passion for the city. I went to see the night markets, the downtown, and the seaside. The sea side is the most memorable. Although Taiwan is such a small island, I'm amazed at how many different kinds of shore conditions you can have - the waves are of different strengths, the rocks are different, some shores are made up of small, round stones while others are beaches. I can never get tired of watching the sea, pounding again and again at the shore. Looking at the openness of the sea makes me feel free. The mountains by the sea are a good contrast. I lived in Taiwan and never really got to appreciate it all. I'm thankful that Daniel went with me. Without his help I probably have not made the trip!

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