Day 19 – Taipei to Hualien

Even though I had set the alarm on my iPod for early o’clock, I hadn’t raised the volume on the device. Thus I found myself waking up at 7:30, just about the time that my train was leaving the station. I turned off the very quiet alarm in my pocket and packed up a small bag very quickly.

My idea here was to pack my small day pack with all the necessary items to use over the next 6 or 7 days. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could live out of such a small amount of things, plus I didn’t want to be traveling around down south with a gigantic backpack especially on a scooter. I tried to scrap together the essentials – Toothbrush, shirt, maps, etc. And then I stored my large back at the hostel (which was a very cheap rate per day) and headed out.

I went to the MRT and realized I still didn’t have any cash, and it turned out the ATMs at the station did not accept my cards, which was unexpected. I needed a ticket, and the station attendant was just so nice he bought me a ticket. It was one stop away and not too much of a sacrifice, but it was still an incredibly nice gesture I’ve come to see all over Taiwan.

I went to the station and showed them that I was late for my train and got a ticket for the next one for only $101 NTD (about $3 USD). The next train was at 8:15, so I really only lost 45 minutes. I was tired due to lack of sleep, but I wanted to watch the countryside, so over the next amount of time I switched between napping and pressing my face against the window like a little kid. It was also the first train experience I had in Asia, and it was much like the European trains I took over there. Not really a surprise.

Got to Hualien with three things on my mind – money, hostel, scooter. Teh tourism office was able to quickly and pleasantly answer all these questions. I got to a 7-11 to get some money, then walked a short distance to the Amigos hostel. I got there right as the lady, Chi I think her name is, was about to leave. I was pretty lucky since it was just before their afternoon break.

She helped me out with all sorts of things and knowledge. She rented me a bike for only $150 and I headed out into the world. First off I went to the coast, and headed a bit south. I found these abandoned-looking areas all over with statues and stuff. I stumbled upon some kind of open theater, but it was covered in all this grafitti, most of which was in awesome Engrish. It looked like something out of The Warriors, but even more greek like there should be urban gladiators fighting in the center area. I took a few pictures and then headed North along the bike path. The path was very very long and I passed by all sorts of things. Beaches, fishermen, wharfs, buildings.

At a wharf I was passing by some sort of shop out of a hanger and heard some barking. Suddenly these two very excited dogs darted out of the hanger and start chasing my bike. The adrenaline shot through my body and at first I was kind of afraid they would bite me, but a sudden inspiration caused me to stop the bike and bark loudly back at the dogs. They were completely surprised by this and immediately turned tail and scampered back to their hide out. I think they were so frightened that they ran faster away from me than to me. I’m glad I can at least speak Dog, if not Chinese.

Saw these factories with huge blocks of various types of stone, which looked so cool and got me a bit excited. I’m into stone carving for those who don’t know, and I just wanted one of those blocks to myself to mess around with for a whole year.

I continued up, past a garbage dump, and some old turret stations that I’m guessing were leftover from a war. Then I got to some park. No one was there, and there were crumbling ruins everywhere which made it just a little spooky. I tried to climb one because I thought it would be cool to stand on the top, but once I got up it seemed just a little more dangerous than I had thought and instead of risking jumping to the other platform, I went back down.

Biked back, and on the way figured that the Stone Museum was nearby. Except from where I was on the bike path, the stone museum was up a big hill, so instead of biking around I just picked up my bike and walked up the nearby stairs. I actually was not too far off, maybe a block or two, so I continued there.

I was quite sweaty and tired when I got to the museum, so I was determined to spend my time there. The entry fee was prety cheap, but only after I paid did I realize that half of the museum was actually closed for renovation! The contemporary sculpture part was open so I walked around there. It wasn’t so much sculpture, but rather very interesting stones with multiple veins and marbleization that was cut in such a way to create beautiful swirles. There were weird color variations and with the help of the brain’s pattern recognition, you could just make out entire scenic landscapes with trees, lakes, boats, fishermen, all of that.

Because the rest of the museum was under construction I went outside to a small sculpture park out back and looked around there for a bit. Had a quick conversation with some guy who was probably just practicing his English. Then from there I biked to the Pine Park, which supposedly had 60 something pine trees but it looked like it only had about 10. I just couldn’t figure out the purpose of the place. I mean… it wasn’t exciting. There seemed to be a little history behind the place, but I couldn’t figure that out. It was just a few pine trees. It wasn’t even much of a park either. There was a small glass sculpture exhibit, but that wasn’t too large or exciting. I just couldn’t figure out why that place of all the places I went to seemed to have the most amount of tourists.

Well anyway. Then I headed back to the hostel to relax for a while. Talked to Chi about all sorts of stuff, like why it seemed there was a complete lack of people around. It apparently was a combination of a bunch of factors: the school’s break was just ending, some other things, and also it was “Ghost Month” when people who were superstitious don’t really go outside because bad things are more likely to happen. We also talked about some of the Taiwanese traditions. I found out the hostel is right next to a brothel disguised as a spa, but as I knew this is pretty common throughout Taiwan. After a while I left to check out the Stone crafts street. It was a bit difficult to find, but eventually I did. It seemed more like a jewelery market than stone sculptures, but it was alright. It was just a long string of shops that all sold similar things. There were a few very cool sculptures that I may have bought if I were rich.

Then I headed to the bus station, where there was a free shuttle to Liyu Lake. It was the last night of a large aboriginal water festival. When I got there, I encountered a gigantic crowd of thousands of people all lining up along the shore of this lake trying to get a good view of the show. It was difficult to find a spot with a clrew view of the performance stage. Luckily I found a raised ground under a tree that was actually pretty good. The performance was pretty cool with lit up water spraying everywhere and dancers in aboriginal costumes doing a choreographed dance depicting scenes from aboriginal life. It kind of remineded me of Native American dances and costumes. After the show I walked along the nearby street which was full of street food. I got some lamb bits on a stick, and also some kind of ice cream burrito with shaved peanut candy in it. Oh it was good.

Another performance followed shortly, though it was the same one as before. The only difference was that this one had fireworks, and I think it was their last show of the night. Since I had seen the dancing before I just watched a few of the fireworks while heading to the busses. I took the bus back and biked back to the hostel, where I took a shower and called it a night.

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