Friday, January 11, 2008

Good People

Yesterday started out pretty lazily, but we picked it up after dark, and walked 27 kilometers for the day.

It started as we left our pavillion sleeping spot on a pier:
Again, we were waved down for lunch, so we went over for some food and song. Apparently, the chef that had cooked up the meal was an award-winning Amis Tribe chef. Sweeeet. The sashimi was fresh from the morning catch in the Pacific.

We walked through the Tropic of Cancer and hungout with some other folks in the afternoon.
One guy said, "The Pacific Ocean is our big refrigerator. Whenever we want to eat, we go catch something."
We left with a bag of sticky rice, and the woman told us to go find some ingredients so we'd have a few more meals to eat. At night, we found just what we needed: a 7-11.

7-11s are on just about every other block in the big cities here, but less frequent in the rural areas. We got what we needed and had a hobo feast.

We walked on and found ourselves at an elementary school where we talked, ate delicious school-grown crops, and drank Kaouliang Jiou (a strong liquor) with the principal, vice principal and some teachers. A joyous group it was.

Today, we woke up bright and early to elementary school kids poking around us while we slept. The east coast of Taiwan is full of great people and natural beauty.

We walked on, napped, and soon a police officer picked us up, and offered to take us a little further down the road. I'm going to bed now... at the police station. We've run into really nice authority here.

I think tomorrow, we'll try to make it to the big city, Taidong.

Intelligent Travel

Intelligent Travel posted one of my entries! IT is a National Geographic Traveler magazine blog.

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I'm under Jan. 10, 2008.

All for One, One for All


We left Tzu Chi University in Hualien and headed south, but didn't get far before we had to ask for directions. (How many times have I started this blog with something along the lines of "We're heading south..."?) The road diverges and there's two options. We wanted to go the coastal way, but we had walked towards the mountain road.

We turned back around, and it was already dark, so I called a Hualien contact my aunt had left me before we started walking.

Degrees of separation: my aunt's co-worker's son's friend.
People here are friendly. We met up and slept in their home for the night. After breakfast, he dropped us off at the city limits, the beginning of our next big stretch.

It was a 34 kilometer walking day from Hualien to somewhere above Jici. At that point, an artist by the name of William would pick us up and shuttle us 30 kilometers to just above Shihmen.

The road south from Hualien is mountainous and cliffside. The ocean reflects the sky, so on a good day, it's bright blue. There were a lot less cars and not many trucks at all. The coastline breeze and some rice wine kept us trekking.

Around lunch time we came upon a group of families that had gathered for a meal. They waved us down, so we stopped to say hello. We ate what was left over, mostly sticky rice, fish, shrimp, and chicken. We drank what they called "Taiwan Whiskey." The bottle said "Rice Wine."

The group was mostly people of the Amis Tribe, the largest aboriginal group in Taiwan. Today, they live mostly on the east coast of Taiwan. The talking and singing was great. Most spoke bits and pieces of English, so they would try to talk with Steve. Most of the food items on the table were great for sexual prowess, according to on one of the guys. After some songs, we hit the road (walking) a little tipsy from rice wine and a drink mix involving milk. Cool!

At that point, we decided to christen the almighty "The Cup" that we had been carrying in our packs for the past 4 days. It was time.

I think it was more rice wine, but I can't be certain. Either way, it made the walking a bit easier.

The coastal road went inland, and for dinner, we had noodles in the mountains. We trekked further as night fell. I told mother I wouldn't walk at night. Mother's usually right about things, but we had to do it anyway. The burn to walk was in us, and the walking was tense. We subconsciously worked out a system where Steve would walk up front and I would be behind. He'd have his flashlight out and ready if a car came from in front of us. My blinking headlamp would signal cars from behind. We made it most the way down the mountain this way until a van stopped in front of us.

We approached slowly and saw that it was a man offering us a ride. He secured his dogs in the back and we jumped in. His name was William, and he handed me a card when we stepped in and said in English, "Look at the card, and you'll know why I picked you up."

It said "All for One, One for All." He explained that he was a backpacker too, and that if every traveler helped one another, than the traveling world would be a lot more at ease. I agreed. A long story short, William was awesome, a bit quirky, and as Steve put it, a bit like an Asian Woody Allen. He pointed out some good destinations for us, and dropped us off at a good sleeping spot.

We're sleeping on a pier tonight.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Trading in the Monastic Life for the Road

Here's a trip summary so far with some updated pics for something else...I'll try to get back to your comments soon. Sorry for the delay.

It's 4:10am, and we have to go pray. I'm not cut out for monastery life.

For the past two nights, my longtime friend and I have been sleeping at a Buddhist monastery on the East Coast of Taiwan, eating vegetarian, shoveling cement, making chocolate candies, and mopping the temple floor.

I'm here on a self-administered project I've decided to call A Walk on my Ethnic Lines. This exploration of my ethnic identity has been bubbling around in the depths of my gut for some years now, and the opportunity came for me to fly to Taiwan this winter, so I took it.

It's not the first time I've been here, but it is the first time I've been here with a critical eye on the half of me who is formed on this island. My other half, I would argue, is something along the lines of White American.

I started walking a week ago more than a hundred kilometers north of where I am now. My travel plans were to walk south and meet people. I've hitched a couple of rides and taken a short train ride, but they were all either tangential to meeting people or for the sake of convenience to some of my hosts. I've slept by train tracks and staked a tent near waterfalls. Today is the start of the second segment of our walk -- 150km to Taitung, a comparitavely larger city than what we've seen so far.

The start of the trip was just like any beginning to anything that isn't well planned: different. After a coffee at a cafe on the cliffside coast above Dali, we headed South. The weather was cool, but our walking subdued most of the cold.

We headed down to the train tracks to follow the rails, but were hurried back up to the road, when a speedy freight train honked and roared by us. We hit the ground and let our feet swing off the ledge that offered a 15 foot drop into a muck of a garden and various degrees of trash.
We'd been walking on a coastal road that most cars abandoned once a faster route opened. It's mostly tractor trailors now. Sometimes even tractor trailors towing tractor trailors.

The thing about walking is that it's accessible to most people across the world and it really helps you understand the land. People take note of what you're doing and ask questions. Questions turn into conversations, and then there's an exchange of cultural information that's priceless. For the world to meet one another is an endless opportunity of both inner and outer exploration. It's that simple.

We met some folks from I-lan, a city that's known for its winter mosquitoes. The folks told us to take a dip in the hot springs in the town above. Unfortunately, we lost our camera, and in a big ordeal involving the local police and a karaoke bar for truck drivers, we didn't go to the hot springs. Instead, we went to the cold springs the next town over.

In I-lan, we stayed with my mother's friend's mother's sister for a night. We were getting ready to leave town, but day was turning to night fast. A kid we met helped us ask his middle school if we could spend the night in the school yard. After a welcoming "yes" from an English teacher, the Assistant Principal turned us away. No worries. I understand.

But as we were leaving, it began to rain. Bummer. We dawned our goofy ponchos for the first time and searched for the local university. The security guard told us to stake out in the basement of their student union. In the morning, we awoke to an elderly crowd exercising to their favorite tunes. The mosquitoes kept me awake, so I wandered around. The floor above the exercise troupe was partner dancing to tango music. It was like a nightclub, except in the morning, and with old people. The elderly here are far more active than those I've seen elsewhere. Our second wake-up call was students milling around from class to class.

Eight kilometers later, we met a man that had seen us down the road. He bought us "bin-lang," an addictive nut that's chewed in Taiwan. We gave it a shot, and decided to save the rest for later. After meeting some of his friends, we stepped into their abandoned house, had tea, and watched them gamble amongst paper bills and dominoes. Some things might be better left unexplained. All I know is that they were kind to us, and at the moment, that's all that mattered. Later, we had coffee at a Mazda dealership and chatted with a salesman.
After a short evening train ride and a sloppy night market meal, we went back to the train station to sleep under a covering that seemed to overlook just the tracks. In the morning, we would find a spectacular view of the mountains. A kind station worker gave us a lift closer to Taroko National Park, and said that travelers can always use a helping hand.

I got more than my share of worldly wisdom after sleeping under the roar of four waterfalls in the park. We hit the road again in the morning, keeping in mind that we needed to get to this charity organization by nightfall. We stopped at a 7-11 for an afternoon snack. As we were leaving, I saw a sign that pointed to the Tzu-Chi Academy. Our afternoon hunger landed us exactly where we needed to be. We walked to the monastery, dropped our packs in front of the temple, and went in for an evening prayer, as directed by the man who greeted us at the entrance.

There we spent two nights of 3:50am wake-ups, 2-hour prayers, chores throughout the morning, and a visit to an even larger temple boasting a mosaic of Buddha holding the Earth. After living in monastic order, we're on the road again, now with no order to our travels except a road going South.

Monday, January 7, 2008

In Hualien now at a university -- will continue walking tomorrow.

We stayed at a Buddhist Monastary last night and will do so again tonight. Wake-up call is at 3:50am. I didn't hear it.

We had to get down to the temple by 4:10am and start prayer at 4:20am.

Obviously, I'm lost in the words. I just try to go along with the melody sometimes. This is funny. Just the other week, I was in an Episcopal Church singing at Christmas Eve service, and I didn't have a clue what was giong on. This sort of sums up the reason I'm here.

I live within two cultures, both of which I don't understand fully, and neither one understands me fully. More on this when I get some more time on the computer.

We spent the first half of the day shoveling cement and making chocolate covered cashew candies at the monastary.

Both the trainyard and near the waterfalls were great sleeping spots.

Yours peacefully,