Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hiking in the mountains

Taichung is pretty much surrounded by mountains on all sides but the west, but it's hard to tell how far away they are. I had a map that showed some hiking trails just outside the city but I didn't know whether the map was to scale or not. People at work said they were too far to ride your bike to but none of them really believe that you can ride your bike any distance- when I told them I'd rode my bike 150 miles, which is at least 200 km, they were like, "You mean 2 km?"

So on Saturday I decided to give it a try, figuring that the worst that could happen is that I'd have to turn my bike around and come home. The map was fairly easy to follow and I've gotten better at recognizing the characters of street names- even being able to look at the map and remember them well enought to recognize them on a sign a few minutes later. I didn't find the trails I was aiming for but I saw a sign that said "Earthquake Park- Trail No. 9" (in English!) so I went there. It took about half an hour to bike out there.

The earthquake park was a little odd... it looks like it had been a school that got a little destroyed by the earthquake. This picture is pretty much of the worst part of it. I guess these things are more evocative if you'd lived through the earthquake.

I found the trail, which turned out to be a crowded paved path with fruit vendors on either side. But it quickly became very steep- still paved, but really steep. It was a challenge but not too difficult. There were also parts that had steps built- you can see how steep they were! There were a lot of people there (I guess anytime you go out into nature in Taiwan, you'll see lots of people), old people, people with kids, etc. Lots of people walking their dogs. Beagles, little retarded Paris Hilton-type dogs, and Golden Retrievers.

There were some amazing views where you could look out over the forest, or over Taichung. Even though the day looked clear (the sky was very blue) it was still hazy so the pictures of Taichung don't really come out. There were some wild pointsettas along the trail- those were beautiful.

When I got near the top (after about an hour, I think), there was a big pavilion & a small temple & a playground. Kind of weird, but I guess not by Taiwan standards. There were also some warnings in Chinese and English (about wild animals and snakes- with this many people around?!?) and some maps of the trails with well-translated English. Which is such a blessing. When I see a sign, does it say "Danger! Trail closed!" or "This was to a beautiful scenic overlook"? I don't know.

The maps showed Trails 6, 7 & 8 running roughly parallel to one another, and by that time I'd forgotten that I'd started on #9 and thought I was on #8, so I figured rather than going back down the same trail I'd check out #6. It had even steeper steps and they weren't very even so you really had to watch your step. But there was a railing which helped.

When I got further down it ran into a narrow road. There were cars and stuff driving along it, and I was kind of walking through these orchards. And then there were these shacks where people were singing KTV- which is the Taiwan version of karaoke, where you just sing with your friends in a small room. So weird, I'm halfway up a mountain, surrounded by farms, and there are these tin shacks with people singing karaoke at noon on a Saturday.

So I wandered around for a little while, but I couldn't tell if I was still on a trail or if I had left it, and I didn't know if the roads I was on would take me to where my bike was, and I didn't want to go the rest of the way down the mountain only to have to walk back up it, but I also didn't want to walk the whole way back the way I'd came if there was a better way. (Frankly, a couple of hours of walking straight up and down was enough for me.)

I saw a drink stand and figured I could buy a drink and ask directions. So I got a lemonade (which turned out to have tapioca balls in it- they put them in everything) and asked if they spoke English, they said no, I asked if they knew where the earthquake park is, all in Chinese except for earthquake, which I don't know. Didn't make sense so I tried to charade an earthquake, then said "9-21" which is the date of the earthquake. That didn't help but the lady said she'd call her son, who speaks English.
[I'd read in my tourbooks about how Taiwanese people are all so helpful, and in reality this is only sometimes true- sometimes they will not help you at all (ie, my roommate recently had an incident on her bike where she almost hit a dog and braked too fast and wound up flying off her bike and landing on a row of scooters. She was fine, luckily, but this guy was just standing there smoking a cigarette & staring, didn't try to help her at all. Then when she got home she realized she didn't have her keys, so she went back to the scene of her accident and asked someone else if they'd seen any keys, and they pointed to them on the ground about 4 feet from the guy who was still standing there, smoking). By the same token, sometimes they are overly helpful- they want to help but if neither of you understand each other, they just can't, but they will keep trying until you just want to run away, or keep nodding until they think you understand and let you go away. Anyways, the drink stand people were definitely the 2nd category.]
While the phone was ringing, she and her husband talked about me in Chinese ("She's an American!" "Yes, so beautiful!" [I hear this all the time- so strange- but they say it about all white people, not so much in Taipei where they're more common, but everywhere else I've been], "Her skin is so white, not dark at all!" "She doesn't understand us!") and I was thinking, I understand that, just can't say earthquake, but I didn't say anything.
Then a young couple came by who could speak English, and it turned out their car was at the earthquake park too and they needed directions, and they said I could walk with them. They were really sweet- were visiting from a city about an hour away and we chatted most of the way, and got back to the park without incident. Thank goodness for helpful Taiwanese people!
When I got home I downloaded some episodes of "The Office", then went to the Chinese meeting where I understood some of the talk... a very good Saturday!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am subbing a classroom in michigan. The students are taking a test,and as i read the part about the taiwan man just staring, i broke out in a loud laugh!