A tale of curious feet and an itchy soul

Taiwan east coast, this is the real Taiwan…

Taitung Surf shop front

A driftwood paradise

On the other side of the mountains, across the gorges and ranges that have still not been fully explored by the like of man lies the true Taiwan. This is where Taiwanese traditional culture is still rich and thriving, where the people live simply and humbly, where the likes of Fast food and Media saturation is yet to bloat the bellies and minds of the locals. This is where I found myself so very removed from the convenience and comfort of a very western Asia, this is where I think I discovered Taiwan for real.

So, to paraphrase: what began as a brief Hiatus down south turned into something amazing.

First of all, I was only intending to go south briefly to get some SCUBA diving in. It was only supposed to be a brief trip down south, check in, go diving, shoot back in time for some on the job training on Wednesday. How very naive, and hideously unorganised I was.

I ended up staying in Kenting, the southernmost town in all of Taiwan for a little bit more than a week. I met a lot of people and made heaps of friends, all of whom I will see again, if I haven’t done so already. I departed Kenting with the idea in mind that I’d surf all up the east coast. However late rising and prevailing weather conditions persuaded me to do otherwise.

I departed Kenting and headed for Taitung. Actually, I headed for a little village a short ways north of there called Donghe on the recommendation of a friend of mine. So after a bus, a train, a fumbling about a train station with 30kg of luggage about my back and neck and then another bus, I found myself at the  Donghe village council building. Gracefully, I whipped out my phrasebook approached the woman sitting behind the reception desk and asked, “Chicken, sweet okay sandal exit upholstery mother? Pencil climb house floor sea?” in my Mandarin Chinese.

After a solid minute of blank looks and sentences that washed over me like waves crashing on rocks, she turned around, desperately seeking her English speaking co-worker. After a bit of intelligible conversation and small town hospitality with the likes of a couple of phone calls and a cup of tea, one of the locals who works at the surf shop in Donghe rocked up on her scooter. I had my doubts that the little 50cc moped could carry me her and all my cumbersome crap to the hostel… But we got there in the end.

After putting my things upstairs and having a brief look at the surf I met the others at the Surf shop and we had an awesome traditional Taiwanese dish called “sao jiu zi,” (literally: fire wine chicken). Cooked on an open fire in a half an empty steel drum and consumed while seated on the mishmash of old car seats and bits and pieces of old furniture next to a motor cycle workshop. The workshop belonged to the brother of the woman who owned the Surf shop. We got along pretty well. His English was good enough that we could communicate, even when under the influence. The evening continued and I took up the Djembe drum I saw in the corner of the surf shop earlier and smashed out a little rhythm, and tried to teach the others how to play “Australian style,” as they showed me some traditional Taiwanese style drumming. It was awesome.  I can hardly remember calling it a night.

The days I spent in Donghe were slow and a bit sleepy, but I think I deserved some of that. My body was beginning to get a bit fed up with all the inconsistent eating and sleeping patterns so a couple of good night’s sleep in the sweet semi-tropical conditions did me well I think. One night while staying there I had dinner with a couple of the teachers from the local primary school. One of whom was the local English teacher (a Taiwanese national and Aboriginal of the Amiss tribe) and another who was the kindergarden teacher. They treated me to dinner and drink and stinky tofu, which I have to say, is highly underrated!

We came to the conclusion that stinky tofu deserves a better name: perhaps crispy tofu would be a more apt description. Its taste didn’t deny the smell (which kind of reminds me of the smell of a freshly opened bag of dog biscuits but tenfold in obnoxiousness) however it was far more subtle and served as a pleasant savoury flavour, complemented with local garnishes.

I was invited to be guest at their school if ever I was in town again and I had time. I offered to go along to the class the next day but, they never came to collect me and show me around the school. It was really unfortunate, and I didn’t want to just waltz in unannounced either.

It tastes better than it smells... I promise

"crispy" tofu

During my stay, I hired a scooter and rode from Donghe to Fuli, a little town with a train station. I had to cross the mountains to get there, it was such a magnificent ride. Despite there being several rock falls, the road was passable and the little scooter didn’t permit me too great a velocity anyway. The winding, narrow turns and tight blind corners set my pulse to a steady run. Just enough to keep me warm against the wind chill.

Along the way, I found monkeys on a bridge. Because I was wearing a helmet, sunnies and a bandanna around my face to stop snot-cicles forming in the wind, the monkey didn’t recognise me as being human so I got close enough to take this photo with my camera phone.

Little monkey afar

Hey monkey face!Why the monkey thought I wasn't human

Granted, as soon as I took my mask off, the thing hissed and snarled at me and I ran away squealing like a little girl…

But this was not the end of my scootering adventures! Once I had tasted the sweet crisp mountain air on my tongue (and the native winged insects as they hurtled to the back of my throat in transit) I had to see more.  Thus my travels led me to seek out my new Belgian friend Tars, now residing in Hualien, who I had promised, I’d visit on my way back up north. He had organised with some friends of his from the university to take a great posse of scooters to Taroko gorge to find the old natural hotsprings….

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