Friday, December 17, 2010

9/15/10 Departure

The time had come to go.  I set my alarm for the first time since arriving and packed my bags.  In the back of my mind I’d felt the strong pull of home for a while but somehow managed to suppress it with all the plans I’d made during my stay.  Now with no plans, the pull was strong again.

Car packed, we drove to the train station…slowly.  Not to relish in the drive, but because everyone here drives so slowly.  If the limit is 60, they’ll do 50.  If it’s 70, they might touch 60, but for safety’s sake will likely stick with 50.  There are countless car accidents here but nearly no fatalities: nobody is going fast enough!

Arrival at the train station wasn’t a moment too soon, I only had 5 minutes to spare.  I thanked my hosts profusely nearly crushing Space’s bruised and battered rib cage in the process.

With a simple wave, it was done.  My trip was over and the return was all that lay before me.  Three weeks down, a lifetime ahead.

Thanks for reading,


9/14/10 Random Photos #18

Throwback: Ice block delivery

John Shen undies for your johnson

The ugliest mannequins....EVER

Look closely - it's paper

The neon lights scream "Betelnut Here!"

Betelnut assembly

Sleepy shop owner

With their soft heads, kids don't need helmets
Space teaches the North American neck hold gesture.

His eager student goes straight for the double.

Taipei's worst named hotel

Thursday, December 16, 2010

9/14/10 Farewells

Space gathered the group for one final round of drinks at Surfer Ken’s Lounge.  Many of the people I had met over the past few weeks were there: Rob, Nicki, Chad, Passion, Harmony, JF, Brad and Bello to name a few.  When asked what the best thing about my trip was there seemed to be only one appropriate response… “All of it!”  People who had been there upwards of 3 years hadn't been to all the places that I’d been to, or experienced what I’d experienced.  Free from work obligations, life didn’t get in the way of my travels.  Such is the beauty of a vacation; it can be a complete escape from the everyday.  Some people choose to go to a resort; others choose to go on an adventure.  As they say, different strokes for different folks, but I think my resort days are probably behind me.

My departure wouldn’t be complete without one final ritual of the nightly dog walk.  Space loves it and so do I.  It’s like the Englishman’s evening constitutional, without the pomposity.  This one felt special: the dogs were calm; we found a pen full of puppies; and there was car dancing for the second night in a row.  Oh, and I wore a stupid hat and didn’t care.  Al that was missing was a KTV machine.

Puppies always make Johnny smile

Space and I try out the puppy "lean back" stance

The puppy is scared stiff by the hat

9/14/10 KTV in the Streets

Note: Just in case I haven't explained it already, What we know in North America as Karaoke is known in Taiwan as KTV.  Technically, karaoke only takes place when you rent a small room and sing in front of a small group of people.  I will use the terms interchageable since I believe that they represent a distinction without a difference.


For all the shyness of the Taiwanese, one activity seems to be immune for causing them embarrassment…singing.  There are Karaoke machines here that operate much the same way as jukeboxes do back home although I can’t remember the last time I saw a jukebox.  Put in your coins, select a few songs and sing your heart out on the sidewalk.  A video with girls in a bubble bath provides the background to the lyrics.

The teens give it their all, but it’s no use.  Every person I heard caused me to cringe; they were that bad.  It’s like tone deafness is widespread.  I can’t for the life of me picture teens in Canada exposing themselves in this way.  Maybe in the confines of their homes or in the safety of a private karaoke room in some seedy basement joint where the threat of an Asian mafia assassination is very real, but certainly not out on the sidewalk in full public view.  The group of teens I met that night was even unphased by my photography.  That’s one of the things I love about Asia, people aren’t put off by the lens and I’m not viewed as a weirdo, only a guy who like to take photos.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

9/14/10 Back to the Streets of Hualien

After having lunch with Space and Iris, I returned to walking the streets of Hualien one final time.  The same scenes were played out to me.  While the main streets and busy side streets were buzzing with excitement and activity, a curious stranger need only walk down any non-descript alleyway to discover loneliness.  Home after home was dimply lit with one lonely senior citizen sitting quietly watching television.  I was reminded of the days when I used to deliver meals to the elderly and infirm for Meals on Wheels.  In one particular seniors residence I would arrive at around 11:30 and deliver 3-4 meals.  Walking the halls I could hear the television behind every closed door, the vast majority of which were tuned to “The Price is Right”.  Old people simply adored Bob Barker; he was a symbol that an old guy could remain at the top of his game.  It didn’t matter if they were confined to their residences by illness, fear or choice, they all lived vicariously through him.

One gentleman had told me that I should just walk in when I arrived as he never locked his door.  Each time I did this I was greeted with the same sad scene.  He would be watching “The Price is Right” with the volume turned all the way up; he was all alone, with only the 8x10 framed picture of his dead wife on the end table beside him to keep him company.  This, I thought, was true loneliness.

And here it was in Taiwan…all around me, I didn’t know what the TV programs were but the scene was the same to a passing observer.  Sometimes we’re not so different.

9/14/10 Getting Lost: My Ritual

Previous plans for surfing were out of the question, unless by “surfing” you actually meant "drowning".  In my condition I was up for the latter.  A much better decision for the morning would be to speed along some unfamiliar mountain roads on the Irony Horse.


There was a military base/lookout point on a nearby hillside.  I recall Space saying that it was a great ride with an impressive view of the ocean on one side and the valley on the other.  Predictably, the road narrowed considerably after passing the military base.  I passed the “Cape of Good Hope Coffee Motel” and thought to myself: I could use a cape in my wardrobe, especially a cape of good hope.  Something like that just might be enough to tilt my pragmatic nature slightly towards the optimistic side.

In the distance I saw a serpentine road up the side of a mountain on the other side of the valley; that would be my destination.  As usual there was nobody around to save me from myself or at a minimum, report my stupidity to others.  The pavement ended and was replaced by large river stones.  The Irony Horse bobbed and weaved unable to maintain a straight path.  Miraculously, I didn’t wipe out although there were a few close calls.  That switchback road was as twisty as any I had encountered here and the climb was made doubly difficult because I couldn’t take my eyes off my surroundings.  I wanted to press on further but a muddy stretch of road made the decision to stop for me.  Trying to cross it would have made a wipeout certain and not just likely.  Logic had prevailed and my return journey from yet another “middle of nowhere” began.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

9/14/10 Caged In

I don’t know how last night ended, but today began with me as a crumpled mess on the couch.  It took a while for me to open my eyes, and when I did I saw that I had been penned into the living room like some kind of farm animal.  By way of explanation, Space and Iris use folding bamboo gates to keep the dogs off the couches when they’re not home.  The strange part is that Ginger was penned in with me and Milo was nowhere to be seen.  I overdosed on water in an effort to stop the Pantera jam session going on in my head.  Then I figured that I would proceed with my regular morning routine, just more slowly.

Pen in hand and ready to write I tried, but the words wouldn’t come out.  All I could put together was a nonsensical string of words consisting solely of “it”, “for”, “and”, “to” and “the”.  Clearly, this wasn’t going to work.  I hadn’t pictured my last day starting like this, I was supposed to pack in a full day of “stuff”, but I was forced to resign myself to the necessity of sleep and retreated to my bed for a little more rest.

It was all for nothing, the guitar-based Pantera jam session had morphed into a full-on Neil Peart drum solo…man, that guy can play!  Milo was nowhere in sight, odd since he had gotten used to my early morning routine and was usually around to greet me.

Space must have some ultra sensitive connection to coffee because no sooner than I had finished pressing some did he appear on the steps.

“Dude!  You penned me in like an animal, and even worse, you penned me in with Ginger.”

“Look, I tried to wake you but you were having none of it…wait, where’s Milo?”  And with Space speaking his name, we heard Milo yelp from outside.  Space had left one dog outside and caged a guest in with another.

Finer moments have been experienced by few.