About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Easter and Tomb Sweeping Day in Penghu

(For all the photos click here)
I really did not have the money and I failed to plan ahead to get flights out of Tainan, but I decided to go somewhere I havent been before in Taiwan, the Penghu Archipelago for our only 3 day weekend of the year. Sure we could of taken a boat from Chiayi, but that would mean a train to Chiayi and taxi to the port, when it seemed easier to have the Kaohsiung airport shuttle pick us up at our home and drop us off at the check in counter. Who would of thought that Easter and Tomb Sweeping Day would fall on the same weekend? Kind of creepy. So flights to Makung were full of locals returning to fulfill their filial duties. Our flight left Kaohsiung at 7:30 am which meant the airport shuttle was at our doorstep at 5am.

We arrived in Makung around 845am and the owner of the home-stay Mr. Wu (Makung Traditional Homestay) was waiting with his car. He was a local who was retired after a career in Taipei at some agriculture and fishing government position. He married a woman who was 10 or 15 years his junior from Makung and their 2 unmarried kids were still living in Taipei. Their home belonged to his wife's mother who they are caring for and they recently renovated it. It was located on a narrow alley, about 10 paces from the oldest temple in Taiwan a 16th century Matsu temple that looked her age (older than Lugang's well preserved Qing dynasty Longshan temple). He charged me 2200NT p/night including breakfast, didnt enforce the checkout time and helped reserve all my boat tickets and scooter rental.

The weather was much colder than I anticipated and our summer clothes were insufficient. This would not be a weekend to explore all the wonderful white sand beaches. Our first day after our arrival and breakfast we took a boat outside Makung to some floating fish farms in the sea. We pulled up and exited our boat, sat down and the people started lighting the coals on our table BBQs for us to eat unlimited amounts of oysters. Of course Z doesnt like seafood (she loves fish) and the fire scared her so we were left with watching the male tourists trying their hand at catching various sea animals (if they caught, they would pay by weight and then the boat chef would cook it up for them). One of the fisherman decided to help Z give a go at catching a squid. We had no idea that as they are being taken out of the water they start shooting steady streams of water, squirting at us. Z and the man were reeling in this squid, but its wiggling, squirting body freaked her out, she dropped her pole and ran. After what seemed like the longest, most boring 2 hours of me trying to eat oysters and entertaining Z who was playing with the oysters instead of eating them, a glass boat pulled up and we sat down below deck and tried to make visual sense out of the cloudy, murky water. All visibility was gone from the storm, which was disappointing because I wanted Z to see the pretty coral the way Ive seen it from my diving days.

The rest of that first afternoon we spent walking around Makung which is a great place to explore on foot, so many beautiful temples, a wonderful park by the beach, old crumbling walls, very pretty winding, medieval side streets to get lost in. I held Z a lot, too much as she got tired of walking (but not tired enough not to run in the park). We found a cheap but tasty noodle and dumpling place and fruit stand that made fresh shakes, which is all I needed.

The next day bright and early we went island hopping to the 2 largest outlying islands and rented some scooters. First we went to Wang'an, saw an empty Green mossback turtle preservation Center, and the very interesting and ghost town like Chungshe old dwellings. We also found some caves that the Japanese had built a military base during their occupation which had a very beautiful coral shore with views to smaller island rocks and pretty moss green patches everywhere.

The cool thing was that traveling with a kid was to my advantage (finally!). Although I came on a crowded boat full of tourists from Makung and there were other boats doing the same thing, it took me longer to get going; I was the last one to get my scooter and then we had to hit the toilet before setting off, so we never went with any crowd and when we stopped and got off our scooter to check something out we were the only ones there, I dont know where everyone else went, especially some of these mega tour buses I saw driving around. It was magical that way, having these islands to ourselves, it felt very free on the scooter to be the only ones on the windswept, grassy, very un-Taiwanese roads with feral goats everywhere and surrounded by gorgeous, wild turquoise water and islands out on the horizon. Z and I yelled our bleats to the goats who responded back (I used to be a goat herder so I can do a pretty good goat bleat).

Z was keen to see the famous 2 heart stone weir on Chimei island, a ring of stones to catch fish at low tide and shaped like one big heart and another smaller heart. Most couples come here to get their picture taken of the heart shaped weir in the background. When we got there, she said, "look its a Mommy heart and a Zenaida heart!" Which to me summed up not only our 3 day Penghu getaway but our dharmic existence together. The lone woman selling coral and shell trinkets took our picture and I was so very aware and so grateful that I do have this immense love, this child, a mother's love for her child, my love for Zenaida. It was really a private moment for me, no words or tears or anything, no one else to share it with, maybe the shell trinket woman saw as witness, its good to be awed by the mundane. I get so caught up on cooking, cleaning, washing, all for her, yet she herself, being with her is the supreme priority and joy.

On our third day we rented a scooter in Makung and drove to the aquarium which was closed because it was a Monday, so we drove to the picture perfect Erkan Old Residence, on the other side of the island. Its a century old Fujian, Japanese fusion village, eclectic, partially inhabited in the middle of nowhere. It has this artsy vibe, that made me think of Taos, New Mexico, the outside of the homes were adobe-esque, the landscape, more desert, grassy, prickly pears and aloe, no Taiwan like bamboo jungle and just lots of individual attention to detail and creative expression. It seemed like a nice place to retire if you were an artist. On our way to Erkan, we stopped to eat prickly pear ice cream and marvel at the 300 year old Tungliang Banyan Tree that canopies the Lungte temple and its courtyard. We also bought some roasted peanuts for a snack. Its local tradition to eat roasted peanuts on Tomb Sweeping Day to ensure a year of robust health. Then we went over the impressive Trans-Ocean bridge, impressive because the views of the ocean on either side, and the sky were amazing. Its was almost stormy so there were so many shades of blue, the salt in the air, the ethereal lit sky, little Z sitting on the front of our smart and new scooter, it was almost heaven.

The whole weekend was a bit too cool for our warmer weather clothes, I wish I would of packed appropriately. (But everyone I talked to in Tainan all said the same thign about how hot it would be). I bought myself a beautiful teal scarf with silver threads, and new jeans that were altered, but for Z I just had to layer her up and didnt find clothes I would of liked for her, so I was always a bit fussing inside if she was warm enough because she sat in front and the air blasted her (she wouldnt wear my scarf).

After Erken, we stopped to check out Lintou beach, a white sand beach bordered by a 1 hectare pine forest. It was too cold to swim so we just played in the sand for a bit and returned to our home-stay. After we packed, I paid our bill and the Mr. Wu drove us back to the airport but not before they took some photos together with Z. The flight back to Kaohsiung was in business class, which was nice for a change, lots of room on our 30 minute flight.The shuttle driver could not find us which was annoying because we are the only foreigners standing around waiting, and he was the dude just chain smoking outside looking like he was waiting for someone to come pick him up.

So was it worth it? I paid more than I thought, much more than I anticipated. But writing this months later, having suffered financially these several months (first by my return from the US in March and my Penghu 3 day weekend) it was worth it, to share it with Z and talk about it later. On our first day in Makung, I bought her this handmade stuffed zebra that is the sweetest thing I ever saw (Zebras being her favorite animal coz they start with "z".) She named it Zoe and sleeps with it every night (Osito and N2 her bunny have some competition). I had fun just taking so many pictures again.

Taiwan never ceases to amaze me. That these small, tiny islands could have so many destinations worth going to. There are still so many Taiwanese natural wonders on my list waiting, calling us to come.


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