Kaohsiung Wrap Up

February 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm (Food, Kaohsiung, Taiwan) (, )

Wow, so I am really behind on blog posts, I’m still writing about my time in Kaohsiung! I tried to write this post very quickly, since I haven’t posted in a while and I’m very busy right now and only seem to be getting busier. I’ve even started working at a coffee shop, so I’m kind of behind on some less important things (such as this blog). Unfortunately this isn’t the most well written post, but I hope people enjoy it anyway!

Kaohsiung (in Hanyu pinyin Gāoxióng) is a beautiful city. I took the high speed rail to get there, it was only around a two hour ride. This was only the second time I’ve taken high speed rail, my first time being the opening day ride last summer of China’s new Beijing to Shanghai line. I have to say, high speed rail continues to be my favorite mode of transportation. I bought the cheapest tickets and it was much more spacious and comfortable than my international flight to Taipei. And each time I’ve taken high speed rail I am impressed by how timely it is. My ticket said the train would leave at 10:54 and arrive at 12:30, and the train in fact left at 10:54 on the dot and pulled into Kaohsiung just as the clock struck 12:30.

As I mentioned before, Kaohsiung is a beautiful city. Although it is the second largest city in Taiwan it has a completely different atmosphere from Taipei. Roads are wide and comparatively empty, and the overall feeling is much more relaxed. Actually, even though it is a big city Kaohsiung in many ways felt like a small town on the seashore, perhaps because Kaohsiung is along the beach.

One of the advantages to living in Kaohsiung is the weather, especially in the winter. Although Taiwan is considered a sub-tropical climate, Taipei’s weather in the winter is actually not that comfortable. It is often in the 50s (fahrenheit!!), and is cloudy and rainy almost every day. In addition, most buildings have no central heating systems, so Taipei in the winter often feels much colder than it actually is. Kaohsiung’s weather is much nicer, it was in the upper 70s and sunny during most of my stay.

I think my time in Kaohsiung was characterized by quite a few firsts. One of my favorite aspects of being there was riding a scooter. Motor scooters are ubiquitous to Taiwan, and especially in Kaohsiung they are the main form of transportation, meaning during my stay with my host family this is how we got around. Now, I haven’t rode on a scooter of any form since I was maybe 13, and those were small scooters designed as child/teenager playthings, not to be driven on roads. Hence, the first time I rode on the back of my host brother’s scooter I was nervous. As it turns out, there was no need to be. I guess as someone who enjoys riding horses, especially cantering and jumping, I should not have been surprised that I enjoyed scooter riding so much. I think when I get back to the U.S. I need to invest in one of these; better yet, I need to find a motorcycle riding friend to give me rides on the back of their motorcycle.

The second day in Kaohsiung we took a ride out to the beach and the old British consulate. Afterwards, we decided to take a sightseeing ride around the area; I’m so glad we did. We sped down a winding road on our scooters with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, packs of wild dogs watching us on the side of the road. It was such a thrill, and the ocean and scenery really were beautiful. Speaking of those wild dogs, they were everywhere in Kaohsiung. Unfortunately we witnessed some of those dogs attack a pet dog while visiting some ruins in a mountain near the city (for the life of me I can’t understand why the dog’s owners let it get so close to the wild dogs).

Kaohsiung has lots of great seafood, or at least that’s what I’m told. Now, I can be kind of picky with my seafood. If I like it, I love it. If I don’t like it, I hate it. And really, there’s a limited selection of seafood I would say I like. So, I can’t say I was thrilled by all the seafood I had throughout the week. However, I did have some moments of being pleasantly surprised. For instance, roasted squid from a street vendor. Previously, if asked I would say that I hated squid, do to a bad calamari incident. But I took a chance on this squid and it was delicious. It goes to show that you can’t be afraid to try new things, or even “old” things that you think you dislike.

After the first couple of days in Kaohsiung we left for Meinong to stay with the grandparents for the next few days. Meinong is a Hakka village district in Kaohsiung county, famous for its oil paper umbrellas. My host family’s grandparents owned a farm in a small rural town there. The home was beautiful, and the lawn was covered in pretty purple and red flowers. Unfortunately I don’t remember what type of flower they were (I asked someone, but since I’m not a person interested in plants I forgot).

Chinese New Year can be characterized by two things: food and firecrackers. All of the time. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so much food over such a long stretch of time before, four days straight of lunch and dinner feasts. My stomach is just not made to consume so much food, so after a few minutes into the meal I started reaching into the center of the table for food more and more infrequently. Well, I was told by an uncle that I was eating too slow and needed to get more food more often. And of course everyone was watching the foreigner every meal to make sure I was eating enough and liked the meal (by the way, no one knew I was coming until I showed up). The other inescapable fact of Chinese New Year are the fireworks and firecrackers. For over a week they were an incessant noise in the background all day and all night. After a while I stopped taking notice of them, unless they were going off right next to me.

Another cool experience I had in MeiNong was trying 擂茶 (léichá), which literally means pounded tea. It is a traditional Hakka beverage, made from pounded tea and herbs. We went to a tea house and spent a good 15-20 minutes pounding things together before we actually got to add hot water and drink it. It turns out it was worth the wait, as the tea was delicious. It came out a greenish color and was a bit thicker than most liquids. It also tasted nothing like tea, rather more like herbs and grain. I absolutely loved it and wanted more when it was done.

While our chosen method of transportation around Kaohsiung was scooter, in MeiNong it was bicycle. I can truthfully say that I have not ridden a bike for longer than five minutes at a time since I was 13 years old. As I quickly discovered, a relaxing ride for a few minutes around the neighborhood is completely different than using a bicycle as transportation. We would ride around all day to try to see as many sights as possible, for stretches of close to an hour at a time. We also bought groceries a few times, adding to the weight on the bikes. I think my legs and behind were in a constant state of pain throughout the week, but I am proud that I managed not to die. Seriously glad. Weaving through traffic is a scary thing when you are an inexperienced biker, especially without a helmet.

Taiwan is generally considered to be very safe. People regularly leave doors open at night or things sitting out without thought of anything getting stolen. So, when something does occur to upset that feeling of safety it is very unsettling. One night while in MeiNong my host brother, sister and I were up late playing board games. Around midnight we heard a girl outside screaming. Since it was New Years and children were up at all hours of the night we assumed it was just some children playing some kind of game. Just to be on the safe side we briefly glanced out the window (we were on the second floor) but couldn’t see anything, and resumed playing. About five minutes later their mother climbed upstairs with news. In front of the house a girl had been screaming because she was being chased by some men in a car. A guy jumped out of the car, grabbed her, threw her in and the car sped off. Their mother thought they were some gangsters and it was somehow gang related, but warned us to be careful if we go outside at night. Scary.

I think that about wraps up my experiences in Kaohsiung/MeiNong. For those of you who are friends with me on facebook I’ll finally be posting Kaohsiung pictures tomorrow, so be on the lookout!

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1 Comment

  1. anonionmous said,

    Can’t wait for the photos! Sounds like you had an excellent time sightseeing and eating. 🙂

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