To be perfectly honest, the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur.
Last Wednesday in particular was an exciting day. We had heard that there was going to be an aboriginal performance, and after a little bit of debate we decided, oh, why not. So we jumped on our bikes and pedaled across town. We took our time, stopped to play around in a park at the half way point, turned a few “art pieces” into jungle gyms as we clambored up the sides, then continued on our way.
When we were almost there Dan B, Nicole, and I somehow got separated from the rest of the group, including the Taiwanese girl who was guiding us to the right place. Still not wholly convinced by this aboriginal show-thing, we stopped at a Japanese hole-in-the-wall restaurant, munched on some dan bao fan (rice wrapped in an egg— one of my favorite dishes here), and kept taking our time.
From the restaurant we headed in the direction we thought we were supposed to go, and we started seeing tour buses, and a few tv film crew trucks, and a very full parking lot. We went around the corner and there was a lot filled with tents selling all sorts of trinkets, so we browsed a few of them, wondering if this was a bigger deal than we had realized. Then we noticed that many of the tents weren’t selling Taiwanese aboriginal things, but items from South America, and Africa, and the Pacific Islands… We decided we needed to find a place to sit and watch the show. There was a big building where a crowd was pushing into, so we followed them, and once inside the doors realized we were in a huge arena with hundreds of people inside, and almost every seat filled.
It took us awhile, but we eventually found seats in the nosebleed section on the far side of the arena. The show had already begun by this time, so we finally turned our attention to the stage. It was the Global Indigenous Peoples Performing Arts Festival. We sat there, shocked and delighted, as we watched incredible performances from groups from across the globe. The music was pounding and the crowd was thunderous; it was beautiful and exciting and so far from what we were expecting to find on a lazy Wednesday evening in Pingtung.
When we got back to the dorms we had to hurry, because a group of us planned to head to Kaohsiung to go dancing at a club called Lamp. So we threw on our good clothes, brushed on some makeup, flipped up our hair, and headed back out.
It was a good night in Taiwan.
Friday we had an excursion with the school to an aboriginal park. We were up early and went into the interior of Taiwan, where we were again surrounded by the towering Taiwanese mountains and thick jungle on both sides.
We were bound for a place called Sandimen, where there is an Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park, which exhibits different unique aspects on the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan. There was a giant rope swing, and archery (hit the target 2/3 times, woot woot), traditional dancing, and facial tattoos (which show that you are a talented weaver for the girls, or hunter for the men, and is official recognition not only that you are ready to find a partner but also that you’re a good catch). Then we saw performances from the different tribes, and they told stories through a beautiful choreography of song and dance.
After the park we went to a restaurant and the tip top of a mountain for lunch, then headed to hot springs for a group spa afternoon. It was all sorts of wonderful, with pools of varying degrees of heat, waterfalls to sit under, and even a pool filled with herbs to soak in. One thing of particular note which was NOT my favorite part, however, was the tank of flesh eating fish.
Ok. That made it sound like something worse than it was. But for someone with a phobia of fish, it was pretty awful. There was a small pool for you to dip your feet in that was filled with little fish that would come and nibble your feet; people like it because it gets rid of dead skin, calluses, etc. to make your feet really smooth. I went through with it, but uuuuugh.
That night we went home and crashed, and tried to decide what to do with our weekend, because we hadn’t really made any big plans. At the last minute, Nicole and I decided to do a day trip back to Kenting Beach. We hopped a bus, rode for two hours, and wound up on the main street in Kenting. We grabbed some noodles for lunch, then walked around, window shopping and looking at souvenirs and trinkets. We got some ice cream, found a beach, ordered strawberry margaritas, and played in the waves. It was a great lazy afternoon. For dinner we found a Thai restaurant, and I had chicken in coconut milk and red curry which was pretty much made of magic. Then we decided it was time to head home, and things got interesting.
We went to the bus stop, and I used my rough Chinese skills to talk to a cab driver, who informed me that we’d missed the last bus to Pingtung. So after a few minutes of trying to bridge the language barrier and figure out what we should do, a bus came along and the taxi driver (who had now been joined by several of his buddies) all started pushing us towards this bus. We got on, and tried to talk to the driver— he didn’t have a clue what we were saying, but the taxi drivers were all shouting things at him and at us. Then the girl in line behind me tried to help (she spoke a little English) and sort of explained that Nicole and I needed to go to a place called Fang Liao, which the bus was going to stop at. But we’d never heard of Fang Liao, so we were trying to ask where it was, and what we should do when we got there. Then a guy from the back of the bus came up to see what was going on, and he spoke excellent English, so then he started translating and trying to explain, in turn, to me and Nicole and the driver, what the hell was going on. THEN a policeman came over to ask the driver why he was just sitting at the stop, and what all the commotion was; when he saw Nicole and my confused looks he joined in the fray to give his two cents on how we should get home. Keep in mind that 95% of all the talking going on around us was in high-speed Chinese as people shouted over one another so their idea could be heard best.
After several minutes of this overwhelming confusion I just handed the driver money. He looked at me for a minute, then counted out change and gave me tickets to Fang Liao. If he cheated me, I’ll never know. But at least we had a destination, and the shouting stopped. We went and sat down, then quizzed the guy who spoke English what we were supposed to do once we got to Fang Liao.
It turns out there was a train station in Fang Liao that was right on the route of most of the trains that would stop in Pingtung. So, relieved, we sat back and waited for our stop. When we got off at Fang Liao, we followed the instructions we’d been given, and found the street that led to the train station. It was pretty deserted, but we didn’t think much of it.
When we got into the train station, we were the only two people in there. There was no list of destinations or times, but the station was lit up and clearly open, so we went to ask about tickets. The man behind the counter asked where we wanted to go, we said Pingtung, and then he sped up saying, “Kuai le!” (Hurry!) So we bought our tickets and rushed out to catch the train. Funny thing was, there was only one train, and no one else around. But we just jumped on the train, worried about missing it.
Then we realized that there was no one on the train, either. So we walked the length of it; every single car was empty. We made it to the front of the train and knocked on the conductor’s door. There was no reply, so I opened it. There was no conductor.
We jumped off the train, suddenly a bit uneasy. There was one man working, so we went up to him, showed him our tickets, and asked where our train was. He pointed to the empty train. So, with hesitation, we got back on. After a minute, the worker got on too, and sat right behind us. Empty train. He picked the seat behind us. We made a video to make it feel less creepy. (But it was still creepy). The best part about it is that August is Ghost Month in Taiwan— a perfect time to be stuck on a ghost train.
When we got to Pingtung we had just enough money with us to either get transportation or ice cream. Obviously we got the ice cream, and then walked home, happy to be back in our little Pingtung, and even happier to be eating oreo McFlurries.
Sunday we didn’t do a thing, and it was pretty nice.