Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just a small burglary

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, but not much has been happening recently. The biggest news I have is that my wallet was stolen last weekend. Originally I thought I had misplaced it, but the day after I noticed it was gone one of the other international students told me he and several other students had their wallets taken from their room while they slept the same night that mine disappeared. I normally lock the door before I go to bed, but I guess I forgot that night (last Saturday). The scary thing is that the thief was in my room while I and both of my roommates were there. I didn't lose that much cash and they didn't charge anything on my credit cards, but it was a real annoyance. My credit and bank cards are easily replaceable, but my driver's license cannot be replaced until I go back to the U.S. in December.

I spent part of the week dealing with the administration and trying to find out what they are doing to improve our security and catch the culprits. They responded by fixing some of the broken locks on some of the doors in our building and putting up signs encouraging students to keep the emergency exits closed. These doors have no security cameras and some students had been leaving them propped open 24 hours a day until now. Since there still aren't security cameras on all the doors and the windows on the first floor are always open, I don't really feel much safer. My roommates and I have decided to keep our door locked at all times, even when we are home, just in case. I am also taking more precautions to make sure my valuables (not that I have too many) aren't in plain sight.

I talked to one of my professors in the U.S. about this problem and he helped put things in perspective. This kind of thing can happen anywhere in the world and if I was going to have things stolen from me, it's better it happened this way than through some violent mugging a la the American streets. It was really more of an annoyance than a serious loss and I didn't get hurt. Two of the Taiwanese students had all of their money withdrawn from their bank accounts by the thieves, so I am also lucky that they didn't even try mine. My guess is the thieves don't speak English very well and probably just threw away my wallet after taking the small cash in it.

Other than this incident, things have been going pretty well. My trip to Yushan (the highest mountain in Taiwan) was put off until late November and I'm going to the East Coast of Taiwan this weekend. I have been trying to keep up on all my studying, which has been pretty challenging. I aced my first Chinese quiz, but we have our second tomorrow, which will probably be much more difficult. I have two big presentations to prepare for, and I am trying to get all my work done on those in the next two and a half weeks - before I go to Italy! I can't believe it's coming up so soon!

I'm very excited for this trip - my first trip to Europe and my first chance to see Maiko since August! I bought guidebooks to Florence and Rome (the two cities we are spending most of our time in) about a month ago. I try to read from them for at least 30 minutes a night, but that hasn't always been possible with my schedule. It's a long trip from Kaohsiung to Florence, so hopefully I can catch up on my Italian background reading on the 30+ hours it will take me to get from Kaohsiung to Florence. I'm flying from Kaohsiung to Taipei, then Taipei to Bangkok, then Bangkok to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Rome, then I have to take a train from Rome to Florence. It's one of the longest trips I have ever taken, but I'm sure it will be worth it! I have decided to try not to put on any weight before I go because I want to gain all my winter weight ("insulation") while I'm in Italy.

That's all for now. I'll be sure to post about my East Coast trip next week.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Holy Rosary Cathedral Minor Basilica

I had seen this church from the bus window many times and it always stands out. The basic scenery of urban Kaohsiung consists of old-run down buildings that sometimes look like they have been bombed out and brand-new, clean, modern retail stores, restaurants, and other places of commerce. The church lies between some of the tightly-packed, dirty, run-down buildings on Wufu Road. It is set back a little from the street and has some open space between it and the surrounding small buildings (also administered by the church). It may not be the biggest church I have ever seen, but it isn't tiny, either. The neon lining the crucifix at the top really stands out at night, and the architecture is very western.

The sign on the fence out front lists the mass times. This church has mass in Taiwanese, Mandarin Chinese, and English. English mass is only held once on Sundays, but thankfully it isn't too early (11:00 am). As I was writing a note to myself to come back on Sunday (this was during my Friday night walk), I noticed a light on in the guard booth by the front gate. I asked the older gentleman sitting in there if he spoke English and if he could give me some information about the church. He spoke English with a little difficulty, so I tried Japanese. To my amazement, (he didn't look quite old enough to have had much of a Japanese education) he spoke excellent Japanese. He insisted on taking me inside to show me the church even though it was dark and I told him I would be back on Sunday.

My first impression of the inside of the church was – “Wow, am I in Mexico?” It turns out that the church was built in 1859 by the Spanish and has the image of Santa Maria displayed prominently in the altar. I am not good at describing art or religious iconography, but I took many pictures, so when flickr is working again, check them out. It is very colorful and with the exception of a few characters written inside the church, it doesn't give you any sense that you are in Asia.

I went back today for mass. The church was packed with a very international group, mostly laborers from the Philippines. Father Renaldo is also from the Philippines, but unlike Catholic services in Japan, there were some other nationalities represented as well. One of the members who did some of the readings is even from St. Louis! I also met a couple from India and I believe there are many Thai laborers that attend, as well.

During the service, Father Renaldo asked us to say a prayer for migrant workers everywhere. This statement is especially poignant in Kaohsiung. The subway system currently under construction is being built by foreign laborers, primarily from Thailand. Shortly before I arrived, they apparently rioted and went on strike because they have not been treated altogether fairly. At first I had heard that they rioted because their bosses would not let them drink, smoke, or gamble in their dormitories, but according to a few other locals, they have been taken advantage of in several other ways. A law enforcement officer I met this weekend told me that the company who contracts these workers does not pay them with real money! They are give “credit” that they have to use at company-owned store (who hears that old song “Sixteen Tons”?) and is not valid elsewhere. Someone here on campus (whose knowledge on this subject I trust very much) told me that the contracting company was supposed to be paying them about $1,000 U.S. a month in salary, but they were only receiving about a third to half of that. Even $1,000 might not seem like much to most Americans, you could easily live off of that here and still be able to save some or send some home to your family if you lived “on the cheap”.

Keeping these issues in mind, I readily offered my prayers for these hard-working people and their families.

After the service, I hung around to speak with Father Renaldo and some of the churchgoers. They let me snap some pictures (again, once flickr is working I will load them) and even fed me! I hung around and chatted with some of the Philippinos for a while as they gave me some noodles, bread, and cake. My stomach was still a little unsettled from the Pizza Hut buffet, but I managed to get enough down for a small lunch.

I really like this church and the congregation. I am sure I will be back on the few Sundays when I will actually be here in Kaohsiung, but I have a lot of travel plans coming up, so that will probably only be about half of the Sundays between now and Christmas. Hopefully I can make it to the Christmas party they invited me to, because I am sure there will be some free food there!

The weekend

This has been a very good weekend for me. In spite of the stress that has recently hit me as I realized that I actually have to study while I'm here, things went very well for me this weekend. I think one of the most important things I should note right away is that it has finally begun to cool down a little. It's not much of a cool down – high temperatures are still at or above 30 degrees C (in the mid to upper 80s F) – but this is just a couple ticks down from what it was a few weeks ago. The humidity also feels a little lower, which helps a lot. You still sweat walking around during the day, but you’re not dripping with sweat as bad as you were not too long ago. It's very pleasant, comparatively speaking.

On Friday I had an early class. Thursdays and Fridays are hard for me because I have class from 9:00 am to noon. I was really tired on Friday morning and I think I dozed off in class for a few minutes. I was completely awake after our first break because the German student in our class snapped a picture of me with my eyes closed with his cell phone camera. Smelling a brewing blackmail scheme, I decided to keep my eyes open for the remainder of the class.

After class I called Jumpei, one of my Japanese friends here, and asked him if he wanted to go grab a bite to eat. I went to meet him outside of the tunnel that lets us student-pedestrians to escape from the relative calm of campus to the bustling madness that is Kaohsiung. As I was waiting for him I saw most of the Taiwanese students from my class sitting around on their scooters getting ready to go somewhere. I asked them where they were going and they told me they were going to Chichin Island for lunch. They invited me to go with them, so when Jumpei showed up, I hopped on the back of his scooter and we zoomed over to the ferry. The ferry only takes about five minutes and you can bring your scooter on board.

We needed scooters to go to this restaurant. It was very large, and though it was under a roof, it was pretty much and open-air establishment. We grabbed about 12 or 15 dishes, spread them out on two tables, and dug in. We had a big group of people (about 12 or 15) and we ate Chinese-style. This means everybody eats out of the same dishes. You just walk around the table with a bowl of rice and grab whatever you feel like eating and throwing it on your rice to eat at your leisure. The food was even better than the restaurant I ate at the first time I went to this island! The spicy pork and the fried oysters were especially good!

After lunch, Jumpei took me to the post office to mail a few things. I then went to the library to start checking out books for my research projects. I was pretty worn out and didn't feel like going anywhere, so I plopped myself down on an open couch and started to read one of my books. I probably got through about two pages before I started dozing off. Since this was such a good location, I decided to go ahead and take a short nap, which turned into a good 45 minute snooze.

When I woke up it was almost time to go to Tai-chi class. I really didn't feel like going, but I had already paid for lessons and the class is only twice a week, so I convinced myself to go. Boy was I glad I did! None of the other students showed up, so I got a private lesson! I am the only one in the class who has taken Tai-chi before, so it is easier for me to remember the moves than the others. With a private lesson, the teacher was able to teach me more moves in a day than would have been possible had anyone else been there. I really like our teacher. He is a peaceful looking white haired gentleman who is always sporting a smile. He's not quite old enough to speak good Japanese, but he knows a few words, so we communicate in bits and pieces of three languages (Chinese, Japanese, and English). Gestures and demonstrations fill in the gaps that our pidgin language doesn’t cover.

After Tai-chi I decided to take a hike into town by myself. I crossed the bridge to the other side of the Love River and found what I had been looking for – the Holy Rosary Cathedral Minor Basilica. It is a really interesting church, so it deserves a post all its own. I won't describe it here, because you can read all about it above this post.

Yesterday was a relaxing taste of home day. I slept in and went with Steve and Adi to the Pizza Hut across town for the all-you-can-eat buffet. After saturating ourselves with cheese, pepperonis, and grease, Steve and I decided to go see if there were any good movies playing at the Warner Cinema across the street. We decided to watch “Four Brothers” – a violent John Singleton film about four adopted brothers seeking revenge for the murder of their adopted mother in Detroit. Steve, who is from Detroit, must have really enjoyed reminiscing about American life after watching this one! It's not a great movie, but it's full of good music and lots of gun violence – two of America's best entertainment exports.

I walked home from the movie theater (a good 45 minute walk) and did some exercises before showering and going to bed. I haven't been working out too regularly here, but I am trying to do a little working out now and then to counter the large quantities of oily food I am eating. I really needed the movement after eating about three pounds of pizza!

Weekend in Taichung

Last weekend I went to Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan. Taichung lies about halfway between Kaohsiung and Taipei between the west coast and the central mountains. I didn’t go to Taichung for much sightseeing – for me this was more of a getaway. I have spent most of my time here hanging out with other people – going on trips and through town with my foreign friends and spending much of my time at home with my Taiwanese roommates present.

I got a room in a cheap business/student hotel across the street from the train station. It was surprisingly clean and comfortable, considering I paid less than $20 U.S. a night for a room. I spent Sunday night relaxing, reading, and watching terrible American movies on cable TV. It was fantastic! I also spent some time in the Internet cafés near the hotel. They are much cheaper than Japanese net cafés. One cost about $0.65 an hour and the nicer one was only $0.35 an hour! Compare that with the $4.00 an hour price in Japan! The only problem is that the Japanese net cafés give you your own private cubicle with comfortable seating and a free soft drink bar. Here there is no such thing as privacy – all the computers are lined out on one long table. They also do not require people to use headphones here. This is really annoying when you are there to read the news and send some e-mails. Just try to concentrate with the blaring of gunfire, wizard spells, and alien heads cracking open in your ears

Monday was Taiwan’s national day. Since Taiwan isn’t really an independent state, you can’t really say this is Taiwan’s Independence Day, but you get the picture. School was canceled and most office workers had the day off. I didn’t have any big holiday plans, so I just decided to see one of Taichung’s famous temples and bus it back to Kaohsiung. I went to the Baujiu Temple, home of the biggest and fattest laughing Buddha statue in all of Taiwan. It’s almost 30 meters tall (about 90 feet), and it has been painted a bright yellow color. It was, just as Lonely Planet said, quite photogenic. I took a few pictures around the temple grounds and decided to head back. It was too hot to be walking all over the city.

I went back to the hotel to pick up the suitcase they were watching for me. Before I got on the bus, I decided to chat with the old woman who sat in the hotel lobby almost every time I passed by. She was 86 and still spoke Japanese very well. It was nice to be able to talk to a Taiwanese person without an interpreter and without having difficulty in finding words to express yourself. She was really nice and made sure the hotel gave me a bottle of water to drink on the bus ride home.

Sorry for the dull post, but it was a dull, but relaxing weekend. I actually enjoyed the time alone and felt a bit recharged upon my return to Kaohsiung. I had a good week here, though, so I will write a post on that now…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Shopping (II)

On Thursday, I went to get a haircut. I haven't had a haircut since I've been here. I was getting a little shaggy and needed to cool my head off a little since it's still really hot here.

Ken took me to his friend's cousin's salon. She studied the ancient art of hair-cutting in Japan for about seven years, so I felt this was probably a safe bet. I never had a bad hair cut in Japan and the Japanese are well known for their fastidiousness. My only worry is that she would cut my hair with “Japanese style”. Japanese girls often have very nice haircuts, but the guys are fond of sporting EXTREMELY effeminate hairstyles these days – not something I was keen on trying out.

What I thought would be a normal haircut of about 20 minutes stretched into an hour and a half long ordeal. We started with an assistant washing my hair. She was the most thorough hair-washer I have ever seen. She was forcefully massaging my scalp as she cleaned my hair. At times I thought I was going to walk out of there bald.

The haircut portion of my time there was pretty normal, but extremely slow. I think she did a pretty good job, but I don't think there was any kind of special treatment that warranted an hour of sitting in a barber's chair. We finished at 4:30, which really stressed me out because I hadn't had much to eat that day. I had breakfast, but I had planned to eat lunch after Chinese class finished at 2:00. No such time…

I grabbed something at the 7-11 and we zipped back to school. I had to meet with one of my professor's at 5:00 p.m., so I didn't have time to stop at T.G..I.Friday's like I had planned. We had learned how to say “hamburger” in Chinese this week, which really sparked some major beef and cheese cravings in me. Don't get me wrong, I like Chinese food and I am trying to eat as much of the local stuff while I’m here as I can, but sometimes you just really need to get a taste of home.

I managed to satisfy that craving on Friday. I went to Friday's on Friday with Steve, Jumpei, and Yuji. Afterwards we went to Isetan to pick up the present I had planned on buying. Ken met us there to help translate for me, but his English vocabulary wasn't quite up to par for some of our discussions. After a while I asked Jumpei to help because he has been here a long time and speaks excellent Chinese. When the store clerks heard Jumpei translate from Chinese into Japanese for me, they were a little taken aback. It turned out that one of them had studied in Japan for a little more than a year, so she was able to answer most of my questions directly in Japanese.

I'm not sure if it was because they were impressed with my Japanese or if I just managed to charm their socks off, but they poured us some good oolong tea, insisted on chatting with us for a few minutes, and gave me a nice discount. I have had several instances where Taiwanese people have complemented me on my Japanese, but I feel bad because I can't understand anything they say without a translator (except for the few who speak Japanese). It's alright, though, because I intend to keep studying this language until I can at least manage a simple conversation.

That's all I feel like posting for now. I'm staying here this weekend, so I will get caught up on postings in the next couple of days. See ya!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Shopping (I)

Here’s my belated account of last week’s adventures. Sorry to keep you waiting.

On Tuesday, Ken (my Taiwanese exchange buddy) took me shopping. I have been at a loss as to what I should buy for my friends and family back home as presents. I had this problem in Japan as well, but I had a feeling that Taiwan might be different. Unfortunately, it seems that no matter where in the world you go these days, it is hard to find that unique “special something” since globalization has led to a world where the same cheesy, cheaply-made consumer goods are sold everywhere. Unique locally made or traditional products still exist, but they are hard to find. Many of the items that are sold for this purpose are really manufactured in large production lines for tourists, making the task at hand even more difficult.

Ken, like many other Taiwanese I have asked, didn’t seem to know of any good little “mom and pop” type shops to go to. There is a “bamboo street” here in town with many old cooking tools and hats made out of bamboo, but I could never honestly picture anyone I know in the U.S. wearing a traditional Chinese bamboo farmer’s hat. They would be light enough to ship, but it sounds pretty fragile, so I decided against going there.

So where did we go to look for traditional handmade Taiwanese goods? The department stores of course! We visited about five large department stores here in Kaohsiung. Most of them (Hanshin, Isetan, and Mitsukoshi) are Japanese companies that have been very successful in Taiwan.

Surprisingly, some of them did have a pretty good selection of handmade traditional crafts. Unfortunately, most of this stuff was stone or glass carvings. Some of it was beautiful, but expensive, heavy, and fragile. These would be nice gifts if you had the money and really trusted your shipping company, but since I don’t fulfill either of these requirements, I decided against it. Isetan, in particular, had a really nice display of glass work by a Japanese artist. Some of his pieces were priced at around $10,000 U.S., so it was way out of my league. Still, it was nice to look…

The security guards and other store employees were watching us like a hawk, but I don’t blame them. Not only was this stuff really expensive and fragile, but a crazy guy had gone into another department store a few nights ago and smashed over $200,000 U.S. worth of art with a hammer. I doubt we looked quite that crazy, but I'm sure they were just as nervous with a couple of young guys laughing and talking who might accidentally bump into an expensive vase. But I digress…

I didn’t buy anything that night, but I found what I wanted to get. I can’t divulge what it was or who it was for right now, but I think it was a pretty good gift. By the time we finished looking at all the stores, it was almost 11:00 p.m. We stopped by the night market for some dessert and headed home. I didn’t get to start on my Chinese homework until about midnight, so I was up writing characters until about 2:00 a.m. This is probably because I took so many short breaks, but come on! Your hand can get a little cramped after all that writing!

On Wednesday, Ken took me to his roommate’s parents’ house. The first floor of their house is the family business – a tea shop. I had a great time once I finally got there, but it took us an hour and a half to find it. Ken got lost because he misunderstood one syllable in the name of the street we had to turn on. This has reinforced my impression of Chinese as an impossible language, but I will keep studying anyway.

Now riding around on a scooter hasn’t scared me as much as I thought it would, but after more than an hour on the back of a scooter, your butt gets really sore. Every time we stopped to ask directions, I had to get off and stretch or jump up and down to shake some blood into my rear. I didn’t really get too upset, but it was a little annoying because I had to miss meeting with my group for my Taiwan Government and Politics class to work on a presentation.

When we finally got there, Ken’s roommate’s family were really nice. Ken and his roommate translated for me as the roommate’s father poured some nice oolong tea for us. We had a mini-Taiwanese tea ceremony, which is nice because it is much less formal than the Japanese tea ceremony. Basically, we sat in chairs and chatted about tea as his dad kept our cups full of hot oolong. We tried the bestseller there (what I wound up buying), which was really good, but he also poured us a few cups of the $100 U.S. for a half-pound type tea, which was a real treat. It was definitely some of the best tea I’ve ever had, but I don’t think there is any way I would ever spend that much money on dried tea. Both teas are grown high in the central Taiwanese mountains and are burned before packaging. Since they are burned, you pour out the first batch – that hot water is just to clean the tea leaves. You can make up to seven batches of tea with one large pinch and it’s the best on the third or fourth batch. They add no sugar to this tea, but after you drink a few glasses, you can taste a sweet trail going down your throat. They told me this is how you know if you have good tea or not.

After chatting and sipping tea for an hour or so, I paid and took my leave. They invited me to come back some time to have dinner with them, an invitation I doubt I will pass up.

This post is already longer than I thought it would be. I have a lot of work to do today, so I think I will stop here and pick up tomorrow. In my next post I will wrap up last week and in the one after that I can get to my weekend trip to Taichung. It wasn’t too eventful, but it was a nice, relaxing trip away from school. I have already posted pictures to flickr from Taichung, though, so if you want to check them out, be my guest.
Until then…

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kenting Baby! (Day 1)

Ha, ha, ha! Bow before my powerful Chinese magic!

This weekend I went to Kenting with eleven other people. Kenting is a resort area at the southern tip of Taiwan. Our group consisted of Ken (my exchange buddy), his girlfriend, his friend Tomi (a Taiwanese guy born in Canada who has lived in Taiwan for the past ten years), Bao, Sophie, Marjorie, Stephanie (all from France), Steve (the only other American exchange student here), Jumpei (from Japan), Neils (from Holland), Adi (from Israel), and me. It was a great trip and I will try to fill in most of the details without rambling too much, but no promises.

We left on Friday afternoon. We decided to save a little money by renting cars as we heard there was almost no public transportation within Kenting. They gave us a student discount, so it was cheaper for us to rent two cars than to take the bus and rent scooters in Kenting. I got to drive the large car all weekend! It was my first experience driving in a foreign country, and it was a blast! I have to admit I was a bit nervous at first, but I quickly got the hang of it. A word of warning to all those who plan on driving in Taiwan: watch out for busses, trucks, and scooters! The scooters seem to come out of nowhere and their drivers have no fear. Trucks drivers, and especially bus drivers, are really aggressive. They drive fast and will cut you off in a second. It’s best to give them plenty of room. Aside from these concerns, however, it’s not too bad. The roads are fairly wide and the speed limits are pretty low (at least compared to the U.S.). There seems to be a lot of road construction going on all over the country, though, so keep your eyes open.

We took a wrong turn at some point, so it took us about three hours to get there. We went straight to our hotel. It was an interesting little place called the “Cactus Café”, which Lonely Planet had recommended as one of the best places to stay at a reasonable price. The first floor held a bar/café with a small outdoor deck. They played a good mix of blues, classic rock, and reggae. The bartender was a Canadian ex-pat who could have easily been an extra in a Cheech and Chong movie. The owner was a laid-back Taiwanese surfer with tattoos and a solid command of English. They also gave us a discount because we were taking two rooms for two nights. The Cactus Café is in an excellent location – just a three minute walk to the main street and a 10 minute walk to the nearest beach. The rooms were really clean and the place definitely had some character. We had a girls’ room and a guys’ room, but Ken stayed in the girls’ room with his girlfriend. Our room had two bunk-beds with queen-sized mattresses, so two of us got our own beds and the other four had to share. I managed to get my own mattress for the whole weekend, which only sweetened the whole stay. Unfortunately, if you are planning on going to Kenting, this place will be closed after October 20, so go soon if you can!

We arrived just in time to check in, change, and go to the nearest beach for a quick swim before the lifeguards told us to come in because it was getting dark. After a shower and another change of clothes, we went to Smokey Joe’s for dinner. This western restaurant easily could be mistaken for a cheesy American chain (and maybe it is), but most of us were ready and willing to pay a little extra for a taste of home. Chinese food is good, but you can get tired of it pretty quickly. My fajitas were excellent and more than even I could eat (after a ton of appetizers, I must admit).

We walked around the main street night market after dinner. It was okay, but not as good as the main night market here in Kaohsiung. Our night market has more food stalls, while Kenting’s consists mostly of cheesy tourist souvenirs that are sold at beach resorts all over the world. I tried to find gifts here, but it was slim pickings.

After this, we hit up the Chuhuo natural fires. This is a place where natural gas seeps out of the ground and ignites when it mixes with the oxygen in the atmosphere. It’s not a breathtaking natural wonder, but it’s still pretty neat. Some of the locals and tourists like to cook potatoes and popcorn in the fire, which we didn’t really have the patience to try. We took a lot of pictures and said “ooo… ah…” a few times, set off some fireworks we bought nearby, and headed back. We thought about going out after this, but we wanted to enjoy the day on Saturday, so we called it a night pretty early.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Kenting Baby! (Day 2)

Ah... It doesn't get much better than this. Relaxing in a spring-fed waterfall pool up in the mountains on a hot day...

The next day (Saturday, October 1) we were out of the hotel before 11:00, a miraculous feat when you are trying to get 12 people to leave by 10:30. We went to a pretty nice beach about 10 minutes down the road and spent the next three hours there. It was really nice to get to a beach where we were allowed to swim out farther than waste-deep water for once. The lifeguards at the beach near our school always wave us in before we get out too far, which I suppose isn’t a bad idea, considering most lifeguards in Taiwan don’t know CPR.

We thought about renting jet skis for an hour or so while we were there, but the fee (about $45 U.S.) was a little too steep for us. Neils and I found a much cheaper thrill – jumping off a big rock into the ocean.

The giant rock near this beach apparently rolled down into the ocean from the nearby mountains long ago. One of the ledges on this rock is easy to climb and sits about 10 meters (about 30 feet) above a deep spot in the ocean. It has recently been a very popular spot to take a jump, which I really wanted to try. Some of the other guys didn’t want to try it because they thought it looked very low from far away. Neils and I, however, decided to check it out and discovered it was much higher from up close. We had to rent scuba boots because the sharp coral rock is not something you can negotiate in sandals, but it was definitely worth the $1.70 (U.S.) rental fee. We asked Marjorie to take some pictures, but she used her camera, so I haven’t loaded those on flickr yet. She took some video of me jumping, so if I can find a way to load this on blogger, I will let you know.

There were a few kids playing on the rocks on the way to the jumping rock (I think it’s called sailboat rock) who were very outgoing. One of the little girls and a couple of the boys kept saying “hello!” and asking for our names in English. It’s amazing how intent the adults here seem to be on getting their kids to learn English. They were only about seven years old, but could handle self-introductions in English pretty well. As cute as they were, however, it got a little annoying when they kept saying “bye bye” over and over for about 20 minutes.

After we had enough of playing in the salt water, we drove back to the hotel where we met up with five of our group who had returned earlier. We went to a cheap mom-and-pop Chinese place down the street for a late lunch of dumplings and fried rice. We needed a fast meal because we had planned to spend the afternoon hiking out in the national park.

We decided to take the scenic route to the Cikong Waterfalls – a nice secluded spot in the forest where a spring-fed river on a mountain forms seven waterfall pools as it cascades down toward the ocean. We made it there by about 4:00 in the afternoon, so we didn’t have much time to hike all the way to the top. We didn’t have flashlights and the trail here is not very developed, so it would be a nightmare to try to climb down at night. The “trail” is really more of a suggested place to walk – there is no beaten down path to walk on. You have to cross the river about three times, walk over slippery rocks and logs, and dodge any falling rocks one of your partners might accidentally kick down on the ascent. There are ropes tied to trees and strong roots protruding from the ground, but you have to be careful not to rely on them too much. You never know if one is old and frayed to the point of breaking or how solidly the tree or root it is tied to is stuck in the ground. Sometimes the rope is tied to a tree fairly far up hill, which means there is a lot of slack on it when you grab it. I would imagine if one relied too much on one of these ropes they could slip and the rope wouldn’t catch until they had already fallen pretty far. Fortunately, my years of trekking through the Missouri Outback prepared me for the climb in this terrain, so I was fine.

The first of the waterfalls was really beautiful. It’s not a very high waterfall, but it pours over the ledge in several locations. Some of our group didn’t really have good shoes, so they decided to wait for us there. The path up from the first fall was very steep and slippery. Unfortunately, my Pumas don’t have the best traction in the world, so I had to rely on the rope a lot here. When we made it past the top of the first fall, we found the first pool at the base of the second fall. It was pretty small, but looked deep enough to swim in. Since we only had about an hour before we had to head back, we had to decide whether to swim here or to try our luck farther up. With seven people, this pool looked like a tight fit, so we climbed on.

The next pool was beautiful! We decided to spend the rest of our sunlight time here. It was a steep climb down, but there were ropes, roots, and small rock ledges to use on the climb down. The water was cold, but clean and clear. It was probably about nine feet deep and really felt refreshing after being in warm saltwater all day. The current wasn’t too strong and you could get directly under the waterfall if you swam hard. The water has carved this pool so that the ledge where it falls to the next pool is like a wall that you can rest on. We had fun climbing up about five feet and doing cannonballs into the pool when we got cold. The rest of the time we just enjoyed the scenery. It was one of the prettiest spots I have ever seen. We all agreed if we made it back to Kenting, we would have to come back here and spend a whole day hiking to the top and working our way down, having a swim in each pool along the way.

At the end of the trail on the way back there is a little shack where some old Taiwanese men were hanging out. They had a few dogs tied up in the yard and a karaoke machine in the hut. It was an interesting sight because these guys were singing JAPANESE songs! They gave a big smile when I started talking to them in Japanese and told us to come again. I wish we had had more time to stay and chat, but by this point everybody was ready for a shower and dinner.

We drove back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We tried to make reservations at “Din-din”, a famous Thai restaurant down the street, but it was booked until 11:00. We managed to get reservations at another Thai restaurant on the main street, which was really good. Ordering with a big group of people over here is fun because we each ordered one or two dishes and everybody just shared everything. The shrimp, chicken, pork, frog, beef, and veggies were all scrumptious! I have decided that no cuisine in the world tops Thailand’s, but that it just my opinion.

We went to a nightclub later that night to hang out for a bit. All of us were pretty lethargic when we first got there, but we all got out on the dance floor when the DJ put on some decent (i.e. non-top 40) dance tunes. Two effeminate Taiwanese guys kept getting into the dance circle and trying to pull in Adi and Steve, but they weren’t having any of it. It was a very amusing sight.

I was pretty tired, so I left at about 1:00. Most of the others stayed for another couple of hours, but I had been swimming, jumping, climbing, and driving all day, so I wasn’t up for it. We were supposed to have a typhoon move through the area late that night and into the morning on Sunday, so I was a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to drive home, but it went north. Apparently it was really strong and did some damage in Taiwan, but we hardly had any rain or wind in Kenting at all. Those who stayed in Kaohsiung said it rained pretty hard, but we only saw a few drops the whole drive home. Lucky us!

All in all it was a great weekend. I am back at school now and trying to get back into a studious mindset. Chinese classes are driving me crazy because this language seems next to impossible to pronounce if you are not Chinese. We have started using characters in class, however, which makes things a little easier for me. Now if I just wasn’t tone-deaf…

I am thinking of going to Taichung or Taipei for a day or two this weekend. If anything interesting happens between now and then, I will be sure to fill you in.

Zai jian!