Friday, October 14, 2005
We're back, safe and sound and glad to be out of the car. We made good use of our fall break, spending a couple days with friends at the Morrison campus in Taichung before heading up to the mountains. Our night in Chingjing was the best: nice hotel, cool alpine breezes, and spectacular views of the clouds below us. Next morning, we fueled up at the highest Starbucks in Asia (1,743m) before tackling the kitschy Swiss gardens and an immense sheep farm. I wanted to twirl and sing like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, just before she hears the abbey bells. It was amazingly picturesque; not at all what you imagine when you think of Taiwan. As we made our way out, though, a bridal couple arrived to have their wedding photos taken amidst the sheep, and I remembered where we were. (You'll want to get that dry-cleaned, dear.)
Our second night, spent in the bamboo forests of Shitou, was not as comfortable, although the hotel had a lot of charm from the street. We had no hot water for showers, the karaoke from the hotel restaurant drowned out any nighttime forest noises, and the beds were stiff as boards (which is the norm here, but we were spoiled by our first night of western amenities). We did have some good food, however: pork with fresh bamboo, mountain deer with peppers, an herb-like vegetable called mountain celery, and local trout served two ways -- in broth, and baked, the latter dish being set over a blob of some napalm-like substance to keep it warm. It nearly set the tablecloth on fire.
No Taiwan adventure would be complete without some hair-raising moments on the roads, and this was no exception. The blindest curves always seems to come at the narrowest points in the road, which, due to the nature of road-building, tend to occur on cliff faces. This trip was not as scary as our Easter trip to Hualien in 2003, but it was enough to make me want to lobby the tourist board to change their slogan from "Taiwan - Touch Your Heart" to "Taiwan - Clutch Your Chest." Never a dull moment, though, and Tim was super behind the wheel.
We traveled with the Pinkerton family, with whom we have seen a great deal of this island. Ann is from Taiwan, and serves as our invaluable interpreter. Kevin shares Tim's fondness for good coffee, good cigars, and obscure movie references. Anna keeps Cole company and dotes on Nora. We're a carful, but somehow it all works. The kids should get extra mention for traveling so well; they smiled at all the strangers, tried new foods, and got along far better than I expected. They were real troopers. They went through an alarming amount of gum during the week, but if that's all it took to keep them happy, I'm not complaining! It's a blessing to have such patient children. I hope they look back on these trips someday with at least a little smile.