Taiwan Day Seven: Family Trip Part Two (of two)

I had a dream that I was walking near Alameda Park near my home and an old lady was moving out of the large home she had owned for years. She had stacked all her goods in a tower that looked more like a sculpture than something waiting for the moving van. Inside was a working Super 8 Projector [in real life I still need one of these] and I was hoping she was throwing it out.
Not much of a dream, but there was more to it I can’t recall well, and the Jenga-like tower of goods was fascinating. There was even a working reel-to-reel inside.
Anyway, we got woken up by family members who had already showered and dressed and were on their way to the hotel’s dining room for the complementary breakfast. So we had to rush and get down there half awake. The breakfast buffet was okay, though pretending you are offering sausages when they are Vienna from a can is pushing it.
Jessica and I took a little stroll while waiting for our tourbus to come and get us. There was a path that led up into the hills and for a while all we could hear was the rumble of a nearby hotspring, a bird with a very particular call, and far off sounds of people and farming. Suddenly I was reminded of Spirited Away, mostly because of the steam rising from the buildings all around and the vertiginous nature of the whole village.
We were pretty high up to begin with, but our busdriver took us higher and higher until we got to a place called Chingjing Farm. Being so high up, the surrounding architecture quoted Swiss chalet, and the meadow itself was something that the Taiwanese see little of: rolling hills of green grass (a bit yellow in November’s dry season) and sheep. And it was not so quiet, as tourists were spilling all over the hills, fully enjoying the grass. Teenagers sat around in circles, children rolled down it, parents hiked up and down. And inbetween them roamed sheep of all shapes and ages, being fed and sometimes ridden by the humans. At the top of this hill was a sort of assault course for kids–ropes and log bridges and swings and monkey bars–on which Mike and I promptly embarrassed ourselves.
Roaming among the sheep and lambs (awwww!) was a real Australian sheep shearer who told us he’d been working here for seven years. (By choice, I assume.)
We kept walking and came to a honey farm, where eager beekeepers were pulling out the hive slats, smoking off the bees, and then spinning the hive in a centrifuge to extract the honey. I tried some of this honey straight from the spigot and damn if it wasn’t the freshest thing I’ve ever eaten. I bought a bottle right there. I don’t usually eat honey, but recently I tried a cup of plain yogurt with honey mixed in and it was slappingly good.
More walking and we reached the top of the hill and, not surprisingly, there was Chiang-Kai-Shek standing there in bronze. Back at the LuShan Hotsprings we had been shown one of his holiday houses (in a Japanese style…some nationalist!) and now here he was on one of his hiking excursions.
Then 500 steps led down, made of a lovely dark mahogany-style wood, to a vegetable stall selling huge fruit–Asian pears over 8 inches in diameter–and something called “honey apples” which contain compacted “golden sections” inside.
Lunchtime and the bus pulled us up into a Swiss style food court where we saw two signs of “civilization”: a Starbucks and a 7-11. Lunch was eel and rice and veggies, served from a stall below a sign that said “You Have To Eat It!”–which to me sounds like a future reality game show.
Afterwards much more driving and at last we came to Ao-Wan-Da National Forest. A full hike around this area of grassy plains, deep woods, and a large shale-based river takes about 90 minutes we were told, and what everybody comes to see are the oak trees that are up so high on this tropical island that they change color through the seasons.
We walked for about 30 minutes, and there was great shale cliffs near us, as well a series of aqueducts diverting water from somewhere. In one of the passing river there was still detritus from 921, a series of twisted ribars and concrete. How hard would this be to move? Oh well. Some ways along, returning hikers told us that, dammit, the oaks weren’t red yet, so that was used as a reason to turn back. It was nice being up in the mountains here with the air so fresh. Too bad the cities are all smoggy.
A long bus drive back followed and we had only a few stops left. One the “Center of Taiwan” a little marker in Nantou that was decreed to be the geographic center some decades back. The real center is probably somewhere halfway up a cliff, but this’ll do.
The other stop was along a road known for its scantily clad Betel nut girls. A few years back, the government tried to clamp down on these betel nut sellers, found near all main service road. For the most part they complied–now they dress in go-go outfits and short skirts. But this road is more like the days before the ban, and the girls wear very small bikinis. So the bus driver set up a contest: he would stop three times, one each for Baba, Mike, and myself, and the rest of the bus could vote on who got the cutest girl. Well my girl was kinda cute and certainly busty, but I think Mike won for getting the girl with the most exposed flesh.
After a stop at a service area, we made our way back to Chia-yi, where the karaoke was busted out again and I wound up singing “The Girl From Ipanema.”
When we got back, Ken was there to greet us and soon take us out to the night market at the back of Carrefour, which was now three times as busy as the other night we went.

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