Saturday, May 7, 2011

Countryside Art

Last week I went for a long bicycle ride to the next township and back (longer because I got lost!). Instead of the main roads, which are quite narrow and have a lot of trucks in places,  I went by way of less-trafficked paths that criss-cross through the rice and other fields. Below is some of the artwork painted on walls in front of houses which I passed. Enjoy!


Penghu Trip #2

Back in August, 2008 I shared about my first visit to Penghu (Pescadores islands) with a large group of coworkers. This week I was finally able to visit again for 3 days/2 nights, with a little more freedom since I went alone.

Once again, I took the ferry round trip (about 2,000 NT) from BuDai in Chiayi, just 30 minutes from my house. The water was rough on the way back.

Unfortunately I missed the fireworks on the Rainbow Bridge in MaGong City on Monday and Thursday nights because I didn’t do my trip-planning homework and was not there on those nights. I was also not able to visit any of the other islands since I did not plan that much time for the trip. Those things would have been nice, but mostly I just wanted  to retreat for a few days.

I brought my bicycle over with me this time. Although I didn’t traverse the whole island, I did make good use of it cycling back and forth from MaGong City to the visitor center and down to ShanShui and  ShiLi beaches on the southern shore. I prefer the countryside here in Yunlin County for bicycling as there were lots of cars, trucks, scooters, and fumes heading into and out of town. One guy just missed me by inches. Not exactly a tourist paradise! Over near the beaches, however, the cycling was much more pleasant.


The 2nd day, I broke down and rented a scooter. The weather was quite cool and I was able to enjoy sitting in the shade at a rest spot along the road to the Great Bridge. My teeth chattered uncontrollably as I drove my scooter back from the beach in the cold wind that evening and I enjoyed a very long hot shower to warm up.

The third day I was back on the bike again, checking out a short but pleasant bike path which starts at the Guanyin Park and runs along the precautionary wall separating the water from MaGong island.


There were signs and maps posted every couple of hundred meters, but inexplicably the path abruptly ended just a kilometer or so into the trip!


I’m glad the people of Penghu decided against the gambling casinos a few years ago, but they could do a lot more to make the place tourist-friendly. For example, not putting up bike path maps and guide posts until the paths are finished!

The beautiful sandy beaches with the blue water offshore were a sight for sore eyes. The first day I went skin diving off the side of the LiShui beach. The visibility was poor due to the sandy bottom but I did see lots of puffer fish and other tropical fish. The second day the visibility was even worse due to the overcast skies and increased wind. And the coral over at the third beach (AoMen) has seen better days. If you go to Penghu for snorkeling, go to another island. Or better yet, save your money and go diving in the Philippines, Thailand, or Malaysia. Then again, including travel, it probably wouldn’t be much more expensive.

Since I don’t particularly care for seafood (I don’t dislike it but can easily do without it) and because of my budget for this trip, I chose to stay in MaGong City due to the abundance of 7-11’s, coffee shops, a McDonalds, a sit-down Domino’s Pizza (one of only 2 in Taiwan; the other is in SiHu Township in Changhua County), etc. I would not repeat this mistake if there is ever a “next time" because of the place I chose to stay somewhat randomly from the internet.

It was just a few hundred yards from the port. When I arrived, they pulled  a “switch and bait” on me, telling me the price they quoted when I called from home that morning was the April price. Since the difference was only 150 NT and I didn’t want to take the time to go to one of the other places I had called, I decided to stay there anyway. The small room was clean, had wireless internet and cable TV so I was happy to be able to watch some of the NBA playoffs. However, it became evident at night that the surroundings across from the hotel were somewhat seedy.

Most significantly, the  attitude of the manager left a lot to be desired. The crowning example of this was when I went back to pick up my backpack before heading over to the ferry. She was having a sit-down meeting at the front desk with her two assistants, both of whom were noticeably emotionally upset. As she raised her voice, one of the poor girls started crying. It’s bad enough she was shouting at them, but if you’ve got to “tan2 shi4qing2” 談事情, at least do it out of plain sight and hearing of the customers!"  My emphatic verdict would be to anyone reading this post: AVOID THE FENG-GU Hotel like the plague! You can stay at a nice homestay a 15 minute scooter ride away for about the same price as the moderately-priced hotels.

People Highlights of the trip:

  • Meeting a family from the U.S. who are here because the husband is filming a 3-D movie with Ang Li at the old airport in Taichung: The Life of Pi. I read this novel a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, and will look forward to the movie! I took the two boys with me snorkeling over off the point on Shi Li beach.
  • Chatting with a guy from Chuanghua who has lived in Penghu for 13 years and oversees one of the beach areas. I found out later they charged the family above for use of the showers/changing rooms, but he let me use them for free, most likely because we were chatting in Taiwanese and Mandarin.
  • A friendly husband and wife from Penghu (apparently well-to-do) who lived way over at the other end of the island with whom I conversed in Taiwanese and Mandarin. I think He would have dropped everything to take me around the island, but I politely declined. He maybe could have been looking to make some money this way, or enhance his business relationships by introducing a potential customer, but I think he was mostly being friendly.
  • Chatting with a young man from Kaohsiung doing his compulsory military service with the Coast Guard in MaGong. He’s only been here half a year and feels bored to death. I’m not sure I can blame him.

I’d say the overall highlight of my trip was the last afternoon (2 or 3 hours) I spent reading and meditating over in a shelter atop the precautionary wall past the Youth Hostel. I wouldn’t want to do this in August, but the weather was cool again this day. So nice to just sit down or lie back and listen to the sound/watch the sight of the ocean! Some of the best pleasures in life come absolutely free.


Before entering the ferry, I sipped on a cactus smoothie. Cactus ice cream, smoothies, bing, etc. are a specialty here. Try one if you come. 062