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Touring Gaoxiong isn’t something I feel like writing a lot about, but I do have some pictures I’d like to share with you. I’ll also take the opportunity to explain the pictures and the events surrounding them.


Here I am, new city and everything.


This is the view of the same place as the first picture, but from the skyscraper in the middle of the picture called the Tuntex Sky Tower, standing 378 metres tall.  Even though the sky was a bit hazy, the view was nice.


In the tower were other thins to look at!


Love River.


MRT (mass rapid transit, Gaoxiong’s underground) station.


Fireworks on the last evening of the New Year Holiday.


Official fireworks is nice; I’ve never liked private.


Not only the sky is illuminated.


This is the restaurant I’ve been talking about before. It’s a hotpot restaurant here in Gaoxiong were you choose, cook and eat food until you can barely walk.


Vegetables and mushrooms.


Seafood.


Meat.


Dinner!

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I have now moved to Gaoxiong and everything here is fine so far. My apartment is located in the Sanmin (三民) district to the north of downtown Gaoxiong, a city of roughly three million people in the south Taiwan. I live around fifteen minutes walk from the underground and less than five minutes walk from the college at which I’ll study next semester (Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages). The price is not bad, NT$ 6600 a month, which is about 50 % more expensive than my previous apartment, but only about half of my rent in Sweden (the price here is roughly 1600 Swedish crowns). To have something to compare with, my scholarship gives me NT$ 25 000 each month and the tuition fee for the college is close to NT$ 40 000 per semester.

The building seems new, everything is high-standard (much better than my old apartment) and I’m in general very positive.  Furthermore, the window faces a small courtyard and some alleys with almost no traffic; I can hear a fountain five stories down. Having a northward-facing window somewhere in the middle of the building is excellent for two reasons: I’ll have no direct sunlight during the summer, which will make it a bit more bearable, at the same time as five stories up is enough to escape most pollution. Perfect.

Rather than going on about it, I’ll give you a few pictures, nothing fancy, but they’ll convey the basic idea:


I guess most streets here look something like this, but this happens to be mine.


It’s a quite nice street, especially since my window faces away from the street.


No, all the shoes aren’t mine.


Drawers and cupboards are nice when you’ve lived without them for five months.


Hello Kitty!


Yes, it’s a bit barren so far, but I’ll try to change that as soon as possible.


The courtyard directly below my window.


Night view from the roof of the building.


Night view from the roof of the building.


Night view from the roof of the building.

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Green Island

We left Taroko on Monday morning without much trouble, catching a train to Taidong and then a ferry to Green Island. Since then, we’ve had time to do quite a lot, but to begin with, I”ll limit my story to two things: scooter driving and scuba diving. First, it might seem incredible to some of you that I’ve never ridden a scooter, but such a vehicle is in Sweden generally associated with teenagers and not something I’ve ever had the need of learning (bicycling is fine). Driving motorised vehicles is always fun, mostly because that’s something I can never do legally in Sweden because of my poor eye sight. We used the scooters to go around the island, something easily done since it’s only 17 kilometres in circumference.


Welcome to Green Island. It’s not difficult to understand where the name came from.







Second, we did some scuba diving (two dives, to be more exact). These were my first dives outside a learning environment, but apart from the fact that I initially had some problems clearing the ears, it went smoothly. The water was about 25 degrees and losing the dry suits I know from my Swedish dives were not a loss at all, I can tell you. The coral reefs outside Green Island are perhaps not world famous for their plethora of aquatic life, but hovering over a sea floor like this felt almost like visiting another planet. I enjoyed these dives immensely and it was also a good idea to recapitulate some practical knowledge from last year’s course. I won’t hesitate before diving again here, if opportunity presents itself.

We stayed at a place called Jack’s Hotel, and the lodging was above the average for our vacation so far. Some interesting things were also included, such as scooters and vouchers for nice restaurants as well as the hot spring here on the island. The visit was somewhat disturbed by the fact that no ATM machines worked on the island, which meant we were short of cash. Fortunately, we could borrow money from the host, but it was still inconvenient to be reliant on other people for such things.

Wednesday, we spent mostly on exploring the island on scooter, alternated with short hikes or excursions where on foot was the only option. We followed the old trans-island path to the interior of Green Island, a hundred-minute walk including snakes, squirrels, butterflies and tropical plants. We also spent a fair amount of time climbing around on rocks facing the pacific ocean, with magnificent waves wasting tremendous power trying to crush the volcanic rock of the island.






This picture doesn’t say much, but it’s a nice picture anyway.


Furry squirrel! Spotted on the trans-island road.


Fishy, fishy, fishy. It’s a bit tricky to dissect this beast with chopsticks.


Sometimes it’s just easier to point.


Well, one has to do something while waiting for dinner.

Our stay on Green Island was nicely rounded up on Thursday by a visit to the salt water hot spring on the island, one of the few that exist in the world. It was nice, but nothing spectacular, perhaps partly because a glaring sun wasn’t what my already burnt skin wanted at that time. The journey back to Taiwan was pleasant enough, with even more clement weather that on the way out.

To sum things up, the stay on Green Island was worth the three nights. The lodging was good, we used a package from Green Island Adventures, and it was alright, except that the host is the kind of person one either loves or hates, and I think most of us fell into the second category. However, it should be noted that he probably never meant harm, and that perhaps circumstances poisoned my view of him somewhat (such as the problems concerning cash withdrawal mentioned above). On average, though, I can recommend this package.

We’re currently heading for Gaoxiong and I write this sitting on the train about halfway from Taidong. Somehow we managed to get three seats on this train without having reserved seats in advance (something our taxi driver said was almost impossible), and let’s hope that our good fortune continues for the next couple of days before we meet up with Vanessa either on Monday or Tuesday.

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Gorgeous Taroko

Exploring Taroko Gorge at first seemed to be a bit difficult, partly because of my somewhat limited knowledge of Chinese. After breakfast, we waited forty minutes for a bus that didn’t exist; then the host happened to come by and told us the bus station was five kilometres down the road. Since the traffic wasn’t heavy and the view nice, it wasn’t so bad to walk there. However, there was no bus there either, so we took a taxi down to Swallow’s Grotto and then the real adventure began. If that’s not apparent, Taroko is a must-see for anyone who visits Taiwan. Sadly, neither words or pictures are enough to convey this experience, but since I think pictures stand a better chance, here are some:



























Right now, I’m sitting in bed typing, after a hot shower and a nice New Year’s dinner (today is Chinese New Year’s Eve). Since we spent most of the day walking around (we set out at ten o’clock and arrived home about half past five, and we didn’t spend much of the intervening time resting, let me tell you), I’m tired, albeit in a pleasant way. I will try to get some studying done, perhaps also some writing, and then say goodbye to Venassa before she leaves for Japan. Going to bed early seems like a good idea, though, because tomorrow at seven thirty, we’re leaving Taroko, heading for Green Island where we will spend three nights.

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To be honest, I’m getting rather tired of this cold. It begun roughly two weeks ago, after I got back from my New Year celebration with Vanessa in Gaoxiong. It’s not that it’s cold outside; compared to Sweden it is stiflingly hot (the coldest I’ve seen is six degrees, but that was five o’clock in the morning on the coldest day, usually it’s been around 15-20 during the days). The problem is that Taiwan is built for the warmth of summer; buildings are designed to release as much heat as possible, often with the aid of air conditioning.Nobody seems to mind that this has a reverse effect in the winter.

Regardless of the fact that the winter is very short, it’s still cold indoors. I count everything above minus five as agreeable outdoors, but for indoor temperatures below fifteen degrees another word altogether is needed. It’s alright if one keeps moving, but sleeping, studying or anything like that becomes a pain.

Today, we realised that this cold has some really impractical implications. We left Sun Moon Lake this morning at eight, and although I was close to writing “fortunately with another driver”, I’m not sure that “fortunately” is the right word, but it seemed to be true then. The problems increased as the height of the road above the sea rocketed and temperatures plummeted. First, fog obscured the road and forced the driver to take it very, very slowly. Then the snow began to fall.

We met cars coming in the other directions, all bearing signs of much worse weather farther up the road; an increasing number had snow chains attached. Climbing up the road piercing Taiwan’s central mountains from east to west, the driver soon realised that he would have no way of going down the other side, because ill-prepared as he was, he had no snow chains of his own. In the highest pass, he somehow found another car who would take us and our luggage down to Taroko Gorge and our hotel. The vehicle happened to be a four-wheeled jeep with snow chains, so even though the journey was slow, I was never worried after changing car (and driver).

As we descended, the snow melted to a cold drizzle, which refused to give way as we reached our new hotel. It’s called Cloud Village and is a small place very far up the valley. There seems to be no other guests so far, the room is freezing cold (this explains my rant above), but at least the food is good and the staff are friendly. My parents just returned back from a short hike, but I felt weary and decided to stay on our room, catching up some studying I’ve been neglecting and beginning to write this text. Right this moment, I’m tired and don’t feel like I’m on vacation at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m not used to being responsible in this way (I am, considering that I’m the only one here who can communicate with most natives). It will be a lot easier once the beginning of the Chinese New Year is over (roughly when we get back from Green Island on the 29th or so).


The fog didn’t only envelope the road, it also hid the allegedly fabulous view.


No comments.


It’s colder than it seems, and the food is more tasty than it looks.

Another possible reason is that I miss Vanessa. We haven’t met since the beginning of the month and right now it doesn’t feel good at all. We have been in contact a lot, but she’ll soon leave for Japan and we won’t meet until the beginning of February. However, I still look forward to lots of things we have planned to do before then, so I’m sure that I’ll be able to keep myself busy. Having my parents here is also nice and, disregarding the cold, I’m very satisfied with our vacation so far! Green Island is also tropical, so perhaps thawing is coming up.

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Sun Moon Lake

As I’m writing this post, Friday evening comes to an end and gives way to Saturday morning. I’ve spent a couple of hours writing, editing photographs and generally trying to post as much as I can about our travelling so far. I’m now connected to the internet using an unprotected wireless network, but since we’ll leave Sun Moon Lake tomorrow, there’s no telling when I might have access again. This being the case, I must admit that I’m tired and that I’ve no energy left to write something ambitious about our stay here. Let it suffice to say that we did indeed go around the lake by bike, as I implied we would yesterday. It’s about 33 kilometres around the lake and the terrain is hilly, so including breaks, lunch and several detours, it took us the better part of the day. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the telling, perhaps with some additional comment here and there.


This is the best overview picture I have. The lake isn’t big, but mist made it hard to see clearly anyway.


This temple was one of our first bigger detours.


Dragons coiled around pillars are ubiquitous in temples like this. I find the colours of these particular pillars extremely nice.
















Most of the time, the mist made the biking colder and obscured the view, but in this case, it really adds something to the experience.

Tomorrow, we leave Sun Moon Lake for Taroko National Park at eight o’clock. In so doing, we hope to avoid the worst of the heavy traffic that’s to be expected on the first day of the Chinese New Year vacation (starting tomorrow, with New Year’s Eve on Sunday). I don’t know how much this will affect our plans, but we should be okay. If being okay involves being online remains to be seen, though, so bye for now; I hope to be able to write again soon.

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Fish, mist and jade

Nothing seems to be seriously ẃrong with me, because I did indeed sleep a lot Tuesday night (see this entry to read why I only slept three hours for the first two days of this week). Twelve hours, in fact, which is roughly twice as much as I usually sleep, but it was badly needed. During the day, we visited two places, first some sort of aboriginal fishing area, which was interesting, but not terribly so. I’m sure that the landscape would have been breathtaking if there would have been more water in the river, but as it was now, it wasn’t that spectacular. Nice bridges and fresh mountain air still made the two hours worthwhile, though.











After lunch, the host dropped us off for a two hour hike to the top of a small mountain. The mist was pretty heavy, so there was no view to talk about, but walking through bamboo forests on a steep slop in fog still is something worth mentioning. The evening proceeded slowly from then on, with a new family arriving to our hotel, which meant some more Chinese for me and yet another (unsuccessful) tour to see the flying squirrel for my parents.



It felt a little sad to leave our host on Alishan; he was really nice and I got to talk to him pretty much during our drives to different places. The lodging was perhaps not the best I’ve encountered, but everything else was perfect. It was a nice mixture of guided tours and free time. Anyway, he dropped us off at a tourist centre in Yushan National Park (Yushan means Jade Mountain and is Taiwan’s highest mountain, standing almost 4000 metres above sea level), where another driver would pick us up five hours later to take us to Sun Moon Lake.

Yushan was the best thing so far on our vacation. We hiked for a couple of hours and the landscape was absolutely stunning. We followed trails running along high mountain ridges with steep drops on both sides, walked over high passes, all under a clear blue sky and beaming sun. At almost three thousand metres, the air was cool and fresh, which clearly reminded us of the Alps and skiing. It is a particular feeling, this mixture of temperatures. I managed to burn myself pretty badly in the neck, but it’s worth it anyway. Just take a look at these pictures, which are a fairly bad attempt at capturing the magnificance of Jade Mountain.

















This English on this sign might be true, but it’s pretty certain that that isn’t what the writer intended it to mean. After some dictionary browsing, I think I’ve found the reason for this translation mistake. 階梯 means ladder or staircase in Chinese, but the first character might also mean “rank”, which loosely translated perhaps could be “social class”. Signs of this kind are abundant here, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining.

In the afternoon, we were picked up to go to Sun Moon Lake. The trip was pretty strange, because the driver had a peculiar driving style. The first few kilometres down the mountain, he drove extremely slowly, almost like he was paid per minute and really wanted to exaggerate (we had agreed on a price beforehand, so this wasn’t the case). Then, later, he suddenly decided to accelerate randomly only to slow down again. This change of speed had no apparent bearing on the actual outline of the road, sometimes making him crawl along a perfect straight section of the road, only to accelerate wildly in the next curve.. The trip was also somewhat complicated by the fact that I learnt that my future landlord hadn’t received my money. This was resolved fairly smoothly and it seems like I’ll still have somewhere to live when this vacation has come to an end. My stuff has also arrived in my new apartment, so it seems like I can relax for real now.

I’m writing this in the evening, after having had dinner in a nice restaurant overlooking the lake. We have only vague plans for tomorrow as yet; probably we will try to rent bikes and go around the lake, but since we have no real idea of where we are and what we want to do (the information centre was closed when we arrived), only time will tell. We’re only going to stay here for two nights and will leave very early on Saturday in order to go to Taroko National Park on the east coast. I’ve managed to adjust my sleeping rhythm now, at least, so it means it’s soon time to go to bed, even though it’s only slightly after ten. See you tomorrow!

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I think that an enchanter must have cursed me and transferred my parents jet lag to me. Even though I had slept only three hours the previous night and had had a pretty busy day, I didn’t manage to sleep more than perhaps thirty minutes! My plan to adjust my sleeping thus proved to be a failure of epic proportions. This was not the kind of night were one wonders if one’s awake or asleep, and constantly drifts back and forth into wakefulness. Instead, I was fully awake all the time. Fortunately for me, I had pretty nice company in the form of an audio version of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

After a very long night indeed, the host knocked on our door and informed us that it was almost four in the morning and that we should get going if we didn’t want to miss the sun rising. The sunrise as seen from Alishan was a bit hyped up, in my opinion. We had to drive an hour, then wait in a very cold train station (please bear in mind that most peaks in the Alihsan areas stand well above 2500 metres tall) for almost an hour, before we could board a train to the summit. I don’t want to think about how crowded that place must be on weekends or in the Chinese New Year, because it was pretty bad even this Tuesday morning.

The summit itself was a beautiful place which would have been worth a visit even with no sunrise. The sunrise itself was also stunning, but very quick and thus left me with a feeling of “okay, so that was supposed to be it?” There were no clouds, so the famous cloud sea of Alishan eluded us this time (see pictures). I don’t regret that we went there, but on the contrary to everybody else, I don’t think that it’s something you have to do if you visit Taiwan. Sure, if you happen to be in the vicinity, by all means go there, but don’t go out of your way to see this. Pictures of the sunrise and the associated cloud sea are beautiful, but one has to be lucky to get that (for reference, check this, this and this photo).


I did tell you it was beautiful, right?


This is were it’s supposed to be a sea of clouds. I’m not complaining, though, the view was pretty indeed.


Yes, it’s as cold as it looks. Once the sun actually rose, it wasn’t that bad, but the early morning in combination with sitting a long time made the mountain air quite freezing.


Below Alishan, there are two Sister Lakes, one big and one small. This is the small one. I could tell you the story behind the names, but since it’s pretty boring, I won’t.


This is from a short fairly close to the peak from which we watched the sunrise.


Alishan is a lot more than mountains and we could probably have spent a few days just in this area.


Yours truly.

After a fabulous meal with the most delicious tofu cooked by the host’s mother, I had at least an hour or two of sleep. This was so badly needed I can’t find words for it. Sleeping just a few hours is fine if one studies, socialise or things like that, but if one is travelling, moving, climbing mountains, trying to transfer money, waiting in cold train stations, worrying about contracts and generally not being in control of the situation, three hours sleep out of fifty isn’t a lot, let me tell you.

As I write this, I sit outside our room, with my mother beside me reading a book and my father standing in the middle of a small tea plantation taking pictures. The sun has disappeared and a mist has settled over the valley, almost obscuring the opposite side. Still, this mountain landscape with its beautiful scenery and fresh air is awesome. If I’m unable to sleep tonight, there’s something seriously wrong, because with the accumulated lack of sleep I should sleep like a baby for at least ten hours. Tomorrow, more hiking is planned, but that is, as they say, a completely different story.

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Towards Alishan

This day was to be a bit hectic, I knew that from the beginning, and right enough, the first few hours left me pretty winded. With the help of my parents, I managed to get my things to the post office in order to send them to Gaoxiong, post a signed version of an apartment contract to my landlord, as well as pay deposit for that very same apartment. Since my sleeping rhythm was rather non-existent at this point anyway, I had decided to only sleep a couple of hours on Sunday night so as to fall asleep more easily in the evening.

Our initial plan after leaving Xinzhu was to go to the train station and take the high-speed rail to Jiayi and then change train station via taxi to take the old, small train up to Alishan. However, the taxi driver managed to convince us that going with him all the way would be about the same price, but faster. He was right and we arrived in Jiayi ahead of schedule and could enjoy lunch before boarding the train.

This train is rather spectacular, especially disregarding the boring bits in Jiayi I managed to sleep through. It was first built to haul timber from the mountains down to the lowlands, but now it’s turned into a tourist attraction. The train runs four hours on a narrow track through beautiful and steep mountains, with plenty of bamboo and other plants. Arriving in Fenqihu, our host picked us up and showed us a round for a while, before taking us down a short hiking trail. The landscape of these mountains is exciting and the peculiar overhanging cliffs added to the effect (see pictures below).


A typical view from the train on the way from Jiayi to Alishan.


Because of a rock slide, part of the railway was out of order, so we had to walk roughly five hundred metres. With a view like this, that’s not something bad, though.


Take a guess, which bag is mine and which one is my mother’s?


A small cluster of buildings surrounding the train station at Fenqihu, where we got off the train.


My mother and our host, Mr. Liu, on a short hike just after we arrived.


More from the same hike.


It looks nice, but it’s pretty demanding to climb these stairs considering that the height isn’t enough even for my mother to walk straight.

Back at the hotel (I’m not sure it’s actually a hotel, but that’s the best word that comes to mind), we were treated to a dinner of local specialties, and showed our room. Everything was nice, except perhaps that the room itself wasn’t at all meant for staying in apart from sleeping. Of course, we plan to spend most of the time outdoors anyway, but I’m still not used to this kind of lodging. The host and his parents were very nice to us and we felt that we were in good hands.

After dinner, we went on a white-faced-flying-squirrel hunt. Armed with flashlights, the host and his father took us up a steep mountain road surrounded with lush trees, turned into looming shadows by the deep night. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what we were looking for, but soon enough, we found a couple of flying squirrels. They have a beautiful brown-red luster to their fur, but since we only saw them from a long way away, I refer to this and this photo, rather than any picture of my own.

In all, the day was much more eventful than I expected. The host took us with him to do lots of stuff where I’d only expected to rest and have dinner. Since he knows almost no English, I also had to speak lots and lots of Chinese, which went incredibly well, I must say. I understand roughly 90 % of what he says on the first try, including descriptions of various plants, landscape peculiarities and instructions and so forth. I don’t know if my listening ability has taken a quantum leap for the first time since I came here, but it seems like that now. Feeling tired, but satisfied, we all went to bed rather early after having some local tea. Going early to bed seemed like a good idea, because we planned to leave in the early morning to see the famous sunrise from Alishan.

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Mohawk prevails

Mohawk or no Mohawk, that is the question. I have had this hair style since New Years Eve 2007 and I must say I like it more now than I did then, most probably because it looks better with longer hair. Also, I realise that removing the beard was a pretty good move. The problem is that it requires adjusting twice every month, because otherwise the hair on the sides grows too long and the style begins to look rather weird. It is now almost four weeks since I did this. It would be very convenient indeed just to get rid of it altogether.

Whichever I decided, I needed a clipper, so after some looking around and some help, I found bought one today (the most expensive one cost around 300 SEK and its the best I have tried so far). This was the deal: If I managed to fix it adequately on my own, I would keep it. If not, I would just remove everything. Even though I am normally not fond of posting pictures of myself, I will do so now just to prove that I am still alive and well.
As you can see, the hair on the sides is so long that it reaches over the Mohawk itself, which looks horrible. I would have done something much earlier if I had not been such a nuisance to find the clipper.
Slightly better from the side, though.
Perhaps I should have it like this more often. Or then again, perhaps not.
First try. It is fairly difficult to see, because the my hair refuses to be straight. However, it seems like it I have missed a little bit.
From the left it looks much better and I can see nothing wrong.
After a shower and a second attempt. The right side (left on the picture) looks much better.
It is not perfect, but neither am I, so I think I can live with this. Bear in mind that most of the irregularities are because of the way the hair is combed and not necessarily because I have made a mistake.

I am not going to put this to a vote, but I would still like to hear what you think. I might ask someone to adjust it later, but right now I have no one around I want to bother. People here think I look strange anyway, so I do not think this will change anything.

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