09/30/2017 - 09/30/2017
This morning, I got out early in an attempt to have time to see things. The taxicab caller said that the walk to the high speed rail station was a 20 minute walk up the road, so I walked it.
This was my first chance to see Hsinchu during the daytime. Even around 7am, the heat was oppressive. There was no speed comfortable for a walk. The buildings come in dull browns and greys, adding nothing for the eyes. Even the greenery, which was clearly manicured, was dull and boring.
Finally, I made it to the (fortunately air conditioned) train station. I bought my ticket to Taipei, and scrambled to catch the train. The conductors were blowing their whistles as the last few passengers, including myself, clambered aboard. A non-reserved ticket, while cheaper, does not guarantee a seat. However, if you are lucky enough to be standing near the people who get off at a station, you can grab their seats when they get off.
I transferred to metro, which uses some sort of chipped plastic coin as a single-ride ticket. I then transferred to the bus. Most people used transport cards, but you can pay on the bus with exact change. The driver gave me a laminated ticket as evidence I paid, but I had to give it back when I got off.
The bus passed through various parts of the city, some more modern and some a bit shabbier. Then, we started passing through the countryside. We'd see trees and forest, periodically interrupted by a shabby little town that had clearly seen better days. And the mountains! Eventually the green mountains took over the scenery, although they too were dotted with little towns.
Jiufen is one such town. It is almost as if Pittsburgh was in China, and stopped growing quite a while back. Unlike in San Marino, where the bus drops you at the bottom and you have to climb, climb, climb, the bus here dropped us more conveniently midtown, pretty much right in front of the old market.
The old market runs through a back alleyway, but is very clean, despite the lack of public trashcans. Vendors mostly sell processed goods- tea, crafts, souvenirs, and processed foods. There weren't really any fresh ingredient foods other than the juice stands and the one pickup truck with raw meat hanging from the back. But, the food was still interesting- mochi, taro balls, century eggs, fish cakes, ice cream wraps, dried fruit, veggie chips, and of course, tons of teas. My favorites were the stands where you could watch the people actively make the food. This is not a street to do when you're hungry.
Outside the old Jiufen street, the town is pretty quiet. It would have been a beautifully picturesque town to walk around, except for the haze in the air and the dirt covering the buildings. Still, it was worth the visit to the old street and for the quaintness.
I stopped by the Gold Museum in town, mostly because it was there. It looked pretty shady and rundown from the outside, and it wasn't any better on the inside. Nothing was in any language other than Chinese.
The first floor of the museum is a rock collection. I suppose if you can understand the Chinese tour or are familiar enough with rocks to already know what's different and special about various types of mined rocks, it might be worth it. The second floor had some bad reprints of old black and white photos of the town, as well as some equipment that (I assume) was used for mining. For me, the free take-home map of the city was the most useful part of the museum.
From there, I made my way to the visitors' center. The visitor's center had air conditioning! Given how hot and muggy it was outside, this was a huge bonus. They also had English maps and bus schedules, even if the lady running it didn't speak so much English. I sat in the pleasant air and planned.
When I had cooled down, I headed to the nearby temple. It's beautiful. Some artists spent a lot of time carving the stones and wood, and painting everything in beautiful, vivid colors. I have to say, it's as covered as a Catholic cathedral, but I like the art style and themes here better- dragons , peacocks, fish, and wise men instead of all of those martyrs in their sorry poses.
Next, I caught the tourist bus to the Golden Waterfall that I had read so much about. It's supposed to glitter with all of the gold and minerals swept down river from the mining. But mostly, it's a coppery color that makes is look dirty instead of sparkling. Also, the falls themselves are tiny. This isn't worth coming all the way out for, although if you got a daypass for the tourist bus, and are passing it anyway, you might as well stop.
The bus runs every half hour or so, so I had plenty of extra time in that area. I wandered a bit and got some good views of the ocean, where the river turns the seawater yellow. Next, I took the bus back to a stop with another temple. Again, the temple was covered in bright, beautiful art. The carvings were incredibly detailed. The temple was worth the visit.
Of course, it didn't take a half hour, and I was tired of waiting for the bus to come by. I brilliantly decided to just hike to the next sight I wanted to see. Google said it would be only a 16 minute walk, so no big deal.
Haha. The next sight is up. And up. And some more up. And while it was breezier here than some of the other places, it was still HOT. By the time I got to the Gold Museum, I was pretty sweaty and gross.
This Gold Museum is supported by the tourism board. It is much bigger and better than the one in Jiufen, and has plenty of English for foreigners. It contains several buildings that were part of a mining operation during the Japanese occupation. One building is restored in Japanese style, and they make you take off your shoes and use their slippers to walk on the delicate bamboo mat floors. My feet were so gross that I felt bad doing that, but that's the rule.
Other buildings contain metal art by present-day artists. I paid the extra to go walk through one of the mining tunnels. They make you wear a helmet, but at least they give you a disposable helmet liner so you don't share grossness with other people.
The tunnel is slippery and wet, but somewhat educational. They scattered mannequin miners about so that you could get a feel for what the work would look like. On occasion, walking past certain points triggered an audio recording. It added atmosphere, even though I couldn't understand what they were saying.
Steps that lead up to ruins of a Shinto shrine are located at the far side of the mining village. You can actually see parts of the shrine from the village, and it's clearly quite a hike. By now, I had recovered from my hike to the museum, and brilliantly thought that I could totally handle the hike to the shrine.
The flowers on the sides of the path up attracted some beautiful butterflies, bees, and I even saw a tiny hummingbird. I think chasing them down for photos helped me distract myself from the hike. It also caused me to lose count on the way up, but there were 360 stairs (plus a bunch of ramps) on the way down. (Just to the village, here were several sets of stairs within the village, but those aren't so noticable.) By the time I arrived at the top, my clothes were soaked. I could smell myself.
Despite not having much to see at the top, I spent a lot of time there in the nice breeze, attempting to somewhat dry off. I got a good look at all of the pillars left over from the temple. I got a good look at the piles of toys and coins left as offerings. I took in the view of the ocean, although it was a bit hazy. I contemplated whether the stones people left at the entrance monuments had the same meaning as stones in a Jewish cemetery. After all, there are a couple of people buried here. I breathed in and out. I drank some much-needed water, lightening my load in the process. And my clothes were still wet. I smell like a gym with no circulation. I feel bad for anybody who has to sit next to me on public transport on my return journey.
I descended back into the mining village, but my legs felt like jelly. Fortunately, the same bus that I took out to Jiufen, also stops here, and it goes back to a station where I can catch the high speed train directly to Hsinchu, so I won't have to do so much walking and transferring. I collapsed onto the bus and promptly fell asleep.
Fortunately, I woke long before my stop and was able to see the scenery again. Just before the bus stop at Shongsan station, we passed a really cool-looking temple. So, even though I was worn out, weary, and reeked, I decided to take a quick peek at the temple.
Like the others, the art is bright, lively, and full of excitement. The stories depicted in the paintings and carvings are active and exciting. One of the creatures depicted looked somewhat like a cross between a devil and Fiona from Shrek. If I had to choose a religion based solely on their architecture, I'd pick whatever this is (Buddhism, I think).
Of course, right next to the temple, I saw a big sign that said "Night Market." It wasn't quite night, so vendors were just getting set up, but I figured that was a reasonable place to check out. My stench was hopefully not strong enough to overpower the aromas of cooking food.
This is where you can buy all sorts of "made in Taiwan" junk. They had lots of clothing, toys, and shoes on display. It's not uncommon for people to wear surgeons' face masks here to protect from germs, and I even saw non-disposable ones for sale at the market. But they also had all sorts of foods on a stick.
Everything tastes better on a stick! Every few feet, somebody sold fried sweet potato balls- filled with a variety of sweet fillings, and eaten off of a stick. I saw grilled squid- on a stick. Fish balls- on and off sticks. Grilled meats- on and off sticks. Fried and grilled, they also had whole mussels and other seafood in the shell, mushrooms the size of a hotdog bun, tofu, pork knuckles, and several things I couldn't recognize. I saw stews and noodles, fresh fruit, and even fresh sugar cane. One lady was selling stinky tofu fries. I've heard about stinky tofu and how it's a Taiwanese delicacy, so I just had to try them. She coated them in spicy Thai chili sauce, and I have to say that while there was a slight fermentation taste, it really wasn't that strong or that bad.
On my way out, I saw durian popsicles. This isn't a Taiwanese food, but I just wanted to smell one. After Andrew Zimmern, of eating EVERYTHING fame, lost his lunch to a durian, I've been nervous to try it, but also really wanting to. The sales guy convinced me to get one because you can't smell the durian in the popsicle. It's not a pleasant taste, but it's also not as bad as I tbought. I didn't finish the popsicle, but I also didn't stop at just one or two bites. It's hard to describe. Maybe I'd call it a sort of non-sour fermented/rotten melon-like taste. It wasn't the last thing I wanted in my mouth, so I grabbed a chive dumpling on my way into the train station.
One cool thing about the train station bathrooms is that they have a signboard outside with green lights to indicate open stalls, and red to indicate occupied. Before you even go in, you can tell how full the are. On both the signboard and the doors to the bathrooms themselves, they indicate whether it is a squat or throne. So, if you have a preference, you can make sure to go only into the stalls you want, without having to open the door to check. At work, they have the same markings, so maybe it's a normal thing here.
Another cool thing that they have in the train station is a late-night safety standing area. It's marked with a pink box and blantantly has cameras pointing directly at it.
The train seemed to take much longer to get back to Hsinchu and make many more stops than the train I took out in the morning. Turns out, I got on the regular train, and not the high-speed rail. As a result, I ended up at the station in downtown Hsinchu, far from my hotel, instead of the walking distance one. My feet were dead, so this was a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to take a cab back to the hotel.