Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My school got two days off for Thanksgiving, so I decided to go backpacking. When one of the typhoons came, a couple months ago, I had rented a book on the Taiwanese mountains from the library, and picked out one that looked gorgeous. Then I found a store, and got a good topo map, figured out from the map some nearby cities and was pretty much ready. I tried to figure out the bus schedule to Lu Shan (the town I needed to get to) but because there are so many different bus companies, there isn't really a good internet website for the bus schedules. So I decided to skip my last class on Wednesday so I could get an early start and then wing it, and hope things turned out OK. I kind of wanted an adventure, and I went by myself, so I expected to have one. I had thought that getting to the trailhead would be the most difficult part, and once I got to the trailhead I would be home free. However, I was mistaken.

I took a train to Taichung, and when I got there, I just went in to the visitor services office and asked how to get to Lu Shan. They checked all the bus schedules, and quickly wrote up a little schedule. There were buses going leaving every fifteen minutes for Pu Li, so I caught the next one of those. The bus looked really nice on the inside, all the chairs were green leather, and even had those little triangular blocks on either side of your head, so you can just lean your head to the side and nap. I was excited about them, until I sat down and realized they were too low, and pushed my shoulders forward. So I had to slouch down, and press my knees either into the isle, or into the seat in front of me.

After the bus got to Pu Li, I got off and waited at the bus station (for about an hour) for the next bus to Lu Shan. At Pu Li I was already in the mountains, but they started to get serious once I headed out for Lu Shan. It was getting dark, but I caught glimpses of jagged ridges, and I started to get excited.

We pulled into Lu Shan at 8:00, which was basically the trailhead (at least according to the map). I had some vague sort of hopes of being able to camp somewhere, or stay without paying, but these were quickly dashed. I got solicited right away by a couple guys from one of the hotels, just waiting around at the bus stop. I told them the hotel was too expensive for me, and the asked if I wanted to camp. Naturally I said yes, and they told me there was a spot down the way where I could camp, but I was pretty unclear about the whole situation. I walked about 100yds down the road and got solicited by a couple more guys from the same hotel. I told them it was too expensive, and they asked how much I was willing to pay. I have no idea about the hotel market in Taiwan, so I decided to start low at 100 NTD (about 2.50 USD). They all burst into laughter, and a couple other people who were walking past stopped to watch. So now it was the main guy I was talking to, a couple of his co-workers, and a couple of strangers, all come to watch the foreigner. After they quit laughing I asked him how much the cheapest place was. 600 NTD. I've camped in city parks before, but I don't really enjoy it and 600 isn't that much so I decided to stay there. The main guy took me over to the cheap hotel, and the 'clerk' there showed me to my room. Then he gave me some hot water, and left.

Thursday morning (Thanksgiving, though I didn't get realize it until Friday), I got up early, had granola for breakfast, and went downstairs. The 'clerk' this morning was an old man, and so I gave him the key, then asked for some water. I was pleased with my decision to stay at a hotel. Flush toilets, free clean water, and best of all I could ask for directions to the trailhead. The old man had to get out a magnifying glass but he seemed to now where we were on my map, and how to get to where I wanted to go. That was as far as giving directions went, and was the point when the fiasco started. There were two trails leading out of the city, and he told me that everyone else took the one that I didn't want to take. I wasn't sure I would be able to get directions out of him because he seemed adamant that no one used the trail I wanted to use. The other one would have been OK too, but it would have taken an hour longer, and just seemed like too much effort.

Then the 'clerk' from last night joined the old man (I think they were a father-son duo), and now it came out that I didn't have a permit. Before I left I had heard from multiple people that you had to have a guide to go about 3000 meters, and I knew that I didn't want a guide, so I had disdained the whole process, and anything to do with guides or permits. The two clerks started making it sound like people got lost and were never found again every other week on this trail, but what really scared me was this stamp they kept going on about. They claimed that if I got caught in the backcountry without this a permit, someone would put this stamp on my passport, and when I went to other countries they might not let me in because they would know I was a bad egg, and didn't get backcountry permits. This worried me because I've already bought my plane ticket to Thailand for Christmas break, and I really want to go see Alonzo (school roommate I'm meeting there). They told me I could apply for a permit, but it would take at least 3 days, and so I might as well go back to Taipei. This was very frustrating because the weather was gorgeous and I really just wanted to go backpacking. Not only that, but they had gotten my name and passport number early on so it seemed like if I were to leave now without a permit these two clerks would call the police on me, and I would be certain to get caught and stamped. Bastards. They told me the next bus out of town left at 9:30 so I had about 40 min to decide. So I left, and went to see if I could find the trailhead on my own. After walking for a bit I decided to give one of my teachers a call and see what she thought of the situation. She had never heard of the "hey other countries look, this guy didn't get a backcountry permit in Taiwan" stamp, and told me that the permit process could be completed in one day, and she thought I ought to go do that. I didn't think that my prospects of success were good because even if other people could get the permit sorted out in one day, I didn't know if I could. I think a lot of Taiwanese people think that us white people are little better than children, and it is a miracle we make it through every day. The benefit of this is that most Taiwanese people are really nice and willing to help foreigners who managed to make it across the ocean to get here. However, I didn't think this helpfulness would extend to letting a white guy go alone into the backcountry.

It turns out I was mistaken. I caught the bus at 9:30 and got of at Wu She. I had to go to the Police Station to get the permit, and when I walked in the guy at the front desk knew right away I was in to apply for a permit, (I think the backpack tipped him off) and he told me to stash my stuff in an adjacent room, and go upstairs. I had to ask for directions again on the second floor, but I got pointed in the right direction. As I walked into the room, another guy followed me in and immdeiately took me under his wing. He went and got the papers, and I started filling them out. Part way through the form filling out the guy found out where I wanted to go, and told me it would take 6 days. Then he got excited and showed me some pictures of somewhere he had just gone, and told me he would take me there next time I came back. He suggested, because my plan would take six days, that I just go back to Taipei, but I voiced my feelings about going back to the city. So, we settled on a much more simple trip. Hike in, camp at the same place for two nights, then hike out. I didn't want to press for an itenerary that sounded more interesting because I didn't want to get sent back to Taipei, and in the end I think the more relaxing trip was better. There was only one problem with the new plan. The original trail I had planned to hike left straight out of the city limits, but this one required a long drive in (with no public busses). However, the police man wasn't about to let this get in my way. He said he was going to go asking around to see if anyone else was going in there, and I think he told me if that plan didn't work he would take me up there himself. I'm not sure exactly, but I know there was a backup plan. I ended up not needing the backup plan because my policeman friend found some other people heading to the same place, and he talked them into letting me ride along.

I stashed my backpack in the back of their gear van (they were biking in) and got into a car with a stranger. As I did so, it occured to me that getting into cars with strangers isn't always the best idea, and I might ought to be concerned about it. I wondered why I wasn't concerned, and then realized that I had sort of expected to be getting into a car with a stranger. I tried to prepare very well for this trip, and I even brought along a piece of cardboard and a marker, in case I needed to do any spurt of the moment hitchiking. The stranger driving the car was, not surprisingly, very nice and we talked for a while then I just enjoyed the drive. When we got to the trailhead I grabbed my pack and left, looking forward to enjoying some quite and scenery. I stopped to pee beside the trail, and was immediately interupted by mopeds coming down the trail from the other direction. My hopes for a wilderness experience hadn't been especially high but they were shattered all the same.

The trail was pretty sketchy too, but that didn't stop the fellows on mopeds from shuttling gear in and out to the hostel (my destination). Most I didn't see the mopeds again until much later in the day, and I was able to enjoy most of the hike in solitude. The mountains were gorgeous, and the weather was pretty perfect. As I came around the last ridge the wind picked up, and the temp dropped noticeably. There was no one else in the hostel when I got there, so I just set up my tent in the field out front, then had dinner and went to bed. After I had been in my sleeping bag for a while I heard the bikers arrive, then the mopeds, then I heard them crank up the generator. I managed to ignore it and slept well.

In the morning someone came to check up on me. They were worried cause they hadn't seen me the night before, and I hadn't gotten out of my tent yet. Sweethearts. So I got up and had breakfast. The weather was beautiful again, though there was still a cold, moist wind blowing off of the ridge behind the campsite. The ridge had been covered in cloud the day before, and was again today, though the rest of the sky was completely cloudless. After breakfast I set off to climb Nan Hua Shan (the mist covered ridge behind the campsite). The hike was gorgeous, and the trail quickly led above tree line pretty quickly. About the same time the trail ducked unto the cloud, where it was colder, and much wetter, but it was still beautiful. Bamboo had replaced the trees, and in some places the bamboo overshadowed the trail. It wasn't bad if the trail was flat or uphill, but there were times when it went downhill steeply and it was overgrown. So I crept along hoping I wasn't putting my foot in a hole, or on a slippery pebble just waiting to tumble away as soon as I weighted it. I managed to make it through, if slowly. (It's kind of hard to tell in the picture, but I'm waist deep in bamboo. The trail stretches off behind me.)

Since I had come onto the proper part of the ridge the wind had picked up, and I was too wet to stop and hang out in the wind. I didn't regret that most of the time, and I found a couple spots where the trail dipped beside the other side of the ridge and was out of the wind. I took advantage of these spots to stand and relax, watch the clouds get blown past, and know that if I were standing there it would be really windy and loud. But I wasn't standing there, so I could really enjoy the calm and complete quite.

The actual summit of Nan Hua Shan wasn't terribly exciting, just a higher bump on a ridge. The view of the fog was the same. When I made it to the pass on the other side there was a monument ("Spreading Light Over the Land Monument") and a small informational sign with a picture of Nan Hua Shan. It looked very beautiful, and was neat to think about what it would look like, but my view wasn't terribly remarkable. Shortly after I left the pass I walked back into the sunlight, and was able to shed a couple of layers. Being inside the fog is beautiful in its own unique way, but there is just no replacement for real sunlight.

The American slogan "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." I think the Taiwanese version would be "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with about 50 other people, all together." I got back to camp at about noon and there were already a few more tents up out front. In the afternoon I left again to get some peace and quite, and read by the trail for a few hours. When I went back to camp there were 5 or 6 more tents up and a bunch of people inside milling around. I talked to the bikers a little bit (they had gone on a day hike too, but had climbed another mountain in addition to Nan Hua Shan). I read some more inside but dinner time was rolling around and things were starting to get intense. People were starting to use multiple little single burner stoves to hold up a pot the size of my torso and cook oodles of rice and different kinds of meat. I went outside and had my dinner of vege chicken nuggets and some kind of mayonnaise/salad dressing. The mayo was pretty gross, but I wanted some extra calories to keep me warm in the sleeping bag, and all the butter they have here was imported from Europe so the mayo seemed like the more eco-friendly choice. Even though it was colder, I was hanging around outside mostly now because I was afraid if I loitered inside too much I would get wrangled into eating someone else's food. This isn't really that big of a problem except that all of my food that I don't eat, I have to carry back out, and furthermore I was full already. Standing outside ended up not being far enough away because I still got wrangled into eating other peoples food. I was licking my bowl out, and I think one of the bikers inside saw me thought I was doing it out of hunger (I've had this bowl for 6 years, and I always lick it out, just so I don't get food everywhere). In any case Xiao Fei, one of the bikers, brought out some soup and poured some into my bowl. It was delicious, and it was warm, making it leaps and bounds better than vege chicken nuggets and mayo. Xiao Fei insisted I come inside and take a seat so I obliged. I finished the soup, and Bo Shun (the guy whose car I'd ridden in) told me to stay around for more. I told him I'd already eaten, but he told me not to worry, we still had two hours left. It seemed as though I was in for it. I didn't know what was going to happen in two hours (my main timekeeper, the sun, had already set) but I did know I didn't want to be eating for the next two hours. I pleaded vegetarian some, and managed to get away with a little bowl of spaghetti. The biker group consisted of three Taiwanese guys and 2 british guys. Xiao Fei and Bo Shun were friends and I think they had just met the other Taiwanese guy because of this trip. I'm not to clear. The other Taiwanese guy spoke some English and he had brought along the two Brits. The Brits Chinese was terrible, so I got to serve as an impromtu translator for a while, but when the clutch moment came I didn't know the word for the kind of seafood they were having with the spaghetti.

I did get to talk with Bo Shun for a while. He was nice but I especially liked him because he didn't beat around the bush at all. When I introduced myself I gave him my full Chinese name, but he just told me Chinese people don't like that long of names. Also, because not that many people have my same last name (Ge), and because I'm a big guy they could just call me Little Ge. I was fine with that. All of my teachers call me my two given names (JingYan) but it was nice to spice things up a little. He also invited me to his house, but more importantly, he explained why. Apparently helping white people is some sort of status symbol. So, by helping me and showing around his town he'd be getting a leg up on the community totem pole. And I'd be getting shown around a new place, and I might get a place to stay and some free meals. Everyone wins. I've kind of had that impression before, but it clarified things a lot to have Bo Shun explain things to me.

I asked Bo Shun what they did after dark at the hostel and he told me there was some sort of party. I wanted to see it, but my stomach was too full and I just wanted to lay down. So I did. In the morning there was a cold wet wind blowing through camp, so I just threw everything in my bag and left. I knew the bikers were going out today, and I wanted to get a ride back to the bus stop with them, and since all they had to do was roll down hill, I felt like I needed a good head start to get to the trailhead at the same time.

On the hike out I passed what seemed like over 100 people heading in to the hostel. When Xiao Fei passed me on the trail I commented on how many people there were. He said that there had been 70 people there the night before, and there were indeed well over 100 heading in tonight. He said the hostel was expecting close to 200 people, camping and staying inside. Its no wonder those two guys at the hotel couldn't get there head around me going by myself. The Taiwanese like to camp by the hundreds.

The bikers did get to the trailhead a little before I did, but I wasn't too far behind. Right after I got there Xiao Fei handed me a beer, and a handful of M & M's. I don't know how well they mixed, but they were both good to have. Bo Shun was going to give me a ride back to a bus stop, and he was ready to go pretty soon, so I threw my stuff in his car and we left. I hadn't finished my beer, but he said it was alright to drink in the car so I just did that. I don't know if I'd say my mind got blown, but driving back was certainly an interesting experience. The initial road was just a series of steep switchbacks, in very quick succession. The steepness or quickness of succession didn't seem to slow Bo Shun at all. On the contrary I think it might have made him want to go faster. Anyway, for whatever reason he was rallying his car down this road. It occurred to me again that I didn't really know him that well, but my options seemed limited so I just sat, sipped beer, and tried to enjoy the ride. He ended up wailing his car a little bit, where some concrete had fallen down, making a sort of extended pot hole. He slowed down after that, but by then we were at the end of the switchbacks anyway, so it didn't really matter too much. (You can see the switchbacks in the foreground.)

Bo Shun and I talked a little on the way back, and we got to the bus stop pretty quickly. We exchanged info and shook hands. There was a bus waiting at the stop, so I headed off. Back to Taipei.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Monk Part 2

I ran into the monk today after school. I was standing next to the stairs talking to one of my classmates as he came up the stairs. He was showing some other Thai people around, and decided to take them here. We talked for about an hour, and it was really satisfying because I didn't ever have to stop the conversation to ask what a word was. We did have one little glitch because the word for province and tone are the same except they have different tones. So I asked him how many tones the Thai language has, and he said 74. I was incredulous, but we finally got it sorted out. Thailand has 74 provinces, but the Thai language only has 5 tones (Chinese has 4 or 5 depending on how you count, most people say it only has 4). We talked about excersise some, and I asked him what he did. He said he runs up and down stairs, and does yoga. I asked him how he learned yoga, and he said he went on the internet just like everyone else. I just thought it was funny, a Buddhist monk from Thailand surfing the internet finding out how to do Yoga.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"To Install"

In class today we went over the word for 'to install'. In Chinese it is really similar to the word for put, except for that it is specfically to put inside something. My classmates and I were having a hard time, so my teacher got out all kind of props, and had a sort of festival of putting things inside other things, and taking them back out, then putting them back inside again. She got a towel from somewhere, and for a while that and a bag were her main props, then she broke into her tupperware stash, and it started to get crazy.

On the way home from school, I saw someone sending text messages with their cell phone, and riding their bike at the same time. This isn't the first time I've seen it, and everytime I think about how reckless it is. Then I remembered I had to send this guy a text message, so I pulled out my cellphone and started biking and texting at the same time. Things were going well enough until I pressed end instead of the 'd-e-f' key, and lost the message. I decided it was too much trouble, so I re-stashed my phone.

A miracle happened the other night. In my rice cooker, I had been only cooking 2.5 cups (I don't think it is an actual cup measurement, my rice cooker just came with a cup, and I fill it up 2.5 times) of rice each time, but I would always have to make 2 batches. So, I decided to up the ante and cook 5 cups of rice in one go. Things got off to a rough start when I wasn't able to put the last 1.5 cups of water in the pot because it was already full to the brim. Furthermore, the pot usually has 2 lids on it, and this time one wouldn't fit on because the pot was too full, so I was a little worried about rice overflowing everywhere, but I decided to press on. The rice took so long to cook that I forgot about it, but then I heard the click when it turned itslef off, and I remembered. 1st of all, my rice cooker never turns itself off. I mean ... it is supposed to, but it never has in the past. Anyway, after it cut off, I went over to check it out, and found that the rice had filled up exactly to the rim of the pot. It couldn't have been any more even. I checked it and the rice was cooked, so I started spooning it out into my tupperware. I was worried that I would come to the point where I had dug deep enough and I would come to water that hadn't been evaporated, but I never did. The rice was perfectly cooked.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Saturday Number 2

One of my classmates just moved into a new house, so she had a sort of house warming party last night. For a while it was just Luke, Lauren, and I. Then a couple Norwegians (our classmates) showed up. It was pretty cool to talk to them. One of them kept going on about Dr. Ron Paul M.D. (I think that was his name, but I forget exactly), a candidate for the next presidential election. Lars was super stoked because America has a serious candidate for the presidency who wants to reintroduce the gold standard. After that we talked about how fu&*ed the American political system is, and then a bit about the Norwegian political system. My mind got blown again, but not quite so much as before. It was just a really unique experience.

Tonight I went out with the French girls again. It was pretty funny overall. Luke had other dinner plans, so he couldn't serve as the translator, and we had to communicate ourselves, which was a challenge. While we were eating dinner they asked me why I was a vegetarian, and I was pretty sure that last time I had told them it was because beef production is inefficient, so I decided to switch it up and tell them that it was because cows produce so much methane, and contribute to global warming. I felt pretty confident that they would have heard of global warming, so I tried to explain in English, but we caught a snag right away when they didn't understand 'warming'. I managed to get everything across (I think) and went on to explain how cows tied in to the whole scheme. I didn't say the word 'methane' because I was pretty sure they wouldn't know that one, but after I had explained for a while Estelle came out of left field and wrote down 'methan' on a piece of paper. I was stoked, and at the time I though she knew the English word 'methane', but in hindsight I think the English and French are just really similar here.

After we finished dinner we went out to 'Underworld'. It sounds like a crazy dance club, but it is really just a regular bar, in the basement. The music was some sort of combination of heavy metal and electronica. Estelle and Alice both hated it, and I liked it at first but after listening for a while it sounded more and more like noise. The band quit pretty early, so we were able to talk for a while. I think overall everything went well.

We are able to communicate, as long as nobodies in a big hurry. And they've both got a good sense of humor, so if communication ever breaks down completely everyone just laughs.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I took the bus on the way to Thai boxing. The subway stop I get off at is the 'City government' stop, so I assumed it would be the same one and I got off there. Indeed, I assumed wrong, and I got off right at Taipei 101. I looked at it for a bit, because the last time I saw it it was dark out, and raining so I couldn't get that good of a view. After I had seen my fill, I walked off in what I thought was the right direction. I think I was going in the right direction for a while, but I got lost, and when I found myself I was two metro stops back towards home, so I just took the metro there.

On Thursday I had invited Martin to come out with Luke and I to Oldie Goodie, and he seemed interested. He still was today, and we went over to his house for drinks before we went out to OG. He and Luke talked about the Middle East mostly, but I think keeping up with the news is just depressing, so I didn't have anything intelligent to add. I felt kind of bad because Martin might rather talk about something other than political issues all the time, but I guess it comes with the territory.

OG was great, and Luke mustered sufficient testicular fortitude and asked the lead singer for her unber (which she gave him). So thats cool.