Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan

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Cimei and Fishing

Having missed sunset the night before, I had hoped to get up early to see it peak above the horizon.  I set my alarm for 5:45am, crawled to the porch, and to my dismay saw that it was cloudy and overcast for the first time in weeks.  Our ferry was due for departure at 10am so we rode the scooters back to the old lady and sat by the port watching the fishermen return from a nights work.  We boarded the ferry and had the same ball retracting journey to the more southerly island of Cimei.  The moment we stepped off the boat, another old lady, clad from head to toe in sun protection begged me to take a lone scooter that looked older than I was.  Eventually she ushered us over to some more suitable looking bikes.  Only having 4 hours on this island, we were pretty efficient in driving to all the popular tourist attractions, snapping a picture, then taking off again.  Cimei compared to Wangan seems more populated despite being further away, and is slightly more impressive in terms of geological beauty, with massive basalt extrusion along the coast, and the famous two hearts fishing trap.

Knowing that our boat was to depart at 2:30pm, we headed back to the port around 1:20pm for a bite to eat at the islands one and only Family Mart.  Looking out the window, we saw the ferry was already boarding passengers.  Looking at my iPhone again, I realised that our boat was at 13:30 after all. Sprinting towards it, hotdog in hand, we managed to get on just in time, and had a long bumpy trip back to the mainland which made even my sea legs shake.

It was a splendid weekend away from it all, although we regret not having brought along a fishing rod. A few days later, we headed to the angling shop and purchased a basic starter kit.  Having not fished since learning off our Grandfather many years back, our knowledge was deeply lacking, including how to actually cast a line.  Instead of practicing in the sea where we might be mocked by fishermen, we rode to a large expanse of grass, and practised casting out into the great green yonder.  We have now mastered the technique of getting the sinker in the general vicinity of the scooter helmet we had placed on the grass and now feel slightly more comfortable about trying it in the sea with the hooks attached.  Later that day, we researched fishing some more, and realised the grim realties that we would soon face, including how to remove a hook from a fish mouth, the best ways to kill and bleed it, and how to gut and behead it, keeping all the entrails attached. After an hour of YouTube massacring, we drove to the local hardware store in search for some items we would need for this piscatory crusade.  It felt like we were shopping with the intention of disposing of a body; buying rubber gloves, pliers, a knife, and a rounders bat.  This last item we exchanged for an axe handle which was 200NT cheaper and would do the trick. Once the wind drops we shall head out to the bridge to see if we can catch anything, (hopefully not a puffer-fish in case we get tetrodotoxin poisoning).

Our swimming is improving, and I successfully managed to get a 30 ticket season pass with my broken mandarin.  We have got into a routine of swimming 20,25,30 lengths, and shall hopefully do 35 tonight.  Bearing in mind the pool is 50 meters long, rather than the 25 I am used to, one length of front crawl is pretty tough if you’re going flat-out.  The last 15 meters is mainly a lot of splashing and not a lot of progress. I’ve garnered some tips on correct technique from the guardian, and will deploy these in my next trip including counting the number of strokes it takes to do a length (the smaller the better).

For the past three nights we have driven back from the pool and gone straight to the steak house which is our new local. For a “three course” meal of soup and side salad, a steak with pasta and a fried egg, and a ball of ice-cream to finish.  The steak is brought out on a sizzling hot plate, and an egg is cracked on just before service so it cooks before your eyes.  The steak is incredibly tender, barely requiring any mastication, and for a total bill of $320NT for the two of us (about £6) it’s an absolute bargain.


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My Impression of Penghu

22nd September 2011- By LRB JAMES

I cannot comment on Taiwan, I spent just 20 minutes in its capital with the sole aim of getting out of it. I flew straight here, to Penghu which I feel slightly more qualified to talk about, but only just. The roads leading in to its principle city, Magong, are lined with palm trees, aloe and cacti, the fruit of which make a lovely purple sorbet. The roads are immaculately kept and litter is non-existent. The grid systems, interchanges and black and white ‘cop’ cars remind me of Philadelphia and its suburbs. It feels familiar, like in the movies except for the mopeds, everywhere. They glide effortlessly to and fro in a strange symphony that looks totally chaotic but seems to work. It’s sink or swim for the foreigner.

The town is, in contrast to the highway, a little rough around the edges. Dilapidated suburbs are dotted with mansions fit for kings. A half-finished hotel marks the beautiful harbour that is bursting with fishing boats long forgotten in the UK. Intricately designed bows bob in the water as fishermen play cards in the shade after a long nights work flashing for squid. A new mall is close to completion in the business district and empty shop windows await their mannequins and materialist promises. I can feel change but can’t help thinking they’ve already got what I want.

The market comes alive early and I’m not sure I’ve seen it in full swing. Even in its quieter moments, it is, at least for the first few times, totally overwhelming. Thankfully, I was given a baptism of fire this time last year in Fez, Morocco where all of my senses were given the bum rush. Paralysed kittens dragging themselves around under thousands of shuffling feet, occasionally cut in two by rusting motorbikes. Wafts from the spice shops barely covering the heavy odours emanating from tanneries and the dismembered carcasses lining the butcher stands. The only comparative funk in Penghu comes from the stinky tofu stands, a delicacy I am yet to savour and one that sadly I probably never will. Much like in England, the vendors scream unintelligibly into the crowd trying to attract customers from three blocks away it seems. To the untrained ear, the language seems aggressive at the best of times.

Unlike England, the stalls are brimming with fresh, locally sourced fish and sea food. A2 sized plastic trays are filled with ice and sit in front of their owners with kings prawns, crabs trying to escape their captors, oysters and much more on offer. Mangoes the size of deflated rugby balls and ripe avocados draw you in to the fruit and veg stands where you cannot help but feel that Tesco has been letting you down with their pallid tomatoes and tasteless fruit but that we have come to expect since our standards have been dictated by packaging and our low expectations. When I buy a tomato, I expect it to be good. It makes me sick that I have to pay more for vine-ripened, hand picked or whatever other shit they want you to believe. Here, the locals are clued up and the stall would close down if they were trying to pedal low quality produce.

What is saddening is how ignorant I have discovered myself to be. I think I have always seen myself as pretty clued up in terms of food preparation, knowing what goes well with what etc but since I have come here, I have realised I am missing some of the essentials, such as being able to catch my own food, knowing when certain fruit and vegetables are in season and recognising a quality king prawn over a shitty king prawn. I was first struck with my ignorance when I went to the market to pick up some fruit I was desperately lacking since I moved out. I picked a mango and four peaches only to be stung with a bill of 200 NT or about £4. What it turns out, is that I should have gone for Pomelo and Dragon Fruit which would have cost me next to nothing for a bucket load.  Note to self-buy a fishing rod.