Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The gorge part 1

Where I am now: I am on another sidewalk. There are three bar/cafes nearby, all three of which look like they could have wireless, but don't. However, the point somewhere between all three of them does. My best estimate is that it is coming from the beetle nut stand being man by the old woman staring at the foreigner sitting on the sidewalk typing on a computer.
I really need to add to this story, and I have a boat load of photos. I will send them from the "hang-out" tonight, but I wanted to first scout out a new location (I wanted to get food too, but it looks like this connection is not from a food serving local). Well thank you CHTN_T07AW, wherever you are. By the way, there is no way I am sitting on the sidewalk with an expensive laptop on my lap in the middle of a Chinese city. Anyway, this morning...

I apparently got up too early for the sketchy motorcycle place, so I am instead having some breakfast at a local breakfast joint. What was funny was that everyone knew which was the sketchy joint. No less than three people told me to go there. Last night the clerk said she would take me to pony and get my a scooter. This morning, two either clerks both said "You don't have a license? Okay, no way, but that guy..."

PTI: I am at a 7-11 near the gorge enjoying a free pudding I just won. No wireless, from the neighbors, dang.

So the sketchy guy rented me a scooter, I drove the scooter, I got pulled over. There was a police check up ahead on the highway, and they looked busy with someone else. So I just went, and the other guy left at just the wrong time, so they pulled me over. He said "Can I see your driver's license?"
My heart was pounding, not fast, but really hard, I think my heart was knocking my shoulders around. I pretended I didn't understand and sort of looked around.
He did the international sign of drivers license, you know, the little rectangle made of fingers. I went "Oh" and pulled out the motorcycle's registration. As I pulled it out, he said "right, right." He looked over the registration and then said, "Okay, can I see your..."
My heart was screaming "Don't say driver's license!"
"Passport," and that, I got [editor's note: passport was actually said in English, they say that word in English at least half the time]
He looked at the passport, and let me go. He then told me to slow it down, and I said "Was I going too fast?"
He answered "No, but make sure to be in the white lines for the motorcycle."
I said, "Oh sorry, just wanted to make sure not to crash into you."
Then, I asked "Is this the way to Taruko" and he said yes.
The problem? That was all in Chinese, which I had tried to establish I did not speak. But it was okay.
The Taiwanese people at this 7-11 sitting next to me are LOUD, time to go.

PTI: I am in the gorge itself, and definitely no wireless. The gorge is amazing. If one travels to Taiwan and does not see this, they made a big mistake (Allison). However, one of the things I find most interesting about the gorge is not the nature, but the man.

Taiwan does not do serious hiking. The average Taiwanese trip is drive for four or five hours, eat for an hour or two, hike for half an hour to an hour, appreciate a view for thirty minutes to an hour, eat for another hour or two, drive back for four or five hours.
As such, the parks here are meant to be easy access. You can see amazing stuff without leaving your scooter, in fact, many of my photos so far have been taken while actually still on a scooter. I hope to do one or two of the trails late today (it is not even noon yet), but for now, I am having fun driving around and seeing the gorge.
This need for accessibility forces the park to basically take humans and jam it through the mountains. The roads are windy, and sometimes far too small (oncoming buses add a whole new thrill to life on tight corners), but they are always nice. Its a blast to drive around in this paradise, especially on a very smooth ill-gotten 摩托車 (motorcycle).
Some of the tunnels are jammed right through big mountains, using the same stone as the mountain itself to make the tunnel. Thus the two blend together except for the fact that the man man stuff is beautiful in its simplicity and the mountain is beautiful in its complexity.
I am torn as to how I feel about this. I am not religious enough to say man has no right to blast through mountains. Furthermore, if you do too good of a job, you defeat the purpose. In America, I have not been to too many national parks. I guess thats for a few reasons, one is that I was always a city person when it comes to traveling. I like meeting people, and seeing ways of life. Its why I care about stuff like wireless. Its why I can give a sickeningly detailed account of the Mexico wooden chess board business' price structure. Its why I average something like 10 conversations a day, and usually ask the same questions each time, (these questions depend on where I am, but in Taiwan the first two are always "What city are you from?" and then "At your house, do you speak Taiwanese or Chinese?"
Yet I don't do that in nature. Perhaps I haven't liked it as much because its not as interactive. With mountains, I can touch them, I can photograph them, I can write about them, but they are not moving. They do not care that I am looking at them. Hiking provides wonderful surprises sure enough, but I don't feel like I have a conversation going with nature.
Some people do have that conversation with nature, and I think someday I will too. I think the way is to pick what you are looking for, like you might look for wireless internet in odd places throughout Taiwan. Right now I hear the composite sounds of countless amounts of bugs, birds, water, trees, and a few people. Listening to just one of those sounds provides a very cool interaction, but its not something I am used to. My theory is that the people that really appreciate nature have that conversation, they can look at the little picture to appreciate the big picture. Their own thoughts influence their perspective, which influences their thoughts. Perhaps I will get there, but now I am still a city boy with a motorcycle waiting down the steps of the man made platform I am on (that paragraph is undoubtedly one rewrite from being good, but right now I will leave it as poorly written).
So here I see half man and half nature. The Taiwanese have done a good job, there is no question of that. I hope the environment withstands the holes, but my thought is that the environment withstands a lot more, and millions of years worth of it as well. I am not saying start gouging, I am saying that there is a balance, and from a layman's perspective the Taiwanese are not doing so bad. There are problems according to my guide book, but none of them sound all the grave compared to those using nature for its materials not its beauty.
Random note, many of those photos I put up recently were of Kending. I did not describe Kending much, but it was really great. Again, lots of beautiful driving around rolling hills, lush greenery and thanks to John, good company. At one point, John made an off hand comment that you have to dodge butterflies when driving. For the most part I did a good job of this, expect for once when a butterfly collided with my face going at full speed, it so hard that it genuinely hurt. The same thing happened here as well, but far more gently. I appreciate any place where you have "dodge butterflies."
My favorite sight so far, other than the gorge itself, is the Swallow's Grotto, where swallows come to get down. They swoop and dive and generally act as unphotogenic but incredibly graceful as possible. I tried my best to catch one in my lens, even putting my shutter speed to 1/200; I got a couple shots of them, but really it was just not happening. It was a nice reminder that as techy as I might make this trip, sometimes you should just be there. So I put the camera away, and I was just there, watching swirling swallows diving through holes and generally being beautiful. Now I am going to put the computer away and watch this mountain do the same as the swallows, be beautiful.

PTI: I have explored most of the gorge, but still no real hiking (though some walking down the old highway). Now I am chilling in a Chinese marble pagoda set up next to a famous bridge in the gorge.

I like it here partially because the first time I saw this bridge was one www.camereye.com. The photographer is extremely talented and she inspired me to try more in my own photos. One of the first photos I saw of hers was a photo of this bridge. So now being at the bridge I want to capture the beauty that she did but in a different way. I don't think I have anything comparable to her, but I have taken some good photos. Part of the problem is that this gorge is so beautiful that I am out of my league. Anyone can make here pretty, the place simply does not need their help.
I decided to bust out the computer because I found this nice relaxing place and I was thinking. One of the reasons I was thinking was that I just had tea. An older Taiwanese couple set up in a near by pagoda that I was taking pictures in. They offered me to join them. Afterwards, an elderly Japanese couple with their Taiwanese tour guide joined us. We relaxed, drank tea, talked about Canon camera, bitter tea, and the beauty of the gorge.
It was really nice, I did not have much similar with the group culturally except things I have adopted into my own life, which is Chinese and random bits of Japanese.
Well, I think I am going to sit here for a while and think about life, then take more photos, then get back to exploring, a bitter day indeed.


~allie said...

Yes, it's easy access - for those of you who can drive and are willing to rent scooters illegally. Yes, I should have gone, I admit.
However, I think it's a mistake for anyone who has been to the US (much less lived there) to not have seen a great many national parks (Matt).

The point of a mountain is that it doesn't move. It's interactive only to a very small degree. Take comfort in the fact that it is so little affected by the mundane things that affect the lives of humans, reach serenity with the knowledge that all of life does not revolve around the "go go go".

Rebecca said...

Matthew : It's 4:19 a.m.. I can't fall asleep. At the tranquil night, I always recall my old friends. I read what you felt about China. The very beinging of your article explains China to foreigners very well. Anyway,you seemed that you cut your hair. Actually, you did, didn't you? How are you now? Are you happy in China? Do you love China?

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