Agh, its the Fourth of July! I did not realize until now, 9:20 pm. I consider myself patriotic, but Fourth of July is bad timing for me, since graduating high school I have missed half of my Fourth of July's (Mexico and two in Taiwan). Sudden realization, since graduating high school I have spent significant time abroad four of six summers. That is not bad considering that I had not left the country until Mexico Spring Break with Jake freshman year.
PTI: I am in the "hang-out," they clearly have one mixed CD on loop, it includes a lot of Back Street Boys and Coolio's Fantastic Voyage. It had this same music on yesterday.
Well, the gorge continued to be amazing. After my tea break, I went on a nice long hike, which included a bad dead because of a poorly made sign. However, it continued to be shockingly beautiful. Its hard to take photos of the gorge walls themselves, perhaps its a problem with my lens, but I have a lot of trouble representing they sheer size with my camera.
PTI: The boss of this restaurant is looking over my shoulder watching my photos going by (which is cool, she is really really nice).
Watching the photos go by it is sort of disappointing. The whole day I thought it was impossible to really capture the walls of the gorge, and I am ending up agreeing with my self. I have some good photos in there, but none that really convey the girth or the beauty of those walls.
The best part was just driving around the mountain, weaving around the corners (very carefully for fear of giant buses). At the end of the gorge (not really the end, but where I stopped), was a huge Buddhist area. It had giant statues, a huge pagoda on a mountain (which you could go to the top floor of), and more bridges, bridges, bridges (most of my photos are bridges really).
Going into that area, I ran into a group of foreigners. I randomly started talking to the last one in their line, to discover him to be a Texan. Not only that, but a Chinese speaking Texan. What I liked was that his passion for Chinese was eerily similar to mine. I think most Chinese learners here fall under certain camps, a) "I can make conversation, thats good enough," b) "Yeah, I can speak it, but whatever" (typically this person has a Taiwanese significant other and speaks it all the time), c) Learns it like an academic subject (boring and used ultimately for grades). This fellow had real passion for the language in all aspects, reading, writing, different accents, etc. Furthermore, he did so without getting flaky and mythic about the language (as I often emphasize, ninety percent of Chinese is not Confucius, it is "Buy one, get three free." He had lived in lots of different cities in China and now lives in Taiwan. I was very impressed, and he said he was a good typer (in which case its on, I have yet to meet a foreigner who can out type my Chinese).
After that, I ran around like crazy taking photos before the sun decided to get serious about setting. When that started happening, I had to get moving. If the sun set, driving through the gorge would really suck, and may lead to an unfortunate trip over the guard rail and down the gorge. So I had, to a certain extent, keep moving. That said, it was really amazing zipping through the gorge, fresh air, few people on the road, while the sun set.
Leaving the gorge I hit the highway to go back to Hualian. As I was coming back, I saw that the police that had stopped me were still where I had left them pulling over people. However, now they had friends on the other side of the road, my side of the road. I didn't have time to pull off into any other streets before I hit them, so I just went onwards.
They flagged me down, and I got over. This time it was a group of five cops. The "English speaker" of the group "took this one" (pull up your belt when you say that). He asked me if I had my passport (in broken, but not outrageously terrible English), I said I did and gave him the passport. Then he said, "driver's license...international driver's license." That last one scared me for two reasons. 1 - I was impressed he knew the word international. 2 - That last one had just asked for a license.
PTI: Someone behind me has a comically scary voice behind me. Not loud, just grainy and high pitched. Think horror movie.
So, rather than saying I did not have one, I humbly gave him the bike registration, the same one I had given the other cop that morning. I had not really looked at this registration for the record. It could have said "please arrest this foreigner" as far as I knew. Yet I was not nervous this time (well, a little, but nothing of note), why?
The cop was not really thinking about the "license." He fiddled with it, flipped it, looked at it, but he in no way read it. How did I know? Because I knew his look, I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking "What can I say in English?" He was impressing his boys. They all were clearly impressed with his English, and he wanted to keep it up, he was looking at the license but thinking about what to say to keep up his image.
How did I know? Because I have totally been there. My goal was not really to impress friends, but rather the listener. I would pretend to be casual about a language I was far from mastering. I rarely do this with Chinese now, but when I was first learning I often would pretend to be casually speaking but really be straining hard for each word.
PTI: I see why the group with weird voice sat in the back, clearly it is not to scare people, but it gets me every time, it sounds like the ghost from any number of movies is behind me promising me a terrible death. I feel sorry for his situation, I think it might be from smoking, it might be genetic.
So the cop pretends to look at the "license" and then gives it back while off hand asking me where I am from. I talked with him a bit, his English was really not that bad, but nothing special. Occasionally he slipped into Chinese and his boys would remind him I did not understand. At the end he asked me, "Can you speak Chinese?'
"Uhh...yeah..." (I normally answer this with a rather definitive yes).
The cop added a very sarcastic "A little?" to which his friends all laughed and enjoyed. In their eyes this fluent cop was talking to a foreigner who despite a year in Taiwan did not really speak any Chinese.
It actually felt like one sentence was physically going around and around my head, "pride before the fall, pride before the fall, pride for the fall."
"Uhh...yeah, I can speak a little. Thanks, bye!"
Is there a translation of pride before the fall in Chinese? If some especially impressive English/Chinese speaker is reading this, add to the comments!
My main thought? What if that had happened in Taiwan, where I did not even carry my registration. I was pretty sure I was getting away lucky, but I had no idea. That said, Hualian's traffic is a whole different breed here. Here people don't run red lights, which leads me to utter confusion. I keep hitting T intersections where people are waiting and looking around like "Sooo, what are we waiting for here?"
To be fair, this is probably due to the random police checks (and more police cars than I see in Tainan for months at a time). This has a weird effect though. People still do illegal things, but they do it with the confidence that no one will do something more illegal than them. Thus they do some really nutty stuff, that stands in contrast to the otherwise law-abiding driving. In Tainan, when you are breaking the law you are more afraid of someone really breaking the law. The constant bedlam of Tainan reaches an equilibrium of constant offense and defense. Here, when people do something crazy, people are clearly not as prepared, in Tainan, thats just driving.
Another weird thing about Hualian: Hualian's beetle nut addiction is out of control. Tainan has a lot of stands, but here we are talking about every few blocks. They are everywhere. There are streets where you can see three or four at a time.
PTI: There is a cop outside, actually two, Hualian is really in lock down in comparison to Tainan.
New topic, my Chinese is doing decent. Speaking a lot of it at random intervals throughout the day has been good. Because Taiwanese is less common here, I have heard many side conversations, often about me. I have been speaking more and more casually. I just don't want that to go away. The other day I met a taxi driver who lived in America for the better part of a decade, left with fluent English, however he has now completely forgotten it (he could have been lying, but Taiwan is a pretty truthful place on the whole, plus he had a pretty real sounding story.
PTI: Another cop! And the voice is getting scarier.
Last thing, I negotiated the price for my room down to five hundred, its more than a hostel but actually not by much. I am spending about my average amount while traveling (fifty dollars a day), I have no idea if that will go way up in China or way down. The biggest cost is the actually traveling, motorcycles, trains, buses, and the like.
Sorry this entry was so long, but i will probably disappear a bit in Hong Kong (Allison is meeting me there so I will have less time).