Sunday, August 3, 2014

Maggie in Taiwan: Part Three

Dear Asia on E Street Readers,

When I was starting to write this blog about my trip to the Penghu Islands, news came in that a Transasia plane crashed while attempting to land in post-Typhoon weather. Having returned to Taiwan only 3 days before the crash and flown on the exact same type of plane airline and that crashed leaving 45 dead, the news of the crash took me, and my classmates who joined me on the trip, for stir. Disasters such as all of the recent plane crashes often seem so distant until they occur in close proximity to you/your life, or effect people you care about. However, as time has passed, I have decided to revisit this blog post and share my Penghu travel experience with the Asia on E street readers, as I can honestly say my trip to Penghu has been one, if not the, highlight of my summer in Taiwan. 

A few Fridays ago, after my last class ended at 3:00pm, my two fellow ICLP friends and I rushed off to the Songshan Airport to board our 50 minute flight to the Penghu islands for a weekend of much needed beach relaxation and adventure! Coming from the US, where you are always warned to get to the airport 1.5-3 hours in advance to avoid getting caught in security lines, we arrived to the airport far too early. Once ticketed, we were waved through security with large bottles of water and sun block, and ended up waiting in the tiny airport for our flight about twice as long as we were in the air. Our plane was small – a turboprop plane used for short transportation in much of East and Southeast Asia. This type of plane is somewhat reminiscent of the planes I remember flying from Denver to Lincoln, Nebraska growing up there, except with propellers. The flight was easy and short, and the view upon descending from the clouds simply breathtaking. From the air, the island was flat and green and beaches and blue water skirted the edges.
Boarding our turboprop plane on the tarmac of the Taipei Songshan Airport
The Penghus are actually an archipelago and consists of 64 small islands and islets. As far as I can tell, however, only three of these islands are connected via bridges, the rest you must take ferries to. Our hostel was on the biggest of these islands that includes Makong City and Huxi Township, however, it was still rather far away from the “main” city of Makong. I was surprised to find that the island was rather closed down, there were very few people on the streets and we often had a hard time finding an open restaurant. Concrete boxy buildings stood looking uninviting and uninhabited. Since it is summertime and incredibly hot on the main island of Taiwan, I expected to see tourists and beach vacationers hitting the beach to escape the heat, but as far as I could tell we were a few of only a handful of tourists. I fear that after the recent Transasia crash even fewer tourists will venture to Penghu.

Our hostel was rudimentary, cheap, and clean with friendly staff, so no complaints on that end! One of the enjoyable parts of our stay was that in Penghu far fewer people speak English so it was a great time to practice my Chinese. I enjoyed trying to book a night squid fishing trip with the hotel staff as well as trying to figure out how to navigate the island. Our hostel was located just off Shanshui Beach, a white sand beach where the waves are big enough for serious surfers.
The view from our hostel as the sun rose
Shanshui beach - The beach closest to our hostel
Famous for its white sand and large waves.
On our first day in Penghu, we decided to spend the morning at Shanshui beach. However, it started to drizzle mid-day, so we packed up our things and took a taxi into the city of Makong. In the city we grabbed lunch and ventured to see some of its famous temples and its ‘old street.’ We then strolled on to see the City wall, but after hours of the sun beating down after a while it was time to make our way to another beach: Aimen. The ocean water at Aimen was so incredibly salty that we were able to effortless float around in the sun – it reminded me of the salty waters of Greece’s Aegean Sea.

The Yuwongdao Lighthouse
Our second day on the island was, however, the highlight. We woke early to rent motor scooters that would take us effortlessly across the island – from tip to tip. Our first leg of the day was to go all the way to the farther point away from our hotel to the Yuwongdao lighthouse. This lighthouse was first built in 1778 and ownership has changed over the years time and again. The Lighthouse stands next to a working military outpost, serving a great reminder of the tensions in Cross Strait relations. After touring the lighthouse we got back on the motor scooters and searched for a beach. We quickly came across the picturesque Nei’an beach. When we arrived there were about three other people on the beach, the sand was perfectly flat and the water crystal clear. You could walk what felt like a kilometer out into the water and still be standing effortlessly. Floating the water I could feel my stress slowly escape my body, it was wonderful. 
Me on the motor scooter we took across the island!

Nei'an Beach
Soaking in the water at Nei'an Beach
We then scooted along to lunch. Penghu is supposedly known for its seafood, sadly, I am not a fan of seafood, but agreed to go along with my fellow travelers to a restaurant that had some fish and other seafood. I think their review was positive, but hard to say. We then scooted along to the last beach of the day: Longmen. Longmen was located closer to our hostel and is known for coral and shells that wash up on its shore. While the swimming aspect of the beach was not as good as Nei’an, the shells and coral we found were beautiful. I have never found shells so rich in color and as intact as the ones I found there. Unfortunately, by this point in the day I could tell that I was severely sunburned, despite continuous application of sunblock. The sun was just too intense to protect my white, white, WHITE skin, so I was glad when we decided to head back to the hostel and relax for a few hours before our final activity of the day and our stay in Penghu: Night Squid Fishing.  
A collection of the shells and coral I found at Longmen Beach 
As mentioned before, I am not a fan of seafood, so when my travelling partners decided they wanted to go on a night squid fishing tour I somewhat begrudgingly agreed. We scooted down to the docks to don our life vests and embark on our adventure around 9:00pm. The three of us were the only white foreigners on the boat, and were referred to as such - “the three foreigners have arrived!” The boat whisked us, along with about 60 other Taiwanese tourist fishers, just off the island, staff distributed fishing poles and the fishing commenced! In recent weeks, in my one on one class at ICLP, my teacher and I practiced the word for “failure” in Chinese. Forgetting we have already reviewed the word, she has on many occasions asked, “What failures have you experienced in your life?” (在你的生活,你有什么失败经验)Well, I can gladly report that I did NOT fail at squid fishing! While many of my fellow fishermen never caught one squid in the two hours we spent on the water (including my fellow ICLP travelers), I caught FOUR SQUID!


This is the biggest squid that I caught
(can you tell by the crazed look on my face how
how excited I am?)
That being said, I am not one to love touching animals, and when posing for pictures with my catch the squid would surprise my (really shock me) by squirting water all over. On my first catch I was so shocked I dropped the line, jumping up and down, releasing the squid onto the bench beside my bag and accidentally hooking the fishing staff with my hook! (ooooooops.) Luckily she forgave me and befriended me when it was discovered that I am an expert squid fisher. Overall it was a successful night and upon our return to land the staff cooked our catch and gave everyone a try, which I sadly had to pass on. I now know that if Chinese and International relations don’t work out, I think I can become a night squid fisherwoman in Penghu.

Our two days in Penghu were action packed, incredibly fun and consisted of some much needed relaxation. We left the island early Monday morning and when we returned to Taipei at 8:30am I went straight to class. I was so sunburned though, that I couldn’t make it to my one on one session and instead laid in my bed slathered in Aloe Vera - two weeks later I am still peeling!

I would definitely recommend going to Penghu if you are ever in Taiwan and have a chance. After this recent Transasia crash, it is too bad that fewer people will likely make the trip to see the island. I am glad I had the chance to go when I did and am deeply saddened by the loss of life that occurred so shortly after my visit. With that, I sign off this blog post.

I have about one more week in Taipei, so look forward to reading my next blog post about my final thoughts and reactions to Taipei, Taiwan in general, and my language program ICLP.



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