24 September, 2008

So they won't rent a gringo a motorbike

Hualien, Taiwan (written on paper on 09/22/2008) - I took the 13:15 train out of the Stalinist-styled Taipei Main Station on September 20th, the day after dad's wake. I questioned if it is appropriate or if I'm emotionally ready to strike out on my own so soon after dad's service, but c'est la vie. I need to get away from people.

The train glided smoothly past crowded Taipei suburbs, polluted industrial parks, and emerald green rice paddies. As the conductor announced Ilan, a coastal town with an especially heavy aborigine influence, the scenery suddenly opened up, with the sky and the turquoise sea becoming one.

I don't know how, but I found myself a surfer hostel in Hualien; I wasn't even aware that the Taiwanese are keen on riding the waves! With the past twelve days consumed by death and family, it's great to not have to answer questions. Travelers at the hostel only cared about where I'm from, what I'm planning to do on the coast, and if I'm ready for another tall boy of Taiwan Beer (a brew that rivals a biggin' serving of Miller High Life, the champagne of beer) - and a Swedish couple was happy that a bilingual American was able to help them arrange a rafting tour for the next morning.

Hualien is endowed with an abundance of natural beauty. Sandwiched between 3,700 meters-tall peaks and the Pacific Ocean, the town made me happy. Unlike Taipei, the sky is blue, the air clean, and the beaches are absolutely empty!

I was in the mood to move on my own and explore up and down Highway 9 and Highway 11, two coastal roads hugging the Pacific. While I originally fancied a Sanyang Wild Wolf 125cc, the local rental agencies wouldn't oblige me since I'm without a Taiwanese bike endorsement. So I resorted to dodgey tactics and found a dodgeyer agency to rent me the dodgeyiest of all scooters, a Kymco 125cc without a functional speedometer or fuel gauge. I just had to sign a lengthy Chinese-language consent form waiving the agency of all responsibilities for my well-being (they didn't think I can read Chinese), and promise that in the event of an encounter with local flics, I would plead ignorance in English and do whatever the Taiwanese 5-0 desires.

But the blasted thing got me around the coast for two days.

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