An Afternoon in Hsin-Beitou

Hsin-Beitou Library
Hsin-Beitou Library

Paul Theroux once wrote: "Only a fool blames his bad vacation on the rain." I agree, and similarly only fool can blame a bad weekend on the rain. Last weekend it rained buckets, but we were determined to enjoy the whole weekend and do exciting and fun things. Queenie was especially determined to ensure the weekend wasn't a bust and early on Saturday morning set about planning the day. The plan she came up with was brilliant. First we would visit the Taipei Art Museum. Next we would visit the wooden library in Hsin-Beitou and then end the day with a hot spring. It was the perfect plan, considering we also had our niece Charlene and Queenie's Mother going with us. The art museum was fun (see Photo Exhibit at Taipei Fine Arts Museum) and after a quick bite we jumped on the MRT and headed off to Hsin-Beitou

Hsin-Beitou Library

The library has been there for a few years but this is the first time we have visited it. The library is an aesthetic piece of wooden architecture built in a park next to the Beitou Hot Springs Museum (北投溫泉博物館). Queenie had seen the library on the television in the morning and decided we should take the trip up there. The library is fairly close to the Hsin-Beitou MRT station and is quite a remarkable building. I was duly surprised. The bulding facade at least was all made of wood (inside and out). There were a lot of windows and hence a lot of natural light pouring into the museum. The view outside was of the garden with lots of greenery. Of course most of the desks were occupied with very hard working students who are (I suppose) preparing for their exams.

Hsin-Beitou Library
Inside the Library

Hsin-Beitou Library
Library Staircase

Hsin-Beitou Library
Students Hard at Work

As mentioned, the view outside the library was of the park and there was a lot of greenery. And what was especially great was that they had tables and chairs outside the library too where people could sit, relax and read books. I couldn't think of anything better to do on a lazy afternoon than sitting down and reading some books in that environment.

Hsin-Beitou Library
Library Outdoor Deck

View from Hsin-Beitou Library
View from the Library

In the basement of the library is a decent size childrens section with all manner of children's books. Charlene really had a great time down there choosing different books and changing chairs. She had a great time. One of her favorite books turned out to be a kangaroo book. Who knows why?

Charlene and her Kangaroo Book
Charlene Reading

Charlene's Kangaroo Book
Charlene's Kangaroo Book

There was also a decent collection of English books. I found myself quite surprised reading a biography of Nikita Khruschev in such a place. There was also a decent collection of English Journals in the library too and they seemed fairly up to date. So it would be a good place just to sit and read the latest journals for an hour or two.

Journals in Hsin-Beitou Library
The English Journals

The Flute Player

After a couple of hours in the library we took a walk around the Hot Springs Museum and took a short rest in the shelter outside the museum. There was an old man there who was playing the flute. He told us he had been playing the flute for 50 years. He had been featured in some of the local Chinese newspapers and had produced a CD. We should have bought one but it never crossed our mind. He said playing the flute was good for his health and also helped make you think clearly. He also advised me not to argue with Queenie but to listen to her and do as she says. That gave me a good laugh. He was kind enough to play a couple of tunes for Charlene and she absolutely loved it and tried to clap along.

Playing us a couple of Tunes

He was a grand old man. He had a lot of patience and kindness for children and he enjoyed chatting with us and Queenie's mom. I hope we can get back there soon to buy his CD. It will be worth it.

Ketagalan Culture Center (凱達格蘭文化館)

After leaving the flute player we headed down the hill back into the center of Hsin-Beitou to get a bite to eat. As we were passing the Ketagalan Culture Center (凱達格蘭文化館) we were stopped by some aboriginal ladies who invited us in to watch a dance. We were there at the right time. It was 3:00pm and the dance was just starting. The dance we saw was a traditional dance of the A-Mei people. Being from Africa I thought the dance was really passive compared to the Zulu dances I have seen before. The Maori dances in New Zealand were also far more aggressive. I don't think these were ward dances but they were still fairly passive. Nonetheless, they were pretty good and it was fun to watch.

The Dance

Hot Spring Resort

After a quick bite to eat we headed off to the Sweetme Hot Springs Resort. The room on the 11th floor with fantastic views was only NTD2,000 for 2.5 hours. We thought it was pretty good. The hotel lobby and corridors had elegant lighting and very soothing and relaxing music being played throughout the public areas of the resort.

Hotel Foyer
The Lobby

Flowers in the Hotel
Flowers in the Corridor

The room itself was very comfortable and the view of the cloud capped mountains made it all the more relaxing. Queenie, her Mom. Charlene and Myself all had a great time and found the whole experience to be very relaxing.

View from Hot Springs Hotel
View from the Room

Charlene in Hot Springs Hotel
The Room (No Charlene is not Included)

Charlene and Queenie
Charlene and Queenie Relax

Lu Mama and Charlene
Lu Mama and Charlene

The End of the Day

After two hours in the relaxing hot spring, it was time to leave. It was a fantastic day by all. We took a slow walk to the MRT, jumped on the train and were home an hour later. Charlene and Lu Mama headed off to their house and we got ready to go to the Brass Monkey for the Super 14 finals, which the Bulls won. Surprisingly most of the day was free. The art museum, the library, the flute player and the dancing was all free. The hot spring was a bit of money but we needed to relax and since the rest of it was free, we didn't really mind too much. It was a pretty good day considering the rain.

More pictures @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/durbanbay/sets/72157624049422833/

Odd Taipei on a Saturday Afternoon

Saturday saw us heading out to Hsin-Beitou to visit the library and the hot springs after our tour of the Art Museum (see Photo Exhibit at Taipei Fine Arts Museum). As in all cities, there are always some strange and amusing sights. I remember once I was riding my bike in Taipei and saw a kid on a chair on a motorcyle with a neck protector (see Motorcycle Safety in Taiwan). Well this Saturday we saw a couple of other odd things.

Dogs in Taipei

Some people treat their dogs really strangely, and I am sure this happens all over the world. The classic was this poor little dog being carried in a shoulder bag on the MRT. Pictures below. I carry our in-laws dog sometimes as he is getting on in years and gets very tired, but we generally let him walk around (I don't think pets are allowed on the MRT hence the bag) but the poor little mutt was probably carried around like this all day. Ah well, each to their own. At least the dog is well fed and has a caring and loving home.

Dog in a Bag
Look Carefully in the Black Bag

Dog in a Bag
Dog in the Bag

Afternoon Nap

The second sight was this guy completely passed out on an outdoor chair outside McDonalds. He had his Mandatory cigarette box and can of Heineken. Mind you, is there a much better way to spend a day out in the cool air than this? Ah well, I hope he had a good rest.

Saturday Afternoon Catnap
Just a Catnap

Saturday Afternoon Catnap
Really Tired

Saturday Afternoon Catnap
At Peace with the World.

Thanks for reading and comment is free.


Photo Exhibit at Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia
Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia (snapshot of the original)

Today, with the torrential rain battering all of Taiwan and definitely Taipei, we decided to head off to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum on Chung Shan North Road (中山北路). They had some paid exhibits but since we were there with our niece Charlene and Queenie's Mom, we decided to just enjoy the free exhibits in the basement and on the second and third floor. The second floor didn't have much as one of the exhibits was cancelled. The third floor was also fairly limited since a fairly large exhibit was still being setup so there really wasn't much to see. However, the photo exhbition on the third floor was stunning.

Photo Exhibit
Photo Exhibit

The exhibit featured pictures from Shanghai in the early 1940s and a lot of pictures around Taipei and Taiwan in the early to mid 20th century. All the pictures were in black and white and the subjects, you can tell, were carefully selected. These pictures were taken before the cheap, low cost happy-snappy era of digital photography where photographers had to really think about their shots and what picture they were going to take.

What was especially special was walking through the exhibit with Queenie's mother who could relate to a lot of what was in those pictures. Many of the pictures in Taiwan were taken during her early childhood. She could relate to the images of mothers carrying children on their backs while fetching water (her mom did that with her) and to the way the kids played games with stones (their only toys). Seeing those images really brings out the stark reality of the poverty of post-War Taiwan and how Taiwan is really one of the developing world's economic miracles. When I see how Queenie's parents grew up in those pictures, and see the life their children and grandchildren now have, it is a vast, vast difference. As foreigners we hear about the Taiwan economic miracle, but this exhibit provides a template (however limited) against which we can compare modern Taiwan to its past.

Queenie's Mom Shares a Story
Queenie's Mom Shares a Story

Although photography is strictly forbidden in the museum (and we don't normally disrespect the rule), we managed to steal a few snapshots (with the flash off) of some of the pictures to share with you. However we do recommend you go along to the museum to see the pictures for yourself. You won't be disappointed, especially since its free. And if you can, go there with someone who lived through that era on the island, it will be very enlightening for you.

Festival of Lord Dazhong in Shinjuang

These pictures were from the Festival of Lord Dazhong in Shinjuang. As per the description in the Museum: "The Festival of Lord Dazhong,, Sinjuang series, a collaboration with Chen Chi-lu from National Taiwan University, features precious images of a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs handed down by the Hakka culture in Southern Taiwan such as worshippers pleasing guilty and asking the gods' forgiveness, women wearing self-made cangues on their necks as a votive gesture, and the officials in charge of life and death, generals, carriages and instruments oof punishment in front of the Lord Dazhong." (Chien Yun-ping)

All the images below are snapshots of the orignals in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. We didn't take them.

Lord Dazhong Festival - Swordsmen

Lord Dazhong Festival - Woman with Cangue on her Neck

Lord Dazhong Festival - Dancer

Lord Dazhong Festival - Parade

Lord Dazhong Festival - Masked Man

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia

The other exhibit that just blew us away was the Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia exhibit. As per the Musuem description: "In these religious and spiritual works, Chang Tsai used the panorama to photograph the devout worshippers pouring in to witness the gods touring the district. The wide-angle close-ups of the figures highlighted the inner emotions of t ordinary people attending temple festivals, suggesting a profound sense of identification and acceptance." (Chien Yun-ping). Queenie's mother added that she has seen the festival and that there is a great deal of competition between people to see who has the biggest pig. She personally thinks the festival is brutal and actually feels sorry for the pigs.

All the images below are snapshots of the orignals in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. We didn't take them.

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia

Sacrificial Pig Festival - Sanxia



Random Pictures

A couple of random pictures that really caught my eye are below.

All the images below are snapshots of the orignals in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. We didn't take them.

Teenage Girls in Tainan
Teenage Girls in Tainan

White Egrets
White Egrets

Spectators Watch Sports
Spectators Watch Sports from a Tree

There were many more wonderful pictures of old Shanghai and the aboriginal people in Taiwan. If you love photography and are interested in old pictures. Or interested in the history of Taiwan and China, we highly recommend you get down to the museum to see this exhibit. The pictures are amazing. I am not sure how much longer the exhibit will be up. You could call them to find out, but it is worth the trip, especially since its free. Its best to end this post with what one of the photographers said: "The places I taveled to over the past three years have been visited by thousands of photographers before. That is why I felt a kind of pressure when taking the pictures. In terms of social documentary and landscape photography, I tried my best to produce and capture something new. My personal concept of photography is to take straight photograps to recor what to me are new visual impressions. Ying Xin 1987-1989" (Chung Tsai).

As always, we look forward to your comments. Thanks for reading.


Uzbek Tales 4: Adventures in Tashkent

In February 2009 we went to Uzbekistan for Chinese New Year. It was an amazing journey. This is the fourth installment of our travelogue. Hope you enjoy and feel free to comment. Quick note, I cannot find the cd with the pics for this part of the journey, so you will have to make do with the videos.

Urgut Bazaar
Inside a Market in Samarkand

After Tea – A Paraplegic Taxi Driver Figures Out the Route

We finished our tea outside Khast Imam and decided to visit the History Museum. Getting there was a blast. We managed to find ourselves a polite, paraplegic taxi driver in the most beat up taxi we have ever been in. The guy spoke rudimentary English and tried to communicate with him. We told him where we wanted to go and he said he knew the place. He didn’t. Five minutes into the drive he stopped and asked some policeman for directions. They too were perplexed. He carried on driving and after five more minutes his eyes lit up, his voice boomed and he shouted “History Museum” and we were on our way. And when he found out Queenie was from Taiwan, he excitedly exclaimed "Chiang Kai Shek!" Our one regret was we only paid him SOM2,000, we should have paid him more out of generosity, love and compassion.

The History Museum - Why the Propoganda?

The museum itself wasn’t that great. It was a regular appeal to the greatness of the Uzbek nation and there was a lot of propaganda about modern Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan we found is a great country. I couldn’t understand the need for the propaganda. True, we didn’t understand the politics of the place or the history and the culture, but on the surface level the country seemed to be functioning well and many of the people we spoke to believed there was progress being made and not because of the propaganda being spread but because of the improvement in their own personal standard of living. At least that is what they said. The museum however wasn’t too bad, especially on the more ancient history side of things. There were no English subtitles which did prevent a fuller appreciation of what we were seeing. As it turned out, while we were in the museum there was a huge rainstorm outside that we completely missed, so we were fortunate in that regard.

The Area outside the museum was far more impressive. The main political buildings (which are impressive) were across the street, and there were some beautiful gardens to stroll through and to sit and relax in. While in the museum we befriended some school kids and they seemed to be going along the same path as us and they tried their best to communicate with us. Also, as we walked around many people approached us and tried to welcome us to Uzbekistan and talk with us. We did the best we could but with no Russian, Uzbek or Tajik in our linguistic arsenal, and with their limited English abilities, deeper conversations than the rudimentary “hello, where you come from” and “welcome to Uzbekistan” proved to be impossible.

We did take the time to visit the Art Museum too (mostly because we needed to use the bathroom). This in a way was better than the history museum as the works seemed to be original expressions of the artists. Some of the paintings were pretty good and other art pieces (statues etc.) weren’t too bad either. Despite this, we barreled through the museum in about 45 minutes as we were anxious to get to the first of the many markets we would visit: The Chorsu Bazaar.

The Most Incredible Subway in the World

To get to the Chorsu Bazaar, we decided to take the subway. This truly is the most incredible subway in the world. The one we walked in to had vaulted ceilings and chandeliers hanging down. The one we transferred at was done up in the elaborate style of an ancient Mosque. The trains themselves were not too frequent, but the actual décor in the stations kept us alert and not too anxious to leave. Apparently the subway is a nuclear bomb shelter so no photography of any kind is allowed inside. It is also a place where tourists are apparently shaken down by police (although nothing happened to us). When we saw policeman approaching, we just drifted off unobtrusively to another spot in the subway. We had been warned and decided to really behave. But still, the subway was an incredible experience. If you are in Tashkent, you need to take it at least once or twice, just to see the stations. Apparently all the stations are done up in this way.

Chorsu Bazaar

Chorsu Bazaar lies in the heart of the old town of Tashkent. We had read tourists are regularly invited into the private homes of the Uzbeks living there. Although this didn’t happen to us, we were still excited to get our first view of a Central Asian Bazaar. We weren’t disappointed! The bazaar was teeming with people and stalls and vendors. It was huge. Some of the vendors saw we were tourists and gave us free samples of their fruit and foods. We also brought some bread too. We were just stunned at the size of the bazaar and it took us a full hour to amble around the full circuit of the bazaar. Queenie did buy some fruit for us and negotiating with the vendors was quite a challenge in terms of language but something we discovered (again) was how sincere and honest they were. They were incredibly patient with us and always made sure the correct change was given. We were never cheated once. Not once! Which we thought was really surprising! This is not to say it doesn’t happen, it just never happened to us, and this is not to say we weren’t overcharged, it is just to say that prices were negotiated and once a deal struck, they kept to it always.

The bazaar itself was an incredible place to visit. Queenie even found a vendor who could speak Chinese. Of course all the people thought Queenie was from Korea, but soon understood she wasn’t. Once we had finished at the bazaar we walked out, passed some knife shops, tried on some Russian Hats for fun, and then drifted into the old part of Tashkent. We stumbled across a road that had roadside cafes/restaurants and once again decided to stop for a bite to eat (who needs a fancy hotel meal?).

While we were inside the bazaar a fight broke out between a couple of Uzbek men. I tried to record it on my video camera but as soon as they realized I was recording they started yelling at me. One of the bigger female vendors immediately stood in front of us to protect us and I felt that the other vendors were willing to defend us too. Of course I immediately stopped recording. The funny part of this story was that the following day while waiting for a taxi to take us to Samarkand, somone came up to us and asked us to see the video. Turns out he was one of the men in the fight and he thought it was quite funny. He kept on wanting to watch the video over and over again.

The vendors were once again very understanding and patient in taking our order. We once again ordered some meat dishes and the staff really enjoyed being filmed. Queenie went over to a different kitchen and some of the chefs even did a dance for her. Sitting on that roadside café in the middle of Tashkent, and being the only foreigners there made us realize just what we had done and were doing. All I needed was a beer, but the beers would start to flow in Samarkand. For now it was tea and some meat sandwiches of some sort, and it was delicious.

After Dinner Walk – The Stalker

The temperature had already started to drop significantly and it was starting to get dark. We still jet lagged and decided to head off to the hotel. We strolled through the old town and happened upon a Mosque during prayer time. As we approached the Mosque we noticed this young guy in a thick leather jacket following us. We decided to just carry on walking and ignore him. If anything untoward were to happen I figured I could hold my own. As we got to the Mosque courtyard, prayers had just finished and a stream of people flowed out. We started to head back down towards the main road to catch a taxi when our stalker approached us.

It turns out he was a really shy English student who was trying to think of a way to talk to us. Afterwards he escorted us down to the main road. We took some videos of Tashkent by night. The young man, as it turns out (I wonder) was going in the same direction as us and offered to take us to our hotel. So he put us on the correct bus, jumped on the bus with us and we were off. As we approached our hotel stop, he wanted to get off with us but we insisted he carry on going to his final destination assuring him we would manage to cross the street to our hotel by ourselves. To this day we couldn’t really figure it out what the guy was about. He was friendly in a strange kind of way.

We did however enjoy the Mosque. It was on a hill and very beautiful in the dying light. The business of the road below reminded us that Tashkent was a growing metropolis where many people were going to make their fortunes. Standing on the side of the road, we realized how happy we were to be there, even though it was cold. Although the view from the Mosque was beautiful, the sadness was the very poor woman and children begging for alms outside. Some children running around nearly naked with their hands out trying to get a couple of SOM is very sad. One only hopes the government would do something for these poor people. Of course one of the tenants of Islam is to be generous to the poor so it is understandable that they congregate outside the Mosque at prayer time, but it was very sad to see.

Day 1 Ends

So the day ended as it began in the foyer of the Marakizy hotel. Day 2 would see us bouncing down on four hour shared taxi drive to Samarkand, to the home of Timur the Great. Little did we know that this was only the beginning and our true adventures lay westward. There wasn’t anything to do but pack, prepare, sleep and dream Central Asian dreams.


Cycle Trip to Tamsui, Via Keelung

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of pictures - the light yesterday was bad and the rain made it even more difficult with water getting onto the lens of the camera.

Pacific Ocean
The Coast Line

The Plan

Kipling once wrote: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same..." Today I felt I had met both triumph and disaster and I tried to bear these words in mind so as not to get too anxious over the situations that arose. Today I went on this incredible ride from my home in Taipei to Keelung (基隆) and then along the North coast road to Tamsui (淡水), passing Yehliu (野柳), Jin Shan (金山), Bashaiwan (白沙灣), San Zhi (三芝 and finally to Tamsui (淡水). The trip was also meant to include riding back from Tamsui (淡水). to home, another 28km stretch along the river but disaster struck at the end as the gear assembly on the back wheel got completely ripped out and my rear wheel seized up. The triumph of course was the trip, the disaster was the weather and the broken bike.

Before I start I must comment that most of my riding here in Taiwan has been inspired by my mate Peter who has done much to dispel the misperceptions of distance in my head. When a person talks about going to Keelung from Taipei, many people think it is far away, when in fact it is pretty close (only about 25km). The same is true of Tamsui (28km along the river) and Wulai (28km). So after riding to Wulai last week (those damn mountain climbs are brutal for the unfit like me) I decided to head off to Keelung then swing North along the coastal road and head down to Tamsui and from there back home to Taipei. The road from Keelung to Tamsui is pretty simple, as is the road from Tamsui to Taipei. I was just confused about the road to Keelung until I read Keelung to Taipei in 01:03 (騎省道台五線輕鬆地打通基隆及台北的界線) by Jeff Miller. In the article he suggested taking Provincial Road 5 which connects to Provincial Road 2 that takes you up onto the North Coast Road.

Provincial Road 5
Provincial Road 5

To Keelung ((基隆)

So with the route planned, I got up early on Sunday morning and decided to get out the house by 7:30am to make sure I could make some good time and be home by 4:00pm. As it turned out, this was not to be. Leaving early was a good thing. There was no traffic on the road. There was one nearly critical incident when two taxis were racing and got a little too close to the side of the road for comfort, but other than that, the traffic all the way up to Xizhi was pretty quiet with no major complications. I figured the trip itself would be about 120km and my approach was not so much for speed, but more to be relaxed and enjoy an easy pace the whole way (which I mostly achieved).

Taipei 101
Taipei 101 Early Morning

Acer Building
Acer Building in Xizhi

Fellow Cyclists
Fellow Cyclists

I was surprised to find how good the signage was for most of the way, except in Keelung itself where the signs, I felt, were not as clear or frequent as they needed to be. As I was unsure of the way I stopped an old lady to ask her for directions to Tamsui. She looked at me, carefully measured me up and then with all the sincerity in the world said: "I think it would be better if you took the bus. It is very far from here." I explained to her that I was riding for fun and excercise and her reply was still the same: "I think the bus is better." In hindsight, maybe she was right!

Keelung City Sign
Keelung City

Cidu Station
Cidu Station

View From Keelung
Keelung River

Sign to Follow
Way to Go

Despite her insistence on the bus, I managed to figure out the road and started to head out towards Yehlio but up until now I had not eaten any thing. I quickly found a breakfast store on the side of the road, wolfed down a bacon egg roll and two cups of ice tea and was ready to roll within 15 minutes. By this time I knew exactly which road to take and that it would be more or less straight riding from there into Tamsui (which I figured would be about 55km).

Breakfast Store
Breakfast Store

Bacon Egg Rolls

The North Coast

After leaving the breakfast store I noticed a slight drizzle had started. I then rode for about another 10~15 minutes, climbed a hill and saw the Pacific Ocean in front of me. I then suddenly found myself humming Toad the Wet Sprocket lyrics gently to myself:

We spotted the ocean
At the head of the trail
Where are we goin'
So far away
And somebody told me
That this is the place
Where everything's better
And everything's safe

Of course the first view of the ocean was breath taking. It always is for me. I never get tired of seeing the ocean and it was especially special this time as I had had to work so hard to get there. I felt like I had earned the view. It was a good feeling. On the way down towards the ocean, I saw three other cyclists going the opposite way. Apart from them, and the riding team that passed me in Xizhi, I saw no other cyclists the whole day. I guess everyone else had seen the weather report and decided not to ride. But at this point I was blissfully unaware and really enjoying the view, the light drizzle and the coolness in the air.

First View of the Ocean
First View of the Ocean

The Beautiful Taiwanese Coast Line
The Coast

I rode down the hill and started to enjoy the gentle ride along the coast. The ocean was beautiful and fairly calm. There were not too many cars on the road and even fewer motorocycles. Every few kilometers I would stop under a shelter (as the rain was getting progressively worse) to take in the view. Each time there were a few people enjoying the view and they were all fairly astonished at the sight of the lone cyclist hammering away along the North road in the rain. A few sheepish smiles were thrown my way but no comments or suggestions.

Fishing Boats
Fishing Boats

View from the Road
Sea Shore

Girl on the Road
Me and the Model

At about 11:00am I finally made it into Yehliu (野柳). My plan was to get a good picture of me and the Queen's head. Unfortunately, as I approached Yehliu I could see an ocean of umbrellas on the rocks and I realized not even the rain could deter the tour buses. As I got into Yehliu I was shocked to see so many tour buses in the smallest of parking areas. I never bothered to count them but I would have to guess there were at least 30 buses there. That dispelled any notion of getting pictures taken. Instead I settled for a quick drink at the 7-11 and a picture by the sign and decided to take off and get away from the people.

Buses in Yehliu
Buses in Yehliu

In Yehliu

Back on the road, the rain was starting to get harder but was still bearable. I had a couple of breaks along the way and took a couple of detours into some of the fishing villages where I saw life saver training on the ocean. At about the 55km mark the rain completely stopped and I thought the day would improve. I found this small, improvised mobile drinks store on the side of the road and stopped for some tea and a decent break. I called Queenie and enjoyed a rain free sky. I got on my bike and headed off towards Tamsui and of course that is when all hell broke loose.

Traing Life Guards
Life Guards

Beautiful Coast Line
Beautiful Formosa

Mobile Coffee Shop
Mobile Coffee Shop

The Weather Turns

Just before Shih Men (石門) I came round a corner straight into a wall of torrential rain and torrid winds. Within seconds I was drenched and the wind made riding damn difficult. The going got really tough from there on in but I realized then and there the only way out was to smile and ride out of the rain. I was later to learn this was the worst rain of the 2010 season to date. I was pedaling as hard as I could but unfortunately, due to the winds and uphills, progress was really slow. But I persevered. I took a couple of breaks in some of the undercover bus shelters but never once did I decide to stop. At this point I also realized the only way to approach this ride was by one meter at a time and to forget about the overall mileage. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy the view as it was just becoming very uncomfortable. Nevertherless I stubbornly persevered and just remembered to smile and enjoy as much as I could as there wasn't anything else to do.

Wind Power
Wind Turbine

View of the Coast from Laomei
Dreary View

The rain and the wind held up for quite some time but as I hit Baishawan (白沙灣) the rain and wind started to die down and the torrential rain and wind became intermittent and mostly bearable. The uphill from Baishawan (白沙灣)reminded of just how much further I had to go before I got to Tamsui but for every uphill there is a downhill so it was ok. I finally got into San Zhi (三芝) where I took a short break. I knew I was getting close to Tamsui but with the heavy, albeit intermittent, torrential rains and winds I knew it would be tough.


There were still a lot of fantastic views of the ocean and some greenery but the closer one gets to Tamsui, the more built up it becomes. At around 3:00pm I finally hit the outskirts of Tamsui (淡水) itself and knew I would soon be at the MRT. Stop which was my destination for this leg of the trip. At this point however I hadn't had anything to drink (except for the rain water that fell into my mouth when gasping for air) for about 20km and I hadn't eaten anything all day except for the bacon egg roll I had in Keelung. Of course I was famished. I found a KFC (yes I know) but I was drenched and thought no other restaurant would let me in. The cleaning lady in KFC did not look to impressed as she had to mop up the footprints from my soggy sandals. Ah well! I had lunch and then coasted down to Tamsui's Old Street to get to the MRT and start the final 28km stretch home along the river. And then disaster struck!

Grave Yard
Grave Yard

Farms Near San Zhi
Farms outside Tamsui

Tamsui MRT
Tamsui MRT

Disaster Strucks

As I was pulling up on the bicycle path to leave Tamsui my rear wheel seized up and I nearly tumbled off the bike. I got off the bike to take a look at what happened and the entire rear gear assembly had been buckled and bent and there was no way it was going to be fixed on the road. I dragged the bike back into Tamsui and found a bike shop whose cheapest bike was NTD50,000. I started to think this was going to be an expensive fix. After discussing it with those guys I finally decided to pack it in for the day. I found a taxi (took a while and a few requests) to take me and my wrecked bike back into Taipei. So after battling the elements (torrential rain and wind) and cycling for 91km at a good pace for me, and while I had the fulles intention of cycling home, I was thwarted by mechanical failure! And that is when Kipling sprang to mind: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same..." And in the taxi home, I had a good chuckle to myself!

Lessons Learned

It was a great ride and one I will never forget as it was so eventful. Everyone I met from fellow cyclists to concerned old ladies who suggested I take the bus were helpful and friendly. The views were spectacular and riding for the first half was cool and relaxing. I will do it again, and this time get to the end. Lesson's learned: ALWAYS CHECK THE WEATHER REPORT. Do I have any regrets? None! Taiwan has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and even the wind and rain in its own way has its own beauty. I have no regrets, and once the gear assembly is fixed, I will be back on the road.

More Pictures @ North Coast Ride


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