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Monday, August 30, 2010

Life in Taiwan can be a beach at times

Summer's here, and the time is right, for having fun at the beach. Unfortunately, for those of us living on the west coast of Taiwan, decent (as in clean/unpolluted) beaches are in short supply. A quick look through my guidebooks, however, suggested heading north for some fun in the sun, specifically to Fulung (Fukuryū) Beach 福隆海水浴場 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulong_Beach, on Taiwan's beautiful northeast coast. Which is what we did, and, I'm pleased to say, the books didn't disappoint.

Leaving our home in Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原 just after 10 on Saturday morning, we endured a couple of traffic jams, a car window that refused to close (how I long for the days of the hand-crank) and a long search for a restaurant to have lunch before finally reaching our minsu 民宿 around 2:30. Despite the snags, we were blessed with beautiful weather and equally beautiful scenery along the coastal Highway 2. On the way, we passed the old copper smelter at Chinkuashih (Kinkaseki) 金瓜石:

"Minsu" is usually translated as a "homestay" in English, and mainly refers to a private home that lets its rooms out to visitors. Ours wasn't much to look at from the outside (the usual ugly concrete block house one sees all over Taiwan), but the room was comfortable, reasonably-priced at NT1800 ($56/¥4800) for the night, and best of all, only 200 meters (660 feet) to the fee-charging public beach and less than that to the free section of sand. Here's Amber waiting downstairs for her mother to get changed:

Seeing signs saying the free section was reserved for "skin divers", we opted for the pay area. The NT90 ($2.80/¥240) fee for adults (only NT10, or 30¢/¥30 for Amber) allowed us entry into a beach that was very clean. The water quality also appeared to be good, and the waves were relatively high (with a few cresting over my 190cm/6'3" head), making it a lot of fun to be in the water, which is where I stayed for a couple of hours. Despite being only about 90 minutes by train from T'aipei (Taihoku) 台北, and with Fulung Station 福隆駅 just a short walk away, the beach wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. The beaches in the Shōnan 湘南 region, near Tōkyō 東京, for example, would be blanket-to-blanket on a sunny weekend day, with the sand and water difficult to see. While busy, there was still plenty of elbow room at Fulung. Perhaps it was because of Ghost Month 盂蘭盆 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Month, and the traditional proscription against swimming during this time (for fear of being pulled under by ghosts)?

Here I am in full father mode (i.e. carrying all the stuff):

The sand and water scenes. My only complaint was that the roped-off swimming area could have been larger, but this seems to be standard practice at Taiwanese beaches:

The view toward the free area. The temple pictured below was about 300 meters (980 feet) from our homestay, which is just out of the photo to the right:

Amber went out into the water a few times, but didn't care much for the stinging salty spray getting into her eyes (next time we hit the beach, we'll get her some goggles). She had a great time, however, building her sand "castle", which looked more like a grave to me. Another influence of Ghost Month?:

Around 5:30 we headed back to our room, where we cleaned ourselves up, then went back out into town. Fulung doesn't have much of a beach town vibe to it - rather, it seems more like a typical Taiwanese tourist town that happens to be close to the ocean. It was a little difficult finding a place that served proper meals, as most of the eating establishments sold lunchboxes (dinner boxes?) 弁当 filled with things like pork or chicken leg, but we did end up enjoying some decent grub (including the below-pictured lobster rolls) at a restaurant along Highway 2:

After dinner, Pamela and Amber retired to our minsu, while I took a walk over to the Tunghsin Temple 東興宮, the one in the photo above. Here's a short video of the night view - the colorful bridge is the pay area for Fulung Beach:

The following morning, while Amber and Pamela were still in bed, I took a walk along the free section of beach. It was a good thing we didn't go there the day before, as the condition of the sand wasn't nearly as good. Still, it was fun wading in the water, and had it been a little earlier, I would've gone for a swim:


For breakfast, we had tanping (a popular Taiwanese breakfast item made using spring onion crepe and beaten eggs http://raininday.blogspot.com/2010/08/egg-crepe-roll.html) 蛋餅 at a small shop near the train station, washing it down with some hot coffee...served in a paper cup with a straw:
 

By the time we finished breakfast, the glorious sunshine of yesterday and this morning had been replaced by ominous dark clouds, and the first rain drops began to fall. The intermittent rainfall would continue for most of the remainder of the day, but it didn't bother us as we took a leisurely drive back on Highway 2, stopping at a few places to enjoy the view.

Huoyanshan 火炎山. The pools in the background are used for raising abalone アワビ:

Chinsha Bay 金沙灣:

Lungtung Bay Park 龍洞灣公園 (or Lungtung Four Season Bay 龍洞四季灣, according to the sign), where there were enclosed, sea-fed pools for swimming and snorkeling. It looked like fun, and Amber certainly wanted to get in, but the rain was pretty steady at this point:
 

The last stop was Nanya 南雅, where there were some interesting rock formations. Shaped by wind and waves for a number of years that would leave a Creationist in denial, these geologic oddities can be found at several spots along Taiwan's northeast coast (that's Turtle Island 「Kisan-tō」 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gueishan_Island 亀山島 in the background behind Amber and me):


By then it was around noon, and time to go home. Traveling south while the rest of Taiwan was heading back to T'aipei meant that even with a long lunch break in Chungli (Chūreki) 中壢, we were still home by 3:30. I would've loved to have more time to spend in the water, plus everywhere we drove there were signs indicating one hiking/walking trail after another. And all just a short drive or train ride from T'aipei. How do you say "relocation" in Chinese? Hmm...

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