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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stop your beaching

This past weekend saw the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Republic of China (Zhōng​huá​ Mín​guó) 中華民國, and I couldn't give a flying f...let's just say I wasn't very interested in the proceedings (besides, the actual hundredth birthday isn't until Jan. 1, 2012). Instead, my wife, daughter and I spent the three-day weekend in one of Taiwan's most overrated tourist destinations, K'enting (Kěn​dīng) 墾丁. By "overrated", I'm referring to K'enting's status as a place of seaside fun and not the attractions of the national park, which are worth a visit. As I've bitched about before (see here: http://kaminoge.livejournal.com/213506.html), this island hasn't developed a beach culture, despite being...well, an island. I haven't been yet to the sands of Southeast Asia, but I have spent time by (and in) the sea in Hawaii and Okinawa 沖縄, and K'enting can't begin to compare with those two places. Nonetheless, we were still able to have fun in the water down at the southern tip of Taiwan, so without further adieu, here are some highlights of our brief stay...

The Japanese dish oden おでん (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oden) is very popular here, even during the warmer months (most of the year, in other words), which made it a little surprising to see the word misspelled as "oben" おべん at one of the freeway rest areas:

We stayed Saturday and Sunday nights at the Taiwanese version of a pension, a minsu (mín​sù) 民宿. Our guesthouse was located just a very short walk from the beach at Paisha Bay (Bái​shāwān) 白沙灣. Amber really enjoyed the wallpaper, though I don't think I could've taken more than a couple of days of it:

The next morning (Sunday), we headed out to the beach. In many ways, Paisha Bay is the archetypal Taiwanese beach - there were quite a few people on the sand, but only a handful in the water and even fewer actually swimming in it. There were plenty of jet skis and those ridiculous "banana boats", often coming uncomfortably close to the handful of swimmers. Paisha Bay appears to be gaining in popularity, which is unfortunate, as the last thing the nice stretch of sand there needs is to become another Nanwan (Nánwān) 南灣. In Paisha Bay's favor, however, are the small reefs just a few meters from the shore, where one can easily spend several hours swimming around, and checking out the marine life among the coral. I know I did. Among the highlights I encountered were a small eel and what was either a large shrimp or a small lobster, the latter hiding in a small hole. Amber was excited as well at being able to see fish in their natural element, and she also enjoyed digging in the sand. Even Pamela, who normally doesn't like being in the water despite the fact she can swim, got into the spirit of things by renting a snorkel and mask, and checking out the reefs:




Amber stands outside our minsu after we had finished swimming. The name of the place was Heiya (Hēiyá) 黑牙, and our room was only NT2000 ($66/¥5040) a night:

In the afternoon on Sunday, we went for a drive. One of the places we stopped was Shatao Beach (Shādǎo hǎi​tān) 沙島海灘, the sand of which is composed almost entirely of seashells. The beach itself is closed to public access, but there's a small museum nearby:



The thing to do when in K'enting is to check out the glorified night market that is K'enting Town. In fact, many visitors do only that, thus avoiding any contact with the water. Presumably they also try to minimize their exposure to the sun, but fortunately for those white-skin loving Taiwanese, every time I've been to K'enting, it has rained. Every time. This trip was no exception:

 Taking a break from the downpour while seriously contemplating being bald as a cueball over the taste of a papaya milkshake (Mù​guā niú​nǎi) 木瓜牛奶:


Strange Japanese T-shirts could be found in some of the shops, along with the usual English mutations:

Dinner on Sunday was at a restaurant called Chez Papa, which had several Belgian beers on offer. I had this Bruegel, or rather Amber had me order this, because it was an Amber Ale:

Just another quiet evening by the sea in K'enting, listening to the waves lapping...:

Back at Paisha Bay, there was a party going on at the campground by the beach. A band was playing and people were dancing, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The odd thing was that the crowd was made up almost entirely of Westerners (including the band), which left me feeling oddly uncomfortable. In all my years in Japan, I had never been to a place that was almost exclusively foreign and entirely devoid of Japanese people. And yet here on the dance floor, and in the seating area around it, hardly an Asian face could be seen. Even Amber thought it was a funny sight.

The next morning (Monday), we got up early (6:30), and took another walk down to the beach:


The neighborhood around our minsu in Paisha Bay was still somewhat traditional, though there's no telling how long that will last:


We spent most of Monday morning and afternoon in the K'enting Forest Recreation Area (Kěn​dīng sēn​lín gōng​yuán) 墾丁森林公園 , where, despite the rainy weather, the views looking down onto the coast were still pretty good:

We spent the time walking along the well-marked trails, and making sure not to step on the local wildlife:

The highlight for me was the view from the observation tower. Though clouded over at times, we could still see the 318 meter-high (1043 feet) mountain Tachienshan (Dàjiān​shān) 大尖山 . Amber wasn't too happy about the climatic conditions, however:


These land crabs were everywhere:

Other sights to see in the forest included narrow limestone passageways...:

...and hanging banyan trees:

Dad and daughter pose for one last photo before leaving the forest recreation area, and K'enting:

With the exception of the highway running from K'enting to the No. 3 Freeway 國道三號, traffic was relatively light on the trip back to Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原, surprising considering it was the end of a long holiday weekend. Amber was in good spirits during the long drive back (she has always been a good traveler), and at the Tungshan Service Area (Dōng​shān fú​wùqū) 東山服務區, she insisted on having her picture taken with a couple of friends:

Life may not always be a beach in Taiwan, but we had fun in the water this past weekend, and I hope we can do it again sometime soon.

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