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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

New Year's 正月

With New Year's Day falling on a Monday this time, we took advantage of the three-day weekend by taking a family trip down to Kenting (Kending) National Park 墾丁国家公園 (こんていこっかこうえん) at the southern end of Taiwan.

Amber making friends with a dog at a freeway rest area on the trip down:

We stayed at the Kenting Masalu Lakeside Resort, a small inexpensive hotel on the main road between Hengchun (こうしゅん 恒春) and Kenting. Amber enjoyed the large room, which cost NT 5600 for two nights ($170 or ¥20,000), though the unfamiliar surroundings meant she had trouble falling asleep both nights, keeping us up to past 1:30 on Saturday and 1:00 on Sunday:


From the small balcony there was a view of Lungluan (Longluan) Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in Taiwan (which isn't saying much, really). We could also see the cooling towers of one of Taiwan's three operational nuclear power plants, so if Amber should have any two-headed siblings in the future, we'll know the reason why:

The weather all day on Sunday wasn't the greatest. It was overcast and windy the entire time, and rain fell off and on throughout the day. But that didn't prevent us from driving around the Kenting area and enjoying the scenery. Our first stop was Paisha (Baisha 白砂) Beach, where Amber got her first taste of sand and surf:

After Paisha Beach, it was on to Maopitou (Maobitou びょうびとう 猫鼻頭), the second southernmost point on Taiwan:


Looking out towards the Pashih (Bashih) Channel:

The beach at Nanwan (なんわん 南湾), where you can swim in sight of alternative sources of energy:

Chuanfan, aka Sail Rock, is a popular spot for jumping off into the water:

Some typical beachfront Kenting architecture:

After passing through Kenting, Route 26 turns north, past some stunning scenery. One place we stopped for a look was Lungpan (Longpan), a wide grassland area with a great view of the ocean. The wind here was powerful, and it was very hard to stand up in the typhoon-like gusts to take pictures:

In my capacity as a spy for the Chinese government, I took this shot of a nearby military installation:

Soon after Lungpan, the road dropped down to sea level, and we stopped the car to have a look at the beach in the gathering darkness. Amber thought the strong wind was very exciting:

Eventually, we took Route 200 back into Hengchun, and then Kenting again, thus completing a large circle. Kenting on New Year's Eve was packed – 人山人海 all up and down the main drag:

The Kenting police station attracted a lot of picture-takers:

Amber shaking the maracas at an Italian-Mexican restaurant where we had dinner:

Examples of seafood for sale beside the road. The sign means “It's real” in Taiwanese:

Other things were for sale as well:

Everywhere we went in Kenting, Amber was the center of attention. A group of people would stop to look at her, and their cries of“Hao keai”(“How cute!”) would attract more people. Others would stop to see what everyone was looking at, and the next thing I'd know, Amber would be surrounded by people taking her picture. As one man told me, I should've been selling tickets to see her. I don't know how many people all over Taiwan have Amber's photo on their digital cameras and cell phones after this weekend, but the number must be considerable. And the little flirt enjoyed every second it! A lot of babies are shy around strangers, but ours certainly isn't one of them. Be that as it may, as she's only 11 months old, we were back at our hotel well before the New Year's reverie began on the streets on the Kenting:

On New Year's Day we checked out of our hotel and headed back to Hengchun. We first drove over to see the gas fires at Chuhuo (しゅっかきかん 出火奇観), just outside of town. Gas escapes from deep underground here, and ignites when it comes into contact with oxygen at the surface. We actually stopped by on Saturday night after checking in to our hotel and having dinner in Hengchun, but didn't linger then. One unfortunate aspect that many Taiwanese people seem to share is an almost total disregard to the effect one's actions have on those around them. On Saturday night this was demonstrated by a group of people setting off fireworks right next to the fire pit despite there being a strong wind that was blowing the fireworks close to, and in a few cases right into, the crowd of tourists. So to spare possible injury to Amber, we left quickly that night.

Monday morning was far safer (no fireworks), but another unfortunate side of Taiwanese life was on display. Notice the sign…:

…and notice the vendor doing business right inside the enclosed, supposedly off-limits area:

I guess the wonders of nature are not interesting enough in Taiwan, because almost everybody there had bought popcorn from vendors in the parking area, resulting in this ridiculous sight:

Tourism, Taiwan-style!

Afterwards, we returned to Hengchun, and stopped off at the (so far) remarkably non-commercialized old East Gate. Hengchun was a walled city during the late stages of the Ching (Cing) Dynasty, and all four directional gates have been preserved. The East Gate also retains a section of the original wall. 

Amber was acting like a little general, looking out over the ramparts:

We also took a walk past the West Gate…:

…then had lunch at a curry restaurant. Just as we were finishing, a policeman came into the restaurant and told those whose cars were parked out front that they needed to be moved quickly as Chen Shui-bian, the president of the Republic of China (aka Taiwan), would soon be visiting. It seems the empty lot next door to the restaurant had been a house until last Tuesday (Dec. 26), when it collapsed in a strong earthquake, killing two residents. Pamela isn't Chen's biggest fan (to put it mildly), so we didn't stick around after lunch:

On the way back to the freeway to go home, we made a couple of stops. First, to buy some wax apples レンプ…:

(the view of the mountains behind the wax apple stand)

…and then at a roadside temple called “Futsai Kung (Fucai Gong)” 福財宮, or “Happiness Wealth Palace” (at least that's one way to translate it), to do 初詣 Taiwanese-style. This means praying for cash, and lots of it, and is done by buying the required offerings placing them on the table with the others…:

…lighting the incense sticks…:

…placing the incense at various locations around the temple…:

…and burning the offerings in the furnace outside after you're finished:

Fortune tellers were on hand to give you an idea of how rich you might be someday:

Many Western bloggers have waxed poetic about the beauty of temples in Taiwan:

Amber enjoyed the opportunity to stretch her young legs:

Despite some slow traffic on the freeway in a couple of places, we made it back to Fengyuan (Fongyuan とよはら 豊原) reasonably early. Daily life in Taiwan doesn't always agree with me, but I love getting out and seeing what this island has to offer.

Happy New Year!

 A row of tour buses at a freeway rest area

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