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Monday, September 3, 2007

T'unghsiao (Tongsiao) 通霄

Today was another one of those milestones in young Amber's life - her first time to go into the ocean. The recipient beach of this great honor turned out to be the one at the Tunghsiao Sea Life Beach Resort, in the neighboring county of Miaoli 苗栗県, which was chosen for this great honor on the basis that it was the cleanest beach on the west coast of Taiwan, according to the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration website.

The resort is pricey, by Taiwanese standards - NT100 ($3 or ¥350) for parking and NT350 ($10.60 or ¥1230) admission for one adult. Incredibly, as we were approaching the front gate to buy our tickets, a father and daughter walked up to us, explained that they had 6 free tickets to the resort, and as there were only 4 people in their party, asked us if we would like the 2 extra tickets! Of course we refus...accepted!

Once inside, I was reminded of an English seaside resort such as Blackpool, if Blackpool were located on a semi-tropical island in East Asia that is. There are several small aquariums 水族館, where Amber got to practice saying the word "fish". Interestingly enough, she was most excited at seeing sharks. I, on the other hand, was drawn to this (poisonous) stonefish:

There are plenty of arcade games to amuse the kids, souvenir shops to drain the wallet, and greasy spoons to fill the stomach. Before going to the beach, we stopped at one to have lunch: ramen ラーメン (no salt again! Why are Taiwanese so afraid of Japanese food having some flavor?!) for me, stinky tofu 臭豆腐(しゅうどうふ)for Pamela, and minced meat on rice for the three of us.

The west coast of Taiwan is densely populated, so it was no surprise that Tunghsiao's setting was far from idyllic. Next to the beach was a power station, while offshore some sort of platform was under construction.

I'll say this for Tunghsiao - the beach was clean. Not a single piece of litter was in sight. The water quality wasn't bad either. The swimming area was smaller than I would've liked, but today was Amber's day. Whether it was playing in the sand at the waterline, or going out as far was allowed with her father, Amber thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Almost from the time Amber was born, I've been trying hard to get her used to being in water. She's had a nightly bath almost from Day One, we've taken her to a swimming pool a number of times, and she's attending water familiarization classes every Saturday. Now I'm happy knowing that she's not afraid of the ocean, either. The next step will be teaching her how to swim.

After several hours playing in the water and sitting on the beach, it was time to head back. I don't know if we'll go back to Tunghsiao anytime soon (the odds of being given another pair of free tickets is pretty slim), but I am sure Amber will be back at the beach before long!

There are many things I don't like to (or can't) eat in Taiwan, but sausages (with a clove of garlic) aren't one of them.

Oh, and more thing I forgot to mention: the conservative Chinese social mores were visible this afternoon in the almost total absence of bikinis on the beach. I saw just one woman wearing one openly (though there were several others who wore bikinis, but kept them covered under shirts and/or shorts even while playing in the water). This is in complete contrast to Japan, where a bikini is almost de rigueur for the beach. What is hard to understand is that why the women feel compelled to cover up in public (though skirts are noticeably getting shorter), there is no end to the number of sleazy business establishments selling sexual services in the guise of KTV's and so on that are found in even the smallest of towns in Taiwan. Unlike in Japan, where these kinds of businesses tend to be clustered in one area of a city, in Taiwan they can be found in almost neighborhood - noodle restaurant, convenience store, brothel disguised as a KTV, tea stand, scooter repair shop...

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