“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
Our next trip was definitely one to be measured by friends. Having another long weekend to recognize Double Ten day, we set out for the southern tip of Taiwan. For those of you back home, Double Ten derives its name from October 10, the day Taiwan recognizes as their independence day. And just like the Fourth of July, people celebrate and things close down. So in celebration of Taiwan independence, we decided to visit Kenting, Taiwan and get some R&R at this popular beach destination. We booked our tickets on the High Speed Rail, grabbed our friends and migrated south.
Unlike the train in my last blog, the HSR is new and shiny and fast. The ride is smooth, the seats turn so that you can face your friends and there is even a meal service like the airlines. Best of all, if this meal service happens to stage a surprise attack on your small intestine, there are normal toilets waiting in each train car. No squat pots here. We completed an uneventful trip to Kaoshiung (the southernmost HSR stop) and grabbed a taxi for the remaining two hour ride. We made it to our hotel and settled into our segregated rooms. Because of the holiday weekend, we had been forced to reserve two rooms for three couples. Reminiscent of college days gone by, we had a guys room and a girls room. (Minus any chaperoning in between.) The best part of this arrangement being the slat covered bathroom window adjacent to one bed. Accidental spying could only occur when jumping on the bed, but having a post 9/11 phone tap on the man toilet was a little unsettling. We each needed to turn up some music and light a candle for purposes strikingly different than romance. Once we acknowledged this awkward situation we fired up the old school sleepover. Despite the late hour of our arrival we did what all real men rooming together do, we popped open Alex’s laptop and watched videos laden with stupid humor. I’m sure the girls didn’t go to bed immediately either. However, I’m not quite sure what they do when they stay up late these days. Probably girly things like brushing each other’s hair and painting nails. Finally, deciding it would be wise to rest, the three of us settled into our two beds. Alex and I became the bed sharers along with his ever present bottle of coke and Ipod touch. I’ve never slept with coke or an Ipod touch but neither was very restless. I did, however, feel a little strange sharing a bed with another guy and something named a touch.
The next morning was exciting. We were on the south end of the island where all the great beaches are; where the sun is always shining. We threw on our trunks and headed for the sun and sand only to realize that it was cloudy, cool and windy outside. Kenting has approximately two rainy weekends each year and we apparently chose one of the two. We went to the beach anyway and checked out the local scene, including our two new friends, the trash puppies. Right down the street from our hotel lived two adorable little puppies. These mottled little mutts skittishly scavenged the local trash piles and cans. We tried endlessly to pet the little suckers but they were scared to death of all of us big scary white people. Failing in our petting skills and lacking good sunlight, we decided it would be a good day to tour the town. We attempted to hail a cab, but soon found that 99.8% of the taxis passing by were already occupied. This was our initiation into the cab nightmare that calls itself Kenting. On busy weekends you can spend hours trying to find an empty cab and when you do the prices are so exorbitant you will be sorry you finally found one. We gave up and began the long trek into Kenting proper, hoping the rain would hold off and that it was a shorter walk than we remembered from our late night arrival. Not even to the halfway point and the rain began to fall. At this moment my mood was wobbling precariously on the edge of unpleasant, about to tip over into “ogre” territory when my ears were assaulted by a loud honk. Done wobbling and ready to jump over that edge, I spun around and low and behold there was our taxi driver from twelve hours ago. He graciously offered to take us the rest of the way into town for free since he was just passing through. Hallelujah, no more walking, no more rain and no ogre.
Kenting doesn’t consist of much; basically one main street with sundry restaurants, a few clubs and a lot of souvenir/beach shops. We found a place to eat and settled in as the rain came down. Taipei is a whole different world compared to Kenting but for some strange reason I expect cities in the same country to be relatively cost comparable. Maybe this is an absurd American idea, but when things cost three or four times as much as they do up north is gets bothersome. Thus, the overpriced souvenirs, the expensive but unexciting cuisine and the obnoxious cab fares all began to leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Kind of like licking a stamp after eating onions.) Fortunately, the weather would show a few moments of love in the next two days and our friendships would overcome the surrounding environment.
The next morning, the sun decided that hide and seek is only fun if someone tries to find you. Greedily soaking up the few rays of sunshine like chronic alcoholics fighting over half a bottle of Nyquil, we explored some of the beach scenery and got the mandatory “jump on beach” photographs. There is a trend emanating from Asia where healthy young people choose one unlucky soul (or unsuspecting bystander) to try to perfectly time a picture that captures them in their rapturous, glee-filled, gravity defying, upward lunges. Not wanting to seem out of place (never mind our combined whiteness being greater than that of a New England snowstorm) we spent a tremendous amount of time attempting to mimic this phenomenon. I am happy to report that we had some minor success and that yes, white men can jump. I must also take a moment to mention that poor Naomi is Taiwanese and was associated with all of this crazy “whiteness” for the entire weekend. She’s a very brave woman. After taking more photos of the surrounding scenery, teaching an Englishmen how to skip rocks and splashing in the surf for a few moments, we prepared for the journey of a lifetime and began our quest to Cabin Zarubin.
Cabin Zarubin was a cozy cottage nestled in solitude outside of the heart of Kenting. Our friends Tyler and Tracy were staying here with their two kids and had invited us all over for a cookout. After fighting with the local taxi drivers and realizing that they all run a conspiratorial racket to hike up prices, we marched off in defiance. Cabin Zarubin was only four miles away. We would find a cabbie on our way who hadn’t been corrupted or we would just hike the whole darn four miles. Six, healthy young people can surely walk four miles for the sake of principal and saving money. After roughly one mile, no passing taxis, flip-flop blisters and a whole lot of sweat, we caved in and called the owner of Cabin Zarubin. She had a friend who had a van and he agreed to take us the rest of the way and get us home later for about a dollar cheaper than the town crooks. Moral of the story, Kenting taxi drivers work for the devil. Finally arriving at Cabin Zarubin, we fired up the grill, whipped out the fresh sashimi from the morning fish market and let the good times roll. The food was awesome and the friends were amazing. Our host was extremely flexible, kind and just all around cool. She had two young boys that were quite the entertainers as well. All in all camaraderie trumped complications yet again and reminded us all of the important things in life.
There isn’t much else to right about our trip south. The weekend was short, the weather was surly and the “wow” factor was sadly missing. Perhaps a longer trip to Kenting or an intensive tour of the national park would encourage me to return or to recommend this Taiwanese destination. Unimpressive is mainly what comes to mind. However, no level of unimpressive can conquer the joy of friendship. This truly was a journey measured in friends. It didn’t matter that there were few postcard worthy scenic views. It didn’t matter that the culinary offerings fell far short of ninety percent of Taipei’s options. It didn’t matter that the rain seemed to follow us and interrupt our fun like a seventh grade nerd stalking the high school cheerleading squad. It didn’t matter that our wallets seemed to leave much lighter than we thought they should. All that matters is that despite these issues it was still a great weekend of friends, fun and fellowship; like a Baptist homecoming south of the Mason Dixon. True friends and sunny days should never be taken for granted.