Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wrapping it Up

Things have been crazy lately, what with moving out of Taipei into Banqiao/Penghu, out of Banqiao and into my house, and then out of my house again and into my new Yale dorm. I've also been enjoying the company of people I haven't seen in a long time and/or won't see again for a very long time. So this update comes a bit later than expected (and promised). But it's here! Look for Snapshots 3 sometime next week if I find a few extra minutes.

Moving out of Taipei: On Saturday morning, the day after I posted my last blog entry, I moved out of my apartment. Because I bought way too much in Taiwan, I added another sizeable bag to my luggage; in total I was probably lugging around at least 70 pounds. I made it to the subway and eventually to Jun Xiang's house, where I packed a "Penghu bag." To fast-forward a bit, we all got on a bus, drove to Songshan Airport (the Taipei area's domestic/regional airport), and took a plane to 馬公 (Magong), the main island of 澎湖 (Penghu), a small archipelago off the southwest coast of Taiwan. The Zhangs (and friends) had rented a house from relatives for a low price, and while we all slept about 3 to a room (there were 19 of us in total), it was a clean, peaceful home base with a beautiful balcony view.

I had thought we were just going to hang out on the beach or something to that effect, but the Zhangs had other plans: on each of the two full days that we spent there (not counting the part-days on either end), we got into a car, were driven to a boat, and were then brough to a different one (or three) of Penghu's several small islands. The mornings were for "water recreation" - picture a guy on a small motorboat (Waverunner-type) pulling various inflatable craft behind him, or just taking passengers, in the aquatic version of a roller coaster. Then we would eat some sort of delicious seafood lunch. The first afternoon was spent snorkeling, which was way more fun and amazing than I expected it to be; I saw colorful fish, explored some coral reef, and picked up hermit crabs and a huge sea urchin, among other things. The first afternoon was also when I discovered I had developed a wicked sunburn on my feet, exacerbated before and during snorkeling by the sand in my special coral-friendly socks & shoes; more on that later.

I also had my first encounter with a phenomenon that's apparently very common in mainland China: as Jun Xiang, Yu Zhong and I were exploring one of the smaller 澎湖 islands, a cute little boy who lived in a house we were passing looked up at us, pointed at me, and said, "外國人!" ("Foreigner!") A handful of times in Taipei I was reasonably sure that people were talking about me, but as a Westerner I wasn't rare enough and they weren't impolite enough for that to happen. Penghu, though, feels a little bit like another world: drier and cooler (sea breeze), calmer, quiter, and very rural. There must have been at most twenty houses on the little boy's island, some of them made half out of dead coral, and I imagine they don't often have the opportunity to take a plane to Taiwan proper. Moreover, tourism is largely local; apart from the main town and beaches on 馬公, where (I hear) you can find Western expats vacationing and surfing, none of the smaller islands we went to seemed to cater to English speakers. In fact, I saw two other Westerners during my entire 3-day stay at 澎湖, and that was in the 馬公 airport.

We ended the day on a large restaurant-boat, drifting about and barbecueing various seafood; there was also karaoke and plenty of random family games organized by Dai Ling, the oldest sister.

The second afternoon/evening was all about eating and scooters, which we rented and rode around 馬公 and the adjoining island. For the first time ever in Taiwan, I felt slightly chilly! While on the adjoining island, we enjoyed the most delicious seafood dinner imagineable, which also doubled as my favorite dinner of the entire summer. All I can remember now is that it involved oysters, seaweed, and breaded shrimp as big as my hand, among many other wonderful things.

That night also saw a double celebration: it was Jun Xiang's birthday, which was duly celebrated, but his party kind of took a backseat to my going-away party. The siblings re-performed some of their Father's Day skits; there were games (Dai Ling again); and then there was a slightly uncomfortable but unforgettably sweet section in which all the young people stepped up to me one by one and told me in very simple Chinese what they liked about me and how much they would miss me.

In the morning we woke up obscenely early to try to catch the sunrise, which is apparently a Zhang family 澎湖 tradition. It was cloudy, though, so everyone went back to bed except Jun Xiang and me; we ended up walking around and had probably our most personal conversation of the summer, almost all in Chinese because he was too tired to want to translate.

All too soon, 澎湖 was over; we did all the transportation backwards, ate a delicious but very sweet seafood lunch, and ended up back at the Zhangs' house. It was all a bit jarring because Penghu had been entirely peaceful and carefree, and it was now clearly over - and it didn't help that we all ended up sitting awkwardly in the living room listening to an aunt angrily shouting "Why do you have to be like that?!" (in Chinese) into the phone because she had discovered that a store in 澎湖 boxed the wrong food for her. I was also forced by the fam to go see a dermatologist, because my feet were both very red and the left one was swollen; the aforementioned sunburn had relegated me to wearing thong sandals and made walking very painful. Jun Xiang's mom had chopped up some aloe leaves before my eyes and applied the goo inside, but it never really helped; the doc said she wouldn't expect it to because the burn was so serious. She gave me three different pills to take four times daily, plus a tube of special ointment to ease the pain. Total cost of the visit and meds: $15, because I'm not on the national insurance.

That night, we ate out - our last dinner together, so it was fancy and different (i.e., pretty good pasta, or "Italian noodles" as they call them). Based on an earlier suggestion I reciprocated the previous night's farewells; Jun Xiang and Li Wei actually cried. Like someone (Dai Ling?) wrote to me later, it's a horrible shame that I had to leave just as we were really becoming friends.

Anyway, then we went off to sing some karaoke. The Zhangs own their own little karaoke room above the little general store that they operate, so it was convenient and entirely free. I wish Americans were more into karaoke, but alas! it is not so. I sang the old classic from my SCLCEP days, when I came to Yale once a week to study Chinese almost five years ago (對面的女孩: The girls across the street; pop-y), as well as bits and pieces of a song I had just learned (月亮代表我的心: The Moon Represents My Heart; more traditional but still well-loved by all generations). Then was the last night's sleep, the last breakfast, the last car ride... and the airport. Goodbyes, a sheaf of handwritten notes which I have yet to have translated (can only do bits and pieces on my own), and the long flight back.

I must away - classes start tomorrow morning - but before I go I'll leave you with just a few of the 600 澎湖 photos I have on my computer.