Sorry folks, I’ve neglected this blog over the last six months or more. I’ve moved back West for a bit, studying for a master’s in London. Once I wrap this up, I plan on continuing this blog. Until then…
In my ongoing effort to reverse the seemingly oncoming paralysis of my lower back, I once again ventured forth into the surreal realm of Taiwan’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Yes, that may be my first mistake.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I think this whole ordeal stems from when I had a backache in Beijing and proceeded to find some shoddy acupuncturist, who, though at a hospital, hospitalized me.
But, ya know, growing up as an American without health insurance, I basically try to stay out of hospitals unless they strap me into the back of an ambulance and knock me out with morphine. So, once again, I’m rolling the dice with TCM.
My snap-crackle-pop treatment by the monk in the shack on the outskirts of the county is yet to produce the type of 100% healing I’d hoped for. Hell, I’d settle for 85%, but it just hasn’t happened. It helps, a lot, but a week after each visit I’m right back where I started.
So, today, on the advice of a coworker who’s husband frequents this shop, I set out to find a new cure. Now she had initially said something about acupuncture, so that’s what I was looking for as I drove down this local road. Turn out, I was wrong. I walked into some acupuncture clinic and asked the nurse to double check the address, but the place I was looking for was down the street.
I knew it when I saw it. It was one of those pungent, closet-like storefronts with a bunch of unmarked bottles and strange bags of “medicine” everywhere. All of these places are kind of the same. A lot of plaques of merit or achievement or potentially degrees, all stamped and framed on top of each other. The TV blaring one of those high-channel get-rich-quick call-in shows. Lots of daily newspapers all piled up. Kind of dinghy walls.
I saw a guy chilling, watching TV, sitting in the traditionally uncomfortable teak chairs, and I decided, hell, let’s go for it…
Steam! That’s what I got. A steaming, with medicine! The steam is meant to relax your muscles, allowing better blood flow in sore areas.
I was a first-timer, but he was gentle. For 250nt, I got to cruise in the back, past the kitchen, and into like a Stephen King-like sauna room. Now, I really had no idea what to expect. Like, was this going to be a full nude thing? Is it like a proper sauna?
No. It wasn’t.
There were a bunch of stools on a concrete floor in front of two hoses protruding from a mystery room in the back. The doctor asked me to sit down and face the TV, which, obviously, was a brand new, top-of-the-line flat screen (Taiwanese always ball-out on TVs) next to a 1960s split-bucket washing machine. He pulled out a couple of towels, told me to pull my shirt up and my pants down a bit– yeah, yeah– then started blasting me with this fragrant, occasionally scalding steam.
Afterwards, he took me into the “office” room, where he gave me a quick, amazingly accurate snap of the spine in a couple directions. Then he slapped on a big TCM patch on my back and told me to keep it on for two days. That kind of shocked me, because most people tell you to take them off after like 4-6 hours less your skin gets all jacked up. But, we’ll see what happens Friday.
Also, for anyone who has never had a huge TCM patch put on, it’s like a massive, more-clothy gauze pad with a mysteriously numbing black paste on one-side. I like the smell, some don’t. It’s taped onto whatever spot, and is the equivalent, at least in my case of removing like 1,000 band-aids when I take it off.
He gave me that and an unmarked bag of those round, deer-turd-looking pills. I’d taken these before in Shanghai for a case of “spicy stomach.” They look identical, but who knows? Trust, is what they call that, folks.
Anyways, I was going to take a pic of the pills and the back patch, but as I was posing in the mirror trying to get a flattering angle, well, I just decided yo can use your visceral imaginations.
I’ll let you know how it works out.
(UPDATE) I almost forgot one fascinating key aspect: the doctor specifically ordered me not to eat bananas or drink beer. That’s it. Just those two.
Eastern Asia’s highest peak is well worth the effort. In preparing for hiking the mountain this last December, I browsed the net and thought I had a handle on the hike. Still, there were a few things I wish I would have known prior to arriving at the trailhead. So, if you happen to stumble upon this, I hope it helps.
FYI- My friend and I applied for the permit ourselves, online. The two of us hiked the Paiyun trial, starting at the Tataka (Anbu?) trailhead, on December 29-29th.
1. Tataka (塔塔加, really pronounced tǎtǎjiā) is not a township or any type of village. We had read that there was a “hiker’s hostel” in “town.” Well, there is, but it isn’t easy to find. So, yes, just know that Tataka basically consists of a hiker’s information center at the top of a long road. That’s it. Although, I have to say, the people there were awesome when we rolled up well after hours with a bunch of questions. They made some calls for us and got us all sorted out. Keep your eyes out, the guesthouse is right after the helipad on the left as you climb the hill from Alishan. There’s a small little one-lane road that looks like it just drops off the side of the mountain. Follow it down about 300 meters and you’ll come to a building that doesn’t look too special. Boom, you’re there. (If you speak Chinese, call 東埔山莊(宿) 0932832077 or 049-2702213, and you should be able to sort yourself out.)
2. About the hostel: we walked in, and lucky enough, there was basically no one hiking the mountain. It is super simple. There’s a dorm with two long bunks that sleep about 20 per side. There’s a kitchen and bathrooms. The owner doesn’t speak any English, so be prepared for that, too. She’s very kind though, and a straight shooter. She’ll cook you a meal, if she has any food from the market (she didn’t when we were there). It’s pricey, like $150nt for a plate. Otherwise, she has some instant noodles for sale. And no beer. So…
3. Best bet for a hot meal is in Alishan township. I recommend the 姜母鸭 (jiāngmǔyā) restaurant with the purple sign, on the left after 7-11 and just before the sharp corner out of town (sorry, my buddy took the pic and the business card). If you don’t know, 姜母鸭 is a special kind of duck hotpot. Great meal to warm you up. Plus, the owners will likely invite you to share some local wulong tea with them after. They’ve been tea farmers their whole lives, but their village was wiped out during Typhoon Morakot in 2009. They miraculously survived, and have since relocated in an effort to start a new life. They’re also the only place in town open late, til 11.
4. For anything else, stock up at the 7-11 in Alishan township. We didn’t, and we ended up driving all the way back, through dense clouds. Luckily, it was well worth it, since we found that restaurant and had a great time with that family.
5. If you don’t stay at the “hiker house,” keep an eye out for the road that says “Do not enter– restricted” on the right just past the helipad. That’s where you enter. If you hike up that hill about 200m, you’ll come to two buildings– one where the police officer checks your permit, and the second where the park ranger sort of double checks it. Whatever.
6. Make sure to arrange a van to take you from the gate by those buildings to the actual trail head. We heard the guys at the gate weren’t very helpful in getting you one, saying you had to “book” one the day before. Just call the same number for the hostel. It seems like they run the whole regime up there, and they have a few guys who drive up every 30 minutes or so (if called). If not, have fun walking 3km uphill on some crappy paved road with no views! That’d be a great way to tire yourself out before even actually beginning the “real” hike.
7. Paiyun Lodge (8.5km in) is still closed. So, the hike is a bit more arduous. You can do it in one day. We met a guy who left at 6:30am and was back at the hiker house by 6:30pm. Personally, I think that’s a total waste. You miss sunrise and sunset, the epic reward for this unbelievable hike!
8. If you don’t do the one-day up-and-back, which, again, I don’t recommend, as of right now you will have to stay in this little A-frame hut at Yuanfong. It’s basic. It’s cold (now). But the real issue is that you have to hike an additional 2.7km to the hut. And it’s a constant ascent. You actually hike almost as high in elevation as the main peak, so it’s similar to doing the entire up in one day. The next day, you will need to hike about 2km back to the fork in the trail, and then another 1.7km straight up to the main peak.
9. We left Yuanfong at about 3:45am and made it to the top of the summit at around 5:15, which was just in time for the sky to show it’s first hint of blue on the black horizon. It was perfect timing. We got to see the entire sunrise, and hiking in the pitch black darkness was a serious rush. It’s a pretty simple cutback trail until about the last 200m when it gets a bit hairy. I couldn’t imagine doing it in snow or ice, even with cramp-ons (which makes some of Mark A. Joy’s videos that much more intense).
10. Even without snow on the ground, it was still freezing at the summit. It felt below zero to me, although I am sure it was just right around there. Taking off my glove to take a picture had to be awful quick. Even with Goretex gloves and handwarmers my fingers weren’t 100% until we were about 400m back down the mountain. Now, we were hiking in December, so keep that in mind. The trail will close down pretty soon, and I think that’s wise. But even if you want to hike it in March, be prepared for some chilly weather. Bring a good sleeping bag, and you’ll want some sort of cooking kit for some hot food. Also, keep in mind you don’t really need the big gaudy hiking boots for this climb. There’s a lot of loose shale, and in my opinion, a good pair of hiking sneakers of cross-trainers will do ya. That said, we had brilliant weather, and I was prepared for a freak rain storm. So keep in mind you probably want waterproof shoes and some snap on gaiters just in case. You’ll see plenty of Taiwanese hiking up there like they are on Everest, even on a clear sunny sky. Damn, they love to gear up.
Anyways, comment if you have questions. Best of luck on your hike, and hope you have blue skies all the way!
Yeah, you read that right. I’ve been wrapping my head around this thing for two days now, and the only conclusion I can really come to is that I got real, real lucky.
I came out of The Armory here in Tainan around 2 or 3. I’d parked around back, because there were no spaces out front and the bar backs up to a massive parking lot/abandoned park area right in front of my house.
I was planning on just walking home. Cut through the little alley, popped over this opening into the lot, when I looked to my right and… no scooter.
I’d parked on this patch of grassed over pavement that wasn’t even in the parking lot. It was off behind one of the buildings abutting the lot. So, let’s be super clear– this, in no way, was an illegal parking spot. No red lines. Nothing. This was straight up off the grid.
Now, I’m also 100% clearly remember getting off my bike and hitting the $10,000nt alarm my friend had installed on it. It’s not that I thought my parking spot was shady. Rather, I didn’t lock my helmet (as no one really does in Tainan). Being a little paranoid that some drunk might nick the helmet, I hit the alarm, which is so sensitive that if anyone grabbed the helmet and shook the bike shook just a hair, it would start screaming. There were plenty of homes around, so I figured that would be deterrent enough.
But no, scooter is gone. Immediate panic sets in. I’m flipping. I look around. Almost right in front of me I see two people rolling a scooter up into the back of one of these Taiwan “blue trucks” (like a small minivan but with an open truck bed).
One guy is standing in the door of the truck. The two others are pushing the other scooter up the back. Now, not even thinking about how odd this was, I approached them to ask if they had heard or seen my bike.
Of course not.
Then they start getting a little twitchy. Next thing I know, back is bolted up, and they give some whistle. A team of about a dozen people come out of the shadows, all jump in the truck and go to take off.
Mind you, my scooter is not on this truck, but my wits return to me a bit, and I’m thinking — what the fuck are these guys doing in this parking lot rolling up a scooter into the bed of this truck at 3am?
1. Too late at night to realistically be picking up one of their own scooters (because it broke down or to move it to another city). Who would do that at 3am? Here?
2. Why would they need a team of people? Why would they have all been spread out around the lot and not helping?
3. These guys don’t work for the city, because the driver barely had any teeth from chewing betel nut his whole life and they were dressed like bumpkins. Not to mention, there are a million scooters parked on red lines around 7-11s and other normal, easy to locate spots around the city– not 200 meters into some dark corner of a mostly vacant lot.
So, yeah, I start flipping. Like, clearly these dudes have been working this lot for the last hour, probably already loaded up my bike in the first truck and took off with it.
Surprisingly calmly, I tell the driver, “Look, man. I know you guys nicked my bike. Just bring it back to me, and it’s a done deal. No problems.”
Now, here’s one of those “TGITaiwan” moments. If this had been the streets of some big city in the US, these dudes would have probably hospitalized me. End of problem, for them.
Luckily, that didn’t go down.
I tell them I’m calling the cops, whip out my phone and take a picture of the guys license plate (above). He bolts as I am yelling out his license plate number to him.
Now, here is where the story gets odd.
I run back inside to get my friends and tell them what happened. I forget if I had called the cops already or they helped me call, but we immediately all ran back out to the lot. They kept telling me to look around, as if someone moved it, which, based on where I parked, was 100% implausible, but I did anyway.
I start pacing up and down the lot. I get about 20-30 meters from where my bike was parked, and I come across a cop car. I double-take. Two cops are sitting in the damn car! They’re in crystal clear view of my bike and the whole thing that just went down.
For whatever reason, they jump out immediately and start trying to be all, “What’s going on?” They hadn’t even gotten the call from dispatch. They called it in again, which leaves me thinking:
1. What were they doing there? How long were they there? Obviously they didn’s get a call from dispatch, because what kind of code is it to roll up to a potential crime scene, lights off, no siren, and ass-in park 30 meters from where everyone is standing?
2. These guys were all booted and suited, flak jackets and all. It was a little much to be sitting and chilling in a lot, in a parked squad car with no lights on. For anyone who knows Taiwan, cops are required to always have their blueys on, no matter what. So…?
Seems a little dodgy to me.
They call it in. I’m still in a panic. Rage is starting to set in. I mention I saw a truck full of guys loading bikes, and they are all, “Well, wait, let’s just make a call in to the station first.”
Then ask me for my bike information, in a way in which I now almost think they were hoping I didn’t have it or didn’t have it on me.
Again, luckily, I saved my scooter plate number and VIN into my cellphone. They call it in.
“Oh, someone just brought your bike to the station.”
“Yeah, it’s at the station. They say someone brought it in because it was just sitting here running, so they brought it in to keep it safe.”
This is where jubilation kicked in. I moved right past disbelief and doubt and skepticism, just right into pure relief.
They tell me to hop in the back of the squad car and they would take me to the station. Now, oddly enough, this local girl, a friend of a friend, who was still standing out there helping me out at this point, told me bluntly, “Do not get in the car with them! I will give you a ride.”
I remember her insistence kind of surprising me at that time, even through my jubilant relief. So, I rode with her.
Sure enough, there was my scoot at the station. And everyone was all hugs and the cops were all smiles. And everything was all peachy.
It was only the next morning when I started really thinking, how in the hell could my bike have been running?
1. I had the keys on me the whole time. I obviously had to turn it off to remove them from the ignition. And, I specifically remember hitting the alarm and hearing the beep.
2. I always close this little latch that slips over my keyhole and requires me to use a special part of my key with an internal RFID chip to pop it back open. It was closed when I picked up the bike.
3. My scooter does have an automatic start button on my alarm beeper. BUT if it is started that way, the only way to turn the bike off is to press the same button again. Even if you have the RFID to open the keyhole and the key, it will not turn off. It was not running when I picked it up, and it had gas in it.
4. My alarm would still have been screaming even as someone moved it, so who would go through the hassle of either walking it a half-k through a dark, shady park or loading its heavy ass onto a truck and moving it to the police station, all while it pierces their ear drums? Mormons?
So, a lot of questions, and you can probably induce where I am leaning on this whole thing:
The only way I can picture it is that I happened to be lucky enough to hit the parking lot when that squad of scooter thieves was still there thinking they could nick a few more bikes. The cops had to be in on it. They all panicked when they saw that I was white, when they heard I was calling the cops, and when they saw me take the picture of the truck license plate. The nick squad called up to the truck that had taken mine, they told him to drop it in front of the police station. Cops took their precious time, played the heroes.
P.S. A totally different cop was there in the morning when I went to pick it up, just being a total hardass cop prick, quizzing me like he’s all pissed off, “Why’d you leave it running?!” Hey, jackass, my intention was to have it stolen and brought to you. You fucking moron. Dude actually had the balls to tell me it wasn’t my scooter because he had never seen one of our foreigner ID cards and couldn’t match up the names. Who’s the monkey, now, chief? Typical cop prick.
Women now slightly outnumber men in Taiwan– 50.3 to 49.7 percent–according to its latest census.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) points to an uptick in foreign brides and an assumption that it is easier for Taiwanese men to move abroad permanently.
I’m not so sure I really buy those arguments. They strike me as a little chauvinist, but they’re not what really caught my attention here anyway…
The census, which is now taken once every 10 years, also showed that the numbers of those divorced, separated and unmarried have all increased over the last decade, the DGBAS noted.
“For those aged 15 or above, there were 1.05 million people who were either divorced or separated, 549,000 more than 10 years ago,” said the DGBAS.
The percentage of unmarried people for those between 25 and 29 has surged from 57.7 percent to 73.5 percent, and for those between 30 and 34 from 27.8 percent to 41.1 percent, according to the DGBAS.
The figures also show that, unsurprisingly, the number of young children is down and families have shrunk. Meanwhile, the number of elderly has skyrocketed almost 400%.
Now, I know I’m on the other side of the line on this one. Most people here these numbers and panic– Collapse of traditional values! No respect for the institution of marriage! No taxable labor force to support the elderly!
Well, not I. I’m encouraged by these numbers!
It sounds to me like rising equality for women, more opportunity for them in the work force, more respect for them as individuals, more respect for their choices in family planning.
It sounds to me like more reasonable population growth, less long-term stress on government social services, opportunity to improve existing social institutions like education and health care.
And, yes, of course, it also sounds like more single women, putting off marriage, and ignoring the “biological clock” bullshit.
And I like that, too.