Tainan - A Month in Taiwan - CycleBlaze

January 7, 2019

Tainan

For all the whining we did earlier in this tour, it has really turned out to be a very good experience for us.  Once we left the east coast and caught the train from Yilan back to Hsinchu, we’ve had generally excellent weather. We’ve seen very little rain and mostly have biked in comfortably warm conditions.  And once we got past our overlong stay in Taichung and its unnerving traffic, we’ve enjoyed a string of excellent, memorable days on the bike.  

Looking back now, we both feel like our issues early on were largely because we’d been on the road for four months already and had gotten thoroughly spoiled by dining that whole time on our favorite cuisines.  Taiwan likely would have worked better for us as the first stop on our journey, rather than the last.

Today’s ride was the best day yet.  It warms our hearts to look back on it, and I’m sure it is a day we will revisit often in years to come when we reminisce over our life on the road.

The ride itself was for the most part unexceptional.  We chose a relatively direct route between Chiayi and Tainan, staying on the broad coastal plain the entire way.  We could have taken a more interesting route by skirting the inland border of the plain, as we did four years ago when we rode in the opposite direction.  That route is very beautiful, but much hillier and almost twenty miles longer than the direct one.  Neither of us felt inspired to take on a hilly 65 mile ride today though, so we followed the path of least resistance.

That path is flat, flat, flat.  In 45 miles we accumulated only 600 feet of total elevation gain.  Nearly all of that came from bridges and highway overpasses, I’m sure.  That path also kept us on well travelled, efficient straight highways, alternately passing the rough completely flat cultivated lands and the main commercial thoroughfare of one small village after another.  Safe, with a good shoulder and following one of the National Cycle routes.   Efficient, but less interesting than most of our days.  Not too many compelling reasons to stop for a photo, so we made quite good time.

Much of today’s ride looked like this. Flat, on the shoulder of a moderately busy highway.
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Rice is one of the principal crops on the Chiayi-Tainan plain.
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Churning the muck
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Five great egrets
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Another lotus pond
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Lotus and laundry
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Many of the vegetable gardens are protected by plastc coverings. Here you can also see the mountains rising above the eastern margin of the plain. If we had added fifteen miles and a few thousand feet of climbing, we could have biked njoyed a mountainous ride to Tainan instead.
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These blossoms are of some sort of squash or cucumber. The plants are trellised, with the fruits hanging down beneath the trellis so you can just walk underneath and easily harvest them.
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A poor substitute for plane trees, but it will have to do until we make it back to the Mediterranean.
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And, I forgot to mention that it was hot, around 80F; a bit humid; and a bit smoggy.  We did have a mild but helpful tailwind keeping us moving and cooling us down, but the weather wasn’t quite as pleasant as yesterday.

Right.  So, given all that, why was this of all days such a special one?  It began with Becky and Natalie, in the Liujia 7-11.  Liujia was at the midpoint of the day ride, and we used it as our pit stop.  7-11’s here vary quite a bit in quality, cleanliness, and selection.  This one is one of the best we’ve come across, with a nice indoor seating area that almost gives it the feel of a small diner.  We made our usual 7-11 selections and sat at one of these tables for a quick snack before heading back to the road.

At a neighboring table were two mothers and two daughters.  One of the mothers was just returning to the table with a fetching new garment for her daughter - a bunny hat, with long sleeves with hands at the end.  When she squeezed the hands, the long rabbit ears popped erect.  Very cute.

I pulled out the camera as discreetly as I could, but the other mother, Becky, saw this, smiled our way, and asked in reasonably good English where we were from.  

Conversation ensued.  A lengthy, engaging conversation that ended with Rachael and Becky exchanging email addresses so that we could share photographs.  Becky gained her English skills in high school, when she spent a season in New York as an exchange student.  She’s a very warm, engaging person, a delight to visit with.  The show stealer though was her daughter Natalie, who has just begun to walk.  It felt very special to sit there watching Natalie and chatting with Becky.  A memorable experience for us, and we like to imagine for Becky as well.  

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Becky, our nw friend from the 7-11. We were first focused on her friend and her daughter, who were testing out a new rabbit hat for the daughter. It included sleeves and mittens, and if you squeezed the mittens the ears pop up erect, Very entertaining,
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Natalie (named after Natalie aportman, her mother tells us) is just beginning to walk. It felt like a great gift to share in watching her take some of her first steps.
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Left to right: Rachael, Natalie and Becky. Fingers up!
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We left the 7-11 feeling a warm glow, discussing once again how exceptionally welcoming many of the Taiwanese people have been to us.  It is a fascinating place to visit, but it is really the people that make it exceptional.

Two blocks later, we’re idling in front of another red light, and a scooter pulls up.  I’ve gradually caught on that these are a bit of a social opportunity - if you look up, it’s not uncommon that someone will give you a lift by flashing a smile or giving you the thumb up.

George flashes a brilliant smile, asks where we’re from.  The light changes and he dashes off, then stops a few hundred yards down the road to wait for us.  He asks if we want to see a ‘temple event’, which is underway just up a side road a short ways from here.  Sure, we say, and follow him to the temple.

George also speaks nearly fluent English.  He welcomes us to the temple, which is buzzing with a small crowd and food booths.  George tells us that this is the birthday of their temple’s god, and then explains a bit about the main temple, which is new; and the original, much smaller temple next to it.  He’s an administrator of the temple, and obviously very proud of it.

He introduces us to another man that he reels in, saying he’s the recently elected town mayor.  He gives us a gift - a box of muffins - and then introduces us to the woman who baked them.  She whispers something in his ear and George tells us that she or perhaps her friend is looking for an American husband.

It’s time to pray, and a crowd has gathered on the steps of the temple, holding incense.  George encourages us to join the group, hands us incense to hold ourselves, and we pray.  We have no idea what we’re doing of course, so we cue off of the crowd.  We bow three times, and then turn as a group to face the temple.  We bow three times, and turn back.  We bow three times again, and then many firecrackers explode not far from us.

Another exceptional experience and human encounter, just a half hour from the first.  We feel like we’ve been treated like visiting dignitaries.  When we leave, an older woman smiles at Rachael and pats her in the shoulder.  We bike off, feeling a warm glow and discussing once again how exceptionally welcoming many of the Taiwanese people have been to us.  

So George looks over at us at the stoplight, smiles, and asks if we’d like to see a temple event. Sure!
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The temple event: we’re celebrating the birthday of the local god.
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With our new friend George, an administrator of the temple.
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A friend of George’s is a friend of ours. This one though is looking for an American to marry. I say that I’m too old, and Rachael points out that that isn’t the only problem here.
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It’s been a long time since we participated in a group prayer event. We kept a close eye on our neighbors to see how to behave.
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At the end, we planted our incense sticks along with everyone else..
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So, back on the road again, we pick up the pace a bit because we’ve been set behind schedule by about an hour. The coming miles are more of the same, until we come to the outskirts of Tainan.  Tainan is another large, sprawling city.  It’s surprisingly accessible by bike though because it lies in a broad river delta beside the ocean, with the delta and the city itself crisscrossed by many rivers, channels and canals.  Many of these waterways have bike lanes beside them, so if you’re careful in picking your route you can get quite close to the city center before entering traffic.  Not a bad ride at all, and nothing like Taichung.  We’ll be here for two nights.

So what is this crop?
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Shawn AndersonI think those are rice crops.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Shawn AndersonI thought so at first, too, but then I noticed the people for scale in the upper left. They are harvesting the entire plant, and I am theorizing that it’s lemongrass.
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonIt’s a pretty large plant, alright. Those pyramids are perhaps two feet tall. Does lemongrass leaf out like this? I couldn’t find any photos of it that looked this way.
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2 months ago
Here’s a closer look, if that will help.
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I can’t tell if these two are working or just taking five in the shade.
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Andrea BrownSee the upright cut stalks a couple of rows in front of them? Probably they are replanting the next crop.
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownPossibly. Or maybe they’re just watching them grow.
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2 months ago
Approaching Tainan, we follow one of its many canal-side bike paths to the edge of the urban core.
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A female shoveler duck
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Black-winged stilts
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Ride stats today: 45 miles, 600’; for the tour: 681 miles. 31,700’

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 613 miles (987 km)

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Jen GrumbyHow awesome to connect with warm and welcoming people AND to enjoy a beautiful ride.

So glad that you're wrapping up the tour with these uplifting experiences. :0)
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2 months ago