Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day in the Republic of China

To date, our journey around Taiwan seems to involve confounding our expectations: we keep setting off towards some destination, only to be waylaid by another attraction or just by walking in the wrong direction for an hour.

Today we planned to go see the sculptures in the Jinmeng Park. Unfortunately, instead of taking the train to Keelung and a taxi to Jingmeng Park, I had the bright idea of going to Danshui on the MRT, in order to get the same curry that we'd had the night before, for lunch.

The trouble with this plan is that Danshui is on the opposite side of the peninsula to Jinshan and Jinmeng, and although we solved that with a thousand-dollar taxi ride, we didn't get to Jinshan until one p.m., when the fog was beginning to roll in from the coast.

We'd actually driven past the Jinmeng Park in the taxi, but once in Jinshan we were distracted by various temples and market stalls (and market stalls in temples). In an act of either flagrant egotism or great advertising, a woman named Mrs Lui was selling bags of deep fried taro balls, with her visage printed on every bag. Certainly her stall was very popular, so we purchased a bag (although now I look at it, I realise we got the only bag without her on the front - we'd been gipped by those crafty Jinshen folk). Then we looked at some more temples, and a rather odd toyshop that sold Spongebob Squarepants dolls, postcards that could be cut and folded into images of the New Year Monster, and fully automatic air rifles. If these all catered to the same demographic then I'm basically petrified of being shot to death with ball-bearings fired by somebody obsessed with homoerotic, sea-dwelling cartoon characters, with a side interest in half-hearted origami. And that sounds like the kind of person who could be counted in the millions.

By now I was beginning to suffer temple fatigue, so we wandered back to the crossroads we'd first entered Jinshan by, where I'd spotted a restaurant. Sitting down upstairs, I heard a man talking in a northern English accent; I was trying to place him as either Tynesider or Cumbrian. He came over to us and introduced himself - he was from Yorkshire, which meant on average I was right, even though either of my choices would have been hopelessly wrong.

We ended up talking to him for an hour, while the fog thickened and the chances of reaching Jinmeng Park declined, but on Christmas Day it was comforting to me to hear a northern accent, rather than either English-as-it-is-spoke by Hong Kongers (usually slightly stilted and in some inexplicable way slightly wrong), or either an American or southern English accent. I suppose that while I'm not particularly homesick for England, the richness of regional variation in accents is something that I do miss. And biscuits.

And the right sort of sandwiches in Marks & Spencer.
And paying less than five pounds for a copy of Viz.
And decent television programmes.
And being able to visit Stockholm for the weekend.
And being able to ride my bike off road without first risking death by tram, poisonous fumes and bureaucracy.
And buses that don't spew black clouds of diesel soot like emission regulations were some strange idea that only lunatics would come up with.
And decent bread.
And living somewhere with more than one floor.
And parks.
And a variety of good bookshops.
And going to the pub with my mates.

So basically, I don't miss England at all. There is no way I can think of that it is superior to life in Hong Kong whatsoever. Ok, it's hard to find somewhere in Hong Kong to get headbutted by an angry drunk, or stabbed, or pay vastly over the odds for public transportation, but I'm sure once they've got those things solved I'll have nothing to complain about.

Eventually, Brian had to walk his dogs with his wife, so we went our separate ways: us into a taxi driven at ludicrous speed through the winding coastal and mountain roads, reaching Keelung in under half an hour, and swiftly catching the train back to Taipei. At least I hope we're going back to Taipei. Given our organisational prowess thus far, maybe we'll end up in Kaohsiung a day early, banging on the doors of the Big Eye Tuna Hotel and pleading that they accomodate us early.


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