waiting at the trainstation, platform 3, southbound to kaohsiung, my heart felt light. the whole trip took about seven hours (consciously choosing the slow train in lue of the fast or high speed train- price adjusts accordingly), where with each passing hour the sun shone brighter, the scenery greener, and the number of 7-11s gradually decreasing. at first it just seemed like town after town of scooter parking lots and overcast city hum drum, but soon i was flanked on the left by by foothills wrinkled lush-green and shape-shifting in the wind, and to my right the shoreline. there were farmers gobbled up by long grass in the distance, as well as powermills and random temples pock-marked here and there. the train conductor wore a face mask. there were several carts with munchies that rolled by every hour, with the famous lunchboxes for sale. we stopped about 30 times.
i arrived in kaohsiung around 7pm and felt as i had been warped into the MGM wizard of oz attraction. big plastic windmill flowers were arranged in a field that surrounded the escalator ramp. the subway here is easier than taipei's... yep... cleaner and not half as crowded. unfortanetly my easypass card from taipei's mrt does not work here. walking through central park (backpack heavy and sleepy from sitting too long) i crossed kaohsiung's central park with it's dainty chinese bridges arched over delicate streams... and yes babbling brooks, willows surrounding lovely ponds, fountains shooting jets. the streets are filled with art-light-deco, neon blinking and warping into tasteful kaleidescopes. my hostel is located near the love river. it cuts through kaohsiung and is bound on either side by tranquil footpaths and benches filled with snogging couples, young and old alike. after settling into my hostel, which has a cozy morrocan feel with its orange walls and warm wood, (tp in the toilet!! woot), and fridge with water and beer for sale, i walked along the river. it is lit beautifully at night, with little ferry boats covered in neon cords shaped like hearts and spelling out 'love', small tea stands, an auntie ann's pretzel shop, projectors showing taiwanese films, and a woman singing at a podium ('sex bomb' and 'color of the wind'). ahh... amour.
koahsiung has an air of gentle calm that i was in desperate need of. i have seen two 7-11s my whole time here and the number of bicycles are one and one with that of scooters!! everything is very well manicured, night markets are not crammed into some alley way but have breathing room throughout a whole street, and crowds are minimum.
i have learned though that i have absolutely no sense of direction. yesterday, after walking back and forth until my shirt clung sopping to my skin, i stopped and asked directions to the famous lotus pond. after a woman asked another woman asked another woman, turning my map 180 with cocked heads and babbling back n' forth saint Erin said that it would be much too far to walk... (that's what all the taiwanse say) and insisted that she drive me. if i wasn't about to drop on the spot i would have refused but she hustled me into her shop and gave me a juice box. i asked what her business was... air conditioning. thank you traveling gods!! she dropped me off at the dragon tiger pagoda (located at the north of lotus pond... not a pond at all but a huge lake). legend goes that you are supposed to enter the dragons mouth (actually walk into a dragon yes... inside are elaborate paintings of buddhists and goddesses, clouds and mythical creatures, some jutting out) and your supposed to exit the tigers- this will bring good fortune and banish bad luck. after all the temples and pagodas yesterday, and traveling for a day trip to tinan (taiwan's oldest city... but is just as shopaholic and hustle bustle as taipei) today with all its confucious temples and pagodas, all painted red and gold, all smelling of burnt sandlewood and eucalyptus... i must have banished any and all bad juju.
soo... don't worry ladies... ahem helen. i am quite a savvy traveler despite my lack of direction (which could be a good or bad thing). tomorrow i am heading to taitung to camp... somewhere aha... then to hulien, taroko gorge, and back to taipei. ... thank god i'm carrying my house with me.