Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Girls' Day Out in Goushung


I’m going to try to do justice to my “girls' day out” to Goushung. First, it was a day planned by my new friend, Debb. She introduced herself to us at McDonald’s one night. Then I had breakfast with her one Sat. morning and then she invited me and another friend, Jacie, to go on a day trip to Goushung. We are all teachers and within 2 years in age of each other. Jacie has been in Taiwan for almost 7 years and Debb for 18 months. Jacie is from Seattle and Debb is from the Cleveland area. Debb has visited Goushung many times and had a particular tour she has created for bringing visitors to the city, the second largest city on the island. Taipei being the first with just fewer than 8 million people. The island of Taiwan is the second most densely populated country in the world.

Note: Goushung, as most cities in Taiwan, has many spellings. On maps it is Kaohsiung. At the train station it is Ziaosing. But it is pronounced “Goushung,” so that is how it is spelled by the locals.

Note: Multiple spellings are a very common problem. One must be aware because if you have one spelling and expect to find it on a map or a bus schedule you may not be able to. Chia-yi is often written without the hyphen or with a “J” instead of “Ch”, which is phonetic but instinctively it is does not say it is the same city. We actually are considered to be a part of Putzu, which is spelled on signs throughout the city either Puzih, Putzu, Putzi or Phuzu. I want a job in our county to rewrite all the public signs with the uniform spelling of names. I’d also include in that job translating into proper English grammar instructions, advertising and general information. For example, the instructions on the package of the green onion pancake (which I love) that I fixed for supper last night need a better translator. The instructions actually said: “Adds a few drops of oil, put the pastry on the pot (flat-bottomed pan to be better) directly without defrosting, fries after both sides become golden color, extruding inward the both sides by using the chopsticks or the shovel, grasping the cake to assume fluffy.” I seriously think there’s a market for an English writer at that company! The city government has such a need, as well. Or should I dare say, the central government of Taiwan should also be looking for such a person. Actually, tourism is a brand new industry here so I’m sure they’ll get better at it.
But I digress.

Goushung is on a harbor with the Love River flowing into it.  It is, as all Taiwan, modern and new along with primitive and old.  The two are on top of each other.  The river itself is the focal point of the city and it, as I have read, has been under a beautification program for the past 10 years.  It has paid off.  It is lovely with river walkways, flower boxes, boat excursions and restaurants.

Debb had a whole itinerary worked out for the day trip since she had been there many times. It included taking the HSR from Chia-yi to Goushung, transferring to the bus just outside the train station to be taken to Monkey Mountain where after climbing the mountain we could have lunch at the Subway sandwich shop nearby. Then we would take the Redline subway to Lotus Pond, walk along Love River and have supper at a steak house then return on the HSR. The only two things that actually went as planned was getting there on the train and getting back on the train. In between, we went to Monkey Mountain and Lotus Pond but not as intended.

We got off the train at the huge HSR station where we crossed the street to the main bus stop. Debb couldn’t remember for sure which bus to take but was not worried about it being that there is an information booth right there. As we have found to be true in our short time here, though, the attendant in the booth did not speak a word of English. Debb brought her to the posted bus schedule, pointed to bus 56 and asked, “Monkey Mountain?” The attendant did seem to comprehend but couldn’t reply, so it went something like “OK, OK.” Head nodding, then shaking the finger like, “No. No.” What do you do with that? So Debb politely nodded to her and “Shi shi” (“Thank you”). We decided we’d wait and see if bus 56 might come by and go to Monkey Mountain. We waited a half hour and no bus 56 came by. When bus 67 and bus 45 and bus 78 went by twice and were coming around again, we decided we’d take a taxi (taxi’s are cheap). We crossed the street to the taxi stand where the taxi “director” brought us to a cab. We said, “Monkey Mountain?” and showed them the English/ Mandarin map. The “director” and the driver said something that sounded like “zoo.” Debb said the zoo is next to Monkey Mountain, so we said, “Yes, yes. Zoo. OK.” The three of us get in the cab…me in front. The driver is saying, “Zoo. Monkey Mountain. Monkeys. Monkeys. Monkeys.” We’re thinking he’s got the right idea. We head out of the downtown area and over the river and into neighborhoods that don’t really look like they are leading to any public area, no less the zoo. Debb is in the backseat going, “This isn’t the way to the zoo. This isn’t the way to Monkey Mountain. I don’t recognize any of this.” Suddenly we turn down what looks like an alley and the driver stops along a curb that has 4 monkey statues sitting on the sidewalk

The three of us look at each other and say, “Well…there must be monkeys here.” We get out, pay the driver and he takes off. There’s nothing to do but head toward the area that is obviously being announced by the monkey statues. We didn’t go far and were at the base of the most quaint (Chinese-style quaint) set of shops you’ve ever seen going up the hillside on both sides of a stone staircase. Atop these old Chinese shops were monkeys!

Monkeys were on the stone stairs, on the rails, on the ground, in the trees. They were everywhere! We had found Monkey Mountain! Not exactly the one Debb had been to before but a monkey mountain for sure! She said this was way better than where she had intended to take us. We walked a good ways up the stairs and as we climbed we watched the community of monkeys. Many were grooming each other. Baby monkeys were chasing each other, tumbling on the ground and swinging from the trees. One of the monkeys grabbed onto Jacie’s sweatshirt as we passed by. There was a mother and baby on the ground, so I assume it was the daddy protecting his family.  

My new friend, Debb, pointing to a monkey on the stone steps.
At the highest point we walked to, we turned around to come back down, and we saw a panoramic view of the modern city spread out beyond the river while we stood among this old environment still inhabited by monkeys!  

We walked back down the staircase and looked at the shops.  They had all their fruits and produce in cages so that the monkeys wouldn’t steal it.  We were all full of wonder at the hidden away spot we had just been to, but then the wonder became realistic in that we had no idea where we were and how we were going to get anywhere else.  We decided to wind our way out of this little neighborhood and get to a main road where we could find ourselves on the map. 

When we turned down the local road to our left, we were in front of a huge Buddhist temple. This was of interest to us because most of the temples in Chia-yi are Taoist…colorful and ornate. This was gray cement, simple and serene. We walked across the very large courtyard and up the wide steps.

There was a monk sitting at a simple wooden table to one side of the landing. He was bent over a book and obviously meditating on its content. He seemed oblivious to us. Jacie whispered that she’d been told that you never enter a Buddhist temple through the front doors…which these tall thick wooden doors were open. We were going to find a side door when the monk, without saying anything, motioned his hand to go around the side portico. Apparently he thought we were looking for a restroom because that is what was there, no side entrance to the temple.  

With the front doors open, though, we did see the inside. It had a huge Buddha at the front of the very large room with many rows of lit votive candles, very similar to a Catholic church. The open floor was covered with many red “hassock”-looking objects that I took to be “kneelers.” They were not flat on top but slanted so it looked to me that the person would kneel on the floor and lean onto this object. They were there for a purpose and that is my guess. It was a good opportunity to see the difference between a Buddhist temple and what see around our area. The worshippers in Chia-yi combine Taoism, Buddhism and folk religion, but their temples are Taoist.

Well, that was a distraction, but we really needed to figure out where we were. We walked to a city street and examined our map while we sat at an outside table at the 7-Eleven. From what we could make of it, we might not be too far from the river, which was our main landmark. We headed out down the street joking about being 3 old school teachers lost in Goushung! We walked a pretty long way and came upon a very large elementary school with a huge front courtyard and large steps all closed off from the sidewalk by a high wrought iron fence.  
Jaci and Debb discussing how we should get help outside the elementary school gate.
There were two young boys at the top of the steps. Debb and Jacie called out to them, “Help! Help! Get English teacher!” They must have scared them because they left but didn’t come back with an English teacher. However, there was a guard at the gate who came out with the shouting. Again, there was the language problem but he hailed us cab and, we thought he told the driver to take us to the Love River. The driver did get us into downtown, but he took us to the closest transit station. We paid him, got out and started walking again. This time we had our bearings and knew which direction to go to get to the river. After, several blocks it was where we expected to see it. By then we were getting quite hungry and changed our plan to eat at a steakhouse from supper to what was now a mid-afternoon meal. Debb knew there was an Outback on the river, so we headed for it.  

Along the way, we found another distraction. This weekend was the first of the “after New Year’s” Lantern Festivals and it took place here in Goushung. As we walked along the Love River on our way to Outback, we were able to see the lanterns on display from the past weekend. There are many lantern festivals, I’ve discovered. There is only one that releases traditional lanterns into the night sky like you see in pictures. Those are appropriately called “sky lanterns” and that festival will take place in a small town near Taipei on Feb. 6. The lanterns at most of the other festivals are large figures made with oilpaper stretched over a frame. The figures are made to represent the theme of the festival. This year in Goushung, the theme revolves around water creatures. We saw many kinds of fish, an octopus, a giant squid, a turtle and, though not necessarily a water creature, a dragon because it is the Year of the Dragon. These lanterns were on display after being judged in a contest. It reminded me of the ice sculptures for the Winter Carnival in St. Paul or the floats for the Rose Parade in Pasadena. These were not actually as big or as impressive as either of those, but they were very colorful and wonderful Chinese lanterns!

We walked on over the bridge to have a lovely meal on the patio at Outback. Debb had never had a Bloomin’ Onion! She loved it! We sat there for a long while resting and having “teacher talk.” Then it was time to move on if we were going to get to the Lotus Pond before the sun started to set.

We’d learned our lesson about trying to get around on our own. We asked the waitress at Outback to call a taxi for us! Minutes later, it arrived and took us straight to the Lotus Pond. This was not at all what I was expecting. I thought we were going to walk around a little pond with Oriental bridges and picturesque lily pads floating in the water. Oh, no, no, no. This was a partially man-made lake that had gigantic, wildly colorful figures from Confucian writings and folk legends. They call it an amusement park, but it had no rides. There were boardwalks that went all around the lake and to each of these huge figures.  

From the end where we started out, the first things we saw rising into the sky were two pagodas. Next to one was a dragon and next to the other was a tiger. Each of them had their mouths wide open so that people could walk inside of them. As was the case in the museum in Tainan, the “in” was to the left and the “out” was on the right. (That is opposite to Western flow pattern: “Always stay to the right.”) That meant that you went into the dragon’s mouth and out of the tiger’s. Inside these enormous animals were stairs that wound through the “belly of the beasts.” The walls inside were covered with murals of old folk tales. They were life-size and bursting with color. Some of the scenes were of Oriental sages and dynasties, gods floating on clouds, fishermen fishing, but then there were other ones that had angry monsters, hellish scenes and creatures with human distorted faces.  

We walked the boardwalk to several other of these “statues” that included another dragon that was big enough to walk into its mouth, more pagodas, more gods, and off in the distance was a huge Buddha…not painted and colorful, just gray rock. 

There were lanterns hung all around the boardwalk and down piers. There were several lotus ponds and the quaint little Oriental bridges that I had expected to see.

A pair of “auspicious” lions guarded the entry to every attraction, bridge and pier. These lions are everywhere on the island…people’s homes, factories, stores, government buildings…I mean everywhere. They are generally large and made of stone. They usually are mounted on a base and the lions have their front paws on a large ball that represents the world. The one on the left of the entrance is the female, oftentimes with a cub between her front paws and the one on the right is a male with coins hung around its neck. They represent the roles in the family which are to provide children and wealth. During New Year’s they decorate them all with red bows around their necks, another “auspicious” sign. “Auspicious” is almost a theological word in the Chinese belief system. It is synonymous with “lucky.” It is serious business to them. Everything seems to have a good or bad, lucky or evil power to it…numbers, colors, animals, furniture placement, angles of buildings and rooms…on and on it goes. Such it is with the lions. They have been assigned the character of being “auspicious.” Let me leave that subject for another time. There’s so much to say.

This is the male "auspicious" lion decorated for New Year's.
Lastly, as we left the park, there was a traveling Chinese opera being performed in a trailer with a painted backdrop and a little man off to the side with a wood block and hammer for sound effects and a little brass gong to signal scene changes. The costumes, make-up and hair decorations were fabulous. The music was not very pleasant, to be honest. There was no denying for those few hours at Lotus Pond that we were in the heart of Chinese culture!

The sun was setting. We were all tired. We caught a cab to the train station, hopped on car 6 and rode 30 minutes home to Chia-yi. We waved good-bye to Jacie as she got on her bus and Debb and I got on ours. Debb and I got off the bus and walked the rest of the way home…with a small detour for her to show me where the post office is. What an absolutely fun day for 3 old school teachers in Goushung!

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