December 13, 2006

Episode X: Speech of the spirit


If you live in southern Taiwan, there is a special place you should visit, no matter if you follow any religion or not. It is something more that just temples and monks. That place is Fo Guang Shan monastery, located about an hour ride by bus in direction north-east from Kaohsiung city.
I have been growing up in a society which is statistically Roman-Catholic in 95 percents. I am not very happy to admit that but have to say that Polish people are not very open-minded and tolerant to other worships and religions. This is one of the reasons why I want to learn as much as possible about Taiwanese customs and beliefs by visiting spots such as Fo Guang Shan.

The monastery is placed on a hill and it’s surrounded by walls. Whole area is impressive and there are enough attractions to stay there for at least half day.

My friends and I had a pleasure to meet a young Buddha monk at the main entrance just when we arrived to the monastery. He served to us as a guide for a next few hours. Answered countless number of our questions that could probably drive somebody else mad, but he was happy to explain everything to us and he did it with a smile on his face, what I really appreciate. Thank you Khedrup.

First thing that will visitor find exciting in Fo Guang Shan is an alley of hundreds white Buddha statues, arranged on both sides of the walk way. Every face and gesture is different, symbolizing a virtue or an attribute of Buddha. Later inside the monastery, cute and lovely figures of baby monks will be found in small gardens put between the temples and shrines.
All guests are treated with lunch which offers fantastic choice of vegetarian food, prepared accordingly to the old and special recipe, for centuries developed and improved by monks.

You should not leave Fo Guang Shan before you climb to the top of the hill where great and tall gold Buddha monument had been built. Believe me, you will be pleased with the scenery. Whole place is filled with beautiful plants, flowers, trees and spots like wishing ponds and bamboo forest, so do I need to tell you more to make you visit this extraordinary destination.
Hospitality of the people met in monastery is something really touching. Every visitor or pilgrim is welcomed and will not be refused a shelter. Most of the monks are eradiating with their smiles and friendly appearance. An atmosphere is peaceful and relaxed.

I would like to say that I’m not a Buddhist myself and most probably will never become but places such as Fo Guang Shan I always visit with highest respect, interest and pleasure.

Episode IX: Deep Blue


Kaohsiung people should be proud of their city. Love River, in the past also known as a smelly river, was cleaned. Now serves as a symbol of the city and is a wonderful place to go for a walk. It’s a great thing but I mean something else. I mean the fact that Kaohsiung is the sixth biggest container port in the world. Unbelievable is an amount of goods that go through it. It’s hard to imagine.
I believe that harbour is very important to the city. Mainly because local government plans lots of investments, modernizations and development projects. This part of the city is always under construction at the moment and will be great when accomplished. Entertainment area with many attractions and venues to spend time at. Also other useful facilities that will bring some learning opportunities to the people of Kaohsiung. There are a lot of things happening here.

By the way, last week I had a pleasure to visit Kaohsiung harbour while having relaxing boat ride during warm and sunny noon time. To see all those big tankers and other cargo ships was highly exciting and truly interesting. Their size is impressive. Long as a football pitch. Wide as the widest road in Taipei. Heavy as steel and iron. How those giants can sail and not sink? I know it’s a question that small boy would ask, but things like this will always be a mystery for me, although I’m not a small boy anymore!
Seeing the names of the countries on the sterns of the ships made me imagine untold adventure stories that happen onboard and during travels across the oceans.

Sea is mesmerizing. It’s hard for me not to look at it and just remain silent for a moment. I wish the waves embrace me with its merciless and humming arms. Their melody and voice make a man follow it into the blue depth, in pursue of the unknown miracle of the ocean.

As the part of the Kaohsiung port, Cijin Island is a place worth of paying a visit. Sweet barbeque squid is not a thing to miss there. Cijin beach does not compete with Kenting beach, but Cijin lighthouse offers a wonderful viewing point. Definitely it’s a right place to go and take some photographs of the city.
If we need some exercises, why not to ride a bicycle around the island. It’s easier than in the city because of a smaller number of the cars and scooters on the streets.

Kaohsiung is the city of an ocean. Let the ocean to ourselves. It’s on our side.

Episode VIII: My day


Usually from Monday to Friday, when my watch shows noon, I go to eat my lunch. Before I first came to Taiwan I have never eaten lunch because we don’t have this custom in Poland. We have breakfast, dinner around two or three o’clock and supper around seven or eight. Eating lunch in Kaohsiung for me is difficult a bit. It takes more time for me to get hungry after breakfast than just till 12 o’clock. I eat but most of the time it’s because all the people do, not because I really need it.

In City Hall there’s a nice place you can have a decent breakfast and lunch. It’s on the 11th floor, so I use an elevator to get there. In the morning I often have a toast sandwich with immortal peanut butter and jam.
Funny thing is, the lady who sells those toasts, recognizes me. She must think I’m American or Canadian I guess, so she always speaks English to me when I come there. I know she tries to be nice but I also make an effort saying: “Tzao”, “Xie-xie” and “Tzay-tzien”. She will always reply: “Good morning”, “Thank you” and “Good bye”. Who’s Taiwanese and who’s foreign in the end?

Lunch time comes I go to buffet, my favorite place to figure out some great meal. I like buffet for a simple reason. I can take a close look at the food. It’s organized in sections of vegetables, fish, meat, noodles and so on and so forth. Lately, my best pick are eggplants, tomatoes with eggs, fried pumpkin, sweet potatoes and spicy tofu. I prefer mixed rice of different kinds to regular white one. It’s healthier and tastes better.
Another new thing to me in Taiwan is a naptime. People don’t sleep at work in Poland. There is simply no break. You are supposed to keep working for eight hours and you can relax at home, not in the office. To have a nap in an Asian country is reasonable in my opinion because of high temperatures that make you feel tired after few hours. I’m sure you can work better and more effective if you relax a bit in the meantime.

Around seven o’clock I usually look for my dinner. Favorite place is a street stall with variety of tofu, vegetables and dry noodles. I enjoy watching the vendor preparing my order. Cutting, boiling, putting spices. All those ordinary things bring me fun.
If I like to prepare something for myself, I go to the shop and buy some fresh piece of tuna fish, wazabi and Soya sauce and great sashimi is ready. It’s fantastic, especially for the person who tried raw fish for the first time three months ago. I cannot live without it now. – “Chia-ba-bwey?” – “Chia-ba!”

Episode VII: Yesterday and Tomorrow


Somewhere last week I went to capital city of Taiwan. As the name says it is in the north of the country. Airplane flight takes approximately 40 minutes to take off from Kaohsiung and hit the Taipei airport. It’s about the same time I used to spend on the bus, on my way to city center, from Tsoying District. Time and space is really flying up there.
First impression of Taipei was pretty disappointing because of the rain. I couldn’t visit much, so stayed at friend’s family, drinking oo-long tea and eating muffins. On the other hand, there was not enough time to go anywhere.

Than we went to the hotel where representatives of my home-country Poland, were celebrating national day of independence. We joined the party. One lady treated us with great piano piece of the most famous Polish composer Frederik Shopen. Audience was delighted.
I found speaking Polish again, after 3 months without it, as something strange. I tried to squeeze some words from me but it sounded like I haven’t been to Poland for 10 years. I completely switched myself to English lately and it’s more natural to me at the moment. I didn’t feel very comfortable with my Polish at first. Thanks to one Polish girl I met recently. I had an opportunity to practice a bit.

Straight from the hotel we moved to the airport again to catch our flight. Never before I went to one place and came back on the plane during the same day. Fact I’m a little bit afraid of flying made me feel anxious. You can imagine, it was a day full of attractions to me.

After visiting Taipei I know now why Kaohsiung needs its MRT so badly. It’s much more convenient and environment friendly than cars. Instead of thousands scooters, underground will serve as a main mean of transport in the city. Hopefully it’s going to be launched in the nearest months. I keep my fingers crossed. It’s our common cause I think.
After the aim is accomplished Kaohsiung will be much easier to move through. Foreigners like me will have fewer problems with reaching some parts of the city. Future looks promising. Keep it real friends.

Episode VI: Going South


Pack of my international friends and me decided to go to visit the most famous and the biggest beach in southern Taiwan – Kenting.
We were aware that it is winter time now in Taiwan and temperatures are pretty uncomfortable and maybe it is not the best moment to go and enjoy a swim in the sea, but try to explain to Canadian or Polish lad, that winter is about 20 centigrade and you should wear a wooly hat and a jacket.

As I said before, Taiwanese winter is like late summer in Poland, so there’s no way to frighten me with the weather conditions in November on the Tropic of Cancer.

First thing that struck us after arriving to Kenting, was a smashing wind, whiffing like a typhoon, blowing away our helmets and silencing our scooter’s engines. Riding a scooter on your own can be dangerous if you don’t weight much. You can simply fly off. Better find a company to get your vehicle balanced.
Wind made our eyes water, our ears deaf and our legs unstable. We haven’t seen any objects flying but it was close to that. Especially when we went to the great cliff, where wind halted words in our mouths, not letting them come out. We felt like visiting another planet. The light turned orange, our sight went out of focus. This experience will remain in our minds for a long time, that’s guaranteed.

On the beach we were welcomed with a small sand storm that widely lashed our bodies and covered our belongings. Big and fresh waves brought a delighting joy when we drop into the sea. Salt water annoyed our eyes and noses with a strong savor. Struggling against heavy waves reminded me the times I have spent with my father at the Polish seaside many years ago. He always used to call me to get back to lie on the towel for a while. As a kid I was fascinated with the power of an element. My notion did not change much since those careless days.

Except the beach, Kenting offers a brilliant National Park, where visitors are attracted with many gloomy and deep caves, forest of palms and other trees and viewing tower that gives a splendid panorama of the area.
After two days spent outside of the city it was good to come back to Kaohsiung to start another exciting week. Hope you have as such motivation as I do. Cheers!

Episode V: Winter time


Did all of you already buy warm wooly hats, cotton gloves, jackets and scarves? Hey! It’s winter time in Taiwan. We have to be prepared for a few months of tough weather. Maybe you will not believe me but I’m telling you. Temperature in Kaohsiung, during cold weeks can drop to freezing 15 centigrade. No joking, it’s serious. Beware!
This winter in my home-country Poland, was really cold. They say it was the toughest winter in half of century. -20 or even -30 centigrade. Everything was stone-cold frozen. Staying outside made you hurt after 10 minutes. That’s one of the reasons I came to Kaohsiung to witness winter with no snow, no frost, no mud, and no minus temperatures.

But if you enter a clothing shop, you will have an impression that winter is going to be raw. All kinds of jackets, anoraks, coats, armed with wooly collars and hoods, warm caps, hats, drawers and socks are available. But where are you going to wear it? Are you planning a trip to Himalaya Mountains?
Actually, winter time in Taiwan is like late summer in Poland. It’s pretty funny to see people wearing jackets on the beach while water is fine to go for a swim. Any weather below 20 centigrade is considered here as very uncomfortable, annoying and strict. You should ask my friend from Canada what does he think about that.

Tropic areas are characteristic because of its stable and predictable nature. Annual amplitude is relatively low. Let’s exaggerate and say around 17 centigrade. In Poland it could be 40. Showers and typhoons appear in regular order on the tropic. Humidity in August makes people sweat even if remain motionless.

Tropic of Cancer crosses an island of Formosa. It exactly goes through Hua-lien County on the east and Chaiyi County on the west of the country. I think I will go there and take a photo next time when I visit my fellow in Chaiyi. Weather in Taiwan allows people to play outdoor sports during the whole year. It promotes exercises, healthy life-style, open-air activities, social gatherings and night parties. In Poland, for example football league usually has a winter break that lasts more that 3 months. To be the best you need to have the conditions to practice all year long I believe. Maybe that somehow explains poor performance of Polish sportsman on an international level.

To summarize briefly, Taiwanese winter is still summer for me, for young lad from Eastern Europe.

Episode IV: The wheels roll


They say Kaohsiung is a city of million scooters. I think it is impossible to count them all, but probably this number is accurate. At least government’s website says that. It is absolutely amazing because city’s population is just around 1.5 million.
According to the statistics, air pollution problem does not surprise me any more. No clear and blue sky on the photographs will be found. Forget the postcards. They are using computers to put colours on it.

We all know that keeping one million motorcycles in such a small area is not environment friendly. We also know it is not healthy, because after we get a scooter, we will always drive, even to the closest shop, just around the corner.

I found out that while driving in Kaohsiung, you must be extremelly careful. Somewhere there will always be a young person, driving with no helmet and talking on the mobile phone, speeding and overtaking every vehicle possible. Left side of the street is also good to drive for them. Does not matter if somebody is coming in their way.

Don't ask about the red light. Red and green are very similar so why bother making way for the others. If it's necessery, okey we stop, but not always. It depends.
Other thing are taxis. They behave like all city belongs to them. No laws and rules are important and respected. Just take the customer, reach the destination and make money. If somebody gets killed while being overtaken by taxi, we are sorry but that's life.

On the other hand having a scooter in Kaohsiung is really convinient and comfortable. City is big and you can easily waste one hour on the bus to get from one place to another. If you want to save your time, motorcycle is the only alternative. It's cheap and fast.

There are some places that you can see few houndred bikes parked. First thing you have to do after getting one is learn your plate number by heart. You will be in trouble if you forget it. Most of the scooters look almost the same.
Riding a scooter on a wide, empty street makes you feel good and happy. You cut the air like a sharp knife. Feel the air that touches your skin and face. You don't want to stop. You want to fly and take a look at the face of earth from bird's perspective. Enjoy the moment. This is now.

Episode III: Exploring the country


During five days off, including the Moon Festival and the 10th of October, I had my first chance to visit some other cities of Taiwan. Direction: north from Kaohsiung.

Before the trip started, few of my friends and me enjoyed great barbecue on Friday. We ate like we are usually able to eat during the whole week. Nobody left the party hungry or thirsty. Once again, Taiwanese hospitality made us fell like home. According to the duty, all of us tasted fantastic flavor of the moon-cake.

We have witnessed beautiful firework display that I can only compare to what people in Poland do on the 31st of December, on the New Years Eve.
On Saturday our exciting trip began. At the beginning it was only my friend and me, but after all it turned to be a group of four. Let me explain.

We took the train from Kaohsiung to Chaiyi, where my friend’s friend lives with his family. City seems to be much smaller than Kaohsiung. Not that crowded and polluted. We spent our lovely evening in fine sea-food restaurant, drinking French red wine. Yes, we liked it a lot.
Sunday morning, now three of us, depart to Taichung to meet another friend. We were invited to lunch with her parents. It was an indescribable feast. We have been celebrating with a bottle of whisky, so my friends, You can imagine what’s happened after few “gambey!”

To clear our minds we went for a bicycle ride outside of Taichung, to visit the Shu-Kang dam and bridges destroyed by earthquake in September 1999. We were expecting peaceful and quiet place, but we found traffic, characteristic for Kaohsiung’s Mingzhu road.

It’s really difficult to find a place in Taiwan with no people in it. I’m not even sure about Yu-Shan, the highest mountain of the island.

Returning to the trip, in the evening we went to traditional, modest and pleasurable barbecue at our friend’s grandma’s house. We discovered how hard it is to eat the crab fast. We have filled our stomachs, only after focusing more on bamboo.

The atmosphere was inexpressibly kind and enjoyable. We were treated like family members, no different to the others.
The last part of our beautiful trip was city of Tainan. Confucius Temple welcomed us warm. I was delighted with its relaxed aura and mysterious scent. No doubt, it is a perfect place for meditations and reflections.

No visitor to Taiwan is allowed to leave before trying so-called stinky tofu. It has got a strong flavor which I found really toothsome. Maybe it’s not the easiest thing to eat, but definitely worth of giving a try.

On the double ten, the 95th anniversary of establishing of Republic of China, our gang went to join celebrating crowd, gathered at the Kaohsiung’s Love River. The music was very loud and ideal to dance to. DJs were doing everything, to move the people, to make them party, by squeezing decibels from the speakers. I was astonished, a few thousand people was staring at the small group of dancers on stage. Doing nothing, not even moving their legs. It looked like they are not happy enough to dance. Fortunately it didn’t bother our celebration of Taiwan’s birthday.

Episode II: World of Sensations


Asian food is one of those things that foreigner will be immediately impressed with, after arriving to this part of the world. Anybody who is sensitive and passionate about flavors, smells and art of preparing meals must recognize Asia as a place to be. I have no doubts about it.

To be honest with you, dear listeners, I need to say that Polish cuisine seems to me, as very poor and limited comparing to variety of choices I found here, in Taiwan. Let me tell you how traditional Polish dinner look like.
Usually we have a soup first. It is served in flat and much bigger bowls that are commonly used here. Most popular are: tomato soup, cucumber soup and cabbage soup. It can be pretty thick and fat, depends on whose grandmother is cooking. Main dish is often a piece of pork or beef with potatoes and boiled carrot or green peas.

People following vegetarian diet are facing many problems finding proper places to eat that kind of food in Poland. But fortunately it’s not an issue in Taiwan.

I was absolutely delighted after my first visit to a restaurant in Kaohsiung. People who are taking care of me took me there on the day of my arrival. Number of served goods was astonishing. I can’t even recall all the things I tried. I just know I enjoyed it a lot. Soup, rice, vegetables, fish, fruits. All, so much different to what I know from Europe.
Taiwanese cuisine presents wide selection of spices I have never heard about and tried before. Everyday I discover some new tastes, textures and flavors. It’s a fascinating travel through the world of sensations.

It will probably sound like a banal to you but I really like an idea of sharing food on the table. In Poland we always eat on separate plates. We don’t look at somebody’s food. Just eat what you have ordered. Having a meal in Taiwan is much more social activity. It’s simply easier to get closer to each other if you share the food.

In my opinion, diet based on fresh vegetables, fruits and sea-food is healthier than greasy, monotonous and full of hydro-carbons Polish or British cuisine. Concluding, there are not many better places for food then south of Taiwan. That’s another reason I’m happy to be here.
According to my one-year-long stay in Kaohsiung I made a commitment to myself. It’s not very serious but still demands some sacrifice. I will try to use chopsticks during my next 12 months here. OK, unless a meal really requires using fork and knife.

Episode I: First day in Kaohsiung


My name is Adam. I come from Inowroclaw. It's a small city in the center of Poland with 80,000 inhabitants. Located 200 kilometers west from Polish capitol - Warsaw. Inowroclaw used to be well-known from salt mines which had been closed some time ago. Now there are many sanatoriums, spas and big glass factory. Inowroclaw is my hometown but I have spent last 5 years in city of Torun, where my beloved university is.
Torun is famous for being home to great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who provided the first modern formulation of a heliocentric theory of the solar system in 1543.
I have met my best friends in Torun and memories from that place will never fade away and will forever stay in my heart.

I've got graduated from university in July 2006. My field is journalism and media. I'm very passionate about Polish literature, movies from 70's, hard rock music and football, better known here as soccer. After my first 4 weeks in Asia I've already started to follow baseball.
I have spent some time abroad, before coming to Kaohsiung, but never outside of Europe. I have been to Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Czech, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and England. My favorite places abroad are Glasgow (in southern Scotland) and Valencia (in eastern Spain). Both cities are ports, exactly like Kaohsiung but not that big and crowded.

Why did I come here? Because I am taking part in the project held between Kaohsiung City Government and international student's organization - AIESEC. I'm a trainee among 3 other young people from Japan, Russia and Italy. My place of work here, is Information Office in City Hall. That also means I'm spending time in Kaohsiung Municipal Film Archive and here, at Kaohsiung Broadcasting Station as branches of my home-department. I'm willing to stay in Taiwan for one year.

My air travel to Taiwan took around 19 hours including visits to 4 different airports. Warsaw, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and finally Kaohsiung in the afternoon of August 29th 2006.

Immediately after I have left the airport I was struck by humidity at the level I've never experienced before. Highway seemed to be a hot pan, with me on it like a piece of tofu. Taxi driver chewing betelnut and smiling at the same time. Everything looked much different at this part of the world. At least for me. Surrounding people, architecture, plants, even sunlight. I felt like I was discovering something absolutely new and mysterious. Like beginning a new life.
Every day here is a blessing. Every day I learn something and gather lifetime experience. It's still just my first month here but I already know I will never forget it. And I hope people here will not forget me.

If you like to read some of my film reviews, which I have written for Kaohsiung Film Archive click here.