3 Hours at Zhu-Wei Beach

竹圍海水浴場

Startled by the sound of my alarm, I squinted one eye open to check the time.  Saturday, 9 AM. Both eyes shut with ease as they refused to acknowledge the morning rays illuminating my room. Then a moment of clarity: “I want to go to the beach.”  I rolled over and whispered to Peter, “let’s go to the beach.”

We lounged in bed for another 30 minutes Googling “nearby beaches” and decided to venture to Zhu-Wei beach for proximity’s sake. The idle route is a low-stress environment to test ride Peter’s new 150 CC scooter. 

Ricoh 35 ZF – Agfa 400 ISO

With a trepid heart, I sat behind Peter and tightly squeezed his torso for the entire 14 km (8 mile) ride. Until that moment, I haven’t ridden a scooter since my accident in 2013. My left knee and hip still pain me from the collison.

We puttered past farms, tattered buildings, and brightly decorated bus stops, and my grip relaxed. A grin cemented on my face while the light breeze played with my hair and the sun kissed my cheeks. A giddy sense of adventure and spontaneity radiated within as I held on to Peter and watched the gentle clouds painted on the light blue sky slide by.

The joy and excitement shadowed my navigational duties. We missed a few turns and parked in a dilapidated lot. In the end, we found where sky meets sea; proof of a job well done.

Ricoh 35 ZF – Agfa 400 ISO

A range of emotions flowed through me as we walked onto the chocolate shore. At first glance the quaint and sleepy cove seemed an idyll place. Dogs played in the sea water quietly lapping onto shore. Parents watched their children dig holes in the sand from the comforting shade of rainbow umbrellas.

A few steps closer to shore, the sun reflected off a variety of plastic washed ashore from the Taiwan Strait. In lieu of seashells and rocks, plastic glittered along the shore — bottle caps, microwaveable containers, water bottles, and squeezed Coco cups.

The beauty and tranquility that beaches offer is why they’re revered in my eyes. Wind gliding over sand and waves gently greeting the land have a lulling effect which clears my mind. I’m instantly transported to an reflective state – uncluttered by anxiety and responsibilities.

This time the connection was disrupted by a grim reminder of human waste surrounding me.

I looked around and thought about every time I sipped on an iced latte from Starbucks, purchased carry out fried rice, chugged water from a plastic bottle,  and used plastic utensils because I was too lazy to find a metal fork.

Looking at the forgotten waste, I resolved to significantly reduce my consumption. It will be challenging considering I have limited vocabulary. I don’t even know the Chinese translation of “plastic” or how to politely say “I don’t need a straw.” It’s motivation to learn more Chinese phrases and simultaneously reduce.

The time evaporated as we raced and sprinted a few yards, threw a tennis ball while the water splashed our calves, and photographed the cloudy scenery.

Before we departed, I dipped my sandy feet in the water and a playful border collie greeted me with a purple Frisbee in mouth. She dropped the foam toy by my foot and with expectant eyes waited. (Only 10 minutes before this moment, Peter and I agreed that border collies are smart and fun because they can successfully play fetch.)  Amazed that she can read minds, or she can understand English, I scooped up the Frisbee and hurled it into the wind.

Peter and I rolled over in laughter as she kept returning the toy to me, and only me, for 15 minutes.

A perfect afternoon essentials: kindle, Frisbee, sea, dog, and boyfriend all together.

 

Hunger and Peter’s sunburn forced us to say goodbye to our new friend and find a shaded meal. A mile down the dusty road, we happened upon a Thai restaurant seated on the bed of a river along the outskirts of the fish market. We shared three spicy seafood dishes.

From the left to right: spicy seafood medley (mussels, shrimp, sea urchin, and other questionable meats), spicy shrimp soup, sweet potato greens mixed with chilies.

Peter swallowed a spoonful of soup into the wrong pipe, which left him coughing and teary-eyed the entire meal. I watched him with a grimace and asked myself “Do I help? … Can I help?” I refilled his water and avoided questions that could not be answered with yes or no.

Our delicious yet taciturn lunch marked the end of an endearing afternoon in Zhu-Wei. I can’t wait to see where Peter’s scooter will take us next.

A view of Zhu-Wei fishing harbor atop a pedestrian bridge leading to the Zhu-Wei fish market.

A Few of Pleasant Surprises

During the past two months of living in Taiwan, I’ve noticed and experienced the following.

The number of adorable stray dogs with collars

I photographed this doggo for over an hour my first week in Taoyuan. I thought to myself, “surely, this is someone’s beloved house pet.” Nope. This cutie is one of a dozen roaming the streets of Luzhu.

This sweet pup let me pet him, much to the surprise of locals.
I play tennis on a regular basis

Before I left for Taiwan, I played with Peter a few times (since this is his beloved sport). I went from hitting stray balls, to hitting a balls with limited accuracy. Now, I play at least three times a week – depending upon the rain – and I have greatly improved my strokes, volleys, and serves. (Side note: this is a very strange court; it’s sandy yet slippery like a clay court.)

A group of students from DaZhu Junior High asked to take a picture with Peter and I playing tennis.
Fried chicken Sandwiches for breakfast is the move

This isn’t ~entirely~ shocking since I hail from the land of fried chicken (Chick-fil-A, Zaxby’s, Cane’s, KFC, Popeyes) and I was low-key addicted to Chick-fil-A in college. But, fried chicken was typically reserved for lunch or dinner. Now, all I crave is a $45NT ($1.53USD) fried chicken sandwich in the morning. The bun varies – waffle, hamburger bun, crust-less sandwich bread – but the sweet fried chicken and egg combo remains the same. It’s heavenly.

A simple breakfast sandwich filled with fried chicken, lettuce, a thin layer of scrambled egg and sauce.
Because one image can’t do it justice.
Living without a car is bittersweet

It’s exciting and convenient to live in a community where work, grocery store, and 711 are all within a 900 meter radius. (Talk about carbon footprint reduction!) However, the only places close to me are work, grocery store, and 711. If I want to go to a coffee shop, movie theater, mall, or rock wall in the closest city, I have three options:

  1. 1 hour walk
  2. 1-1.5 hour bus ride
  3. 30-40 minute bike ride (on heavily congested streets with unrecognizable travel patterns)

Even though it’s satisfying to not drive a car on a daily basis, it’s quite the challenge to go anywhere beyond 4km.

A smooth cruising bike a teacher/friend loaned me for my stay.
A typical bus stop in Taoyuan: no overhang, no timetable, simply a list of routes in Chinese.
A max-capacity bus ride from Linkou to Taipei.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is heavily practiced

On a similar note, I’ve noticed that waste reduction is practiced by everyone on a consistent basis. Everywhere I go, people are separating recyclables, using reusable mugs for coffee, and using reusable tins for take-out. Additionally, the government has banned plastic bags, and some stores will give you a discount for using reusable containers. Rumor has it Taiwan plans to ban plastic straws and cups by 2030!

At my school, we separate recyclables from paper, different types of plastic, and cardboard.
Who knew double-stacked flat tires could look so chic protecting plants from falling over in strong winds?
There are so many layers of “reuse” in this image it makes my heart happy!
Even McDonald’s participates in waste management: four separate compartments for recycling, waste, liquid waste and cup recycling.
A common sight, old bath tubs (or maybe sinks) and Styrofoam containers are given new life as planters for community gardens.
Students Clean the school

A few years ago, I saw a video on Facebook about Japanese students cleaning their school to learn responsibility and reduce janitorial costs. I thought it was limited to that Japanese school. I’ve learned otherwise. Every morning, students arrive to school by 7:30AM to deep clean – classrooms, bathrooms, outdoor areas, offices, everything! Around lunch time, a flurry of students burst into my office to sweep, mop, organize paper work, and tidy the room. Honestly, it is shocking to witness because I cannot imagine my 15 year-old brother cleaning anything.

A large group of students sweeping up leaves from the track and outdoor seating.
Students use thick brooms to sweep up leaves surrounding the school buildings and track.
Two students sweeping the area in front of my office. Right behind them are two more students mopping the area they just swept.