I feel like I'm apologising a lot, but this time I really do need to. It's been quite a while since I last posted a blog and with all that has happened, inevitably I’m going to forget important details. Sorry.
So, let’s start as far back as my memory will allow - Friday the 5th of October. This date sticks in my mind because I was teaching some students and teachers to dance the Gay Gordons. Honestly, it could have gone better. This teaching is not easy if your knowledge is a bit ropey to start with. The good news is that we have two more rehearsals to learn it; the bad news is that we have to learn the Virginia Reel too.
However, it was not just the dancing that made this day memorable. It was also the day I delivered a short presentation on Scotland to some of the Cheng Kung University students studying English. Who would believe it, but they wanted to keep in touch, so I left them with my LINE (Taiwanese WhatsApp equivalent) and email address, before I headed for my Chinese language class. It was a Friday so I had a test. Damn. That’s where my memory goes blurry again. Maybe I went for a run after that... who knows?
The good news was that the next day was Saturday. I was taken to Chia Yi, a city about 45 miles north of Tainan by Molly (another teacher at Jhong Siao) and her family. We were joined by a huge number of families, who were either on a pilgrimage of some sort or were just a group of likeminded nature lovers. They all had nature names, so I had to pick one. Naturally, I chose "Rock" because I was standing on one at the time!
We made a few stops on the way to the hostel where we would spend the night. The most significant was to pay homage to one of the oldest trees in Taiwan, which is over 2000 years old, and as one might expect, rather large. I was a little confused when I was asked what the tree was telling me. I have yet to have a tree talk to me – I guess I’ve just never tried to engage in conversation before.
So, you can tell that I’m meeting plenty of interesting people and that continued when we arrived at the hostel. I met a couple (French man and Australian woman) who were preparing to climb up (sneak up) Mount Jade (玉山）at 3am to avoid the police, as they had failed to apply for a permit.
You can imagine the kerfuffle there was at the hostel finding the right number of beds for all the people in our group (about 100). It mostly flew over my head thankfully. After dinner and a shower, I was ready from bed, but that was not in the plan. I was invited to see the stars, which blew me away. Just for a moment, I want you to take me seriously. The night sky in the Taiwanese mountains is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The darkness caused by the lack of light pollution showed the true beauty of the Universe. The picture below doesn’t really do justice to it, but it shows the sky before the Sun had fully gone down.
And after the Sun had completely gone down and it was pitch black, we could see the Milky Way faintly. Maybe I’ll switch from engineering to astronomy – that was one special night!
The next morning, we travelled by minibus to a trail that winds up the mountain through a bamboo forest. We walked the trail in double quick time – we completed the route that was meant to take the whole day before 11 o'clock in the morning and so we had lunch and waited in the Wildlife Centre for the bus to come to take us home.
I always seem to be arriving home knackered (knackered but happy) and I always seem to be arriving home with loads of homework to finish, and so it was last weekend.
Now my memory loss kicks in again. All I really remember of last week at school is that Kwung Rong, En Rong, Xie Long and I didn't get to play badminton because some young miscreants were kept in after school (school children are the same all over the world!). The silver lining is that I was able to complete my own homework.
And then, on Friday, there was no dance practice thanks to it being a holiday. This was because Saturday 10th October was National Day (双十节) here in Taiwan, which commemorates the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1912.
On Friday, I met up with Winnie again at 11am and she drove me to lunch with her parents. She is a horrendous driver. That's all I'm going to say on the subject. Lunch was very fancy. According to Winnie's father it's the number 1 restaurant in all of Tainan. I must have deserved this because I looked after his daughter so well in Edinburgh! The meal was fantastic. After lunch, Winnie and her father took me to a few sites in Tainan. Fortunately her father was driving this time. We went to the Confucius temple built in 1665 and made a wish. I obviously can't tell you what I wished for or it won't come true.
A great day on Friday was rounded off with more food. Yu Ying (she sits across from me in the office) took me for dinner in the Dream Shopping Mall and then to see "The Martian" at a cinema with her husband and her son, who is 16. Fortunately for me, lots of films are in English with Chinese subtitles.
Yu Ying looked after me on Saturday too. She took me to Chia Yi to meet her extended family. Here is one of the pictures we took half way up the mountain where we met up with the rest of the family before continuing in a small convoy to the hotel where we were staying.
My sleeping arrangements have, on occasions, been interesting. This was one of those occasions. I was sharing a bed with Yu Ying's son. You can understand why he kept rolling over my side to hug me by wrapping his arm and leg around me, but it wasn’t that restful for me. As my side of the bed was against the wall there was no escape. I ended up using my pillow as a shield and sleeping with no pillow. Traumatic experience aside it was a very nice hotel!
On Sunday, we saw more of the mountain before heading home to a heap of homework. I thanked Yu Ying for a lovely weekend and thought about the week ahead, which will be the subject of my next blog...