i shaved this morning, in preparation for china, where i've been kindly told that the dress policy frowns upon anything other than a clean-shaven look. i didn't think much of it since i can easily grow back a goatee in a week, but it felt like i was losing my identity. i don't look good without a goatee (or at the very least i've grown used to having a beard of some kind), it makes my face look fat - which it is, according to the weight measurement on my health exam certificate, where i seemed to have tacked on 6 lbs. since leaving boston, and maybe even more since that was taken more than a week ago. but without a goatee i'm better able to blend into the crowd, and won't be mistaken for japanese anymore. but i don't really like blending in, i like standing out a bit, make people guess as to my true ethnicity.
there aren't a lot of taiwanese men with facial hair. maybe it's because it's so darn hot, it's cooler without a beard. when they do grow them, it's not often pretty. ethnically, chinese aren't particularly hairy, and facial hair tend to grow in wispy strands, the kind of intro mustachio some middle school boy might sport. all this goatee talk brings back memory of a recent encounter. i forgot where it happened, but i was admiring an old man with a long wispy goatee, walking up behind him, when all of a sudden he just lets one rip. he didn't he care that i was right behind him. i was so embarrassed for him and for himself that i pretended nothing happened and quickly walked ahead.
my contacts from china finally replied back. the person i'm meeting in shanghai doesn't seem to really know english so he basically stopped responding. his boss in chongqing actually wrote me back a more detailed message, said somebody would come pick me up at the airport and arrange a hotel that i would need to pay first (implying that i'd be reimbursed at some future date). he also told me not to worry about any additional paperwork issues. that made me feel a lot better, now i can truly relax and enjoy these last 48 hours here in taiwan.
today, i plan on going to yangmingshan, then heading in the opposite direction to muzha (taipei zoo stop) to ride the gondola up to maokong for a sunset view of city.
i have a lowkey morning tomorrow followed by some high impact running around all over taipei beginning at noon. on schedule are having lunch with my cousin, revisiting my grandmother's grave, and finally trying to work some maokong action before coming back to the office to meet up with my cousin one last time. also tomorrow i have to work my way through a list of relatives to call to tell them good bye (who knows when i'll see them again).
my original plan was too ambitious, especially given the fact that i easily loose track of time when i'm out naturing. my guidebook told me to go to jiantan station (one stop before shilin) and take either the red 5 or the 260 bus to yangmingshan national park. it took me a little while to find the actual bus stop and i couldn't find red 5 so i took the 260. unfortunately i took it in the wrong direction (back to taipei), and a few stops into my trip i asked the driver to confirm what i already suspected and got off. i went across the street to wait for the 260 bus going in the proper direction.
hopefully i can elaborate more at some point, but i had a great time at yangmingshan (YMS). to think i was considering not visiting this time around! i discovered that in all the times i've been coming to YMS, i'd actually been going to just yangmingshan park, which is just a small fraction of the total YMS experience. i went to the visitor center from the YMS bus terminal (i should've gotten off one stop earlier, would've saved me the half mile of ascending stair trail to get to the visitor center). is this place new? because i don't remember it from my last visit. the park rangers were super helpful, and knew right away i was a foreigner because i was looking at the english map. they offered some helpful pointers, and made sure i had enough water and snacks. i didn't leave right away, spending some time in the visitor center, checking out all the educational displays, including a very helpful panel of indigenous butterflies (apparently it's butterfly appreciation month) and a photo contest of YMS wildlife (there were some amazing photos).
from the visitor center i began my ascent to the summit of qixing (seven star) mountain, the highest peak in the taipei area with an elevation of 1120 meters (3675 ft). the ranger told me it was a 2.8 km hike, one way. i was relieved to hear that; that's about 1.7 miles, much lower than my estimate of 5-7 miles. the trail was paved with stone too, more like a series of seemingly infinite stairs. i figured this would be an easy outing, i could be in and out in 2-3 hours, and that's a conservative estimate with plenty of time to take photos and including xiaoyoukeng, an area dotted with sulfurous steam vents from a dead volcano. hiking up the mountain seems to be a popular past time with taiwanese seniors; it's its own form of kungfu because i was panting for air and sweating like i fell into the sea while they seemed totally fine and cool. and those stone stairs that i thought would be a leisurely walk became progressively more difficult as i began to grow tired, dehydrated, and hungry. i brought 2 bottled drinks (one purchased from the souvenir shop at a slightly elevated price of NT$30) and tried to ration my fluids, but it grew pointless once my drinks became warm.
i didn't see any birds but saw the silhouette of something large gliding above the tree canopy. later on i found a long blue feather. i did occasional hear birds, just couldn't see them. what i thought were birds singing this ringing call turned out to be cicadas. it's indescribable, but once i realized it was bugs and not birds, it was kind of scary, because there must've been millions of them hidden in the trees, all singing and (the strangest thing) stopping in unison. the sound was something you'd find on the soundtrack of a 70's giallo horror movie.
it grew cooler the higher i climbed, which gave me a second wind to carry on. the cooler temperature was refreshing, but i was worried it might get too cold, but then i realize even at its coldest, it'd still be nothing compared to new england cold. i'd meet other hikers (mostly seniors) but unlike back in the states, they weren't very friendly, and only about a quarter said hello, while the rest pretended not to see me and kept on walking. it grew hot again once i went above tree line and the tropical sun was beating down on me. in my haste to leave the office unnoticed (i didn't want anyone to see me without my goatee), i forgot a bunch of stuff, like my tablet PC GPS, my umbrella, my hat, even my deodorant. the one thing i did remember was bug repellent, but there was surprisingly few mosquitoes so i didn't even bother spraying. at least it wasn't raining, which would've made the ascent too slippery and dangerous on wet stones, plus the added threat of mud slides.
no birds but plenty of that other flying creature - butterflies! the searing heat actually made butterfly photography a lot easier, as they stopped to beat their wings to cool off. not only did i get a bunch of butterfly photos, i also shot a lot of HD movieclips, enough to make a butterfly of yangmingshan video when i get back home (US).
i also occasionally saw some stray lizards, similar to the 2 variety i saw in kenting - skinks and these other ones that had horny projections on their heads.
bilingual educational plaques kept reminding visitors that the southern side (the side of my ascent) of the mountain has more jungle vegetation and biodiversity, while the northern side - buffeted by constant monsoons - is more grassland (short bamboo groves). sure enough, once i reached the summit, the change in scenery was striking. mount qixing is high enough that clouds were scraping the edge of the mountain. there are actually two peaks (one looks north out to sea, one looks south towards the city) and i decided i'd only have time to see the taller one (southern peak).
while waiting for the 108 bus to take me back to the main yangmingshan bus station, several tour buses filled with chinese tourists pulled up in the empty parking lot. in case there was any confusion as to where they're from, one of the buses had "china tour" stamped on the side. and once they got off the bus, you could cut the china with a knife it was so thick, from their regional accents, to their demeanor (nouveau riche, you have to be pretty well off to travel abroad), to the way they dress (there was a 10 year old boy wearing pajamas, i wanted to take a photo but thought it was too cruel, even i have standards!). here in taiwan, chinese tourists are probably universally disliked (unless you're in the china tourism business, then business is booming). the problem is you hardly ever find individual chinese travelers; you always find them in a large tour group, and when the arrive, it's often not just one bus, but several buses, and they quickly outnumber the place. it's also their attitude. there's a lot let pretense of manners and courtesy in china, which can come off as rude (having spent time in china, i actually don't mind, but it's jarring when you're not used to it). and prices are always negotiable in china, but they're not the case in taiwan. even things with clearly marked price tags are open to haggling from a chinese perspective, which drives taiwanese vendors crazy (i have a kenting information center story i hope to share one of these days when i can find time to update my kenting entries). this influx of china chinese tourists has done something particular to the taiwanese psyche: it's increased a sense of taiwanese identity and nationality, and people here now see themselves more as taiwanese than chinese, or maybe at least taiwanese chinese as opposed to china chinese. if there was any hope of reunification, chinese tourists have pretty much ruined any chance of it.