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fast-forward to Hualien
singapore sunset
amw
Oh bloody hell. It appears Hualien is a backpacker destination. It's a small city on the east coast of Taiwan i think mostly famous for being "close" (couple hours drive) to a nature area called Taroko Gorge. If the city is anything to go by, i imagine the country is even more spectacular. To my west is a steep mountain range covered in jungle and split by dramatic cliffs and waterfalls, to my east is the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday i sat down on a rock beside the ocean and watched the waves come crashing in. There is a distinct violence and vastness that oceans have that seas do not. It's an awesome location.

But this town is very spread out and walking anywhere takes ages. The coast is 20 minutes walk from my hotel, which is 30 minutes walk from the train station, which is 20 minutes walk from "downtown", and there isn't a whole lot to see in between. Most people ride scooters. I didn't notice the air pollution in Taiwan when i first arrived here, probably because i had just spent three weeks breathing in diesel fumes on a container ship, but it's bad. In mainland China the pollution is also bad, but it's more of an ambient industrial haze that makes your eyes itch. Here the stink is clearly identifiable as car and scooter fumes. I can understand using internal combustion engines in the mountains where a bicycle would be exhausting and electic vehicles would run out of battery quicksmart, but there is no excuse on the plains. Mainland China is lightyears ahead of Taiwan in this regard.

Anyway, since i spent so much time walking around, i noticed there appear to be more hostels in this town than any other i have visited. Last night i visited the local night market, which is actually one of the most "fun" i have visited, in the sense that it had lots of buskers for a soundtrack and beer gardens for the adults and fairground games for the kids. It felt like a Western Europe market with Chinese food. But there were also lots of foreign tourists tugging each other this way and that. One even came up to me - uninvited - and decided to tell me her favorite stall in the market and how the sandwiches there were unlike any other night market in Taiwan and bla bla bla. One busker was the typical white-hippie-with-a-guitar that marketgoers all over the world are familiar with. I must admit he impressed me (and the domestic tourists) by belting out a karaoke fave in Chinese. Many of the food stalls had English translations, and a few even had the English word "vegan" prominently displayed - a western term that i think i have only seen at one restaurant since leaving Europe. But the moment i really hit peak backpacker was when i passed the stall making banana pancakes. I have never been anywhere on the banana pancake trail, so i don't even know if that's a real thing or just a stereotype, but even if it was an ironic stall i had to roll my eyes. Is this the Byron Bay of Taiwan? Maybe. Probably not, probably there are even hippier places down the coast near the surf beaches, but still.

I guess i should just embrace it. I came down here to relax, to take a breather from my fast travel across East Asia and decide how to blow whatever remains of my savings. I guess hanging out in towns bursting with backpackers is not the worst way to relax, as long as they leave me alone. At least it reduces the appeal of the cultural tourism style sightseeing that i usually do, which gives me more time to catch up on email and whatnot.

You might notice i skipped over Hong Kong and Taipei. Since they were both cities i had already visited, the "exploration factor" was lower. Hong Kong was still visually stunning but insanely expensive and culturally parochial. Taipei was still a great pan-Asian blender of a city where i was mostly grateful for the fast internet and indie/hipster coffee shops. In Hong Kong i spent a day walking out to far-flung beaches and bays in the New Territories. In Taipei i rented a bike and rode up and down the riverside greenways.

I have been doing a lot of reflecting on mainland China and how i square my enjoyment of it with my personal ethics and political views. I had a brief but interesting chat with a young stoner in Hong Kong who had an unexpected viewpoint. I would like to do a more political post, and solicit your opinion, but i need some time to think about it. So, today i am going to try find enough food in this town to make a pack lunch and then head back out to the coast to sit in the sun and watch the waves and collect my thoughts.
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