The Liji badlands (or, as they call it in Taiwan, "moon world") is similar to the Caoshan badlands i visited near Tainan. Essentially it's a dried-out riverbed and the cliffs alongside it that melt and retreat a little further each rainy season. But Liji was far more spectacular - there was a large overpass to cycle across and several old structures had collapsed into the riverbed during an earlier flood. I walked out onto the flats jumping from stone to stone to avoid making footprints and ruining the scene. There was no-one else around, so when the sun reached feebly through gunmetal clouds the whole place looked post-apocalyptic. It was awesome.
I really enjoyed Taitung. It wasn't an idyllic beachside village - though i'm sure there are some of those close by - but it was a pleasant country town with ocean on one side and mountains on the other and a badlands and a greenway and a bit of indigenous pride and character that helped it feel unique in Taiwan.
I would have liked to spend a bit longer on the east coast and maybe do some of those famous coastal bike routes, but my body was not having it. My sunburn was still hurting and making my shins and feet feel useless. Two or three hours of cycling a day was my limit, so i thought it might perk me up to head back to my "home base". It did.
I'm not sure why Kaohsiung is my favorite city in Taiwan. There is nothing particularly notable here. Taipei is far more cosmopolitan and has better infrastructure. Allegedly the tap water here is so polluted you can't even drink it after you boil it (though i drank the tap water in mainland China, so...) There is not really much in the way of famous buildings or landmarks. It's hot and humid and there are rats and cockroaches scuttling around every food stand. It's low-slung, with unremarkable gaps between the commercial centers. None of the tenements are the kind of "abandoned place" a hip urban explorer would bother blogging. They're not icons of faded glory, they're just busted up old buildings. It's a dirty town, but it's wide and lived-in and feels like home.
It's nice to come back to a place when you are traveling like this, because you get to reflect on how much your mood when originally passing through colored your view. In my case, i arrived in Kaohsiung after 3 weeks of almost complete withdrawal from the world. It was the city i first got to eat the food i wanted to eat again. It was my first day back on the internet. It was my first step into "greater China" (for want of a less politically explosive term...) Now that i have been back for a few days, i'm surprised to find a lot of my original impressions were well-founded. I didn't really find many izakayas in Taiwan till i started going north. That's because there aren't many here. It is harder to find coffee shops down here too; that wasn't just my imagination. But there are a lot more fry shops and buffet-style cafeterias. Of course you can still get any food you want at the chain restaurants, but the mom and pop places feel a lot more working class.
I'm more attuned to the Taiwanese/Chinese way of structuring cities now, so it's a bit easier to spot things i did not before. In particular, bars. I got quite drunk at an expat bar the first night i was here. I started chatting with a Swiss guy who had rented a car and driven around the whole country. I found out later - when his wife called asking where he was - that he was traveling with her and his kids. Apparently he had just ducked out to go to 7-Eleven and got sidetracked. "We've been married a long time, she knows how i am." He had also visited Hualien - and gotten hideously sunburnt there - but as a jumping-off point for Taroko Gorge and the route across the central mountains. He remarked how much Hong Kong had changed since he backpacked across Asia 20 years ago. When a Swiss guy thinks a place is depressingly expensive, that's saying something.
After the expat bar hit a critical mass of obnoxious Brits, i left. On the way back to my hotel i ducked into a non-expat bar to wash off the taint. So, naturally i met a fucking Trump supporter. He is a hero for some Taiwanese because he took that phonecall from Tsai Ing-Wen when he got elected. For some reason they think he is "tough on China" and will do more for Taiwan than Obama or Clinton or another even-handed diplomat. And this, basically, is the problem with the whole fucking world. People don't give a shit about oppression and injustice inflicted upon others, they only care about how they personally can get ahead. Sigh.
I ranted on a little bit about social justice, but didn't put the screws on too hard since we were just drinking at a fucking bar. The guy was just completing his master's degree in philosophy. Having been young and studied philosophy myself, i know that is a prime time for spouting libertarian nonsense and generally unsympathetic and absolutist views. Because derrrr logic and utilitarianism and bla bla bla. It can take years to gain a more nuanced understanding of the world. Some douchebags never do. But this dude was still young and a fun enough drinking buddy. In fact, the whole bar was in on the action - chatting and laughing and sharing food and shots and rounds. We all stuck it through till last call at 4am before lurching and stumbling our respective ways home.
For the rest i haven't really ventured too far from my hotel room. My sunburn is now peeling and itching and generally continuing to make my life miserable. I have been spending more time thinking about my next steps. I am going to head back to Shenzhen next week. I can't justify a loop back to Canada. A return flight plus three or four nights in a Toronto hotel would cost more than an entire month in Shenzhen including hotel, and food, and Chinese lessons, and weekend trips round the rest of the Pearl River Delta.
I contacted several schools. Most of them only had private classes available. A place here in Kaohsiung has group classes available - and they are much more affordable than private classes - but i thought a bit more about those Taiwan/China differences and have decided to head to the mainland for a deeper immersion. It's not just that the people there seem more willing to deal with funny accents or less inclined to speak English, it's also the "handicap" of the Great Firewall. If there is no Facebook, no YouTube, your maps app doesn't have English characters, your chat app is all Chinese... i think it will encourage me to push harder to understand. And the sooner i can get up to a basic level of understanding the better. I think it will add a whole new dimension to my travels. Plus Chinese is probably one of the more useful languages to have in your back pocket for the 21st century.
Backup plan: if i go there and i hate it, i just leave. Kaohsiung ain't going anywhere, and i still have enough savings to throw my hands in the air and fly out to any beach in the world if i really need to decompress. But starting next week, my official holiday is ending and instead i will be seeing how it feels to "live" in the PRD for a while. I'm excited.
Also, i'm distracted by a cockroach that keeps crawling up and down the wall. Fuck yeah, the tropics.