The rest of our trip to Hualien (the part that doesn’t involve police and fines) was a blast. We basically ate for three days straight, though we managed to spend eight hours tearing around Taroko Gorge on scooters, too.
I’ve been to Hualien once before, last fall, and it is one of my favorite places in Taiwan, ringed by mountains and touching the Pacific Ocean in the east. The air is really clean, and it’s usually cooler than Taipei even though it’s farther south. Hualien is a city, but it has a small-town feel to it that makes it a great getaway from the big city.
My friend Chloe had slept over Thursday night so we could grab a cab together at 530 the next morning. Since I drive here I rarely take taxis, but when I do I can always count on a real character behind the wheel. This guy spoke no English, but sang the ABC song for us. Then he lectured us on the situation in the Taiwanese legislature, somewhat less than impartially – “Taiwan is not China,” and “China is terrible!” and all that jazz. Our bus left from Taipei Main at 6:30 down to Luodong, where we hopped a train to Hualien Station. Upon arrival, we rented scooters for the weekend and took off in search of our guesthouse. The only thing that could have made us leave the place was the wontons calling our names, because it was like a 5-star hotel. Definitely the most glamorous digs I’ve stayed at in years. It was a family-run place in downtown Hualien, decorated beautifully, with more than enough room for all six of us, tons of amenities, and breakfast delivered to the door. We chilled for an hour before dragging ourselves out the door.
One of the main reasons Novia and I wanted to go back to Hualien was to eat. Hualien has some dishes that are famous all over Taiwan. We started out at the most famous wonton shop in town – they have one thing on the menu, so all we needed to do was walk into the steamy little restaurant, sit down, and tell the waiter “six bowls.” Five minutes later bowls of steaming wontons in amazing broth were brought over and ten minutes after that they were gone.
From there we went to a legendary 24-hour dumpling stand that sells some of the best baozi and dumplings I’ve ever had. We tried their xiaolongbao (Shanghai-style soup dumplings, only these were more bready) and zheng jiao (steamed dumplings). Lest you think we were ready to pop, we were mostly just sampling and sharing, while making plans to come back the next day:)
Next on our non-stop eating tour of Hualien was an old truck on Fuxing Street. I had this snack last time I was in Hualien and have found nothing like it since, so of course we had to go back. It’s basically a scallion pancake wrapped around an egg, deep-fried, and then slathered with soy and chili. The egg stays gooey, so when you bite into it there’s an explosion of flavor and texture. Super unhealthy and super delicious. The truck doesn’t open till 1pm, but there are lines of people queuing well in advance, and we waited an hour for this worthy treat.
Feeling a bit full, we walked up to Hualien’s Martyr’s Shrine, perched on a hillside on the edge of town. It’s a beautiful and peaceful old place, with great views of the city. From there we collected our bikes and crashed in the amazing guesthouse for a few hours before dragging ourselves back out to go night marketing. Hualien has really good night markets with tons of great things to eat, but I had my sights set on one dish – coffin bread. Novia was with me on that one, and we waited in line for a good half hour to get our fix.
The next day we were up early to make our way around Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s beautiful national parks. It’s about an hour’s drive from Hualien city center, through gorgeous rice fields and banana plantations. We stopped frequently as we drove through the gorge to do some hiking and visit some sites. It was during one of these stops that Chloe stole toilet paper for us. We went into a bathroom totally unequipped and decided to hold it, but then happened to notice a supply room nearby. No toilet paper, but there was a pack of tissues that lost a few to us desperate desperados. The Gorge was beautiful, but it was a challenge driving it, as the roads were hilly and windy, plus I had Novia behind me.
Chloe and I had to add a new rule to our “foreigner game” as we went, namely, you can’t call one while driving (I was driving and she wasn’t; you’ll be glad to know I kept my eyes on the road, but that meant Chloe kept scoring all the points). Probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about, right? Well, if you spot a white person, 1 point; black or Indian person, 2 points; call someone and they turn out to be Asian, lose a point. It’s probably vaguely racist, but also a testament to the rarity of foreigners around here. I believe our final score on the weekend was 21-17.
On our last day we went to Qixingtan, a stretch of rocky beach on the Pacific Ocean. It was a cloudy day, but the water was unbelievably blue. There’s an Air Force Base right behind the area we saw, and the occasional jet took off right in front of us. Before leaving we went to eat wontons for the third time in three days. Of course, on the way to the train station we ran into the cops, but you’ve already heard that one. We missed our train, which actually turned out to be a good thing – scored some seats on a later, faster train instead.
Life’s really busy right about now with work and study and church and friends and dragon boat practice and all. Hope to post about Indonesia soon!