Thursday, November 10th, 2016
Do you speak Chinese? Well, sort of... that is the question of the day, asked in Chinese of course. Everyone I meet today is putting my 2 months of Chinese classes to the test; from breakfast right through to the restaurant where I have dinner, no one is hablando inglés. Much laughter, many miscommunications, and let's not even count the gaffes.
Today's goal: Sun and Moon Lake, a famous Taiwan tourist spot. The weather is not cooperating, however; it's raining steadily as I get up and pack my bags. The B&B owner comes by and asks what I want for breakfast - eggs, coffee (dàn, kāfēi) - not possible he says, we negotiate on what is available, I end up with a chicken and egg sandwich and a black tea. Many xièxiè's (thank you's) I'm on my way in what is now just drizzle.
My first impression of the lake: okay it's a lake, what's the big deal. Perhaps if the weather were cooperating it would be more interesting but I confess I don't really see the attraction. Don't get me wrong, it is pretty, and the bike path on the east side is fun and surprisingly challenging... but I'm not seeing anything exceptional.
A cyclist coming in the other direction flags me down. He wants to know where I've come from and where I'm going but doesn't speak a word of English. Beads of sweat form on my brow as I try to explain, furiously trying to formulate sentences in the past tense. He is visiting from mainland China and has rented a bike to go around the lake.
In one of the lakeside towns a couple of young ladies in front of a coffee shop call me over to offer me a free cup of coffee. When I tell them I'm American a conversation about Trump ensues. They call him something that sounds like "Trumpo". I can't understand a word the taller one is saying, the shorter one repeats everything much slower which enables me to more or less get the drift. Afterwards I sample some of the food at the market: sausages, pork sandwich, some other stuff that I don't recognize but tastes good.
Around the other side of the lake I take the road north towards Puli. It's a long descent in a light rain which mostly disappears by the time I get to Puli. I find the B&B I've booked but no one is there, a sign on the door says to call a number. I call and...oh shit...the person on the other end speaks no English. Having to talk on the phone with my level of Chinese is just not fair. She gets the jist, 10 minutes later a woman shows up on a scooter to let me in and show me around. We work out the details, it turns out I'm the only one staying here tonight so I have the place to myself. She shows me how to work the various doors and the lights. I have a vague feeling of dread I might misunderstand what she has said and make some mistake...but it's no big deal. There are an excessive number of doors and buttons to push, however. More like a B&B in New York than Taiwan.
I go into town at night to buy more credit for my phone. Good timing, they tell me my internet is set to expire tomorrow. I pop into an Italian restaurant for a change of pace, no English there either. I'm feeling exhausted, perhaps more from trying to speak Chinese than ride the bicycle. I have a long and comical conversation with the waitress about Jade Mountain. We misunderstand each other every other sentence...from what I gather she likes to hike but had an accident last week when she fell climbing over rocks on a trail. She wants to meet up after her shift is over but I can barely keep my eyes open. Back at the B&B I'm asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.