Sunday, November 22, 2015

365 True Things: 238/Taiwan

David and I had two honeymoons. The first one was in 1981, the traditional sort where we took off right after getting married: a driving trip through the western states, camping and backpacking. The next year, though, we did the long overseas one that, you know, a lot of people think one is supposed to do, if one has the cash. We were poor grad students, but David had saved up some money during the two years he worked full time as a computer programmer in San Diego. And my mom, bless her, helped us out by springing for the airfare and a (luxury) hotel in each of our first stops: Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. She believed in travel.

We spent a week each in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and two and a half months in Japan. It was a fabulous trip, honeymoon or no.

In Taiwan, our most memorable undertaking was a trek across Lion's Head Mountain (Shitoushan). Now that I look it up on the Web, it appears to be a relatively modest walk, but we must have been carrying all our stuff (we had travel backpacks), and I do remember that it was hot and humid as hell (literally). When we arrived by bus from Taipei in the nearby town where we had to catch another bus to the trailhead, a friendly Taiwanese pointed us to the correct conveyance (our ability to read Chinese being nonexistent, though once I saw the name, I did recognize the character for "mountain"). He also suggested that if we were planning on spending the night on the trail, we should shoot for the farthest temple: they had the best food.

I don't remember the walk, aside from the sweat. (That walk convinced me to cut my waist-length hair short for the first time since I was a kid, once we arrived in Tokyo.) I do remember the temple—possibly Quanhua Temple, which today, according to The Rough Guide, serves "superb vegetarian meals."

We arrived in late afternoon and were met by a small, lithe man dressed in loose black trousers and tunic. He spoke no English, we spoke no Chinese, but he was adept at miming: he showed us our ultra-simple room, the outhouse, and indicated that dinner was served at 6, breakfast at 6, and pointed in the direction of the dining hall. We paid, and he left us to our own devices. I recall that the views were spectacular and it was still hot, and that's about it.

I do remember dinner, though. It was a communal affair, with a couple, few big bowls of vegetables in the middle of the table and of course plenty of rice. Each place was decorated with a couple of Danish butter cookies and lychees: dessert. We all ate silently. The food was, as promised, delicious. As the monks got up to leave, singly or in pairs, they came to our table and each dropped a cookie and a lychee by our plates, with a nod and a smile.

After dinner, we went out and sat on a low wall overlooking the valley below, and we ate every last one of those lychees. Ambrosia! We probably polished off all the cookies as well, though that part, again, I don't remember. (Fickle memory.)

The next morning, deep tones from a gong or bell woke us at 4:30. After breakfast, we were on our way, off the mountain and back to Taipei.

Somewhere, I still have some slides from that trip (I posted one from Shenzhen, China—a day trip out of HK—in a previous post). I should find them and see if there are any of Lion's Head Mountain. If so, I'll replace the ones above, which I pirated from the Web. Maybe there'll even be one of all those lychees. They were that special.

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