Yesterday I got my first taste of ‘natural’ Taiwan. By natural I mean the countryside, Shihmen Reservoir in Taoyuan province to be specific.
It was one of my fellow teachers’ birthday yesterday, and she decided, with her husband, to get all the teachers together and go on a booze cruise on the reservoir. For those of you that don’t know what a ‘booze cruise’ is, it’s exactly as it sounds: a cruise on water where you drink, play games, perhaps get off at points of interest, and generally have a good time. Think of it as a party on water.
I’ve only been living in the teachers dorm for about five days, so I was glad I could go and meet more people and get to know them in a more relaxed social setting. I was also really looking forward of getting out of the city and seeing some countryside.
The bus picked us up at the dorm at about 10.30am and we all piled on. Some teachers who’ve been teaching at Gloria a while who have their own appartments also met us at our dorm.
The bus was nice and modern, with nice curtains, lighting and AC. I sat next to a teacher who I’ve been talking to a bit. He’s been here six months and was telling me more about the school and Taipei and concerts and cosplay conventions. He’s a nice friendly guy and we have good chats.
I bought a can of Budweiser as a ‘roadie’ (a roadie is a drink you have ‘on the road’), and an 8 pack for the main event. I quietly sat and drank it slowly and looked out the window desperately trying to see some mountains or rivers or forests, but mostly it was road and buildings.
The drive took about two hours as we picked up more teachers a long the way, at the other dorm or ‘southern dorm’. We had a pit stop about 90 minutes in which was very welcome as I forgot that I need a bathroom break pretty regularly when I drink alcohol.
When we arrived at out pit stop all the teachers pilled off the bus, stormed into the 7-11 and made a massive queue to use the one toilet there, much to the amusement of everyone else sitting in there eating and shopping. Literally twenty westerners all walked in chatting away and formed a big orderly queue.
Arriving at the reservoir
After the pit stop it was only about another 30 minutes to our destination. When we got there I was really surprised at how big the reservoir was, it’s massive and it supplies all of north Taiwan with its water. The boat itself was pretty small and the only open air bit was outside right at the front. We filled it to capacity and as we set off the music got turned on, the chips and snacks got cracked open and the drinks were drunk at an above average rate.
For the first part of the trip I went outside at the front, where I saw another teacher who said ‘yeah I got out here as quick as I could and I plan to not move from this spot’. I understood what she meant as it was great sitting at the front in the open air, with our legs dangling off the front, seeing the scenery unfold before us.
Seeing a bridge and abandoned pier
We travelled along the water for a bit with our cool skipper, I don’t know here name but she seemed tolerant enough of us. Soon we approached a massive bridge and she pulled the boat up, we all pilled off and walked up to the bridge.
When we got to the bridge we were told we weren’t allowed to cross it (so people didn’t get lost), and it also cost money. Most of us just stood around chatting, taking photos and looking around. It was nice to stretch my legs.
After the bridge we got back on the boat and set off again, and after a while of travelling the skipper pulled up to a rickety abandoned pier. She got off to have a cigarette and a few of us also got off to see what it was like. Me and another girl saw an abandoned building a bit up the bank, and we talked about how good it’d be to try and get there, but after I jumped off the pier to the bank I quickly discovered there was no way to get there, so I jumped back. We also talked about the benefits of the building in the case of a zombie apocalypse, I really enjoyed that.
In the end it was only me and the captain on the pier and I tried to talk to her, but she didn’t know a word of English and I don’t know a word of Chinese yet (except for ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’), so there was a lot of hand waving and me nodding at her not knowing what she was saying. The skipper did manage to explain that the berries on the bushes were inedible, but the leaves could be used to wrap up food to cook inside the leaves.
Amazing to see Taiwanese nature for the first time
After about 3 hours on the water, lots of seeing the river banks and drinking games we headed back to shore where we waited for the bus to take us home. I thought it was great to see wild Taiwan, as I’ve only seen the capital Taipei, and the city just south of that where I’m living at the moment: Taoyuan.
It was beautiful and peaceful, and I enjoyed the quiet moments by myself where I could just look out at it all. I’m really itching to get a bike and drive around to see more of the country. Maybe I’ll book a hotel somewhere in the jungle when I do get a bike. There’s a real sense of freedom and it’s exciting to be able to stop wherever you want.
A teacher is leaving at the end of the month and she’s said I can buy her bike. I’ll buy that (as you can’t hire bikes here without an ARC ‘Alien Residency Card’, and I cant get that for another few months as I wait for all the paperwork to be processed), so her bike will be very handy.
So far it’s been a nice start to my time in Taiwan, but a part of me really just wants to get a bike and spend 3-4 months travelling the country. I know I’ll have to wait until my contract is done before I do that.
Grateful for the reservoir
I saw herons and a few fish jumping out of the water, and big banks of trees going down to the waters edge. The vastness of it was great compared to the big buildings and streets of the city. The party vibe on the boat was fun and I managed to chat to a handful of other teachers, and learn a couple of new drinking games.
Once I get settled I’ll start venturing further afield, I haven’t really seen any of Taiwan yet, but I know it’s all there waiting. Shihmen Reservoir was a great appetiser.