[This is the final post in the series Smiling Kodiak Laps Up Taiwan}
Our last day in Taiwan was another brilliant day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze. Over the previous three days we discovered another world existed just steps from our Taipei hotel. The banks of the Tamsui (or Danshui) River are cut off from the city by a double-decker superhighway atop a flood wall four stories high.
Determined to lay eyes on the river, at first we walked a mile before we found a break in the flood wall under the highway. Then, walking back along the river, we realized the stairs that appeared to deposit one on the superhighway were actually the access way for the river, immediately adjacent to our hotel. We used those stairs daily or more since.
The river bank offers a myriad of delights. Most unusual were the motorbike highways that ran alongside it. They had on-ramps and off-ramps and flyovers and even bridges across the mile-wide river, all dedicated for the sole use of motorcycles and scooters. I had never seen such a thing.
Separate but no less elaborate bicycle paths ran parallel to that impressive infrastructure, and parallel to that again was the footpath. All ran along a ribbon of parkland, with facilities for baseball, basketball, tennis, badminton, and most any other warm-weather outdoor sport. Extravagant playgrounds, extensive picnic areas, tour boats, food stalls and a small amusement park completed the picture: an airy place much loved by residents of every ilk.
This last day we decided to make the best of the weather by staying outside, renting bicycles to tour the endless bike paths. The rental bikes were rather high quality, expensive machines, in good condition to boot, a relief since often rental bikes are quite the opposite. The high level of trust implicit in Taiwanese business dealings was demonstrated again, as we were permitted to pedal away based upon nothing more than showing a Philippines Volunteer ID and promising to return the equipment at some point.
I had expected only a short ride, but everything was so perfect we soon found ourselves some fifteen kilometers downstream, at the confluence of the Keelung River. One of the many posted maps suggested we continue up the Keelung, then take a short cut across town to complete the loop. We did, it worked a charm. It was one of the most enjoyable bike rides I can remember, not least because I hadn’t expected it. The rental cost about US$15 total, nothing compared to the US$100-plus we had paid when we last rented bikes in a big city (Chicago).
We were hooked. A long walk in the opposite direction ate up most of the afternoon, people-watching for the most part. We grew familiar with some of the local characters we had seen on each visit to the river, including the blind lady who talked to herself, and the old guy with the cart who cleaned up the litter, accompanied by his dog that had wheels where its rear legs belonged.
A series of tidal islands runs down the middle of the Tamsui River. They are covered in reeds, and inhabited (it appears) solely by birds, rats, and packs of feral dogs that liked to eat birds and rats. The dogs’ antics were very entertaining from a safe distance, across the river.
Back across the flood wall, the sun set, and we were pooped, so we sat down for one more meal of fluorescence and Formica at the hole in the wall next to our hotel.
The place was busy. I had a hard time getting anybody’s attention. “Have you got a menu?” I asked one harried woman, motioning with my hands as if opening a book.
She shook her head. “Fish soup?” she barked. “You want fish soup?” We nodded, and she pointed at a table with two empty stools between men with their faces immersed in fish soup. We sat down, and a bucket of fish soup appeared before each of us.
Now she demanded “Fried noodle? You want fried noodle?” We nodded, and a pile of fried noodles suitable to feed the entire Nationalist Army was placed between us.
“That all!” she announced, clapping her hands. A limited menu, we concluded.
Our last dinner in Taipei cost four bucks.
The following morning, checking in at the airport for our flight back to Manila, I noticed two young boys at the next counter playing with reasonably real-looking toy tommy guns. Their Filipino parents were handing over their passports and checking bags with their check-in agent, who was oblivious. I turned to our agent, asking “You don’t let people take toy guns on board, do you?”
She didn’t understand what I was asking, but she heard the word “gun” come out of my mouth. She gulped and visibly paled. When I nodded my head in the direction of the tiny culprits, she stood up to see what was going on. Her eyes bulged an inch out of her skull. In an alarmed tone of voice, she drew the attention of her fellow agent to the situation. She had the same reaction.
“Oh, you have to check those!” she commanded to the parents, flabbergasted.
What kind of parents let their kids take toy guns on airplanes?
Back home, the Manila heat was blistering as ever. I flicked a cockroach out of my coffee, and took another in a long series of cold showers.
I missed Taiwan.