Coping with Taiwan

Weather: be prepared to do very little slowly. Yesterday I set off to Yangmingshan to do the postponed walk from my previous stay here and di a lot quickly! The effusively helpful guy at he visitor centre pointed me out the way to Lengshuifeng for the hot springs, but I elt this as not enough as a day out and decided to take the path up to Qixing Main Peak, which is 1020m. Leaving at midday is not the best time to start walking, but if I was to get the walk done, then no choice. I was well fortified with 2 bowls of rice porridge with pickled vegetables and fried egg sandwich (little did I know that the eggs were reserved for the staff at the hostel), and armed with a 1/2 litre of isotonic electrolyte replacement water plus a bag of assorted baoza from the vege stall behind Taipei Main station. The hike weaves up the mountainside initially through wooded slopes up steps cut into the rock. The shade is welcome but the trees hide the sight of my destination, which in some ways leads to false expectations; each time I see a clear window of sky believing I was near the top. In otherways it means I dont have the daunting sight of the bigger picture of the climb. Each little flight of steps requiring a breather as 35 degrees and high humidity mean that after not very long my shirt and shorts are utterly soaked with sweat. I dont think I’ve ever been so wet without being immersed in a abth or caught in heavy rain. One thing that makes me press on is seeing others coping, but also not without duress. Many (those who I see descending) are in their 60s. There is a wirey sprightly bunch of pensioners here. It is important to ration your water and to take frequent pauses to rehydrate. I am very conscious of what the heat does to me. Copious sunblock is alos doing its magic. No repeat of arm burns from my Hualien cycling. The summit is fringed with silver grass fluttering in the breeze, circled by dragon flies and occasionally partially obscured by drifting cloud. The temperature is certaily not cool up here, but definitely the feeling of achievement, rest, lunch and the gently moving air contribute to a feeling of calmness. At the very slightly lower east Qixingshan peak, I chat to “Jimmy”. A tanned bare chested man in his late sixties at a guess with a white goatie beard. This is his second ascent today. He is doing it to improve his breathing! I summise without probing he has some medical condition which he is trating through vigorous exercise.

The decent to Lengshuifeng is steeper and less shaded. I am passed by some admittedly younger Taiwanese climbing this way, and secretly feel like alerting them to the arduousness. When I get to the centre at Lengshifeng I am surprised to see that all in all I have only been walking (and resting for 3 hours). This gives me plenty of time to check out the hot springs down the road from the carpark. Up the steps past the little orangey pool where tourists dangle and bathe tired feet in 38 degrees sulphurous thermal water is a little house with separate gendered entrances through shabby curtains. I am a little taken aback by how low-key and local the place is (Im the only westerner). There is  alittle bench and some open shelves for depositing your clothes. Nakedness is a must and fastidious preparation before entering the small milky bath is strictly adhered to. I use the provided red bowl cum scoops to rinse myself first with cold water and then water from the hot pool in which linger the white shrivelled bodies of around 8 or 9 Chinese men in their 60s or more. I make a number of faux pas and am scolded for trying to enter the water without scrubbling my body. Use borrow some soap from a large guy with a tiny cock squatting on one of the tiny plastic stools lathering his body. I am then scolded for washing myself whilst sitting on the low wall that rims the pool. A younger (40s?) fleshy guy explains I am “polluting” the water. I go off to thee corner by the cold tap and try and get myself clean enough to be accepted. I am reluctant to get in the pool for fear of losing even more face, but eventually, it seems they tacitly approve of me and an almost emaciated balding guy with as sanguine face, the one who scolded me earlier, calls over and waves me in. Another guy points out that I shouldnt drink the water (I think), by pointing at his mouth. Once in, I relax a little, but dont feel completely blissful. This bath seems to be utilitarian rather than pleasurable. The guys are all strangers who round off a walk, like me, by performing these precious ablutions. After 15-20 minutes each one gets out, washes down with old water from the trough, gets dressed and shuffles off anonymously. What have I learnt? I dont think they were being aggressive, rather preserving the purity of the water. Funnily I think this is the same water that empties into the outside tourist foot soaking pool. Kind of secondhand water from pickled old men. Language would be very helpful here, to understand etiquette. Old Chinese men are very unattractive naked, white flabby skin on skinny frames and mirthless. Hard to reconcile that the firm, well proportioned young Chinese guys with their taught skin and understated beauty may well end up like this. Outside the bathhouse I see such a guy. I wonder if he is going to enter, but it seems not. We make eye contact. I womder what his thoughts are on growing old. I wonder how he sees me.

There is  curious system for waiting for the mini-buses that link the park with civilisation. I didnt undertstand the significance of the row of neatly lined assorted umbrellas on the pavement in front of the bus shelter at first then all becomes apparent when I see a man count them before laying his bag at the end of this line before disappearing to he cool veranda behind the information centre. As it turns out this line is redundant as the shuttle bus turns up first and there is a bundle to get on this bus instead. As the sun sets over Taipei, with glimpses of the towering 101, the bus winds down the mountain and I drift in and out of a dozing state.

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