An unfortunate hair colour mix-up, getting under the skin of local temples, and beers to celebrate our fourth anniversary.

Day 216: Tainan, Taiwan. We had an easy day today – no monster walks, hill climbing or exploration, just a gentle afternoon trot around a couple of temples in the town. Followed by a few local craft beers to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.

And due to a unfortunate hair colour mix-up, Lil is now a brunette instead of a red head.

Breakfast delivered another intense selection of country and western songs; someone must have an entire library of the stuff somewhere. Listening to 10 or more songs about people leaving their partners and dogs dying doesn’t deliver the best start to the day. Must remember to add that to our feedback form when we leave.

Early afternoon we set off to check out a couple of temples. Taiwan religion is fascinating – it’s highly diversified in terms of beliefs and practices. Of the 80% or so that follow a religion, the large majority practice a combination of Buddhism and Taoism. A small percentage are Christians, while others adhere to a number of different ‘folk religions’ (also known simply as Chinese religions), among them Yiguandao, Tiandism and Miledadao. It’s all pretty complicated.

In an effort to understand more about local practices and traditions, we’ve started to try to do a little research before visiting temples. Otherwise we just wander through them idly, oohing and aahing at the different craftsmanship and decorations, but with no real understanding of what we’re really looking at.

Our first visit today was to the City God Temple, a very elaborate Taoist temple dedicated to Cheng Huang, the god of justice.

Above the entrance way are two huge abacuses which are supposedly used to calculate whether people have done more bad than good in their lives.

Also above the entrance way is a plaque which carries what are said to be the most famous words ever featured on a temple plaque in Taiwan. They simply translate to “You are here at last”. Which, depending on what the abacuses say about the balance of your good and bad deeds in life, may either evoke feelings of happiness or terror.

On the first shrine was a bowl of Moon Blocks or Jiaobei – wooden crescent shaped blocks which are thrown in pairs, to get the answer to a question. Depending on how they fall, they depict a yes, no or maybe.

A girl was tossing the moon blocks while we were there. When she’d finished she got up and smiled a satisfied smile at her boyfriend who was standing nearby – clearly she’d got the answer she was after.

In the worship hall towards the back of the temple, there are lots of pink slips of paper near the altar. We’ve read that they’re from students asking for help with passing their exams – though as our Chinese is still almost non-existent, we couldn’t read any of them to be sure.

As we were leaving, one of the temple assistants came over and gave us two temple key rings, which was a really lovely gesture.

Next on our list was Dongyue Temple – this one is a bit edgy and just a little unsettling too. People visit the temple to communicate with the dead through spirit mediums. As we entered a girl was kneeling on a cushion at the front shrine, chattering away (presumably trying to connect with a passed loved one).

They say that you can hear the screams of tortured spirits at night. However despite our keenness to research temples, we won’t be visiting to validate that one.

The temple consists of a number of chambers, each with different gods and deities.

One lady with a lot of questions was tossing her moon blocks frantically and clearly unhappy with the answers she was getting. She sat clattering away for the whole time we were there, trying to get the replies she was after.

Late afternoon, when we’d finished our temple visits, we caught the bus across to Beer Bee, a sister craft beer bar to the one we visited in Kaohsiung. Our wedding anniversary was a good excuse to sample a few more local craft brews.

The place is small with a few tucked away rooms and a great atmosphere. We sat at the wooden bar and chatted to the manager, and also to a couple who were sitting next to us, who live in London. Kevin is from Malaysia, and David is originally from Devon in the UK. They met in London, are visiting Taiwan for a couple of weeks, and are getting married in March. They’re a really nice couple and we enjoyed exchanging travel experiences with them for an hour or so, before they headed off for dinner.

It was nearly 10pm when we caught the bus back to town; lots of eateries were closed but we walked past one that was selling trays of pork buns, dumplings and pancakes, and scoffed a hefty selection. Perhaps not the healthiest of late night dinners, but they were delicious and just what we needed.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve – we’re not entirely sure what celebrations will be taking place in the town, but guess we’ll find out at some point. And the end of another year will no doubt provide another good reason to sample a few more local craft beers.

More then.

Listening to country and western at breakfast, a department store of times gone by, and a house that’s been taken over by a tree.

Day 215: Tainan, Taiwan. We had breakfast listening to a mind numbing selection of country and western songs in the guesthouse restaurant. Lil had to resist the urge to go Yeehaa! while chomping her toast and jam (or in Jim’s case, while slurping his tofu and pickled vegetable soup).

A sign on our breakfast table wished us restlessness (the music pretty much guarantees that one), with some additional messages warning us we’re being watched by cameras; food is for guests only; and no nicking food from the buffet to take away. Which didn’t stop a girl walking out with a pile of toast and jam in one hand, and a coffee in the other.

The decor made us just as restless as the music. Either there was a ‘buy one, get nineteen free’ sale on white flower prints, or the decorator didn’t like shaking things up too much. The exact same print appears at one metre intervals around the restaurant walls. Guess it saves trying to work out what should go where.

After over a month in Taiwan, we had our first rain overnight which continued well into this morning. We hung out at the guesthouse waiting for it to clear, which gave us time to work out how to book online tickets for our ride on the Alishan Railway next week. It turned out to be quite a process to book two tickets, and we still somehow need to get them printed out at a nearby 7-Eleven kiosk or train station.

Early afternoon, the weather had improved a fair bit, so we put on our rain jackets and headed out. We started our walk across to Anping, the historic area of Tainan, about 5km away. It’s been Tainan’s centre of occupation since the 1600s, and was the original port for all trade into Taiwan.

We stopped at a nearby temple where tables were set up outside, with people enthusiastically painting Chinese characters on red silk – presumably New Year messages for hanging inside or outside the temple.

A kind old man showed us around the temple, and after a bit of rummaging through some shelves, pulled out a plaque recording a visit to the temple by a Swedish dignitary. We’re not sure why, but he was really lovely and welcoming, thanked us profusely for visiting, gave us bottles of water and refused to take any donation.

We continued our walk, which took us through another city park where even the dogs were dressed up in rain coats.

We took a small detour to visit the Hayashi Department Store, the largest old building in Tainan. It’s a beautiful old shop, with high ceilings and many original fittings and an old lift that people were queuing to try out.

Hayashi has a roof top area with a great view across the city streets including the Land Bank building opposite, which is also a famous Tainan landmark. It’s a pretty austere looking concrete building, which is just about to reach its 100th birthday.

When we reached Anping, our first visit was to the Anping Tree House, a former Tate & Co merchant building which has been taken over by banyan fig trees. There’s also a museum with an enormous amount of information about the history of trade in the old port.

Afterwards, we had coffee before walking down Anping Old Street, which is lined with food stalls and restaurants. Despite all the hype, it’s pretty touristy and not overly interesting.

We finished our afternoon with a visit to the Grand Matsu Temple, which is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. A very popular and very ornate temple.

Dinner was big bowls of roasted pork with ginger, bamboo shoots and rice at an eatery on the way home – absolutely delicious. The waiter was a lovely friendly guy who spoke good English; he thanked us for visiting the restaurant and welcomed us to Taiwan.

On the way home we popped into a 7-Eleven to try and print our train tickets at their in-store kiosk. After working our way through about 50 Chinese language screens, with Lil scanning text with Google Translate, and Jim calling out booking numbers and passport numbers to enter into various fields, we gave up. Every option we tried brought up an error message at the end. Ten out of ten for effort and all that.

Tomorrow we’re going to have an easy day to catch up on admin and planning, and maybe just wander to check out a few local temples. It’s our fourth wedding anniversary, so there may well be some bubbly consumed too. And we must remember to take our earplugs to breakfast.

More then.

Leaving the assorted oddballs behind, catching Pokemon in the park, and Lil’s water bottle causes TV havoc.

Day 214: Kaohsiung & Tainan, Taiwan. We packed up again today and caught a train to Tainan, an hour’s ride from Kaohsiung. We really enjoyed our stay in Kaohsiung, however we probably won’t miss the assorted oddballs at the guesthouse – quite a selection indeed.

The local service train to Tainan was fairly old, though the train trip was still super comfy. Sadly though, we didn’t get to travel in a Hello Kitty branded train (like the one below which was sitting on the platform opposite). On a plus note, we did get to chat to a very friendly train guard, who gave us several updates on our estimated arrival time in Tainan, and told us about a fabulous museum a little outside Tainan.

Once we got settled at our guesthouse in Tainan, we headed out to start exploring the local area. It’s an interesting city, with a big mix of very old, semi-modern and very modern buildings. Lots of tired old shops selling all kinds of everything, mixed in with hipster style cafes and bubble tea shops.

We walked through Tainan Park, a well kept open space in the centre of the city. Large groups of people were standing staring at their phones in the middle of a grassy area. One guy had four phones lined up on a stone bench in front of him, which seemed especially odd. And then it clicked – they were waiting to catch Pokemon!

When we arrived in Taiwan we spotted that lots of guesthouse reviews talk about ‘high CP value’ – we eventually had to look that one up, assuming it was something like cost parity or cost profit ratio. Then we realised it’s actually ‘combat power’ – a reference to Pokemon, which is clearly still a very big thing here.

Afterwards we walked through a bizarre little area called 321 Art Alley – which is really just a few run down lane ways with some random art installations, including an old bike in a garden that’s become well overgrown by grass and weeds.

We saw our first star fruit tree. At first we thought someone had dropped their shopping on the pavement, but when we looked up we saw this huge tree overladen with ripe fruits.

Later we paid a visit to the Flower Market – a vibrant and very popular night market to the north of the city. It’s packed with lines of food stalls and lots of arcade games, with the opportunity to win all kinds of cuddly toys. Interestingly, one of the stalls was selling thin slices of Australian steak.

We had dinner at a small eatery, where we were served crispy pork noodles – bowls of meat and fish broth with pork, noodles, egg and meatballs. Plus prawns and clams which Lil hurriedly spooned into Jim’s bowl. The food was superb and the guy running the eatery was really lovely, sending us details of the best place to go for beef noodles, and even hooking up with us on WhatsApp, so he can help if we get stuck with translations during our stay.

Then we headed back to our guesthouse, where we have the luxury of cable TV in our room. We watched a couple of English movies, which were even better once we realised the reason the screen was jumping up and down was because Lil’s water bottle was blocking the receiver.

Tomorrow we’ll walk across to the west of town, to take a look around Anping, one of the older parts of the city with a fort and a tree house. Hopefully it has good CP value.

More then.

A long walk amongst 10,000 monkeys, sipping green tea at the social club, and watching the locals hang upside down.

Day 213: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After breakfast this morning we headed out for a very long walk. A couple more oddballs have checked into the guesthouse (one has an addiction to watching very loud thunderstorms on his phone; the other has a severe and quite worrying fascination with cake) and we were keen to get going.

Our walk today was through the Shoushan National Park, a 1200 acre site that sits on the coast west of the city. There are warnings everywhere about monkeys – not overly surprising, given there’s an estimated 10,000 of them roaming the park.

A poster at the park provides some helpful advice on what to do if a monkey jumps on you:

“Keep calm and do not panic.” (Unlikely)
“Do not scream or try to push the monkey away.” (Even more unlikely)
“Walk away, calmly. The monkey shall leave.” (And what if it doesn’t?)

It’s also worth mentioning that the thousands of monkeys roaming the park look nothing like the cuddly chap in the pic below. Some of them are the size of large dogs, and look like they’d happily pack you in between two pieces of bread for lunch.

But we had no need to fear, as Lil rummaged through a nearby hedgerow for a large wooden stick to beat on the ground and scare the monkeys off. Except the large stick looked like more of a large twig and (by her own admission) she looked like a bit of a twit tapping it on the ground, so ended up throwing it in the bushes.

Before we’d even made it through the entrance to the park, we spotted a bunch of monkeys sitting on top of a car and hanging off the wing mirrors. The poor lady had to do a cleaning job on the windscreen to remove all the monkey poo before she could drive off.

Despite having to dodge monkeys, the walk was absolutely superb. There are so many great trails through the park, many with raised wooden boardwalks which minimise the chances of stepping on a snake along the way.

There are a bunch of ‘stations’ at intervals along the walk – wooden huts with benches, which provide rest stops for walkers. A couple of them have large urns of green tea, which locals brew for free for hikers. We had some tea at the first stop; it was like a big social club with heaps of walkers gathered in clumps and chatting.

We wondered how they get gas cylinders up to the rest stations, to heat up the tea. We found out later in the day at another rest stop, when a guy appeared up a steep hill carrying 4 full gas cylinders on his back. Mighty impressive.

There were monkeys clambering everywhere at the rest stops, but no one seemed to take much notice of them. One guy sat contemplating the world on a bench, with his arm resting on his walking pole, while a large monkey next to him poked about in the bum of his monkey mate. Charming.

At one of the rest stations there was, somewhat bizarrely, a set of workout gear next to the tables and benches. While we drank water (we were starting to get hungry but didn’t dare take any food out of our bags given the monkey stares all around us), we watched a couple of old ladies chatting while they took turns hanging upside down on a wooden frame. As Jim said, if we tried to do the same, there may well be a series of loud snapping noises.

The hillside has been occupied since the stone age and is formed by more of the raised coral beaches we have seen earlier in our trip. There are caves to poke around in, enormous bamboo, dozens of different birds chattering around, and tracks absolutely everywhere, making the maps a little useless.

There were magnificent views from the top of the hills (the peak is at 365m), though it was an overcast day and some of the city and coastline was obscured by low cloud and smog.

We finished our walk mid-afternoon and wandered back towards town to get a coffee. Along the way we passed an old brick kiln, now derelict but once the largest in Taiwan, which reminded us of St. Peters in Sydney.

We walked along the river, where there was a perfectly replicated set of living room furniture, albeit in brick. Which would have been pretty good for a post-Xmas picnic nap, had we known about it earlier.

We also stumbled across a brand new wetland park with fab suspension bridges. Lil wasn’t overly thrilled with Jim’s efforts to see how much he could make the bridges swing, just as she was trying to cross them.

Tomorrow we pack up again and head to Tainan, another city north of Kaohsiung which is the old capital of Taiwan. And hopefully we’ll have a bit of a break from crazy monkeys.

More then.

Off for a jaunt on a Snoopy branded ferry, cooling down in a tunnel of stars, and devouring dozens of dumplings.

Day 212: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After our Christmas day excesses of cheese, weird meats and bubbly, we were chomping at the bit for a long walk today.

One of the places we’d yet to tick off our list here is Cijin Island – a popular day trip destination just a short distance off the coast of Kaohsiung. Cijin is known for its long black sand beach, religious and historical structures, and a bunch of modern statues that made good selfie backdrops. The island acts as a natural barrier for Kaohsiung and creates a U-shaped harbour for boats coming from the Taiwan Strait. All jolly good.

To get to Cijin, we caught the MRT to Sizihwan, then it was just a 5 minute ride on a Snoopy-branded ferry across to the island. We felt a bit like two big kids on a school outing.

The views back across Kaohsiung from the ferry, and from Cijin Island itself, are fabulous.

We had a long walk around the island, starting with the old lighthouse which is one of the main attractions. Sadly, just like the lighthouse at Eluanbi last week, it’s being renovated just now. Still, we were able to climb the steps to a couple of viewing platforms for more superb views across Kaohsiung.

The island also has a fort, on top of the hill by the lighthouse and opposite the consulate we visited a few days ago. It was first built in 1720 and reinforced in 1880 with big guns to defend against the Japanese. In 1895 the Japanese attacked, but the guns’ best shot was only within 500yds of its target and the battle was lost. Today visitors can walk around the remains of the barracks, and see where some of the guns were placed.

Next was the Tunnel of Stars, an impressive stone tunnel which was excavated back in the Japanese colonial era, and passes through Cihou Mountain under the fort. The tunnel has now been decorated with glow-in-the-dark paintings of 12 constellations, with a wooden plank path running down the middle. And it comes with an amazing cool breeze whipping through the middle, that we would happily pay good money for.

There are a bunch of sculptures dotted along the coastline which are crazy popular for selfies. The Rainbow Church is the most popular – so popular in fact, that there’s a dedicated area alongside for queuing. Needless to say, we didn’t bother.

We walked further down the coast to the Cijin wind park (a recreational wind farm that generates enough power to light the park at night), and past lots of randomly placed ornamental seafood.

When we’d had our fill of walking, and it felt like yesterday’s cheese and weird meats were well burnt off, we headed back to the main road, had a quick coffee, then caught a bus back to the mainland. There’s a single road that links the mainland to the island through a tunnel under the harbour. We rattled along in a tired old minibus, with monster lorries closing in around us as they made their way back and forth to the docks.

This evening we had dinner at a renowned dumpling shop in the city, and managed to shovel in several plates of the things in different flavour combinations. They were all superb.

Then on the way home, we passed an open-air bread and cake stall, and couldn’t resist buying a large fluffy sponge cake and a slice of swiss roll that was out of this world. Good job we didn’t buy the entire swiss roll, or we’d have likely scoffed the lot and been in a sugar coma for the next day or two.

Tomorrow we’re planning to go for a walk up some hills, once Jim works out a plan for how to get there and which trails to follow. Apparently we can expect lots of monkeys on the trails, but at least we’ll be able to take some selfies without queuing.

More then.

Scoffing a festive picnic in the park, listening to Christmas carols in Chinese, and Jim does his best gnome impression.

Day 211: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We had a late start to the day and were feeling just a little dusty after our late night with the locals, and one too many strong beers (not to mention the post-midnight gin and tonic).

We had breakfast, hung about the guesthouse until early afternoon drinking many mugs of coffee, then packed up our Christmas picnic swag and headed to Central Park.

As we were starting to lay out our food at the park, a couple of girls also wearing Santa hats asked if they could have a photo with us. So we of course said yes, and did likewise. There were the only two other Santa hats we saw anyone wearing all day around the city, apart from a bunch of people organising an event.

We spent a few lovely hours chilling at the park, scoffing our picnic of weird and wonderful food items, while drinking bubbly plus a mighty good English Trappist Ale which is a bit (actually quite a lot) like liquid Christmas pudding.

Despite it being Wednesday and not a public holiday, lots of people were out walking through the park, playing frisbee and playing in the kids playground. It got even busier later in the afternoon as schools came to a close for the day. And there were lots of dogs, including one we nicknamed Chump which ambled around the park just looking at things (he was a little too chunky to chase birds or any of the usual dog-like things – he was adorable though). Thankfully he didn’t show any interest in our picnic; perhaps tree seeds and slightly weird meats are not his thing.

We managed to eat too much too quickly (perhaps a little too excited at having some half decent cheese to chomp on for once) and had to have a post-picnic nap. If we could have somehow channeled the Queen’s speech, and maybe a squishy sofa, it would have been pretty similar to being at home.

Jim reckons he looks like a garden gnome that’s been pushed over in the picture below. Lil can’t help agreeing. Nice tan lines too.

When we’d recovered from our post-picnic coma, we decided to go and buy a Christmas jigsaw, but discovered jigsaws aren’t really a big thing here. Unless you want a 50 piece Toy Story puzzle with giant pieces, which we really didn’t. Still, it gave us the chance to have another look at the Dream Mall lights before they get taken down (which could well be tomorrow). And Jim had a last chance to pose with a christmas giraffe.

At the train station on the way home, there were buskers singing traditional Christmas carols in Chinese.

We spent the rest of the evening at the guesthouse chilling, catching up with stuff online and phoning family. All in all, it was a really great Christmas Day, and doubtless people will still be talking today about the goofy foreigners wandering about in Santa hats.

Tomorrow we’re planning to go to Cijin Island for a long walk or perhaps a long pedal. And it’s tempting to wear our Santa hats again, just to really bamboozle the locals.

More then.

Our Xmas shopping list goes wonky, cool love and lights at central park, and Christmas Eve beers with the locals.

Day 210: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Our Christmas Eve started off a bit snoozy, but ended up being quite the opposite.

We had a peaceful breakfast at the guesthouse. There was no sign of the guy who rummages in his tracksuit pants, and even Mr Slurpie (a whole other story) seemed to have disappeared.

After breakfast Jim headed off to the laundromat to do a pile of washing, while Lil went shopping. Harking back to the guesthouse owner’s comment in Hengchun about people washing dog and cat clothes in laundromats (or possibly the dogs and cats themselves), this one looked like the sort of place that that could happen. As it was the only laundromat in the local area, Jim decided to risk it, and if we end up walking around with an assortment of hairs on our clothes looking like fluffy dogs and cats, so be it.

Lil meanwhile trawled the aisles of Carrefour on a desperate mission to find a list of foods for our Xmas picnic. Jim had put in a request for nice cheeses (the only choices were pre-packaged camembert, danish blue or sliced cheddar); salami (not a chance); pork pie (not even a remote possibility); baked ham (the closest was a packet of processed ham with a Japanese sounding name, which was slung into the shopping basket); mustard (nope, not available either); crusty bread (yep – their bakery is actually pretty good); and cooked chicken (only chicken legs, feet and other chicken parts which Lil says shouldn’t be eaten were available). Olives were also on the list. Lil found a jar that looked like tiny olives, but after one heck of a lot of Google translation later, it turns out they’re some sort of tree seeds. She also found some sliced German artisan beef too, which was unexpected but welcome.

A whole variety of Taiwanese sweet and savoury cakes and crackers were also thrown into the mix, along with a choux pastry snowman from the bakery, and a Toblerone bar (hallelujah!)

We spent some time in the afternoon chilling at the guesthouse, catching up with Christmas messages and blasting Christmas carols to get into the Xmas mood. Late afternoon we put on our Santa hats and headed over to Central Park for a holiday sound and light show, which turned out to be really cool.

The park features light and sound shows from local and international artists on the theme of Love to ‘bring enjoyment and happiness to Kaohsiung during the festive season’. The laser beams through the trees and the projections of snow on the “Light Labyrinth” were very impressive.

Light beams above the park animated to form the biggest Christmas tree in Taiwan.

Then we caught the train to the craft beer bar we visited on our first night in Kaohsiung, for a couple of crafty bevvies. We seemed to be the only two people in the city wearing Santa hats, so got lots of stares and chuckles along the way.

We plonked ourselves at a table outside the craft beer bar, ordered some beers, and after a short while, two young local guys came and asked if they could join us. They were keen to chat and practise their English, and find out about our stay in Taiwan. They also turned out to be really lovely people.

Their Chinese names are unpronounceable (to us at least), so we used their English names – KK and Abel. KK is a driver for a local hospital, and Abel works in a sales position. We had lots of conversations on all sorts of topics – KK needed to use Google Translate most of the time, but Abel’s English was excellent, despite the fact he doesn’t use English in his day to day life.

They insisted on buying us a beer (and they weren’t going to take no for an answer, despite our protests), saying it was their pleasure to meet us, and they were very proud to hear that we were loving staying in their country. Abel is hoping to go and work abroad at some point in the future, for a better job and more money to support his parents – he certainly won’t have any problem conversing in English if he does.

The guys were keen to try a whisky bar a few doors down before it closed, so we said our goodbyes, thanked them again for the beer and they wobbled off down the street. When Jim went to pay for our beers, we were horrified to discover that the guys had paid for all of our drinks, not just one beer each. So we went and found them at the whisky bar, and bought them drinks there in return. A little bizarrely, we found ourselves drinking gin and tonics when midnight struck, and we welcomed in another Christmas Day.

Then we wandered home, with a quick detour via McDonald’s (that’s our annual visit to the golden arches out of the way), and were oh so happy to find our guesthouse door was still unlocked!

Tomorrow we’re planning a very lazy start to the day, and a picnic in the park later in the day. And given Carrefour is open on Christmas Day, Jim may well want to pop in to buy some of their chicken feet and other weird bits on the way.

Happy Christmas all!

Early morning rummaging in pants, turning bad luck to good fortune, and some rather pricey apples.

Day 209: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Our day started in the cafe at our guesthouse. It was a pretty relaxing start to the day, until the young guy at the table next to us decided to have a quick shave with an electric shaver, straighten his hair with an electric straightener, and then started applying cream to some part of him inside his tracksuit pants. At that point we decided it was time for us to knock back our coffee, and head out.

We walked across town to Lotus Pond, an artificial lake that was opened in 1951. The lake is famous for the thousands of floating lotus plants there, and the many temples dotted around the lake.

There was also a pretty cool water skiing pulley which omits the need for parachutes or boats, though it’s may not be as much fun.

The tall twin multi-storied Dragon and Tiger pagodas are a major attraction at the lake. A sign outside advises: Entering a dragon’s throat and coming out a tiger’s mouth symbolizes turning bad luck to good fortune. Best not miss that one then.

We discovered quickly that Jim’s too tall for the winding staircases in the pagodas (he’s too tall for much stuff in the this country, to be honest) – and managed to bash his head in one of the stairwells. So hopefully walking out of the tiger’s mouth (albeit clutching his bruised head) will have turned his bad luck to good fortune. We can only hope.

We headed back home, dropping into a medical pharmacy along the way. Lil takes magnesium supplements every day, and hasn’t been able to find them in any of the regular retail pharmacies here. The two staff at the medical pharmacy were lovely. After lots of Google Translating and a slight bit of miscommunication where we were nearly sold a large tub of 1,000 tablets (equating to 3 years supply – eek), we paid for a little goodie bag of 100 tablets, which will keep Lil going for a few months.

And at Kaohsiung train station, Jim took the opportunity for a quick pose with a Christmas tree. The ray of light in the photo makes it look like the sleigh is about to be beamed up by Scotty.

We had dinner at a little night market tucked down some back streets – hot and sour spicy noodle soup, which was excellent. And thankfully all of the meat was identifiable, so Lil scoffed the lot.

We also popped into Carrefour supermarket to pick up a few things. While we were wandering through the fruit section, we were amazed to see gift boxes of apples on sale for crazy prices. The box of 5 Japanese Fuji apples in the pic below was selling for 1495 Taiwanese Dollars, which equates to nearly 75 AUD, and the box of New Zealand apples was nearly 50 AUD. They must be pretty special apples.

Before we headed to bed, Lil tried out a new antibacterial shoe spray she bought recently for her walking shoes. The text on the can, translated using Google Translate, advises: No matter whether you are pregnant or love your shoes, take off your shoes to avoid the dilemma of annoying odors. Alrighty.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve – we’ve a few things to pick up for our Xmas Day picnic, but otherwise we’re going to take it pretty easy. And hopefully the rummaging tracksuit guy will have checked out of the guesthouse.

More then.

Ten dead ducks hanging in the sun, our continuing struggle with selfie skills, and cute dogs wearing baseball caps.

Day 208: Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We moved accommodation this morning, then headed out for a long walk through the town. It was another 27C sunny winter day (the temperature is warm all year round here), and thankfully the air was clearer than yesterday.

We started with a wander through a nearby traditional local market, called Sanfong Jhong, which sells dried foods of all sorts, including dozens of different types of mushrooms, herbs, fruit and nuts, tea, dried fish, and lots of cakes, biscuits and candies. It’s a really interesting place, and unlike anywhere we’ve been before – the only downside is the motorbikes that come zipping through at regular intervals, making it a little difficult to relax.

Further along the street, we spotted a row of ten dead ducks hanging out on the pavement in the sun. We found ourselves wondering what stops the local dogs having a quick chomp as they go past (and sadly there weren’t any local dogs nearby just at that moment to find out).

We walked across town towards the coast, climbing some steps along the way to view an amazing and very peaceful temple with superb views across the city.

And we tried out our selfie skills again in front of a huge white ‘LOVE’ statue – yep, we’re still rubbish.

And there were monkeys – lots of them – having a good old play on a Sunday afternoon. Lil found a wooden stick so she could beat it on the ground to scare them off if they came too close. And let’s just say the stick turned out very handy indeed

We reached Xiziwan beach where lots of people were out kite surfing, and a rather over-officious life guard was tooting his whistle every 30 seconds at anyone who so much as dared to look like they might be going to put their toes in the water (no swimming, no fishing allowed due to strong currents).

Then we walked around the coast a bit further and climbed the hill to the Shihba Wanggong temple where there were lots of wooden tags with wishes/blessings hanging on railings. Right next to the temple is the old British Consulate at Takow, which was built in 1865 in colonial style to house the consulate when it moved from Tamsui in Taipei. It was left to ruin after the Japanese occupation until it was renovated in 1986. It sits above the customs house building which is at the bottom of the cliff and is perfectly situated to see all the comings and goings in the narrow port entrance, which is only a hundred meters across.

Jim also took the opportunity to sit and have a quick consultation with the golden-haired doctor in the grounds.

After a much needed caffeine hit in the Consulate garden cafe, we walked back down the hill and across to Hamasen Railway Cultural Park. The park is exactly what a park should be – a huge open green space with hundreds of families out socialising, playing and flying kites. The park was built on top of all the old port railway sidings and is covered in railway tracks, with a bunch of old steam engines dotted here and there.

We resisted the temptation to buy our own kite from a nearby selection (on the basis we have enough to carry as it is).

Afterwards we walked to the far side of the park in search of a craft beer bar called Zhang Men Brewery, and enjoyed a couple of IPAs. We had a prime spot at a window overlooking the harbour, which came with some excellent people and dog watching. We’ve noticed there seem to be more dogs than babies in prams here, and they sport all sorts of attire, including cute little baseball caps.

We watched the sun go down over the harbour, and the lights come on across the nearby fairground.

Then we went for dinner – straight forward fried rice with ham and shrimps, and a scallion omelette, so Lil didn’t have to worry about any unidentifiable meat – and headed home.

Tomorrow we need to buy some stuff, so we’re bracing ourselves for a trip to the shops (at least we don’t have to worry about the Christmas rush here). And maybe we’ll manage to work out why local dogs don’t chomp dead ducks.

More then.

Searching for Christmas festivities at the mall, Lil struggles to eat comprehensive wonton soup, and sampling some superb beer brewed by monks.

Day 207: Hengchun & Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We said our goodbyes to the lovely guesthouse owner this morning, and walked to the bus station to catch a bus to Kaohsiung, a large city 120km north of Hengchun.

The two hour journey shot past – largely helped by the ultra comfy bus seats that felt like we were sitting on a living room sofa. There were even TV screens on the bus, though mostly they seemed to be showing ads for a very powerful oven cleaner.

We arrived in Kaohsiung around lunchtime, and navigated our way to our guesthouse for tonight, stopping for a quick pose at an Xmas tree randomly placed in a concrete car park.

We booked six nights accommodation at a guesthouse from tomorrow, but they had no availability tonight – and generally accommodation seemed pretty thin on the ground for today.

After checking in and walking across the street for a coffee with a local newspaper, we discovered what the accommodation shortage was about. There were two separate rallies happening in the city today – one protesting for the removal of the city mayor who is also running for president in January, and the other one supporting him.

The article we read said there was a possibility of clashes and violence (with the newspaper imploring the public to behave well as they are under international scrutiny) and the American Institute in Taiwan warning American citizens to stay well clear of the protest areas. We did likewise.

We walked to Formosa Boulevard MRT station, which features the largest glass installation in the world called the Dome of Light. The internet says it’s 30m in diameter and covers 2180 square meters, which doesn’t quite compute. Regardless, it’s huge and very impressive.

We caught the MRT south of the city to Dream Mall – the largest shopping mall in Taiwan. While we both hate shopping, we’d read they go all out with Xmas decorations and activities. And they sort of do, at least in patches around the centre – and there’s a cute Santa train that weaves through the shoppers at snail’s pace.

We went up to the roof where there’s an amusement park complete with Ferris wheel, and some great views across the city, albeit they were somewhat marred by pollution today.

Then we wandered through the centre, checking out the Xmas decorations where we could spot them, and headed outside to a large courtyard garden where most of the action was taking place.

Little kids were zooming around in battery powered cars, their parents able to wrestle control back from the youngsters with a remote, and behind us a mini volcano was spewing water and smoke in a garden with thousands of fairy lights.

The central Xmas tree seemed to be getting the most attention though. The theme for Dream Mall’s Xmas festivities this year is Las Vegas, and the tree was adorned with coloured lights spelling out Casino, Slot Machine and Merry Christmas. Pretty interesting.

At 6pm a Beatles tribute band started playing on the platform in front of the Xmas tree. They were pretty good, and it was fun to listen to their rendition of lots of old Beatles numbers, albeit in strong Chinese accents.

When we’d had our fill of Ticket to Ride, Michelle, and Hard Day’s Night, we caught the MRT back to the centre and wandered down to Liuhe night market. It was packed and a lot of fun, with a huge variety of different foods, including some that we hadn’t seen in other towns and cities.

We shared a pork pepper bun, and Jim kept a beady eye out for a Kaohsiung special that he really wanted to try – deep fried oyster and egg dumpling (hardly a health food though). As we were nearing the end of our trawl around the market, we found a stall selling the fabled dumplings. Jim ordered one and we sat at plastic chairs and tables where he quickly devoured it (declaring it absolutely delicious), while Lil sat and wrinkled her nose.

Afterwards we had wonton noodle soup at a local eatery. The description translated to ‘Comprehensive wonton noodle soup’ and it turns out the contents of the wonton meat were just a little too comprehensive for Lil. She managed to eat two of them, then passed the rest to Jim, declaring unidentifiable meat syndrome.

After dinner we walked a couple of kilometres to a fabulous combined bar and bottle shop, just north of the city. They have a huge selection of local and international beers that can be bought for take away, or opened at one of the little tables around the shop.

We picked out a Belgian Christmas Ale, and an English Trappist Ale called Tynt Meadow, that we didn’t think we would ever get a chance to taste. The brewery was set up at the Mount St Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire in 2017, and the beer received the Authentic Trappists Product label in 2018. As the monks at the abbey have other priorities alongside brewing beer, they’ve struggled to keep up with demand. The beer is totally superb, and we felt super lucky to find a small supply at a bar in Taiwan. We drank one, and bought another to drink on Christmas Day.

Tomorrow we move accommodation, to another guesthouse just a few minutes walk away. Once we’ve settled in, we’ll go and explore a bit more of the city. And Jim is already trying to convince Lil that deep fried oyster and egg dumplings should be part of a well-balanced daily diet.

More then.