September in Taiwan is much much hotter then September in Maine or Massachusetts for that matter. After a long week of 80-90 degree weather and high humidity with no AC at schol, several of the other Hualien ETAs and I had decided that our one weekend plan was to find a place to swim. Gill suggested checking out 鯉魚潭 (Liyu lake) just outside of Hualien city, a popular tourist destination with many outdoor recreation activities including kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boating, hiking, and biking. “And swimming?” I asked Gill. “Hmmm you can swim but people usually only do in the mornings,” she said.
So on Saturday morning, determined to go swimming, I set out to find Liyu lake. It was only about 8 miles away from Hualien so I decided to bike there and meet my friends who were riding their scooters. Even though it was only 8 am, it was already sooo hot. By the time I got there I was absolutely covered in sweat. And very dehydrated. I bought some postcards and some iced tea and settled down to write next to a little old lady renting kayaks while simultaneously scoping out potential swimming spots along the lake. To my dismay, a big sign read, “NO SWIMMING.” How could this be, Gill had said people often swim here! I quickly scanned the water and realized there was not a soul swimming. I didn’t understand how such a beautifully clear lake was empty of swimmers on such a hot day. I began to hatch a plan. I would rent a kayak and then stage a capsize. The lady selling kayaks must have caught wind of my plan and quickly asked if I wanted to rent a kayak. I told her no, I would be okay. I decided causing a scene at the lake was probably not a good idea.
While I sat writing my postcards, I noticed a slew of no-see-ums circling my legs. I would write a couple of words and then shoo them all away in distress. It went on like this for a while until the little old lady noticed my silent battle and came over fretting. She said something I didn’t quite understand but I gathered she was talking about little black somethings. Then she pointed at my legs and exclaimed “red!” in Chinese. I tried to assure her that I was okay but she was very concerned. Finally she went back into her tent. I wrote a bit more when she suddenly reappeared and tapped on my leg. She handed me a small bottle of ointment and told me to put it on the red spots. It was very minty and the bugs left me alone after I applied it. I thanked her profusely and she went back to her tent smiling and shaking her head muttering something about foreigners.
This was definitely not the first act if kindness I’ve witnessed in Taiwan so far and I frequently find myself in situations where I marvel at the generosity and thoughtfulness of Taiwanese people. For example, one day my friend Emma and I were walking out of school and a lady in a white van pulled over. She asked us what we are doing here and we told her we are teaching English in various Elementary schools throughout Hualien. She excitedly thanked us for coming to teach the children in Hualien, and pulled two waffles filled with red bean pastry from a little bag in the car. Now, when offered sweets from strangers in white vans in the US, it is probably a good idea to politely decline or try to ignore the stranger completely. However, in Hualien this was a completely different situation and we took the sweets and thanked her. Another time I was trying to figure out how to get to my first Chinese class and I was hopelessly lost on campus. I approached a group of guys and asked them where the language building was. They not only told me where, but walked me to the building and showed me the most convenient staircase. A different time I was getting ready to bike home from school and it was pouring rain. My co-teacher Demi begged me to be careful and then a few moments later decided it was far too dangerous for me to ride to the train station in the rain. She insisted that she would drive me home and pick me up the next morning at the train station. These are just a few examples of the many times I have been taken care of by complete strangers.
Back at Liyu lake, I decided to go for a short hike and then grab some lunch. Biked to the other side of the lake and began hiking the “exercise trail” according to the sign. It was intimidating to be alone in the woods with so many signs that warned of snakes and attack monkeys but I reminded myself I was just psyching myself out and I often hike or run alone in the US. The short hike turned out to be much longer than I expected and far steeper as well. The trail appeared to be infrequently hiked and I only saw one other person the whole time. The route was entirely made of rotten wooden stairs so it was a two hour stair stepping exercise. But the view was nice!
When I made it back down I finally met up with a few of my friends. We grabbed a bite to eat and decided to go for a kayaking adventure. We returned to my favorite little old lady who rented us several kayaks for a fairly cheap price. We kayaked for about an hour and explored the whole lake. This time I was more careful with the sun and brought excess sunscreen and a hat too so don’t worry mom no sunburn here!
The bike ride back was much smoother and before too long I was back home. Overall it was a wonderful adventure, minus the fact that we didn’t get to swim and the mysterious rash that appeared all over my whole body the next day that I have been unable to identify…