This past Monday (9/24/18) was 中秋节, the mid-Autumn festival and a very important holiday in Taiwan which meant that we had Monday off from school and a long weekend!
There are several variations of the legend behind the mid-Autumn festival. The story I learned for 中秋节 is that at one point in Taiwanese history, there was a very hot and dry spell because there were ten suns in the sky. There was widespread starvation and death, and one brave man named Hou Yi who was a hunter decided he would help end the drought and hot spell by shooting the extra suns out of the sky with is bow and arrow. When only one sun remained, the land began to cool and the people were saved. Everyone was happy except the emperor because the suns that Hou Yi had shot down were his children. In anger, he banished Hou Yi and his wife Chang E underground where they would be forced to leave. The brave man’s wife prayed and prayed for a way to return to the land, and one day the earth goddess heard her prayers and granted her a 月餅 or a mooncake that had the power to bring her and her husband back to the earth. Unfortunately and evil man heard of the 月餅 and tried to take it from the brave man’s wife when he was out hunting for food. She refused to share it with him and was forced to eat the whole cake instead of returning it to her husband. She safety escaped the underworld and became a moon in the sky. However, she will spend the rest of her life separated from her husband. Every day on 中秋节, the Taiwanese people make, offer, and eat many 月餅 or a mooncakes in an effort to reunite Chang E to her husband Hou Yi. (Disclaimer, I was told this story in Chinese so I may have some of the information and details incorrect…). People also have BBQs and get together with friends and family on this special day and also give gifts of 文旦 or pomelos. At my school, I was given two 文旦 and several月餅 in honor of the holiday.
Because we had a long weekend, 7 other Hualien ETA’s and I all decided to travel to 台东(Taitung) for the weekend. Something we learned quickly while trying to plan this trip is that it is very important to book train tickets in advance. We were lucky to have gotten seats on the train we did even though we got them two weeks in advance. Everyone travels during the moon festival
The first day in Taitung, Jenna, Karina and I rented bikes for the day and traveled along the coast to a place called 小野柳 (Xiaoyeliu). The rocks that make up this fascinating tourist destination are made of sedimentary sandstone and shale. The different formations have been named after their appearance. For example, there are 豆腐 岩 (tofu) rocks, mushroom rocks, and honeycomb rocks. We luckily hit the formations at low tide so we could see all the different rocks.
The Railway Art Village is the location of the original train station that had recently been renovated and relocated. In order to preserve the area people from Taitung decided to install a permanent craft fair. There were art vendors selling jewelry and postcards, and many musicians were busking in the street. I purchased a necklace and some postcards to send back home and a delicious pesto chicken sandwich!
Because we were heading to Green Island on the 7:30 am ferry, we went to bed not too late to prepare for our early departure. We left in a taxi the next morning at 6:30 am and arrived at the harbor bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The ride was 1 hour although I don’t remember any of it because I was fast asleep. When we arrived, our first stop was to rent scooters. There is an 18 km road that surrounds Green Island and it is most convenient travel by scooter. The first several places that we asked assured us that they were out of scooters for the day. Panicking, we kept asking and getting a similar answer. Finally, while we were trying one last place Emma pulled out her Taiwan scooter licence. It was like magic. Suddenly, the woman was eager to rent us scooters and happily set us up with four scooters for the day.
Once we had our scooters in hand, we grabbed breakfast and headed off for our first adventure, snorkeling! We stopped at one of the first places we saw on the side of the road. As we approached the building, I suddenly realized that I had no idea how to say snorkeling in Chinese. And neither did any of the rest of us. So we went up and using some body language, conveyed that we wanted to to swimming but with the fish. Thankfully the guy quickly understood our meaning and told us we could go snorkeling, 浮潛, fú qiǎn. He set us up with all the gear we needed and helped us get ready. We still had not payed for snorkeling so I asked him if we could pay separately. (分開付錢 fēn kāi fù qián). However, because I struggle with tones and similarities in pronunciation between different words in Chinese, the guy thought that I had requested to 放開浮潛 fàng kāi fú qiǎn, which means to go free snorkeling, or let go of the flotation and separate from the group. He quickly responded that this was far to dangerous and he could not allow it. Baffled I tried to explain that it would be more convenient to split up payment, which he then replied, it is too dangerous and more inconvenient for us. After a few minutes of complete confusion I realized we were not on the same page and with some gestures was able to convey our message. However, for future reference, 分開付錢 fēn kāi fù qián and 放開浮潛 fàng kāi fú qiǎn have very different meanings .
After snorkeling, we began our trip around Green Island. The first stop was a beautiful lighthouse that was actually gifted to Green Island from the American Red Cross as a thank you for helping rescue US passengers aboard an ocean vessel that had run aground on the coral reefs just off the island.
After stopping at the lighthouse, we continued on to one of the most important stops on the island. Green Island is a historical location because during the White Terror (1940’s-1980’s) it was used to house political prisoners. There is a large human rights memorial that has the names of all of the prisoners and their sentence time while at the prison. There is also a large museum inside the old prison that is now empty with information panels and photos. If you want to learn more about the history I recommend reading a book called “Green Island” by Shawna Yang Ryan.
After a speedy lunch, the next stop was a cave that is also used as a place of worship on the island. There are many interesting caves and crevasses on the island.
We were running out of time because we needed to return our scooters at 4 pm and catch a 4:30 ferry back to the mainland but we had enough time for just 2 more stops. The first stop was what many people claim is the most beautiful vista from the island. It is called the Little Great Wall and is a walking path that extends up along the coast.
The last stop of the day was a beach right before we reached the harbor. Gina and I quickly pulled off on the side of the road and ran down to check it out. The “sand” was made almost entirely of coral pieces. It was incredible!
We made the ferry in time and even got a job offer from the scooter rental lady (she clearly had a big turn of heart after she realized we were competent scooter drivers). She told us if we ever wanted to come back and teach English on Green Island she would be willing to help us out. On the ferry ride back, this time I managed to stay awake the whole ride and took some great farewell pictures.
The next morning we returned to Hualien but don’t worry Taitung, I will be back! There are plenty more hiking trails and beaches to explore both in Taitung and on Green Island.