Day Fifteen: Hualien city

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I awoke at around 9am and was pleasantly surprised to realise that I had been granted my own choice of wake up time for once. I was the only backpacker staying in this dorm room which gave me more peace than I’d hoped for. The bad news was that I checked the weather outside and saw possibly the bluest sky in the world. Bugger it. I starting thinking that I’d picked the wrong day to go to Taroko, but unless I bumped into Doc and Marty McFly then there was no chance of changing that. And even if I did, they’d probably feel a little put out only going back 24 hours.

The plan today was simply just to have a wander around the city, maybe pick up a souvenir or two and check out the local grub. With a rumble in my belly I hopped onto the KTR and headed towards an area that had been recommended by hostel staff for having decent food options. I arrived to find that almost nothing was open. I previously mentioned in one of the earlier days that finding breakfast between the hours of 9am – 10:30am can be a nightmare for some reason, and it was certainly the case today. After around 15 minutes of careful checking of opening times and menus, luckily I eventually stumbled across a shop which I later worked out was called “Mr Goose”; the drawings of geese on the fascia clearly showing that at least I know what animal I’ll be eating.

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Qixingtan beach (七星潭海邊) in Hualien.

The restaurant cook, a moon faced auntie sporting a hairnet and stained black apron grinned at me as I approached, with the usual tourist pleasing “hello, hello”. In Mandarin, she immediately asked if I could speak Chinese, to which I replied “only a little, it’s not good”. “Hao-ah” was her response, which kind of means: “alright then”. Then she proceeds to point at various dishes and explain what they are in Chinese, which doesn’t help much. Every time I use the phrases “bu zhi dao” (I don’t know) and “ting bu dong” (I don’t understand) she holds her stomach and roars with laughter – like a Bond villain – and repeats what I said, followed by more chuckling. As I can recognise a little writing on menus, I crane my neck to the front of the cooking stall and try that approach instead. I see something that looks like “oil rice”, so I order one of those, then I notice that inside one of her broths has a favourite of mine: duck’s blood pudding. Now hear me out… it’s delicious. OK, that’s all I’ve got. I point decisively at the red squares, and she motioned for me to sit down.

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After some brekkie I headed back to the hostel for a shower, before I planned to hit the souvenir market. Well, if you are looking for pineapple cakes or jewellery then you’re in luck. But there’s practically nothing else for sale on the street that was recommended. This is another Asian phenomenon that puzzles me; rather than have a street consisting of different types of shops and businesses, they will often be located all in the same area. For example, it’s not uncommon to see three or four mechanics all working next door to each other, or in this case, a street of mainly jewellery and pineapple cake shops. How do the ones in the middle of the street make any money? Do people walk along for five minutes, passing cake shop after cake shop and think “no, not today” and then finally succumb to the temptation? Anyway, I digress. The hostel had mentioned a decent souvenir shop that sells aboriginal and hand crafted items, so I headed there first. As luck would have it, it was closed that day. Bugger it again.

The urban explorer side of my brain had been keeping an eye out for something interesting, even though I had heard that abandoned buildings were either few and far between or not particularly interesting around these parts. I spotted a Starbucks on the corner of one of the city’s main streets, and the windows above the shop showed a number of indications that the second floor might be abandoned. Sadly the first hurdle was insurmountable; a concierge at the main – and only – entrance. I gave up on that idea pretty sharpish.

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While I continued my search for some decent trinkets I couldn’t help noticing that the sky was becoming extremely murky, and sooner than expected it started to come down relatively heavily (say that three times fast). I was passing a McD’s and had the desire for a burger and ice cream, so I ducked in there for an hour or so while the rain poured. Unfortunately this continued for the rest of the day, which – if nothing else – gave me ample reassurance that I did pick the correct day to visit the gorge, and allowed me to get some nice shots of Hualien during the evening rush hour. My final evening didn’t get much more exciting than that, as I watched episodes of The Office to the sound of rainfall outside, and enjoyed a relaxed hotpot dinner courtesy of the generous hostel hosts.

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At this time tomorrow I’d be back in Taipei.

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