Say it with me: “Kaohsiung”
Hello, dear readers. This is just a quick post to let you all know what’s going on with me.
As most of you know, I landed in Taipei last Friday, thus beginning my adventure over here in Taiwan. I hung out in Taipei for a few days, which is where I was for my first few blog posts. I stayed at a little place called Taipei Hostel on the recommendation of my trusty Lonely Planet guide book. It was fine, but of course as most of you are well aware, I had the only room in the place without a/c. This wasn’t that big of a deal – I just hung out in the common room or went out exploring during the days. The hostel itself was nothing special – small, dingy, and the lady who runs it is an absolutely insane Taiwanese woman. But the people staying there were tremendously cool. There were a couple people from Australia and a couple from the states that I connected with immediately, and we all hung out a bit.
But my plan from the beginning has been this: since I would be landing in Taipei, I’d hang out there for a few days and see if I really liked it. If I fell in love immediately, I might stay. If not, I would go to Kaohsiung (pronounced “gow-SHUNG”), my original planned destination, and see if I liked that any better.
Well, I didn’t love Taipei. I mean, the things I blogged about – the Temples, Danshui – were very cool, but there are temples all over Taiwan, and while Danshui is a nice little getaway spot, it’s about 40 minutes north of town. Taipei itself is too busy – too many people, too many cars and scooters – it just feels too crowded. It’s also dirty, and horribly polluted. It’s like New York, I guess, but without the charm, the beauty, or the the English. I mean there are pretty parks and nice parts, but on a whole, it still looks like the town governed by Chinese martial law for 40 years. Add on top of that the fact that the summers are oppressively hot and humid, and that the winters are cold and chronically rainy, and it just wasn’t the place I wanted to settle in.
My friend Katie U. told me that Kaohsiung was the way to go. She taught there for a year and loved it, and misses it dearly to this day. The more people I talked to in Taipei that knew both towns, the more I wanted to get down to KHH. While Taipei is in the far north of Taiwan, Kaohsiung is on the southwest coast. Despite that, it’s slightly less humid in the summer, and the winters are supposedly gorgeous. Also, the people and the overall vibe are said to be way more laid back. So Monday and Tuesday of this week, I stayed in for the most part, scoured the interwebs for teaching jobs in KHH and sent off emails and resumes to all the schools I could find in KHH with openings.
Then on Wednesday it was time to finally take the plunge down south. I hopped the train at 1:15 pm, traveled down the western countryside and arrived at the Kaohsiung Central Station at 6. I hauled my diva luggage up a mountain of stairs, walked a bit, spotted the exit, and then had to bounce my diva luggage down the another mountain of stairs. But I was here. I don’t know how to describe it, but the vibe was immediately different from Taipei. It felt more relaxed, just like everyone had said. I whipped out my Lonely Planet, found the hostel where I’d made reservations, and showed the nearest cabbie the Chinese characters for the address. He nodded, I threw my luggage in the cab, and away we went.
Here’s when I knew Kaohsiung was the place for me: When I got in the cab, my dear driver had Chinese talk radio going. No biggie, I thought, that could be a fun listen. But as soon as I closed my door, he looked in the rearview mirror at me and pushed in a CD. It was as if he was thinking “My Western passenger wants not to listen to this Chinese political banter. This is what he wants.” Right then I heard the sweet dusky saxophone intro of Wham!’s “Careless Whisper.” Those 5 minutes of heaven let me know I was in the right spot. And as if the CD didn’t want my goosebumps to wane, it immediately started pumping out Mariah Carey’s version of “Without You” next. Normally I hate Mariah Carey and wish that she would be visited upon by several plagues, but somehow, in this moment, it felt right.
As Mariah was doing her thing, the cabby pulled up to a doorway with potted plants all around it on a side street mere steps from the Love River. This was my hostel. I got out and smelled the plant-life around me; smelled the soft breeze coming in off the river; and I looked around.
Kaohsiung feels right. I think I’m home.