Fushing 002 – Cycling Dashi to Fushing
November 26, 2006
I was up early the next morning and simply loaded my bike and cycled off. There was that extra “B” in “Jessie’s B&B,” but I didn’t want to wait around and see what kind of breakfast it might be. I had a bit of a tense moment when I got to the front of this complex and found the gate closed and locked. The fence was quite high and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to scale it with my bike. But luckily there was a pedestrian zigzag exit built into the exit. With some pushing and pulling and finessing, I got my bike through that exit and rode off.
My first stop was, not surprisingly, the 7-11. You can’t beat the 7-11 for a convenient hot rice meal when nothing else is open. This 7-11 was ideal because it sat right on an open but busy intersection. It also had a couple of benches at the front. I got my potato and rice curry and milk and went outside and sat on the bench. The requisite stray dog was splayed on the pavement right in front of the 7-11 and he kept me company as I ate.
These stray dogs give a cyclist lots of food for thought. There are certainly a lot of them in Taiwan and many are not in the best shape. This has prompted more than one foreigner to adopt one, and one fellow I know even founded an entire organization – Animals Taiwan – to do nothing but to care for stray dogs (and other animals) and try to find them homes. There appears to be a very real problem with farmers here putting out traps. I’m not sure what the traps are supposed to be for, but they often get these stray dogs and these traps do a lot of damage to their legs. I’ve read some horrific stories on the Animals Taiwan web site about dogs that were found with these traps still on their legs and still digging into their flesh.
I remember seeing a lot of stray dogs on my bike ride to Pinglin. These animals puzzled me. They obviously didn’t have actual owners. Many were missing most of their fur and had other problems. But at the same time, they seemed to have an area that they called home, and I got the impression that people fed them on a semi-regular basis. They also ran in packs. The packs were usually just two or three dogs, but I have seen packs of up to six or seven. And always in those packs, there were one or two that could only run on three legs, the fourth leg being obviously broken or injured in some way. I could only guess that they’d either been caught in a trap at some point, or more likely hit by a car. There’s no sight more likely to tug at the heart strings of a person than a limping animal. But at the same time, I kept thinking about how dumb these dogs had to be. Dumb, because half the time I came across them sleeping in the middle of the road. I wondered how many of them had to be hit by a car before they figured out that sleeping on the road wasn’t a good idea. As a cyclist, I had to be careful. The dogs would hear a car coming and wouldn’t be surprised by them. But on a bicycle, I was silent and they’d often leap, startled, to their feet when I got near them. I learned to make some kind of noise as I approached or sweep wide around them. They weren’t dangerous in any way, but anybody woken out of a sound sleep is bound to be a bit unpredictable, and I didn’t need tooth marks in my calves.
The stray dog at the 7-11 was clearly a regular. He lay in front of the door like he owned the place. He didn’t budge or even open an eye no matter how many people had to step over him. He came to life only once, and that was when a man on a scooter came up to drop off some mail of some kind. This fellow did this for a living and had a route that he followed I guess, and he had a scooter dog with him. These scooter dogs are great. I don’t know if it’s wise to train your dog to ride on your scooter with you. I don’t know how many are injured as a result. But they sure seem to get a kick out of it. This dog was having the time of his life. Before the scooter had come to stop, he had leapt off and was running around to sniff all the places he had to sniff. And then there were the new and exciting things to sniff like my foot and my bicycle. Luckily, he only peed on my bicycle and left my foot dry. When the man finished his delivery, he didn’t even look for the dog. He knew the routine just as well as the dog did. He simply hauled the scooter back off its kickstand and roared off. The dog heard the sound, ran up beside the scooter and hopped neatly back on and they went off to the next place on the route.
The big motor bikes were already out in full force despite the early hour. Groups of ten or eleven of them raced up to the intersection and then sped off in different directions. I imagined they were heading towards the same highway I was and I’d be seeing a lot of them during the day.
My curry done, I got back on my bike and rode into Dashi, then turned right onto the main drag that took me to the beginning of the Northern Cross-Island Highway. I wasn’t too excited about the trip at this point. The previous day had been spent more or less in urban sprawl and I’d had to fork over nearly $100 for a night’s lodging. Now, I found the highway as jammed with traffic as the road outside of Pinglin was during Chinese New Year. It was also very steep and narrow and I had to be extremely careful to stay as close to the edge as I could. Cars and trucks were cutting extremely close and I felt that if I wobbled at all, I’d be smacked flat. I kept thinking that maybe riding a bicycle, much as I loved it, was not the thing to do in Taiwan. I even pulled over to the side of the road at one point and texted a friend of mine in Canada to give him a trip update and whine a little bit.
This texting on the road is certainly a new thing for me. It’s strange to be on a bicycle and yet have a cell phone and be able to call or text anyone in the world. I remember writing in a journal long ago that one of the great things about bike touring is being out of touch, of being lost and out of reach. But I have a cell phone here in Taiwan, and it just makes sense to take it with me. I actually don’t find that it matters much one way or the other. It’s just a new thing.
Luckily, shortly after sending that text message, everything changed. The road became far less steep. I guess it was only that initial section that was cut into the mountain at such a steep grade. Now it was just a normal mountain grade. I was still going up, but it wasn’t a big deal. I actually like going up mountains more than I like cycling on a flat piece of ground. You get the views of course, but I also like the slow and steady pace. You simply drop the bike into first gear and grind your way up.
But much more importantly, the traffic vanished. I don’t know why it was so heavy at the beginning, but as soon as the road leveled off a little bit, the traffic dwindled down to a manageable amount. I started to really enjoy myself. The scenery changed as well. I hadn’t gone far from Dashi, but just going east that kilometer or two changed everything. The land opened up and there was nice greenery everywhere. And with the traffic gone, I could relax and look around me. It was turning into a glorious cycling day.
Before I knew it, I came across a sign for Fushing. According to all my maps and books, Fushing was quite a bit further from Dashi. But apparently all my maps and books are wrong. I probably could have made it easily the night before, but things worked out quite well in the end. Fushing wasn’t on the main road, but a kilometer or two down a side road. I hemmed and hawed for a minute or two. It was still early in the day and as far as I knew, there was nothing in Fushing proper that I absolutely had to see. But I had plenty of time and nowhere in particular to get to that day. I would just end up where I ended up. So I turned down the road and rode into Fushing.
I knew nothing about Fushing before I went there. But I guess it’s similar to Pinglin in that it’s a popular destination for day trips out of Taipei. That’s one thing one often forgets on a bike. I found that in Canada, one day on a bike for me equaled about an hour of driving. I’m pretty slow and casual about this cycling business, and I would usually cover 100 km in a day. And on a Canadian highway, 100 km is less than an hour of driving. But even 100 km on a bicycle is no laughing matter, especially if you’re just starting out and aren’t in shape yet. So you have this huge, crazy, demanding, difficult journey on your bike and you cover 100 km. Emotionally and in every other way, you feel like you’ve really traveled a distance. You feel like you’ve gone on a pretty big journey. But then your friend (or worse, your mother) just shows up at your campsite in a car. They had nothing to do and thought they’d hop in the car and see how you were doing. So they just drive out, say hi, and drive back. It ain’t nothing in a car.
Fushing and Pinglin are like that. They’re actually not major bike rides by any stretch of the imagination. Cycling is getting more popular in Taiwan it seems, and I saw lots of people in lycra and sitting on fancy racing bikes who rode to Pinglin and back or Fushing and back in a day. But for me, desk jockey that I’ve become, and just starting out and with a “touring load” on my bike, it was a bit of a bike ride. I felt like I’d really gone somewhere. But really, these places were just day trips. I mean, you can probably take a city bus from Taipei to Fushing if you knew which bus to get on.
In any event, Fushing was rocking. The main drag was packed with people and traffic. There were two or three large parking lots quickly filling up with cars and tour buses. I joined this traffic and cycled along slowly. The main drag wasn’t long, maybe a kilometer, if that, and it ended in a nice little park. I felt very “cycling smug” once more as I threaded my bike through the car barriers and went into the park area. At the far end of the park I came across a group of relatively large buildings. I didn’t know what they were, but I guessed that this had to be the Youth Activity Center which I read about in my Lonely Planet. The Lonely Planet recommended it as a place to stay if you ever got the chance, and I thought I’d go in and check it out.
I really had no idea where I was, but no one seemed to mind me wandering through the hallways of this building and soon I found myself a nice little restaurant/coffee shop. I went through the restaurant and walked out onto a huge verandah overlooking a lake and green mountains. It was a beautiful view, and right then and there I decided to stay in Fushing if at all possible. I backtracked and eventually, close to the young people and their activities, I found what was clearly a hotel check-in counter. There was no one there, but on the wall behind the counter I saw a series of pictures of hotel rooms. Some of them were austere Japanese style and some were standard but very comfortable-looking furnished rooms.
It took a while to get anyone’s attention, but eventually a flock of young women in uniform were running around to see if they had a room for me. I didn’t hold out much hope. This was a holiday weekend and surely the place would be booked up solid. I don’t know even know why they were looking. I figured they’d just wave their hands at me in the negative and send me on my way. But after much flipping through of some giant ledgers, they turned to me and said that one of the Japanese-style rooms was available. It was a room for 8 people and I could have it for NT$800 or $26 Canadian.
I thought I was on Candid Camera. I certainly didn’t believe them. I figured what they meant was I could stay in that room along with 7 other people who would eventually show up. And of course five of those other people would be obnoxious children. But no, they insisted that the room was mine if I wanted it. Well, I wanted it! I wanted it so bad. The only problem was that they said it wouldn’t be available until three or four in the afternoon. That wasn’t happy news. I didn’t want to be homeless for the entire day waiting for my room. The women seemed to understand this, especially when they learned I was on a bicycle, and they said they would see what they could do. They asked for my cell phone number and said they’d call me when the room was ready. This was very cool. I was very glad then to have my cell phone. The cell phone really isn’t a convenience anymore. People expect you to have one.
My run of good luck continued when I went out into the park to wait for my phone call and I found a little coffee shop on wheels. A man had taken all the things you need to make a specialty cup of coffee – water, filters, cups, beans, a grinder, a propane tank, a burner – and built them all onto the frame of a Giant mountain. He can pack up the whole thing and cycle to anywhere he wants and set up. The menu was in Chinese, but I wasn’t worried about that. I thought I would just pick one at random and see what I got. But then this man pointed to his T-shirt. I looked more closely and saw that he had the entire menu translated into English printed on his T-shirt. So I took a good look at this man’s chest, much to the amusement of the passersby, and picked out the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life. I was probably swimming in cycling endorphins or something, but sitting there drinking my cup of coffee while waiting for my private Japanese room for eight – built, I learned, on the site of one of Chiang-Kai Shek’s summer homes, how cool is that – was a tiny taste of paradise.
I ordered a second cup of coffee and before that was finished, my phone rang with the happy news that my room was ready. They had given me room 301 and I took the elevator up to the third floor. The hallways were wide and clean and I walked down them getting more and more exciting. Where the hallway took a sharp right turn, there was a large common room with vending machines and a balcony. From the balcony I got a beautiful view of the lake and the mountains. My room was just a short way down the hall from there. I opened the door to my room and giggled with delight. It was huge. Of course, being Japanese style, there was no furniture – no beds or desks or chairs – but I didn’t mind.
Right inside the door were three sinks and eight Youth Activity Center toiletry bags. I think everyone in the world loves those things. I grabbed one and rooted through it like a kid in a candy shop: toothbrush, tiny tube of toothpaste, comb, razor, soap, shampoo, and a washcloth! Just off this area was a toilet and in a separate little room, a shower. When I think about it now, I suppose it’s a bit odd to design a room so that when you step through the door of your hotel room you step directly into the bathroom. But if you don’t have a huge amount of room, it’s not a bad design. After all, the room was designed for eight people to sleep all in the same room lined up on the floor in a neat row. You wouldn’t want to have to step over everyone again and again as you got ready in the morning. This way, you simply wake up, stumble over everyone else once, and then you’re at the front of the room which doubles as the bathroom. You do your thing there and step outside.
The sleeping area was raised up about two feet and closed off by a set of wooden sliding doors with paper instead of glass “windows.” You were expected to take off your shoes and put on one of the eight pairs of slippers provided before stepping up there. I did take off my shoes of course, but I didn’t bother with the slippers. They never fit my feet. The floor was a beautiful polished wood and it shimmered in the light that poured in from the other end of the room. One side of the room was a solid set of built-in closets and shelves plus a TV. There was an air-conditioner which I immediately turned on. There was some kind of sticker that I think was telling me not to set it below a certain temperature. That I ignored. I like my air-conditioning! At the far end of the room was another set of sliding doors and beyond that you stepped down into a small sitting area with a table. I pictured the eight people who normally occupied a room like this sitting on the floor around this little table drinking tea and enjoying the view out the window. It was a nice image.
There was no actual balcony attached to this room, but it didn’t matter. This tea-drinking area served just as well. The windows there could be slid all the way open and you got the same wonderful views that you got from everywhere else. I quickly took a shower and then headed back out into Fushing on my bike. It was a very small town and it didn’t take long to ride in and out of all the back lanes as well as the main drag. I took some pictures of the temple and some of the mushrooms for which Fushing is famous.