An Open Letter to Kaohsiung

Dear Kaohsiung,

I still remember your people every time I think about you. I only got to spend roughly 48 hours with you but it was enough to make me want to come back and see more. It’s too bad Usagi was threatening the party, wanting to barge in on the moon festival vacation.

I will confess. I initially planned to use you as an entry point to Little Ryukyu and Kenting. But well, I guess you wanted to show me that you have so much to offer too. Maybe you actually had this planned with Usagi all along. You guys have schemed on me and the rest of my fellow tourists so you can make us stay within your lovely harbored lands.

Maybe you schemed with that typhoon so I would scramble on my first night to drop by and see your world-famous Love River.

Which can be explored further via solar-powered boats  laced with LED lights during night time.

as well as the sight of your people enjoying and dancing beneath the moonlight.

Did you want me to drop by so I can see that bikes are also very much welcome in Kaohsiung? You made me miss my mountain bike so bad. Then I happened onto this…

And I just had to laugh at the creativity and profound sweetness that it showed me. What’s going to stop a dad from carrying his child along on a bike? NOTHING. NADA. ZILCH. ZERO.

That photowalk made me very hungry, you know. So I decided to visit one of your famous night markets to try your street food fare. But then you made me go past the Formosa Boulevard station and I had to just photograph this.

It was a test of angle and patience. It wasn’t that easy trying to fit the post along with the cathedral window of a ceiling you’ve got there. But this was a centerpiece I haven’t seen elsewhere. It made me realize the care you spent on making sure this station lived up to Taiwan’s old name of Formosa.

My hunger temporarily froze while I took photos, but soon enough my stomach rumbled. Good thing though that Liuhe night market is nearby. It took only a few minutes to reach the place and a mere few seconds to realize that you, Kaohsiung, knew my sweet spot. You have understood right from the get-go what tickles my fancy and that the way to my heart happens to be right from my stomach.

BUT WHY DO YOU HAVE TO SHOW ME SO MANY SEAFOOD?

Why does this night market have to provide an endless array of food stalls? Why shall you make me suffer stall after stall after stall…

I had to remind myself that I am staying in an inn with a shared bathroom. That called upon my fear of dumping the contents of my dinner in a public place where everyone can get a horrific whiff of what may stench. It’s a fear that luckily wins over ┬ámy fear of not sampling all the food I can possibly consume.

My first night with you, Kaohsiung, was something I did not expect. Your clear Thursday night gave me hope that I can visit the two other islands I wanted to visit the next day.

Then next day came and I met these two strangers. These two strangers also happened to be your locals who very sincerely advised me against my Kenting trip, saying Usagi’s supposedly making a grand entrance from there.

The first one did his best to gave me a weather forecast complete with hand gestures. I initially thought it was a dance number for foreigners until I realized he was trying to make a big wave motion to scare me against riding a ferry towards Ryukyu. The other one told me to enjoy you instead, Kaohsiung. He told me I would have plenty to see inside you too and have a fun vacation that is safe and dry. Why do they have to care for a stranger like me? It beats me, Kaohsiung. Such warmth and friendliness, why’d you have to remind me of something Pinoy huh?

So yeah, scaredy cat that I am, I went ahead with my Fo Guang Shan trip instead.

I was a bit hesitant about this because it’s a Buddhist monastery and I was a bit afraid that I cannot be accepted at some places but nah.

I was more than welcome to walk along the grounds, marveling at the pagodas and the golden Buddha which quietly commandeered an atmosphere of peace. I was briefly reminded of my previous thoughts of wanting to become Buddhist.

But more than those thoughts Kaohsiung, there was something else about Fo Guang Shan that I will always keep inside me. It was the place where I found nirvana, or at least my tastebuds did.

It must have been Buddha intervention that I decided to order this vegetarian glory.

IT WAS THE BEST VEGETARIAN MEAL I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY 27 YEARS OF EXISTENCE.

I wanted to ask the guys who sold this if it’s possible to find this elsewhere in Taiwan but I’m afraid they would tell me to try the weekend-retreat offered by the monastery. Yep, this retreat that’s done in full English for foreigners who want to experience how’s it like to live like a buddhist monk. I was afraid I will say YES I WOULD LOVE TO! or that I would volunteer in the kitchen FOR FREE IF YOU FEED ME!

That lunch was divine. And the bus trip that followed was such a lovely way to cap off my monastery trip. I chanced upon a chatty driver who was proud to say he was an atheist saying, “I only believe in myself. I am the one doing good.” Such an interesting folk he is, trying to talk to me and practice his English skills with me. Soon enough, a family also rode the bus and when the mother knew I was a foreigner, she immediately asked his daughter to talk to me in English. I was made into a talking English flash card but hey, I don’t mind.

This family…now where do I begin? Soon as they knew I came from the Philippines, they just got more interested.

They kept on asking me why I am in Taiwan. They said the Philippines is also beautiful. They said I should see more of you Kaohsiung. They said I should definitely come back when there is no more typhoon. They also told me to check out Chiayi, Hualien, and told me I would love it there too. They were talking to me so fondly and even though I cannot remember half of what they said or tried to say in English, I can still clearly remember their faces…how they gave me maps, how they smiled at me, how they gave me some weather forecast, and finally, how they all bid me goodbye– looking back smiling and waving goodbye at me as we parted ways at the bus stop.

So I guess at this point I was already un-bummed that I cannot see Ryukyu and Kenting. But I had to give it to you Kaohsiung, for making me buy your 3-day pass instead of the usual MRT card. Your 3-day pass gave me unlimited MRT rides plus unlimited ferry rides. The prospect of riding a ferry ride inspired me to visit Cijin island–your very own island accessible via a ferry boat from the Gushan MRT station. Cijin is your answer to my Ryukyu and Kenting drought. I didn’t plan to see it but you made me do it, Kaohsiung.

And I liked it so much I will write about it in a separate post.

Looking back, my trip to you was not really spoiled at all by Usagi.

Thank you Kaohsiung for welcoming me in your own way. I think I found a friend in you, from your MRT to your ferry to your locals who I think are your main pride and welcome gift to us foreigners. I would see you again and this time, I will see Kenting and Ryukyu. But not without visiting your Lotus pond and finally taking that photo of your Tuntex Sky Tower. After all, there’s still much of you that I haven’t seen and would love to discover too.

Sincerely happy to have stayed within you,
Tel

P.S.: Next time, I will stay in one of your hotels. This time, there would be no stopping me from eating all the seafood I can get my hands on. The fear of stench shall bother me no more.

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