I started out in Taipei, where I was working with veterans for a week. They were quite nationalistic folk who were well in to their jingoism. Essentially Taiwan is still at war with Mainland China so the government sees it necessary to keep their citizens on their toes. They still have conscription for young people once they leave school, and do their best to keep their citizens cautious of the Mainland. Young people seemed to be slowly growing fonder of China. One of the main reasons for this is the internet. The youth are very connected, constantly checking instagram and facebook. They told me that they are slowly realising that Chinese people are actually not that different from them. They laugh at the same YouTube videos and follow the same instagram influencers. The tension between the countries seems to be the business of the older generation, hell-bent on resisting the Mainland's advances. Here's a snap from a Taipei Veteran General Hospital that I visited with the delegates of the meeting. It's a doctor seen from a coach if you know what I mean :
After the hospital we went for a rubbish lunch in a city outside Taipei. I think that the only reason they took us there was to go through a tunnel that they were proud of. They kept on talking about how it was the longest tunnel in South-East Asia - an inordinately unimpressive claim, but you take what you can I guess. The restaurant was a buffet. A shit, shit, buffet. The low-light for me was a deep fried mayonnaise and cucumber sandwich. It was totally inedible. A joke of a sandwich. The greatest insult in it all was that the monstrosity came as a reccommendation from one of the guys I was working with - KT (like KT Tunstall lol). It was a mess, an absolute mess. I've never been so offended by a cuisine. It angered me that they thought I would enjoy it. Who did they think I was? A fool? Did they take me for a fool?
After lunch we went to a care home for veterans who had no money or family. Here are some snaps:
Nice pics, no?
The next day I met the Taiwanese President which was jokes. She thought I was such an idiot. Wanna know why? Get in touch, would be good to hear from you.
On our last day of the meeting we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (or something along those lines). KT told me that the soldiers who stand guard at this monument do it almost every day for a year, then go back to whatever they were doing before. They have to stand completely still for an hour at a time, up to six times a day. When we visited, it was 38 degrees and 80 percent humidity. There was a guy there whose only job was to wipe the sweat from the poor soldiers' faces. It looked absolutely miserable. Here's a photo of a soldier standing still :
Apparently that year of service is universally regarded as the best year of a soldier's life.
What a life, hey.
Here's a photo of the changing of the guards:
That trip signalled the end of the meeting. I went back to the hotel to get my bags and stuff then got the metro across the city to a hostel I had booked. There were other travellers there but they were mainly very boring. I did, however, meet a Slovakian Chinese man, which I found deeply impressive.
I went out to get some food from the nearby night market:
And I also met this lady with her pooch:
She was very lovely, as was her dog.
I bought a marker pen, gaffa tape and a plastic zip-lock back from the night market, and ate a spicy chicken soup with a boiled egg in it, then ate a ru bao with pork in it. Yum! Wow! Zing!
I went back to the hostel and taped the sign to a scrap of cardboard that I had found in the street, then made a sign with 'Tainan' written on it in Chinese characters. I just copied it from the internet but it seemed ok enough to be understood.
The next day I started hitchhiking
I took a taxi to a spot I heard was easy to get picked up at. I just stood there for a while, waiting for someone to take sympathy on me. There were these workshops everywhere. I don't have the photo yet but will put it up when I find it. This whole website is a work in progress. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was Tradders' Exploriumgavanza:
Here's a nice photo I took of a man named Chu smoking his first ever rollie (that I gave to him) :
I met him in Tainan, Taiwan, on my way out of the city. He bought me breakfast then told me he didn't have a job anymore. Made me feel bad, but I think that he felt great so it was alright. He wasn't a regular at the restaurant we met at, he was just there because they sold free Lemon Tea which I found jokes. He used to own a tour guide agency whereby he took people to Scotland and the US - "even to Mexico!". He was a proper Anglophile and brought a Brompton bicycle with him wherever he travelled (depending on the weight allowance on the flight obviously). I think it was the Brompton that actually made him love England so much. Shows how much that bicycle meant to him. He also had a Mini (the car) and was part of a collector's club in Taiwan. I told him that Minis used to be made where I come from, Oxford. To be honest, I thought he would be more impressed. He just gave a little shrug and a "oh".
Here's another one I took of Chu with his bike (not his brompton, that's only for travels):
Here's 1 of a legend whose name I can't remember but he drove me 2 hours out of his way just for a laugh. If anything will get my respect, it's jokes like that:
He picked me up in Kaohsiong. I was standing by the side of the road with my ol' sign out to go to Kenting and no-one was picking me up. A guy with messy, moppy, hair was cycling by. He read my sign and muttered to himself, confused, "Kenting... Kenting..." then suddenly jumped off his bike in front of me and yelled "KENTING?!!" He launched into a tirade in Mandarin about how I was never going to get to Kenting by hitch hiking. He kept on pointing down the road and saying "Guh guh guh guh guh" and chopping his hands in rhythm with the "guh"s, I assumed he was talking about getting the train as everyone else had suggested. I wasn't interested though. I wanted to go by road. But this dude wouldn't leave me alone. "Mae guh guh guh guh" I'd say, wagging my finger, and then I'd point at the sign and put my thumbs up. This guy was having none of it though. He got really angry in the Taiwanese way - not aggressive in the slightest, but utterly vexed by the fact that I was doing something that he didn't understand. I started getting vexed at the guy in return because he just wouldn't leave me alone. "Listen, man. I'm just trying to do my own thing. Leave me alone alright". All he could say in response was "Guh guh guh guh guh", and chopping his hands, moving them incrementally forwards with each chop. I was about to snap when suddenly a man covered in tattoos on his arms and face ran up to me, saying something in Mandarine. "Yinguo-ren" I kept saying back to him. "Kenting?" was his response. "Yeah man." It turned out that he was actually heading back to Tainan, but took me on the four hour round trip to Kenting just for a laugh. He didn't speak a word of English apart from "FUUUUUUCK" and "MOTHERFUCKEEEEEER" - two words that he employed regularly throughout our trip together.
On arrival in Kenting, this was the view that greeted us (I'm a big fan of clouds):
Then we went to get dinner together at this wicked place where you put all the food you want in a basket and then the people who work there deep-fat fry it for you. He spent most of the time on his phone which I couldn't blame him for because we didn't have a common language and I was tired. He was a massive legend though. The tattoo above his eye says "Guilty" and on his neck "Freedom":
That guy left (can't remember his name still, wondering whether I ever actually knew it) and I strolled around the town for a bit with my backpack on, slightly confused as to what I should do. Found some wifi outside a bus twenty minutes down the road, almost managed to find a hostel but the bus left. I wandered back into town and stumbled into the first place I saw - was q shit to be honest. The sun was setting so I went out looking for cheap beers and cheaper laughs. They don't really have any bar culture in Taiwan, but the people there seem to get well vexed and defensive when you tell them that ("yes we do, we love drinking, look, watch me drink, I can get drunk too you know, it must be the Chinese you're thinking about, they can't drink, they can't handle their alcohol at all") but they actually don't have good bar culture - apart from in Taipei. There were no normal bars anywhere in Kenting. Only clubs, restaurants and food stalls. I'm not angry about it or anything, just don't say you have something when you don't have it. That's all.
I walked down the main strip for a bit. It was basically a street fair with loads of Taiwanese teenagers drifting about swilling bubble tea (getting a bubble tea is their equivalent to going to a pub, I think). I spotted this quite miserable looking fairground guy. His hair cracked me up. Actually quite rock n roll, quite bad ass:
He perked me up a little bit. I stopped at a funny looking outdoor jamaican BBQ place, run by a Taiwanese guy with dreads named Alex. I drank loads of beers and spoke to Alex, who later gave me some free chicken - very kind of him.
Midnight struck and I was quite blasted. I was on my way home when I saw an open bar. I stumbled inside, in search of an unnecessary night-cap. There were scantily clad ladies inside giving a table of old Taiwanese men massages. At first I thought they were you-know-what-ladies and that I was in a you-know-what-house, but it turned out that they were just Phillipina dancers who gave massages for extra tips. One of them came over to give me a massage, and I told her it wasn't necessary and that I had no money. She ended up chilling and chatting with me - I gave her some of my beer. Before long, there were a load of the dancers sitting around my table and I was hammered. For some reason I couldn't stop making loud and sweeping, drunken statements like "ALL EUROPEANS ARE RACIST, NAH, WE'RE ACTUALLY REALLY FUCKED MAN" and almost breaking down and crying, head in hands while they were all sitting, silently and awkwardly, before I'd raise my head again and yell, "NEVER GO TO EUROPE, WE'RE FUCKED, MAN". I think it was a mixture of being wasted and feeling quite lonely. They were all huge Rodrigo Duterte fans and I don't think they actually gave a shit about what I had to say after I opened my mouth about that guy. They were all from Duterte's town of birth and were quite hardcore fans. They dismissed me as some soft whitey, which is probably a fair assessment. They hated Europeans regardless thanks to grabby old white men, slapping asses and being generally inappropriate. Anyway, here are some snaps of them:
The next day I went to the beach but the sand was too hot to stand on. I didn't have any sandals and didn't want to get sand in my shoes, so just hopped down the beach a bit, the whole time trying to pretend that the sand wasn't hot and that I was fine, but inside I was crying. I found a shaded spot and briefly went into the sea but it's not as fun being in the sea on your own. The whole experience was quite unpleasant so I decided to find a hairdresser. There wasn't one in Kenting so I had to go to the next city along, Hengchung. I drank 3 bubble teas and smoked around two ciggies to every tea in the hour I had while waiting for the bus (Theo has 1 hour to wait for his bus, so he decides to get 3 bubble teas. He then fancies some ciggies. Theo smokes 2.3333333 ciggies for every 1 bubble tea that he drinks. How many ciggies does Theo smoke?)*.
The bus finally came, so I threw my empty bubble tea cups in a bin, thought about how I needed a piss, and got on board. I found a funny little hairdresser thirty seconds after getting off the bus in Hengchung and felt satisfied. I wanted the lady to shave the sides off a little bit and leave the top. She didn't speak any English so I just mimed out what I wanted. She pointed at a really small picture of a man's haircut in a book as if to say, "you want it this length, right?" I couldn't see the picture properly but just said "yeah" anyway. I ended up getting a shit top-knot by accident. The hairdresser then washed my hair in one of those sinks. It felt great to be honest. No-one had touched me on purpose in weeks. I paid, thanked everyone who worked there and left. After all that sand-stepping and hair-cutting, I sat down at a restaurant, got drunk, and ate some spicey goose with rice, before heading back to Kenting feeling miserable about my stupid new haircut but also feeling quite nice because of that spicey goose, if you know what I mean ;) .
* Answer: Bare
That evening I did exactly the same thing as the evening before. Got drunk, free chicken, chatted with dancers:
THANKS FOR POPPING BY EVERYONE, IF YOU WANT TO GET IN TOUCH, PLEASE DO - SEE YOU VERY SOON FOR EVEN MORE AT TRADDERS' EXPLORIUMGAVANZA!
If any of you ever try to steal any of my fucking ideas, I will track you down and gut you.