The first stop after Taipei was Kinmen, an island (two islands, in fact, and also known as Quemoy) barely a kilometre from Mainland China. I hadn’t realised it isn’t actually part of “Taiwan” itself; it is part of the Republic of China but the people living there are neither Taiwanese (although they speak Hokkien) nor Mainlanders; they are Kinmenese, really (jinmenren, 金門人), and have no wish to be absorbed into the PRC either. The layers of cultural identity in Taiwan never cease to intrigue me.
We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous traditional “two hall house” guesthouse that was recommended to me by my friend Matt. I can’t describe how beautiful and enchanting the building and surrounding village are; in fact, when I originally began writing this post it turned into the basis of a potential thesis subject for next year (more on this later). So I have shelved all my obsessive architecture/cultural identity observations so I can develop a more academic version of them, and come back to write more of a “This is what I did on holidays” post. However it is SUPER LONG with ALL THE PHOTOS. Consider yourselves warned.
Day one in Kinmen, we arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Zhushan where Guesthouse No.17 awaited our arrival. We were a little early so we wandered around the surrounding buildings, stunned by the scenery of Ming Dynasty homes and small gardens.
Our host Ms Zhang was wonderful, and when I explained that I wanted to hire bikes but James wanted to hire a scooter, she diplomatically suggested we hire a scooter and then make the most of the free bike services dotted around the island to explore different locations. She drove us to the scooter hire place, where the lovely Jerry set us up with a scooter for a very reasonable NT$900 including two day’s hire, a tank full of petrol (no need to refill before we return), and a free ride to the airport on our last morning (which costs around NT$300 by taxi).
We scootered to the National Park in Guningtou first, which has a number of military sites, with the idea of trying to find a bike hire station. At Lake Ci, we came across a military fort, complete with tanks:
View out to China
James looking like a Japanese soldier inside the fort:
The view from inside the machine-gunner’s room:
The more time we spent on the scooter, the more it became apparent that cycling was the real way to go when visiting Kinmen. There is a huge network of bike trails clearly signposted all over the island, and even though many of them were on shared roads which we could follow on the scooter, they were much more enjoyable on a slower, biking scale. We sat down in Jincheng and stared at the map, whilst I tried (with much frustration) to work out the location of the dozen or so bike hire stations. I googled exhaustively (note to self: create a page with the information in English and a google map!) and eventually we gave up and decided to just ride over to Shamei and hope we would find one there. And we did! By this point it was 3pm and the station closed at 5pm — you get to use a bike in exchange for your passport, so I was pretty keen for us to get back in time. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have time to do much in 2 hours, especially with the clunky hire bikes which are the type I associate more with city bike schemes than “cycling”. But in the end we had a lot of fun!
Trying to hide my disappointment at these silly bicycles (I was in the middle of taking directions from the hire lady here, and struggling to remember which of zuo and you is right and left, which is of little help to me since I don’t know them in English either):
I cheered up once we hit the road, the sun and the blue sky and the ocean breeze all made me happy!
Speed wasn’t really something worth thinking about…
Love the timer function on my iphone, although between me setting the phone up on the beach, running back to strike a pose, running to get my phone and running back to James, the tide had come right in past our bikes!
We covered a respectable 12.5km and then returned back to the station well before 5, quite worn out (those bikes are hard to work compared to Bon Scott).
Then we scootered home again to the guesthouse, before James coaxed me back out to catch the sunset. We drove to a lookout point but the sun was not quite in the right direction. Still, we had a very pretty view out to China.
James breaking all the rules as usual:
As the sun was hidden behind a hill, we watched it set on the iphone instead:
We then headed over to Jincheng for dinner. Jincheng is a very pretty city, with some very fetching traditional buildings and brick archways.
We were planning to eat at a place called Jessica’s Communist Cafe, however we couldn’t find it and ended up getting hotpot. Then we scootered home again in the dark, pausing to grab some Taiwan Beer and wasabi snacks at the 7-Eleven.
The next morning, Ms Zhang had prepared a wonderful traditional breakfast for us:
Most of the food was heavy on the fructans, which I have to stay away from in the daytime if I’m going to have an active and enjoyable day, but I couldn’t help binging on the youtiao (oil sticks — giant fresh churros) and the fresh mulberries. James had to take them away from me, and I tried to console myself with the meatball porridge and a banana but it was not the same.
I was really, really sore from the cycling and the scootering the day before so we chose to explore close to home within walking distance.
Inspecting the map:
First we meandered through the village and the eponymous “Zhushan” (meaning Pearl Mountain, but really just a hillock).
A ceremony was being held at the local temple, with music, singing and dancing, whilst onlookers threw ghost money over the performers.
I particularly liked seeing the singer/drummer follow along the words with one finger — he was very dextrous at turning the pages single-handedly.
We then walked to Oucuo, which was settled by the Ouyang family during the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th Century. Oucuo was a wonderful place to visit because of the abundance of houses still in their original layout, carefully maintained and modernised. I get very excited about “living heritage” — buildings that have carried traditions and meanings over the centuries and that are not kept as museums of how they once were, but as a continuation of their first and foremost purpose: homes to the living.
Kitty cat on a doorway:
Loved this one in particular with the bright flowers, scooters, paste-ups and laundry all artfully building a mosaic of pinks and reds around the red brick frontage… sigh!
Not all houses were inhabited or in a good state. We came across one abandoned rundown building, which we were able to access as the doorways were clear and easy to get into. It was full of abandoned broken furniture and was incredibly moving.
Check out this ancient TV! (and the rude hentai comics… obviously still a popular destination for locals… living heritage?)
A group of cyclists came through the empty streets, a little incongruous in their lycra kit, but obviously quite a habitual scene for Kinmen.
We headed in the same direction, and finally reached the beach. I always love being by the ocean (who doesn’t?) and got quite excited about the seashells.
I packed up James’ and my shoes in my bag — a bag I made myself, with my own fair hands, a few years ago — and we progressed, barefoot in the sand. The water was very cold so we just splashed a little.
Showing off my bag:
Cold-feet selfie, the last picture before….:
Then we began walking along the shore, and James picked up a seashell for me (I was looking for the perfect one). It was all sandy so I dashed to the water to rinse it off… bent over… and *ploof!* my iPhone landed in the water (hitting me on the head and the shoulder on its way out of my bag). I quickly picked it up, mopped it off, and James and I put it out to dry as I pouted about having ruined my only recently paid-off smartphone. I’ve previously dropped James’ iPhone in a Taiwanese waterfall, but there’s no way the chlorides in the seawater aren’t going to cause corrosion (I’ve studied enough metal chemistry to know!).
However it does seem to be fine for now — who knows how long it will last for.
Anyway we continued along the beach, coming to a tank which James had apparently spied from a long way off but I stumbled upon with complete surprise (more metal corrosion!).
James did what he has done for the last 32 years and climbed onto it.
I scolded him because one does not climb on History!
Then we walked towards a military fort, which looked exciting and foreboding.
It turned out of course that it was impregnable by foot (well obviously, otherwise it would be a rubbish fort) and James led us through a charming landfill instead. It was a shock to see so much rubbish everywhere — the beaches had been pristine up to this point, and it makes you realise how much effort goes into keeping Kinmen beautiful.
There but for the grace of god go I — my brand new Mizunos realise that they too, one day, could be an abandoned thong.
We found the entrance to the fort, however it was locked.
We headed onwards towards Zhushan, stopping at the Zhaishan tunnel to appreciate the three years it took to blast a passageway into gneiss granite.
We were extremely fortunate to time our visit between two coach loads of tourists, as the tunnels were dreadfully echoey when filled with chattering Taiwanese. It was interesting to imagine how it must have been full of soldiers and ships.
We had an ice-cream and discussed a potential venture for creating tours for older grumpy people, who like me don’t want to talk to other people and don’t want any noise or chatter, but would like to get out and about and see a few new places. I think this is a great potential business venture!
Then another couple of kilometres and we were back at our guesthouse. I wanted to nap, but James only allowed me to rest my weary feet a little before we went off for afternoon adventures!
We decided to go hike up Wuhu Mountain (pronounced woo-hoo!) which is apparently the second-highest peak in Kinmen (this means very little, however). I got us lost a few times on the scooter, as I have to navigate from the back seat, one hand around James’ waist and the other clutching my precious iPhone as I indicate left or right — sometimes I overestimate how long it will take to reach the next turn and we have to reset the route. Also… I don’t know left and right, which can be challenging when giving directions. A few zig-zags around the island and we got there in the end!
We debated whether to bring water with us, as there was no indication of distance or elevation, or of how long the climb would take. The answer was: not very far, not very high, not very long!
We were extremely impressed with the view once at the top however so it was definitely worth it.
At the top I also finally captured a picture of one of the giant butterflies I had seen everywhere:
We then descended to the other side of Wuhu to the village of Shanhou.
Ducks holding sentry at the entrance to the village.
James professed this to be “his favourite duck”:
Shanhou was built by a rich merchant family, the Wangs, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century. It was very different from Zhushan and Oucuo, as they are laid out in a highly regimented and orderly fashion, according to the rules of fengshui.
Model of the village:
We weren’t terribly enamoured of this rigid style, and did not stay long, although we were both quite hungry so we enjoyed an icy cold Taiwan beer and a cong you bing, fried spring onion pancake, mine with an egg and some veggies and James’ with sausage as well. I love bing!
Here is a pile of turtles, trying to clamber on top of each other and up to possibly eat me. Poor things, they are trapped in a small kind of well, no wonder they wanted to escape.
On the way back James disappeared to explore a tunnel, whilst I powered on up the hill as I was feeling quite tired and wanted to get it all over! He found a cave with some sort of abandoned military function.
We then rode back to Jincheng, pausing at a night market where we saw the seashells from earlier that day, now ready to be consumed:
We were determined to find Jessica’s Café. I quizzed locals until it was revealed that we had eaten there the night before — Jessica’s Cafe is no more, and has been converted to the hotpot restaurant.
Jincheng by night is so pretty though:
We wandered around Jincheng some more, and eventually landed in a quite crappy Taiwanese restaurant whose sole merit was that they kindly provided us with a hand-translated menu. Chinese menus are my nemesis, as even if I could read every character, the names of dishes are generally pretty obscure.
Bellies full, if not delighted, we clambered back on the scooter for what I swore would be the last time — my back and bottom were both aching and sore from sitting on it.
However the next morning we had a couple of hours to kill, so James coerced me back onto the stupid scooter and we lazily roamed the nearby countryside, almost getting attacked by dogs a couple of times, and taking photographs of old and modern houses for my new obsession with Taiwanese architecture.
We posed with a Wind Spirit, iconic lions who dot the countryside of Kinmen (squinting attractively as it was so bright without sunglasses!):
We also found ourselves at the foot of a random tower/hill, so we decided to climb that whilst we were there. It was just a 10-minute walk up, and really nothing special, but it was nice to have done one more Kinmen “thing” before we headed home for the airport pick-up!
One last thing that made me laugh was when Jerry picked us up another driver was navigating their way past our car as we loaded in our luggage. They wound down their window, presumably to check there was enough space, and Jerry called out “Plenty of room!” The driver revealed herself to be a woman, and laughed, calling out “I know, I know, I just wanted to get a better look at such a handsome man, in such a fancy car!” Jokes that are funny AND that I understand in Chinese will always make me laugh twice as hard.