Saturday, 28 July 2012

Arriving in Taiwan

 The flight was delayed, the train to Tainan I hoped to catch did not exist, and so I found myself in the High Speed Rail Station wondering what to do as the young woman on the ticket counter explained that the last train to Tainan had been over an hour ago.  To my surprise she then offered a number of helpful suggestions, she phoned my friend to explain the situation, and I ended up staying the first night in a Motel.  Yes, a proper Motel, just like the ones in countless films.  After the concrete, marble and glass of the station this switch was reminiscent of a temporal leap from hyper-modernity to 1960’s Americana.   

The journey to the Motel bordered on the surreal as the taxi driver, my friend’s cousin, and my friend via telephone tried to work out the address and we slowly drove around the empty roads.
These areas surrounding airports are intrinsically unsettling, with the numerous storage areas, industrial units, wide empty roads, empty hotels, and lack of any sign of habitation.  There was little indication aside from the road signs as to the location of this place, non-place, and I thought of the hinterland of Heathrow, of the areas of industrial sheds and navigation beacons set in fields that surrounded Speke Airport in Liverpool. 
The Motel was at the edge of the town and seemed to be for those driving long distances.  Or, indeed, for those who wished to drive to a place where they could be alone, for the term ‘motel’ can, I have been told, have the same connotations as the Japanese ‘love hotel’.  And it is easy to see what those are from the latter phrase.  With that in mind, I will leave you to speculate on the function of this chair.  

The journey to Tainan on the High Speed Train was wonderful.  I love these trains, their space and comfort, the sight of the landscape from this speeding machine.  I love the announcements in, I presume, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and a strange American/English.  “We will now make a brief stop at…..”, as if you will have 25 seconds to get off before the train bullets out of the station, for nothing must stand in the way of the speeding progress.  I love the fact that the trains arrive within a few seconds of the time stated, and that they stop at exactly the right place marked on the platform for the carriage door.  None of that running down the platform laden with bags to find the door here.

And so to Dorm 1828, a newly refurbished hostel.  If you ever decide to explore the mountains of Taiwan, and Taiwan has some amazing mountains so I have discovered, then come here.  The place is comfortable, friendly, run by staff who know everything about ‘extreme sports’, and with an interior décor that is imaginative.  As a dedicated non-sports person who hides in books of philosophy I was fascinated by the experiences of the boss/owner, who, over a couple of bottles of the best beer I have ever had, told me tales of climbing up ice walls, and then explained the business model behind the enterprise.  For not only does she provide accommodation, and information, and guides to the wilder areas of Taiwan, but she also searches out Taiwanese designs, furniture predominantly, and by getting them used by the heavy hands of wandering back-packers, tests their functionality.  She also has a very clear idea of quality, and we shared a love of the ‘aesthetics of the everyday’, that is the quotidian beauty of the conduit leading the power cables through the building.  Dorm 1828 will be changing its name, but as I was told the new name at the end of the third bottle of beer, it has temporarily disappeared.

Tainan has some of the best cafes I have ever been in, and my friend informs me this is but the tip of an iceberg of comfortable coffee places where one can sit and read and muse all day.  One, which I have so far only visited briefly, is next door to a second-hand bookstore.  This is of course very dangerous, as I can see my store of books will begin to increase at every visit to the café.  Which, incidentally, is owned by the same person who owns the bookshop. 

In the cafes, as in the hostel, there is the use of recycled furniture, old cabinets from shops and houses, a variety of chairs and tables.  This interests me, and I am not yet certain as to what to think of this.  My impression at the moment is that this is a valuing of the past, of objects that speak of previous use and history, that is a counterbalance to the hyper-modernity and industrialisation of the cities.  I write this in one of the Houses for the Visiting Professors in the University.  Outside there is a long lake, and over it are five small bridges.  Three of these bridges date from the 13 century.

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