by Chris Pady
Like many flings, this one begins rather innocently and then heats up quickly.
It’s mid-April and I’m vacationing in southern Taiwan with my wife and two children (ages 5 and 7). Back home in British Columbia, spring fills the air while here in Kaoshiung summer is just around the corner. At only ten in the morning, temperatures are already soaring into the high nineties (Fahrenheit). The children, jet lagged and having never experienced heat quite so intense, need to spend a few days indoors during peak hours to give them the chance to acclimatise.
This irks me a little. I’m not the type of person that enjoys the sedentary life while on vacation – especially when that somewhere is new to me. I’m an explorer at heart and I can feel the restlessness creeping in. That is until my eye catches sight of my host’s shiny new Giant bicycle and beyond it, only steps from the front door, a windy bike path in the park. Maybe I could slip out for just an hour or two…
“Hey La, how far does that go?” I ask Launa, my good friend with whom we are staying, pointing to the path. “That path? It leads straight to the Love River bike path,” she answers. “You can take that one all the way down to the port area if you want,” she adds.
The Love River. Sounds beautiful, even romantic. Don’t be fooled. The last time I saw it, albeit many years ago when I lived in a neighboring city, it flowed an unhealthy brown and I wished I had brought nose plugs. When I bring this up with Launa she assures me that the city of Kaoshiung has gone through great pains to clean it up and transform it into one of the city’s prime attractions. Intrigued, I hop on the bike and set off.
I notice two things within minutes of venturing out. First, I’m already dripping with sweat despite having barely exerted myself. It’s like exercising in an outside sauna or that each revolution of the bicycle is somehow dialling up the sun’s intensity. Second, this feeling of exhilaration to be out exploring on my own easily trumps the discomfort from the heat!
When I join up with the Love River’s wider path, I’ve got it all to myself for miles. After all, none of the locals are crazy enough to be out here in the blazing, oppressive sun. Riding slowly to conserve my energy, I catch glimpses of elderly Taiwanese passing time in the cool shade of the giant banyan trees. Some sip on green tea served in tiny ceramic cups while chatting loudly in Taiwanese. Others quietly read the paper. A few old men stare pensively at the black and white pieces on the Go board, pondering their next move.
I’m thirsty but it’s nothing compared to how parched the entire city feels. Kaoshiung is experiencing its worst drought in decades. The river’s water level is pitifully low but at least the water’s hue is back to a somewhat healthy blue. The grass covering its banks is dull brown and crackly. The only real signs of life are thanks to a few bright pink flowers dotting here and there along the banks.
I make it about halfway to the port on my first ride. I take note of possible areas to explore on my next ride: an intriguing park with spray fountain sitting just off of the main path, an odd tower structure, a colorful Taoist temple.
Famished and thirsty, I stop at a local restaurant and treat myself to a gan mian (dry noodles with sesame paste) and a Super Supau (low-quality sports drink). As I savour my delicious noodles, I think back to the long, intricate bridges and underpasses that took me either over or under some Kaoshiung’s busiest intersections, or to the wooden pathways connecting its various sections. I realise that I’m hooked and make a plan to rendezvous with the Love River again the next morning.
The following day, I not only venture a little further but also veer from the path to check out the tower and the park I had noticed the previous day. Yet a wrong turn somehow sees me lose my way and separated from the path. Anxious, I suddenly find myself on an insanely busy market street where vendors sell everything from fruit and vegetables to shoes and clothes. There isn’t an inch of space and I’m forced to dismount from my bike. Everything is buzzing and frantic. I feel dizzy and overwhelmed. I need to find my way back to Love. Recalling that most east/west major roads intersect with the River, I’m relieved when I finally spot the brown sign with the cyclist signalling a successful reunion with the path.
I enjoy several more days of hot and steamy rides, venturing further and further each day. On my final ride, I’m determined to take it as far as the path will take me and am pleasantly surprised when it reaches the Pier-2 Art Centre, a charming district showcasing local artists.
On the way home, I feel a twinge of sadness from knowing that our time together is coming to an end. I thank the Love River for helping me get to know Kaoshiung a little better and shed a few pounds at the same time. This innocent fling has been fun, and the best part of it all: No guilt!
Chris Pady spent many years traveling, writing and teaching in Asia. He firmly believes that his travel experiences have transformed him into a better person and feels as though he has many more untold stories to share - now if could only find the time! He now resides in Vancouver and can be reached at email@example.com.