Outermost Islands Off Taiwan
by Wong How Man.
Matsu, Taiwan
Outermost Islands Off Taiwan
My flight is subsidized. It has to be. For a new ATR prop-jet with 72 seats, there were only eight of us passengers. Four in the crew, including two pilots, provided a ratio of 2:1 in service. This is off-season. I was told that during June and July, many tourists arrive, from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China.
The flight took 45 minutes, but the weather is drastically different. It was raining when I left Taipei and here at Beigan the sun is shining. The owner of the hotel I stay told me that this year’s winter has been exceptionally warm, and that the weather would change for the worse tonight. I am not worried a bit, as I have packed multiple layers of clothes, preparing for the worst. After all, I’ll be scootering around hopping from island to island. In short, three islands in a nearby group, Beigan, Nangan, and Dongyin.
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While there is no Big Mac being served on these islands, there are 7-Eleven’s. My first stop is Beigan, an island only twenty minutes by boat from Mainland’s Fujian Province, with slightly over 2000 inhabitants. Some residents are seasonal, working at home-stay hostels during the high season in the summer. Here the only 7-Eleven store becomes also the most frequented café, with both civilians and soldiers stopping by not only to shop, but for a cup of coffee or a snack.
The village town has only a couple streets. A few shops specialized in making noodles from ground-up fish. The lady in charge told me that such noodles has become the most popular gift visitors would take home, besides the somewhat famous Matsu liquor. I saw a shop at the corner of one street. Long closed down, the old sign said it sells building material, meaning quarried boulder chiseled into rock pieces for the construction of traditional houses. Today no more houses are built in the old style.
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At the village I stayed, Chinbe, there used to be over a hundred households. Their houses, many of them in ruins, were all built with rocks cut from boulders in the area. Over the last few decades, most villagers had left for work in Taipei and only a few families remained. Today a new wave of tourists prefers to stay in traditional houses. Thus many such houses had been restored, some more beautiful than before, serving as home-stay or boutique hostels. The former residents are gradually returning, given the new opportunity. Chen Kung-han, his wife and their two daughters, are one such example. My stay with them was most pleasant.
A most significant feature of the houses at Chinbe is the political and military propaganda from decades ago. These cement slogans were engraved to the walls of each of the houses. Mainland as well as Taiwan tourist found such writings most appealing, from hailing loyalty and allegiance to Chiang Kai-shek, to destroying traitors Chu and Mao. One reminded everyone to get rid of bandit spies, and another proclaimed that the Mainland would soon be liberated.
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While many tourists come to visit the numerous military installations and defense positions around the island, I skipped over all such attractions, finding the story and display rather repetitive after an earlier visit to Kinmen last year. Instead I rejoiced over the sceneries around the island, especially the liberating feeling of riding a motor scooter and catching the breeze.
From the rock veranda outside my room, I looked down at the beach below and saw a nearby rock island. Perching above the calm water like a turtle, that is exactly what the island is called. Stray and domestic cats roamed around. No doubt Chinbe boasted that it is the Mediterranean of Taiwan. Some dilapidated houses have walls made from various sizes of rocks, reminding me of those at Machu Picchu that I visited in 1975.
My next stop was Nangan Island, a short hop of 15 minutes boat ride to the south. After checking into my hotel by the pier, I again took a scooter to explore the island. These off-shore islands still retain many statues of Chiang Kai-shek, usually at roundabouts or positions of strategic importance. Camouflaged fortifications are everywhere, memory of decades past when Taiwan and the Mainland were hostile enemies against each other. Those days are now long forgotten, and tourist dollars are pouring in from across the strait.
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The Matsu Temples are favorite of Taiwan, particularly so for the off- shore islands. The female goddess derived from a legend about a pious daughter plunging into the ocean to try saving her drowning father. Her spirit is supposed to bless all those going out to sea, in particular fishermen along the coast. At Nangan, the ancient temple now is totally rebuilt into a very large and elaborate massive. Nearby, navy landing craft on the beach became tourist site.
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At a remote hamlet, a wooden sign caught my imagination. “Fu Ren Café”, meaning Madame Café, stood along a hillside overlooking a pristine beach and seacoast. I stopped and paced down the stone steps to have a cup of coffee. Madame was not in, but a young lady Miss Yeh was on hand to serve guests. She told me I should return in June or July, when a special type of seaweed would turn the coastline florescent blue at night when the waves pound the rocks. Locals called this phenomenon “Blue Teardrops”. By then perhaps Madame would also be back.
My next stop should have been the island of Dongyin. But the boat schedule has changed without my knowledge, which would get me stranded on that island for two days. Whereas I must get back to Hong Kong in order to host a group of guests. Just as the cruise ship was lifting the vehicular plank to pull off, I discovered just in time and they lowered the plank in order for me to get off.
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So now it seems I have a good reason to return, while fantasizing what Madame at the café may look like. As with much in this world today, the fantasy would portray something far more beautiful than in reality. So may I continue with my dream, both for Dongyin and for Madame!