|We were up and ready to go to breakfast when the 7:00 wake-up call came. We then went down to breakfast which opened at 7:00. This was a huge buffet with just about everything, except scrambled eggs. So, I chose to go over to the omelette station and have a mushroom & cheese omelette. In the fruit section there was a different variety of dragon fruit. This was the red dragon fruit as opposed to the white variety we are used to seeing in Asia. We sat next to two ladies who are on our trip visiting from Toronto, Canada.
Our departure wasn't until 8:45, so we returned to the room to finish packing and relax before checking out of the hotel, paying for room service and boarding the bus. On most trips, you have to have your bag outside your room by a certain time for the bell hop to collect. But this trip, Alan has asked us to porter our own luggage up and down, which makes it better Since you are certain that your luggage is placed on board the bus.
Alan has been using the TVs on the bus for slides of maps showing us where we will be going, informational slides, pictures of our next stop, recommended vendor stalls when we stop for lunch, our hotel, etc. He has made good use of the media and keeps everyone informed.
Our first stop was nearby at the Xiangshan Tourist Center. This was on the west side of Sun Moon Lake. We enjoyed a beautiful, cool early morning walk through the jungle-like area of bamboo and large ferns. The trail was taking us out to a platform overlooking Sun Moon Lake, looking back towards the pagoda and our hotel. The platform was suspended over the lake, and sloped slightly downwards, which was a little unusual. The view was great, now that it was a sunny day without clouds, fog or rain like yesterday when we arrived in the area.
After all the picture-taking (so many people/families now have to take a selfie with every shot!!! Sometimes it is ok folks to just take a picture of the scenery and enjoy the beauty. One of the problems with selfies is that people have to take their time to get it just right. Or, when they set the phone up and hit the timer, they have to pose just so, look at the result and then have to take another one or two, the whole time hogging the view so others have to wait forever to get a quick clear shot!!!! Most aggravating or I'm just getting grouchy in my old age. Sorry, where was I?), we then walked back to the tourist center, a very modern looking building with a suspended ceiling in the design which was a great echo chamber. We walked around, took some pictures, a WC stop and Jean was able to find a map of Taiwan in English. She wanted to follow along as we travelled the country.
After retuning to the bus, we began our way down the mountains to the plains along the west coast. Alan talked about the loofah (aka luffa) statue we saw along the side of the road at a vegetable stand. This is a very fibrous vegetable from the cucumber family. When dried out, it is used a scrubbing sponge, which is how I know it. I thought it was just a type of sea sponge. This is why you travel thousands of miles, spend excessive amounts of money, and through multiple time zones to learn interesting little tidbits. Want another one? You know those Chinese lions you see when you enter most Chinese restaurants in the USA? You see them everywhere in China and Taiwan. Well, as you probably know, there are no lions in China or Taiwan. But in their travels in ancient days they came across lions in India and made a stylized lion as the guardians to the royal palace and other establishments including temples because the lion is a powerful creature. Just like we saw the giant temple guardian lions yesterday at the Taoist temple.
Meanwhile, our next destination was the Jiji railroad station. The station was built by the Japanese when they occupied China in what was then known as Formosa. We arrived a little early for our 10:38 departure. Alan had us get together for a group shot (which he shared with everyone once we were back on the bus after the train ride). Jean and I walked around a little, taking some pictures, walking through a small market area adjacent to the station. As we walked by the train model in front of the station I noticed what looked like someone's phone lying on the ground. I didn't want to pick it up in case it belonged to a local, and then be accused of stealing. So, I called Alan over and he picked it up. Turns out, it was actually a credit card holder and belonged to one of the Canadian ladies.
We received our ticket, walked out to the platform for our 2-stop 20 minute ride to Zhoushui. The diesel train were clean, and decorated with anime characters. The seats were set-up like a subway car, lining the walls with a large central aisle. It was an enjoyable ride using local transportation. When we arrived in Zhoushi, we walked over to our bus which had gone ahead of us to continue on to the highlight of the day. It was about an hour and a half away.
We arrived at Fo Guang Shan (Buddha light mountain) which is a monastery. This is a massive temple complex that includes the main hall, shrines, small temples, burial facilities, three hotels and a university. It is the center of Buddhism in South Taiwan. There are numerous Buddha statues, including the huge Big Buddha. Some of the statues had what looked like blue paint splatter on them. The blue is actually mortar used to repair the concrete statues, which will be painted later.
This particular form, Humanistic Buddhism, has branches all around the world. We had an oportunity to ring the temple bell while there. We walked over to the main hall where we could take pictures from the outside, but no pictures inside which is standard practice for a temple. After taking off our shoes, we entered the main hall where we received a small wax lotus blossom. (They use these now instead of burning incense sticks.) The hall had three large buddhas, and 13,800 small buddha statues that lined the walls from the floor to the ceiling. Before the New Year, they have 700 volunteers (more than that apply, but they only need 700) who spend a couple of days cleaning the buddhas.
A volunteer woman talked to us in the hall about buddhism, their way of life and about the three large Buddhas - one for health, one for wealth and one for long life. If we were so inclined, we could say a silent prayer and place the wax lotus blossom on the altar. Jean and I said our prayers and laid the offering on the altar. Some on the trip. declined.
We then walked over to another building that housed a calligraphy room. Before we went upstairs, Alan gave us our instructions - no talking, meditate for 3 minutes, then draw on the paper we would receive. The instructions would be on the paper. So we walked up the stairs, removed our shoes again, and quietly entered the hall, received our paper and chose a stool upon which to sit. I meditated as instructed, and then, following the characters outlined on the paper, I picked up the calligraphy pen and began to draw. Once done, I placed the stool back under the table and left the area to find my shoes and wait for the others. Not a bad job, if I say so myself. Then it was. back to the bus.
Once we arrived in Kaohsiung (a port city in Southern Taiwan), we were taken to the riverbank of the Love River (or Ai River). Here everyone took a picture of the Love statue. Then we boarded the Love Boat for a 20 minute journey down and then up the river looking at the buildings and relaxing. Unfortunately, the lecturer was speaking Mandarin and the TV screen was too far away to read the English subtitles. (It seems that every tour, no matter where you go in the world, has a boat ride.) We boarded the bus again for a short ride to our next destination.
We were dropped off for an hour to visit the Lihue Night Market. Alan suggested some of the local food booths to try. Jean and I walked up one side and then back down the other looking at the octopus on a stick and other oddities. Jean was not hungry yet so we did not partake of any of the street delicacies. We had time left (it was a short street), so we walked around the area a little bit. It was mostly hair & nail salons and casinos.
Back on the bus to finally go to our hotel, the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel, a 45-story building where the first 8 floors are a mall. We quickly got our room key from Alan, went up to the 30th floor, and the first thing we did was take a shower because of the sweltering heat throughout the day made you feel so icky. Then, after looking at the descriptions in the hotel information book about the thirteen restaurants, decided to go to the 10th floor to the Shanghainese Dumpling Restaurant. We ordered a dumpling sampler, where you chose two types of dumplings from the list, and I had a shrimp fried rice entree. We enjoyed the meal. Then we went down to the lobby to see the Snoopy exhibit and check out the deli & bakery for a possible dessert. I chose a small pineapple cake, Jean did not order anything.
We returned to the room. It was now 7:45 and after the long hot, humid day, we just wanted to relax. Jean fell asleep quckly and I joined her about 10:00.