[Day 2] Self Help

Distance Today: 93km
Total Distance: 192km
Maximum Speed: 37kph
Average Speed: 15kph
Time in Saddle: 6hrs 4min
Journey: Yu’li – Tai’tung (via Provincial Highway No. 9)
Accommodation: Room of a friend’s friend
Money Used Today: NT$209

HUMANS MUST DEVELOP THE ABILITY to help themselves out when something comes affecting our personal survival. I figured this out this morning when I had to wake myself up at 4.15am despite all my aching muscles and the unwillingness for my back to part with the soft and comfortable bed I’m lying above. I haven’t been up so early for such a long time that I had forgotten that during these early mornings your mind remains in sleep although your body is already up and going. I had vague memories of us eating some bread and bananas for breakfast in our hotel room and lining up to brush our teeth because there’s only one bathroom for the six of us.

By 5.30am, we gathered downstairs ready for the start of our second day. Our plan for today is to continue on the No. 9 highway heading south towards Tai’Tung (台東), the next major city after Hua’Lien (although decently resourceful, it is still regarded as an under populated small town if compared to the big prosperous cities of the Western Coast of Taiwan).

SELF HELP ISN’T A BAD THING AT ALL considering the fact that everyone has to protect themselves and do things according to their own necessity, and no one else can perfectly understand other people’s needs. So, along our journey, we found ways to save ourselves from various inconveniences by getting full advantage of the resources we can find. For example, whenever we feel thirsty, we would drop by the nearest police station to ask for icy cold-water refills. The good thing about Taiwanese police officers is that they are most likely to be friendly and none of the police stations we went declined our request for water. I even kept track of all the stations that we went in, all those stations that we gladly finish up their water for the day before taking a picture with the officers and moving on innocently as if nothing happened.  Whenever we felt that the summer sun is too much on us, we’ll go into a 7-11 convenience store and help ourselves to its cooling air-conditioning. We even went further by using their refrigerator to chill our drinks (without asking their permission), and take a nap boldly either on the floor or on the stools provided.

WHILE WE CONTINUE through vast green rice fields and amazing hilly sceneries, I couldn’t help notice the underwear hanging on KIAN HWEE’s bag. We couldn’t believe that he was so desperately in need to dry his clothing that he hung them onto the back of his bike so that the midday sun would dry it before nighttime. This is another example of how self-help is important to survival, although one would have to be more open-minded to accept such creativity.

WE STRUGGLED OURSELVES UP some steep climbs, before reaching our lunch break destination Guan’ Shan (關山). This small town has a cycling path that boasts a variety of beautiful sceneries along its way. Having cycled all the way here, no one looked forward to cycling again so we moved right onto lunch in a simple buffet styled restaurant. After that, we needed our noon naps badly so we went into an Elementary School, helping ourselves to sleep in its school compound, with all the little students watching us. The teachers saw us but did nothing because we looked student-ish enough to gain their confidence, trusting that we are not up to no good.

IF YOU DON’T HELP YOURSELF, NO ONE WILL. This is why KIAN HWEE finally decided to leave the group after our naps. He has been suffering some acute knee pain since the first day and doubted if he can continue without dragging the others down. He thought much about his condition and felt that it is wise to leave before he hurt himself permanently. All of us were shocked; I even got a bit teary-eyed. We reluctantly suggested that he take the next train to Kao’ Hsiung and wait for us there. The remaining trip from Kao’ Hsiung is less challenging and with the extra two days of rest, hopefully he can continue the journey.  And so there were five of us left, and it’s only the second day…

No time for too much drama, we continue pedaling our way while enjoying the sceneries.  The roads are quite strenuous, with frequent slopes that we would have to climb up and then whiz down and then climb up again. Yet, it is comforting to know that a developed country like Taiwan still has its untouched natural beauty sufficiently retained for us to rejoice in. I helped myself with a sumptuous filling of melted chocolate bars at one of the rest stops that is somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I refuse to take too much chocolate in the past to avoid weight problems, but while I’m cycling – what the heck – I’ll burn all those calories before you can spell it ~ C-H-O-C-O…

SOON, we saw this big totem-like thing with ‘Welcome to Tai’ Tung’ carved on it. We cycled through a long bicycle path with trees on either side before entering the busy city area. I particularly missed the city vibes so Tai’ Tung was a blessing for us. It’s nice to be in an area where the supermarkets and stores and facilities are conveniently placed within walking distances. We wasted no time and headed straight away to the place where locals hang out, a street selling all kinds of food.

I KNEW WE HAD TO HELP cool our bodies down first so we entered a small shop selling iced tofu. This desert is soft tofu served with green beans, red beans, and jelly with sugar syrup on it. I loved every spoonful of it, mainly because it is refreshingly cooling. Then, we decided to have the Cantonese Porridge as our dinner. They have many variations of the porridge to choose from and each is served with generous amounts of porridge and a handful of other ingredients. I had the mushroom one and it tasted heavenly.

Next, we went in search of a suitable place to stay, hopefully within our tight budget and comfortably enough to rest our worn out bodies. Just as we cycled through the busy streets, YING EN got a tap on her shoulder and was surprised to find YANG (a sports graduate student we knew) behind her. YANG offered us help by asking his junior to let us crash into his place. We felt inappropriate for us to stay in his junior’s place at first but were too touched by his generosity that the five of us ended up in his junior’s one-bed room, doing stretching exercises on his bed and hanging our clothes all over his bookshelf. YANG’s hospitality proved itself again when he went out to buy us cold drinks and spent the night chatting with us.

SELF HELP is indeed important to let us survive through all the trials of life, but help from a friend is even more precious, especially when we are desperately in need of a helping hand. Our deepest thanks goes out to YANG for his kindness and our prayers to KIAN HWEE hoping for his comeback in the near future.

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