Monday, 17 June 2013


Martin Booth, novelist and poet, wrote Gweilo - Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood as his final work before his death in 2004. Martin spent much of his late childhood and adolescence roaming the backstreets of 1950s Hong Kong and his experiences were fascinating, remarkable, and in some cases, hilarious. I strongly recommend the autobiography if you're interested in Chinese culture and the history of a transformed country. In one affecting scene, after spending the day and evening at the beach with Cantonese friends, Martin's mother tells him that it's moments like these that stay with you for the rest of your life. I was reminded of her words the other weekend when some friends were kind enough to invite us on a weekend trip to Baishawan.

A trip to the beach is somewhat of a trek for Taipei dwellers. We took the MRT on the red line all the way to the terminal at Danshui, then, on the advice of the visitors' information desk at the station we caught the 862 bus. There was some confusion over this because other blogs state different buses, but it seems the 862 or 863 from the bus station adjoining Danshui MRT is now the only available public transport.

Baishawan is in San Zhi, about 45 minutes from Danshui, and the bus stops right at the beach. 'Bai' means white, and although Baishawan's sand tends towards the golden end of the spectrum, it's soft and clean. The ocean currents are strong, however, making swimming permissible only in certain areas and while lifeguards are on duty. Swimming outside these areas and times means accepting you're taking very real risks.

But swimming is only one beach activity. My son and his friends had a whale of a time just playing in the sand and rock pools, discovering sea creatures and trapped fish, building sandcastles, inventing complex scenarios for games and burying each other in the sand, creating rude body parts to augment their sculptures. The adults chatted, gossiped and drank too much beer (well, I drank too much beer).
Baishawan is deservedly popular but the day we were there most people left not long after the lifeguards 'closed' the beach, missing the best part of the day, in my opinion.

 A friend had booked us a room at a place called something like Amy's Country Kitchen Hotel. English speakers reduce drastically in number once you leave Taipei and I don't think this hotel would cope with an English speaker on the phone. The day we went they were very full, too, so I was grateful for my friend's help. The rooms were clean and spacious, and breakfast was included in the cheap price of around NT$2000. I think if you want to stay overnight in Baishawan it would be worth getting there early. There are several hotels in town.

Dinner for five or six families at one of the many restaurants epitomised the traditional Taiwanese 'hot and raucous' experience, where you literally had to shout as loud as you could to be heard on the other side of the table. The rest of the evening faded into a beery haze for me. I'm sure it was good fun, though.

The next day was too short. After a couple of hours enjoying the bright morning sun, we had to head back to Taipei. Test week is looming and there was homework to be done.

But Martin Booth's mother was right. It's times like this that stay with you forever, and are, or should be, what life is about.

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