Just like Christmas, the past few New Years Eves around the world have given me a lot of new experiences.
Two years ago I was hanging around in a park for nine hours waiting for a few minutes of fireworks. It’s not as hobo-like as it sounds. It was properly regulated and all that, I promise. Last year I came crashing down to earth with a bump when I realised my Japanese housemates wanted to stay in, eat soba and watch TV that I wasn’t able to understand. Luckily, a blanket message sent round to my contacts provided me with a drinking partner for that night.
As has been the case for a few years now, New Year took place in a new destination as this year we decided to spend it in Kenting – one of the most southern towns in Taiwan.
After a few days spent making our way down the west coast from Taipei, via Tainan and Kaohsiung, we arrived in the town of Nanwan for a three night stay by the beach. This area is a popular holiday destination for locals and tourists alike, especially for surfers and other water sport nuts. After losing my Go Pro surfing in Sri Lanka I’ve fallen out with the sport completely, but the idea of sun and copious amounts of alcohol was enough to draw me to Kenting. I know…shocking, right?
It wasn’t all drunken antics though. Being the cultured pair of gentlemen that we are, Sam and I spent the daytime of New Years Eve exploring Kenting by scooter. And when I say scooter, I really mean a speed-capped electric thing on two wheels which doesn’t let you go any higher than 45kmph (or 35, in Sam’s case; obviously can’t be trusted).
Despite the main street housing a load of restaurants and bars aimed at the tourists in town – not to mention an absolutely huge night market – Kenting itself is actually a massive national park which dominates most of Taiwan’s south coast. After a rather heavy night before where we befriended a local bar owner, John, we spent the early part of the afternoon trying to rent a few scooters.
Unfortunately, Taiwan is not like Thailand or Vietnam when trying to do this. Hell, we even bought bikes in Vietnam just by saying “yes” when asked if we had licences. Here, however, upon trying to get a couple of bikes for the day we were asked to show our licences. No problem, aside from the fact that mine has a 10 year old picture and was in my apartment in Japan, and Sam doesn’t have one at all. Back to the drawing board.
Thankfully, a solution was just around the corner as we went back to our hostel and within minutes the owner – Afei – had called a contact and she was on her way with a couple of electric scooters. Whether these didn’t require a licence or the owner was just a bit more laid back I don’t know, but we were quickly on our way!
We decided to head even further south to the ‘southernmost point of Taiwan’. The journey took us along a particularly windy coast and into the heart of Kenting National Park before we arrived at our first stop: some sort of famous lighthouse.
It wasn’t exactly the southernmost point of the country but we had to pay a token amount ($20NT if memory serves) so we figured it must be good. I mean, countries never milk and exploit their popular sights right? RIGHT?
I jest, I jest.
After a nice walk around the national park, followed by the generic photo at the lighthouse we were back on the road; how very David Brent. Back on the road is an overstatement actually, as we only needed to go a few hundreds metres and we were at the car park for the southernmost point of Taiwan.
A 500m walk (probably longer than the last bike ride) followed and we finally found ourselves at the southern tip of the country. I actually expected it to be a bit bigger, busier and for them to have generally made a bit more of a fuss about it. Oh yeah, the fact it was free too was a pleasant surprise!
There was a monument that marked the spot, so in-keeping with my habit we got a picture in front of that and we were back on our way.
New year, same me
We took a different route home and the journey was incredibly uneventful aside from the beautiful landscapes, almost being blown off our bikes by the coastal wind and the battery on my scooter running out and not being able to open the hatch to switch batteries. Yeah, nothing much to report.
It was the sunniest day of the trip so far and we’d been in it all day. Truth be told the sun had got to me a little and after a pitcher of Taiwan Beer back at the hostel I was feeling a little drowsy. I dread to think how I’d have felt had my little slaphead been in the sun all day; praise the lord for bike helmets!
After a quick power nap (well, I am 27 now…) we headed into Kenting to see what the night would bring.
After some delicious yet questionable street food, we cracked on with a few 7-11 beers before paying John a visit for another of his lethal $100 gin and tonics.
We decided we wanted to be in a bar for the countdown so found a lively sounding place not far away. By lively, I mean a bar with a band playing dodgy covers and loads of scantily clad waitresses walking around. Could have been worse.
At around 11.55pm the band started covering Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ on a loop, with the singer doing a very impressive job of repeating the chorus for a good five minutes in the lead up to the countdown. Can you see what they were doing here? Firework? Geddit?
The countdown started but a mixture of my drunken state and the fact I don’t know any Chinese meant I lost count after about three or four seconds. Seriously. Anyway, they got down to zero eventually and this happened.
I’m not sure there’s a direct translation for the phrase ‘health and safety’.
We bumped into a few people from our hostel on the street not long after and spent a fair while necking some street beers with them. I say a fair while but it could have been anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours at this point as it’s all a bit blurry. At some point half of the gang headed back to the hostel whilst the other half went to see a ‘show’. No points for guessing which crowd we were in.
The show consisted of a lady, a man and a transgender person (is that the politically correct term?) doing all sorts of stuff on a pole and with various unwilling members of the audience. At one point the lady made her way over to me and started dry humping me in my seat. Sam came back from the toilet at this very point and said “I leave you alone for one minute!” which cracked me up!
Thankfully they didn’t do any of the more embarrassing stuff to me which saw other audience members stripped to their underwear and all sorts of other stuff involving ice cubes and belts. Anyone who has me on Facebook may know what I’m referring to when I say I was getting flashbacks to Blackpool ’13.
The feeling of shame when the lights come on at the end of the night in any club is bad; the feeling of shame when the lights come on in a club like this is much worse.
Again, people dispersed and in the end it was Sam and I who decided to carry on the night. Our search for another watering hole was ultimately unsuccessful, as we tried a couple of overpriced bars and the one club we knew of was already closed. After almost getting charged $500 for some hot pot, we decided to swallow our pride, get a McDonald’s then get a cab home.
50% of that was easily done. The McDonald’s went down a treat (doesn’t anything when you’re drunk?) and we started the hunt for a cab. Having come from busy cities, as well as living in Tokyo, we were working on the assumption that cabs would be a dime a dozen.
There wasn’t a single taxi in sight. We found ourselves pissed, pissed off and 4km from our hostel. There was only one option.
Thankfully, it was a warm and dry night as we stumbled off into the distance. I finally know how it feels to be a girl too, as my new Vans were rubbing so much I almost took them off at one point for the remainder of the walk.
Things got pretty desperate and the one cab we managed to flag down tried charging us triple fare. We might have been drunk and desperate, but we weren’t stupid. We even got to the point where Sam decided to stick his thumb out to hitchhike, but it proved fruitless.
We made it home around an hour later and in many ways the drunken stroll home to avoid paying for a triple fare cab felt a lot like new year at home. Well, maybe if England had 30 degree heat at the beginning of January!