So I've skipped ahead of my story. You've seen both visits to Yingge from Anna's point of view. There is more to it.
The first time we visited Eric drove. There seemed to be an informal plan that the kids and I would pick up Anna's piece on our own. At one time that would not have seemed like a big deal to me, but something about my 3 long flights and all of the emotion of my Mom's situation seemed to drain all of my confidence and sense of adventure. Two mornings last week I turned on the computer with the idea of plotting a course to Yingge. I could not do it. The whole thing seemed too big and frightening. So we stayed around the apartment. I took the kids to the pool and we went out for lunch, but mostly I just hid in the apartment like a frightened animal. I knew if I stayed that way there was no point to staying in Taiwan, wasting what remained of our 4 months. So on Thursday night I determined that we were going to do it on Friday. I knew from reading some unknown person's blog that I could take a train to Yingge. The details on how one took the train or what train one took were less than sketchy, but I decided to try. From what I had been able to learn on the internet I could take the MRT to Taipei Main Station, where it appeared both a regular train and a bullet train would connect. I was pretty certain I didn't want the bullet train - that goes all the way south to Kaohsiung (which we will do at a later date.) I didn't know what the regular train was like, what kind of schedule it had, what station I needed to get TO, nothing.
We headed off to Taipei Main Station. Once at the station, there were signs pointing to the regular train station so that was easy enough. Next there were lines for purchasing tickets. There was a huge board showing all sorts of information about trains. Much of it was in Chinese but there were a few things in English. Nothing said Yingge so I was completely clueless. I got in line thinking surely the sales clerks would know a little English. Then I chickened out and got out of line. I looked for an information desk but didn't see any, so I got back into line. There were several men in uniform standing around, guards or what I am not sure, but I thought they might speak a little English. (Many people in Taiwan speak as much English as I speak Chinese, which is to say they don't speak any.) I got out of line again and approached a "guard". I don't think he knew any English, but he knew I was speaking English so he walked me to a desk I hadn't seen where there were English speaking helpers. A woman wrote some things down for me, something in Chinese and next to it, in English, "Yingge". She also wrote down 4 different departure times. Back to the line I went. Eventually I purchased 3 tickets (VERY cheap! Train fare for the 3 of us was NT$63, which is the equivalent of about US$2.) The girl at the ticket window told me to go to platform 3. She also circled one of the departure times for me. Almost confidently, I led the way to platform 3. Much to my chagrin, I found out platform 3 has an A and a B side. If the girl had given me a letter, I had not been listening. I looked at the overhead information screens that told which train would be departing at what time. Nothing said Yingge, but there was one with my departure time. (The time the girl had circled.) I thought that was probably what I should take. At this point I figured the worst thing that could happen was we would get on the wrong train and end up who-knows-where. If that happened, we could, I hoped, just buy a ticket for next train heading in the opposite direction, back to where we started and the day would be an adventure in train travel. Just to be on the safe side, I thought I would see if anyone around me could help. I approached a middle-aged woman. I could not begin to detail here everything that took place between she and I. She did not speak English, but my paper said in Chinese where I was going. She wavered back and forth, sometimes indicating I should take the the 10:49 train (which was "my" time) and sometimes pointing to a different one at a later time. I was thoroughly confused. Somehow she communicated that she would help me. She got on the 10:49 train and indicated I should do the same. The kids and I sat across from her, and I watched helplessly as the names of stations came and went. Nothing was the least bit familiar to me. But the woman kept smiling, like to reassure me we were going the right way. It wasn't too long before, to my surprise, the name "Yingge" showed on the display as an upcoming stop! Ethan yelled it out. The woman smiled and nodded. I told her "shay shay" (thank you) about a thousand times. We did it! We got to Yingge! Except...
Technically we got to the train station in Yingge. I had no idea where the train station was in relation to Ceramics Street. I knew only one thing: When last we had been in Yingge the railroad tracks had been to a certain side of us. When we exited the train station the railroad tracks were on a different side of us, so I was pretty sure we needed to get to the other side of the tracks. Looking back, I don't know why I didn't get into a cab, but I didn't. We just started walking. I'm so glad we walked!
Very shortly we came to a shop selling pottery. We hadn't crossed the tracks yet, but I ventured in anyhow. There were many beautiful things, including one set I particularly liked. It was partly purple and had a square dish. I asked the shopkeeper (SK) how much, and things went kind of like this:
SK: NT$600 (pointing to price tag.)
Me: Oh, yes, of course.
SK: (Taking out largest piece, with lid. He removes lid, points in and says) Tea.
SK: (Puts lid on, pours.)
Me: Yes! It is a teapot! (Really, it looked like a cup with a lid, so I was surprised it was the POT.) What is this for? (I remove the square dish.)
SK: (Removes small dish with no handle.) Cup. (Points to square dish.) Saucer.
What a stupid American I am! Duh! It was a saucer!
Since this was the first store and since it was not in the proper part of town, I decided not to purchase anything. Out we went, to trudge along through the rain, to a destination sort of unknown. Along the way we stopped here:
but we did NOT buy this:
This is the stinkiest fruit I've ever experienced! Literally the stink of it drove the kids and I out of a grocery store one day. It's interesting stuff though. A woman bought one while we were at this stand and the man cut it open and extracted the fruit for her. I wanted to take pictures of the process but Anna was too embarrassed. We stuck to things we knew - grapes and bananas!
The kids again experienced the "superstar" treatment. School kids especially stare at my kids. Poor Anna, she was trying to eat an ice cream cone when this group of girls sat at the table next to us. They were staring so much that Anna tried to melt into her chair. At one point I looked over and realized every girl was holding a camera and pointing it toward my kids. Okay, I thought, turnabout is fair play. I pulled my camera out of my very large purse. Honestly I wanted a picture of the girls taking pictures of my kids, but as soon as they saw my camera they all set theirs down and started posing!
I took a picture then put my camera away. They all picked theirs up again! So I brought mine out and theirs went down. I tried to gesture to them that I wanted a picture of them with their cameras, but this time my gesturing was not successful. The two ringleaders thought I wanted them to stand up. So, whatever, I took another picture and gave up.
They WERE cute! It's funny, whenever there is a group of kids someone inevitably works up the nerve to practice some English on us. Usually it's "hello" and "good-bye". This time the girl on the right said "America?" and I said yes. She told the others and they all laughed.
We looked through as many stores as I could POSSIBLY force the kids to tolerate. I searched and searched for something I liked as much as the square, purple set. I didn't find it. The kids were getting tired and wanted to take a cab back to the train station. However, I could not forget that first pottery I had seen so I insisted we were going to try to walk back. I didn't know if we could retrace our steps, but I wanted that pottery badly enough to try. And we did it! Here is my reward:
Don't you love it? I do. I LOVE it!
And now, a few parting shots of the kids around Yingge. I love the town. I might visit it again. I told Gloria about my adventure and she was impressed - said she has never taken the train to Yingge! So I told her when she is here I will take her!