Sun, Jan 09, 2000 - Page 19 News List

Another day on Hsiao Liuchiu

A tiny island of Kaohsiung is still waiting for the invasion of tourists; and therein lies its chief attraction

By Henry Hoenig  /  STAFF REPORTER

I'd been warned about Hsiao Liuchiu. Ot at least people's reactions ?which were at best vague ?when I told them I was going there, warned me not to expect too much. But then that's why I went.

A little island off the southern coast of Taiwan near Kaohsiung, I discovered, happily, that the direst predictions about Hsiao Liuchiu were true. No pubs or cafes. No surf beaches. No mountains to climb. Nothing, in fact, to do ?unless, that is, you count wandering aimlessly around a sunny island, watching the sea slap the rocks, watching fisherman droop their lines into a quiet, empty harbor.

Lacking the beauty of the Penghu islands or the recreational attractions of Kenting or Green Island, Hsiao Liuchiu has been relatively neglected by tourists. It gets some weekend traffic, mostly from Kaohsiung, but is deserted during the week, when the small local population has fishing villages, the sea, the crisp air and the sunshine to themselves.

I stepped off the ferry in Penfu Village, a mostly indifferent fishing community. Fishing, cleaning fish, selling fish and eating fish clearly are the top pursuits of locals. They're obviously not used to foreigners, and they're apparently not too worried about whether anyone stays or goes, spends their money or doesn't. They're friendly enough, though. One man stopped me as I passed, casually offered to find me a hotel room, and signed me into the nearby Fuhsing Hotel, where I was given a room with a balcony overlooking the harbor, and with a view of the lights of Kaohsiung at night.

The next morning, having been woken at 4am by the sound of the fishing boats firing up in the harbor, I rented a scooter. The trip around the island's perimeter road is only about 10 kilometers. Though it's quite hilly, you can walk it in a day. But outside spending the day walking the loop would leave little time for just hanging out and enjoying the views. Instead, you can use the scooter to ride to different spots, and then walk around from there.

Heading counter-clockwise from Penfu Village, I followed the cliffs along the west coast. Hsiao Liuchiu has many secluded coves and tiny beaches where you can pass a few hours or an entire day, and many more scenic overlooks with great views of the coastline and the sea.

I rode from one spot to the next, hopped off, walked around. Like a lizard in the sun, I'd sit on this rock and look this way, sit on that rock and look that way. When the urge struck me, I'd move on to the next spot, repeating the process again and again until I'd made my way around the island and was in a virtual stupor, my brain having been emptied of all its worries. It was perfect, a beautiful day spent practicing the Art of Doing Nothing.

Back in Penfu Village at the end of the day, I picked up a pack of betel nuts and began strolling around. A day of fishing had just ended. In the center of town, just a half block up the hill from the ferry dock, seven women in (pointy hats) lined the sidewalk outside a little hardware store, each crouched on stools or buckets, the day's catch laid out in front of them on trays propped on styrofoam coolers. A couple were busy gutting fish right there.

I pulled out a camera and asked if I could take a picture of the women together. This caused a minor ruckus as they all began chattering away at once. Jolted into self-consciousness, several immediately pulled off their hats and began fussing with their hair while simultaneously waving me away with their free hands. Others just cackled and shook their heads. No pictures were taken.

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