Golf and Papaya Juice

Temple at Lotus Lake.  Wikimedia sourced image by Benjiho

Anyone for golf?  In two smiling rows they stood, on the steps into the vestibule from the port-cochère.  The mini-bus stopped at the exact point where the uniformed employees made a human gate.  As we walked between them they cheerfully applauded: I’m not sure what they were happy about. 

Of glass and wood the building was modern and grand, and as porters attended to luggage waiters moved about serving complimentary juice.  I believe it was papaya.  All the staff members were Filipinos; the guests Taiwanese.  I stood in bemused bewilderment that I was, by luxurious accident, there.  I’d never been on a Taiwanese golfing tour before.  There was nothing to do but sip papaya juice.

It was perhaps a basic matter of wu-wei.  In the Chinese religion of Daoism wu-wei is the concept of non-action.  Surrendering one’s will for action aligns oneself with the world’s natural ‘dao’ or path: the recipe for harmony. 

It’d taken a week to move from Taipei along the island’s east coast to Kaohsiung, the city in Taiwan’s south.  There’d been traditional towns like Suao and a stop at some hot springs.  Taiwan is a mountainous island of some beauty and everything had progressed satisfactorily except the budget.  In Kaohsiung I wondered how my finances would last for ten more days before my return flight to Bangladesh.

Taiwan was remarkable for its English schools.  There were billboards everywhere and book-carrying students seemed to make their way to coaching centres at all hours until late in the evenings.  I had no intention of teaching.  I already missed Bangladesh.  So when the middle-aged guest house manager pulled me aside to ask slyly if I wanted to teach and stay for free, the vision that came to mind was not money in my pocket but a subsequent police raid in search of undocumented foreign workers.  No, the budgetary dilemma made me think rather of the Luzon Strait, the water body to Taiwan’s south.

It’s not for a lack of courses that I’m not a golfer: in Sydney there’s more than a few golf links.  When I was at school some of my friends had an interest in it, and against my better judgement they persuaded me to try.  When Phillip invited me to Lane Cove Golf Course, a significant challenge had been to actually hit the ball.  More often it was a clump of dirt that went flying.  The most difficult hole required the ball to be hit across a small gully onto the fairway.  It was a hopeless endeavour.  Each golf ball I hit duly took its place in the scrub.  I gave up and took a stroke penalty, restarting on the far side.

The Luzon Strait was like that gully.  On the other side wasn’t Phillip but the Philippines, a much cheaper destination than Taiwan.  I had happy memories of slow and dreamy Tagalog songs and easygoing people.  Was it not possible to fly from Kaohsiung to Laoag City in Luzon’s north?  I’d been to Laoag before. 

Globally speaking, the Luzon Strait is a modest stretch of water.  Perhaps as at Lane Cove I could simply take a stroke penalty and start again in the Philippines, this time for the sake of the budget? 

I saw a Kaohsiung travel agency advertising Laoag flights but only the destinations were written in English.  There could be no harm in asking.  The girl behind the counter spoke no English but was very cheerful.  When all I could do was point at Laoag written on the wall she wrote a price on a piece of paper and with a calendar we pointed at dates.  She called a friend who had a little English for me to speak to over the phone.  ‘Come back tomorrow evening,’ I was told.

The next day I visited Lotus Lake, one of Kaohsiung’s attractions.  It features Chinese style pagodas and a number of temples.  In Buddhism the lotus symbolises purity and Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi wrote, ‘I love the lotus because while growing from mud it is unstained.’  There were the tiger and dragon pavilions set out on the water, the pagodas of autumn and spring and a Confucian temple on the northern shore. 

Taiwan is interesting for its several religions.  Often they intersect inside the same temple and the Taiwanese have no qualms about believing in all of them at the same time, although their teachings must contradict.  Perhaps it’s the Chinese expression of religion that best conveys even to outsiders the universal quality of spirituality and the strength of peaceful coexistence.

Yet for this tourist the day at Lotus Lake was marked by a different question: what was going to happen about the Laoag flight?

It was so sweet what she did, so helpful.  She’d written a small letter in Chinese and with her friend translated it into English.  I was presented with a very neat script that evening explaining the details.  One thing that puzzled was her written insistence on re-confirming the date of the return flight beforehand.  I imagined searching for a Filipino phone and trying to figure out how to use one, so at some pains I made her understand I would not be doing that unless I wanted to change the return date.  I wondered why it was an issue.  I handed over the fare and she wrote up the ticket by hand.

It was the other passengers’ clothes that first raised the prospect that the flight to Laoag wasn’t ordinary.  There appeared to be an over-representation of tweed and tartan patterns among the chosen apparel.  There was tartan in some of the carry-on luggage; and while there was no reason to be concerned about too much tartan, it’s not exactly Taiwan’s image.  There was also a young and not unattractive Taiwanese lady, travelling alone, who kept glancing my way.  I was unaware she may have been imagining leisurely walks together around the golf course.

The reality of the situation fully dawned on me when from the plane window I noticed that in the luggage being lifted into the undercarriage were a number of golf club sets.  Taiwan is heavily populated.  The Philippines is cheaper, plus northern Luzon has the available land for golf courses.  It was a charter flight.  I’d become a golf tourist! 

The Philippines didn’t disappoint.  Even within the terminal the laid back disposition of the immigration officials, that hammock-swinging version of English accent they have, the heat, the lack of rush: it was as I remembered.  But there was a problem.  Laoag Airport isn’t in Laoag and there wasn’t any public transport into town.  In the car park was only a white mini-bus from the resort in wait for the latest flock of Taiwanese golfers.  I was really just standing there considering what to do when the hand of a mini-bus attendant grabbed my luggage.  He was very efficient.  Before I could say anything he’d loaded it into the mini-bus.  I thought that perhaps the bus might pass the town on the way to the resort.  So I got in, and that young woman kept glancing towards my seat. 

The resort vestibule was spacious and along the right hand side was the reception counter.  After finishing their papaya juice each of the Taiwanese guests made their way to the desk to collect the keys to their rooms.  I went there too, to say, ‘Excuse me, but is there any transport from here into Laoag City?’ 

They said there wasn’t but someone from the resort might be going into town for supplies in a few minutes.  I could get a lift. 

And I wondered about the East Asian sentiment, renowned as they are for their wish to travel in groups.  The particular horror they show at the mention of travelling alone: their fear of loneliness.  By contrast, for the western traveller, for the real travelling travellers, going solo is probably the best circumstance there can be; because travel is about wu-wei and following the dao.  Because the world’s way will arrange the elements of daily life better than any human ever could.   Sometimes the dao is a luxurious accident; sometimes it’s golf and papaya juice.

Kaohsiung Harbour.  Wikimedia sourced photo.

Of course the wu-wei doesn't only go on in Taiwan.  There's a bit of the old wu-wei, surely, in the toss of a coin for a cow, in the sweet misfortunes of a villager come to the city, in Transylvanian knitwear, and even in the way people think...

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