Guo Ge's very thoughtful gifts for us - Taiwanese cookies! Xie xie ni.
Like the narrative of Good Friday, our adventure today began with the worse news ever and ended with the best news one can hope for! Like the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the Cross on Maundy Thursday, our plans to descend Hualien to enjoy 70km of high speed descend through the spectacular Taroko National Park, from 3000m to sea level, literally got nailed due to the 6.1 earthquake yesterday. Highway 8 was closed to traffic due to landslides and falling rocks. The promise of it being open today brought cold comfort as I laid awake at 5 am with the sound of heavy rain pelting the windows and roof of my hotel room.
How do I get the team down safely? Plan B, taking Highway 7 NE to Yilan 140km did not sound like a good option in this weather as the mountainous descends would be very slippery and dangerous. What other options, if any were available?
As I prayed and thought hard about it, I was prompted to consider Plan C - C for chartered transport. I immediately Googled transportation rental serves in Taiwan, taxis, buses, etc but to no avail. I remembered last year we had a wonderful van driver Brother Lim in Heng Chun who went over and above to help us find a lost rider. However, Heng Chun was 400+km away and even if he would be willing to drive that distance, who in the right mind would want to risk life and limb to drive 70km up through fresh earthquake zone when things were still unstable? One rock crashing down could badly damage a vehicle or could possibly bring it down the steep mountainside. The situation looked grim.
At 6am, I contacted 3 friends from Singapore who had good contacts in Taiwan and perhaps it being too early, only one responded. My buddy Matt Chia knew a certain Guo Ge (Big Brother Guo). He immediately contacted GG and amazingly, GG agreed to take up this risky assignment. We couldn't believe this piece of good news and we knew God has somehow heard our prayers. Joy and celebration erupted at Camp LTF! But why would he do it? We found that out later...
The quote was for 2 vans - one for we 8 cyclists and the other for the 8 bicycles at 16000 NT in total. This was not cheap at S$700 but we were happy to pay any amount to get extracted out of this zone. On hindsight, it worked out to be only $93 per person for a 100km ride down to Hualien including our bicycle and it was worth every cent - less than $1 for 1km!
With the wifi connection very bad and spotty, it was hard to contact GG but the persistence of Gary and Siew Wan paid off. They managed to receive the instructions from GG amid several calls that were cut-off and we were to wait for him at hotel lobby, eta about 1pm. The good news was that the landslides were being cleared and expected road opening was 12pm IF all went well.
Meanwhile, policy stated we had to vacate our rooms at 10am and our request for late check-out was rejected due to it being peak season. The reception staff at Song Syue Lodge seemed stressed and inundated with all sorts of requests from guests like us from this unexpected emergency. Understandably, their customer service vaporized and fell short.
We whirled away time by going to Café 3158 some 300m away for coffee and wonderful that they served piping steamed meat buns which were delicious. The weather was wet, cold and foggy and we all could not imagine descending in such dreadful conditions. Visibility was poor and we were not the only ones who felt this way. Many of the roadies staying at our hotel had their trip cancelled and their motherships were all activated to bring them down safely.
As we waited for Guo Ge to arrive, we hung around the lobby feeling a bit restless but relieved. It was very thoughtful of Guo Ge to inform us of his progress as he journeyed his way up the mountain and even sent photos. The weather had gotten worse and it was pouring cats and dogs, with the temp hovering around 9c. The crowded lobby was soon quiet as guests left one by one until we were the only ones around.
Siew Wan finally got a call at 1230pm to say our rescuers had arrived and we asked the reception to open the front gates to allow the 2 vans in. For some reason, the grouchy recep staff were not happy with this request and kept them waiting 10-15 mins outside. The reason given was that there were too many vehicles in the compound and the need for them to clear out first. Very understandable except there was only one car picking up their stranded guests!
When our 2 vans finally pulled in, we were elated. First order of the day was to give Guo Ge a huge welcome and a heartfelt thank you. He and his buddy drove 4 hours from Hualien to rescue us and our gratitude meter overflowed. Gary, Siew Wan and KC have met him before on a previous trip and it was like a reunion of sorts. Guo Ge is in his late 50s and has a big physique. He spoke with a booming and commanding voice. On first impression, one would think he is a feared Sergeant Major in the army but Guo Ge is actually a retired journalist and a very kind, generous and fatherly figure.
He organised us with military precision. Van #1 – to be loaded in with the bicycles and he brought packing materials and straps, obviously very experienced in bicycle handling. Guo Ge was at first wondering if we could use just one van but we reminded him that these were not foldies, but 8 full size bicycles that can be cumbersome at times. Van #2 – was for us troops and we climbed into his van obediently.
Just earlier on at daybreak I had no idea how to get everyone down safely and was feeling slightly anxious and heavy hearted. But here we were seated comfortably in Guo Ge’s spacious van making out way down safely in the highest spirits. I’ve learned that when faced with adversities of any sorts in life, going to God in prayer never disappoints because our Heavenly Father loves us and is ever so faithful. The good book in Ps 91:15 reminds us of God's wonderful promise when we call upon Him in the name of Jesus.
He will call upon Me and I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honour him.
He will call upon Me and I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honour him.
A certain Arthur Jackson said it so eloquently – Hard times call for prayer and praise to the One who controls all things.
As we made our way down the mountain, we were so glad we didn’t attempt to cycle as I don’t think we could even last 10 mins in the cold and rain. Furthermore, the menancing hairpins were also barely visible at times with the fog. Our jaws dropped as we drove passed the freshly cleared landslide and rocks. This was when the magnitude of this natural disaster sunk in.
If we were to cycle down and got hit by these rocks, some as big as a car, we would surely be finished. We were informed that it hailed just less than an hour after we left the lodge. Indeed, timing is everything in life and for me, it is so assuring to know that God makes all things beautiful in His time.
If the weather outside the van was grim and gloomy, inside the van was sunshine and blue skies as we joked, sang and laughed. For most part I sat in front between Guo Ge and Alice, both Taiwanese, and had an intensive Chinese lesson where I learned much not just about the language, but the history, culture and social norms of Taiwan. It was a great privilege too to know Guo Ge better – his youth, his career and his family. Appreciated Alice’s translation and glad she could put her English to good use. Those few hours were indeed very special and truly memorable.
An hour into the journey, Guo Ge pulled into a service station even though we did not need its amenities. The reason was that they had delicious rice dumplings and Guo Ge insisted we must try them. He repeated that this was his treat and truly, his warmth and friendship to us really touched our hearts and stomachs.
We stopped at Tian Xiang for a break and this is the Gateway into the Taroko National Park if one is to enter from the East. The weather though wet and cloudy had improved as we descended from 3000m. The 711 was raided for ice creams and drinks and we continued our journey until we passed the famous Archway where the Highway 8 ended and joined with the coastal highway.
As we entered our destination, the city of Hualien, Guo Ge had lined up another special treat for us - pre-ordered special Taiwanese pancakes with egg. There was a long line of people at the store but we didn’t have to wait. This delicacy required a certain way to eat it as there was a soft egg inside and we had to eat and suck that up. We managed delightfully.
When we finally pulled into Forest B & B, a most beautiful English style resort, we felt grateful and relieved to have arrived safely and comfortably thanks to Guo Ge and his friend. They helped us unload our bicycles and our gear and enquired about our dinner plans. We have heard that Guo Ge ran an upmarket Japanese restaurant and the least we could do is to give him the business. Excellent hospitality was once again offered – he insisted on picking us up later after we rested and washed.
Forest B & B proved very impressive. It was clean, spacious, colourful and could very well be mistaken for an English manor with a modern twist.
We all loved our rooms which all had different themes and it has spacious green grounds. Our host a young lady with a squeaky voice was very welcoming and settled us in warmly.
That night, we really celebrated with a grand Japanese feast at Guo Ge's restaurant. His wife came along to pick us up and ensured we were thoroughly spoiled. What surprised us was after dinner, they came with gifts of special Taiwanese biscuits for us to bring back to our families.
Update - I learned a few days later after this drama why Guo Ge decided to go risk his life and did this dangerous task. Apparently, the night we were stuck up there in Wulin, he had a dream. So when Matt Chia contacted him at 7am, it was something that was not unexpected. He knew this assignment was his to do. Co-incidence or God-incident?
Last night I had a dream from Mazu (Chinese Sea Goddess) and early this morning, I received an emergency call for help up in Hehuan Shan. A group of Sporean cyclist friends were supposed to cycle down but due to the earthquake and the rain, they needed urgent help. To be honest, making the trip up under such treacherous conditions is a frightening task. However as they are good friends from Singapore, I had to rescue them.
God's love for us is real and generous... I like to share this beautiful song in tribute to His great love for us on the Good Friday of 2019. May God bless Taiwan and her wonderful people. And may you be encouraged too by the song. It's in Chinese but the translation is below...
有一天 Someday 有一天 你若覺得失去勇氣 Someday, if you feel that you loss the courage.有一天 你若真的想放棄 Someday, if you really want to give up.有一天 你若感覺沒人愛你 Someday, if you feel that nobody loves you. 有一天 好像走到谷底 Someday, if you feel very upset.那一天 你要振作你的心情 You must bestir yourself at that day.那一天 你要珍惜你自己 You must cherish yourself at that day.那一天 不要忘記有人愛你 You must not forget that there is still someone loves you at that day.那一天 不要輕易說放棄 You should not say to give up easily at that day. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~這個世界真有一位上帝 There is really a god in the world. 衪愛你 衪願意幫助你 He loves you and is willing to help you. 茫茫人海 雖然寂寞 Although you are lonely in the crowded world. 衪愛能溫暖一切冷漠 His love can turn the indifference to kindness. 這個世界真有一位上帝 There is really a god in the world.衪的雙手 渴望緊緊擁抱你 His both hands are eager to hold you tightly.漫漫長夜 陪你走過 He will accompany with you to pass through the lonely long night. 衪愛你 伴你一生之久 He loves you and will accompany with you forever.