Travel-logue: Penghu – Taiwan’s Beautiful and Boring Island

Penghu

by Cameron Brtnik

     Penghu – September 8, 2014: My thirty-third birthday. I’m currently sitting seaside at a port in a small city on a tiny island off the coast of Taiwan, enjoying a glass of “The distinctive flavor lager beer,” also known as Taiwan Beer, and gorging on delicious freshly caught oysters and imported salmon. I feel at peace.

I needed a vacation – Not from work overload, but because in the three years I’ve been living in Taiwan, I’ve never left the island (except for my trip back home to Canada). So I decided to take a trip, alone, to a pretty neighboring island to the west of Taiwan called Penghu (actually a cluster of islets). Warning: This is a couples’ trip, so only go alone if you want to experience cabin fever…without the cabin. Albeit a beautiful island, there’s not much to do besides visit the gorgeous local beaches – I suppose everything’s “local” in Penghu – to surf, dive, or (like me) finally get through that worn paperback you’ve been schlepping around everywhere. And that’s about it. “No matter, I’ll meet people!” I thought. Unfortunately, I came to this isle toward the end of the Moon Festival holiday when people were already returning home. Oh, not to mention the plane crash that killed 48 people (including two foreign exchange students from France) just two weeks prior to my arrival. That never helps an already flailing tourism industry.

Undeterred (I had caught wind of this news the night before, but I was drunk enough at the time that I accepted my destined, likely watery fate), I took the first flight out of Taipei – which, by the way, I caught the same night of my birthday celebrations, or should I say following morning after leaving Halo, the club we were partying at, bottle service in tow – still inebriated, but somehow functional. I had smartly packed that evening and took my luggage straight to the nightclub. The plane ride was short, just an hour, and I felt safe (which I can’t say for those unfortunate souls who got caught in the typhoon), perhaps because I was passed out the whole way.

I arrived at the small airport, where I passed out for another three hours on the uncomfortable, yet somehow comfortable seats. When I awoke it was only 10:30am, and I asked about cheap hostels. Soon a van arrived to escort me, and a lovely girl named Julia, whose family owned a local hostel called “Big Fish House,” drove me straight there. It was a very cute inn, more of a Bed and Breakfast, and wasn’t very cheap – $1500nt for the night. But it was well worth the stay, with a bright, spacious room to myself, breakfast, and a scooter (for an extra $300nt) included. I spent the next two hours sleeping (still working off that hangover, or tequila, or both) then hopped on my scooter and hit Shanshui aka “Mountain Water Beach.”

The first thing I noticed along the way was that sea smell; the salty air hitting your nostrils like it was the first fresh breath of air you’ve taken in years. I was told there’d be “lots of foreigners there.” I was optimistic, as I wanted to meet some new friends to share my adventure with. There was one – he and his Taiwanese girlfriend – and he didn’t look the sort I was interested in meeting (or vice versa). So I kept to myself and got into my book – Freakonomics, a former yet still-popular bestseller I always intended to read, but never got around to till I found myself on a lonely island.

At dusk, I jumped on my scooter and headed into town; if I were to find any action, it would be in the heart and center of Penghu! I was wrong. I found one bar that I recognized from the Taiwan Lonely Planet called Freud. It was modeled after a fishing boat, with the same charm and décor as any Canadian seafood tavern, but it was missing that one asset I was looking for: people. I ate the mediocre “thai-style shrimp” and enjoyed the choice Heineken beer. The mood was dark and depressing, so I left soon before it “got busy.” I went back to my commodious, Japanese-style room, and passed out for the fourth time that day..

I woke up too late for breakfast, but it was still available: dried up bread loaf and two choices of spread: Nutella and peanut butter. If you know me, you know I enjoyed the shit out of it, more so because it was included (although not served in a bed). Julia, the friendly hotel manager – she and her mother manage two locations of Big Fish House, and she plans to leave in three weeks to study English in Australia for six months – drove me in her Big Fish van to the north end of the island to catch a ferry to a smaller islet fifteen minutes away. Exotically called Chikan (or “chicken island” as I preferred to call it), it’s a little paradise get-away, punctuated by stone weirs – oddly-shaped stone walls in the water originally built as fish traps – and small beaches. I visited Aimen Beach, famous for it’s jet skiing and banana boating. I did neither, and instead collected coral fragments that had washed ashore, and that’s what the sand was mostly composed of. A nice way to spend the day, but I was sunburnt and happy to catch the last boat back to “civilization.”

Walking along the beach I noticed one thing: I love long walks on the beach (not a cheesy dating site description). This goes back to my cottage days of walking the shore of Georgian Bay all the way to Balm Beach, over an hour’s walk, and feeling happy as a sandboy (an expression my mother often used, but I never understood. I had to look up the etymology and discovered sandboys were actually “men who drove donkeys selling sand,” and were reportedly always happy). I also noticed something else: I felt utterly alone. It wasn’t a good feeling. I realized right there and then that life is better with friends, or family, or a significant other. That feeling faded though as I thought about how lucky I was, and started plotting world domination.

I took the ferry back across the straight, caught a cab back into town, and checked into a shitty cheap hotel. I put a generous helping of aloe on that inexorable “Brtnik Burn,” grabbed my laptop, and headed down to the port where I’m currently sitting, two tall beers in, writing this diary entry. It’s my birthday, and I’m surrounded by drunken fishermen and the feeling of loneliness. I think I’ll try and bump my return ticket to tomorrow, as another day on this beautiful and boring island may make Jack a dull boy. As of right now, I feel content, but I wish my friends were here… My friends from Taiwan. My friends from China. My friends from Toronto. My brother and sister. A stranger. But all is well, and let’s all feel lucky we’re alive and not on a plane destined for doom (God bless their souls). I’ll see everyone soon. Oh, and happy Moon Festival!

Written by Cameron Brtnik, September 8, 2014 on his 33rd birthday

Cameron is a freelance writer, and still enjoys long walks on the beach.

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Poetry Corner – Like a Rock

Like a Rock

by Cameron Brtnik

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I want to be strong like a rock

My life has fallen accidentally into place

Like the rocks that make up this mountain

Satisfied with the cards they were dealt

Each working together to hold up an entire mountain

No one imposing on the others

Rather keeping each other in check

I want to be sturdy like a rock

Each completing the other; no grandstanding

Sturdy yet fallible

Ancient yet new each day

Always set with their faces toward the sun

Together balancing out the whole

I want to be intelligent like a rock

We can learn a lot from these rocks

We who compete for space

For a chance to leave our mark on this earth

To find meaning for ourselves

Rather than the whole

I want to be humble like a rock

We who step over each other to succeed

Rather than link together to form an alliance

Rocks do not feel jealousy, envy, or pain

They accept their place

And fend together, as one

Poetry Corner – Deadline

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Deadline
by Cameron Brtnik
I’m not tired, but I’m not awake
I close my eyes and want to shut out everything
without sleeping
But I fall asleep once again
behind schedule
When I’m asleep nothing matters
When I wake up I feel the instant deadline
of life waiting
But I’ll never get it done
A perpetual deadline

Poetry Corner – Time

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Time

by Cameron Brtnik

Time has no purpose

no start

no end

It constantly repeats itself 

at an ever faster rate

so fast it makes clocks spin

knocking atoms along

forever rushing into the future

forgetting the past

rendering the future obsolete

Upfront Reviews: Float Toronto

Upfront Reviews: Float Toronto

by Cameron Brtnik

 

    When you enter into Float Toronto, you’re entering into another world… If you haven’t “floated” yet, do yourself a favour and get buoyant! 

    If you haven’t tried it, you’ve most likely heard of it: known as “float pods,” “isolation tanks” or the more ominous sounding “sensory deprivation tanks,” they’ve started to amass a cult following amongst its practitioners. It has also been called “floatation therapy,” and is anecdotally said to cure a multitude of ailments. Joe Rogan claims he sleeps in one every night. As Float Toronto – one of the few venues that carry float tanks in Toronto – say in their promotional video, “Your experience in a float tank is about everything you won’t be doing.” I personally always go in with some intent: think on my goals, focus my energy, reflect on my actions or simply to meditate.

Welcome to Float Toronto!

    You are greeted by a chill receptionist who is more than happy to give you a tour of the spa. In fact, it’s more of a “do it yourself spa.” What comes to mind when you think of the word “spa?” Relaxation, meditation, and healing – and that’s exactly what you’ll get during your float. In fact, I’ve found floating to be far more relaxing than a traditional massage. I believe it’s because your body actually relaxes, I mean fully relaxes, without friction against your body, and your muscles for the first time can fully relax. That’s the problem with traditional massage: your body is still lying against another surface so it’s impossible for your body to completely relax. Because the water is heated to the same temperature as your body, you don’t really feel it after a while and your mind becomes “untethered” from the rest of you. As Joe Rogan says, “Your body is a distraction.” Now it’s time to travel to the centre of consciousness…

    As you enter your own private room complete with personal bench, tiled shower and your very own float pod, you’re overcome with a sense of relaxation before even stepping into the glimmering abyss… The dim lights and their sapphire glow make it feel as if you’re stepping into a spacecraft – and that’s exactly what you’re doing. After a soothing shower (there’s no rush as you have a whole hour to float), you step into your personal pod and it feels ethereal. At first you’ll feel slightly nervous to lie down on a bed of water. Don’t worry: each tank has a thousand pounds of epsom salt which gives the water a buoyancy akin to the Dead Sea. You fully lie back – yes you can even rest your head on the surface of the water – or you have the option of using the provided halo cushion for your neck. You have the option of earplugs if you get swimmer’s ear, soothing body cream to rub on your skin after your session, and your very own robe; you’ll feel like you’re staying at the Hilton. If you are claustrophobic, not to worry; the tanks are easy to exit at all times by just pushing up on the pod door. But don’t fret: Float Toronto’s tanks are much larger and voluminous than most, so even the most claustrophobic guest should’ve have a panic attack.

    There is heavenly zen music playing as you enter the glowing hull. As you descend into the warm glow of the lights, it’s nice to just lie in it for ten minutes to get fully immersed into the experience. You can control the settings from inside the tank if you want to control the lights and music, but this floater recommends trying the full experience: FULL SENSORY DEPRIVIATION. Oh, and one very important tip: never rub your eyes! Don’t put your hands even near your eyes. Doing so will result in a disruption of your meditative state and quickly propel you back to reality. In case of this scenario, there is spray and a towel provided in the tank which will quickly remedy the situation. As you’re in a “sensory deprivation” tank, after about ten minutes you’re encouraged to turn all these distractions off…so you’re floating in pure blackness, like the blackness of space, the thick water fully supporting your weightless body. At first you may feel helpless, anxious, or even nervous…but slowly a relaxing feeling encompasses you like a warm blanket. As you lay there naked – oh yes, I forgot to mention you are encouraged to go au naturel to get the full experience – typically your mind will start racing to all the things you have to do that day: go to work, pick up milk, take the dog out, watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. In today’s age you may even have a full-on panic attack that you can’t whip out your phone to check your notifications and like your favortite insta posts. But eventually these thoughts fade and suddenly, for the first time in forever, your mind becomes empty…or at least void of any trivial thoughts. You begin noticing your environment and because there’s no light to “influence” your vision, you may even start hallucinating. I have envisioned that I am floating in space with stars hovering above me (these experiences are heignted by a quick hit on the ol’ vape before floating. I feel this enhances the experience but is not necessary.)

 

Top 5 Things I Like To Do While In The Tank 

  1. Listen to my knuckles crack underwater
  2. Hum and chant underwater. Your voice is intensified so that it sounds like it could fill a stadium. (One time floating with a friend he heard me chanting from an adjoining room. He thought he was hearing things in the tank!)
  3. Force myself to be creative. If I have an upcoming project that I haven’t reflected on yet, I simply focus on that one thing and – boom – ideas come streaming in
  4. Pretend I’m a frog swimming around in my own private pond
  5. Massage my body. The salty, viscous fluid helps with this

 

    Because you won’t be “fighting gravity,” it’s hard to tell where the water ends and your body begins… You became “one” with the water and the space around you, as if you’re a naked astronaut floating through space. I am usually fully relaxed halfway through the float, and that’s when my mind starts being creative. I like to use the tank time to think, create and brainstorm ideas – like a literal think tank! But each person’s experience is subjective, and you may prefer to just relax and enjoy the experience. With around twenty minutes to go, I often pass out due to feeling so relaxed. You may call that a waste of a float, but trust me when I say when you wake up you will feel like a new person, and I guarantee you will have never slept like that in a bed before. The music comes on again at the end, sort of like a heavenly alarm clock, to wake you. But if you find it hard to snap out of the trance you’re in, the water will start gushing around the tank to “nudge” you awake. You’ll want to take another shower to wash all that salt off your body. One thing you’ll notice is how smooth your skin feels: “Like a baby’s bottom,” is the best way to describe it. Another thing I find is that, ironically, my muscles are sore, almost like I just ran a marathon. I think it’s because they’ve never fully relaxed before. But it’s in a good way, like that feeling after a good workout at the gym.

    After getting dressed, you can enjoy some hot herbal tea in the lounge and share your experience with the staff. They even provide a journal where you can share your experience by writing a poem, drawing your visions, or writing a short diary of your experience. I’ve heard from people who have had very visual hallucinations (particularly one guy who did mushrooms in the tank. But I don’t recommend that, at least on your first float!), to those who have none and just find it to be a therapeutic experience. I recommend you book a float to find out what you’ll experience. They also sell bags of epsom salt in the lobby so you can enjoy the health benefits in the comfort of your own bath. Whatever your reasons for trying it are – therapeutic, spiritual or psychedelic – I believe floating is the best way to achieve it. Bon voyage!

 

Book your float here: https://float-toronto.com/ and use their online calendar

Recommended by author: Book a package of ten floats and it’s almost half price! Tuesdays are “clean for float” days where you can volunteer to come in and clean for a few hours in exchange for a float! 

Float Toronto on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3nHbY3lNOJI

Post-float reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI_EL3IvmKQ

Joe Rogan on Sensory Deprivation Tanks https://player.vimeo.com/video/97880537

Cameron Brtnik is a freelance writer and blogger living in Toronto

Poetry Corner – Walking Plague

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Walking Plague
by Cameron Brtnik
I am a walking plague
I bring death and disease everywhere I go
Where there is life there will eventually be death
I am a walking plague
For which there is no cure
Why hasn’t God created a cure to wipe me off the face of the earth?
I am a walking plague
I live in complete isolation from the world
I should be burnt into nothingness
I will die lonely
I am a walking plague

Poetry Corner – Hopelessness

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Hopelessness

by Cameron Brtnik

I’m tired of feeling like this

Where I see worth, I feel worthless

Where I see opportunity, I feel stuck

Where I see work, I feel useless

Where I see hope, I feel despair

Where I see light, I feel darkness

Where I see inspiration, I feel doubtful

Where I see life, I feel death

Where I see wealth, I feel poor

Now on to antidepressants

Poetry Corner – The Eternal Wanderer or Home

The Eternal Wanderer or Home

by Cameron Brtnik

wanderer

From Nowhere…

From Everywhere…

Dreadlocks

Dirty moccasins

Torn backpack

Scuffed map poking out (why do they need a map? They’ll never get to where they’re going)

A shower is beckoning to them, like a siren to a filthy sailor, tempting, yet out of reach

Phone in hand, but who are they texting, everyone back at home has already forgotten about them or given up

A look of eternal loss across their expression

“Life’s an adventure,” they think but it’s not what they feel

They just want to go

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