Three superpowers in three weeks.

The Australian government has managed to upset three superpowers in the space of three weeks. Comments from the prime minister and senior minsters or staff have provoked negative responses from China, India and the United States, and the results could be very harmful to Australia.

China.

The threat of war. Senior government figures provoked China with comments about imminent armed conflict. Former Liberal minister Christopher Pyne, Senator Jim Molan, Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo, and even Defence Minister Peter Dutton made comments suggesting Australia is already, or will soon be, engaged in some form of direct conflict with China. In contrast, an article by Ewen Levick appeared in Australian Defence Magazine in March this year entitled:

War with China is not inevitable.

Average Aussies don’t know who to believe. They also might not understand the true motivation behind the comments, but China does, and Australia’s largest trading partner has already responded the best way it knows how – economically.

India

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australian citizens attempting to return to Australia from the COVID-19 hotspot of India could be issued massive fines or sent to jail. Many Australian citizens were born in India, have family in India and hold dual citizenship between the two countries. Australian citizens have access to Australia’s health system, and could be treated in Australia after completing mandatory quarantine, but they are being forced to remain in a country in the middle of a crisis, and are placing more pressure on India’s overburdened health system. This has not just angered Aussies in India and back home, but upset the government of India, which is battling to bring the crisis under control.

The United States

The Australian government set itself at odds with The USA when it refused to follow plans to reduce carbon emissions and protect the natural environment. New US president Joe Biden has publicly stated an ambition to actively reduce carbon emissions in the US in the near future, but Australia has refused to match these efforts. One specific policy which will harm Australia is the carbon tariff. The tariff, or fee, will be imposed on any goods being imported into the United States which have not been produced using more environmentally-friendly methods. Goods that are produced using fossil fuels will thus be worth less, and those businesses will lose money. The European Union is proposing a similar plan.

Ironically, this will adversely affect traditional Coalition voters, whose businesses will suffer due to the tariffs. Australia, rightly or wrongly, has a very close relationships with the United States, and cannot afford to alienate the superpower.

Upsetting other nations is inevitable in international diplomacy. Upsetting other nations is also justified if those nations are acting in a way that clearly contravenes the interests or the accepted values of the nation making the comments. China, for example, needs to be called out for its actions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang. In this case, however, the comments are calculated, but careless, and are deliberately designed to appease specific sectors of the Australian population.

China. Anti-China comments appeal to the racists. Australia is a racist country, and anti-Chinese racism has existed since the gold rush in the 1860s. The Liberal National Party coalition taps into this anti-China sentiment because it is dependant on the votes of the country’s racist underbelly. Warning Australians of the threat of war is also a convenient way to justify enormous spending on defence, and observant commentators noticed that the comments were made close to ANZAC Day, which commemorates fallen Aussie soldiers and is the nation’s most sacred day. Ironically, however, the public comments about China have adversely affected trade with China and this severely disadvantages Australian producers of beef, wheat and wine, who would normally vote for the Coalition.

The USA. The prime minister rejected the US proposal in order to appease the fossil fuel industry. Australians are now cognisant that the fossil fuel industry owns the Coalition.

India. Racism, or damage control? Threatening to imprison Australian citizens returning from an Asian country is clearly racist, but the proposal could also be an attempt to save face. COVID-19 quarantine is ultimately a federal government responsibility in Australia, and it has been handled very poorly. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been even worse. Many Australians are staring to see through the government’s COVID-19 publicity stunts, so the threat to fine or imprison citizens could be an attempt to appear tough and decisive on border control and biosecurity.

Some of the Australians trapped in India have no Indian heritage. They are cricketers, chasing big money in the lucrative Indian cricket competition. A few of the cricketers have criticised the government’s stance. Will the words of some Aussie sports heroes be enough to the change the government’s stance?

For a government that is nothing but publicity, photo opportunities and marketing, this is a massive public relations faux pas. Will it persuade Australians to stop voting for the Coalition at upcoming elections?

Image: Aditya Joshi

Is this bathroom gender neutral or gender specific?

I walked into the bathroom and I was confused. The signs on the walls confounded me.

Male. Female. Male and Female.

I just wanted to take a shower after another day of sweltering heat and humidity in Taiwan, but now I was faced with this conundrum.

What should I do? Should I leave, should I stay? Should I ask for help or an explanation? My Mandarin is scratchy at best and I was midway through disrobing. I couldn’t ask for help. I would have to figure this out myself. The gender specific / gender fluid signage on the walls was not making it easy.

Naturally I should use the male. But why present the female option in exactly the same place, and confuse the matter even more by offering a combined male and female option?

Were guests to shower together? Was it a water saving method? I’m all for environmental sustainability, but I was alone. Is a single person identifying as a single definitive gender allowed to bathe in this space?

I stood dumbfounded with soap at the ready and a desperate need to be clean. Then I ventured even further down the rabbit hole…

Is gender neutrality common in Taiwan?

Is gender fluidity or non-binary self identification accepted in this country? It might be in Taipei, the cosmopolitan capital, but what about here in Fenglin? Smaller regional centres tend to be more conservative, so it stands to reason that this would be true in little Fenglin. Then again, how would I know? I’d only arrived here today after a lengthy train trip and a long sweaty walk through the streets with my heavy pack slung on my back.

I shouldn’t make assumptions about a city that I’d barely met.

So, which one do I use?

Then I had an idea. A good idea. No, a brilliant idea. I knew who to ask. I crept toward the bathroom door with my towel around my waist. I peered outside. I looked right, I looked left. Clear. I made a mad dash for my room, quickly turned the key in the door and entered.

I sought out the wise one. The one who could surely answer my question. There is no wiser. I asked Elmo.

Elmo didn’t have the answer. Elmo didn’t have any answer. He said nothing. It was all to much for him as well. I retraced my cautious steps to the bathroom to face the challenge alone.

I scanned the signs again.

Male.

Is there such a thing as male bath gel? I’d never heard of it. I usually just bought the soap that was cheapest and most environmentally friendly (if available) and I didn’t even realise soap could be gender specific.

Does male soap contain different properties? A different scent would be plausible. Maybe I should sample the soap before using it. Dab a little on my wrist and sniff lightly – perhaps dab a little behind the ear and see if I take to it.

Female.

And female soap. Is it softer, more delicate on the skin. Oops, there I go, projecting again, perpetuating age-old gender stereotypes. I wonder how the good folk of Fenglin would react if I wandered the streets emitting an aroma of female bath gel. I wonder if they would even detect it under the omnipotent pungent sweat.

Male and female.

This is too much.

One soap is designated male, another soap is designated female and supposedly ne’er the twain shall meet, but the hair conditioner is gender neutral. This didn’t make any sense to me. Surely the most salient difference between male and female grooming trends is the length and style of one’s hair.

The conditioner must be gender neutral. But not non-binary, because non-binary folk don’t identify as any specific gender. And if the label denotes male and female this proposes that the conditioner can be used by both genders, and perhaps used together.

How do they make male and female conditioner; do they just mix the male soap with the female soap?

50-50?

At some point I had to make a decision. I was standing in the middle of the bathroom all sweaty and smelly and silly and I just wanted a shower. I had to take the plunge.

I could always try a little of all three. I could embrace my feminine side as well as reinforcing my masculinity, and if I applied too much of either I could restore the natural balance with a dollop of the male and female product.

Right. That’s it. That’s what I’ll do.

Then I realised I had another problem. What to do with all these taps?

Is there a male and female tap?

Male is right – female is left.

That’s what I was taught in army cadets when affixing my belt for parade. The male part always went on the right hand side of the webbing. The same rule could apply here. That said, they drive on the other side of the road in Taiwan so maybe tap selection demands this role reversal as well.

Should I touch the female tap?

Is male hot and female cold, or is that assumption sexist? Are men hot blooded and women more tempered? Can a woman be hot? Yes, but if I call a woman hot am I objectifying that woman? If I call a man hot am I gay? Is there anything wrong with being gay, or am I just being homophobic?

Is anyone a man or a woman?

Now we’re back at the soap dispensers?

Maybe I should have a warm shower. That would be safer. Less likely to complicate the discussion or offend anyone. But there’s no one else in the bathroom, certainly no one else in the shower. No one to offend.

Actually, what I really wanted was a cold shower after enduring the tropical heat all day. I kept hoping, praying for the mass of angry black clouds to burst and release a downpour of gloriously refreshing rain on the small town.

I wanted to dance joyously in the soothing rain and rid myself of the layers of sweat clinging to my skin. But bathing in public was sure to offend someone, even if gender assumptions did not.

I showered;

Cold water. Mixed soap. No major side effects. I was clean.

After all that excitement I was exhausted. I needed to sit down. I needed to find a beautiful, relaxing chair on which to rest my tired self and contemplate one of the most complicated showers I had ever taken.

Where would I find such a chair?

In the elevator of course.

Image: http://www.pridelife.com

The Daily Double: Surf and Ski in one day.

Where in the world is it possible to surf and ski/snowboard in the same day?

I almost did it once, in Australia, but I can’t genuinely lay claim to having experienced this rare privilege of outdoor sports. I enjoyed a bodysurf somewhere on the far south coast of NSW, Australia, then drove with friends to the snowy mountains and hiked for a few hours that afternoon through patches of summer snow.

I know it doesn’t count but it made me curious and very keen to experience the real thing – a surf in the morning and a ski in the afternoon, or vice versa, as long as you see foam and powder before the sun sets. That said, with so many ski resorts offering night skiing under lights, you could ski in far away lands, or take your time in the waves before heading to the slopes.

California, USA

Southern California is home to great surfing beaches and snow-capped mountains. So blessed are the locals in this part of the world that surfing and skiing on the same day is known as the California Double or the Twofer.

One combo is Huntington Beach and Mountain High, which are about 90 minutes apart. Another popular double is Lower Trestles (San Clemente) to Bear Mountain. They are both enticing options on their own, and are just two hours apart – enough time to grab some tasty Mexican food on your way to the powder. You could also opt for Santa Monica to Mount Baldy, or Ocean Beach to Boreal Mountain Resort.

While you’re in Cali, you might be lucky enough to meet The Governator, or be discovered by a director and appear in a Hollywood blockbuster. The question is, are you cool enough to visit SoCal?

New Zealand

New Zealand is another nation blessed with a long coastline near steep mountains.

If you can handle wild and woolly weather and big swells, check out Raglan and Piha on the north island, as well as Boulders Bay, before driving for about an hour to Mt. Taranaki and the Manganui Ski Area. The South Island Twofer is doable at Taylor’s Mistake, a beach break near Christchurch, and Mt Hutt, just two hours away. At Mt Hutt, get ready to get vertical.

Chile

The thin mountainous nation of Chile offers quality waves and snow from June to October. When the temperature drops in the Southern Hemisphere, the Andes catch snow and the coast catches a swell.

Head to Valparaiso for a surf then up to Valle Nevado. The three-hour drive rewards you with waves and ski slopes. An extra hour in the car lets you ski at Nevado and surf at one of Chile’s most famous breaks, Pichilemu. For off-piste skiing and heli-skiing, try Nevado or La Parva, El Colorado and Farellones.

If you pack your passport, you could surf in Chile and ski in Argentina. Ski resorts such as Bariloche, Las Lenas and La Hoya share the same mountain range as the Chilean resorts. They are located near airports, so you could fly to the slopes from Santiago after a morning surf and a 1-2 hr bus ride from the coast.

For a real challenge, and a story to dine out on, ski at Cerro Castor, right at the southern tip of Argentina, and find some waves at the end of the world. You might need a dry suit and a rescue party on standby, because you’re almost surfing in Antarctica. Has this been done?

France

France is famous for elite skiers and wonderful ski resorts, and every surfer knows the name Biarritz. Fortunately, the surf beaches and the mountains are not too far apart.

When snow blankets the Alps and Pyrenees, the big swells arrive at breaks like Belharra. If you don’t want to stare death in the face at Belharra, or get lost in the crowds at Biarritz, pop over to the Basque Country to beaches such as Anglet, Hossegor or Guethary.

Australia

In theory, it’s possible.

Go for an early at a beach on the far south coast of NSW, or even into Victoria, then across to the snowy mountains which straddle the border between NSW and Victoria, for a late afternoon ski. It would be a very long day, and one destination where night skiing is an advantage.

Algeria

Algeria is an off-the-beaten track destination for both skiing and surfing, and an even more surprising destination for people looking to do both. It is possible. Surf break Decaplage is less than two hours drive from the ski resort of Chrea. This could be the best magical mystery tour of any of the destinations listed in this article – why not give it a go?

Morocco

Still in North Africa, Morocco has both surf and snow. Between January and late March consistent swell hits the North Atlantic along Morocco’s beach breaks and reef breaks, throwing up all kinds of waves.

Distance is the killer in the Moroccan daily double. The ski resort at Oukaimeden is a four-hour drive from the nearest beach at Essaouira, and about 5 hours from the most famous surf spot in Morocco, Taghazout. But, if you like long drives through the countryside, you can surf and ski in the same day in Morocco.

South Africa

At the other end of the continent, South Africa offers a daily double. Get in the green room at breaks such as Dunes, Crans, The Hoek and Pebbles near Cape Town, then travel for about 2 hours to the small ski resort of Matroosberg. On the Eastern Cape, be prepared for more driving, because the ski resort of Tiffindell is 6hrs from the coast. If you’re going to travel that far, why not cross a border and visit Afriski Mountain Resort in Lesotho, which is just a little bit further. It’s a tiny resort but it might be worth the passport stamp, and you could say that you completed the Twofer in a landlocked nation.

If your wish is to surf and see snow on the same day, you could do it in Taiwan. Taiwan catches snow in Taroko Gorge, Hehuanshan, Yushan and Xueshan, and most of these mountains are reachable by road and /or hiking. At some of them, you can sit in a hot spring instead of skiing. Is this also possible in Japan, Norway, Sweden or Iceland?

If you’re lucky enough to experience this double, it’s up to you where to go. It’s also up to you whether you ski or snowboard, or whether you ride a surf board, a body board or a SUP. You could don some skins and ski the back country if time permits, or spend hours showing off at the park with your selfie stick.

I don’t really think you qualify for a Twofer if you ride a goat boat through the waves before sliding down the snow on a toboggan. Personally, I also think it doesn’t count if you surf at a man-made wave pool, even if Kelly personally invites you, or ski at an indoor man-made slope.

To get back to the roots of surfing, grab some fins and enjoy body surfing – pure surfing.

If anyone has achieved this double, or knows of another place in the world where it is possible to surf and ski on the same day, let us know. Maybe one day in the future we will all be able to travel again and fill our days with surf and snow.

Images: Anton Repponen, Alex Lange

Taroko Gorge.

Taroko Gorge is spectacular. The crystal-clear waters of the Liwu River plunge from its towering peaks and support a vast array of plant and animal species which thrive in the varied tropical and alpine climates. Lush green rainforest juxtaposes with river stones and boulders smoothed by thousands of years of rain and snow melt.

Taroko National Park lies near Xiulin Township in Hualien County, Taiwan, (or Chinese Taipei? I guess it doesn’t matter, I don’t think the Chinese Communist Party will read this article).

Suspension bridges traverse its deep gorges, and set visitors’ hearts racing, especially when a young man reverts to adolescence and decides to shake the bridge as his girlfriend leaves the safety of dry land, leaving her less than impressed (I wonder if they’re still together). These bridges are often the only way to cross to the other side of some of the more challenging hiking trails.

Trails reward hikers with wonderful views of flowing aquamarine rivers and spectacular high peaks which reach into the clouds and are sometimes blanketed in snow. It’s a rare treat to travel from the humid tropical lowlands to mountains covered in snow in the space of a few hours. In fact, Taiwan may be one of the few places in the world where it is possible to see surf and snow on the same day.

Hikes range from mild short walks to beautiful waterfalls, to challenging multi-day treks across high peaks and precarious paths which plunge into the abyss.

A slow and careful trek through the rainforest reveals myriad plant and animal species which change dramatically in keeping with the changing terrain.

Tunnels bore through the mountains throughout the national park and add some mystery and excitement to any hike. Some of the tunnels are quite long and if you begin your hike without a torch, headlamp or mobile phone, you might find yourself wondering what awaits you in the dark, damp depths of the tunnel.

The gorge is vast, and offers so many sites worth exploration. For that reason, a few days and a vehicle are recommended. A bicycle would suffice for the fit and adventurous, and Taiwan is a very cycle-friendly country. However, the hills are steep and the hiking is spectacular, so exploring the gorge by bicycle may be too arduous for some. A motorised vehicle of some sort would allow for deeper exploration of the various hiking trails, and is advisable for those staying inside the national park, or at one of the accommodation providers near the entrance to the national park.

Where is everyone?

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The platform was deserted. Completely deserted. It was early afternoon at a train station in the middle of Taiwan, and both sides of the platform were utterly devoid of people.

What’s going on?

What should I do?

I waited.

Surely, someone will turn up. I waited 15 minutes. No one arrived.

Maybe a train will turn up. No train arrived.

Where am I?

There’a a sign on the platform, maybe that will help. Platform A to one side, platform B to the other side. The name of the platform written in Chinese. That’s no help, I can’t read Chinese, I can barely speak it.

I needed to know where I was, and I needed to know why I was the only person standing on the platform, looking forlorn with nothing but a backpack and a few words of the local language.

I descended the stairs and searched for a station guard or staff member. I found one, then remembered that I couldn’t speak Chinese. I gesticulated, as linguistically-hampered travellers do, and managed to convey that I was planning to reach Taipei at some point that day.

With the aid of a network map, the guard gleaned from me that I had boarded the train at a certain station, and that I was now at a different station – going in completely the wrong direction. If I wanted to reach Taipei, I should have headed north, but, instead, I had headed south.

Simple mistake, but one that is very easy to make, because Taiwan’s impressive national train network essentially performs a loop of the island. Hop on in Taipei and head either east or west. Hop on at a station in the middle of the country, as I had done, and head either north, towards Taipei, or south, towards Kaohsiung. At the previous station, I’d simply stood on the wrong platform.

Eventually the guard transmitted to me that I needed to head back the way I came and I would eventually reach Taipei. He had a good chuckle to himself and I eventually found a train to return me to the capital.

I still don’t know the name of the platform I had somehow arrived at, but I do know that on that particular day, it certainly wasn’t heaving with excitement.