It was a rare type of day in Hualien for February: the sun was shining brightly, the humidity was low and we felt as though we actually had a full day’s worth of activities to keep us busy. Believe me, all three of these things are very hard to come by for people like us on the east coast of Taiwan in winter. We started the day out at the beach.
If you took a photo of Qixingtan Beach (which I did), it would not exactly be desktop background material. There was no white sand. There were no coconut trees. It was mostly just barren stretches of small grey pebbles and impenetrable surf but still very picturesque, nonetheless. Like I said, it was sunny and our spirits were high so we found a moderately dry patch of sand to relax and converse in the early afternoon to the thunderous sounds of the rising tide. It was our first beach in Asia. We didn’t need a paradise. We were content.
Then it happened. We never heard the sound of the tour bus rolling up. Its mega-phone speakers and rumbling diesel engine was too far behind us, too unwanted and forgotten, as if our ears had somehow trained themselves to block out the frequency of this abominable calamity. It was like someone went to a symphony with a baby who shit their diaper during the first cello solo. Our moment in the sun was over.
The first seven of them came bolting past us, desperate to beat the lazy and weak in their pack, hoping to get the best photos. Once the first man reached the water, he yelled at the top of his lungs in Mandarin, ecstatic at the prospect of obtaining a profile photo that looked as if he had found this beach all on his own. Within minutes, the integrity of his photos would become compromised. Dozens of others would be encroaching on the borders of his “proof” that he was, in fact, not like the others on his pre-packaged vacation. Our peaceful patch of land on the beach had been hijacked by loud and inconsiderate families from mainland China. They did not view the beach as a place of solemnity, but rather just another location to photo-burst selfies that they could add to the billions of useless petabytes of data flooding servers around the globe.
This would all fine and dandy had they not decided to swarm around us. Who am I to say how other people should travel? You can do things how you like, and this goes with just about anything, not just in the case of travel. But when your way of life starts to get in the way of others enjoying things, especially when it’s entirely avoidable, then I have the right to tell you to go fuck yourself.
My frustration with the Chinese tour groups actually began about a week earlier when we visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Oddly, the largest collection of Chinese artifacts are located at this museum, not on mainland China. At first, it occurred to me that perhaps China kept the artifacts in Taiwan to remind the Taiwanese people that they are, in the eyes of the Chinese government, no different from mainland Chinese. But, as I later learned, the artifacts were actually brought over by fleeing royalists during the Chinese Civil War. Whatever the reasons, we were happy to take this opportunity to check them out.
Like most museums of this magnitude, there was a ton of stuff worth seeing. Anything that really piqued our interest we would attempt to stop and look at for, oh, say thirty seconds, but usually to no avail. There were so many guided tour groups migrating throughout the museum that we were physically pushed away from most exhibitions by people rushing to get their faces pressed against the glass before anyone else in their group had a chance. This was frustrating for us. Not only did it make it difficult to stand anywhere long enough to read the descriptions, but all the people pressing their greasy fingers and faces against the glass left a thin layer of repulsive filth on just about every surface in the museum. I found myself repressing my gag reflex just about every time I tried to get a glimpse of of some old Chinese porcelain. At least the glass kept the hordes from tarnishing the antiques. I wish I could say the same for my experience that day.
There is nothing wrong with the idea of tour groups, if that’s your thing. Just, please, for everyone else’s sake, be considerate to the people around you. That is where the root of my complaints lie. I don’t really understand why people take photos in museums, but I won’t dedicate a paragraph in this post complaining about it. As long you keep the flash off on your camera, I respectfully agree to walk away without giving you the stink eye. Our planet is overcrowded, and I am just as much to blame for that as anyone else is. So yeah, we are all in this together, but we are all individuals respectively. If you want to do things differently from the person next to you, there is no need to hide it. But that doesn’t mean that we all need to keep our mouths shut when that bitch on the bus won’t move her bag or that dickhead in the hostel thinks it’s okay to talk on his phone at 1 am. I don’t feel like walking on eggshells anymore because of the fears I have of being labeled as a “hater”… particularly around people stomping on dinosaur bones.