Showing posts with label east_coast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label east_coast. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Culture x Water

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My last paper of the term is done, and I took the Tomb Sweeping holiday to travel around in southern Taiwan simply enjoying time with Brendan and meeting up with some friends. I read Crystal Boys (review coming soon), didn't write anything, generally relaxed and re-learned what it was like to be able to take a nice short trip without academia weighing on my mind.

I sent in that final paper at 6pm on Wednesday. The next morning, we hopped on the HSR to Zuoying, arranging a pickup from the HSR station to the ferry terminal in Donggang (NT600 for the trip - not bad). Little Liuqiu (小琉球), where we spent two nights and, on account of my being thoroughly exhausted from the previous day's push to get my paper in, still didn't manage to see everything. After this we spent the final two days of the long weekend in Kaohsiung and Tainan.




I enjoyed the island's rural sights and did not feel the crowds visiting them were overwhelming. Baishawei, the island's main town, was a different story. I suspect Baishawei is a fine little town to relax in on a non-holiday weekday; over the long weekend, though, it was horrible. Really horrible! I understand getting on a scooter to go out of town - there is a bus that circles the island and you can ride it fairly easily to get anywhere you might want to go - but to get on a scooter to go around Baishawei, whose streets are narrow and made for pedestrians, and the sights within walking distance of it? Come on. I get that it will be crowded, but if people realized that and used their scooters more judiciously, it wouldn't be so bad.


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Beyond that, a thought struck me while navigating around Baishawei, which I shared over drinks with a friend who happened to also be on the island - a thought about water, and our orientation to it, and what that means for Taiwanese identity.

People explain away Taiwan's less-than-ideal beach infrastructure and general lack of well-maintained beaches, and the fact that many Taiwanese don't know how to swim despite living on an island, by pointing out that Chinese culture isn't a water-oriented one (leaving aside the fact that historically, Chinese fishermen, explorers, traders, pirates and seafarers have absolutely been an integral part of Chinese culture.) They point out that China doesn't have great beaches - I've been to the one in Qingdao and yeah...not great, and I haven't heard great things about Hainan. Or they mention that Chinese cities tend to be built "with their back to the sea", or generally thinking of the sea as the end of China and not an integral part of their lives. As that same friend pointed out, for a large portion of not-too-distant Chinese history, access to the coastlines was banned (which of course didn't work at all as intended).


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You can see that in Taiwan - for a long time, despite being an island, the coastal waters were off-limits and people "were living more like residents of a landlocked country." In terms of specific beaches, Wai'ao could be a really nice destination, except it's just off a strip of noisy road, backed by ugly buildings and an entertainment complex that is both uninviting and behind a parking area, not actually on the beach. Kenting...I don't like Kenting, let me count the ways. Baishawan allows 10,000 people to churn the water in approximately half a square meter of a long, gorgeous beach. Fulong has that hideous bridge (yes, it needs a bridge, but couldn't it be nicer?) and ugly hotel and is flanked by a lagoon to one side that smells, as one friend who worked in health care put it, "like my sick elderly patients' pee." And that's just to name a few. (Some of the outlying islands fare better.) Taiwan doesn't have a lot of gorgeous, sandy beaches, but what it does have could be better than they are.

I mean, in Taipei we live an MRT ride from the ocean and hardly ever go, because the infrastructure needed to make the beaches really nice places to swim and relax just isn't there. Taiwan's cities do indeed feel as though they are built with their backs to the sea.

But, in Little Liuqiu, I got the sense that it could be different. More kids in the younger generation are learning to swim, Taiwanese Millenials go to the beach and hang out in a way that feels distinctly familiar to me as a coastal American. On Little Liuqiu, I dare say that, while not a "great beach" (too many rocks and coral to cut your feet) Baishawei's beach was a pleasant place to hang out, and other rocky beaches have good snorkeling - and people were taking advantage of that. People were going in the water and enjoying themselves in ways I just didn't see in China (though I haven't been to Hainan).

Note how all of the cultural attitudes towards the sea that I mentioned above are in relation to Chinese culture. But Taiwan is not China - it doesn't have to be this way. Taiwanese history is rooted in Austronesian indigenous culture, and who are seafarers if not Austronesians? Taiwan's deepest history is tied to the sea. It doesn't need to hold to Chinese notions of how the sea fits into their lives, and in fact such an attitude doesn't suit it. Taiwan isn't like China, not least in terms of geography. So why have a Chinese attitude to the ocean?


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Taiwan can - and I'd argue should - grow its existing beach/sea/ocean culture as a way to not only acknowledge that it is not only a subtropical/tropical set of islands and it makes sense for warm-water island nations to be sea-oriented, but also as a way to differentiate Taiwanese culture from Chinese culture. China can turn its back to the sea - we can turn to face it. It can be a barrier for them, the "end of civilization". On our beautiful ball of mud, we can do things differently.

Taiwan doesn't need to be defined by ideas central to Chinese culture. It has its own culture and can define itself accordingly. Just because something is culturally Chinese doesn't mean it needs to be applied to Taiwan.

And that will be one small, but notable, nail in the coffin of this "Taiwanese and Chinese culture are exactly the same! They have the same history and think and act in the same way!" nonsense bandied about by people who don't know what they're talking about. It's not true, but it's hard to see that if you're just passing through (or are just some Internet bloviator). We need it to be more demonstrably untrue, and a country where the beaches are both lovely and popular would help in its own small way.

This isn't a crazy outsider idea. I'm not trying to push my foreigner thoughts on a local culture - Taiwan is already going down this path and already has more of a historical and current orientation to the ocean than China. So there is no reason why Taiwan can't [continue to] cultivate a sea-facing, sea-loving, ocean-integrated culture that is well-suited to its geography and actual non-Chinese history. Improvements need to be made, but it would be unfair to say we're not on our way.

Anyway, enjoy a few more shots of Little Liuqiu:

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If you are wondering whether my feet are dirty or just dyed by my sandals, the answer is...they were really cheap sandals.


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Monday, July 18, 2016

Taiwan is more than Taipei

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"Wang Ye" in full makeup at the opening of the Donggang King Boat Festival
Like some other bloggers I know, I am getting tired of stories about Taiwan or Taiwan travel listicles that were written by someone who either flew in, spent three days in Taipei and had a Sun Moon Lake overnight, or who lives in Taipei but doesn't care that much about the rest of Taiwan. (I once read an blog post by, I dunno, somebody, saying that Taipei expats never seem to leave Taipei. I was annoyed by that - I leave Taipei all the time! - but I can see where one might get the impression that the Taipei expat community isn't interested in exploring the rest of the country).

Anyway, why does it always have to be hot springs, a few Taipei hot spots, maybe Sun Moon Lake and Taroko if you're lucky, and "theme restaurants"? Maybe these days Kenting will figure in on these "itineraries". I'm sick of it too. While I could recommend a few great hot springs and I've even been to that toilet restaurant (verdict: mediocre. Were you surprised?), I feel like one could do a much better job talking about great places in Taiwan than "Taipei 101 and this lake I hear about in the mountains". Not Taipei, Taiwan. 

So, in no particular order and with no particular rhyme or reason, here are some of my favorite places in Taiwan. With links, mostly to my blog, because I'm nothing if not self-promoting.

Southeast Pingdong County and East of Kending


This has to have been one of my favorite trips in Taiwan that was not an outlying island. The area around Gangzai and south toward the east end of Kending is gorgeous. There are people who go to Gangzai, a little strip of a town along the thin road down the coast that peters out a few kilometers to the south, just to enjoy a Taiwan without convenience stores. I actually like convenience stores, but I also appreciate the quiet rural peace of towns like this.

From here, if you have a car, you can drive around sand dunes (or just walk on the beach), drive up to some grasslands with great views of the mountains and sea, listen to waves make rain sounds on a pebble beach to the north, hike to the ruins of an aboriginal village, hike along the coast to a shipweck and be within a short drive of some of Kending's best coastal scenery and beaches. Plus, it means you can see the beauty of Kending without ever going to Kending town. Win-win, because Kending town sucks butt. Loud, crowded, dirty tourist trap with a crappy crowded beach and literally nothing to recommend it.

As a confirmed driving-hater, I can say that the driving isn't even that hard, I was okay with it.


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Downtown Tainan
I'll wait on a link in the heading until I blog my latest Tainan adventures,  as recently I managed to visit Tainan not once, but twice in the span of a few months. However, I'd been there several times before, though not with as good photographic results.

Tainan is the city of my heart. It's where Brendan and I decided to start dating and was one of my first (successful) forays outside of Taipei when I was still fresh off the plane in 2006-2007. If I could do my job there - I can't - and it had better public transportation, or really any public transportation, I would move there.

I love it not only for the huge variety of temples of all sizes, backgrounds and ages, but also for it's laid-back urban vibe. It's a city, but not a frenetic one (I'd say "like Taipei" but I actually think Taipei is pretty laid-back too). I love it for the many varieties of ice cream and shaved ice available to cool yourself in the tropical heat, I love its "we're as hip as Taipei, or maybe even hipper" cafes and its nascent young, artsy vibe. I love eating fresh fruit ice cream in a melon at Taicheng Fruit Store and drinking coffee at Narrow Door and Taikoo. I love Tainan shrimp roll rice. I love Tainan's pro-independence politics.

I could chill in Tainan forever. 

Yunlin County


I don't have links yet as I haven't blogged our Yunlin trip, so here are some from my friend over at Synapticism. You won't find a more traditional-yet-almost-completely-uncommercialized place than Yunlin County and its assorted towns. If you want to see where your Taiwanese friends' grandparents all come from, check it out.

Yunlin is another good place to chill, without any major must-sees except, perhaps, Beigang's Chaotian temple. I liked the old-school flavor of Beigang, enjoyed the unique "old street" buildings in Xiluo, whose old street hasn't become too commercialized yet, and finding (more than one!) funky cafe in Douliu as well as a temple to both a Daoist god (I think Guan Di) and Confucius and a truly uncommercialized old street. We didn't get to stay in Huwei but I would be interested to go back - the downtown area looks bustling, with some interesting old architecture, and there's a puppet museum. You could spend about half a day in any given town - more if you are content to explore for half a day and spend the rest of it in a cafe chilling out until dinner, which I generally am - and although there may be a long wait for a bus, transit between the towns is otherwise fairly quick and easy. Downtowns are pretty compact, you only need independent transport if you want to get way out into the countryside, which is a plus.

Anyway, watch this space - I'll be doing a longer post on this very soon.

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The abandoned church in Lishan
This is one of my favorite places in Taiwan. There is not that much to do in Lishan itself - though exploring the abandoned church and the old Lishan Hotel (which I understand may have been finally renovated and reopened?) will give you a reason to get out and just enjoy the views. Or, you could just walk around and enjoy the views! This is a trip you will want a car for, or some way of obtaining independent transportation. With it, you can visit Fushoushan and Wuling farms during the day, and then drink tea outside back in Lishan town as the sun sets (if you get a good honestay or hotel, that is). If you can score a ride to Fushoushan, after exploring up there it's not hard to hike back down to town and, again, the views are breathtaking. It's a fantastic place to go to just relax, with clean air and some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the country. If you're thinking "I want to hang out in the mountains, but still be able to walk to a few restaurants and places to buy essentials", Lishan is for you.


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The drive to Lishan from Hehuan Mountain


In fact, the North Cross-Island is pretty rad, too


I don't have a lot of photos from the first trip, as I was more concerned with making sure Emily (who was driving) knew where she was going. So, most of those pics are from our drive the next day down the east coast. My second trip concentrated on Lalashan and Shangbaling, not the whole highway. But, the drive is lovely and in many places, wild. You end up in the same place that the Central Cross-Island drops you off if you take the Yilan route (there is also a Hualien route, which I have not done). Some of the driving, along one-car-at-a-time roads clinging to mountainsides, can be a bit intense, but it's absolutely worth it. Daxi, Fuxing and Xiao Wulai, with its lovely little waterfall and - more interestingly, hike to the lovely little waterfall - are also good places to stop. Yes, I've been to Cihu - I took my in-laws there, which I think my history buff father-in-law enjoyed - but never blogged about it.

The point? Between Daxi, Cihu, Fuxing, Xiao Wulai, Shangbaling and, at the other end, Mingchih Forest Recreation Area, you'll be pleasantly surprised by all there is to see and do along the highway. Or, just drive along and enjoy the mountain views.

Puli


Poor Puli. First the earthquake, and now it just doesn't get that much love from international tourists. If people go there at all it's to catch a bus to Sun Moon Lake. But Puli saved my butt during a particularly horrid Chinese New Year camping trip: see link above, also, don't try to camp in the mountains of Taiwan on Chinese New Year. You can thank me later for that bit of advice. For that, I will always be grateful. The Shaoxing wine brewery is interesting enough, I liked making a little paper fan at the paper factory, I still have the tray I bought at the lacquer makers', and if you're not into that sort of tourist-trail 'handicrafts and local goods' stuff, rent a bike, get out of town and enjoy the views as the Central Mountain Range rises from the plain. Also, within a short drive is the "where is that?" town of Caotun. I can't say there's that much to do in Caotun, but there is one very cool temple that looks like a medicine gourd (慈德宫) perched on a hill out of town. It's way more interesting than the - in my opinion - creepy-seeming Zhongtai monastery. 
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The medicine gourd temple in Caotun (草屯慈德宫)



The drive from Chihshang (East Rift Valley) to Taidong (the east coast)

This is actually an expat favorite, but still never makes it into those "Top Ten Things In Taipei That I Am Going To Pretend Are Representative of Taiwan" lists. Chihshang itself is lovely, if a bit full of local tourists because some famous commercials and movies were shot there. Nevermind, it's beautiful and worth a stop. It's in the heart of the East Rift Valley - which, gorgeous! - with views of bright green rice fields giving way to dark green mountains on both sides. Check it out, have a coffee at Lavazza - interesting, seeing as the town is famous for Lavazza competitor Mr. Brown's commercials, talk about a missed marketing opportunity - and head up over the eastern mountains to the coast.

After a soporific drive through bucolic tropical beauty, with a stop to see some Formosan macaques which may or may not take over your car, you'll be greeted with Hawaii-like views of the sea as you hit the coast at Donghe. Stop for a break at the cafe above Jinzun beach (and absolutely do take the stairs down to the near-deserted beach, though I'm not sure I'd recommend swimming) but otherwise enjoy the Hawaii-Five-O drive down to Taidong. There are a few other places you can stop at on the way, including the expat enclave of Dulan. We didn't stay long, but we did pick up some locally-brewed beer for later.


Hsinchu County


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Children at Pasta'ai in Hsinchu county

I have a lot of links for Hsinchu, so have a look:

Pasta'ai in 2008 and 2010 (including a visit to the house of Zhang Xue-liang 張學良)

Beipu has become something of a tourist stop, but Pasta'ai, if you can finagle the dates for the biennial Saisiyat aboriginal harvest festival, is still a very local thing. As long as you are respectful and friendly and willing to drink a crapton of millet wine, foreign guests are welcome. That said, it's not nearly as commercialized (or really commercialized at all) as its sister festival in Nanzhuang. Don't forget Zhang Xueliang's house and a worthwhile hike over Lion's Head Mountain. The temple on the Miaoli end gets all the press, but I actually liked the old Japanese baroque temple on the mountain itself.

Hukou is, well, an old street. But it's a quiet one, without the same-old-same-old souvenir shops that plague Sanxia, Jinshan, Shenkeng and Daxi. It's pretty far out of town and bus service is sporadic, so you will want to either drive or arrange taxis. Being folks who dislike driving, we did the latter. 
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A Japanese-era temple on a creepy, foggy day on Lion's Head Mountain in Hsinchu
Hsinchu city is also worth your time, with some interesting historical sites, good food, a city god temple and the absolutely amazing - not really in a good way - temple to late mass murderer, brutal dictator and all around asshat Chiang Kai-shek, which has got to be one of the most mind-blowing historical things I've seen in Taiwan. Not because the temple itself is particularly special, but for what it represents.

Long and short of it? There's a lot to do in Hsinchu. 

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Brendan lookin' sexxxxxxy in the Batman room of a love hotel in Kaohsiung

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The Dome of Light at Formosa Boulevard station
I cannot believe I've been to Kaohsiung city at least three times and yet never really blogged much about the city itself. (Edit: here you go!)

That said, enjoy this post about the Batman room at the Eden Exotic Love Hotel in Kaohsiung.

Anyway, I was there for a weekend last month so I'll be fixing that soon. Yes, there are all the things you've heard about: Pier 2, wandering around Hamasen, the British Consulate at Takao (I like to go for the views, that's about it really), Cijin Island, Chaishan and its monkeys, Lotus Lake, Love River, the sugar refinery (which is now a family-friendly tourist spot), Liuhe Night Market. With the exception of the night market, all of this stuff is fine - well, the sugar refinery was a bit bland - and I enjoy it too. By all means, go. Especially Cijin Island, which has great seafood and a fun ferry ride to get you there. I am also a fan of the Dome of Light in Formosa Boulevard station, and in a hallway just off of it, a man who makes sterling silver flower pendants, rings and other charms.

But I like Kaohsiung for its great coffee and food scene, including some fantastic hangouts like Beast (try the sweet potato and cheese quesadillas and Cambridge Cucumber 'mojito'), Reve Coffee and Sojourner Cafe, great burgers at Zzyzx, Takao Beer, a particular cafe on Chaishan that I enjoy, and tons of great local food. I like that it has an MRT so I don't have to taxi everywhere, as I won't rent a car in such a large city. I like Ruifeng Night Market, crowded with locals but almost unknown to tourists. I like hanging out with my friend Sasha in Dashe and eating a whole chicken, gorgeously cooked before walking up Guanyin Mountain.

I'm including Donggang in here because it's a perfect day trip from Kaohsiung. I haven't been to the nearby aquarium, but I can heartily recommend dinner at the harbor (best seafood in Taiwan without going to the outlying islands), Donglong Temple and its magnificent golden gate, a quick walk down the old street, and - again if you can figure out the dates - its King Boat Festival, held every three years, which is worth visiting both at the beginning and the end. Quite possibly the best cultural festival in Taiwan. I wrote my first ever published nonfiction story about it, and you should definitely buy the anthology in which it appears.

Another good choice near Kaohsiung? Meinong. Pretty on-the-tourist-trail, but nice.

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The burning of the King Boat in Donggang


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Spirit Mediums in Donggang




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The Taoyuan Grasslands above the Yilan coastline
...including Yuemeikeng in Jiaoxi (I couldn't make this a favorite considering what happened the second time we went).

There are several hiking trails up here - Yuemeikeng, Caoling Old Trail, Wankengtou and the Taoyuan grasslands (accessible from Caoling Old Trail), and Paoma (Running Horse) Old Trail to name a few. The views? Spectacular. Ever wondered what it was like to walk along a ridge of seaside cliffs with rolling hills to one side and a sheer drop to the waves below at the other? Well, this is it. Probably my biggest "don't miss" set of hiking trails in the entire country.


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Yuemeikeng waterfall in Yilan - tragically beautiful

Keelung


No, really, I love hanging out in Keelung. From Heping Island to Miaokou Night Market to the Fairy Cave Temple to Ghost Month, I always enjoy a reason to pass through this - to be honest - kinda grotty town. It's still got the old red light district "welcome sailors!" feeling, it's a bit rough around the edges (okay, at times very rough around the edges) and packed with pachinko parlors, but that's what makes it interesting.

Also, a great stopping-off point from trips to Jiufen and Jinguashi (which are nice, but packed with tourists - for good reason) and my favorite hot springs in Jinshan (in the old Japanese governor-general's hot spring getaway on the coast). Also, a good place to eat after a half day hike up Xiaotzukeng to Jiufen. 



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Goats on Orchid Island


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A traditional boat on Orchid Island
I don't think I have to sell you on Orchid Island (Lanyu) but I'll try anyway. Lanyu is unlike anywhere else in Taiwan. The locals don't put much stock in a cash economy - in that I saw locals freely using the services of their neighbors' businesses without paying because it all comes back eventually - though as an outsider you'll have to pay. Where kids run around and are supervised by whomever happens to be nearby, including when they run into the ocean. Where people paint traditional fishing boats by the side of the road. The language sounds more like an offshoot of Tagalog than anything you'll hear on Taiwan's mainland. It's one of the few places in Taiwan where you can speak Chinese to locals, but it will feel most definitely like two non-native speakers communicating. It's a place where you can completely and utterly chill out, a tiny (but sadly beachless) Hawaii with good snorkeling and out-of-this-world seafood (try the flying fish barbecue with a pitcher of ice cold Taiwan Beer). It's easy to drive or scooter around as there is one road (two if you count the one that runs up the middle of the island and connects at two different ends of the circle road).

I don't mean to exoticize it that much, I just want to make really clear that Orchid Island is not only nothing like anything you'll find elsewhere, it's also nothing like you'll find in Taiwan proper. It is unique. Don't miss it. 

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Qinbi, an old stone village, now a nexus of homestay's, on Matsu's northern island of Beigan
Being hard to get to due to near-constant fog that tends to ground flights, and its relative distance from Taiwan, most tourists give Matsu a miss. This is a mistake. I don't know what I was doing with my life before I discovered lao jiu mian (thin noodles with seafood cooked in a broth flavored with aged local wine). "Juguang Hamburgers", a sort of sesame-covered bread filled with a seafood filling that appears to be mainly chopped oyster remains one of my favorite foods. The old stone villages and winding paths through granite cliffs and dry, but humid coastlines evokes the Greek Isles or Turkey (in fact the houses reminded me very strongly of older settlements in Turkey). We stayed in Taiwan and yet felt like we'd taken a foreign vacation. 

One of my fondest memories of traveling in Taiwan with Brendan was taking off in a car one morning from our homestay on the outskirts of Jincheng with a map that showed the location of every known Wind Lion God statue in Kinmen, and simply driving around to find them (while stopping to enjoy interesting sites we found on the way, which were numerous). Jincheng itself is a wonderful city to wander around, but you don't really get to know Kinmen until you hop in a car and explore its smaller towns, and get a sense of its history - as well as how the major events of history in Asia have shaped it. All the way from the ruined farmhouses, old towns and "foreign mansions" (洋樓) to the Battle of Guningtou to a sad statue of Chiang Kai-shek in a town traffic circle flanked on each side by election posters, at least one for the major opposition party. Mass Murderer, Late Dictator and All-Around Asshat Chiang would be rolling in his grave, and I am happy to know that.

I know I've listed three sets of outlying islands now, and I'd actually like to list Penghu too, but I went in my first year in Taiwan, didn't know much about traveling in Taiwan, and don't remember much either. I'll have to go back, see if I can do a better job of it, and perhaps add it to this list later.


And I know it's a tourist favorite, but I've gotta say I love Lugang. I really do



I love the old Ding family home (丁家老宅) with its coffee shop in a side hall. I love the old buildings on Zhongshan Road. I love the old street and its cafes in restored houses. I love the festivals at the Matsu temple. I love the old Longshan Temple at the other end of town. I love fried oysters. Hate me if you must, but I love Lugang and I am not afraid to admit it. 
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A woman becomes a spirit medium in Lugang


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At a cafe in Lugang

Monday, April 18, 2016

An East Rift Valley and Taimali Adventure

I'm going to apologize in advance for the vagueness of this post - I took this trip over a year ago but, due to the vagaries of life (having to return to the US yet again for my dad's surgery, finishing the Delta etc.) I just didn't get around to dealing with the photos, which means I didn't post anything about it. When I finally did have time to do a photo-heavy post I opted for Kinmen, because it was so unlike the rest of Taiwan.

I'm ready to fix that now, but this trip happened so long ago that I'm now a bit fuzzy on the details. So, I can't actually direct anyone to the places I visited - good travelers experienced in Taiwan should have no problem, though! That said, this post is just not up to the level of quality detail I try to bring to my travel posts, and I'm sorry about that.

So, here goes:

About a year ago we took the train to Taidong, rented a car, and wandered the southern East Rift Valley before taking a scenic road over the mountains to the East Coast, driving down to Taimali before returning to Taidong, dropping off the car and taking the Puyuma Express home. We had four days in total, two of which involved train trips, one full sightseeing day which was merely okay (it poured on and off) and one which was amazing.

On the train down I couldn't help but note the tendency to put factories in some of the most scenic spots:

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We got to Taidong, went to the night market (at least Brendan and I did, our friend Joseph stayed at the hotel), woke up in Taidong, rented a car from CarPlus and were on our way. Or, at least we were in fits and starts thanks to wildlife blocking the road:

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I believe, but cannot be sure, we took the 197 from Taidong up over the mountains to the southernmost edge of the East Rift Valley - we missed the turn-off for the bridge to Luye (鹿野) and ended up on a stretch that was more like a forest trail than a road - completely unpaved and grassy in spots. Storm clouds loomed overhead. It was pretty scenic though.

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We passed a few aboriginal villages and came down a steep set of switchbacks to another bridge, which I drove across screaming with my hair in my face thanks to the open window, and headed south back to Luye. The main thing to do in Luye is to go to the Luye Gaotai (Luye Pavilion, or 翱翔飛行傘鹿野高台) where in theory parasailing and hot air ballooning are possible, tea is grown, and the scenery is supposed to be nice. You can also sled down a grassy slope, which looked kind of fun. Given the weather, we didn't see any sort of air-based sports. The scenery was nice, but honestly I was a bit underwhelmed. Also, we couldn't find a decent meal in the whole town and got some underwhelming noodles.

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We then drove up to Guanshan (關山)  where we checked into our next hotel - a homestay, really, well out of town and off the highway. You'd need a car to get there. I can't find it on Google Maps and I can't remember the name, so you'll just have to trust me that there is a pretty good homestay in Guanshan if you have your own transport (it would also be easy work for cyclists).

In Guanshan it rained on and off - the most interesting thing I noted was how you could see far down the valley and across to the mountains on the other side, so you could see the storm cells moving about like mobile fire sprinklers. The advantage of this, other than being lovely and scenic, was that you could tell when you were about to get soaked.

Guanshan has a bicycle trail for tourists that is quite popular, so we walked around that - the on-and-off rain made cycling unappealing, and from our homestay we weren't near the place to rent them - and saw some more local, uh, wildlife.

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Rain making its way down the mountains near our homestay.

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The train passing through the valley as it rains on the mountain ridges.

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I imagine this is what it's like living in a flat area, such as the Midwest, and watching rainstorms come in - something you can't do where I'm from, with hills blocking the view.

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Just before we ourselves got soaked, we spotted this interesting-looking building out in the fields. We determined it was a Hakka restaurant, and our homestay owner said it was pretty good. The rain made us not really want to go back out once we returned to the homestay and changed into dry clothes, but it's not like you can get pizza delivery in Guanshan, so we got in the car and drove out here for dinner. It caters to larger groups but overall it was quite good.

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Whereas this is just terrifying:

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GOOD LORD JESUS:

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...apparently this is some sort of thing owned by the Guanshan Farmers' Association - kids come here on field trips to learn about rice farming, I suppose.

We ran back to our homestay as the rain really set in. This guy, however, continued working.

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Fortunately the next morning brought perfect weather and azure skies. We got to see our homestay's garden and pet peacocks before checking out:

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We then drove up to Chishang (池上), which is something of a tourist destination. I liked the old cluster of houses downtown, which we walked through very peacefully, and the views on the drive.

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I was less impressed with Chishang's main tourist draw, the "Mr. Brown Highway" (which to me just sounds like a euphemism for a butthole, but hey). Apparently it was made famous in Mr. Brown coffee commercials, and then if you cycle down it enough you get to the "Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree" (金城武樹), because Takeshi apparently made a famous movie where he waits at that tree. The tree was knocked down in a typhoon but apparently has been re-planted. Because it's famous.

We, however, were not that impressed - it was pretty, yes, but the views just driving around were prettier, and it was clogged with tourists and annoying family bikes. So...we got a cup of coffee - interestingly, there was a Lavazza Cafe but not a Mr. Brown which is just a missed advertising opportunity - and went on our way.

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We got lunch further down the road in a no-name town (in fact I'm sure it did have a name, but I can't remember it nor be sure what that name is on a map) where we happened across a shop that makes those god-and-other-celestial-being statues for temple parades.

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HELLO!

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Then we took a turn up the mountains on Dongfu Road (東富路), which I think (?) is Highway #23? that led over the mountains and through paradise (including a place known as "Little Tianxiang" - 小天祥 - after its supposed resemblance to the famous Tianxiang in Taroko Gorge). Unable to stop at Little Tianxiang (there aren't many places to pull over), we stopped at this rickety little pavilion to enjoy the view:

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This time, I was more impressed. We passed mountain ridges, betel nut palms, rocky gorges and green valleys, taking a break at an area along the way known for its troupe of monkeys that can usually be found hanging out by the side of the road. These monkeys are so famous that tour buses actually stop for them. 

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We wisely locked the doors to our rental car.

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Dongfu Road comes down from the mountains and hits the coast at Donghe, which is something of a foreigner-populated surfer town. We continued south and took our next break in Jinzun (金樽), where there is a coffeeshop conveniently called Jinzun Coffee (金樽咖啡) with a stunning view of the beach.

I mean, look at that.

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We walked down the cliff - there is a trail and stairs - to the actual beach - and it was nearly deserted (but not great for swimming). 

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We then made our way down to the foreigner enclave of Dulan, where we didn't go to the beach as it was getting late, but we did stop at the Dulan Sugar Factory (a little post-industrial spot now filled with cute shops) to pick up some beer for later from an expat who brews it before having a cold drink and some dessert at a little cafe run by a Frenchman.

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At this point the sun was truly setting, so we continued on past Taidong to the tiny aboriginal town of Taimali.

I didn't know what I wanted to do in Taimali, but I'd passed through on the train years ago and thought it'd looked just peaceful and lovely and scenic. We ended up at an unexpectedly great homestay, which from some Internet sleuthing to jog my memory I believe was this place - 濾池畔民宿. Afraid we were going to have to drink our Dulan beer in some dank little love-hotel like room with absolutely no charm or even proper lighting, we were delighted to get a large, breezy room with a strangely fantastic bathroom and massive balcony, with light and chairs.

So we showered, cracked open the beers, listened to music and talked until it was time for bed.

The next day, after a surprisingly good breakfast (toast and fresh fruit and French press coffee!) we drove through Taimali - not a lot to do but we got some good shaved ice, drove down to the beach, walked around a bit, found an old temple and chatted with a 94-year-old Mainlander who came with the KMT diaspora, married a local aboriginal woman and settled here.


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Downtown Taimali isn't exactly hopping:

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Then we drove up into the hills behind the town looking for lunch. Joseph had read in a local guidebook that there was a well-known aboriginal restaurant up here. On the way we passed an adorable little church:

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And some murals.

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The restaurant was called "Good Place" (好地方) which I love for its simplicity. And it really was good - it's the sort of place where you don't get a menu, they just bring you enough food for your party. What's sad is that I can't remember exactly what we ate - although I know I avoided the dish full of bitter gourd - but that it was damn good. I'd recommend it, if you can find it. Perhaps not for dinner when the karaoke starts up though.

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Nearby are more aboriginal settlements, some in government-built housing. We didn't linger, though I did stop to admire some particularly inspired artwork.

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With some time to kill we drove up further into the mountains for some great views before the roads got too narrow and we had to turn back.

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Our train left that evening for Taidong but we still had time to kill - so we drove a bit north of the city to a place called "Little Yehliu" (among a few other stops). I was really less than impressed:

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I mean it was fine and all but regular Yehliu is way cooler.

So, we turned around and headed back to the train station, dropped off the car and hopped on the Puyuma.

All in all I'd say it was a great trip!