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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lunar New Year 旧正月 Days 1 and 2

The Lunar New Year is here, and it's time to say "Hsinnien k'uaile (Sinnian kuaile) 新年快楽. It's also time to say farewell to the Year of the Dog 戌年 and welcome in the Year of the Boar 亥年. The eve of the Lunar New Year is a very important time in Taiwan, when family members gather for a traditional meal. For Amber, Pamela and myself, it's the perfect time to get away for a short spell before the roads are clogged with traffic, and all the sightseeing spots are overrun with hordes of people.

This year we chose to spend the Lunar New Year's eve (Saturday, Feb. 17) in Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 にしげつたん 「リーユエタン」, the largest freshwater lake in Taiwan. My Japanese guidebook to Taiwan has this to say about Sun Moon Lake: 台湾八景のひとつで台中の東南約40kmに位置するダム湖。4つの村の境界に位置し、周囲約33km、水深30m、総面積は約793へクタール。また原住民族のサオ族の文化でも知られている。

We stayed in the aboriginal village of Itashao (Yidashao). We had a late lunch there first before checking in to our hotel. The room charge for one night was about NT2400 ($73/¥8690), and included breakfast and one free sightseeing boat ride for two adults. We even had a partial view of the lake. Not bad considering the price went up to well over NT3000 ($90/¥10,860) starting from New Year's Day (Sunday, Feb. 18).


After checking in, we went down to the waterfront in Itashao, just in time to catch our ride on the sightseeing boat. It rained intermittently on Saturday, but the temperature was surprisingly warm and muggy, considering it's only the middle of February.
The boat made two stops. At the first one, we had 20 minutes to walk up a short flight of steps to visit Hsuankuang (Syuanguang) Temple 玄光寺. According to the Lonely Planet Taiwan guide, this temple holds the remains of a monk immortalized in a novel called "Journey to the West", a book of which I know nothing about. The temple was pleasing to look at, and the view of Sun Moon Lake was nice.


The other stop we made was at Lalu Island, the small speck of land behind Pamela and Amber in the photograph above. There used to be more to the island, but much of it disappeared in the Chi Chi Earthquake 集集大地震 of Sept. 21, 1999.



The last thing we did on Saturday before turning in was to drive to Shuishe (Shueishe) Village 水社村 on the other side of Sun Moon Lake. There's a nice boardwalk path called the Hanpi (Hanbi) Hiking Trail, which we took a stroll on for about a kilometer in one direction, passing sightseeing boats, and hotels that are too expensive for our meager budget.
Before checking out the night view from Meihe Garden 梅荷園 ("heavenly" according to the Taiwan LP guide; "misty" according to me on this overcast evening), we had dinner at a greasy spoon, Taiwanese-style. Food at resorts like Sun Moon Lake tend to be overpriced, with doesn't leave much too many culinary options for those traveling relatively-cheaply. It was mainly fried rice and fried noodles for us, with Taiwan Beer to wash everything down.

I guess there's more than one way to spell the name of the lake.


Today (Sunday) was glorious. The weather forecast had called for rain, but instead the temperature was hot enough for short-sleeves, and the sun shone for most of the day. Amber and I went for an early-morning stroll after breakfast...
...then all of three of us went down to the waterfront before leaving Itashao. Amber didn't care much for the local aboriginal headwear.


(According to the Chinese written on the sign, it's "No Peddling").

First stop this morning was the Tzuen (Cihen) Pagoda 慈恩塔「ツイーエンタア」, built by the dictator Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石 to honor his mother. It was a 570-meter walk up from the parking lot, but the path was gentle. In fact it was no problem at all for the woman wearing a leather miniskirt, fishnet stockings and high heels. Too bad I couldn't get a picture of her.

From my Japanese guidebook: 最上部がちょうど海抜1000m

The views from the top of the tower were tremendous. Sun Moon Lake was a fantastic sight, but the scenery was magnificent from every direction.

Chiang really loved his mother. It's a shame he didn't have the same feelings of affection for the Taiwanese people.

From the Tzuen Pagoda, it was on to Hsuanchuang (Syuangjhuang) Temple, a large Buddhist temple with (surprise!) good views of the lake.

Inside the main building was this interesting fortune vending machine. It features what can be best described as a Chinese-style shinto shrine. The figurine also seems to be a strange blend of Chinese and Japanese. If you insert a coin, she will retrieve a small scroll from the small shrine in the back, and deposit it into the offering box in the front, from which it drops down to a small tray at the bottom, to be picked up by the purchaser.

Next to the altar...

...was a sign written in Chinese, Japanese and English. The English is very direct. The Japanese says "Houki wo tatakanaide kudasai" ほうきをたたかないで下さい

I guess this sounds too much like "Please don't hit the broom" because someone has placed a small sticker over the Japanese that reads "Butsugu ni sawaranaide kudasai" 仏具にさわらないで下さい. "Please don't touch the Buddhist altar equipment" makes much more sense, doesn't it?

From the front of the temple the lake can be seen, while from the back, you can see the Tzuen Pagoda through the trees.

The obligatory view of Sun Moon Lake, looking towards Lalu Island and Shuishe Village


By this time, the New Year crowds were starting to descend upon Sun Moon Lake, so it was time to for us to leave. We stopped for lunch in the extremely ordinary-looking (for Taiwan) town of Shuili (Shueili) 水里, where a set meal consisting of a bowl of shredded chicken on rice, vegetables, tofu and soup could be had for the princely sum of NT60 (that's $1.80 or 220円). At last, a break from the fried rice/noodles!


The only traffic jam we encountered on the way home was near the town of Chichi (Jiji) 集集, where there was some kind of railroad festival going on. By backtracking south for a few kilometers, and then getting on the freeway heading north, we were able to get around that obstacle, and make it home by late afternoon.

For the remainder of the Lunar New Year break (I'll be back at work on Monday the 26th), we have no special plans. We'll probably take Amber out to a park a couple of times, and we may also go for a drive or two, but not to anywhere too far away from Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原. If the weather holds up, no doubt I'll also be going for walks in Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園 and/or Takeng (Dakeng) 大抗.

Kunghsi fats'ai (Gongsi facai) 恭喜發財 - "Congratulations and be prosperous!"

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