Here's a short film I shot with my digital camera from the summit of Sanjo-ga-take 山上が岳 (elevation 1719 meters), when I hiked up Omine-san 大峰山 in Japan last month. The picture quality isn't very good, but it was a great view of the surrounding mountains.
Monday, July 30, 2007
There is a bicycle trail that runs through Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, connecting the city with Houli 后里 at one end, and with Tungshih (Dongshih) 東勢 at the other. For a long time I've wanted to check it out, but I've been waiting until Amber was old enough to go with us. Now that she's 18 months old, I figured the time was right, and as Sunday was relatively cool in the late afternoon, I thought there was no better time to go, so we set off after 4 in search of a place that rents bikes. Finding such an establishment was no problem, as in true Taiwanese fashion it seems there is little regulatory control over such businesses (or at least permits are generously granted). Getting the right bicycle, on the other hand, was a big problem. It turned out that the three-wheelers we were hoping to rent (the kind where dad sits in front and does all the work, while mom and baby get to relax in the backseat and enjoy the ride) are not allowed out on the trails on weekends, due to the higher density of bike traffic. It's a rule that actually makes sense, but as the only alternative was a tandem bike with a child's seat in between, we decided to wait until Amber gets much bigger before going out on the trails with her.
So with nothing else to do on a late Sunday afternoon, we drove over to the neighboring township of Shihkang (Shihgang) 石岡. The only thing Shihkang is noted for is a small dam, which was badly damaged in the Sept. 21, 1999 Chichi (Jiji) Earthquake 集集大地震. At the time it looked like this. It has since been repaired, of course, and today looks like this:石岡ダム
The area around the dam has been converted into a park, and it's possible to walk across the structure to the other side, which we did. On the way, I took a picture of this bird, which was looking for fish.
At the end of the dam, on the opposite side from where we parked, a section of the damaged span has been preserved. I'm glad this has been done, as these things shouldn't be forgotten. I was also happy that Amber was enjoying herself, which after all is the only thing that matters on these weekend outings.
BTW, I wonder what 峯田和伸 of the 銀杏BOYZ thinks of this fair isle? http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_AE_TAIWAN_GING_NANG_BOYZ_ASOL-?SITE=YOMIURI&SECTION=HOSTED_ASIA&TEMPLATE=ap_features_arts.html
Saturday, July 28, 2007
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:15 this morning in order to go hiking in Tak'eng (Dakeng) 大坑, and arrived there just after 5. Why? Well, for three reasons:
1) to beat the heat;
2) to see what animals might be up and about;
and 3) to get some hiking done before the trails became too crowded.
On the last point, the early start was a failure. There were only a handful of walkers when I started off for the No. 8 Trail, but by the time I was walking down the No. 6 and then the No. 9 Trails between 6:30-7:00, it was like being on a downtown city sidewalk during the morning rush hour. Imagine hundreds of people out and about, all trying their hardest to shatter what little remained of the morning calm (and succeeding).
Oh, and at 6:18am the karaoke カラオケ singing started.
I don't know why so many Taiwanese feel they have to drown out the sounds of birds singing and insects buzzing. I guess if I ever move into my dream house in the mountains, I can forget about sleeping in.
Despite getting out as the sun was coming up, I still managed to work up a good sweat by 6. The high central mountains prevented any spectacular sunrises from being witnessed, and the weak light meant most of the photos I took in the early hours were too dark and unclear. I did get one decent shot of the early morning sun.
There was plenty of life out and about (at least before the hordes turned up) including earthworms ミミズ, large snails カタツムリ and one long, green snake 蛇. I managed to get these shots of a couple of lizards トカゲ and a spider クモ.
T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 came into sharper focus as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Will I do this again? There is a cemetery 墓地 in the area that I would like to walk through before the sun comes up. But when it comes to enjoying the solitude that mountains are supposed to provide, it's better to wait until the late morning/early afternoon, when the midday heat has separated the wheat from the chaff.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
For once we were able to get out of the apartment early on a Sunday (around 9), and drove into T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 to visit the folklore park. It's an interesting place to visit and a rare chance to see a part of Taiwan that is long-gone (in a large city like Taichung, anyway). The park also presents the somewhat incongruous sight of a traditional middle-class home surrounded by modern high-rise apartment buildings.
There's a museum in the basement of the complex that displays a lot of artifacts once used in daily life. Pamela was thankful for the air conditioning, while Amber enjoyed acting like the matron of the house...
...while I was impressed with this bride's palanquin...with the artwork, anyway.
Back outside, Amber enjoyed feeding the carp. Behind us, a group of young women were busy photographing a pair of traditional dolls in different spots around the pond.
The folklore park also has several shops selling traditional toys. We bought one for Amber, a simple wooden clown that has two wooden balls on springs that click against the clown's head when you move it around. As you might imagine, it's not a quiet toy, but Amber loved it, and it was good to see a child enjoying something that doesn't beep, flash or require batteries. I'm sure we'll be taking Amber there again in the future.
After the Taichung Folklore Park, we drove out to Wujih (Wurih) 烏日 to take a look at the new high-speed rail station there.
Like most of the high-speed rail stations, Wujih lies outside of the city it serves. At least in Wujih's case, there is a new Taiwan Railway Administration station being built next door that should provide convenient access into Taichung.The interior of the station looks very much like an airport.
There's a bookstore inside the station called Relay that has a decent selection of books in English, especially on China-related matters. For food, there's the ubiquitous McDonald's and Starbucks, but the Japanophile also has a choice of Yamazaki bakery 山崎パン, MOS Burger モスバーガー or Royal Host ロイヤルホスト. We chose the latter. American-style coffee shops or diners (or "family restaurants" ファミリーレストラン, as they're called in Japan) are rare in Taiwan. Couples or families are limited in where to eat - either in small restaurants where the cheap, uncomfortable chairs and tables ensure a quick turnover of customers, or in large banquet-style facilities, which are better suited for big groups. The only problem with the Royal Host inside Wujih station is that it charged Japanese-style prices for its entrees.
(NT350 = $10.60 or ￥1290)
Looking towards Taichung from Wujih Station
Saturday, July 21, 2007
It’s been a typical week here. Busy with work, but with some free moments here and there. On Wednesday 水曜 afternoon, I went for a walk in Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中世公園, where I snapped this picture of a small snake tentatively peeking out of its hole.
Late Thursday 木曜 afternoon, I took Amber out for a stroll in a local park. Some of the kids took a great interest in us.
This morning 土曜の朝 I had some unexpected free time, so I went for a solo hike in the Tak’eng (Dakeng) 大坑 area, this time climbing up the No. 7 trail and coming down the No. 8. Compared to last week, there weren’t as many people out (mainly because I got there after 9am), but it was still too crowded for my liking. I couldn’t complain about the weather, however, as there were some great views of T’aichung (Taijhong) 台中.
For some strange reason, a lifeboat, anchor and propellers had been placed atop a hill about 360 meters (1180 feet) above sea level.
The boat was the M.V. Golden Dragon, out of Keelung (Chilung / Jilong) 基隆
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I had the pleasure today of hiking in Takeng with Michael http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/. We met in the parking lot at the trail heads of the numbers 6 and 7 trails. It was 7:45 in the morning, but the place was packed with cars, scooters and people, all out to get some exercise before the things got too hot.
We started by walking up the No. 6 trail. Despite some haze, there were good views of T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 on the way up.台中の眺め
Lots of insects were out warming themselves up in the early morning sun.
Most of the people on the trail ventured no further than a Kuanyin (Guanyin) 観音 temple part of the way up, so we pretty much had the rest of the No. 6 trail to ourselves. It's a good thing we didn't drive up, as this sign attests.
Before the end of the No. 6, I led Michael onto a detour. This alternate route took us first through some orchards, and to a small temple that overlooked the Takeng area.
The trail then took us over the top of the mountain. On the other side was an orchard that was in the process of being converted into a recreational area. There were good views of Taichung and T'antzu (Tanzih) 潭子. The building under construction in the foreground is part of the new T'zu Chi (Cih Ji) 慈濟基金會 complex, and is close to Michael's home.
We then walked downhill and back towards the the temple where the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 trails meet. Before reaching the start of the No. 7 trail, we came across this huge but beautiful butterfly wafting about.ちょうちょう
The morning finished with a stroll down the No. 7 to the parking lot, followed by a stopover at Michael's house, where I had the pleasure of meeting his wife. Alas, I had to get home for lunch, and then get ready for work in the early afternoon, but I'm looking forward to the next time when we can meet up.
Speaking of work, one of the staff members at the school was gracious enough to let me take a picture of the back of her T-shirt.
OK, here goes nothing...The cool pickled eggplant guy イケマンナス漬 (I'm not making it up - look at the caricature). A handsome man is already old 男前はもう古い. The cool guy of the pickled world 漬物界のイケマン...it's my thing オレのことさ. What does it all mean? Who knows, but this shirt was manufactured 製造 by Hoten Foods 豊天食品. So there you have it!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Once in a while, when reading a story about travel in Taiwan, you will come across a statement that the Emperor of Japan stayed at such-and-such place during the colonial era (1895-1945). In today's China Post newspaper, the following statement appeared in an article about the Yuchang 玉長 Highway in eastern Taiwan http://www.chinapost.com.tw/travel/114851.htm:
"The Jhihben Hot Springs Area is a colorless and odorless sodium carbonate hot spring. It enjoyed the favor of the Japanese Emperor during the Japanese colonial period."
As far as I know, Hirohito 昭和天皇 visited Taiwan just once, in April of 1923. At that time, he was still the Crown Prince, though serving as Regent as his father, Yoshihito 大正天皇, was unable to govern due to poor health (Hirohito would become officially become emperor in 1925 after Yoshihito's death). According to Hans P. Bix's excellent book "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan" http://www.amazon.com/Hirohito-Making-Modern-Japan-Herbert/dp/0060931302/ref=sr_1_1/104-2495038-0417529?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1184233924&sr=1-1, the purpose of Hirohito's visit was to "reaffirm Japan's possession of Taiwan" (p. 137). The Crown Prince visited the spot where Japanese troops first landed on Taiwan to take over the island following the Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関条約 that ended the Sino-Japanese War 日清戦争 of 1894-95, and which ceded Taiwan to Japan. He also paid visits "to (Shinto) shrines, a number of military facilities, and a Japanese sugar refinery...(and) thirteen Japanese-built schools" (p. 137-8). Bix doesn't mention if Hirohito also stopped for a soak at the Chihpen (Jhihben) Hot Springs 知本温泉, but it is possible that he did, which would explain the reference in the China Post article.
These pictures have nothing to do with Hirohito 裕仁 or Chimoto-onsen, but I took them yesterday during my mid-week sweat-soaked walk in the hills above Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園.カタツムリ
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Houli ("Kori" as it's called in Japanese) 后里 is a small town directly north of Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原. For the most part an unremarkable, ordinary Taiwanese town, Houli has one unique characteristic - it is probably the saxophone capital of the world! At one time, 1/3 of the world's saxes were made in Houli. In recent years, competition from China has intensified, but Houli is still a major player in the world saxophone market. And this despite the fact that the saxophone plays almost no part in the Taiwanese popular music scene. Obviously, almost all of those saxes are for export.
But it wasn't saxophones that brought the family out to Houli on this hot, humid Sunday. Nor was it the horse ranch that the town is also noted for, at least among the people of T'aichung (Taijhong) County 台中県. No, our destination was an old sugar mill. During the Japanese colonial period (and up through the 1960's), sugar was a major industry in central and southern Taiwan. Sugar is no longer a mainstay of the Taiwanese economy, though Taisugar 台糖 remains a large state-run corporation.
I wish I could say the Houli sugar mill is worth a visit, but I can't. Tourism in Taiwan is often an ugly affair - attracting ugly people to an ugly atmosphere filled with ugly commercialization - and the sugar mill was no exception. Had it been up to me, I would've turned the mill into a museum explaining the history and importance of the sugar industry in Taiwan. But I guess there's more money to be made in tacky souvenir shops and ice cream stores. Yes, ice cream - most people visit the Houli sugar mill to eat ice cream. It seems this particular mill used to manufacture its own ice cream for its employees, and the confection soon developed a reputation for its freshness and taste. All I can say is, judging by the vanilla cup I had this afternoon, it was fairly ordinary-tasting. And there was no chocolate! What an outrage!
An old railroad car and engine, shunted off to a corner of the grounds. The Taiwan Sugar Railways http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_Sugar_Railways once carried both sugar and passengers. The station sign reads "Wufen" 五分.
An endless procession of tour buses disgorged passengers the entire time we were there. Amber, meanwhile, didn't like the tacky kiddie rides. That's my girl!
The most interesting part of the old sugar mill was the mill itself. Located in the rear of the complex, only a handful of the visitors bothered to walk through the structure. For some strange reason, terracotta warriors were placed around the floor...
...but the view looking up from the bottom of the smokestack was pretty cool.
For a lot of Taiwanese, snacking is the main reason for going out somewhere.
After the sugar mill, we took a short drive past the horse ranch and a military base, and past some pineapple plantations to an attractive Buddhist temple called "P'ilu Ch'anssu (Pilu Chansih)" 毘廬禪寺. Taiwanese Buddhist temples in general are much more restrained in their architecture compared to Taoist ones, and the Pilu Zen temple in particular has a pleasing design dating from the Japanese period.
It's too bad the Japanese took their architects with them when they left Taiwan in 1945. The grounds of the temple contain a nice shaded stroll that goes up for a distance of 350 meters (1150 feet) before heading back down to the main hall (though I worked up quite a sweat in the July humidity). If you find yourself in Houli, skip the sugar mill (and the horse ranch too, for that matter - it's also overrated) and seek out the Pilu Temple.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Several articles related to Taiwan have appeared in the English-language Japanese media over the past couple of days. On Friday, the Japan Times had an editorial on the 10-year anniversary of Hong Kong's handover by the British to China, "Hong Kong, 10 years later" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20070706a1.html. In the last paragraph, it states:
"If the Chinese leadership is disappointed by its failure to win the hearts of Hong Kong residents, even more troubling is the inability to sway thinking on Taiwan. Hong Kong was designed to be a role model for the so-called renegade province and convince it to return to the motherland. Despite its many successes, "one country, two systems" has not worked, if Taiwanese sentiment is any measure."
Unlike many Western media outlets, the JT more often than not gets it right when it comes to Taiwan. Hong Kong has failed as a model designed to win over the Taiwanese public. Why on earth would the people here willingly give up their sovereignty and hard-won democratic system, and let the authoritarian...oops, I mean "benevolent" government in Beijing decide how much freedom they should be permitted to have?
Today, the Japan Times has a lead article headlined "Taiwan seen losing military edge to China" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070707a1.html. Japan's Defense Ministry 防衛省 is warning in a report that:
"The military balance between China and Taiwan is shifting in Beijing's favor and the qualitative superiority of Taipei's fighting force may soon be lost..."
Clearly, the Japanese government sees a strong Taiwan as an important component of its security policy. The report also notes concern over the annual double-digit growth in Chinese defense spending (19 years and counting), as well as China's efforts to extend the reach of its air and naval forces into the Pacific (North Korea is also a worry for Japan's policy planners). It's reassuring to note that the Japanese leadership is apparently under no illusions about the potential threat from China.
The Daily Yomiuri also has an article in today's issue about the defense report, "Chinese forces' modernization worries govt / Report fears buildup goes beyond Taiwan" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070707TDY01002.htm. According to the DY:
"The white paper says that China's military modernization is aimed at dealing with the Taiwan issue, but its modernization appears to go beyond this."
In a separate editorial, "Govt should increase security talks with China" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/editorial/20070707TDY04005.htm, the Yomiuri's editors write that the government is concerned:
"...over the military expansion in terms of national defense and a potential conflict between China and Taiwan, as well as safety in international waters."
The writers also wonder how many intermediate-range missiles are targeting Japan. Good question.
As the Defense Report demonstrates, the security of Taiwan is also vital to the security of Japan. I imagine there is going to be growing military co-operation between Japan and Taiwan in response to the Chinese buildup, unless the Kuomintang (Guomindang) 国民党 comes to power next year. It would be interesting to read what reports might be circulating in Japanese government circles about that possibility.
And while I'm on the topic of Japan, here's a photo of the sign outside a 回転寿司, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. It's the Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 branch of a chain called Sushi Express.
楽しみください ("Tanoshimi kudasai") = "Please enjoy". As sushi goes in Taiwan, the offerings at Sushi Express aren't too bad. In fact, it's a lot better than what you might find at some more expensive/upscale sushi restaurants in Taiwan.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
There's a new strip of park in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, located along the north section of Yuanhuan Road 圓環北路, the loop road that goes around the central part of the city. At one time, the area was used to house people who had lost their homes in the Chi-chi (Ji-ji) Earthquake 集集大地震 of Sept. 21, 1999. The temporary housing has long since been removed, and the finishing touches are being put on a park area that features wading pools for children. We went with Amber in the late afternoon to check out the new green spot in town.
There were a lot of kids enjoying the water, but it didn't seem clean enough for us to let Amber take a dip. Perhaps we were just being overprotective, but the last thing I want is for Amber to come home with is some sort of waterborne illness. While Amber was interested in what the other kids were doing, she seemed content with walking around and exploring the new park, so we were spared having to disappoint a small child.
In recent years, there appears to have been some kind of boom in park construction in Taiwan. New parks pop up with regularity, even in smaller cities such as Fengyuan. These are often due to the efforts of local politicians, who then proudly boast of their achievements in the next election campaign (with the use of loud sound trucks). The problem (and there's always a problem) is that, while money is certainly spent on constructing the parks, it seems little is budgeted afterward for maintenance. The result is that the condition of many of these nice new parks soon starts to deteriorate, and it doesn't take long before today's new oasis of green is tomorrow's weedy, trash-strewn eyesore, where you have to watch where you step due to the broken pavement and dog droppings.
Perhaps I'm being too cynical. Who knows, once this latest addition to Fengyuan's park scene is finished, the wading pools will be kept in great condition, and kids (including mine) will be able to splash around in clean water during those lazy days of summer. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath, however...