Yesterday (Friday) was Tomb Sweeping Day 清明節 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Sweeping_Day), a national holiday. As a result, today (Saturday) was also a day off, thus making for a three-day weekend. And while we decided not to make any overnight trips this time, we did drive into the very center of Taiwan, to the town of P'uli (Puli) 埔里 on a day that turned out to be both very warm and very smoggy.
Before setting out this morning, I read an article in the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 on an interview with Taiwan's former president, Lee Tung-hui (Ri Tōki) 李登輝 ("Taiwan's Lee seeking to bolster Japan ties" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080405TDY05306.htm):
"Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui is keen to act as an unofficial adviser on relations with Japan for President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 after Ma takes office in May to help ensure the bilateral relationship stays on an even keel. 'Japan-Taiwan ties are as important or more important than Taiwan-China ties, and our solidarity with Japan is crucial for our economic development,' Lee told The Yomiuri Shimbun 読売新聞 on Thursday. 'Mr. Ma doesn't know much about Japan. Someone who is clued up on Japanese affairs should be doing the job [of adviser].'"
Lee is quoted, however, as saying that a younger man (he's 85) should act in such a role. Like many mainlanders (and in contrast to many Taiwanese), Ma isn't so keen on Japan:
"Some observers of Japan-Taiwan affairs have been concerned that Ma, who swept to victory in last month's presidential election, could take the wind out of attempts to improve relations. Ma has previously taken a hard-line stance on the Senkaku Islands 尖閣諸島, which also are claimed by China and Taiwan. But after a meeting with Lee last month, Ma seemed to be willing to take a more pragmatic tack with Tōkyō. 'We discussed using his influence to help develop Japan-Taiwan ties. I'd like to continue receiving Mr. Lee's advice,' said Ma, who will officially take office on May 20. Observers suggested the meeting also indicated Lee was keen to act as a conduit between Ma and Japan."
Lee, for his part, praises the recent election as a sign of "the growing maturity of Taiwan's democracy", and harshly criticizes the losing Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党:
"'The DPP's win in 2000 was a step forward for democracy, but what has happened in the eight years since? The people were fed up--they became disillusioned with the corruption-riddled DPP,' Lee said."
In the interview, Lee also claims he isn't worried by the prospect of the KMT 中国国民党 becoming too close with China:
"'Taiwan is, to all intents and purposes, a single country. The China-Taiwan issue won't be resolved for quite some time,' he said. 'China has its hands full dealing with its own knotty internal problems, so the administration there doesn't have the wherewithal to focus on the Taiwan issue.' Lee praised Ma's plan to start direct flights between China and Taiwan and welcome Chinese tourists, saying these moves would improve Beijing 北京-T'aipei (Taibei) 台北 ties. But he was more skeptical of the incoming president's hopes for a peace accord with China. 'I doubt that will happen,' Lee said."
On a more personal note, Lee revealed his intention:
"...to make a sightseeing visit to Japan before the end of the year, which will include a trip following the path 17th-century haiku 俳句 poet Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 took during the early Edo period 江戸時代 (1603-1867), as recounted in his work, 'Oku no Hosomichi.' 奥の細道 Lee, a prominent Japanophile, said he plans to visit Niigata 新潟県 and Fukui 福井県 prefectures, among other places."
I'm also planning a trip to Japan soon, the details of which I'll reveal at a later date. But for now, it's on to Puli...
...an ugly-looking town that for some reason receives prominent mention in most Taiwan travel guides. Anyone traveling through the central mountains of this island will probably find themselves in Puli at some point in their journey, but there really is no compelling reason to linger there (just ask the Nakamuras http://tw.search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&fr=slv8-veoh&p=puli%20nakamura). Our first stop was a classic tourist trap, the P'uli Shaohsing (Puli Shaosing) Brewery 埔里酒廠, where the Puli Winery Corporation produces Shaohsing wine:
Although admission is free, the first floor is designed to get visitors to open up their wallets, as it's chock full of stalls selling all kinds of snacks made with wine (the wine-soaked strawberry cake sample seemed to give our daughter Amber a buzz!). Several of the stands at least had signs in both English and Japanese, and the "French style chocolate with alcohol" フレンチスタイルアルコール入りチョコレート was admittedly pretty good. The second floor houses a small museum on the winery's history, with some interesting photos from the Japanese period, and even evidence that the Thirsty Traveler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirsty_Traveler) had been there. But, overall, the emphasis is clearly on commerce, not education, and probably isn't worth putting up with the crowds, unless you are a wine connoisseur.
Following our visit to the brewery, we drove across town to the Taiwan Geographic Center Monument 台湾地理中心碑. I had bought a child carrier in T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 on Friday, and I was planning on trying it out this afternoon. The idea is to bring Amber along on my back when I go hiking, so I wanted to walk from the monument marking the exact geographic center of Taiwan to Carp Lake 鯉魚潭, a walk of about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). I have to admit, however, that I may have been a little overly ambitious the first time out. It was a short, but steep, haul up some stone steps to the monument, which was tiring enough, but the walk to the lake turned out to be far from the idyllic forest trek I'd imagined it to be. Instead, faced with an uphill walk on a busy road, with a 12-kilogram (26 pounds) child strapped to my back in temperatures near 30 C (86 F), I quickly concluded that I need to build up more endurance first, so we headed back down to ground level where Pamela was waiting for us. We ended up driving up the same road to a lookout point where several paragliders パラグライダー were flying about, a fact that got Amber very excited, so we got out of the car to take a look. The view from the top of the mountain looking down on Puli was stupendous...or would have been, if it wasn't for the horrible air quality that all too often plagues the skies of Taiwan, even in small towns in the central mountains.
And with that, it was back to Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, with a brief stop at a popular freeway rest area in the Taichung County 台中県 town of Shalu 沙鹿, where, to quote Michael Turton from his blog "The View from Taiwan" (http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/), Taiwan's ability to "vomit up people" was on display:
Just another day on the Beautiful Island!