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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Afternoon Wood

I bought a new pair of hiking shoes last weekend in preparation for my trip to Japan next month (where I plan to climb a couple of mountains), and I've been wearing them every day in an attempt to break them in. Today, they received an extensive workout in the town of San'i (Sangi) 三義.

Mention San'i to a Taiwanese person, and "wood carving" will probably be the first thing that comes to mind. Ever since a Japanese military officer at the end of the 19th century discovered camphor 樟脳 trees growing in abundance in the area, the town has become known for wood sculpture. In recent years, the flowers of the Tung tree アブラギリ have also attracted the tourists, and so I set out to walk what's known as the "April Snow Trail" 四月雪歩道.

Rather than riding my scooter from Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原, I instead took a local train three stops to San'i Station 三義駅. From the station, it's a long, uphill walk along Chungcheng Road through an altogether unappealing part of the town. It took about 30 minutes to reach the turnoff to Kuangsheng Village, one of two areas in San'i cluttered with woodcarving stores.

On weekends, like other tourist hotspots in Taiwan, Kuangsheng Village is a zoo. On a Tuesday afternoon, things were much quieter, with only a few visitors. The shops were open, and quite aromatic:

At the end of the road is the Miaoli Wood Sculpture Museum (more on that later), and the start of the April Snow Trail. The path is an easy one, and my shoes will have to wait until the next time I go to Tak'eng to get a real workout. I actually came here with my wife about four years ago, not long after my daughter was born, and I carried Amber in my arms to the top and back down. Today was much easier! Unfortunately, it seemed I was too early for the tung blossoms. There were only a relative handful on the ground, though someone had thoughtfully arranged some of them for photographic purposes:

At the top, the path opens up onto a large tea field:

After walking around the tea bushes and back down the trail, and having plenty of time to kill before the next train back to Fengyuan, I paid the NT80 (¥240/$2.50) to go inside the aforementioned museum. With four floors of exhibits on Taiwan's wood culture, it makes for an interesting and informative visit - or would be, if you can read Chinese. English labeling is rather minimal, which is a pity. It's also a shame that photography isn't allowed, for the religious statues and examples of traditional Taiwanese furniture and architecture are a sight to behold, both in their craftsmanship and attention to detail.


After the museum, I left Kuangsheng Village and walked back down to Chungcheng Road. Turning right there, the road changes its name to Shuimei Street, and is San'i's other major grouping of woodcarving stores. I took a short walk along this road, until it was time to turn back and head downhill towards the train station.

In addition to wood and its many uses, San'i is also famed (within Taiwan) for Shenghsing (Shōkō) Train Station 勝興駅, an abandoned rail outpost set higher up in the hills opposite San'i. I'll save this for another visit in the not too distant future.

Oh, and the shoes held up well.

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