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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Making tracks

Today I took another train ride out to San'i (Sangi) 三義 for another walking excursion. My goal was to reach the old Shenghsing (Shōkō) 勝興 train station on foot, a six-kilometer (3.7 miles) stroll one-way that didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would as I set out from San'i Station 三義駅 at around 1pm.

After about a kilometer (0.6 miles) along the ugly main drag of San'i, a sign pointed the way off to the left, where I soon found the unused (or so I thought) tracks of the decommissioned part of the Western (Old Mountain) Line 西部幹線. It was a pleasant walk along the old railroad tracks, with the added bonus of getting a better view of the surrounding scenery than could be had from the road:


Soon after passing through a 726-meter (2382 feet) long tunnel ("Tunnel No. 2" - more on that later), I arrived at Shenghsing Station after about 70 minutes of walking:


When it was in operation, Shenghsing had the distinction of being the highest train station in Taiwan, at 403 meters (1322 feet). Now, it's a tourist magnet. Even on a hot Tuesday afternoon, the area was busy with visitors, including a group of earnest Western Mandarin learners (they always are). The atmosphere today, however, was much more preferable than what you find on weekends and holidays, when the narrow road is clogged with traffic and people, and the souvenir sellers and restaurateurs are in full tout mode. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Taiwan is the undiscovered tourist gem of East Asia, but if you come, be sure to visit the popular spots on weekdays (unless of you're a big fan of 人山人海):


I spent about an hour wandering around the station and the street, and even venturing into the hills overlooking the area, all the while resisting the temptation to buy an ice cream. I've managed to lose 4.1 kilograms (9 pounds) over the past five weeks, mainly by cutting down on my consumption of beer, milk tea and late night snacks, and I wasn't about to stop now, especially as there was a bottle of Gauloise Amber with my name on it waiting for me back home. All bets are off next week, however, when I'm in Japan. I'm hoping that what I consume in calories there will be burned off by all the walking and hiking I intend on doing. We'll see...

Eventually, it was time to return to San'i in order to catch the 4:25 train back to Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原. I stuck to the road for the return leg, and soon after leaving Shenghsing, I started hearing the sound of a horn blaring somewhere behind me, but getting closer. I assumed it was a tour bus making its way along the narrow, winding road. However, as I was walking past the aforementioned Tunnel No. 2, a maintenance train of same kind emerged. Apparently, the Old Mountain Line does see some action after all.

I made it back to the station with about 15 minutes to spare. All in all, it was a pretty good outing today, one that I would recommend to anyone who doesn't mind hoofing it to get from place-to-place. Just don't do it on weekends!


The beauty and charm that is small-town Taiwan.

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