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Monday, November 20, 2006

Chishan (Cishan きざん 旗山)

NT17,380. That's how much it cost to fix our car on Friday - new radiator, new set of tires, new brake pads, new I don't know what else. That's roughly ¥62,000 or $530. What better way, then, to see if we got our money's worth by going on a road trip, which is what we did this weekend. And, as it turned out, everything in the car worked properly.

Our original intention was to drive up north to Yingke (Yingge おうか 鴬歌), a town famous in Taiwan for ceramics, spend the night there, then go the next day to Sanhsia (Sansia さんきょう 三峡) to see a famous temple. However, the weather forecast called for rain in the north, so on Friday night Pamela suggested we go south instead, where it was bound to be sunny and hot. And that's how we came to visit Chishan.

Amber enjoyed the drive all the way down...

The first thing we did upon arrival was locate and check in to our hotel. In our case it was the Ichang Piehkuan (Yichang Bieguan 益昌別館). For NT600 a night (¥2140 or $18), we got what we paid for.

Amber didn't seem to mind, however...

Up until a few years ago, most people in Taiwan either worked or went to school six days a week. This left little time for leisure activity, and therefore a limited number of places to visit. Around 2000 or 2001, however, the work and school weeks were shortened, and since then more people have had more free time on the weekends, and the leisure industry has boomed. Among the beneficiaries of all this has been small towns like Chishan. A few years ago, Chishan was a place no one had heard of, bypassed by the modernization of Taiwan's economy. In other words, there was no reason to tear down the old buildings. Thus, when the leisure boom took off, towns like Chishan with their "old streets" were "discovered" by travel magazines and TV programs, and now tourists drop by in droves on weekends to look at the old buildings, eat local snacks and revel in the noise and the commotion. Here are some scenes from late Saturday afternoon and into the evening:

Chishan's old street 旗山「チーシャン」老街

A typical old building

Daddy and Amber enjoying a chocolate ice cream break (well Daddy anyway...)

Fried noodles, fried rice and beer - Taiwanese comfort food

The following morning we went back out into the street to have breakfast. My coffee cup looked like this

telling me, in somewhat incorrect Japanese, that it was doing fine - "O-genki desu" お元気です
Afterwards, I climbed the steps of Chishan Park to take in the view

At the highest point of the park sits the Kaohsiung County Confucius Temple. Unlike Confucius temples in other Taiwanese cities, this one is not located in the center of an urban area. What it lacks in age and historical interest, it makes up for in setting - surrounded by trees and overlooking the town below

Back in town, across the road from the entrance to Chishan Park, stands this place. Called 武徳殿, it's a former Shinto shrine converted into a cafe and restaurant, with live jazz in the courtyard in the evenings. We had a beer there on Saturday night (Heineken unfortunately - Taiwan is still sorely lacking when it comes to beer availability). It's too bad other towns couldn't see fit to put their old Shinto shrines to good use, rather than just tearing them down.

On the way back to the hotel, and through the chaos that is a small Taiwanese town on a Sunday morning...

Swallows' nests ツバメの巣

After checking out, we left Chishan and drove to the nearby town of Meinung (Meinong みのう 美農). According to Lonely Planet, Meinung is a great place to rent a bicycle and ride through the countryside. However, because of Amber, that is an activity that will have to wait for another day. Instead, we visited the Meinung Folk Village. The LP Taiwan guide says it's "an artificial recreation of an old-fashioned neighborhood". I say it's "a classic tourist trap". I didn't learn anything about the Hakka 客家 people, who make up 15% of the population of Taiwan (but 95% of Meinung's people), but I did encounter many opportunities to buy various souvenirs and snacks. We came away with a small paper-and-bamboo umbrella, something Meinung is noted for

On the way back to the freeway, we made one last stop at the "Moonscape World". This wasn't the "Mt. Tsao Moon World" described on Pages 238-39 of the Lonely Planet Taiwan guidebook, but it was in the same general area and looked pretty interesting. I took Amber for a stroll in the badlands while Pamela waited in the car

After a stop at another rest area...


...we arrived back in Fengyuan by early evening

Considering the fact that, even though it was November 18-19, the weather was warm - about 30 degrees Centigrade, or around 85 F - and the skies were clear the entire time. I guess going south was the right decision. And yet another lesson in "Always listen to your wife"

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