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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Houli 后里

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 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.

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