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Monday, February 11, 2008

Exploring New Trails

Yesterday was bitterly cold (by Taiwanese standards), so it was a pleasant surprise that today turned out to be relatively nice. The temperature was warmer, the wind had died down and, miracle of miracles, the sun came out! With nothing special planned for this day anyway, and not wanting to let this rare break in the bad weather go to waste, I set out to explore two local trails I had been wanting to check out for a while.

The first one was a set of stone steps leading down from the bus stop in front of the Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 golf course. I parked my scooter at the bottom of the hill in Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園, and walked up to the start of the steps. Going down the trail, there were decent views of Fengyuan off to the side, but none of the photos I took really turned out very well, due to poor lighting conditions (and perhaps an unskilled photographer). The trail came out in a typical drab neighborhood of concrete and corrugated tin houses. Actually, there was one attractive Japanese-era 日本統治時代 wooden home on the street, but as someone was standing directly in front of it as I was walking by, I didn't feel like drawing any more attention to myself than I was already doing by stopping to take a photo. It was a boring walk back to my scooter, and I doubt I'll bother with this route again anytime soon.

I got the idea for the second place I visited from Michael Turton's December 23, 2007, entry on his blog The View from Taiwan, entitled "Adventures in the Borderlands". On that day, Michael and a friend of his rode out to a temple located in Shihkang (Shihgang) 石岡, and explored a walking trail next to it. I knew where the temple, called Shihchung Kung (Shihjhong Gong) 石忠宮, was located, but I wasn't aware there were hiking trails in the area, so after leaving Chung-cheng Park, I headed straight for the temple and found the start of the trail Michael went on. According to a map at the foot of the wooden steps leading up past the temple, there is a network of trails to walk on, totaling 4.7 kilometers (2.9 miles) in length.

The trail wasn't much of a challenge, but the views looking out over Shihkang, and towards Tungshih (Dongshih) 東勢 were great, and got better the higher the trail rose. Along the route were several viewing platforms 展望台. Much sooner than I expected, the top was reached at what the Taichung County Tourist Guide calls "The divine tree of 'five blessings'" 五福臨門神木:

"Formed by a camphor tree クスノキ, a Taiwan acacia アカシア, a banyan ガジュマル, a Chinese hackberry tree and a cedar ヒマラヤスギ属, the unique big 'tree' was given its well-known name, 'five blessings' by former president Jing Guo Jiang (Shō Keisoku) 蒋経国."

It came as something of a letdown, because I had driven here once several years ago with Pamela, and I can tell you it's one of those non-sights all too common in Taiwan. With the introduction of the five-day workweek a few years ago, and the resulting leisure industry boom, a number of these waste-of-time tourist traps have been pitched at a population with more free time on its hands, and desperate for places to visit as a result. Throw the Lunar New Year 旧正月 holiday into the mix, and you've got even more people than usual out to see the tree and walk the trails (along with vendors and karaoke カラオケ). Without sticking around long, I headed back down towards the temple and my parked scooter.

Oh well. It felt good to be out in the sun again, and I definitely plan on returning to this area one weekday morning after the holidays to explore those 4.7 kilometers in greater detail.

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