Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hiking near Jioufen - Part II: The imperial past.

It's amazing how many relics from Taiwan's Japanese colonial past you can find around Taipei County's Ruefang Township. The mineral wealth and spectacular seaside sights led to the development of everything from the coal mines around neighboring Pingsi Township, to the old gold mining ghost towns and imperial chalets at Chinkuashih (金瓜石).

Chinkuashih is surprisingly close to Jiufen. The two towns are connected by a winding 2.5 km road that runs through the rocky hills and mountains that line the northeast coast of Taiwan. A regular bus route runs between the two for the very affordable price of NT$22 for a one way trip.

But what fun would that be?

Feeling slightly giddy as I came down from Keelung Mountain, I thought it would be a good idea to walk the 2.5 km to Chinkuashih.

The road to Chinkuashih just outside of Jioufen. (The one below the road with the funeral procession. How very auspicious.)

Many of us tend to think of winding mountain roads in Taiwan - especially those along the northeast coast as narrow winding deathtraps filled with gravel trucks roaring around blind turns at breakneck speeds. I didn't see any kamikaze gravel trucks along the way through there were plenty of kamikaze tour buses full of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japanese tourists. But, the fact that I am here typing this right now indicates that yes it is possible to walk a narrow mountain road in Taiwan without getting killed... maybe.
A glimpse of the ocean from the road.

"Nightclubs" line the road. Say hi to those whom the locals refer to as the 好兄弟.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere...

... with the occasional small village...

... and coffee shop with a Zero fighter theme.

Thank god I didn't have to walk along that section.

All in all, the walk took about half an hour. It's not too bad going from Jioufen since the route is mostly downhill. Be prepared for a lot of odd looks from residents and drivers though.

Even the bus station is retro.

The road eventually reaches the Chinkuashih bus station, located right outside the entrance to the Gold Ecological Park - a historic area complete with a museum on the old gold mining days, a restored Japanese era mining town, as well as a series of hiking trails passing through many ruins left over from the era. Considering the state of disrepair most of the old Japanese style houses in the major cities are in, it's interesting to see how they looked back when they were new. The entrance fee for the museum and exhibits is a very reasonable NT$100, though access to the park itself and the hiking trails is free.

Restored Japanese-style houses where mining families once lived.

The neighborhood koban (police box).

The path to the museum follows a set of narrow gauge tracks, similar to those that were once used to transport ore.

The Museum of Gold.

The area also contains many historical sites worthy of note, including a chalet which once belonged to then crown prince Hirohito, the former site of a prison camp which once held Allied POWs during World War II, and the ruins of a Shinto temple - the Ogon Jinjia (黃金神社, lit: Shrine of Gold). Regrettably due to time constraints, I only had enough time to visit the last one.

The Ogon Jinjia was constructed in 1897 and moved to its current location overlooking the town and coast below in 1933 after mining operations began on the top of mountain where it was formerly located. The temple itself was dedicated to the guardian spirits of the miners who once worked in the area, and was once surrounded by groves of cherry trees. After the end of World War II, the temple was abandoned, vandalized, and eventually burned to the ground. It is said that the cherry trees themselves also disappeared after the fire, never to return. Today, all that remains are some of the stone lanterns, gates, and the foundation.

I'm not sure if the bare blackened husks of dead trees I saw surrounding the area belonged to the cherry trees, but they certainly lent a very eery feel to the ruins. The surrounding region is very beautiful (in the damp semi-depressing sort of way so common along the northeast coast). According to the scholarly experts at

The Japanese have 800 myriads of Gods which must cause a few congestion problems on their islands.

They appear to have a tendency to worship anything if it stays still long enough and looks interesting enough. Photography has replaced Iconography and pilgrims can often be seen in London recording taxis and streetlamps for possible deification.
So it's not difficult to see why the Japanese would build a temple around here.

The first gate at the foot of the steps to the temple.

Dead trees flank the path to the temple. The inscription on the lanterns reads "奉納" (offering), and also appears on many of the ruins.

A pile of stones by the path. The inscription on the top stone reads "奉燈" (offering lamp?), while the bottom stone reads "中央坑" (central tunnel). A talisman left by the miners perhaps?

The second gate.

All that remains of the temple.

Many of the inscriptions on the gates and lanterns have been defaced.

The base of the temple. For some unknown reason there is a rectangular pit about three feet deep in the floor.

All that's left inside.

Tags: , ,

Hiking near Jioufen - Part I: Keelung Mountain

Jioufen: Where the dead reside above the living.

Pretty much everyone whose visited Taiwan since the early 90s has at least heard of Jioufen (九份), that quaint little town on the hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean where Hou Hsiao-hsien's movie "City of Sadness" was filmed. If you haven't been there, you owe it to yourself to go at least once. The town is easily accessible from Taipei via train and bus (take the train to Ruefang (瑞芳) Station, cross the street and take the bus to Jioufen). The main tourist trap is the Old Street. A long narrow row of quaint shops and eateries harking back to the "good old days" of vacuum tube radios, wooden sandals, and rice with lard poured on top. Most visitors can spend an entire visit just walking the length of Old Street.

That is not where I went on this trip.

Keelung Mountain viewed from the road to Chinkuashih (金瓜石).

Keelung Mountain (雞籠山, elevation 587 m) is a rather steep hill outside of the town of Jioufen, just a bit further up the road from the town itself. Arriving at Jioufen by bus, most people will get off near the Old Street stop. Follow the road a bit further up and you'll find a white stone marker denoting the trailhead for the Keelung Mountain trail by the left side of the road.

The Keelung Mountain trailhead.

The trail consists mostly of a series of very long and steep cobblestone steps cut into the side of the hill with the occasional pavilion for climbers to rest their legs. The view, however, is tremendous.

Looking up from the bottom.
Going up...
Looking back.
May the gods have mercy on my knees.

After what seems like an eternity (or was it 20 minutes? I must be losing it), I finally reach the top... which is a bit anti-climatic. The summit is occupied by what I'm told is a repeater station for aviation radio traffic, as well as a small pavilion occupied by a bunch of middle aged men drinking some kind of herbal drink (福氣啦!).

But the view more than makes up for the climb. Having spent the last 12 months in landlocked Colorado, it's great to see the ocean again. Nothing like standing on a summit feeling the sea wind blow on your face while taking in the enormous expanse that is the ocean.

Looking towards the northwest. From the nearest inlet to the furthest: Shenao Bay (深奧灣), Wanghaihsiang Harbor (望海巷漁港), Badouzhi Harbor (八斗仔漁港), and in the distance: Hoping Island (和平島) and Keelung Harbor (基隆港).
One of the abandoned gold mining facilities in a nearby hill.
Looking east towards Chinkuashih and Bitoujiao.

The climb can be quite strenuous if you don't do this kind of thing normally but is a nice way to spend an hour or so. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Once you're done with the hike you have the rest of Jioufen and Chinkuashih to explore.

Stay tuned for more on hiking to Chinkuashih and exploring the remains of the old gold mining operation .

Tags: ,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

12 months later...

Oh there's no place like home for the holidays,
Cause no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.

Especially after spending an hour digging your car out of a 2 foot snowdrift. Thank you Colorado Holiday Blizzard '06.

"I transited at Narita Airport, and all I got was this lousy shaber."
To be fair, I can actually use this one without waking up everyone within a 100 meter radius. Can't say that much for my old Remington.

The neighborhood is pretty much as I remembered from last year. It's election time for li-chang again so the alleys are covered in campaign flags. Some stores have opened while others have closed.
There are a bunch of new swanky looking apartment towers that weren't there last time. And for some inexplicable reason the 7-11 where I normally buy my Taiwan Beer moved next door.

Early morning on the MRT. The usual crowds... office workers in suits and ties and students headed off to school. I realize that I no longer have a student uniform to wear. Between the suits and ties, the uniformed students, and kids with baggy pants and hair even longer and shaggier than I remembered I feel a bit out of place in my jeans, t-shirt, and backpack.

An old guy come over and starts speaking to me in Japanese. This is the third time this has happened since I arrived at Taoyuan last night...

Me: "What makes you think I'm Japanese?"
Him: "Your clothes looked foreign but your hair wasn't spiked and looked too normal for an ABC."

So there you have it. Kids from overseas are discernible by their spiked and abnormal looking hair.

First things first of course. Lining up at the Immigration Office with a bunch of other students from abroad back for winter break and even more immigrants from the PRC.

Looking around, I start to wonder if I'm the only Taiwanese student studying in the US who doesn't have spiky hair and baggy pants.
Mission accomplished. Two more years before the time for boot camp rolls around.
It's good to be back, even if only for a few weeks. Time to go out and poke around the island again.