25 June 2011

23 June 2011 - Afternoon in the High Mountains of Hsinchu

These days, I usually have Thursday off from work. I only work four days a week these days. Occasionally, I feel quite restless when such free time becomes available. This past week was a case in point. Not only that, it was one of the most beautiful days I've encountered recently (along with the weekend when I photographed the skyline of Hsinchu from 18 Peaks Mountain).
I've yearned to find a route through the Eastern mountains through these counties (Miaoli/Hsinchu/Taoyuan) to get to Ilan). On Google maps, the route is quite clearly apparent. They have not provide Street View to a lot of the most interesting road in Taiwan, yet, and woefully, as well, they have neglected to include Street View options or Chiayi and Tainan (although, weirdly enough, they have small cities like Hualien, Taitung, and many a bleak coastline in Pingtung). I'm not complaining about what is been included. I'm simply mystified by some of what has been excluded, since Tainan is the 4th largest city in Taiwan.
Anyway, I gradually immersed myself in the most fascinating journey I've experienced in a long time in my travels through Taiwan...
This is around a train station near Neiwan. It is an archetypal image of a Taiwan train station amidst the mountains.

After the train station the road keep going up, but more and more steeply. At this point there are Hi-Lifes (and further back down the road, there was a 7-11). This is the last one, though. In the future, if you are to get any supplies, like tissue paper, tea eggs, or anything like that, you need to go to mountainside mom & pop shops.

You saw one side of the bridge, and here is the other side. Already, as you see, there is less habitation. If you turn right, you are in the last of the relatively large villages you will encounter. Keep going straight and, from then on, you will see almost nothing but small houses, bungalows, and farm houses.
It's quite a nice bridge. Often, bridges in Taiwan don't have much space for walking. This is a wonderful exception to that. There is almost  never much traffic up here (although there is tonnes of traffic a few minutes back in the historical/traditional street (very touristy!).
Already, about ten minutes after the bridge, you will see a observation platform (with some cheesy-looking stone figures of frogs and such). The stream is a sight to behold however. The water looks so clean. Already, it is nicer than Taroko Gorge. Having been to the latter place (which is nice, but...um...very touristy) I swear that Hsinchu has more incredible mountains and Gorges up in this area. I'm sure, even in Hualien, there are nicer places than Taroko Gorge...it's just there's no accounting for people's tastes, and the top-down attitude that sellers have towards buyers (I'm speaking in this case of the tourist industry, but it's also the case with many other areas and avenue of life here when speaking of the psychodrama that exists between seller and buyer).
P.S. For some excellent pictures of Taroko Gorge, take a look at Carrie Kellenberger's blog, which has some of Ava Apollo's latest renderings of her journeys in Taiwan. The picture of Sun Moon Lake is nothing to speak off - it kind of sucks, actually, but the photos of Hualien's Taroko Gorge are amazing. The photos I took are pretty good, but they are not quite as good as Apollo's (I think she is using her own photos for the post, anyway, if I'm not mistake). It's hard to get good photos of that area, because one doesn't often have time to explore much if you're on a bus tour. If you want to have time, your really must bring your own car, and avoid going at times when there are too many people, and when the soon is either too bright, or no bright enough.
I can't decide which of these two pictures is the best. Sometimes I show to or three that are very similar, so that people will see the different sides, according to this particular POV. The mouse must always navigate the elephant, so to speak...
The cheesy stone figures I mentioned. There are well done, however, and beat, hands down, many other similar such things I have seen in Taichung or Taipei. Not that I am slagging Taipei wholesale. Sometimes it is overrated though, particularly by foreigners.
You will notice the garbage (a beer bottle and a bag near the stone frog). While this is unfortunate and typical (people here throw their garbage everywhere, which is strange, because Hsinchu garbage pickup happens six days a week - and three days a week for recycling) this was the only garbage I saw. People seem to keep it pretty clean when they go up here, and most people don't come up here anyway. Maybe that's a good thing. It gives me a chance to engage with something a little more unique.
On a side note, it is dumb to attribute slovenly attitudes towards garbage as exclusively Taiwanese. However, I don't think I've ever repeatedly seen a whole garbage can's worth, or five garbage can's worth of garbage, along with furniture dumped in the middle of a forest or mountain in the most beautiful area of the land. No attempt to conceal, bury it, or anything. In Montreal, garbage and recycling days are only once or twice a week. Garbage piles up inside the house (or in the yard, as the case may be) sometimes, but it's no biggy. Why would people dump stuff in the middle of a forest? A real mystery to me! Part of the problem (it isn't all of the problem, only a portion) is that Taiwanese hide their garbage cans, and put them in the most inconvenient places, or even make a point of eschewing garbage cans altogether. Some people claim that too many people will put garbage from far off places and it will overflow, etc. This is nonsense, and it is a cultural reality which really should be done away with. Patrick Cowsill had a strange encounter with this kind of situation in his recent post.   Even Hong Kongers and Singaporeans go crazy when encountering this bizarre modus operandi in Taiwan!
As I went higher and higher uproad, the view became more and more incredible. Just having my eyes open, seeing, hearing, and smelling it all made me feel drunk (I swear, I didn't drink anything - not even much water, for that matter, because when you are on a long journey, bathroom breaks are intolerable).
This is a typical high mountain road in Taiwan - smooth and curvy.
I like this shot because it contrasts the minuscule man-made with the tower aspects of nature. Usually, in cities, it's the other way around. Both are interesting phenomenona, but I rarely see the former these days, so it's nice to see this.
This would probably seem a familiar, even, to Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese. Mountains, meadows, and grasslands are a little different in North America, so this is especially beautiful to me, because it looks so exotic to my inexperienced eye.
This would seem a familiar sight not just on a Hsinchu mountain, but also along the coast of Pintgung, as well.
My scooter, next to the road.
I love being in amongst the clouds. It reminds me of some of the more introspective moments in Barbet Schroeder's The Valley Obscured by the Clouds.
I love seeing the outlines of one mountain interconnecting and overlapping with the outlines of another.
One feels truly free up here.

I simply love the idea of how a simply road amongst the ravages and wild growth of this place make the idea of being anywhere - anywhere, at all - possible.

It's truly a special feeling to drive one's motorcycle or scooter on these road, and have clouds lash past you, whip your skin like harmless ghosts with no intent but to make you notice where you are.
Just the idea that people live here is unimaginable!
At the top of the mountain there was a police station and a Chungha Telecome building, and a very small cluster of buildings. This view is what the police officer sees every evening. What a wonderful life!
The views of the sunset, clouds, and neigbouring mountains are simply exquisite!
This is the other side of the police station. How can one not be in a good humour when one has views like this to look forward to every working day?
The police station, the roof, and the mural on the side of the station.

More of that otherworldly scenery...

A school-building, a few houses and some mountain roads.
A farm.
The other side of the police-station. I took the picture from where the gazebo hovers over some mountains.
The Chunghwa Telecom building.
Some views of the mural below the Chunghwa Telecom building.

The police-officer was one of the friendliest people I've ever encountered in Taiwan. He helped me navigate where I should go if I wanted to get to Highway 7, or if I simply wanted to get back to Hsinchu City. I think the police-officer is of Attayal origin, if I'm not mistaken. Almost all the people who live up here are Attayal.

From up here, during sunset, during my gradual ascent, I could see what seems to be Jhudong/Hsinchu, and the ocean far in the horizon.

Some of the images can accurately be described as painterly.

"The sky is so close to the sea that it is difficult to tell which is reflected in the other, which one needs the other, which one is dominating the other." - Elie Wiesel, Day, p. 36.
"He stopped for a moment. I could see his profile: thin, sharp, noble." Elie Wiesel, Day, p. 36.
"'If the two were at war,' he went on, 'I'd be on the side of the sea. The sky only inspires painters. Not musicians. While the sea... Don't you feel that the sea comes close to man through its music?'" Elie Wiesel, Day, p, 36-7. 

The drive back to Hsinchu through Hengshan, Cyonglin, and Jhubei, and Baoshan was pleasant. It was one of the most lovely journeys I've had in Taiwan.

I recommend you check out Andrew Kerslake's blog about his cycling journeys throughout Taiwan. I don't agree with most of his politics (regarding U.S. international politics, etc.), but he largely leaves politics out of his blog. Most recently he posted an account of his ride through Southern Taichung County.
If your politics are about the same as mine (libertarian), then I recommend you check out Mike Fagan's blog, (which usually has me either enraged by it, or enjoying it, either alternately, or simultaneously).

Another blog I recommend, which is completely unrelated to Taiwan, is about Montreal, politics, Montreal life, public transit, and Montreal culture. Very intelligently written. 


David on Formosa said...

I know that road very well. The police station at the top is called Yulao. There is a very nice cafe called Yina just around the corner from the police station. It's possible to drive through to the Shimen Dam or Northern Cross Island Highway from there. If you want to go deeper into the mountains it's also on the way to Smangus.

Bryan said...

Beautiful pictures! You're making me wish I could live in Taiwan now. :) I'd have to drive for 6 hours just to see anything resembling a mountain.

Thanks for sharing.

Van said...

Nice pics! I am going to have to hit you up for some directions. Looks like a fantastic ride.

Thoth Harris said...

Thanks for clearing the name of the place up, David. I mangled what I heard from the police officer (which I interpreted with my Pinyin as Wulao). I'm glad I know how to spell it now (Yulao). Yeah, one of these days, I'm gonna get to Highway 7. It's a joke to say that one has to go through Taipei or Keelung to get to Ilan. Not so, obviously. And Highway 7, and a lot of these mountain roads, are a lot smoother to drive on when one is navigating with 2 wheels.

Thoth Harris said...

Thanks, Bryan! For a moment, when I looked at your most recent post, I had thought you'd moved back to Japan. Of course you haven't but...as for me...it looks like I'm gonna be in Taiwan for a long time.

Thoth Harris said...

Thanks, Van! You absolutely must see those mountains! Particularly because you live even close to them than I do!

EpicuriousTravels said...

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