Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Aborted Hike

We consider ourselves fortunate to live on the edge of town. The downside is that we do not have a wealth of variety in small restaurants and other stores outside of our door. But, it is quieter and I like to believe less polluted. One of my favorite aspects is that in a town full of concrete, we see a lot of green from our windows.

This weekend, we decided to go for a hike in the Dakeng Scenic Area that is located in the hills near our apartment. Long weekend bike rides have taken me through this area but we had not yet ventured onto the trails. Thinking of restaurants, we made an amazing find out on our way to the trail head. Tonton Philou is located just down the road from us. I am not sure what would bring an amazing French chef to a small restaurant on the edge of Taichung but we wandered in hoping for a treat. We were not let down. Quiche and a rosemary chicken risotto were whipped up in front of us and we left quite content.

Several minutes later we were at the trail's parking lot and began heading up a paved path too small for a car but not a hindrance for the ever present scooters. The path quickly gained elevation and we soon arrived at the official trailhead, a suspension bridge crossing a trickle of a river. Audrey did not like the crossing and hunkered down as low as possible with her toes spread wide. She shuffled across the bridge to find the trail.

From Dakeng

Up it went. The trail consisted of small logs formed into a ladder arrangement. Audrey is an athletic dog and charged up. Great! we thought. She can do it and we followed. The path got steeper and she began to have more and more difficulty. She would occasionally slip between two logs and take a hard hit. After several tumbles, we decided the risks of serious injury to our smiling pooch were increasing and turned around with little complaint from Audrey.

On the way down, we saw this monkey up in a tree and he came down to lay claim on an orange another hiker left out.
From Dakeng

Just one egg

"Ni hao," the ladies at our daily breakfast stopped called out as I walked up.

"Ni hao. Liang ge tsai bao," I reply ordering one of our regular breakfast items (liang = 2 and ge is a measure word used for indicating a number of something). This one is a steamed bun with some meat, veggies and bamboo inside. The tsai bao is already prepared and quickly put into multiple bags for us. No matter how much we try to ask for less plastic, each item gets crammed into a small plastic bag.

Please don't be fooled by the rudimentary Chinese above. I know little. Very little Chinese. For my class' science lesson I needed a hard-boiled egg - yep, we're starting plate tectonics. Eggs feature prominently on our breakfast rotation and I knew how to ask for one. "Wo yao yi ge dan." (I would like one egg.)

I anticipated her next move of grabbing an egg and cracking it over the hot griddle and the try to understand what I'm saying dance began. "Bu." (my attempt to say no). She looks at me oddly and puts the egg up. I ask for it again. She move to crack it. No. I attempt to gesture that I want the egg given to me but am not getting my point across. I ask again and as she is about to crack it open, I grab it out of her hands. Smiling a lot, I indicate that the uncooked egg is what I want. She looks as if I am truly an alien in her world and asks another lady what I should be charged. The lady just laughs uncontrollably and indicates that I can have the silly egg.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Into the Mountains

Have you ever bought a car without driving it or even seeing it? That's what we did and in many aspects it made life easier. Gone were the thoughts about what kind of car would we buy or how we would be able to find someone to help us translate negotiations. When we arrived at school a few months ago, our car was there waiting for us. It looked sturdy and reliable, if not a touch on the large size. When paperwork was finally processed, we hopped into the car and took off down the hill. Ooops, the brakes don't really work. Tires, well they are quite bald. The battery resisted its single role in life of starting the car. Finally, all these items were replaced and the Freeca (yep, that's the name of our four wheeled companion) drives us around town without issue. We sit high above the pesky scooters and swerving taxis and so far have felt secure in our about-town outings.

This weekend, we packed our bags and headed for the mountains. Getting out of town can easily be a 45 minute excursion but we eventually hit the steady flow of the freeway towards the mountains. After exiting, the Freeca faced its biggest challenge yet. The road climbed an incredibly steep incline. No switch backs here - just straight up. The engine groaned but the car pushed uphill with a gathering line of followers behind us. Thirty minutes of uphill struggles brought us to the Seitou Experimental Forest.

Hmmm, would Audrey be allowed in? We grabbed her and headed for the entrance as if there was no question about her admittance. A raised eyebrow or two was all that greeted us as we paid to enter. The area is quite nice with a variety of walking opportunities.

Bamboo Groves are amazing in the amount of light that enters...
From Seitou Experimental Forest & Sun Link Sea Park

large trumpet like flowers provided color
From Seitou Experimental Forest & Sun Link Sea Park

and monster ferns towered above our heads
From Seitou Experimental Forest & Sun Link Sea Park

After touring this area, we piled back into the Freeca and continued up, towards the end of the road where the Sun Link Sea National Park lies. Less than a kilometer before the park, we entered a long tunnel through the mountain. Midway through the tunnel, a thick band of fog filled the tube. It was eerie. We felt as if entering the unknown. At the end of the tunnel, we arrived at the park. The camping that we hoped for was not available but we had a great hike.

Dragon Falls in the distance
From Seitou Experimental Forest & Sun Link Sea Park

And to top it off, Krista found a four-leaf clover.
From Seitou Experimental Forest & Sun Link Sea Park

Other photos from this trip are on our picasa site...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Big Buddha on Baguashan

Shan. It is one of the first Chinese words that I learned. It could be that we live on Dongshan Road or it's just that I have an affiliation with open spaces and was attracted to the word meaning mountain.

After our disappointing adventure in the Taiwan Folk Village, we quickly thumbed the faithful Lonely Planet to see if we could redeem the drive out on this Saturday (see following post). We were in luck - a town close by has reportedly home to a 22-meter tall Buddha statue perched on top of a hill. We managed to find a few signs pointing in the approximate direction and headed in search of this Buddha.

The guide book mentions that Baguashan was once an important military lookout as the top offers views of the city and far out into the ocean. According to the LP, the end of the Sino-Japanese gave ownership of Taiwan to Japan which resulted in some upset Taiwanese. These locals fought a big battle on Baguashan which ended the military posting. I guess a lot of damage occurred, but there are no signs of violence up there today.

The area exudes a peaceful feeling. Maybe we lucked out and avoided the hordes transported by tour bus that are constantly sneaking up, but the hill was virtually empty. White-washed stone sentinels guarded the pathway up to the Buddha.

From Great Buddha Statue on Baguashan

Some of these "guys" looked a bit odd. Check out this one:
From Great Buddha Statue on Baguashan

Not to be outdone by the stone sentries, the next hurdle to pass was the squid ladies. Think tentacles. Lots of them. But these are no ordinary squid. Nope, these have been dried and flattened. The thought of eating one was scarier than the last sentinel.

From Great Buddha Statue on Baguashan

Eventually we came up the hill, rounded the turn and took in this majestic Buddha as he looked out over the town.

From Great Buddha Statue on Baguashan

The area surrounding up the Buddha was stunning. The grounds were simply immaculate. The statues and white painting gleamed, which is quite a feat here in Taiwan. A combination of pollution (and there is lots of it) and the tropical climate is hard on materials. Buildings that are 10 or less years old can look much older due to discoloration. But here, walls gleamed.

From Great Buddha Statue on Baguashan

Another Buddha with its belly polished due to constant rubbing for good luck (yes, Krista gave it the good 'ole rub), koi ponds, stone elephants and lions, and pagodas were also artfully placed on top of Baguashan.

To the Taiwan Folk Village

We pulled off of a main road and began heading up hill. The road was beautiful as it climbed atop a ridge line with views on both sides of the road. On a clear day, is that something that happens here, I would imagine the landscape to stretch out with undulating hills on one side and sneak views of the ocean far in the distance in the other. Around one corner, our discussion regarding the growing styles of pineapples came to a head as we neared a field.

From Taiwan Folk Village

The clucking of hens and rooster cries came from an adjacent building that we checked out as we turned around. There they were, packed in with little space in between. It's always sad to see all of these animals crammed into a tiny space.

From Taiwan Folk Village

Back on the road, we continued driving hoping that signs would eventually switch to English or Pinyin, the westernized form of Chinese. Eventually a brown sign popped up, pointing us to the right. We turned off and immediately dropped off the ridge through an insanely steep hairpin curve. A little farther down the road we again turned towards a large but empty parking lot. We had reached the Taiwan Folk Village.

Hoping for a cultural experience, we were let down. A mix between a low-end Disney World and Oregon's Enchanted Forest awaited us. Some of the architecture and housing set-ups were interesting.

From Taiwan Folk Village

From Taiwan Folk Village

From Taiwan Folk Village

The rest of the expansive area was mobbed with a university orientation. Students were engaged in all sorts of team building activities and it was quite humorous watching them. For those of you already lining up to come visit, enjoy the photos at the link, cause we ain't goin' back.