Monday, August 27, 2007

City of Photo Ops

On a perfect Saturday in August, Jeff Miller and I decided to check out some of the military works dating back to the 19th century that dot the ridges around the city of Keelung. (click on any pic below to be taken to its Flickr page for larger size)

Apartments and a school near Jeff's place. The day didn't look very promising when we started out (pan, composite of 5 pictures).

The day began in the massive apartment complex where Jeff lives, just outside the city of Keelung. Here people are setting up for the massive ghost month celebration that we saw later in the day, that Saturday being the first day of Ghost Month. Keelung is famous for its ghost month festivities.

Stopping for java at IS Coffee. It may just be me, but almost any of the local chains serves up a better cappuccino than Starbucks. Even McDonalds is better, when they remember to clean the machine.

In nearby An Le District...

The vendors were out making breakfast....

...and the police were out writing tickets for illegally parked cars. Pinch me -- is that for real?

Our trail followed the opening steps of a previous hike through some of the Qing-era defensive works we had gone on a few years before. Here we follow a stream near the exit for Badu off of Highway 1 to the base of a ridge outside of Keelung.

Beautiful flowers lead the fight back against the gray concrete world of Taiwan residential areas.

We strolled through this community of small, older homes.

Like this home, for example.

Jeff heads uphill.

When we reached the top of the ridge, Jeff indicated a bamboo thicket. "Here's the trail!" he announced. I deny that I gave vent to strong sentiments of doubt and skepticism in colorful American dialect.

The bamboo leaves were warm and wet, hosting only a couple of leeches.

The trail was marked, informally, by handwritten signs, and by little blue pennants left either by a trekking club or a water resource assessment.

During the Sino-French War (Jeff's excellent blog entry) the French grabbed the port of Keelung, apparently in an attempt to save the city from its future of Starbucks, Burger King, and casino cruises. The Qing sent 12,000 troops, and along with forces raised locally, surrounded the French soldiers, occupying the high ground around the city. Built in a volcanic caldera, Keelung is almost ideal for such a defense, surrounded as it is on every side by steep ridges. Bottled up in a miniature Gallipoli, the Qing achieved a strategic success over the French, who were unable to take Taipei or seize the coal mines nearby.

As a result, the ridges around Keelung are littered with old forts, observation posts, trenches, and other defensive works, the remains of French, Qing, Japanese, and KMT defensive works, often built one on top of the other. Jeff explained that the larger constructions, including forts the Qing built in the 19th century, were close to the water, and are now lost under the modern city. In this photo the wall of a trench is all but hidden by the undergrowth.

When it reaches the top of the ridge, the path dives into the trench system. Here Jeff stands inside an old trench.

This cleared area is all that remains of an old observation post and strongpoint.

Here the path into the post crosses over its wall.

What's that hidden in the brush?

A marker.

I climbed up onto the wall of the observation post to have a closer look.

Covered on three sides by writing, Jeff deduced that the marker must be a relic of the Japanese period, as it had "security forest boundary" on one side. In the Japanese period the port of Keelung was a restricted area. The smaller marker is a modern survey marker.

Here Jeff stands in the observation post. The view over his shoulder gives some idea of the view northwest over the surrounding hills. In those days, of course, all this brush didn't exist and views would have been unobstructed.

The presence of all that brush is a reminder of how vulnerable these historical sites are. The Keelung city government is sitting on a wonderful tourist attraction -- with some care, nice wooden walkways, some high quality presentation, and the incredible views, this could be a popular tourist outing. I can't decide whether it is better that the works are quietly rotting on the hillsides, undisturbed except by time, or whether they should become just another fake-brick-and-sausage-vendor experience like so many other tourist sites in Taiwan.

The origin of the mysterious blue pennants we saw everywhere along the trail?

As we followed the ridge up, the views were excellent. Here is Badu and Changgun Hospital. The cleared area in the right center is a modern military installation.

Jeff said that the cemetary actually marks the site of many deaths that took place during a struggle between powerful local clans.

A close up of the modern cemetary.

Of course, we were not the only carnivores out on the ridge that day.

Although it is not well marked, the trail is easy to follow, once you find it at the top of the ridge.

A cicada rests on tree limb. We disturbed many of these large insects, and they buzzed by us angrily.

Blockhouses and ammo storage, probably dating from the Japanese period.

A gun platform.

It started to drizzle, as the spot on the lens shows, but soon cleared up.

From the blockhouse the views are good, but we moved on to an even better place.

A very unusual spot to find one of these spiders -- they usually prefer to anchor their webs to trees or bushes with springy branches, not leaves.

The views over Keelung are superb.

Here a marker denotes some famous Keelung sights. Unfortunately, as with so many parks I've been to in Taiwan, the construction is poor and the picture has yellowed and is illegible in many places. Sad.

I did a series of panoramas, but none of them worked out very well. This one shows the city.

This one turned out pretty well, I thought.

With the water in the center and ridges on all sides, Keelung is a cramped, crowded city.

Hard to take a bad picture from along the ridge.

Train tracks and bridges abound.

31x digital telephoto.

In case you don't know where you are, the city has thoughtfully placed a sign on the hill.

Here Jeff grimaces as he yanks on a screw pine. Jeff explained that the Qing soldiers planted screw pine around their defensive works. It has pointed leaves, making it annoying to move through, and breaks when tugged strongly, making it impossible for attacking troops to pull themselves up the hill by using it. Jeff observed that if you see large quantities of screw pine on the slopes, you're probably looking at an old Qing defense work.

If only the Qing had managed to invent the internal combustion engine, wrecks of their Nissans wouldn't litter the trails around Keelung.

If you dive off the trail and into the forest, many interesting finds await. What's this underneath that tree?

An old strongpoint. This one faces the city. Who built it is unclear, but the size of the tree growing over it suggests it must predate the KMT occupation of Taiwan.

As we stood speculating on the date and purpose of the blockhouse, this centipede, longer than my foot, came scurrying out to see if we were edible.

The hills are also studded with farms and homesteads.

Either a pack rat or really into recycling, the old man was sitting outside sharpening a knife and steaming his lunch. He gave us directions to a trail that would take us down into the city.

We plunged back into the forest and followed a steep muddy trail until we hit this culvert and found the city. We were not actually lost. Real men don't get lost. We were just trying out several different trails.

Free range chickens.

With its old-Taiwan feel, cozy streets, beautiful hills and port, Keelung offers many wonderful photo ops. I can't decide whether Tainan or Keelung is more congenial to the photographer.

Down in the red light district, this son of a betel nut seller showed us his best Asian Sign of Picture Taking.

Market time.

On a beautiful Saturday, a day off for most workers, and the first day of Ghost Month, the streets were packed.

A Keelung street. The clouds had disappeared and the sun was ruling the streets.

A vendor rolls up instestines into little balls for sale.

Economizing on helmets, a family speeds past a large truck used in religious processions.

A pan of the harbor turned out beautifully.

After stopping at Burger King for a healthy, low calorie lunch, we decided to walk back out of the city. When we reached this feast for the Ghosts, in their usual friendly way, the locals insisted we photograph the whole thing.

Especially the freshly-killed pig.

The head table.

One of the organizers of the festivities takes a break.

In the alleys the noise of the street disappears.

Tea shop and temple flow into one another.

With the ridges rising steeply over the city, there are many opportunities to put the telephoto to good advantage.

This temple is famous for offering a "store" for Ghosts.

Those six day work weeks are killer.

When we returned to Jeff's community after five hours of walking, we encountered this massive festival. Here celebrants line up to light their incense tapers.

Crowds of people lined the road into the community.

And of course, an announcer.

Tables crowded with delicious stuff.

A shot from atop the activity center.


MJ Klein said...

great post Michael. this is second best to actually being there. hope i can make it next time.

tmarc said...

Great shots and commentary - as usual. Thanks for sharing.

I don't know about you, but the longer I stay in Taiwan and hike in the bush the more I am aware of poisonous snakes. I've seen so many over the years and I am definitely not as carefree as I once was.

Keelung is an interesting city that can be much improved as you mentioned. Besides the stench in the harbor, the biggest problem they have is the one freeway bottleneck that comes in through the tunnel from Taipei.

From what I've seen with future development (including huge new skyscraper apartment buildings that are planned and new recreations areas), this freeway will sure to become an even bigger bottleneck. I don't know how they can resolve this issue. There is no way to make it wider since buildings are already right up against the elevated highway.

P.S. There is a small dive (pub) that's been in Keelung for 40+ years called the Lucky Star Bar. It's in one of the first alleyways across from the bus station. Worth a look if you've been walking around all day and want to relax with a cold one.

Anonymous said...

Stunning photos Michael. I think it is time you produced an annotated photo book of Taiwan.
Regards, Geoff C. Adelaide

Michael Turton said...

The Lucky Star! We stopped by there, but it was dead, and we stank as only men walking in underbrush for hours can stink, so we walked on.

I suspect they will solve the bottleneck issue by widening the road through Jinshan, where there is another tunnel. Another alternative would be a spur highway that ran into Keelung from the west, using the route of the old railroad tunnel. That would involve wrecking a historic site.....

Jeff and I saw no snakes. Actually, I see them all the time around my house in Taichung. We were making so much noise...


SQJTaipei said...

awesome pics and comments... I sure wish I could have gone with you guys. Besides the hiking, I would have liked to join in the lo-cal fare at BK. :-)
I'll have to go hike there someday.

cfimages said...

Great pics and story Michael. I'm now inspired to get up to Keelung and spend some time exploring - the night market is the only place I've really been to there, but it looks like I'm missing out on a lot.