Monday, March 28, 2011

Pingtung II: Magical History Tour

Here is the second installment of my continuing saga of travel in Pingtung County, courtesy of the county government. Yes, four more days under the pineapple sun of southern Taiwan. This time I focused on history as the weather in the mountains refused to cooperate.

Friday and Saturday night I stayed at this excellent little B&B in Jiayi Village just down 185 from Shuimen town (清廬民宿, 屏東縣瑪家鄉佳義村1鄰泰平巷5-28號 08-799-0311/ 0921-586-661). The owners consisted of a Paiwan matriarch and her Hakka husband, retired principal of the local elementary school. The house above can sleep six in comfort and is done up in aboriginal stone plate style. It is surrounded by grass and flowers. The owner told me that the stones have to be turned over annually, which is troublesome and expensive, so they concreted it over. The inside is full of atmospheric knick-knacks, an eclectic collection of artifacts, very enjoyable. $1500 NT a night. Incredibly nice people too.

Grandma owner and grandchild.

Saturday morning I blazed down 185 to enjoy a magical history tour of Pingtung with Catholic churches, Hakka culture, and Japanese military infrastructure as my goals (map of Saturday's route).

185 is entirely flat and an easy ride.

The road runs N-S along the mountains and offers enjoyable views of the mountains right over your shoulder, and access to the rising tourism culture of the area, including the local coffee.

In front of a local military base I turned towards the Basilica in Wanjin, a famous local landmark. Cars are lined up to pick up sons at the base on a Saturday morning.

Some locals, waiting. Seeing that I stopped, they came over to have a chat. Taiwanese are always super friendly to people on bikes.

This and the Hakka village I was aiming for are located in Wanluan township. As you can see from the signs, the township does a wonderful job of guiding you to its many sites of interest.

The Basilica in Wanjin.

Local tourists.

The amazing mural in Wanjin.

Next to the Basilica is Art Coffee, with decent coffee and good food. Have the bagels with cheese and tomato, or the beef rolls.

The melange of iconography in the area offers moments like this, where a Mary statue and an earth god shrine are found opposite each other.

Next, I sped down one of the many long flat roads of the area....

...past the statue of Mary....

....to the Hakka village of Wugou. Wugou was designated an official historic village in 2008 and many of its buildings are old. A number are under renovation.

This interesting old building used to be a school.

I was so taken with Wugou that on Monday I returned to grab some more pictures.

It was then that I met Mr Jhou, recently retired after being a factory manager in Nigeria. He spoke excellent English, and told me that he had settled in the town to learn about it. We had a walking tour together.

They still give old school haircuts in Wugou.

An old house in the village.

Interesting tiles and paintings.

Some of the altars in these buildings appeared to be quite historical.

One of the houses being renovated.

More interesting tile.

A carved dragon supports the roof.

A small factory in the town.

Mr. Jhou took me out to the Half Moon Pond. Here are nearby irrigation works.

The pond is strongly defended by geese. They can insult me all they want; someday I will eat them.

Back on Saturday, I stopped to confirm my destination with a friendly policeman.

Then it was back to 185.

Past the pineapple fields to Fangliao along the ocean. Fangliao has an old American connection to the Rover Incident of 1867.

185 stretches into the distance. It is a truck route and the pavement is only in fair condition. It is especially bad on the southbound side.

A common sight: pineapple pickers.

I arrived in Fangliao in that twilight period after 10 between breakfast and lunch, and thus resolved to eat lunch in Jiadong.

In Jiadong I passed this statue of Mary Guanyin on my way to the famous Hsaio family residence, a large, restored 19th century house.

Posing in front of the Hsaio House.

The house contains numerous rooms with displays, antiques and photographs. Well worth a visit if you are in the area ($50). The town also contains many old houses.

The kitchen.

Another view of the entrance. Note the building next door, which appears to date from before WWII. Alas, it is not being restored.

Lunch. $59.

My next project was to find Yuguang elementary school, on whose grounds reside two Japanese period air raid shelters. They would have been cramped in a real air raid, and couldn't possibly have withstood a direct hit.

From there I took Ping115-1 past the airbase. It was a fascinating moment: it is so rare in Taiwan to face an infinity of flat space as desolate as this. Nothing but pineapple plants and fruit trees in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

I emerged into a four way intersection and saw down one road was this enigmatic tower. I decided to check it out.

Unfortunately, just as I neared the tower, The Call of the Wild and His Baying Hounds burst from under a fence and gave chase. Each hound was the size of a lion and sported eight inch fangs, combat armor, javelins, and a giant warhammer in each paw. Or so it seems when they are chasing you. I immediately broke the sound barrier and, pumping away, soon found myself biking on cobbled ruts, while the dogs, too sensible to chase me over rocks, stopped to watch, laughing, shaking their fists and deprecating my manhood. I am sure that they took one look at my bike and said to themselves: Hmmm, fat guy on 700 x 25 slicks. No way he can ride on those stones. He has to come back to the pavement. Lads! We’ve done treed this boy!

Fortunately I did manage to wend my way back to pavement after hiking along the rocky road for a short bit, but I missed my chance to inspect the tower.

I commented on the awesome Taiwan Airpower blog, and its owner, Wei-bin, got back to me with the skinny on the tower, informing me that it was once probably part of Kato Airfield in Pingtung, which no longer exists. Kato was bombed by the US in WWII, like most airfields in the area. After WWII it was used as a bombing range, he said. So as it worked out, I saw another bit of history, unintentionally....

After getting directions at a local temple, I returned to 185 and turned north, back to the B&B. Along the way I hit this aboriginal wedding, with guests resplendent in aboriginal clothing (video).

Wedding guests planning for their future wedding?

Snacks. Pork rolled in sticky rice and steamed. Delicious.

As I snacked, she took out some ceramics that were gorgeous. Seeing how much I loved them (too bad I can't show you all the pics), she immediately offered to take me up to the artist's ceramics workshop in nearby Jiayi village.

The workshop of the artist, Lageay Mavaliv, in Jiayi village (0927073630; vuvu5316 AT yahoo.com.tw)

He also paints.

We ended the day with my fourth cup of coffee at this little coffee shop that specializes in coffee grown in Pingtung (blog). It is right where 104 crosses 185 (0919975299).

On day 2 I stopped at Art Coffee again. Then it was up to Taiwu Township and the mountains. I was really hoping to get in some mountain riding, but the bike gods were surly this week.

Climbing up into the hills.

My target was Dawushan B&B (大武山民宿屏東縣泰武鄉武潭村老潭巷40號 886-8- 7920332). It is run by a retired couple. Perched on a ridge at 500 meters, it has wonderful views. The road up is a favorite of local cyclists and it was crowded on Sunday morning.

Dinner. The soup was superb. The owner will take you hiking into the mountains if you have time.

The view from my window in the morning, alas, included rain. I shifted gears and decided to cross Pingtung County to visit Donggang and another Pingtung playground, Dapengwan Scenic area.

Along the way I crossed this railroad line in several places, sometimes converted into a bike path. It is a bit of history: the old Taiwan sugar line through the sugar fields of Pingtung.

I hadn't been in Dapengwan in a dozen years and so was totally unprepared for the way the area has been transformed.

The local government has put in a large educational and administrative center and 16.8 kms of bike paths encircling the lagoon, along with new roads and other facilities. The goal is to create a water playground, according to the brochure I got at the administrative center. It is still in the larval stages at the moment.

Fishermen and farmers are still hard at work in the area.

Outside the administrative center there is a Fuji bike shop that acts as the rental and repair center for cyclists on the bike paths.

Cyclists gear up for a lagoon adventure.

From Dapengwan I headed over to Donggang, a hardworking port city with a rich history. Featured here is the imposing gate to the Donglung Temple, one of the numerous temples that crowd the area around the port. Donggang is the site of the famous boat burning festival that occurs every three years. Thanks to Robert Kelly of Pashan for suggesting Donggang.

Gaming in front of the Donglung temple.

Old friends meet on the bridge.

It is a working port crowded with boats of every description.

On the way to the Huachiao Fishing Port.

Unlike the faux tourist fishing ports in Taichung and elsewhere that I have been to, Huachiao is a working port and tons of fish are sold every day there....

...and processed too.

Indonesian crewmembers greet me.

I went north to Chaojhou to locate lunch and internet and perhaps visit some local historical sites. Alas, no luck with all three. Along the way I passed the Ba Da Forest Theme Park, whose gate is shown in this image. Words fail me, so I will let the picture tell the story.

I returned to Wanjin and the Art Coffee....

...and grabbed another pic of the Basilica. Tomorrow the CWB says the weather will improve. Looking forward to more biking!
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9 comments:

Okami said...

Much nicer than the first installment, having lived in the mountains of Xindian, I'm not terribly impressed with the mountains of Taiwan or the culture involved.

I'm surprised to see such old buildings well-maintained. It actually makes me want to visit the area. Changhua has the same light rail system once used for sugar as well. I'm surprised it wasn't/hasn't been ripped up for scrap when steel prices skyrocketed around 5 years ago.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Dapeng Bay is Taiwan's answer to Chicago's Big Dig. So slow is development that a lot of the stuff I first saw and wrote about in 2003 has been abandoned or torn down as it's gotten rusty and decrepit. Actually the project was put on hold for a few years during the end of CSB term (like so many others major tourism projects), in what seems hard not to believe was a deliberate attempt by the legislative to increase unemployment.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, the legislature dialed back on infrastructure development to hurt Chen, and then China's cut off of gravel exports really rocked construction here in Chens second term.

Thoth Harris said...

Michael, did you bicycle to different hotels and take your computer with you on your bike, or did you leave that kind of stuff at one hotel? I'm interested in how you managed such logistics. I myself, tend to be less practical or over-practical, depending on my whim, which tends to hinder my enjoyment of places at times.

Michael Turton said...

I took the car down, with everything in it. I didn't like it but could carry all the stuff I needed to have with me. I'd much rather do the whole thing on the bike.....

Taiwan BnB said...

Michael: I just wondering how did you find that BnB 清廬民宿 at Pintung for $1500 NT a night?
John Lee

Michael Turton said...

John Lee, the travel agent found it for me.

Benjamin Broder said...

Michael, I really enjoyed your pictorial. I congratulate you on your discipline when it comes to getting off your bike and taking pictures.

Gaby Risanto said...

Those geese picture and how you felt about them just made me laugh. What an amazing journey of self-discovery you have had.. We love Pingtung because it's magnificent seaside views and fresh air..