A bike path near Dahu in Miaoli.
My friend Mark Roche, who is one of the most knowledgeable and active foreigners on cycling, camping, and hiking on Taiwan, was observing on Facebook that it was difficult for him to get information on the upcoming Sun Moon Lake swim. This Sunday event, a single day, consists of a swim across the lake which now has 27,000 participants and surges in growth every year. What used to be a fun athletic event is now an exercise in mass stupidity. The obvious solution to the burgeoning population of swimmers is to conduct multiple swims over a month or several months, spread out that surge of wealth and tourists for the lake, and reduce the possibility of deaths. Because that would be the intelligent way to do it, the authorities probably won't adopt it.
One reason the S and M Lake swim has become so popular is sociopolitical: it has now become one of the defining activities of the emerging Taiwan Identity. Other activities involved in this include cycling round the island (the premier activity of the Taiwan Identity, which many of the young engage in), cycling over Wuling, and climbing Yushan. Many locals have explained this to me.
Here is an interesting and I think neglected aspect of the emerging Taiwan Identity: a portion of this identity can be created and displayed to others through the performance of outdoor activities, through group or mass participation. My perception is that this is quite unusual in the Chinese cultural sphere, and shows how Taiwanese are different from Chinese. It also shows how Taiwanese have incorporated many aspects of modernity -- in this case exercise and outdoor exploration -- into their new identity, which is, like so many social identities, experienced and displayed via acts of consumption (in this case, outdoor tourism). It also has an aspect of "claiming" -- becoming or taking control of a place by physical performance. I'm sure there's a PHD thesis in here somewhere...
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