A desire to see the ruins of Longteng Bridge brought me to Sanyi, my last stop in Miaoli County. And as far as I can tell, the town is known for two things: its woodcarving industry, and its well-preserved railway station on the now-defunct Old Mountain Line (Shengxing Station).
Xiangtian Lake is home to the Saisiyat tribe (賽夏族), one of Taiwan’s smaller indigenous groups (Wikipedia says around 5,311 members as of 2000). Here you will find a large field used for the tribe’s Pas-ta’ai Festival (矮灵祭), a museum, a scenic path around the lake, and a mountain trail that isn’t terribly long. Lining the lake path were various stalls selling honey (look at this! One hawker said holding up a massive sheet of bees), sausages, tea eggs, dried pork, and brown sugar. It’s hard to comment on the beauty of the lake because everything was blanketed in fog, but the museum had an impressive collection of cultural artifacts (with English descriptions). There was also a small theatre showing films on local history and mythology (in Chinese).
I want to sleep at a few temples during the trip, so hopefully Quanhua ends up being the first of many. It’s located on Lionhead Mountain in Miaoli County, and it’s one of about ten temples scattered across the mountainside (all connected to the Lionhead Mountain Historical Trail that runs around 3.5 km all the way back to the visitor center where the bus from Zhubei drops you). I played with the idea of attempting the trail, but ominous clouds and my treacherously slippery running shoes made me think better of it. And I’m glad I did. It gave me some time to enjoy Quanhua and the (by my count) 3 temples, 2 shrines, 2 pavilions (gazebos), and a pagoda in its immediate vicinity.
I took a side trip to Neiwan on my second day in Zhubei. Located in the mountains of Xinzhu County, Neiwan a former lumber town that turned to tourism to reverse its declining economic fortunes. It also has an unusually high density of go-kart tracks.
One of Mr. Chen’s many offers was to join him on his daily hike up a nearby mountain. I eagerly accepted, only to find out later that his daily hikes take place at 6am.
I made a neat little discovery in Xinzhu: the 貞節牌坊, or as it has sometimes been translated into English, “the Monument to Virtue.” These large stone carvings commemorate outstanding feats of female virtue during the Qing dynasty. What’s interesting though is what constituted this idealized virtue at the time. This was the five-step process:
The natural next stop would have been Xinzhu, but having been administered a staggering dose of urbanity at my previous stop I decided to mix it up by going to Zhubei instead. And, ever the fatalist, my lodgings search consisted of entering ‘民宿’ on Google maps and calling the owner of the dot farthest away from train station.
The little gods of dice rolling didn’t disappoint.
Lesson of Zhongli #1: When a local tells you the only reason to visit their home town is the night market and the university, don’t go there. I didn’t even get to see this important landmark, the tepidly-named ‘sightseeing night market.’ It was cancelled tonight due to rain.
Instead I wandered around alleys, which gave a stark if delusive impression of urban decay as only Taiwanese cities can. Which brings me to…
Lesson of Zhongli #2: Tripods are great and I can’t believe it took me so long to get one. This is going to increase my alley wandering by, like, at least 62%.
The East China Sea territorial dispute between China and Japan figured prominently in various geopolitical risk forecasts for 2014, and with good reason. Neither side shows any sign of standing down, and with every new military deployment near the contested area comes an increased risk of a small-scale military incident spiraling into war.
According to the best laid plans of several world governments, January 22nd will see the UN-brokered “Geneva II” talks attempt the near impossible task of negotiating an end to the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed over 130,000 people so far and displaced millions. Or, alternatively, the talks might be over before they even begin, boycotted by a major party or doomed to fail by immovable and hostile negotiating positions. Either way, Geneva II’s prospects for success are presently wallowing in the gray area between ‘slim’ and ‘none.’
After years of declining output, Mexico’s energy industry looks like it will be turning a corner in 2014. Legislation was passed in December to end the monopoly long enjoyed by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and open the industry up to much-needed foreign investment. After the energy bill is ratified by a majority of Mexico’s states (it is expected to pass without a problem), the first licenses for foreign energy companies will be issued in late 2014.
A three day layover in Frankfurt en route to Taiwan provided a perfect opportunity to check out Mainz, the birthplace of mass literacy and home to a Chagall stained glass that has long been on my list of things to see.