Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City

Originating at Gangtian Temple

In May 2018 I embarked on a multi-day bicycle trip along the majestic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. Although I had previously cycled parts of this valley during my full tour of the island in 2013 I did so without really knowing what was there—and after five years I amassed quite a collection of notes about places I was interested in seeing up close. Several themes emerged while preparing for this trip: old standalone movie theaters, of which I had located more than a dozen; derelict railway infrastructure including stations, military checkpoints, and abandoned lines; and relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines. This post documents my first day of riding, which only began in the late afternoon after arriving by rail at Hualien Station. I had shipped my bike ahead so all I had to do was pick it up from the baggage room, throw the panniers on, and start riding.

Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral 中華聖母主教座堂

The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic church

Back when I was living in Tainan 台南 I made an effort to check out many of the temples I encounter in my daily travels around town. One day after breakfast, while riding along Kaishan Road 開山路, I stopped to check out what looked to be yet another temple across the street from the Koxinga Shrine 延平郡王祠. I was surprised to learn that despite the palatial Chinese architecture and seemingly traditional style of design this is a Catholic church, officially Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral 中華聖母主教座堂. Built in 1963, it is the top-ranking church in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tainan 天主教台南教區. The name is derived from Our Lady of China 中華聖母, an apparition of Mary that took place during the Boxer Rebellion 義和團運動 in China in 1900.

The Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店

Reflections of the Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店

Yesterday’s impromptu ride around the riverside bikeway network delivered me to the palatial Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店 (pinyin: Yuanshan Dafandian), a famous landmark in Taipei 台北. Located on a hilltop overlooking a bend of the Keelung River 基隆河 in Zhongshan District 中山區, it was established in 1952 at the behest of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 to provide the ruling elite with a luxurious place to host and entertain foreign dignitaries. The distinctive building seen in these photos was completed in 1973 and was the tallest building in the Free Area of the Republic of China until 1981.

Taipei’s Xiaonanmen 臺北府城小南門

Xiaonanmen on winter solstice

Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it is a record-breaking 30°C in Taipei 台北. In Chinese culture it is customary to consume tangyuan 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dongzhi 冬至, a time when families gather together and celebrate growing one year older. Since I have no family here I will be lining up at 36 Yuanzi Shop 三六圓仔店 for a bowl sometime later on—though I might just skip this particular ritual if the line-up is too crazy. Two years ago I was informed, contrary to expectations, that you won’t actually age without eating tangyuan on dongzhi. If I miss it this year I suppose I won’t mind.