Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City to Fenglin

Betel Nut Booth in the Wilderness

My second day of riding Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 was not everything I hoped it would be. I didn’t manage a proper night’s rest due to a malfunctioning air condition and woke up feeling weak and dehydrated. With temperatures hitting 35°C on the road, and with fewer convenience store stops along the way, it turned out to be the most difficult day of riding on this particular trip back in May 2018. I originally planned to detour into the mountains to visit the village of Tongmen 銅門 and cruise around Carp Lake 鯉魚潭 on my way south. Instead I elected to head straight down Provincial Highway 9 through Ji’an 吉安 and Shoufeng 壽豐 into Fenglin 鳳林 to make up for lost time. Although I didn’t see nearly as much as planned I am glad to have an excuse to return to this part of Taiwan.

Sanqing Sanyuan Temple 三清三元宮

Inside Sanqing Sanyuan Temple

Sanqing Sanyuan Temple 三清三元宮 is an unusual attraction in Fuxing 福興, immediately to the south of Lukang 鹿港 in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. It was constructed over the course of nearly two decades by Huang Chi-Chun 黃奇春, a former soldier who moved here in the late 1970s. This otherwise modest structure is adorned with thousands of seashells, pieces of coral, and other oceanic oddments—which is why it is more commonly known as the Changhua Shell Temple 彰化貝殼廟.

Suhua Highway Road Trip 2018 蘇花公路機車之旅

Looking South Along the Qingshui Cliffs

In May 2018 I seized an opportunity to ride the beautiful and dangerous Suhua Highway 蘇花公路 (中文) from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Su’ao 蘇澳 in Yilan 宜蘭. I had previously taken this same route on bicycle back in 2013—a harrowing trip I’ll never forget—so I was eager to drive a scooter and experience it at a different pace. I also visited a number of historic sites along the way, including several former Shinto shrines, as part of an ongoing project documenting various elements of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan. Much of the highway itself also owes something to Japanese engineering, having opened to vehicular traffic in 1931, but it has been continuously repaired and expanded since then.

The Chinese Temples and Guildhalls of Cholon

Thien Hau Temple, Cholon

On several recent trips to Ho Chi Minh City I spent some time wandering around Cholon, a vast and historic Chinatown located about five kilometers west of the downtown core of colonial Saigon. Originally settled in the late 17th century by ethnic Chinese settlers, the Hoa people 華人, it was known by its Cantonese name, Tai-Ngon 堤岸 (literally “Embankment”, but it is also roughly homophonous with “Saigon”). Later the Vietnamese dubbed it Cholon (“Big Market”) after the forerunner of the modern-day Binh Tay Market. The Hoa people were once the majority in Cholon but many fled persecution in the aftermath of Fall/Liberation of Saigon in 1975, and again during the Sino-Vietnamese War. Nowadays the Hoa people only account for approximately 5% of the population of Ho Chi Minh City (less than half the proportion of ethnic Chinese living in Toronto, my hometown) but their imprint on the streets of Cholon is readily apparent, particularly in the form of the many distinctive temples and guildhalls of the district.

Chishang Wuzhou Theater 池上五洲戲院

Exterior View of Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院

Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院 is the last remnant of cinema in Chishang 池上, Taitung 台東, a picturesque town located in the fertile Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan. Built in 1965 in the midst of the Taiwan Economic Miracle, it remained in business until 1982. After the final screening the theater was neglected for decades, falling into disrepair but remaining more or less intact until recently. More recently Chishang emerged as a tourist destination, spurning a local community development association to invest in revitalizing the theater in 2013.

Nantou Road Trip 2015: Ren’ai

Exploring Wujie Reservoir 武界水庫

My second day on the road in Nantou County in October 2015 was completely unplanned. I left Puli 埔里 and headed deeper into the mountains simply to see what was there, not having done any advance research. From a glance at the map I had a rough idea where I’d be going—deeper into traditional indigenous lands to the east of Puli Basin 埔里盆地. Ultimately I ended up visiting several settlements and two reservoirs in a few hours of riding around what is now known as the township of Ren’ai 仁愛.

Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓

The Derelict Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓

Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓 is an ugly ruin in the heart of Zhongli 中壢, a city of around half a million people in Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. Built at the dawn of the booming 1980s, it was home to a variety of entertainment businesses over the years, and appears to have been mostly abandoned sometime around the turn of the millennium. Much to my surprise I’ve not found much about this place online, which suggests whatever newsworthy calamities befell this derelict commercial building predate the era of digital journalism. Without any sources to draw upon I can only make some educated guesses about what I captured during a brief visit in the early days of 2017.

Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校

Yixin Vocational School 益新工商職業學校

Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校 is a relatively obscure but not entirely unknown ruin in central Taiwan. Located along the main road running through Linnei 林內, Yunlin 雲林, it seems to have been abandoned in the aftermath of the devastating 921 Earthquake, nearly two decades ago. Many schools were destroyed in the quake and scores more were condemned (most famously an entire university campus in Dongshi) but whether this particular school suffered the same fate isn’t certain.

People’s Park in the Sky

A foggy People’s Park In The Sky

People’s Park In The Sky is a peculiar attraction located about 60 kilometers south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular leisure destination in the province of Cavite in the Philippines. Perched on top of Mount Sungay at an elevation of 709 meters, the highest point on the northern rim of the immense Taal Caldera, it was originally planned to be a palace suitable for state visits during the kleptocratic reign of Ferdinand Marcos. Construction began in 1979 with a drastic leveling of the mountaintop, which previously reached 759 meters, but ground to a halt with increasing civic unrest and the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s state visit in 1983. Following the People Power Revolution of 1986 the unfinished mansion was transformed into a public park and monument to the greed, corruption, and excess of the Marcos era.

Chinese Chewing Gum

Chinese Chewing Gum

Recently I stopped in Shuili 水里 while on my way to Puli 埔里 by scooter. There, while waiting out a rainstorm on the main street in front of the historic train station, I noticed an unusual betel nut booth with a fetching green sign. “Chinese chewing gum” is a curious phrase, not one I recall noticing before, and it is also peculiar to see an exclusively English sign out here in the mountainous heart of the nation. Searching around, I chanced upon a short documentary describing betel nut as Taiwan chewing gum, which still sounds somewhat odd. What sort of gum gets you high and stains your teeth red?