In October 2015 I set out from Taichung 台中 to attend a music festival in Nántóu 南投, the landlocked county in the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Since I don’t often have an opportunity to ride a scooter I allocated some extra time for onward exploration and ended up visiting many interesting and wonderful places, many of them quite obscure. What follows is the first part of a mostly visual record of this road trip around the geographic center of Taiwan…
After arriving in Taichung by train I picked up my ride, stopped for ice cream at the amazing Fourth Credit Union 第四信用合作社, and hit the road, cutting south through Dàlǐ 大里 into Wùfēng 霧峰. Here I stopped to photograph the iconic Jǐngxūn Gatehouse 景熏樓, originally constructed in 1867. What you see here is not the original building—it was severely damaged in an earthquake and rebuilt in an eclectic style fusing Western, Japanese, and traditional Chinese influences in the 1930s1. This gatehouse is part of the much larger Wufeng Lin Family Mansion and Garden 霧峰林家宅園, something I didn’t have the time to see on this trip, but would strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in Taiwanese architecture and history.
Further south I made a small detour to scope out Guāngfù New Village 光復新村, one of the very few military villages slated for preservation, and the 921 Earthquake Museum 九二一地震教育園區. I then merged with Provincial Highway 3 to cross the Wū River 烏溪 into Cǎotún 草屯. All photos from this point forward were taken in Nantou County.
A stone garden (shídiāoyuán 石雕園) by the roadside is the first thing that caught my eye after entering Nantou. The exact significance of each item escapes me but I’ve learned the traditional marble column is known as a huábiǎo 華表—and I’ve seen the orb described as a jiǔlóngqiú 九龍球 (“nine dragon ball”). Several stone lanterns line the laneway leading to Yùhuáng Temple 玉皇宮, a fairly large house of worship venerating the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝. I wondered if those lanterns had once belonged to a long-vanished Shinto Shrine 神社 but they seem a bit plain. The inside of the temple wasn’t all that unusual but I captured the traditional three-footed censer (sānzú yuánlú 三足圓爐) and a bunch of fortunes (qiān shī 籤詩) dangling from hooks on the wall.
The catastrophic 921 Earthquake struck Nantou in 1999, extinguishing thousands of lives, knocking down countless buildings, and reshaping entire landscapes. One of those landscapes is the Ninety-Nine Peaks 九九峰, rugged hills completely denuded of vegetation as a result of the many landslides caused by the quake. Much of the vegetation has grown back in the nearly two decades since then—but the jagged contours of these steep hills remain readily apparent to anyone passing through this valley on their way to Pǔlǐ 埔里 and Sun Moon Lake 日月潭. If you’re curious about this geographic feature have a look at this drone footage for more.
I made another brief detour to check out central Guóxìng 國姓, fully expecting to see some old shophouses or other points of interest, but saw almost nothing apart from the Koxinga 國姓爺 monument at the southern end of town. Guoxing is named after Koxinga, the pirate king who vanquished the Dutch and established the short-lived Kingdom of Tungning 東寧王國 in southwestern Taiwan. He never came anywhere near this part of Taiwan but several of his generals camped near here while engaging indigenous forces from the Kingdom of Middag (中文) around 1670. The wholesale slaughter spurned indigenous Taiwanese emigration from the coastal plains into the more remote Puli Basin 埔里盆地, which was not officially opened to Han Chinese settlement until 1875. It strikes me as a tasteless choice of names, not unlike naming a town after Christopher Columbus in America.
I arrived in Puli after nightfall, checked into a hotel, and went out for dinner at Yàzhuō Local Hakka Cuisine 亞卓鄉土客家菜. This was a wise choice—it has since become one of my favourite restaurants in Taiwan and I always make a point of dining here when I’m passing through Puli.
That’s all for the first day of this trip. I covered around 60 kilometers in all, which is not a lot, but the goal was to take it easy and see more of Nantou County. I’ll have more to share in the near future as I work through the backlog of photographs and notes from this trip. Stay tuned!