Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shinto ruins in Taiwan

During the latter part of the Japanese colonial period, the authorities promoted Shintoism and ordered the construction of Shinto shrines in several locations. Most of these places of worship were obliterated soon after Taiwan became part of Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China in 1945, and none of those which survived is in good condition, with the qualified exception of what's now Taoyuan Martyrs Shrine.

The most picturesque Shinto ruins are those above Jinguashi, near Keelung on Taiwan's northeast coast. The steps and base of another shrine (pictured above) can be found a few hundred metres from Fenqihu Train Station, in the highlands of Chiayi County, beside a short but delightful forest hiking trail. A different kind of quasi-religious relic from the Japanese era, now known as the Feng An Sanctum, stands in Tainan's Xinhua District.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Taking the logging train at Fenqihu

Tourists pose in front of the diesel locomotive and carriages just ahead of the 14.00 departure from Fenqihu (奮起湖) to Chiayi City (嘉義市) via Zhuqi (竹崎) on the century-old Alishan Forestry Railway. The narrow-gauge railroad - which was out of action for some years following 2009's Typhoon Morakot - is renowned not only for the elevation it climbs (from 30m above sea level to more than 2,200m at Alishan National Forest Recreation Area) but also for the up-close views of tropical, temperate and montane forest passengers enjoy. On weekdays, it seems, the train isn't always fully booked ahead of departure, but getting your tickets in advance (you can reserve and pay up to 14 days before you travel) is certainly a good idea; it would only take a couple of sizable tour groups to fill all five carriages.
Life of Taiwan can book tickets as part of a mountain-and-tea tour. Such excursions typically include driving from Nantou County along the New Central Cross-Island Highway. This route often provides superb views of Mount Jade and other lofty peaks. We recommend getting off at Zhuqi (sometimes spelled Jhuci; station shown in final picture), a bucolic inland town, thereby avoiding the traffic around Chiayi City and providing easy access to the scenic No. 3 Freeway. One-way from Fenqihu to Zhuqi or Chiayi City is NT$240 per person.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Kaohsiung's National Stadium

Last month I attended a meeting at Kaohsiung's National Stadium (國家體育場), a landmark building completed just ahead of the 2009 World Games. The stadium hosted the Games' opening and closing ceremonies. It's in the northwestern part of the city, next to the ROC Naval Academy, and can be seen on the seaward side of the KMRT Red Line if you're travelling between Zuoying (Kaohsiung's high-speed railway station) and Ciaotou. Since the World Games, the stadium has been Taiwan's no. 1 soccer venue, and often hosts pop concerts.
There are several small bodies of water around the 40,000-seat stadium, plus an artificial creek. These were added for aethetic as well as environmental reasons, and work well. I was amazed at the number of fish (including some at least 20cm long), and less surprised to see egrets taking advantage of this food source.
Ahead of the meeting, I had time to walk the whole way around the stadium, which stands on a 19-hectare plot of land and cost a reported US$170 million. The architect, Japan's Toyo Ito (伊東豊雄), was awarded the 2013 Pritzker Prize, and I wouldn't be surprised if this stadium was a major factor in his winning.

Various tree species have been planted, including betel nut (shown in the third image). It's well known that the cultivation of betel nut on hillsides leads to erosion; the palm has very shallow roots, and because the leaves provide so little shade, topsoil dries out quickly. But on flat land they're OK, I suppose.

As with other recent infrastructure projects in Taiwan, public art (fourth and fifth photos) adds colour to the surroundings. What isn't obvious from street level is that much of the roof is covered with electricity-generating solar panels which produce about 80% of the power used by the stadium each year. However, because many of the events are held at night, but the panels produce electricity during the day, the stadium's management are able to sell surplus power to the national grid almost every day.
Rather than having a conventional circle or oval shape, when seen from the sky the stadium looks a little like a question mark which has lost its dot. The photo below comes from a Kaohsiung City Government webpage.