Monday, January 30, 2012

Various updates + more cycling pics and video

Various updates (from John):

One week of Chinese New Year visiting is over. Lots of goodness. One more to go.

My "permanant" crown was installed last week by Docter Shen. Smooth.

Reading The Alchemist.

SL and I are trying to walk for 2 hours every day.

Installed (recommended by Sun-Ling) some software that so far provides a hole in the Great Firewall, so I am able to fb, tumbl, tweet, and blog.

We will be flying to Kunming on Monday Feb 6. Looking forward to warmer dryer weather in Yunnan Province.

Pulled my Shanghai-based guitar out of the closet, dusted it off. Downloaded some software that does basic recording and used it to record some music for the video below.

Tried out some various free panorama programs. The results are below. None are as good as the free stitchers that came with my last Canon and Panasonic cameras and which are NOT installed on this computer. Argh!

As we said in previous post, we had some amazing bike rides around Guanshan, Taiwan. So here are more photos from those rides; some panoramas and one video. Enjoy!

Floral display along one of the Chishang bike routes and next to the Cultural Center and Rice Milling Co-op.

Flower Display - Chishang, Taiwan

Looking out on the flooded rice paddies near Chishang. You can see the bike path at left heading down the terraces and out into the paddies.
Rice Paddy + Bike Path = Chishang, Taiwan

Looking south down the East Rift Valley.
East Rift Valley - Chishang, Taiwan

View of Beinan River with a new bridge in the distance. We are about to head up to Wulu, a 500 meter elevation gain, as the road continues west along the river.
On our way to Wulu - Haiduan, Taiwan

Sun-Ling spinning along across the valley. Shot from my bike of course so it's a bit shakey.




Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chinese New Year

After a smooth trip back from Taipei to Shanghai, a good night's rest, and a vegetarian hot pot New Year's Eve dinner with Sun-Ling's parents, we hopped on the metro and headed over to Sun-Ling's sister's 25th floor apartment in Pudong to watch the fireworks. We were not disappointed.

As we arrived at the complex entrance around 9:30PM, we paused for several minutes to watch some fireworks being shot off the gate - no fireworks allowed inside the complex. From the 25th floor we had great views both north and south. Although we could not see the official display in People's Park, we could see hundreds of "personal pyrotechnics" which increased in number and volume as midnight approached.

The show at midnight was awesome. One neighbor, just outside our window, to the south set off a 25 minute long display that easily equaled what most cities in the US do for July 4th. Wow!

The next morning we caught the metro back to Sun-Ling's parent's apartment, arriving just in time for a family lunch - two big tables - at a local restaurant. Everyone was in a good mood with a sunny although cold day for the holiday. After lunch we had Sun-Ling-made tiramisu for her mother's birthday, and took the remainder next door to her Great Aunt's place for more visiting. It was great to visit with relatives we had not seen in the lat four years.

Happy Year of the Dragon to all our families, friends, and readers!!

A short unedited video of the fireworks looking to the northeast.



Friday, January 20, 2012

Rainy Keelung (Updated w/more pics)

Encouraged by the good weather in Taroko, we decided to brave Keelung, the rainiest city on the island, since the weather forecast looked more favorable than it had been all month. However as soon as we arrived in town, the weather on the ground and in the forecast declined steadily. To be fair, it was never more than a light rain the whole time we were there.

Keelung is an old port city. It is grubby looking and very dense. The market area was very lively to start with, with Chinese New Year coming up, it was particularly festive. There was a cruise ship in the port. I wondered how the passengers liked Keelung.

The second day we had a quick tour of the nearby sites.

1. Yehliu Geological Park, unusual rock formations on a cape
2. Jinguashi, an old Japanese mining site, now a park
3. Jiufen, an old hilly mining town, now a shopping arcade


This old Art Deco building, Harbor Mansion, across from Keelung Station looks a bit worn out, but still grand.
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The night market gets going.
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New Year treats at the night market.
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Yehliu.
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Yehliu.
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Very cool formations at Yehliu.
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The so-called Prince's Chalet in Jinguashi; built for a visit by Crown Prince Hirohito which never happened.
Prince's Chalet - Jinguashi, Taiwan

Back of the Prince's Chalet, complete with miniature golf course.
Prince's Chalet - Jinguashi, Taiwan

View from Jinguashi.
View - Jinguashi, Taiwan

Famous taro soup stall on the Jinshan shopping street in Juifen.
Famous Taro Soup - Juifen, Taiwan

View back to Keelung from Juifen.
View from Juifen, Taiwan

Wonderful Taroko

Taroko being a top destination for Taiwan, I could not help but have certain expectations. It delivered. We put off coming a day because of an unfavorable weather forecast. However, the first day was completely clear, our only clear day in Taiwan. The second was only a little bit cloudy.

Due to landslides a few of the trails were closed. Considering the park charges no admission, I really could not fault them for not fixing their trails faster. Given the special geological formation of the hills and unstable earth they are perched on, the park has an uphill battle. In fact, John and I each felt an earthquake while in Taroko (John: 3.6 same county, me: 3.7 same township). Since it is only 3.6, John cannot not really cross earthquake off his bucket list.

The first day we wanted to do a long hike. Since the Baiyang Waterfall Trail was completely closed, we picked the Wenshan-Lushui trail which required a permit. We started our day at the park police getting a permit which is a first for us. The trail turned out to be very technical. For the first three hours we were scrambling up and down rocky paths and rocks. We averaged one kilometer an hour, another first for us. After about one kilometer of relative flat, the last kilometer was straight down with a many steps. We wanted to hike, we had it. Our trail connected with the Lushui-Heliu trail which was very scenic along the rock face by the river.

The second day we took buses to see some of the highlights of the park. We found the new services by Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus really allowed us to be based inside the park and visit the different sites effectively. The park has some sites!

Sun-Ling on the Wenshan-Lushui Trail.
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Taroko Gorge from Wenshan-Lushui Trail. That's our hotel at very bottom of the shot.
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Resting on the 3rd suspension bridge of the day.
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John on the Lushui Trail.
- Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

View of gorge from Eternal Spring Pavilion.
- Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

The clear blue waters of Shakadang Creek.
Shakadang - Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

The road through Swallow Grotto.
Swallow Grotto - Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Swallow Grotto.
Swallow Grotto - Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two lifts in one day

Today we were offered and accepted two lifts. Last night our nice Guanshan homestay offered to give us a lift to the train station. I declined, a trifle 15-minute walk with our backpacks, our normal routine. As it was still raining this morning, when they offered again at breakfast, we accepted.

After a slow three-hour train ride we arrived at Xincheng, the station for Taroko Gorge National Park, a top destination for Taiwan. From my research online I knew we had over two hours to kill before a bus can take us to Tiensiang inside the gorge, where we will be based. We had lunch, bought some provisions, and caught a bus for the 5km to the park headquarters. At the headquarters we got a map, inquired about various trails, and sat down to wait for our bus. A young woman walked up to us saying that they are going to Tiensiang -- would we like a lift in their car? We immediately accepted. The young couple is from Kaohsiung. They are on their honeymoon. Their English was so good that we were surprised that neither uses English for work. Since we learned that the turnout rate for last Saturday's election was expected to be 80%, John asked what they did about the election -- they waited for the polls to open at 8AM and then started driving on their honeymoon. What exemplary citizens! Along the drive, the three passenger were uh-wowing over the passing scenery, the poor driver had to really concentrate on all the twists and turns. In Tiensiang, we bid farewell to our benefactors at the visitor center and got a cozy room at our chosen hotel -- we did not choose to squander our money at the five-star hotel.

We travel simply and independently, refrain from paying for obsequiousness. Just so, we are always braced for the kindness of strangers.

View from our balcony at the Tianxiang Youth Activity Center in Taroko Gorge National Park.
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With the honeymooners who gave us a ride to Tianxiang.
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

We are finally cycling

From Kaohsiung, we took the train south and came around on the east side of the island to Taitung. There were so many tunnels, at some point it seemed that we were spending more time inside tunnels than out. Some engineering!

After our Meinong fiasco we checked in at the Taitung Tourist Office at the station. They assured us that they are plenty lodging options at our destination, Guanshan in the East Rift Valley. No worries. We got back on the train for another 30 minutes to Guanshan. First we tried to stay in town. We were getting virtually the same results as Meinong except we did not have as far to walk. We then walked out of town where there are at least half a dozen homestays. We started to have better luck, and ended up staying at only the second place we looked, "Nature Village," super clean, good bikes, nice view, breakfast, wifi, and run by a very genial family.

We picked to come to the East Rift Valley because this time of the year there are supposed to be thousands of acres of flowering rapeseed, cosmos, etc. We failed to find many flower fields, granted East Rift Valley is about 100 miles long. Instead we fell into bicycling heaven. There are bicycle paths all over the place, connected by lightly traveled or restricted roads. Under the tutelage our landlord, we made three excursions (we extended our stay by a day), each more invigorating than the previous.

Day 1: Guanshan -> Chishang
Day 2: Guanshan -> Luye
Day 3: Guanshan -> Wulu

Even though we end up riding some in the rain each day, We had such a good time bicycling John is threatening to come back here so we can ride up and down each road.

Day 1: Guanshan -> Chishang:

Locals picking rapeseed shoots (greens)in Guanshan.
Guanshan, Taiwan

Planting rice with machinery (at far right).
Guanshan, Taiwan

Safety signage on the Chishang bike route.
Bike Route - Chishang, Taiwan

Sun-Ling beside Taitung Bike Route 2-2 info.
Chishang, Taiwan

Studying maps before digging into our vegetarian lunch boxes in Chishang.
Lunch - Chishang, Taiwan

Sun-Ling on a "boardwalk" portion of the Chishang Bike Path.
Chishang, Taiwan

Typical East Rift Valley scenery between Chishang and Guanshan.
Between Chishang and Guanshan - Taiwan

The two of us on the Beinan River Bridge in Guanshan.
Guanshan, Taiwan

Day 2: Guanshan -> Luye:

Celebrating cresting the first major hill of the day.
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Small banana plantation in Luye.
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Route marker and pineapple field.
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Enjoyed stopping at this Bike Service Station in Luye for a water bottle fill-up, a map, and some route advice from the woman on duty....Lots of bikes for rent but no business today, Saturday January 14, as it is Election Day in Taiwan.
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Day 3: Guanshan -> Wulu:

View from just outside our room at Nature Village homestay.
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Ascending the Southern Cross-Island Highway Route 20 from Guanshan at about 250 meters above sea level to Wulu at about 800 meters. Sun-Ling never had so much fun going uphill even though this section was continuously uphill for 10km.
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John at the Wulu suspension bridge, the turn-around point, about 30km from Guanshan.
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Descending from Wulu.
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The final photo of the day, which I forgot to take would be our hotel room strewn with wet, semi-wet and drying clothes and gear. It poured the last 10K of the ride, luckily after the steepest downhills.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan. It seems more modern, less traditional than Taipei. Between the bay, harbor, and the Love River canal, Kaohsiung has a lot of attractive waterfront. Kaohsiung also has a metro, Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit System or KMRT, with some architecturally interesting stations, some with self-service bike rentals. There has been a concerted effort to include bike lanes around town. We had no trouble filling a day walking around the city and feeling the energy of an up-and-coming city.

Formosa Boulevard Metro Station.
Metro Station - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Self-Service Bike Rentals outside Central Park Station. Use your credit card. First hour free!
Bikes - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

A mall near Central Park Station.
Mall at Night - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Bike lane in the downtown.
Bike Lane - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The harbor as seen from the former British Consulate building.
Harbor - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Four scoops of ice cream as seem from the cafe at the former British Consulate.Ice Cream - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The Old City Hall is now the Kaohsiung History Museum.
Old City Hall - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meinong fiasco

Meinong is a Hakka village in Kaohsiung County that has a pretty setting and good bicycling. It is 1.5 hours from Tainan and 1.5 hours from Kaohsiung. It is a little far for a day trip. At my insistence, we decided to spend a couple of nights there to fully enjoy bicycling, even though the village seemed a little spread out.

From Tainan, we got the bus at 9 o'clock and transferred at Qishan. By 11 we were in Meinong. We walked to a nearby guesthouse. The rooms were barely acceptable for one night. John suggested that we leave the backpacks at the station and then walk around. In three hours of walking under a hot sun we were able to locate just three out of the six homestays, but no was home. The kind people at the village folk museum called them all for us. No one answered except for one that was 2 km outside and named an outrageous price. Meinong is in a pretty enough valley but did not give off good enough vibe for me to stay in a cell or be fleeced. After a quick lunch, we got on the 2:20 bus to Kaohsiung, which had been in and out of our itinerary many times. It is now in by default.

I pride myself at sniffing out tourist traps like Meinong. Never ever have we showed up somewhere planning on staying the night and ended up leaving for the next town. I re-read guidebooks, online info, but still could not figure how I misjudged Meinong.

A field of cosmos in Meinong.
Cosmos - Meinong, Taiwan

Our tasty lunch; the local noodle specialty prepared vegetarian.
Local specialty (vegetarian style) - Meinong, Taiwan

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