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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thinking About Sheng-Shing Station (勝興車站) and the Nature of Touring Taiwan

Bike Routes Around Sheng-Shing

Yesterday, Taiwan's central government kicked off its 2011 tourism campaign in which cycling appears quite prominently as one of Taiwan's 10 major attractions.

The government has narrowed the campaign into three key ideas; 1) "Tour Taiwan 100", an obvious (and shamefully ideological) focus on the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China, which first arrived in Taiwan between 1945 and 1949. 2) Authentic Taiwan, an attempt to distill and locate Taiwan's cultural authenticity through invented symbols and meanings provided by the government. 3) Great Service in Taiwan; a plan to woo Chinese tourists with Taiwan's strange and exotic service culture.

Authentic Taiwan will promote the culture and traditions of Taiwan through four key events, one for each season: Taiwan Lantern Festival (Spring), Taiwan Cuisine Festival (Summer), Taiwan International Cycling Festival (Autumn) and the Taiwan Hot Springs and Fein Cuisine Carnival (Winter). In conjunction with these events, there will also be a number of new initiatives such as ‘Taiwan Tea Adventure’ and ‘Taiwan Night Market Competitions’ designed to promote the other aspects of culture on the island.

It appears the bicycle aspect of this campaign will focus on East Coast tourism and "Aboriginal" entertainment.

This news could not have come at a more fortuitous time for this blogger, who was just about to write a little bit about his trip through Sanyi, and specifically, Sheng Shing Station (勝興車站)with some interesting insights into this tourist attraction and others like it in Taiwan.

Route Marker

Sheng Shing Station is the site of an old Japanese Colonial era train stop along the old North-South route to Kaohsiung, which was completed by 1908.

The area is located in the foothills just above Sanyi, a town that is regarded as a Hakka town predominantly populated the descendants of Hakka speaking immigrants from the foothills of Qing era Fujian, and the descendants of Kaxabu and Taokas speaking indigenous peoples who have lived in and around the Dajia River basin and river valley for thousands of years.

Japanese Era Building?

At first glance it appears the hoards of tourists that descend on Sheng Shing Station each weekend are looking for the things many tourists around the world seek when they travel; a little escape from their hectic lives in the cities. Here they seek some type of refuge in a little idyllic rail road town full of shops pedaling "traditional" food and handicrafts. These tourists may also hope to enjoy some of the authentic "local Hakka culture", eat authentic "local" food, and see lives that are different than their own.

In Sheng-Shing visitors can walk the old cobbled streets, enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the traditional, antique buildings and really get a feeling of authenticity of what life in this little town must have been like during its heyday almost a century ago.

Romantic Getaway From City Life

At first I was fascinated at how the local people had located their cultural and historic authenticity in the Japanese Colonial period (1895-1945), which had been so reviled by the Chinese Nationalists when they arrived on Taiwan. The Chinese Nationalists spent an enormous amount of energy trying to eradicate any residual evidence of the 50 years the Japanese spent colonizing and transforming Taiwan into a model colony of the Japanese Empire. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) hoped to eradicate the Japanese "taint" and replace it with the symbols and meanings of their own Chinese Nationalist colonial project.

The task would have been too great as the social and structural implications of the Japanese colonial project were just too great and too deep to destroy. It would have meant burning Taiwan to ashes. Therefore, several structures like this old station remain and communities have constructed entirely new local identities around these vestiges of life during the Japanese era.

What I found so interesting was that without the Japanese experience, these local communities like Sheng-Shing would look much different or might not exist at all. Moreover, the local residents have made the projection of their Japanese experience their raison d'etre. It is not a Chinese identity or a projection of Qing era Hakka culture. Instead, the locals have chosen to "other" themselves to exist in a different time or mythical past than the tourists. The tourist is allowed to break from achronological time and visit people and places from the "past".

At first this seems astounding that an identity from the Japanese colonial period, which has long been over, could still find salience in modern Taiwan.

Hakka Food

I then stepped back a little and considered that the locals may not necessarily fix their identity in the symbolism of the Japanese era, but instead may be responding to provide the tourists with exactly what the tourists want to see.

They have constructed a facsimile of a Japanese era railroad town with faux cobbles in the streets, imitation wood facades covering more recent concrete-box buildings, and quaint little shops or stalls to sell the things that probably never existed in the time and place being portrayed by the locals.

The locals have created a fabrication to satisfy the exotic fantasies of the visitors, who, themselves, have located and identified Shing-Sheng's authenticity in a particular time, which is the actual object of desire-- not the locals.

Sheng-Shing Station Street

I was then reminded of one of my favorite passages from Michael Taussig who examines the way indigenous/local cultures, which have become the object of desire by the West, appropriate the West's imagery and symbolism, then reflect it back like a type of video feedback:

"To become aware of the West in the eyes and handiwork of its Others, to wonder in fascination with their fascination, is to abandon border logistics and enter into the "second contact" era of the borderland where "us" and "them" lose their polarity and swim in and out of focus. This dissolution reconstellates the play of nature in mythic parts of contactual truths. Stable identity formations auto-destruct into silence, gasps of unaccountable pleasure, or cartwheeling confusion gathered into what I call "mimetic excess" spending itself into a riot of dialectical imagery"--Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity p.246

Although Taussig had a more profound contrast between West and Other, I think the basic thesis can be applied here in the dialectic between the Local and Non-Local.

In the case of Sheng-Shing Station, it is not as simple as the locals engaged in cultural production or the commoditization of identity for consumption by the visitor. Nor is it necessarily a simple case of locals industriously deploying their cultural/historical resources for economic benefit.

The locals are not providing the visitor with the facsimile of what the visitor wants, but is instead reflecting back the reflection.

The locals (or the developers behind them) have produced an image of what the locals imagine the visitor would like to see. This exercise requires the locals to imagine themselves in the eyes of the visitor and project what that image may look like, while the visitor consumes the local's image of what the local thinks the visitor would like to consume. It becomes an endless house of mirrors of unintended parody in the world of mimesis and its alter.

Despite this strange and almost ridiculous contrivance, the result gains a type of authenticity as a living local culture that could not exist without the visitor, the visited and their preconceived imagination of the other reflecting back at themselves.

Many of Taiwanese tourism destinations are built around this relationship and make it interesting to watch, and thus when the government starts pedaling "authentic" local culture, I wonder if this is what they have in mind?

1. Taussig. Michael.1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York, NY. Routledge

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Friendly Climb?


Here is a little video from Team 136, which is associated with Terry Lin's group from Cafe Terry, which I profiled couple weeks back.

Every month or so they run a climbing Time Trial on Taichung's famed Local Road # 136. Any rider who can make it to the top in under 40min. earns the right to wear a special jersey to signify the accomplishment. The event is open to all. Just stop by Cafe Terry for details.

I believe the record time is something like... 36min.

Epic Fail!: Misadventures On Nantou's Sweet 16

With my birthday on Saturday, I decided to spend the day with my wife. Sunday was to be a selfish day to myself-- a day to rise to a new challenge and explore places I have never been. I really wanted to punish my body for turning another year older. I also needed a little solitary riding to just let the thought flow.

The plan was to do something approximately 160 to 200km... with lots of climbing.

My route of choice was the Highway 16 that starts in Nantou and climbs up to the base of Yushan, the highest mountain in East Asia. From looking at the map it was long enough, high enough, and in the right location.

I figured I could make good time out to Shuili, just at the base of the Highway 16, and then climb until 12:30pm or maybe 1:00pm if I was feeling good. The return would be down hill, thus saving energy, and once I returned to Shuili it would be an easy and familiar shot home along the Highway 3.

That was the plan.

I woke up early, but was pretty tired from some solid rides during the week and the hours of saddle time the day before. On my saturday ride I tried not to exert much energy, but I still wasn't resting.

In preparation for this epic ride I calculated my birthday dinner into the equation and pigged out at Chili's in Tiger City. Lots of good food and a rare dessert to pack in the carbs.

I put myself together and eased out onto the early morning road with a head full of music and some kind of plan for my day.

By the time I rolled into Ming-jian, I could tell my legs were not 100% and worries a little about my day's forecast. I hoped to rally through it and push the sluggishness aside. Part of the plan was to stop in Ming-jian for a coffee and a little more nutrition before entering the mountains. I chose McDonalds for their Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal although I wasn't hungry. After a few bites, I wrapped up half the muffin and stuffed it in my jersey pocket for later.

I hit the road once more to Shuili, where I took in a sport drink, filled up my mounted water bottle, drank enough water out of another bottle to squeeze the air out and flatten it into something pocketable, then I was off into unknown territory.

I highly recommend Shuili for its access to several locations in the foothills and central mountain range. From Shuili you can access Sun Moon Lake, Lugu, Hsitou, Sanlinxi, Alishan, Yushan and several other places.

The road out was surprisingly easy and I spun past a few easy-going cyclists on expensive road bikes. The burst of adrenaline had brought new energy into my legs and I felt unstoppable.

Then, just after the junction with the Highway 21, which goes to Alishan, the Highway 16 shoots up high above the beginnings of the Zhoushui River. The Zhoushui carves an impressive grey rift between the mountains, where the gravel trucks owned by the infamous Yen Ching-biao could be seen working non-stop to dredge out the riverbeds.

The road quickly narrows into a cliff-hugging ribbon of concrete. I expected the climbing to continue ever higher. Surprisingly, it leveled off. There were even a few downhill sections that emptied me out into a fantastic valley of green farms.

The feeling was surreal. I was surrounded on all sides by towering cliffs and dark, shadowy mountains, but I was cruising along flats drenched in sunlight. In the not so distant distance I could make out the silhouette of Yu Shan towering above the other mountains drenched in mist and sunlight. It was such a powerful image... too bad non of my shots could capture it through the light.

The flats suddenly rise up a steep slope to Dili Village, a Bunun town nestled into the side of a mountain. I made a standing assault on the hill until it flattened out into some very charming corners. If not for the debris that littered the road it would have been a cyclists dream.

I finally made it back to where I could get a proper view of the Zhoushui and it was an amazing sight as it eddies and curls in separate tendril-like streams that split and converge.

At one point the road overlooks a tight bend in the river where the vertical cliffs drop straight down into the valley.

After several pictures I continued up the road. It was nearing 11:30 and I still wanted to ride for another hour and a half.

I rounded a bend that revealed a treelined "boulevard" that zig-zaged toward the river. There were a few fern farms in there and more views than I could capture on my camera.

I was jamming down the hill, when I rolled over a gutter grate. The grate was loose and popped up as I passed with just enough speed to catch the raised lip with my rear tire. I knew in an instant I had a flat.

I attempted to change the tube, but as I filled the new tube with CO2, the tire remained soft. A faulty valve on the tube had cost me my last cartridge of CO2. Now I was really stuck and made the mental preparations to walk the bike out.

Just as I was putting everything back together, a caravan of three cars came by led by a pick-up truck. I thumbed a ride up the mountain back to Dili village. I had hardly seen anyone all day and just happened to be there when a guide and his customers were coming back from a little adventure. It was also fortuitous that they has a pick-up truck. You don't see many of those in Taiwan. Ever grateful was I. Still, in the back of my mind I was thinking about all those calories I took in the night before that I wasn't going to spend.

One of the best things about riding in Taiwan is how hospitable people are. I received so much help and it was so great.

Having imposed myself upon the group, I had to oblige the offer of food, which was freshly caught and cooked mountain shrimp. I couldn't refuse.

My wife finally arranged to have our friend from Lugu come down and save my ass. It was noon and our friend wouldn't be available until the afternoon. I whiled away my time at the hostel owned by Mr. Wu, who may give Trong Chai a run for his money in the category of "manliness". Mr. Wu is an older gentleman, but looks much younger. He was wonderful conversation and a very awesome fellow. I am so grateful for his hospitality. We just chatted and sipped tea into the afternoon. I highly recommend his hostel if you would like to spend a weekend exploring the area.

"Jacky", our friend finally arrived and brought me off the mountain. We stopped off in Shuili for some Bawan "Taiwanese meatball" at one of the famous vendors.

We finally located a bike shop in Shuili where, after about 10min. the owner was able to find a road tube.

I got myself all set up for my ride back to Taichung.

When I finally got back on the road I hit a blistering pace back to Taichung. My cruising speed generally ranged between 35-46kph. I was hammering home. My legs felt perfect running smooth as butter. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh! Everything was clicking and I was eating up scooters all along the Highway 3.

I finally reached my front door in 2:23:31 from Shuili. I had still managed to ride 138km despite the premature end to my trip. It was a failed trip, but it was still very epic and in many ways a huge success.

I think it also served as a reminder to myself to not get so careless. There were a few things I should have done differently. I know where I screwed up:

  • I should have had one more tube with me.
  • I should have carried a spare CO2 cartridge.
  • I should have taken the Standard to Presta pump adapter off my kitchen table, where it has been for 6 weeks, and put it in my seat bag. These are very useful in Taiwan, where there are lots of standard pumps.
Anyways... I made it home safe.


The Hostel is the Yen Shi Hostel
Tel:電話:049-2741100 Cell:手機:0937-295570
Yenshi Hostel: #7-2 Dili Village, Xinyi Township, Nantou County.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Birthday Bicycling: Sanyi and Back

Fishing man

Saturday was not just election day for the special municipalities, but it was also my 36th birthday; a number that signifies my dreams of becoming a rock star or elite cyclist are to come to naught. Oh well... I can live with that if some of my weekends can be this fulfilling.

Don't mind those men in the upper left. They're not KMT gangsters

We started out by riding out to Daya Township so my wife could work her way past the KMT/Gangster thugs and cast her vote. A small group of thugs made their presence known to all and openly voiced their preferred support for the KMT candidates. No intimidation what-so-ever. Luckily, most people ignored the heavies and voted their conscience... I hope. DPP came out strong in Taichung County (Now New Taichung).

Daya's fabulous bike trail (right)

We left the polling place and made our way into downtown Daya for some local eats for breakfast. Daya provides a lovely example of when bike lanes go wrong.

Daya market

Like a lot of old townships, the center of town focuses on the temple. This is where we would find one of those gritty, local breakfast dives.

A Dive... even by Taiwan's Standards

The structure is no more than sheet metal, concrete, aluminum and those ubiquitous red-plastic stools that seem to come out of the save vat that everything else at the 99-dollar store comes from.

Joyce Enjoys Breakfast

Breakfast was the local favorite of fried noodles and chicken intestine soup. The breakfast of champions.


When we finished our breakfast we headed down the Highway 10 toward the city of Feng Yuan. There were lots of people out biking and it brought a smile to my face to see so many kids issuing their declaration of personal independence from the seat of a bicycle.

Low Hanging Fruit

Before arriving in Feng Yuan, we stopped by the Anli cemetery for Plains Aborigines--the subject of a future post.

Historic Anli Graves

Uncle Ron


We were soon in Feng Yuan, where we could hit the Highway 13 to Hou li, just at the border between Taichung and Miaoli counties. The Highway 13 is not pretty, not friendly, and not easy. What it is, is direct. It goes out toward Sanyi without having to climb any hills. My wife was looking for 100k on the day and was hoping to conserve her energy.

Hou-Feng Bike Trail

We eventually hooked up with the Hou-Feng bike trail at Xing ke rd. and after riding it for a while my wife decided she felt safer and would have better luck out on the main road.

Dangerous Cross Traffic

On weekends the bike trail is just too dangerous. Weaving novice riders on poorly fit bikes and no helmets make the trail a recipe for an injury. Some parts of the trail are just asking for hurt.

Out of Houli

We finally descended into the river valley between Houli and Sanyi.

Sanyi Viaduct

The river valley offers a brief respite of flats before the great hill climb up the Highway 13's intimidating viaduct that crests in Sanyi Township.

Climbing Higher

My wife found her pace and spun up to the 1200ft. crest non-stop. I was seriously impressed with her effort and determination. The climb is not easy by any measure.

Happy Rider

Joyce was very happy to be at the top and kept spinning until we could find a place to stop for lunch. Eventually we had a lunchbox and rest in Sanyi, where I pitched the idea of going home through the foothills of the interior.

Family Cycling Fun

Joyce in Sanyi

The scenery was amazing. We rolled through the farms in the little Hakka-style hamlets that dot Sanyi. I was a little worried for Joyce as we encountered several formidable hills... as steep as 12%-15% grade. She kept at it and only stopped once for a breather.

Joyce Learns To Love The Hill

After topping on especially nasty hill, we dropped into a facsimile of a Japanese colonial era train town at the location of the old Sanyi Train Station.

Bizarro World

It was a madhouse... A MADHOUSE!!!

There were meandering tourists all over the roads and it was all we could do not to hit them.. if only for the fear of damaging the bikes.

Hoiday Makers

Probably the roughest part of riding the Miaoli Local 49 rd. was the weekend traffic. Drivers just don't know how to handle themselves around cyclists and use the same tactics they use with scooters. This put Joyce a little on edge in what should have been an enjoyable ride through fun little rollers. I alway say, "Pick a line and don't move. They don't want to hit you... and if they do hit you it is because they want to and would have hit you anyways."

Bridge Pic

We followed the Miaoli #49 out to the Longteng Broken Bridge, a trestle built by the Japanese and later felled by a massive earthquake. The site has become a popular tourist destination for romantics.

Interesting Area

At the base of the hill near the bridge we emptied back into the river valley in a village where I made a few new discoveries for a later post. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Burning Man

The valley was covered in a light haze from the local farmers burning off their rice fields before winter. And I wonder why I get asthma attacks.

Smoking Allowed

Taking A Rest

We finally made out way back to the Houli side of the river where a group of Giant riders arrived after taking a train in from Changhua and diddling around Sanyi. I could tell they were not regular cyclists as they were not immediately friendly. They sort of... ignored us at the 7-11 as we stood by our bikes drinking Fin despite the eye contact and greetings.

A GIANT Group of Riders

We then doubled back to Daya to check the election returns. I wanted five presents for my birthday, but I only got two.

We wended the day with 92km and 2752ft of elevation gain, so my wife was a little short of her goal, but not by much.

I love riding with her and posting her rides because she really embodies the spirit of cycling. She just jumps in and has a good time with plenty of enthusiasm. Even when things get rough, in retrospect it is always positive. I hope her rides encourage more people to get over their fears and become beginners.

It really made for a great birthday gift and a great prep day for my Sunday ride...