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Sunday, December 28, 2014

New York Times is Cycling Taiwan: You Pay What You Get For...

Biking over Wuling

A couple Taiwan cycling related stories have been worming their way through the social media this week.

The first is a beautifully integrated info-tisement, of the kind that are becoming irritatingly common these days, as trusted sources of information have been desperate for content and started pimping for private businesses (CNN anyone?). The quid-pro-quo of content for cash is nothing new, but it is becoming even more prevalent in the internet age.

The article comes from the Grey Lady herself in the In Transit blog by Diane Daniel and briefly touts a bicycle tour of Taiwan.

To be more specific, the blog uses its space to promote one bicycle tour of Taiwan from a company called Bicycle Adventures located not far from where I grew up.

You can always tell when something is amiss when an article about cycling in Taiwan includes one of two things: a) a reference to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, and b) a reference to the mythological founding of Taiwan cycling by Giant's King Liu... "who having descended from on high in gleaming raiments, astride a snorting white stallion, thrust Tony Lo's gleaming bald head into the sands of the Tajia River and said, let there be cycling... and there was cycling."-- Book of Giant 3:13.

This article has both.

The price of the tour is a whopping USD $3945, which is pretty steep by any standard and Taiwan is in no way ready to command this type of cash for an experience that can be had for much less and more fun with some free information, such as the information provided on this blog and others, and a map. Taiwan is safe and relatively easy country to explore, even without any command of Mandarin what so ever as evidenced by decades of McGill University grads who wash through each year.

Upon reading the entire article and browsing the company's itinerary, I was struck by a couple of things.

The NYT says:
While traversing the island’s five mountain ranges, riders visit two national parks in near-rain-forest settings of up to 8,000 feet. One of the biggest challenges will be an uphill ride in the Taroko Gorge, a 65-mile climb that features stunning scenery, traditional villages and several tunnel passages.

At first I thought this was one baddass trip... imagining Alishan, Lugu, Wuling, Baling.... all the great climbs in one ride. In reality, the majority of climbing is done on a single trip up to Dayuling, and back to Taroko. The trip never even touches the western side of Taiwan, where there are some incredible and tour-worthy routes.

The other piece of information that caught my eye, and probably the most damning, is the bikes used in the tour will be rentals (probably from Giant).

If you have the means to spring for such an expensive vacation, for godsakes, bring your own bike... a bike you know intimately. Nothing could be worse that negotiating a landscape on an entirely unfamiliar machine that may or may not be sized and geared to fit the rider.

Lastly, the tour seeks to guide visitors to "Cultural stops". With an informed guide with local knowledge, cultural stops are at every stop. Here we see selected museums and tourist centered locations. It is common practice in Taiwan for tour guides to establish a patronage network with hotels, markets and trinket dealers. It seems here, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau has gotten in on the action.

This brings me to a much greater and more philosophical problem that is not directly related to this article, but to the general problem of the current Taiwan Tourism Bureau in general.

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau is greatly influenced by partisan politics. Over the past 30 years we have seen a protracted struggle for the official representation of Taiwan, both internally and externally. The current administration has been completely tone deaf to the actual identities of Taiwanese citizens and has veered far from the Taiwan centered viewpoint that had been adopted (often poorly) under the Chen administration to more closely identify with the views of the higher echelons of the Chinese Nationalist Party, which has maintained an often pejorative view of Taiwan as a mere degraded periphery of a great China.

This cleavage between views influences how Taiwan is represented internationally and locally... from culture and history, to the portrayal of Taiwan's very diverse population of overlapping ethnicities.

I fail to see how the Taiwan Tourism Bureau can best represent for consumption, the amazing strata of Taiwanese life.... when it is continuously informed by an ideological stance that positions Taiwan far, far from the center, in an area that is steeped in the ethnic chauvinism of the Chinese nationalist world view.


Bottoms Up!

Taiwan makes the news for fining drunk cyclists.

The beer and the bicycle have long been an item in the gossip pages of cycling magazines. There are numerous products on the market that integrate the two hobbies. Some frames even come with bottle openers welded to the tubing.

Should we drink and ride? Probably not. Maybe... oh heck, I dunno....

I really don't think I am the right person to write about this.

This somehow reminds me that there are some really great beers coming into Taiwan.

My favorite beers from the Elysian Brewery are now on sale all over the place.  The No.1 from Taiwan's 23 Brewing Company is pretty good for us North Westerners who like hoppy beers. Jolly's Thai Restaurant and Brewery has some nice beers... I think they have food too, but I don't recall. And how can anyone refuse the new beer from Chthonic?

Ummmm... don't drink and ride?! Stay in school.