Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hiking in Taiwan

Bob and I went hiking in Yangmingshan National Park, which is just a metro ride away from Taipei. We made it to the peak of Mt. Qixing, which at 1120 meters/3675 feet is the highest mountain in Taipei. It's also a dormant volcano, so there was plenty of sulphur pits around, which you'll see below.

Because of the volcanic rock, the vegetation around Taipei is very lush and green, similar to Hawai'i. We saw several different types of flowers, plants, and fungi.

The walking paths throughout the park were very well maintained. They were also very steep.

We basically walked up stairs for 3 kilometers! And then walked down stairs for 3 kilometers.

It was interesting to see how the vegetation changed. At lower heights it looked like the photos above, with lots of green ferns, flowers, and other plants. But because of the weather pattern here (it's very close to the ocean), you see vegetation differences at lower elevations than you would see elsewhere. At around 500 m, the dense, green vegetation changes to bamboo.

Around 900 m the bamboo gives away to this sturdy grass.

After many, many, many steps (and a few complaints from me) we finally reached the top of the mountain, where it was quite cold!

After enjoying the peak for about 2 minutes, we decided to head down the mountain on a different path.

This path took us by many fumaroles, which really, really smelled. A fumaroles is a vent which emits steam and gasses. The gasses, which on this particular volcano are sulphur dioxide (hence the smell), escape through vents on the side of the mountain, discoloring the area around them.

This particular fumarole was huge! It made such an explosive noise and produced a lot of steam.

Most people don't get as close to the fumarole as Bobby. The smell keeps you away, which is good because sulphur dioxide is poisonous.

After our hike, we visited a public hot spring. The volcano produces a lot of great hot springs in the area. The one we visited had pools at different temperatures. We started in the warm pool and made our way up to the hottest pool, which was a scalding 46.2 C/115 F. I could only get my feet into that pool, but Bob was able to brave the heat and put his whole body in! Unfortunately, photos were not allowed at the pool.

After our hike and hot spring visit, we headed back to the city for dinner. We went to a local place known for its beef noodle soup. We had a lot of side dishes: these sautéed bean sprouts.

We thought this was some kind of bacon. It was delicious! Only later did we find out that this is pig ears. Wonderful, delicious pig ears.

Chard with pork and bean curd.

Some kind of sea vegetable. This was my least favorite dish.

And the main event: beef noodle soup! The beef was fall-apart, meltingly delicious. The broth was also great.

No dinner would be complete without dumplings, so we had an order of spicy dumplings. Oh man, these were so good.

Since I only complained during 95% of the hike, I earned a treat. We ordered a small (no joke) mango snow ice to share. I love, love, love snow ice! So much better than shave ice.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, Botanical Gardens, and Longshan Temple

We have been home for a week now, so I thought it was time to get caught up on blogging about the rest of our trip to Taiwan. What a great trip: a successful conference for Bob, great weather, cheap and delicious food, and beautiful sights. One of the things we visited was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, pictured here.

After ascending the 88 steps (one for each year of his life), you reach the inside of the memorial where you see a huge statue of former leader Chiang Kai-shek. The Taiwanese are a divided on the legacy of Chiang Kai-shek, 'president' of Taiwan from 1950 to his death in 1975. Chiang was the former leader of China for nearly 20 years before losing control to the Communists and Mao. He then moved to Taiwan, where he established the Republic of China (not to be confused with mainland China's People's Republic of China) and ruled with an iron fist as the leader of the only party despite a democratic constitution.

Whatever one's views of Chiang Kai-shek and his tenure as the first president of Taiwan, you can't argue that his memorial is huge (you can definitely argue about its tastefulness, though).

While visiting the memorial we got to see the changing of the guards, which happens hourly. There were all the classics of a guard change: inspection, funny walks, lots of waving around giant guns, and some very serious faces.

Looking from the memorial you can see two beautiful buildings flanking the large boulevard. On the left is the National Theatre; on the right is the National Concert Hall.

The two halls are quite large, colorful, and well maintained.

Surrounding the memorial and halls are quiet gardens. These gardens, complete with ponds, fish, and bridges, and peaceful spots in the middle of the huge city of Taipei.

Close to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is the Taipei Botanical Gardens. It is a very lovely place with many well-maintained gardens that showcase the natural plants, trees, bushes, and flowers of the island of Taiwan (and  a great place to visit to see how allergic you are to Taiwanese flora and fauna!).

The tropical flowers were lovely. The hibiscus plants were giant!

There is also a large lily pond inside the gardens.

We also visited the Longshan Temple in Taipei. First built in 1738, the temple was unfortunately burned down or destroyed in the many fires and earthquakes that have plagued Taipei. The building was also destroyed by American bombs during WW2, when Taiwan was occupied by Japan.

The temple is dedicated to the Buddhist god of mercy, Guanyin, but over 100 other gods are worshipped here as well.

One of the gods worshipped here is the god of literature, Wenchang Dijun. Our guide book said that if you visit the temple during exam times, you will see many offerings near Wenchang Dijun. The god of war (who, oddly enough, is the patron god to both policemen and gangsters), Guan Gong, is also worshipped here. I like the offerings of flowers, fruits, and sweets, though we also saw offerings of cigarettes and bottle of bad beer. I guess the gods also have their vices.

This large incense holder at Longshan Temple is rather unique. The 'fool holding up the sky' is a common motif in Buddhism, but the purposefully Western styling of the fool is unusual. It is thought that this 'fool' is stylized after the 17th century Dutch occupiers of Taiwan.