Near the end of my first summer in Taiwan 台灣 I visited Bādǒuzi 八斗子, a rocky headland, coastal park, and major fishing port at the far eastern edge of Zhongzheng District 中正區, Keelung 基隆. I went there on impulse, not knowing what to expect, just to see what was out there. Google Maps and Taiwan’s excellent public transit system make random explorations like this almost effortless: pick a point of interest and follow the directions—the digital equivalent of throwing a dart at a map. This post features a selection of retouched photos from this expedition alongside the sort of explanatory text I wouldn’t have been able to write back in 2013. Fair warning for arachnophobes: this post contains several gratuitous photos of giant spiders and other creepy crawlies!
I left home today and almost immediately noticed a mantis on the mirror of a scooter parked near my place in Xinyi District 信義區, Taipei 台北. This afforded me an opportunity to snap a rather unusual self-portrait, as you can see. Right after taking this photo the mantis surprised me by jumping onto my pants and crawling up to my shoulder. It soon disappeared out of sight, though I could feel forelimbs brush against the back of my neck. Not wanting to possibly crush it by accident, I wandered down the street until I found a row of trees where the mantis gracefully disembarked. If I were to anthropomorphize this resplendent creature I’d say it was in some distress on that scooter and gladly took the opportunity to hitch a ride to the relative safety of what nature remains in this highly urbanized area, a service I was happy to provide.
Last week I went out for a day of exploration with Josh Ellis who brought me to the excellent Lǎotóubǎi Hakka Restaurant 老頭擺客家餐廳 in Longtan 龍潭, Taoyuan 桃園. This restaurant is operated out of an old farmhouse (or sanheyuan, a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home) so I wandered around to take a look at each room before our meal arrived. Stepping out into the courtyard an employee gestured toward a giant moth perched on the leg of a chair. I had seen Neil Wade post one just like it on Facebook a few days prior to this so I wasn’t exactly surprised—but wow is it ever large!
Not long after returning to Taiwan 台灣 last year I received an invitation from the ubiquitous Mr. LoveGod to go road tripping down to Hsinchu 新竹 to check out an abandoned theme park. Along the way we stopped off to check out a derelict cablecar station and the restored Héxìng Station 合興車站 before arriving at the gateway to Golden Birds Paradise 金鳥海族樂園. Located in the rolling hills of Hsinchu 新竹 not far from the border Taoyuan 桃園, it was among the most extensive and well-known theme parks of northern Taiwan 台灣 at its peak in the 1990s. Business faltered with the rise of new forms of entertainment in the 2000s and from what I can tell it was completely abandoned nearly a decade ago. Most of the amusement park rides were torn out and probably sold for scrap metal long ago—but many of the original buildings remain, neglected and overgrown.
Now this is something you don’t see everyday: a hawk on the streets of Monga 艋舺! (Better known to most as the older part of Wanhua District 萬華區.) I noticed these birds—there’s two of them, one behind the other—outside a tea wholesaler while walking over to Longshan Temple Station this morning. Caged or tethered birds are a common sight outside of shops in Taiwan 台灣, especially down south, but I don’t recall seeing actual birds of prey before. I wonder if the proximity to Taipei’s Bird Street 台北的鳥街 has anything to do with it? And while I’m asking questions: why are shopkeepers big on birds in the first place?
I captured these banyan trees wrapped around a crumbling wall in Huashan 1914 Creative Park, one of the biggest and most popular civic attractions in Taipei 台北. Although it has recently been described as a fake cultural park, I happen to think it is one of the more interesting sights to check out in the middle of town. There are always all sorts of events going on throughout the park and it is home to a number of cool, artsy businesses, particularly VVG Thinking, which I call “hipster heaven” (a subject for another post). Here I am mainly interested in sharing the aesthetics of conjoined natural and artificial forms. Beautiful, isn’t it?
I saw these reptilian delicacies for sale in Vancouver’s Chinatown while visiting way back in 2007. Nobody believes me anytime I mention flayed lizard for sale so here it is—photographic proof! These are likely to be tokay geckos, a species used in traditional Chinese medicine for various indications, “male endurance” among them. They aren’t eaten whole—they are boiled along with various other ingredients to make a soup.
I am not usually in the habit of photographing insects as I haven’t got a proper lens for that kind of work but this caterpillar was huge, easily as long as my index finger and a little plumper. It was just hanging out on the steps leading up to a restaurant next to Shèngxìng Station 勝興車站 in Sanyi 三義, doing nothing in particular as whole groups of people walked by and reacted with understandable shock and surprise.
I did my best to look up some info about this caterpillar and seem to have met with some success (though I don’t have the scholarly resources to verify any of this information). This appears to be an example of Eriogyna pyretorum pearsoni, the larvae of the maple silkworm, if this small set of photos on Flickr is to believed. From this I was able to discover the Chinese name of this creature, 四黑目天蠶蛾, which then opens up a wealth of information in Chinese, for example here and here, as well as a few more photos. There is scant information about this species in English insofar as I can tell—although it would appear that Eriogyna pyretorum has had its entire mitochondrial genome sequenced.
Last summer I went to the Taipei Zoo in Wenshan District 文山區, unsure of what to expect. I am not a big fan of most zoos, especially those that emphasize entertainment over education. This being Taiwan 台灣, the zoo is more of an amusement park than a place of conservation, but I’m not about to lose any sleep over it. Even an exploitative zoo can instill within its visitors a sense of kinship with the lifeforms we share this planet with. At least children get to see animals up close—instead of having them relegated to television shows and picture books.
Staying here in Kunigami 国頭郡 has been an incredibly surreal experience. The feeling of remoteness is almost unparalleled in my experience. There is no internet here and almost nothing to distract from the peaceful serenity of nature. There are no guests in the other cabins and the owner’s presence is barely discernible.
This morning the owner dropped a big fish off at the main guesthouse building. It is laying on the front deck in the shade, one blank eye fixed on the wooden awning overhead. An omen? Time to move on. I have been here for weeks, after all. No, that’s not quite right—it can’t have been more than two nights. Feels like a small fragment of eternity for some reason. Is this what being disconnected is like?