Postcards From Zhushan 竹山明信片

Zhushan (literally “Bamboo Mountain”) is a historic yet obscure township in southwestern Nántóu 南投 mainly known for cultivating tea and bamboo. The town itself is one of the oldest in central Taiwan but it hardly feels that way. Many of Zhushan’s most historic structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the devastating 921 Earthquake that struck in 1999, which is why its “old street” is lined with modern buildings. Most travellers pass through Zhushan on the way to attractions deeper into the rugged interior of Taiwan without sparing it a second glance—but I stopped for a closer look in the summer of 2017 while on an impromptu road trip. After staying the night in a sleazy love motel never meant for sleep (there was no way to switch off the lights) I wandered around in the morning haze, capturing traces of Zhushan’s history as it disappears into memory.

Full Post

Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City

In May 2018 I embarked on a bicycle trip from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市 along the majestic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan. Although I had previously cycled parts of this valley in 2013 I did so without really knowing what was there—and in five years I had amassed quite a collection of notes about places I was interested in seeing up close. Two main themes emerged while preparing for this trip: old movie theaters, of which I had located more than a dozen, and numerous relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines. This post documents my first day of riding, which only began in the late afternoon after arriving by rail at Hualien Station. I had shipped my bike ahead so all I had to do was pick it up from the baggage room, throw the panniers on, and start riding.

Full Post

Suhua Highway Road Trip 2018 蘇花公路機車之旅

In May 2018 I seized an opportunity to ride the beautiful and dangerous Suhua Highway 蘇花公路 (中文) from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Sū'ào 蘇澳 in Yílán 宜蘭. I had previously taken this same route on bicycle back in 2013—a harrowing trip I’ll never forget—so I was eager to drive a scooter and experience it at a different pace. I also visited a number of historic sites along the way, including several former Shinto shrines, as part of an ongoing project documenting various elements of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan. Much of the highway itself also owes something to Japanese engineering, having opened to vehicular traffic in 1931, but it has been continuously repaired and expanded since then.

Full Post

Puli Tuberculosis Sanatorium 埔里肺結核療養所

Tuberculosis remains the deadliest communicable disease in Taiwan, claiming approximately 600 lives per year, but great strides have been made in reducing its toll throughout the 20th century. Nearly 5% of the population were afflicted by the disease in the late 1940s—and with an annual mortality rate of 3 in 1,000, it was also among the leading causes of death of any kind in post-war Taiwan. The disease was especially prevalent among the Taiwanese indigenous people of the remote mountainous interior, who simply couldn’t afford to see a doctor or purchase medicine (even if there were a clinic anywhere nearby).

Christian missionary organizations went to great lengths to expand access to medical services in the late 1950s, founding numerous clinics and sanatoriums in indigenous areas all across Taiwan. In 1957 this particular tuberculosis sanatorium was constructed next to a secluded lake on the outskirts of Pǔlǐ 埔里, Nántóu 南投, to provide free treatment and relief for people of the mountains. The next several decades saw great advances in healthcare in Taiwan and the sanatorium closed in 1980, its purpose fulfilled. It reopened as a Presbyterian retreat center and campground in the late 1980s and was ultimately abandoned to the elements sometime in recent years.

Full Post

Nantou Road Trip 2015: Ren’ai

My second day on the road in Nantou County in October 2015 was completely unplanned. I left Pǔlǐ 埔里 and headed deeper into the mountains simply to see what was there, not having done any advance research. From a glance at the map I had a rough idea where I’d be going—deeper into traditional indigenous lands to the east of Puli Basin 埔里盆地. Ultimately I ended up visiting several settlements and two reservoirs in a few hours of riding around what is now known as the township of Rén'ài 仁愛.

Full Post

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Dawu to Taitung City

My last big day of riding around south Taiwan in June 2015 began in Dàwǔ 大武, Taitung 台東, with only about 55 kilometers to go before arriving in Taitung City 台東市. I had been out in the sun far too much the previous day and was feeling rather sluggish and a bit sick so I didn’t end up taking any side trips into the mountains as I made my way north. Even so, the scenery was fantastic, and while I won’t have as much to write about this particular day of my trip, I have plenty of beautiful photographs to share.

Full Post

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Manzhou to Dawu

My fifth day of riding around southern Taiwan in June 2015 delivered me to the most remote parts of the island’s 1,139 kilometer-long coastline. On the previous day I rode from Fāngliáo 枋寮, on the southwestern coast, around Héngchūn 恆春 and into the foothills of the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 to reach Mǎnzhōu 滿州, one of the last places to find lodging before forging on to Taitung 台東. I had already taken this route while riding all around Taiwan in 2013 so I was familiar with the territory, but that first tour was so rushed that I hadn’t been able to enjoy the scenery. (Actually, I had been outrunning a typhoon the last time I was here—but that’s a story not yet told on this blog.) This time around my intent was to take it slow and explore more of this obscure part of coastal Taiwan.

Full Post

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Fangliao to Manzhou

Last summer I embarked upon a weeklong bicycle tour in the deep south of Taiwan. I began in Tainan 台南, cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, spent a day hanging out, and then continued on to Fāngliáo 枋寮, where the coastal plain narrows to a thin wedge between the mountains and the sea. There is only one road leading south from here—which meant I covered a lot of ground I had already seen while riding all around Taiwan in 2013. I didn’t mind repeating that beautiful stretch of coastline and, actually, I was looking forward to checking out some places I had breezed by on that first big tour, particularly in Fāngshān 枋山 and Héngchūn 恆春.

Full Post

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao

After spending a day riding around Pingtung City I was ready to hit the road again. With no specific destination in mind—only an intention to head in the direction of Héngchūn 恆春, far to the south—I checked out of the vintage homestay I lodged at the previous night, stopped at Eske Place Coffee House for a delicious and healthy vegetarian breakfast, changed into cycling wear, and exited the city to the east. I knew almost nothing about where I was headed or what I might see on the third day of my south Taiwan ride in 2015. I only had one stop planned in advance: a hospital in Cháozhōu 潮州 rumoured to be abandoned. I didn’t know it at the time but I would spend almost the entire day riding through the historic Hakka belt of Pingtung 屏東.

Full Post

Chaozhou Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 潮州九塊厝天主堂

While I was out riding in southern Taiwan last year I chanced upon an abandoned church by the roadside in a small village outside of Cháozhōu 潮州, Pingtung 屏東. I only spent about ten minutes there and didn’t shoot many photos but have since realized that the story to tell is interesting enough to devote a full post to it. The formal name of this place is Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 九塊厝天主堂, though this is commonly prefixed with Chaozhou to distinguish it from the many other villages with the same name in Taiwan. Details are scant but I should be able to provide a broad overview of how this church came to be here—and why it was left to the elements.

Full Post