Taichung Sunset Before the Storm

Typhoon Nepartak has come and gone without impacting Taichung 台中 hardly at all. Almost no wind or rain afflicted the city as the typhoon was torn apart by passage over the mighty Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 far to the south, leaving me without a good tale to tell or any dramatic photos from within the storm.

Yesterday I shot a few interesting photos after climbing up to the top of the notorious Qianyue Building 千越大樓, an abandoned high-rise not far from the central station, to get a nice view of the entire Taichung Basin 台中盆地. Previously I published a long shot of the “UFO” on top of the building and here’s one more, this time of the setting sun over the west side of the city.

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Why Should It Be Feared?

I have reason to quote at length from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius but wasn’t entirely satisfied with the translations I found online. What follows is an original synthesis of Book II, Passage XV, translated by George Long (the same version I read when I was younger) and Meric Casaubon, blown apart and put back together again.

The time of a man’s life is like a singular point, the substance of it ever-flowing, the sense obscure, the whole composition of the body tending toward corruption and putrefaction. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful. As a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a vapour, so are all that belong to the soul. Our life is a warfare, a mere pilgrimage, and fame after life is no better than oblivion.

What is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one: philosophy. And philosophy consists in keeping the spirit of man free from violence and injury and above all pains and pleasures; doing nothing without purpose, nor falsely or hypocritically; wholly depending on himself and his own proper actions; embracing and accepting all things that happen as originating from the same place from whence he himself came; and, finally, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness, to expect death, as being nothing else but the resolution of those elements of which every creature is composed.

And if the elements themselves suffer nothing by this, their perpetual conversion of one into another—that dissolution, and alteration, which is so common unto all—why should it be feared by any man? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil which is according to nature.

I went out riding through the mountains of Nángǎng District 南港區 yesterday. This ride was, in part, to provide some time for me to work through important decisions that need to be made. Unbeknownst to me, right around the time light was seeping through my camera lens to capture the photograph above, another kind of light was seeping out from the body of someone dear to me, someone who expressed many of the virtues described in the passage quoted above. This was not unexpected.

Having somehow survived to this age without ever feeling the brush of death has left me doubtful about how I should be feeling. I am aware of the social expectations, of course, but do not feel like conforming to any of the usual patterns of grieving and mourning. I look for sadness but find mostly acceptance and admiration. Growing up with influences from both Stoic and Buddhist philosophies seem to have equipped me for moments like these.

So: it is time to attend to matters of import, to make plans and put wheels in motion, to endure long flights and longer periods of idleness and uncertainty, to reconnect and provide support, to eulogize and celebrate a life well-lived. Please, no messages of condolences—but if I seem absent or distracted you’ll now have some idea why that might be.

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Alien Skies Over Beitou

Last night I saw one of the weirder sunsets I’ve ever seen in Taiwan. For reasons beyond my understanding the sky turned a vivid shade of lilac after the sun disappeared behind the clouds just as I arrived at Mingde 明德站 in Běitóu District 北投區. I regularly post-process my images to give them something of an alien aesthetic but there wasn’t any need in this case. I’ve edited the photo to boost contrast but left the toning alone. It really was that shade of purple. And what a strange night it was—crossing paths with the last person I expected to see.

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The Famous Teahouses of Jiufen

The tiny mountain town of Jiǔfèn 九份 is one of Taiwan’s most iconic attractions. It prospered under Japanese colonial rule but slipped into steep decline after the closure of the nearby gold mine in the 1970s. In 1989 it was featured in A City of Sadness, the first Taiwanese film to openly address 228 Incident, which prompted a modest reversal in fortunes as it became a local tourist destination. The trickle of visitors became a flood in the 2000s with the release of Studio Ghibli’s beloved Spirited Away, an animated film featuring a supernatural town inspired by Jiufen’s unique history and appearance.

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Wu Family Old Stone House 吳家樓仔厝

Pictured here are the ruins of a two-story stone house in the small fishing village of Mao’ao 卯澳漁村 in Gòngliáo 貢寮, the easternmost district of Taiwan. I captured it while cycling back from the far end of Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道 late one afternoon. With daylight fading over the rugged eastern mountains I had little time to make sense of the historic plaque out front. I recall it saying something about this being a rice granary but what online sleuthing I have done suggests it was once the home of a rich family—hence the formal name Wu Family Old Stone House 吳家樓仔厝 (or Historic Stone Home 石頭古厝). Whatever the case, it certainly looks beautiful with a background of crepuscular rays.

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Sundown on Sun Moon Lake 日月潭

I finally got around to visiting Sun Moon Lake 日月潭, the largest lake in Taiwan1 and one of its most popular tourist attractions. Previously I knew it only by reputation as a scenic spot overrun by Chinese tourists. Now having seen it first-hand I can attest to the accuracy of that description—but I’d also add flashy temples and indigenous-themed street food to the list. I enjoyed what food and tea I sampled and didn’t mind the Monday afternoon traffic so much, though the tour buses certainly pile up on the many turns as the highway winds around the lake.

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The Dry and Dusty Gaoping River 高屏溪

I traversed the dry and dusty Gaoping River 高屏溪 (a portmanteau of Kaohsiung 高雄 and Pingtung 屏東, which this river divides) while riding around southern Taiwan in the dog days of summer earlier this year. I was heading south from Měinóng 美濃, bound for no place in particular, and soon found myself crossing into Lǐgǎng 里港, where anemic river channels meandered through thick deposits of silt and gravel that had washed down from the distant mountains. Mining operations lined the wide banks and countless gravel trucks lumbered along the bridges and highways of the area, filling the air with dust and littering the roadways with debris. It was not a pleasant place for cycling or any other human activity—so I turned west on a whim, toward Dàshù 大樹 and what secrets it might hold, and left the dust behind.

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Taiwan Bicycle Tour 2013: Donggang to Kenting

Eleven days into riding all around Taiwan I reached Kenting 墾丁 at the southernmost tip of the island. I started my day in Kaohsiung City 高雄市 but had to retrace part of my route to reach my bicycle in Dōnggǎng 東港. I had left it there the night before after a rainstorm struck on my way back from the lovely little island of Liúqiú 琉球. This ensured I’d be off to a late start—but I was in no particular rush. I had around 70 kilometers of road ahead of me and few stops planned.

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