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.
One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan 台灣 was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cài Yīngwén), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in Fāngshān 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fēnggǎng 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文主席古厝!
When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation I could manage, not even knowing if my Mandarin was understood, and we all laughed about the absurdity of some random white guy on a bike riding over and taking an active interest in such an obscure place.
Anyhow, there you have it: the childhood home of the woman who might be the next president of Taiwan. And if that’s the case they’re going to have to get a new sign!
Update: Tsai is Taiwan’s president-elect and, just as I predicted, her childhood home is already in the news!
Here is yet another roadside curiosity in the deep south of Taiwan 台灣: a false tunnel on the coastal plains of Fāngshān 枋山, Pingtung 屏東. It doesn’t cut through any mountainside nor is it built to withstand landslides. It’s just an 1,180 meter tunnel that trains pass through for no discernible reason. I first read about this on Michael Turton’s blog and later saw it on my first round-the-island bicycle tour. More recently, which is to say just a few days ago, I took a spin through the southern loop once again, and spent a little extra time examining this concrete oddity in an attempt to divine its purpose.
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 but had left my bicycle in Dōnggǎng 東港 the night before after it started raining 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.