Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cycling from Tainan to camp at Wushantou Reservoir

The Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area is famous for many reasons, few of which I appreciated before I started reading about it in preparation for writing this post and, having since educated myself as to the significance of the area... well, you decide.

Wushantou Reservoir is the linchpin of the Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area, a part of the greater Siraya National Scenic Area north-east of Tainan. The lake behind the reservoir wall is sometimes called Coral Lake because from above it looks like ... well, coral.

The reservoir itself was constructed in the 1920s by the Japanese colonial administration of Taiwan. The engineer in charge of the project was one Yoichi Hatta, a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University in Japan.
Every year on May 8 a ceremony is held to honor Japanese engineer Yoichi Hatta (1886-1942) at his grave near Wushantou Reservoir. Those who solemnly pay their respects to "the father of the Chianan Irrigation Waterworks" amid copious offerings of flowers and fruits include both Chianan farmers and admirers who make the trip all the way from Japan. They keep coming year after year-even now, 66 years after Hatta's death.
The story of Yoichi Hatta, his life and death, the death of his wife, his renown for being fair and egalitarian, and the fondness with which he is still remembered today, all make for interesting reading and here is an article on the subject from Taiwan Panorama.

Wushantou Reservoir is right next to the township of Kuantien/Guantian (literally "tenanted farm"), famous for being the hometown of Taiwan's former president, Chen Shui-bian. This website provides lots of information about the town and it's most famous ex-resident.

The Wushantou area is also famous for its fields (ponds rather) of water caltrop. This caltrop is a kind of water chestnut (but unrelated to the water chestnut popular in Chinese cooking as it is done in the west). It is a "floating annual aquatic plant, growing in slow-moving water up to 5 meters deep, native to warm temperate parts of Eurasia and Africa." It has a distinctive shape and is called many things, including "moustache nut" by me. Interestingly, the water caltrop has been declared a noxious weed in some states of the United States and of Australia. [Wikipedia reference]

Just beyond the south-western side of the reservoir is the Tainan National University of the Arts. This university campus has a nice feel about it and every time we have been there we feel as though we could be in another country or place. We are drawn to the campus for another good reason: there is a 7-11 there and we don't know where else to find something to eat for breakfast.

The one other thing I want to point out is that within the grounds of the Wushantou Scenic Area is a replica of the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) in Beijing. I think it's time to get lazy and copy a description from here:
The Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) (天壇) at Wushantou is one of the biggest attractions there. The 'temple' is a recreation of the one in Beijing. However, this wooden Temple of Heaven is only 1/6th of the size of the actual temple; but it is still quite impressive and looks almost identical to the other. At times, the inside of the building may be open, but it was not during my visit. Supposedly, this Temple of Heaven, like the other, is made with no nails or mortar at all.
It's actually not very exciting but it is a nice-looking building to have around.

We left Tainan on a Saturday morning and headed north out of the city on a course through the fish farms. Living in An-ping as we do, heading north is the quickest way to get out of the city although you do find yourself in what sometimes feels like a bleak, empty, possibly post-apocalyptic landscape. But it does get you away from the over-stimulation of the city. Here's Andrea posing somewhere close to the coast while in the background the giant golden crab rears its giant golden claws. Beware the giant golden crab!

I enjoyed the beautiful day and let Andrea and John negotiate our route from here while a fisherman passes between their helmets. Note the colossal new highway in the background which breaks up the bleak landscape, for better or worse I am not sure.

To stop at at least one 7-11 during any journey in Taiwan is nigh on obligatory and inevitable. 7-11s differ from each other in the facilities they provide and the provision of public toilets becomes a particularly salient quality when cycling from town to town.

In yet another obscure small town a public monument depicts a bullock cart being helped along by three men. I suppose they are transporting rice. This is one of those many, many times at which I wish I could read Chinese.

At a seemingly unnecessarily large intersection for such a small, quiet town John and Andrea follow the road beneath a web of wires.

If the Sydney Opera House were able to mate simultaneously with a mosque and a Taiwanese temple and bear viable progeny, surely they would birth an architectural child resembling this bulding in the photo above. This place is awesome and exists in the middle of a lot of ... well, nothing much in particular. And the central figure of worship here could be Lao tzu or Confucius although I really have no idea. Yet another instance of me proving my ignorance because I cannot read Chinese.

The road to salvation has many branches and twists and turns. Presented with a choice of two heavenly raptures (the temple on the left, the toilets on the right), Andrea forwent salvation of the spiritual kind for salvation of the bowel kind and used the public amenities provided for the patrons of the temple. And doesn't she look like she has found a kind of inner peace?

When I took this picture I already knew what I was going to write about it:
(think Elton John ...)
That's where we meet
That's where we meet
Me and you rendezvous
In the temple at the end of the street

Lunch. Typical Taiwanese fare down the road from the temple.

We finally reached the Wushantou area and cycled past the main gate towards the small suspension bridge we knew offered much more convenient access to the grassed area where we intended to camp. However, the bridge was closed and undergoing renovation work and so we were forced to return to the main gate. There, we discovered to our chagrin that there was an entry fee of NT$200 plus a camping fee of NT$200 per tent. Considering that the last time we camped here we paid nothing because we were ignorant of the park fees (having entered the park via the suspension bridge), we were a little indignant at having to pay up. Sometimes you just need a piece of flat grass but end up paying for facilities you don't need just so that you can own a piece of flat grass for the evening. Oh well, I guess it makes up for our free stay last time.

Setting up camp. John has aspirations to make his mark in the adult movie business and this brush with John the porn star scared me enough to want to sleep on the far side of our tent with Andrea between John and I.

After setting up camp we walked through the village adjacent to the Tainan National University of the Arts to get to the 7-11 on the university campus. The village streetscape bore evidence of its proximity to a hub of creativity and design. It was really nice to see some public art in the town.

Just a little further down the road the walls on either side of the road were being decorated. This kind of art imposed on a public space is something we don't normally see in Taiwan so it lent the place a special ambience.

We had dinner at the 7-11 and managed to catch the end of the sunset when we moved upstairs onto the roof of the building where somebody had thought to provide a table and chairs. Afterwards we walked back to the campsite although we took the long and scenic route. Above: The temple of heaven is broken up into pieces as a reflection in the windows of an adjacent building. That seems fitting as the temple itself is a mere reflection of the real temple of heaven in Beijing.

We had a terrible time trying to sleep that night. It was still very warm and humid which is alright if there is any breeze but on this particular night the air was as still as the breath of a corpse. There was no movement of the air at all and we sweated on top of our sleeping bags. The humidity sapped our resilience. It was awful. And shortly after we did finally get to sleep we were awoken by a voice with a flashlight speaking Chinese. It turned out to be one of the park attendants collecting tent fees.

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The next morning was a straightforward matter of packing up, showering, stopping at the 7-11 for a few breakfast snacks, and starting back for Tainan although this time we were taking the more direct route. On the way out we stopped for one last survey of the reservoir from atop the dam wall. Living as we do in Tainan, it is somehow comforting to comprehend a vista consisting almost entirely of hills, trees, and water, and, if you look closely ...

... someone cultivating their own small piece of peace of mind.

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