Author Archives: jcjc2013

I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

10/27 I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

The wishes from our day at the temples of Taipei seemed to have paid off in the morning, which dawned gray with clouds but not rainy. At 6:30 we gathered outside the hotel and prepared to ride to the train station, a short Sunday morning jaunt through a very quiet Taipei. L1280184

We grabbed some coffee at the Songshan train station 7 – 11 store and boarded the train, which had several cars specifically set up for bikes and riders.

On the train

On the train

We drank our coffees and dozed on and off, keen to get onto our bikes and to see parts of Taiwan that few have a chance to experience. The train snaked its way out of the city, passing northeast through industrial sectors and high rises, fields and increasingly steep wooded hills. Then tunnels galore, a descent onto the coastal plain and South along the coast itself, with the blue Pacific rolling onto empty shores. In contrast to the crowded western side of the island, relatively few live on the East, After two and a half hours we jumped train at the north end of Hualien, a relatively small town (about the size of Seattle), situated on the coast.

Outside Hualien Station

Outside Hualien Station

The sun was out, the air was soft and warm, and we sped off in the direction of the famed Taroko Gorge — westward, back inland and up a narrow throat of road.

Heading to Taroko Gorge

Heading to Taroko Gorge

On the way to Taroko Gorge

On the way to Taroko Gorge

Soon we were to learn why this gorge is world famous. Rounding a corner we glimpsed towering gray cliffs; as we approached closer we realized that they formed a tremendous sheer wall opposite the ascending road, with a suspension bridge hanging perilously across. The wall itself is marble, sometimes pocked and pitted, reaching upward on a vast scale with light blue waters rushing and roaring over rapids below.

Lower Taroko Gorge with suspension bridge

Lower Taroko Gorge with suspension bridge

We continued our ascent and the road we followed literally disappeared into the face on our side of the gorge. It had bed hand hewn out of the marble, with columns and lookout windows that peered into the winding abyss.

Gorge and bridge

Gorge and bridge

Falling waters

Falling waters

The pictures tell the story. We followed the rock-hewn road for miles through the gorge, eventually emerging and continuing up to a pass, and then finding the place where we had lunch reservations, a charming inn a mile or two off the road. Feasting ensued…

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Then the descent, fast and furious. Clouds had formed during lunch, and those who dawdled were soaked in a sudden and violent rainstorm.

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Most had made it down back to the coastal highway by then, however, and after the rain stopped we found our hotel.

We managed dinner in the busy flashing world of Hualien markets, and again found exquisite food. You will have noticed that food surfaces in this blog frequently, and for good reason. First of all, the meals are often long, with a seemingly endless procession of dishes brought in some secret sequence to the table. And it helps to understand that food plays a huge part in Taiwanese culture as expressions of graciousness and generosity. Indeed, the ordinary greeting in Cantonese can be translated as “Eaten yet?”

Oh yes, we have seen the Marble Halls of Taroko Gorge and eaten…

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10/26  Make Me One With Everything

Before proceeding further, I should send a picture of Stephen Chen, who has been our chief guide and organizer of the ride; he looks far more formidable in his cycle gear:

Photo of Stephen Chen

Stephen Chen

To pick up our thread, the exhausted troops slept in and rose late to savor a succulent breakfast, 5-star Taiwan hotel style buffet. Afterwards came the opening of bike boxes and a bike assembly bonding experience. Stephen Chen arrived at 10:30 to take us around to some Taipei City touristic attractions, starting with an open-air market two or three blocks long and wide, featuring every imaginable — and some unimaginable — varieties of meat and fish and vegetables in the most splendid displays.

Market produce 1

Market stand produce 1

 

Market stand produce 2

Market stand produce 2

strange market fruit

Strange market fruit

We tarried for an couple hours, tasting and gawking, and completed our tour with glasses of fresh squeezed juice from sugar cane. Excellent.

sugar cane dandies

Sugar cane dandies

And now it was time to cross the street and enter one of the literally hundreds of temples found all over Taipei. This one is Taoist, and like all other temples of this kind, it is decorated with fancy tiled roof lines and elaborate ceramic creatures like these resplendent dragons:

taoist temple

Taoist temple

temple roof detail

Temple roof detail

There is much to learn about Taoist beliefs, and we all moved through the stages of honoring one or another of the gods, bowing and lighting incense to help get our wishes in good position for fulfillment. The first things to do is to identify yourself, your age and where you are from, and then get your wish out front. This will help the god know who’s asking and where to make the gift. It’s all done silently, mercifully. Still, I gave a false name, just to be on the safe side.

Just down the street, also by the market, was a Confucian temple, much more reserved by way of decoration, but unmistakably a place to pray for wishes — often wishes connected with academic success of one kind or another. Wisdom wishes…perhaps too familiar!:

Confucian Temple

Confucian Temple

After such sights and sounds and smells we were running out of gas, so Stephen dropped us off at an indoor food court serving all manner of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

Having fed ourselves fat on delicious local food, we headed towards one of the famous tourist meccas of Taipei — the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, a gigantic architectural structure that appears to be a cross between a religious temple and the Lincoln Monument, complete with a thirty five foot statue of a seated Chiang Kai-Shek.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

Below the steps (89 in all, like the number of years he lived) is a vast paved square, with an elaborate theater building on one side and a Music Auditorium on the other.

 

Theater building

Theater building

Our public day was now over and we returned to our hotel, resting up for dinner, which Stephen Chen had arranged at a small restaurant nearby which happened to belong to a friend of his. There we would meet his team of five assistants and were told to expect some live entertainment from a talented pair of musicians. The restaurant owner had cleared his whole lower floor for us and began to serve the meal, which I can only describe as an Asian fondue, with vegetables and meat and fish and tofu on platters to put into pots of boiling water.

A meal for all

A meal for all

Little did we know that the talented musicians Stephen had referred to were his own daughters, age 14 and 17, who gave the most charming and guileless performances of singing with guitar accompaniment, and guitar and violin pieces.

The entertainers

The entertainers

The evening, then, ended quite literally on a happy note, and we headed back to the hotel for another good night’s rest. Tomorrow we would get on the bikes at last and see something of Taiwan’s blandishments outside of its main city.

 

 

 

So the five of us met at the airport late Wednesday night to box up our bikes and check in for our 2:10am flight from Seattle to Taipei. Richard, already asleep in his hotel room in Taiwan, would meet us when we arrived at our hotel the morning after the day after we left. The was time for a final beer at the Alaska Cafe, the last bar open at SeaTac Airport, and then it we made for our 747 along with 400 other passengers. Well yes, thank you, it was special. Four fuzzily at the airport

We had been up all day and now we faced 12 and a half hours hurtling across the Pacific, sleeping intermittently if at all, but gaining 15 hours of time on the clock.

Landing in Taiwan at 5:45 on Friday morning was like waking into a parallel universe, a rabbit hole where people talk in familiar ways but are completely unintelligible, where signs that might provide help and instruction turn out to be simply opaque — even the figures on the signs refuse to offer a scrap of meaning. On the freeways and highways and streets, cars, buses, and teeming swarms of motor scooters negotiate around each other madly, swerving side to side, passing on the right and left at breathtaking speeds. And in this universe, most curiously, no one honks. So, Jetlagged and exhausted and wheyfaced, we took it all in with stunned wits.

Our guide, Stephen Chen, appeared at the airport to greet us, and he and his brother David took us in two vans to the Capital Hotel, where we dropped off our bikes and luggage. To our wonderment — and and fuzzy bewilderment — we were now all herded into Stephen’s van for a day stuffed with adventures. A two hour drive took us out of Taipei through an eight-mile(!) tunnel to the aboriginal Hanxi village of the Attayal tribe — one of 14 tribes remaining on the island of Taiwan. The population of Taiwan is around 22 million people, and the tribes together number only about 80,000, but this tribe, the Bulau Bulau, work particularly hard to retrieve their culture and keep it intact. To reach the village we had to cross the longest suspension footbridge on Taiwan and travel in 4X4 Land Cruisers along steep and rutted roads into mountainous, thickly wooded foothills. Then we hiked further up narrower trails to discover the village itself and a cheery welcome by people of the tribe. Only 30 visitors a day are allowed to come to this tribal center, which feels like a cross between a collection of log cabins and an organic gardening center.

Suspension bridge

approaching the village

After touring around for an hour or so we were treated to lunch, a spectacular display of fresh fruits and vegetables and wild boar strips cooked over an open fire, plus millet wine. Millet wine — who knew? More touring followed, and then an early six-course dinner, including more millet wine, chicken and pork, plus entertaining singing and dancing. The entire experience as wonderfully spirited, and when we left, around sunset, we were filled with wonder at the determination and the inventiveness of these people.John at fireside

Charlie at fireside

Needless to say, the two-hour return leg of the trip had all of us nodding and dozing as we drove back towards Taipei. But the parade of events had not yet ended. Winding our way into the small town of Jingtong, Stephen led us on foot to a dark quaint old street, which we followed to a little restored wooded railway station. Nearby we found a little store where we bought some flying lanterns. Once a coal mining town, Jingtong has restored some of its buildings and has developed an appeal as a quaint tourist town. More than, Jingtong has become a center for the “flying lanterns.” These are colored rice paper cylinders about three to four feet high, closed at the top and kept open by means of a bamboo hoop on the lower rim. Wires running across the hoop allows for thick paper, saturated with oil and gasoline, to be held in its center. When that is lit, the cylinder fills with hot air and rises into the sky like a rocket in slow motion. The six of us got three of these flying lanterns and prepared them by inscribing wishes on their sides; then we set them free and watched each one disappear into the night clouds. After that, our most ardent wish was for a short drive back to our hotel rooms, for a hot shower and our welcoming beds, where we at last toppled like felled soldiers around 10:00pm.

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Tomorrow would bring another day of sights and sounds in Taipei, but for now the simple pleasure of sleep — Shakespeare’s “balm of Kings” — promised relief after this long and lovely first day of adventures.

 

10/23 Welcome; We’re Ready to Launch

Welcome to the WTF Cycle Tour blog. The six of us altogether are poised for the tour. The members of the team, in case you’ve lost count or, more likely, would like to contact, are:

John Coldewey (jcjc@uw.edu); Rich Huie (huierich@gmail.com); Steve Jones (kjones1435@comcast.net); Van Schilling (vanschilling@msn.com); Charlie Griffes (charlie@ctengineering.com); Richard Wolf (richardjaywolf@gmail.com)

Feel free to email any of us, and you can make comments on the blogs here as well; see the button on the WTF site and follow instructions. Also, although I tried to include as many people as were suggested by our group, I’m sure there are some interested people who were not notified or subscribed. Feel free to give them this web address and they can sign up simply by pushing the button on the main page. Many thanks, by the way, to my son Christopher Coldewey, who put this site together and is watching over it. You’ll see his name on the main site too, and he can be contacted with any technical queries.

Meantime, Richard Wolf set off yesterday, so he will already be in Taipei, sitting on his balcony and flicking the ashes of his big cigar over the side of the parapet. After boxing up our bikes the rest of us will leave later tonight (well, tomorrow) at 2:00am, and so far, spirits are high. We arrive around 6:00am Friday morning Taipei time, where we’ll be met by our guide, Stephen Chen, who will whisk us off to our hotel and then on a trip an aboriginal village. Tea, good food, and eye popping sights are promised, which we will of course share with you. Except for the tea and food.

So the buzz of Asia awaits us, and spinning wheels around the Island for two weeks. A Chinese American friend said to me when he found out that it was my first trip to The East: “you’ll love it; it’s such a rush!” Bring it!

More later, with pix. I promise.