2010-09-14

Hsinchu/Miaoli: Ku Chi Feng, Sanfeng Charcoal Kiln, Fuxing Old Town, (...) - #1/2


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September 14th 2010 - I made a motorbike trip from Hsinchu City to Miaoli County and back. The main destination was Lion Head mountain in Miaoli County, but I visited total of 6 spots during this cruise:
    1. Ku Chi Feng Park (Chin. 古奇峰, pinyin: GiQi Feng)
    2. Sanfeng Charcoal Kiln (Chin. 三峰炭窯)
    3. Fuxing Old Town (Chin. 富興老街)
    4. Emei Lake (Chin. 峨嵋湖) in Emei Township
    5. Quanhua Temple on the Lion Head Mt(Chin. 獅頭山勸化堂)
    6. Beipu Old Town

This is Part 1, in which I will cover first 3 places. All 6 are tagged on the map with the trail log below:


Show Bike Trips: 2010-09-14, Hsinchu - Lion Head Mt on a bigger map


 
1. Ku Chi Feng Park (Chin. 古奇峰, pinyin: Guqi Feng)
Ku Chi Feng Park is located on the southeast of Hsinchu City. It spreads on the area of 10 hectares. It's also located between two other Hsinchu's famous spots: Eighteen Peaks Mountain and Green Grass Lake. Ku Chi Feng is said to be the only recreational park in Taiwan that is also a place of religious significance. A huge 120 meter statue of Kuan Kung is probably it's most known landmark (the statue was built in 1990).
The Park is beautifully located in Baoshan district - a suburb of Hsinchu City and is one of Hsinchu's Top 8 Cityscapes,and as such, it will be covered in more details in the serie of articles about those 8 spots in Hsinchu City. I only visited one of few sections of the Ku Chi Feng Park today, more will come in a separate article.
INFO: this park can sometimes be found in the internet under 'Gucci Hill/Peak/Gaze/Park' :P

Here are some photos taken during the trip:






2. Sanfeng Charcoal Kiln (Chin. 三峰炭窯)
When I was planning the route down to Lion Head Moutain in Miaoli County I took for a goal to visit a place that I only knew from a photograph on Google Panoramio. As Panoramio hosts photos with GPS coordinates it's easy to take a journey to the destination chosen. The photo by calvin_TH3 (here) shows an interesting architectural something :D Looks like a cottage made of a clay and straw.


The Kiln is located in southern Baoshan Township (suburb of Hsinchu City) in a proximity to Taiwan Acacia trees, aka Formosa Acacia (Lat.: Acacia confusa, Chin: 相思樹), which is a tree that grows pretty fast and with a wood of a good quality, very suitable to produce charcoal. In the past most of homes in the area were running on charcoal, therefore the kiln was indeed a part of local economy. In Taiwan the wood business started around 1926, and a wood from Taiwan Acacia was an important part of it. Although the charcoal can practically be made of any wood, the wood from Taiwan Acacia was recognised for especially good quality as the charcoal produced from it didn't emit smoke. Later, however, from 1981, most homes switched to gas, and therefore the role of the kiln was slowly deacreasing. It was preserved though, as an original and interesting landmark. When I visited the site, it was sealed and it seemed like the production of the charcoal was in progress, there was a fire inside and a smoke comming out. I'm guessing that it is still used for charcoal production on a smaller, maybe local scale.
The kiln was previously called Yong-Xing Charcoal Kiln (Chin.永興炭窯). There are very few kilns like this one in Hsinchu County. It is made of a loess (kind of a clay) and partially embedded into a hill's side to reinforce the construction. After choosing loess material for construction it was first put on the ground and given to cows to step on it for many days until it harden firmly, before it was finally used to build the kiln. The roof is made of grass. One kiln like this can produce 2000 to 3000 kilograms of charcoal at one single production process - depending of the size of wood chops used and the exact size of the kiln itself. By default 60-cm-long wood chops are used. First, the wood is put inside to burn, then, sealed inside still hot for 20 days, before it's all ready to be taken out and used as a charcoal (Source). The spot is really cool to visit on the way to somewhere else, or as a small trip from Hsinchu City. Very nice by a motorbike. It looks interesting, feels traditional and there is a place on the site to have a lunch or make a BBQ. On a sunny day it's convinient to sit on a wooden bench in the shadow from the tree, and eat out surrounded by the smell of wood. Finally it's nice to get back home with a collection with really cool photos next to something that looks like nothing else that can be found in Taiwanese scenery. I hope, that a brief introducton will help t appreciate this spot more than without knowing what it actually is.

Below some photos taken on this site:





3. Fuxing Old Town (Chin. 富興老街)
Next stop I made just before Emei Lake was Fuxing Old Town. It is very small, and rather humble comparing to the Old Town of Beipu, but there is a really pretty temple there, called Longsheng Temple (Chin. 隆聖宮), which was a reason I made a brief stop there. The temple was harmed by a construction field next to it in 1997 and reconstructed by 1999. Some wooden columns from the original temple are preserved and exposed for visitors next to the entrance. It is a famous temple in Emei Township, founded by Hakka people. Besides the temple the Fuxing Old Town had nothing else worth getting off the motorcycle that day. Below some photos:







To be continued...

2010-09-09

Hsinchu, Neiwan: The community and landscapes, part #1


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video
Quick lookaround
Before anything else I'd like to first share a small video recording I took from the bridge on the panorama above. A bit further in this article there are some more words about Neiwan's bridges. The video was shoot at around 8am on the weekday - avoided crowds. It was a refreshing morning in the river valley and I was tasting fresh mountain air with just the right humidity and forest aroma. Yet in the burning sun.
Cooling breeze was softly blowing at my face while a loud sound of unstoppable flow of crystal clear water below was nicely flooding my ears. It is a great spot 30/40 min. away from Hsinchu City by motorcycle (atleast when I drive). And down the river is a fantastic place for a barbecue, which is a leasure activity quite often practiced here by both local and visiting people. As for my personal taste however, the greatest attraction by the river is not eating out, but river swimming! Unforgettable experience: persistent, almost stubborn motion of water stream in the scenery like one from the National Geographics Channel! One of my very favorite places in Neiwan. The time I was witnessing a rise of the sun over mountain tops from a line bridge with a hot coffee and instant noodles from the nearby 7/11 will always remain in my memory...

Information about the cruise
On the map below is the track of my today's bike trip (2010-09-08) from the downtown of Hsinchu City, via Cyonglin township to Neiwan:


Show Bike Trips: 2010-09-08, Hsinchu - Neiwan on a bigger map

內灣 Neiwan - the community
Neiwan is a small community in the mountains in Hengshan Township, Hsinchu County. In the 60. it was a prosperious mining town, which suffered a fall after mining industry retreated. It had its rise again around year 2000 as its touristic value was recognised. It hosts some well kept traditional architecture and historical buildings. Similar constructions didn't prevent in other places where modernisation transformed urban landscapes. In Neiwan one can also experience more original than in close proximity to Hsinchu City Hakka culture. The main local attraction for tourists is definetely 內灣老街 - the Old Street cutting from the main transit road into the town intself. Probably it hapens daily that visitors from Hsinchu (and on holidays also from elsewhere, often from Taipei) come to Neiwan Old Street to consume local food, local souvenirs, and just any commercial goods one can possibly find here. Not to forget about massive photo taking offcourse - after all it's Asian (pop)culture here ;) One of the souvenir stores is made in the building of the old Neiwan Cinema, which has now been converted to a museum/restaurant with a cinema theme. Not only will you find posters of Bruce Lee hanging on the walls, but also some good old american action movies that even I don't remember but I'm sure I saw them sometime at my child years. There's also a museum of all kinds of unusual/freaky things such as mutant animals with few heads, strange inventions from all over the world etc. The "Taiwanese Style" of being a tourist however pretty much focuses over eating and taking photos. Well, it's even more general, it's a "Chinese Style" I can say. Well, ok, fine, it's Asian style ;] White people here like to make fun of it, but after a trip it feels bad not to have so many memories saved digitally as those Asian people have. For those who decide not to limit themselves to all of commercial aspects described above, there is a really beautiful landscape stretching around, along the Youluo River (Chin. 油羅溪 pinyin: youluoqi) - a tributary to Toucian River. There are also some nice suspended bridges above it, of which there are two that I decided to introduce later on. First a bit of the history of the place:
Times of Qing Dynasty
Highlands of Western Hsinchu County were home to Atayal people (aka Tayal or Tayan, Chin.
雅), second most numberous aboriginal tribal ethinicity in Taiwan (over 90k in the year 2000), whereas the lowlands on the East were inhabited by Chinese Han people. The Han presence in Hsinchu County was succesively developping deeper and deeper to the West along Toucian riverbed. To Atayal people however, they were intruders. Eventually, after reaching today's Neiwan, forestry and mining industry attracted lot of people from further Jianshi to come down to Neiwan after work. Local people were settling in the town of Neiwan together with Han people driving development in the valley. Later however, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, it were Japanese people who invaded Atayal Land abruptly deeper than it was done before, especially encouraged by discovering rich natural resources there, such as Camphor Trees. Naturally there were acts of agression from Atayal tribes agains explorations onto lands.

Rise and Fall after railway construction
In 1951 a new railway connecting Neiwan to Hsinchu City was finished. It was originally launched to satisfy the needs of the mining and forestry industry, to transport wood and minerals. For around 2 decades there was a constant economical growth of Neiwan and a time of great prosperity. As more and more people were coming to settle down, so the local infractructure was growing along. Lot of shops were opened, lot of restaurants, bars and pubs, even a cinema. Later however, around 1970 governmental policy toward forestry changed. Mining in the region also dropped, besides resources were exploated so much, they started to run out anyway. Government reported lot of industrial accidents in the region, as further investigations showed, largely due to a bad condition of infrastructure. Furthermore, human's ingerence into a natural habitat togeter with nature forces often led to madslides around mining sites. The industry that Neiwan Town was running on was about to be pulled out of the valley. Once vigorous and vital life of Neiwan now was about to slow down dramatically, and soon, almost vanish.


Second rise of Neiwan
Since 1995 beautiful scenery of Neiwan and plans for initiatives like creation of investment zone, region was once again attracting visitors, this time mosty for tourism, which up until current day is the main force driving local economy. Neiwan was growing its popularity as touristic place among people from Taipei. In the chronological order four stages of progressive development can be pointed out:
1). 1999-2000: local authorities applied for governmental founds for a plan of renovation and restoration a Neiwan's local infrastructure (Chin. 「再造美麗新內灣」計畫).

2). 2000-2002:  Establishment of business investment zone in the region, with governmental support.
3). 2002-2003: Local government of Hsinchu hired a well known comic art artist for a project of comic art themed district in Neiwan.
4). 2004: continuation of a comic theme plan by the local Hakka government.
 

Neiwan Railway Line
As already mentioned above, establishing railway connection to Neiwan trigered its development in the 60. The first works on the line begun in 1944, but the construction was holded during the Japanese occupation, to be restored afterwards. On November 15th 1947 the first section was finished, that only connected from Hsinchu to Zhudong (called Zhudong Line). On December
27th 1950 it was extended to Shifenliao (Hexing Station), which is 24.3km of the total length. Only in 1951, on September 11th the whole Line was completed and renamed to the current Neiwan Line. Although Neiwan Line is only a branch of the main rail road, it well keeps high standards of comparable level. It was not electrically powered though, until recently. Oryginal line was from Hsinchu Main Station to Neiwan at the total length of 27.9 km, with 11 stations along the way and a rail gauge of 1067mm. And it is a double track rail road at its whole length. In 2007 the section between Hsinchu City and Zhudong of Neiwan Line was closed to enable work on a construction of MRT-like connection between Hsinchu Main Station and Hsinchu High Speed Railway Station (in Zhubei). The original plan specified the year 2011 to allow to reopen that length of the Neiwan Line. So far it's still closed though :( Until then, in order to get to Neiwan, one must first get to Zhudong on anything else than a train and then transfer to Neiwan Line. The rest of the journey leads through beautiful scenic areas, with tunnels drilled in solid rock, and a part of the track running just aside the Youluo River bed. Also the look of the train itself differs from other taiwanese trains both on the outside and the inside, which makes it a touristic atteaction in itself. On the weekends Taiwanese Railways sell tickets for the whole length of a rail road between Neiwan and Taipei (well, used to, now the section between Hsinchu and Zhudong is closed).

Suspension Bridges in Neiwan
Neiwan sits aside the Youluo River. Where is a river, there will be a bridge. So as here, there are bridges. Some are strictly practical, help cars to get across the river, some hold more of a touristic value. Those second cathegory would apply to suspended bridges in Neiwan. Among them two closest to the Neiwan town, also two most popular among tourists in the region.

內灣吊橋 - Neiwan Suspension Bridge
The bridge of the same name as Neiwan Town is suspended on two stone towers and links the town with the South side of the Youluo River. Its total length has 147 m, and it's 2,6 m wide. Its traditional design attracts attention from visitors to Neiwan. It can be crosses on foot, but to drive through there is a second bridge built more recently closer to Neiwan Old Street to the East.
From what I found out about the history of the bridge, it started as on the South side of the Youluo River some Japanese farmer opened an irigation farm for pastoral purposes, currently turned into more touristic version of it known as Nanping Farm (Chi. 「南坪田园」). Later on there was a senior of Neiwan, Mr. Yang Shengquan, who has founded a construction of the bridge to transport crops between both sides of the river. After a new bridge was added nearby and took over transportation role, the Neiwan Suspended Bridge became a local symbolic landmark. Below the bridge, over the river local habitants as well as visitors find genial and agreeable fishing and barbecue site right at the river bed. Plus, the bridge is lighted at night with colorful LED light chains hanging along ropes suspending the construction.

攀龍吊橋 - Panlong Bridge
This is also a suspension bridge, hanging on two stone pylons emedded into rock cliffs on two opposite sides of the river below. Was opened in the 80. and is 80 m long, 1.1 m wide. Surrounded by the forest and rocky scenery. On the Northern end the bridge starts from the sideway of the main transit road in Neiwan, in the place of a narrow turn, which only makes this scene more interesting visually. There is also a wooden cottage right next to the Northern entrance with the coffe shop/restaurant and with a nice wooden platform stretching out and off the rock cliff towards the river. By crossing the bridge over to the Southern end you basically enter to the forest on the hill. Right at this end of the bridge there is a forest path starting with narrow stone stairs up the mountain. It is said to be leading on a 1,5 km long mountain trekking path called Nanping (Chin. 「南坪古道」) connecting Panlong Bridge with the Neiwan Suspension Bridge to the West - so far I didn't get on the path myself - there will be time to check it out on the next trip to Neiwan ;]
View from the Panlong Bridge to the West
In the recent years one of two main steel ropes supporting the construction was observed to be somewhat longer from the other, which was explained to be due to the age of the bridge. It makes the floor of the brige a bit slanted to one side and probably makes the bridge more susceptible to wave on a strong wind. The local authorities didn't close the bridge but to protect visitors they warned them by putting up an information panel at the entrance stating that the bridge is danger and entrance is at one's own risk. I was also able to come across a note in Chinese regarding the origine of the bridge's name:
Source in Chin.: 其名稱由來是因橋的對岸山頭屬於當地風水的「龍脈之龍首」處,所以「吊橋通往龍頭」可謂「攀龍」。
As I understand the information above, the bridge opens itsef to the local Feng Shui zone called "The Head Of A Dragon" (Chin. 「龍脈之龍首」), therefore "a bridge leading to the head of a dragon" (Chin. 「吊橋通往龍頭」) was named with two Chinese characters: Pan (Chin. 攀) which means "to climb" or "to lead up to" and Long (Chin. 龍) which means "dragon". The view from the Panlong Bridge, especially to the West (on the picture above) is one of the most stunning ones in this valley. Furthermore, it gives a refreshing dose of a thrill when enjoying the view from a narrow platform swaying and waving under one's own foot steps and steps of other people passing it at the same time. It all adds a quantum of an adventure flavor to the overall magnificent ambience of this place.


In this article it's all, but at the nearest possible future I will take my next trip to Neiwan, this time on the train - the described Neiwan Line. I will also focus more on Neiwan Old Street, will go there at the peak time when visitors fill the scenery up, also bringing some introduction to the local food in Neiwan. 

I have something extra for the end, I discovered a new great spot, and it was totally accidentally and unplanned as I got inspired by some sudden curiousity to get off the main track on my way back to Hsinchu. I found a recreational area with a beautiful open air scenery at one of tributories to Toucian river - a beautiful small stream with perfectly clear water ideal for a magnificent refreshing swim. The place is also tagged on the map. Few pictures of the place below:




2010-09-07

Hsinchu, Baoshan: The Boshan Reservoirs


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Baoshan 
(寶山, pinyin: bǎoshān)

The first character of the Chinese name means "treasure", and the second one means "mountain". So the "treasure mountain". Baoshan township is located in Hsinchu County. The artificial human-made lake of Baoshan is around 30 min ride from Hsinchu City's downtown. The area around the lake itself is not urbanized. Apart of Baoshan Reservoir, the township also consists of urban and semi-urban part, including big, fancy houses. Fair enough to mention, that the township of Baoshan itself is ostensibly a suburb of Hsinchu City. In this article I will put some brief overall introduction to Baoshan, but will mainly focus on the lake area this time.

Information about the cruise
Below is the track of my bike trip to Baoshan Reservoir area from Hsinchu City's Downtown:


Show Bike Trips: Hsinchu - Baoshan on a bigger map

Baoshan is a township in the Western part of Hsinchu County, Taiwn. It is a suburb-neighbour to Hsinchu City to the North and West. It is also bounded by Zhudong City (to the East), Beipu and Emei Towns (to the South) and Miaoli County (to the West). Baoshan, populated predominantly by people of Hakka ethnicity, is part of the Greater Daai Area (together with Beipu and Emei) which is said to be the largest area of Hakka settlers in northern Taiwan. Novadays, however, non-Hakka people started to also settle in Baoshan due to its proximity to Hsinchu City. Quite a few wealthy people moved in recent years from Hsinchu City to Baoshan to live in big and expensive houses. Also, the Hsinchu Science Park (Tiwan's Silicon Valey) grows its significant part into the Baoshan. The township is hilly, semi-mountinous area. Besides the urban part, the rest of it, is predominantly agricultural, particularly plentiful in hillside orchards of tangerines and lychee nuts. It is also where national Freeways No. 1 and 3 connects to each other by a large interchange called Hsinchu System.

Baoshan Reservoirs 寶山水庫 
The goal of my today's cruise was not the urban part of Baoshan however. The township is also the location of Baoshan Reservoirs 寶山水庫 (pinyn: bao3shan1shui3ku4) I and II supplying drinking water to Hsinchu City as well as cooling water to the Science Park's foundries.
The second Reservoir was created more recently and it seems that it's missing on Google maps. Well, I learnt about this only when I was already in the field. To my suprise, my GPS locator with Google maps was showing my position away from the Reservoir, while I saw the water next to the road. It was the second, more recently created Reservoir that I was looking at.


Baoshan Reservoir II
So there are two of them! The photo on the right was taken by me at the Dam of the Baoshan Reservoir II. It is a photo of an informational sign by the Dam, and the Dam itself behind it.
The information from the sign (the English part) is as below:

The Baoshan II Reservoir is a mono goal reservoir for civil and industrial water supply. The reservoir is located in Baoshan Township, Hsinchu County. The Baoshan II Resevoir is an off-stream reservoir, thus it requires diversion to channel water from Shangping River, the tributary of Toucian River, during wet season. The catchment area of reservoir are 2.88 square kilimeters, the capacity are 32 million cubic meters.


Ponizej wiecej ujec na zbiorniki w Baoshan:
Panorama of the Baoshan II Reservoir

Zoom on the informational sign
Stop on the way to the Dam
Sightseeing terrace by the Baoshan I Reservoir


Baoshan's Primary School

By the lake in Baoshan there's a school - a primary school (新竹縣寶山國小). Taking into a consideration that this very part of Baoshan is not highly populated, I would rather expect something modest from a school. What I saw, however, was nothing like a school building that one could be expecting. In fact, at the first glance, I was convinced it is some SPA-like mountain resort, restaurant maybe. Then I saw the sign on the wall :) Oficially there are aproximately 14-16 thousands people living on 65 km² of Baoshan Township's area. This number makes it very reasonable to have even few schools here. Extraordinary part is the architectural design of the school and its landscape. The location of the school is marked on the map above, and on the right there's small footage from my trip.
Source: www.bses.hcc.edu.tw/
And it's suprising not only on the outside. Inside it hosts a swimming pool! While it can be generally said that Baoshan is a Countryside area, who would like to go to school in a city if you can spend your young years in a school like the one in Baoshan, playing in the pool each day :)


And as the last flavor, a montage of some of my photos:

Taiwan, Hsinchu-Baoshan, 2010-09-06