Leave Your Bike at Home (捷安特自行車租賃計畫)

Flexible Multi-Day Cycle Rental Program Offered by Giant

Giant Bicycles Corporation (捷安特), Taiwan's largest bicycle designer, builder and retailer, offers a highly attractive rental program (自行車租賃) to encourage more Taiwanese to take multi-day cycling trips across the island. The program lets you choose from two mid-range (NT$20,000 / US$650) bicycles [Great Journey 1 and CRX-2] and comes with a saddle bag and support kit that includes basic cycle accoutrements (air pump, tool kit, flashlight, lock, etc.).

The program allows rentals and returns at any of Giant's 30 some wholly-owned distributors (contact details for around 15 of them are posted in Chinese here). For our most recent cycling journey from Kaohsiung to Taitung, we rented bikes from Giant's Zuoying (Tsoying) outlet (捷安特左營店, tel: 07-348-0975), a 10 minute walk from the Zuoying High Speed Rail (HSR) station, and returned them at Giant's Taitung City outlet (捷安特台東店, tel: 08-934-7416).

The rental program is exceptionally cost effective, with rentals billed at NT$1,000 (US$35) total for the first three days and NT$200 (US$7) for each day thereafter. While bikes seem to be kept in good condition, make sure to give them a thorough once over before setting out. You probably will also want to consider packing a spare inner tube and/or tire repair kit as well.

The bicycle rental program is surprisingly under-advertised. Prior to our trip in March, I did a Chinese language search of the Internet and came up empty on any rental program details. The Giant website (also in Chinese) is quiet on the rental program as well ... the company apparently treating it as somewhat of a stealth operation. Giant may be concerned about over-subscriptions and thus prefers word of mouth promotion.

Program rules ask that you book reservations through your pick-up location (Giant outlet) at least one week in advance. English will likely prove too challenging for most of the store attendants taking phone-in reservations, so suggest that non-Chinese speakers book by e-mail. A partial listing of outlets with e-mail links follows:

Giant Taipei Hsinchuang (Sinjhuang / Xinzhuang)台北新莊店
Giant Bali (Shihsanhang) 十三行站
Giant Taipei Banqiao (Banciao) 台北板橋店
Giant Taipei Nanjing (Nanking East Road) 台北南京店
Giant Hsinchu Jiedeng 新竹捷登店
Giant Taichung City Hall 台中市政店
Giant Taichung Nantun 南屯店
Giant Taichung Beitun 太原站
Giant Fengyuan Circle 豐原圓環店
Giant Tainan City 台南店
Giant Kaohsiung Zuoying (HSR Station) 左營店
Giant Kaohsiung Qijin (Cijin) 旗津站
Giant Kaohsiung Ersheng 高雄二聖店
Giant Pingdong City (Pingtung) 屏東店
Giant Taidong City (Taitung) 台東店
Giant Hualien Liyutan 鯉魚潭站
Giant Hualien Qixingtan (Cisingtan) 七星潭站
Giant Yilan Zhongshan (Jhongshan) 宜蘭中山店

- JM


Taiwan's Southern Cape (恆春半島)

Shipwrecks and Headhunters

Taiwan's extreme southeastern coast, still one of the most remote and lightly populated corners of this island, served as backdrop for a series of shipwreck dramas during the mid-1800s that made far off Formosa the talk of the Great Powers and got pundits in the United States, Japan and elsewhere talking about either buying Taiwan from China's Manchu rulers or simply taking it by force.

Truculent weather, hidden coral reefs and hostile inhabitants irritated shippers and made Taiwan's dangerous shores an occasional cause célèbre for those out to make the world safe for civilization and Free Trade. In the two decades between 1850 and 1870 alone, some 150 Western vessels met their end in Taiwan waters.

In 1867, after crashing onto coral, crew and passengers of the U.S. ship Rover straggled onto a rocky stretch of southeastern shoreline only to lose their lives to indigenous Malayo-Polynesians (still headhunters at the time). A similar fate met the survivors of other shipwrecks, including 54 hands aboard a Ryukyuan fishing / trading boat that foundered along the same stretch of coast in 1871. Their capture and death at the hands of Paiwan (Botan, 排灣) warriors near the current town of Hsuhai (旭海村) gave Meiji Japan an excuse to dispatch an expeditionary force to the island in 1874, which lingered more than six months, killed several dozen of the elusive Paiwan and lost over 500 of their own number - mostly to tropical disease. This half year sojourn, known today as the "Mudan Incident" (牡丹社事件), is often cited (in hindsight) as the first move in a Japanese plot to wrest Taiwan from China - an effort that culminated two decades later in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki (馬關條約).

I'd read about the wrecks and heard about the rough landscape that greeted survivors ... now I had a chance to see it firsthand. ... read on.

The Challenge

Cycling around Taiwan, either in sections or the entire 1,000+km circuit, has come into vogue over the past several years. The initiative has complex roots, but seems driven at its core by a growing desire among the population here to ponder their identity as Taiwan islanders (rather than immigrant or transplanted Mainland Chinese) and subsequent curiosity on the part of those with time (i.e., students) or money (mostly white collar professionals) to finally explore their homeland in a challenging but (now) socially acceptable way - straddling a top-of-the-line touring bike and wearing the latest in sweat-free fashion. The screening in 2006 of the semi-documentary film Island Etude (練習曲:單車環島日記) [link to YouTube trailer here, and great song from the film here] and promotional support from the island's globally competitive bicycle manufacturers gave the movement its 'wings' ... and it is now difficult to travel anywhere off the highways and not see long-distance cyclers on their way somewhere. This is a fad that will hopefully strike deep roots and continue growing. Taiwan has much to offer in the way of scenic beauty and friendly faces - enjoyed all the more from the seat of a bicycle.

A good friend and professor of law at one of Taiwan's leading universities is already well into a plan, put together with half a dozen former classmates (now all middle-aged professionals, of course), to circle Taiwan together by bike. They are doing the circuit in sections so as to minimize disruption to work schedules, with each section a 3~4 day chunk of time - usually astride a weekend.

The next section awaiting them was the southern cape, a "U" route beginning just north of Kaohsiung (高雄市) and ending in Taitung City (Taidong, 台東市), some 250 kilometers away [see route map here]. I asked to join when discussions turned to biking all the way down to Hengchun (恆春) before crossing over to the Pacific Coast rather than via the easier (but highly trafficked) Southern Loop (南回公路, Route 9). Added enticement was the prospect of a challenging but pleasant few hours of shouldering bikes across a several kilometer section of remote and roadless southeastern shoreline - the selfsame coast described above. Little in the way of information on this area is available (not even in Chinese ... it is quite remote). Blogs by several Taiwanese cycling teams gave an idea of what we might expect in pictures and limited descriptions (follow links here 1 & 2).

Taiwan's far south is an amazing place to cycle due to its remoteness, tropical beauty and relaxed airs. We rented bikes from Giant at an outlet several blocks away from the southern terminus of the High Speed Rail (HSR, 高鐵) in Tsoying (Zuoying左營), a northern suburb of Kaohsiung City. The stretch of Provincial Route 17 south through Kaohsiung City and into northern Pingdong County traverses the badlands of Taiwan industrialization. Petrochemical factories in particular dominate the skyline and keep the area cloaked in a fine grey acidic haze. We mercifully left industry behind about 4 hours into our trip and began to enjoy the windy and exceptionally scenic Pingdong coast along Provincial Route 1 ... and then 26. Having pedaled out from Zuoying at around 10:30am (after arriving on the first HSR service of the day), we reached our Hengchun B&B after dark, about 8:00pm - inclusive of stops for lunch and a bit of sightseeing.

(click to open larger picture)

(click to open larger picture)

From Hengchun, we cut eastward the next morning on County Route 200 into rolling hills (that bear, I thought, some resemblance to south Texas) before veering southeastward on Route 200 "jia" (甲) toward the small village of Gangkou (港口村) on the Pacific. The road ended at Provincial Route 26, which we followed north and past a toll booth happy to collect NT$60 a head (the student rate) for permission to continue on to the absolute end of this section of Route 26 at Jialeshui (佳樂水 or 佳洛水) - some 2 kilometers further on.

A late start in the morning meant it was two o'clock by the time we had polished off lunch and commenced carrying our bikes. We weren't initially aware that the entire coastline ahead (some 12 kilometers) was devoid of all but perhaps 200 meters' worth of bike-friendly footpaths and that we would be pushing and carrying our bikes for a full 7-1/2 hours to come. The day was one of those "once in a lifetime" adventures. As we prodded our cycles across the rocky shore covered in sandstone boulders of assorted sizes, I could easily picture how disappointing this stretch of Taiwan must have appeared to soggy shipwreck survivors a century ago. The ribbon of rocky coast, averaging some 30 meters wide, ends abruptly against steep slopes covered in impassable tropical grasses and screw pine (林投, Pandanus odoratissimus ... see pictures here).

With the exception of a few fishermen encountered not far from the trail entrance, we had the entire coast to ourselves that afternoon. At each promontory we expected / hoped to hook up with a dirt path that would take us off the beach and eventually to the road we needed to take to our Hsuhai B&B reserved for the evening ... It was not to be. Night closed in soon after seeing the first twinkling lights of civilization - still a hard 3~4 kilometer walk away. We pressed on with flashlights after nightfall and emerged at around 9:30 in the tiny fishing village of Nanren (南仁村). Exhausted, we were kindly taken in by an 80 year-old fisherman and his wife, plied with sports drink and pot noodle, and offered a room in which to bunk for the night. We accepted graciously, and slept exceptionally soundly on beds of plywood paneling covered with bamboo mats.

Our third day out took us north along the perimeter of the island's largest sand dune (at Jiupeng Bay, 九鵬灣) toward the town of Hsuhai (旭海村, where those Ryukyuan fisherman were waylaid in 1871). Until recently, the entire area between Nanren and Hsuhai was an ROC military preserve. Much of the interior, home to Taiwan's main missile testing facility, remains so. From Hsuhai, we cycled inland along very scenic Route 199 - from sea level to about 400m (around the town of Shouka [壽卡]). Once we connected with the Southern Loop (Route 9), it was an exhilarating coast all the way back to the Pacific. We still had a ways to go before finally making Taitung County's Jinlun Village (太麻里金崙村) and the Eastsun Resort & Spa (東太陽溫泉會館) - our inn for the night.

The fourth day was comparatively anticlimactic, although still liberally sprinkled with gorgeous Pacific Coast scenery and still a challenge with plenty of inclines to huff up along Provincial Route 9. In Taitung City, we returned our rented bikes to the city's main Giant outlet, ate lunch and headed by car back down Provincial Route 9 toward Kaohsiung and an HSR ride homeward. We just made the last High Speed Rail out of Zuoying (about 10:40pm) and got into Taipei in time to ride the last intercity bus back to Keelung. The adventure had remained so down to the last minute ...

(click to open larger picture)

4-Day Cycling Itinerary (see map here for details)

Day 1: Zuoying (高雄市左營區 a northern suburb of Kaohsiung City) - Hengchun (屏東縣恆春鎮, close to Kenting 墾丁)

Day 2: Hengchun - Gangkou (港口村) - Jialeshui (佳樂水) - Chufengbi (出風鼻) - Nanren (南仁村)

Day 3: Nanren - Jiupeng Bay (Jiupengwan, 九鵬灣) - Hsuhai (Xuhai,旭海村) - Shouka (壽卡) - Daren (達仁) - Jinlun (太麻里金崙村)

Day 4: Jinlun - Taitung City (台東市)

- JM


Historic Forts and Batteries (基隆古砲台)

Its natural deep sea anchorage and proximity to Taipei made Keelung of vital strategic importance to Taiwan's rulers for nearly two centuries. Today, while a few hilltop military posts remain manned (with at least one topped by a prominent battery of antiaircraft missiles), most former strongholds have been abandoned to weekend hikers, gardeners, fast growing vegetation ... or some combination of all three.

Beyond the half dozen or so batteries designated as historic sites by the city, Keelung has at least as many which, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, now lie buried beneath banyan trees and decades of growth. In addition to the formal batteries, dozens of lookouts and pillboxes are also scattered in several rings around the city - reminders that the entire Keelung area was designated a military zone「要塞」 by the Japanese during their 50-year rule on the island (1895-1945).

However, as with a good deal of Taiwan history, much in the way of details on northeast coast fortifications has been lost or buried away in dank files accessed only occasionally by the particularly diligent graduate student, ... leaving the visitor to make educated guesses about when structures were built and where they fit into island defense.

Today, these relics of the past are a definite enticement to visiting the Northeast Coast. Off the beaten path, even well-marked batteries rarely see more than a trickle of visitors. In a crowded place like Taiwan, their combination of solitude, great views (locations were chosen specifically for spying across the surrounding terrain) and enigmatic stone block structures are greatly appreciated!

Keelung Fortifications

After the Dutch abandoned Keelung for a second and final time in 1668, San Salvador - the earliest fort on Keelung Bay - sat crumbling and largely forgotten. China's supremacy in East Asia was still widely respected and its harbors were secure even without protective fortifications.

Expansion-minded Western traders undermined and ultimately demolished the Chinese peace, setting themselves up at prime anchorages around the region, playing local politics, and eventually delivering up entire slices of Asia to direct European rule (e.g., the Dutch in Batavia [1619], the British in Singapore [1819]; the Russians in Vladivostok [1860]; and the French in Saigon [1862]).

In response to this unprecedented threat from the sea, the Qing built two forts astride Keelung's inner harbor entrance. These quickly proved their worth by foiling at least three attempts by the British to shell the town during the First Opium War (1839-42).

The Qing later extended Keelung's fortifications and, by the early 1880s, some 10 artillery batteries fringed the bay. Most were set close to the water's edge to compensate for limited cannon range and, as a result, have since disappeared beneath container terminals and urban planning.

France's capture of the harbor in the autumn of 1884 drove the Qing defenders into the hills between Keelung and the Keelung River (see contemporary map here). Here they hastily built a second line of fortifications to frustrate any further French advance and provide forward bases from which to launch counterattacks. They also threw up trenches and protective works above the interior bank of the Keelung River to insure against a breach of the second line.

This network of fortifications left Keelung so well guarded that, when preparing to battle the armed resistance opposed to their takeover in 1895, Japanese military commanders chose to land their main force 30km to the south (at Gongliao [貢寮]) and approach the harbor from behind via a 2-day march over rugged mountain terrain. Even then, it took a fatal blunder by Chinese troops for the Japanese to storm Keelung's principal defenses without heavy casualties. Chinese records tell of a fierce battle fought in inclement weather along the slopes of Shiqiuling (獅球嶺) that caused heavy casualties on both sides. One version of events says that Cantonese soldiers guarding the battery mistook as Japanese the unfamiliar Chinese dialect spoken by an approaching Taiwanese relief force and opened fire. The Taiwanese, believing the Qing troops to have mutinied, fired back. The fighting decimated Shiqiuling's defenses. The Japanese took the fort the next morning and marched, almost unopposed, into Keelung.

Learning from experience, Japan reconfigured Keelung's defenses to handle potential threats from rival powers, including Russia, England, and (in the 1940s) the United States. Many of the Sino-French War era emplacements set next to Keelung Bay were abandoned and replaced by modern batteries set along strategic hilltops. New installations at Dawulun (大武崙), Baimiweng (白米甕), Shen Ao Keng (深澳坑), Gangziliao (槓子寮), and elsewhere afforded better defensive coverage and gave full play to the range and firepower of modern Western artillery.

- JM


Let Your Fingers Do the Walking - Taiwan Tourism in the Yellow Pages (中華黃頁英文版建議老外如何遊台灣)

(see bottom of entry for links to higher resolution tourism page images)

It started at the height of last summer with an introduction to Chunghwa Yellow Pages (中華國際黃頁股份有限公司), the newly independent former subsidiary of the national telephone service provider Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信). Would I be interested to help proofread 70 or so pages of English slated for publication in the coming year's national Yellow Pages?

"Sure." Work was to follow a format applied from previous years and material would mostly be mined from earlier editions and updated as needed by YP staff.

An abiding interest in travel around the island led me to peruse the tourism sections of previous years' editions, which, not unexpectedly, were built of borrowings from various websites and information from the national Tourism Bureau. YP encouraged my being creative, particularly with this section, and invited me to pick and choose from information gathered over the years to make these pages more practical and attractive; important – they felt - to expanding Yellow Pages readership and, ultimately, increasing advertising revenues.

While guidebooks, travelogues and magazines dedicated to the ins and outs of Taiwan travel have inundated bookstore and convenience store shelves in recent years, their usefulness to non-Taiwanese readers is limited, as they are almost exclusively presented in Chinese and naturally tailored to local travel habits and preferences (e.g., easy access and good photo ops; night market reviews; souvenir shopping suggestions). While government budgets are being spent and things are improving in terms of foreign language information on Taiwan, presentations are still too often limited to summary translations of Chinese language material that are heavy on florid adjectives and trivia, and short on practical details and useful background information. Exploring Taiwan beyond Taipei City and a few major tourist attractions still requires a fair dose of "derring-do" and a steadfast confidence that good Samaritans along the way will point you in the right direction (which, in hospitable Taiwan, is still very much the case).

I pitched an idea to develop the tourism section of the upcoming edition of the English Yellow Pages from scratch... suggesting 4 general areas in Taiwan that I would visit and introduce from a perspective more familiar to overseas visitors. I wanted to create something that could be used as a practical travel guide by non-Chinese speaking travelers and which would set travelers up nicely for a 2 to 3 day stay in each area introduced.

The proposal included research, design, content development, photography, page layout ... the whole works. It went through, an agreement was signed and I set to work - with a deadline for 22 finished pages set 1-1/2 months away.

The following (click on a small images to open higher resolution scans) are a few pages from the 2007/2008 Taiwan English Yellow Pages, hot off the press (well, as of late January). It was a great experience. I learned much and had a chance to test out a different approach to introducing visitors and expatriates to Taiwan "off the beaten path".

(click to view higher resolution images)

(click to view higher resolution images)

(click to view higher resolution images)



Cycling Taiwan (台灣腳踏車遊)

Growing up in the Michigan countryside, I learned early the freedoms afforded by a bicycle. I explored fairly fully the dirt roads in and around Metamora and occasionally struck out for longer hauls to Oxford. I thought it a pretty impressive accomplishment when I finished my first round trip to Lapeer - some 25 miles away. My gold ten-speed offered mobility, exercise and a way to get to and from summertime lawn mowing jobs.

Once at university, however, shorter distances and the prospect of worrying over the safety and health of a bike chained to a grill outside East Quad relegated cycling to an occasional activity done more to renew the feel of high school than to commute around Ann Arbor (although I did make it out to Ypsilanti once). When during our senior year one of my best friends shared her plans to spend the upcoming summer on a month-long cross-country bike caravan (Seattle to Michigan), I could only wonder at the challenges ahead.

A move to Taiwan in the early 1990s made prospects of cycling even more remote. While Taipei, mercifully, is now ringed with bicycle paths and cyclists have increasingly taken to braving city streets (where motorists have grudgingly begun to accept their right-of-way), all this came, regrettably, after my time. Our move to Keel
ung was prompted, in fair part, by the prospect of more space, green views and roads to bike.

As before, I took to exploring the immediate vicinity and first saw much of Keelung and the Northeast Coast's green interior from a bicycle seat. While the region has some of the island's most rugged coastal terrain, roads tend to follow valleys as much as possible, making for treks that rarely exceed a "moderate" level of difficulty (of course, there are also plenty of hills to navigate if one so desires).

If I have set an example for others by pedaling out on the weekends, many have since outdone me. A few of our friends now often commute by bike from their homes near Keelung to jobs in Taipei (about an hour+, over heavily trafficked roads) and several families in our church meet nearly "religiously" on Saturday mornings to cycle over increasingly challenging courses in Keelung and Taipei County. What's more, with our children now increasingly able and willing to participate, cycling is being embraced as not only a family activity, but as a way to face and beat new challenges, develop a rapport with the outdoors and give (and receive) support as part of a team.

Over the past two months, my daughter and I have had the pleasure to join in two challenging cycling activities. The first, described briefly in a previous post, was organized by the Chinese Christian Relief Association (中華基督救助協會) as an event to draw attention and donations to the CCRA's ongoing work with disadvantaged families and after-school tutoring for children with special needs. Nineteen teams of two set out early on December 14th from the Eluanbi (Erluanbi, 鵝鸞鼻) Lighthouse at Taiwan's southernmost point – hopeful that they would achieve Taiwan's northernmost point at Fuguijiao (富貴角), 700 km away and 9 days later. The challenge of the trip was enhanced by our riding tandem (2-person) bicycles and the participation of primarily non-seasoned cyclists (including us). Nearly half the teams had pre-teens on the second seat. Quite a few in the group were over 60. The youngest was five.

The route was planned so as to pass through major towns, where brief PR events, often attended by local officials, helped publicize the CCRA cause. We stuck largely to main county roads, which took us through Taiwan's industrial heartland. Actually, getting away from industry along the western coast is difficult without either navigating the awkward web of roadways that skirt the Taiwan Strait or heading into the Central Mountain foothills. Both present challenges best left for another cycling trip.

The weather cooperated to a surprising degree, with sunshine following us nearly all the way to Taoyuan County. Tara's initial nonchalance about the challenges ahead (she'd heard that kids could ride in the chase car [小蜜蜂] if their legs gave out) turned into impressive determination. She biked behind me the entire 700 km, growing in self-confidence and experience.

We reached Fuguijiao on the North Coast late on December 22nd after a day under overcast, occasionally drizzly skies. Tara proudly remarked that she wouldn't mind continuing on down the East Coast – mostly because she wanted to continue traveling with this tremendous group

and partly because she felt that more biking beat, hands down, the prospect of returning to school in another two days. Thirty-eight individuals had come together as strangers and were to part as friends. The support team fielded by CCRA handled the difficult logistics necessary over the entire trip, which included escorts from county police, event organization, overnight arrangements, rest stop and lunch arrangements and the handling of myriad details of which we could only appreciate the results. Their dedication, given to help ensure the CCRA can continue in its main mission, testifies most strongly to the value of CCRA work in Taiwan.

Soon after returning home, we were invited by the abovementioned group of weekend bikers to join in a planned cycling trip in February from Keelung to Taitung (Taidong, 台東), down the East Coast. We agreed, but with consternation over the weather – which had (and has) been atrocious (rainy and cold) for the past month across northern and eastern Taiwan. As our departure on February 1st drew near, the weather simply got worse.

It had not improved by the time we gathered in Guogang (過港 / 暖暖) outside of Keelung on Friday morning. Two families, including ours, opted for the warmth of the chase cars, in which we followed those (three families, including 5 kids!) who had elected to brave it out. We met up in Fulong (福隆) for lunch, after which the bikers followed the coast southward to finish up the 95 km scheduled for Day One at Wujie (五結鄉), south of I-Lan City, and we surrendered to an afternoon at the hot springs in Jiaosi (礁溪).

The rains petered out, and everyone, including Tara and I, made the remainder of the 5-day journey by bike (although we all opted out [per plan] of biking the 100km-long Suhua Highway (蘇花公路) – known for its dramatic scenery, sharp curves and careening gravel trucks).

The East Coast from Hualien City down through Taitung is a wonderful ride. We took the relatively level Rift Valley (mostly down County Route 193 [193縣道]), passing mile after mile of newly planted rice paddies before heading into the Coastal Mountains south of Yuli (玉里鎮). After a steady, but manageable, uphill climb of 5 or so kilometers, we passed through a newly completed 2km tunnel on Yuchang Road (玉長公路) that opened onto Taitung County and marked the start of a brisk downhill ride to the Pacific shoreline. We ended our journey at Sansiantai (Sanxiantai, 三仙台) north of Taitung City, piled the bikes into our two vans and headed northward the next morning toward home.

Unsurprisingly, in light of eastern Taiwan's unpredictable winter weather, the day we drove back was the first to see sunny blue skies. We stopped off at several places, including the coastal scenic area at Shihtiping (石梯坪) and a special bed & breakfast place (Houhu, 後湖水月) that serves up great views of the coast and wonderful morning coffee – thanks Wendell (!).

Tara and I look forward to continued biking adventures. Our two experiences this winter have taught us that distance biking around the island is both doable and fun. Passersby were always ready with a thumbs-up and a smile. We saw many other biking groups on the road as well - most traveling without a support vehicle and their gear and travel essentials strapped across the back tire and under the seat. No matter where you find yourself in Taiwan, chances are you aren't excessively far from civilization – particularly if your definition of such covers 7-11s, ... which truly are everywhere.

- JM