Wild Taiwan

A lady of leisure writes about wildlife in Taiwan.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Chiayi 嘉義市

The weather in April wasn't great, so much so that the flight to Matsu was delayed indefinitely. We flew by Uni Air 立榮航空 to Chiayi city. The flight took 40 min. At least down south wasn't so bad, weatherwise. The Chiayi airport was very military looking. We had to take an airport service bus to the arrival area. Along the way, we could see military installations, like tower, a huge well, guard posts, rolling gate with the spikes on the road etc. The airport is very small. From there, we had to take a cab to town. As it was only eight something in the morning, a lot of shops, food stalls weren't open. So we felt like we were going on in a ghost town.

We stayed in King hotel. What I liked about it was the water machine in each room. It could oxygenate and dechlorinate the water and produce either warm or hot drinking water. The other thing was the dining area. The hotel kept a few white eyes and what appears to be a Java sparrow, I think. Every morning, these birds would be darting among the foliage at the back of the dining area. The transparent roof top, together with the white wall and the foliage make a very nice backdrop to the dining area. The birds add lots of life to the whole place. They only hung around the foliage when there're people around but they would fly quite freely in the hall when no one was around.

By taking bus number 1, I managed to reach the Botanic garden, park and sports stadium. The bus fare was NT14. I realised later that it was a straight walk from the hotel on Zhongshan Road. I realised in every county, there are the same road names, like Zhongshan, Linshen, Zhongzhen etc. So for someone overseas to write a letter to Taiwan, it's of utmost importance that he writes down which county!

The park was of a reasonable size, set up in 1910, at the east end of the city. It also had the old train engine of the Alishan rail. As usual, there's a temple, this one is the Confucius temple. It was here even before the park, built in 1706 and then refurbished in 1961.

The botanic garden has many tall trees, some trees are sort of left wild so it looks rather natural. There are a few trees that are labelled. The Heritiera littoralis were huge with prop roots. What is amazing about this tree is its natural habitat is normally in the back mangroves, receiving some seawater innundation. However, in the botanic garden at Chiayi which is 30 m above sea level, it's nowhere near the sea!

In one corner of the Botanic garden, is the Chiayi historical museum. Built in Japanese-style, originally for social and worship activities, after return to Taiwanese rule, it became a place to commemorate the war dead. Later the Chiayi government took over and converted it to a historical museum. One has to remove shoes and wear the slippers placed outside the door before entering.

A structure that one cannot possibly miss is the Sherita, 射日塔, direct translation means shoot the sun tower. With a height of 62 m, the top is shaped to represent the county flower, Magnolia. The circular pillar shape of the tower is inspired from the sacred tree of Alishan, the brown aluminum strips is that of the bark. The tower is hollow, viewed at the right angle, one can see the brass carving depicting the Aboriginal legend of shooting the sun. The story goes like this: In the ancient days, two suns appeared in the sky. The people were suffering from the heat, the plants and animals were dying. So this father brought along his son, to go and look for a place on earth that's nearest to the sun so that his arrow can shoot it down. The journey took so long that he died of old age. His son, continued the quest and managed to shoot down the sun but he never made it back home.

In the east of the Chiayi city, is a 2 hectare lake, Lantan, 蘭潭, developed by the Dutch, later managed by the Japanese, it's an important reservoir for the city. One can walk all round the lake and enjoy the view especially during sunset.

Not to be missed is the stone museum. Entry to the museum is free. It was set up by a stone collector who was an engineer, now in his 70s. There are stones from different parts of the world, minerals of every kind and fossils. There are modern models of Chiayi's attractions and model buildings from all over the world. There's even a pair of Egyptian sarcophagus.

As Chiayi is right on the tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Cancer Garden is built there and has an observatory with 16 telescopes for astronomy. The building of the observatory had many face lifts through the years and each model is detailed at the stone museum. The observatory is very near the airport.

I think the owner should set up a donation booth to collect some income to maintain the place. The cost of running the place, electricity like air conditioning will force the place to close one of these days. It would be a pity because there are many good collections.

Budai 布袋, southwest of Chiayi county, is well known for salt production. Traditional method of salt production, sun drying, can be seen here. Sun drying requires 12 days, from Mar to May, Oct to Feb. Mechanized drying takes place only from Feb to Apr, only one harvest. Both types of salt production are found here.

There are many interesting things to see and do in Chiayi county. A book which lists them all is in Chinese, Outdoor life, Chiayi county and Chiayi city. ISBN 957-8987-83-8.

While I was in Chiayi, I took a bus to the recreational farm. I happily hopped on the bus, having paid NT193, little did I realised how difficult was the journey. The bus made countless 90 degree turns, climbing higher and higher. Everywhere were bethel nut plantations. The whole journey took 2.5 hours. Many people made stops along the way, they were probably bethel nut farmers. An elderly couple sat beside me, the wife had a portable radio and she had the radio at full blast. Even then she managed to fall asleep. As the bus climbed higher, reception was all but gone, only static. Yet she managed to sleep through it all. Lots of people turned around and stared at her but no one said anything. Anyway, they got off the bus later. Peace at last!

The farm was more a children's educational park. As the bus got there at 330 pm and was leaving for Chiayi at 4 pm, I didn't go in. I did notice that there were hotels there.

After the driver had his cigarette break, he started the bus again. This time, he sped up so that he could finish work earlier. The hairpin turns were closer, before long, my stomach couldn't take it anymore and thank goodness, I had a plastic bag. So much for an adventure to nowhere.