Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Road trip to Taizhong

The 9AM view of 日月潭 (Riyuetan), a lake in central Taiwan. To achieve the 9AM view, we left Taipei at 4:30AM. Vacation is hard work.

Either a delightfully tiny hummingbird, or a horrifyingly large and disgusting bumblebee, spotted on the rooftop terrace of an unbelievably posh hotel whose name I never learned.

Incidentally, said hotel's breakfast buffet was nothing short of bitching: we're talking fresh fried over-medium eggs, vegan doughnuts, brie-filled loaves, salmon with capers and dill, and semi-competent coffee, which for Taiwan is a big achievement. For some reason Taiwan knows how to do the buffet. I believe with conviction that it has Vegas beat by a comfortable margin.

Unfortunately there are no pictures of this particular meal. Because sometimes, you just gotta say fuck it dude, I'm just going to eat this buffet.

Riyuetan's got the full arsenal of tourist trap accoutrements, tour boats and canoes and overpriced snack foods and gift shops whose decor far surpass the actual wares. The crown jewel must surely be the 10-minute gondola ride that takes you from the main drag to the Jiuzu Culture Park, some kind of Taiwanese aborigine-themed entertainment facility with roller coasters and large dioramas, and which entertainment facility we thankfully declined to explore.

But you better believe we rode the gondola. The staging area for riders was the kind of tourist clusterfuck that inspires all kinds of polite elitist rage in the urban visitor who's been up since 4AM. Imagine windy queues filled with stocky, perspiring hicks pressing up behind you for no apparent reason and gurgling dialect directly into your ear, screeching hags with bad dye jobs waving their canes over the railing at godknowswhom, and whole clans of line-cutters stealing their way past you so they can get one or two gondolas ahead.

"Why can't they just organize this line better? I hate how they've set this up," said my uncle. "It's not the setup I hate," I replied. "It's the people."

But if you are agile enough to poke your camera out the side glass of the gondola, you get views like this:

Among Taiwan's scenic spots, Riyuetan is supposed to be especially pretty, but based on what I've seen, huge swaths of Taiwan look exactly like this: skylines of cascading hills peeking through fog, clouds that seem to imply rain, and then GREEN. Everything is so green.

I passed out in the car at some point, and when I next opened my eyes we were sitting in the parking lot of 中台禪寺 (Zhongtai Chan Si), an opulent postmodern Versailles of Zen Buddhist temples. Let's just say that ol' Hsi Lai Temple back in Hacienda Heights has some catching up to do.

A huge and really quite impressive statue in the entrance hall. And there were four of these things. I have no idea who this is or what he/they represent. At some point very early in my career as an explorer of Asia, I elected to stop worrying about the details of the religions of antiquity. It became a little too difficult to track Buddha of X, or Monk Y who Delivered Wisdom Z. I was like, somebody get me a spreadsheet, please.

More really impressive and large statues. Despite what I said above, I do happen to know who the guy in the middle is.

This side hall contained the entire of lineage of prominent Buddhist sages, some of whom may or may not be considered Buddhas themselves. The fellow seated center-left was involved in the founding of either the branch of Buddhism practiced by the temple, or the temple itself.

This is how my aunt, uncle, and their two sons roll: we get up at 4AM, spend 2.5 hours on the road, eat kickass buffet, ride boats and gondolas amidst lots of greenery, look at huge statues, and then storm back into Taipei around 5PM to eat pastries and cake at a fancy Western bakery for dinner. Yeah.


  1. Again... Vacation in Taiwan is a hard work~!!

  2. "It's not the setup I hate," I replied. "It's the people."

    God bless you. I hereby declare you Monk J Who Delivered Wisdom Z.

    Remind you not to go to any Six Flags parks any time soon.

  3. I need to get off this mis-aligned schedule with your post-[thing]-tours.

    Something in 2011 please.

  4. The dude at the top is one of the Four Heavenly Kings, who guard the entrance of most Chinese Buddhist temples. And I think the seated guy is Bhodidharma. Looks like a really interesting temple...