Travel with me #115 : The Sun Moon Lake and Rainbow Military Dependent Village!
Dear Steemit friends:
In today's post I will bring you on a very special tour of two very beautiful but very different places. Their contrast in historical significance as well as natural versus urban characteristics makes their exploration a beautiful symphony of nature and culture. The first place we will visit together in Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan, located about an hour and a half drive from Taichung City. Sun Moon Lake is so called because half of it supposedly resembles a sun and the other half reportedly looks like a half moon. You just have to look at a map to realise that you'd have to have a pretty good imagination to see these shapes but it gives a beautiful name non-the-less!
After exploring the beauty of the natural body of water I'll then have you join me in one of Taichung City's military villages. There are hundreds of these military villages scattered all around Taiwan which are the remnants of a pivotal part of Taiwan's history. In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek, who at the time was considered by most of the world to be the legitimate ruler of the Republic of China (ROC), was forced to withdraw from mainland China to Taiwan when the Chinese Civil War with the Chinese Community Party (CCP) reached a head. He and his government (Kuomintang or KMT) fled the country to Taiwan but always made claims that they would one day re-take mainland China from the CCP.
During this massive upheaval, over 1 million soldiers were relocated from mainland China to the 14,000 square miles of the island of Taiwan. But what to do with all of these soldiers? Well, at this time the ROC built hundreds of villages to house their soldiers and their families. These villages were only intended to be temporary because the official party announcements were that they would soon be re-taking mainland China. As a result, many of these villages were poorly built and the years have been unkind to many of them.
Before we visit one, very unique, military village, first we will visit the Lake!
Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is located in central Taiwan in Yuchi Township in the Nantou Region. It is the largest body of water in all of Taiwan and is about 8km² and 27 metres deep at its deepest point. It sits 748m above seat levels, nestled in the beautiful mountains of the central ridge of mountains. As you will see, this area is known for its beautiful greenery covering every inch of the mountains and there are hundreds of hiking trails all around the lake. These are famous for their beauty and astounding views of Sun Moon Lake below you as you hike.
There are some buildings surrounding the lake, mostly catering to tourism such as hotels and harbours for tour boats, as well as the small Township of Yuchi. However, other than these few landmarks, as you explore the lake you are mostly afforded beautiful views of the local nature and countryside. After very rapid growth in the 70s and 80s, where many cities in Taiwan exploded in size and industry, the Taiwanese government have gone to great efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape, which can be see in areas like this one!
Other than hiking, the best way to see the lake and enjoy the natural surroundings is by boat. As a result there are many harbours and piers for tour boats around the edge of the lake. Tourism is big business here and there is fierce competition between different tour operators, all trying to provide better boats and better service than their competitors so that you join their tour of the lake.
Sun Moon Lake was declared one of thirteen national scenic areas in the country and is one of two in central Taiwan. Because of this, residents of Taichung one of the closest major cities like to spend time to visit here and enjoy time away from the city. Many people picture Taiwan as a place of urban, financial and technological cities and because of this miss out on so much natural beauty that the country has to offer as well.
Though there are many piers around the lake, I chose to set sail from Xuanguang Harbour in the south of the lake. It is very popular because it is closest to the famous Lalu Island in the centre of the lake, and also gets you away from some of the built up areas of the Township in the north of the lake. It has four large piers with moorings for many different tour operators. It took me a long time to research the best one!
Lalu Island tells some of the history of the lake. In the 1930s the Japanese built a dam further up the river which outlets from the lake, causing the water levels to rise. This caused floods of the area and some temples were destroyed because of it. Before this time, the island was much bigger and would have cut the lake mostly in two, creating the sun and moon shapes that give Sun Moon Lake its name. Now completely tiny, it used to house a wedding pavilion built in 1978, but that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1999 which caused even more of the island to sink. You will see the island later!
While waiting for the start of my tour, I heard music and went to investigate! Just off the main harbour area a live band were performing, much to my delight. They had bongo drums, electric guitars and singers in very colourful dress. I sat and listened for quite a long time, enjoying the live music and admiring their skill and talent.
I think they were selling some CDs of their music, and I was just considering buying one as a remembrance of this place when I suddenly looked at the time, I was going to be late! I had been so excited to sit and listen to the live music of these very talented people that I had lost track of time. I had to leave them to make sure I didn't miss my boat and I didn't get my CD but I have very fond memories of the live music by the lake side.
When I reached my boat I let out a little gasp of joy - my boat had a huge gold horse on the front of it! How beautiful. I suppose all of the white boats probably look the same so they have tried to make theirs more recognisable - and recognisable it is! I was about to ride off into the middle of the lake on my gold horse tour and I couldn't have been more excited.
As we left the harbour there was a much better view of Lalu Island as we got closer, as well as lovely views back to the harbour. As you can see, there are plenty of hotels for people wanting to escape the big cities and stay in a hotel with a beautiful view of the lake. As we headed off, I was told by my guide that Lalu Island was very important to the local area, and that is because of its slightly different name.
Sun Moon Lake has been home to the aboriginal tribe called the Thao. The Thao people have lived around the lake for hundreds of years and are one of a few aboriginal people still living in Taiwan. They are reported to be the smallest tribe still left in Taiwan, with counts being made in the year 2000 of just 281 people. They still maintain their traditional way of life and their own language - and that is why Lalu Island is so important. Out of honour and respect for these indigenous people the island was named in their language after the 1999 earthquake which left 80% of the people without homes or jobs.
My boat tour was not long, but it was enough time to truly appreciate the beauty of the area. I loved seeing all of the natural beauty surrounded by water with the wind in my hair. I can see why the Thao people chose to make this place their centuries long home and have chosen to stay here after all of these years and developments. I am so privileged to be able to share in the beauty and nature of this place with its local people and I am glad that much of the natural beauty of the area has been preserved.
It is not easy to strike the balance between preservation and progression in a place like this. On the one hand, people come to the area for the natural unspoiled beauty, but on the other hand they wouldn't be able to come if there weren't roads, places to eat, places to shop and places to sleep. I think that Sun Moon Lake strikes a good balance and I am so happy that the aboriginal people are being honoured, recognised and respected more than they have in the past.
Upon my return to the steady shores of the land, I still had a little time to explore before my ride back to Taichung so I did a little exploring of the pier. All of the other boats were white but look at this bright red boat! You know me, I love colours (as you'll see even more later) and this one certainly stood out from the crowd.
Never one to resist exploring for every minute I have available, I began exploring the start of some of the hiking trails leading up into the mountains behind Xuanguang Warf and discovered this beautiful view of Lalu Island. From this better viewing point, you can better see the unique shape of the island. It is almost a circle of land in the middle with trees on top, surrounded by water, and then surrounded by another circular strip of land. It is most unique and beautiful.
I imagine it must have been a wonder to look at before the damming up of the river, but it has a certain quaintness now that is very special. With just a few trees in the middle, and a belt of green grass surrounding it, it's like nature has framed its own creation. The growth of the trees represents how life can flourish anywhere and the natural framing of the lake, and the unique shape of the island, show this off beautifully.
On the way back to Taichung City my tour guide stopped at a rather large, utilitarian looking building. Why were we stopping here I wonder? He told me that this was a secret viewing spot that not all tours would go to. When I looked at the sign it said, "Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Management Office". It seemed very strange that we would come to view some government administrative offices but he assured me that it was well worth the stop.
The building was very unique and was set up right next to the lake and then I saw the view! Turns out this was a beautiful view point from which to see a different part of the lake and it was beautiful to see some different angles of the largest lake in Taiwan. Who would have thought they would build a government office in such a beautiful spot - what a great place to work and look after the running of the scenic area, reminded every day of why you're working to keep this place beautiful.
Rainbow Military Dependent Village, Taichung
Now friends, we have explored nature together and seen the history and culture of one of the natural wonders of Taiwan. Now I want to take you to the exact opposite place. A place of urban recent history, decorated, restored and preserved by the creativity of people. Welcome, to the Rainbow Military Dependent Village!
Hundreds of these villages were built to house the retreating armies of the KMT after losing the Chinese Civil War, both for soldiers and their families. They were built quickly and poorly and in recent years, many of them has been destroyed by the government. The cultural debate is still ongoing because these villages provide historical insights into the past of the country and are very interesting to explore. As you can see in my past blog HERE they come in many different shapes and forms. This one, comes in the colourful form!
The Rainbow Military Dependent Village is the creative child born from Mr. Huang who was a staunch supporter of the KMT, born in Hong Kong. When the KMT and their armies moved to Taiwan, Mr. Huang moved to this village in Taichung and lived there ever since. In 2008 he came up with the idea to start painting the village as a way to brighten up the decaying buildings which were suffering from neglect and their poor build quality.
Starting on his own house, he started painting huge, colourful works of art all over the walls. There's no particular theme and you can see faces, animals, patterns and shapes scattered over every single exposed surface of brick. Mr. Huang, now in his 80s, has been the champion for this village and keeping its beauty alive. It took him many years but he painted the whole village block in these beautiful colours - a real labour of love.
The local government did have plans to tear down the old Military Dependants Village as had been done to hundreds of other villages all over the country. However, thanks to Mr. Huang, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Taichung and there have been petitions with thousands of names on wishing to keep it around. Fortunately, at this time, those petitions have been heard and there are no longer plans to demolish this rainbow of colour.
There are now full tourist maps of the village which show all of the different areas of the village and what you can see there. There is even a play park for the kids who must also love the colours. However, it's most fun to just start walking, getting lost, and admiring all of Mr. Huang's work. As well as families, the place is now extremely popular with artists and photographers, and you can see why! I was completely in heaven, finding great lighting and angles everywhere I looked because the vibrant colours just make everything look beautiful.
Mr. Huang has single-handedly saved his village from demolition and his unique art style is even studied by local art students from the university. But all of that only started 10 years ago. Before putting his first paint to brick in 2008, Mr. Huang had never painted anything in his life. He is completely self taught and through thousands of hours of practice over thousands of square feet of building exteriors, his talent developed rapidly. Typically featuring fun, friendly and well known images from TV or animals from the natural world, Mr. Huang has created a place both to be appreciated by adults and adored by children.
As you can see, the paintings are all done in the same bright paints but some of the paintings are far more intricate than others. Painting a little bit each day, Mr. Huang's talent can be seen to develop as you look from wall to wall. Paintings which were nearer the start of his 'career' are more simple, with the lines being quite rough, though beautiful non-the-less. As he continued to paint his art became more complex, crisp and ornate.
I really love both styles and I love the endeavour used to create these works of art. Did our artist think he needed to be perfect? Did he set out with a particular style in mind? No, he just started painting for the joy of painting. Like many things in life, doing a little of something every single day, with love and passion, and you'll become better and better. Most people would never start something this big because the task seems too daunting or they don't feel like they can do it. But not Mr. Huang! Even late in life, he took on this huge project, and with daily work it was only a few years before the entire village was completely covered in paint!
As you can see, now even the concrete floors have been painted in the same beautiful style. You can see this open area of concrete which would have represented the extent of the children's play area for the military families living here. With many families and people living here, the space would have been very cramped with whole families being forced to live in just one or two rooms. The public open spaces, like this space area here, were also extremely small and wouldn't have afforded much space to live or play in.
I think you'll agree, this is one of the most lovely places to spend time in. It was liberating to just be here, and I felt like a little kid again. If you remember children's TV shows as a kid you'll remember that they'd always be extremely colourful and the people and characters would have so much fun exploring their colourful world of different characters - and that's what I felt like! I felt like I could have just walked into a TV show.
What Mr. Huang has done here is extremely special. He has saved a part of modern history by making it in to modern art that can be enjoyed by every generation. I had hours of fun photographing every possible angle that I could and I had to drag myself out of the place. Upon leaving, the normal world of the city looked so bland and boring and grey. We could do with more Mr. Huangs in this world to bring more colour and joy to our surroundings.
Enjoying a simple and relaxing dinner after a long day
I decided I didn't want to go far for dinner so picked a busy little restaurant on the corner of a nearby street and settled in to try some tasty local food. Most of the time I am pleasantly surprised by the quality and flavour of the dishes in these lovely little local restaurants. With competition being so fierce in big cities, anywhere not serving nice food just doesn't survive! I love discovering these little gems and eating as the locals do.
Not wanting anything too fancy I got myself some rice noodles as a bit of a starter, though I certainly got a full bowl! Really simple but really well flavoured, I enjoyed the rustic flavours of the chicken broth and fine white noodles.
For a bit of extra filling I also got this beautifully cooked pork which had a sticky glaze, on a bed of vegetables and rice. Really tasty. Lastly, I had a dessert of sweetened rice in a kind of pudding with syrup on top. It was very rich and a little slimy but it tasted AMAZING! I couldn't finish it however - too much rice in one meal!
My Steemit Friends, I hope you've enjoyed today's exploration. In one day I went to visit the beauty and majesty of nature at Taiwan's largest lake, Sun Moon Lake where I got my fix of the natural world and learned about the history of the aboriginal peoples who lived there. I felt this was a real dip into Taiwan's beautiful countryside and native history and I could have spent a few days there just walking around the lake and admiring the views and scenes of the outdoors.
In direct contrast to the simple greens and blues of the countryside, I visited almost the exact opposite place. A place that represents fast expanding urban sprawl, building and land disputes and modern history. The Rainbow Military Dependent Village reminded me that Taiwain has a very recent history of controversy but that it is also values that history. Understanding that everything in a countries history creates its current culture is very important and this example of a Military Dependent Village shows how current generations have embraced their past, but build their own culture around it.
My favourite part of my travels today would have to by Rainbow Village. Mr. Huang has left a legacy for future generations that everyone can enjoy. He has made something broken and ugly into something beautiful that the people are proud of and want to preserve for all to see, visit and enjoy. I hope you've enjoyed my travels today as much as I have enjoyed writing about them. Which would you say was your favourite picture from today and why? If you've liked my blog please follow me and vote for this blog to see more!
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