Taiwan 2009: pt 2

Taiwan Day Three

Start of Joyful Bike Ride.jpg(photo by Kate LaCroix) We woke up at the Hotel del Lago in Shuishe, at northeast corner of Sun Moon Lake. This was the day of the bike “Joyful Bike Tour”, sponsored by Giant Bicycles and China Airlines. Despite the wet weather, at least a couple hundred riders gathered in lime colored jerseys and rain capes round a stage for the opening ceremonies, including a dance and song performance from Sun Moon Lake’s Thao tribe. Under a large canopy, representatives of the sponsors said some words (though since everything was in Mandarin, I have no idea what those words were), but there were some unexpected aspects of the presentation.

First was the appearance of a Taiwanese boy band. I’m told that they were pretty popular, but how would I know? They didn’t perform, they just talked. Then a group of young people (mainly women) in matching light blue cycling attire took the stage, each beside a Giant bicycle on kickstand. Cue in cheesy techno music, and let the punching dance moves begin! As the routine wasn’t that precisely choreographed, I had a hard time understanding its purpose. Then I looked at me and saw a good portion of the crowd mimicking the moves. Finally, I understood that they were performing calisthenics; I should have caught on a little sooner. It’s kinda an Asian cultural thing.

Under the heavily made-up smiles of the boy band, the ride began. Like an instinctual behavior, I felt compelled to sprint to the front of the group. Or rather, 3 wheels from the front….that way I would be sheltered from the wind….because that would be really important on a ride that was only 5km long and at a decidedly leisure-like pace. Nonsensical, but I can’t help myself. What would have happened if the corporate sponsor representatives had decided to stage a breakaway? How could I relax in the company of mid-50s businessmen, bloodthirsty for the victory? No way, too dangerous! I had to be close to the front to guard against all attacks!

The Joyful Bike Tour followed a portion of the Round-the-Lake Road, much less demanding than the parts on the opposite side of Sun Moon Lake. Though most of the riders didn’t appear to be what I call “serious cyclists”, they all seemed to be reasonably steady on the bike, especially considering density of wheels on the road and path. Looking about me, I saw that I was amidst some of the girls in pale blue jerseys who had led the warm-up routine. Someone clued me into them actually being China Airlines flight attendants…I don’t know how they got selected, but I give them props for not being total squids on a bike. They had other attributes as well.

The group stopped at Meihe Garden for a tea tasting. The area around Sun Moon Lake is famous for its tea cultivation, and several tables vendors were present to serve some selections, including some freaking amazing ginger tea. I’m not even a tea drinker, but that stuff was awesome. While stuffing our faces with tea cookies and green tea-flavored mochi, we chatted up some of the riders. There were a couple Aussies and Canadians and a group of Japanese, but most of the riders were Taiwanese.

While going elbow to elbow with some middle-aged Japanese ladies in the race for the last tea cookies, we found ourselves alongside James Hu, vice president of Giant Bicycles. For a huge (“giant” even) corporation, it’s really cool to see that the corporate heads are actually really into riding bikes. This year King Liu, the 75-year-old chairman of Giant, rode from Beijing to Shanghai in a 20-day tour, describing the tour as “very satisfying, both mentally and physically”. I think that is the key to Taiwan’s surge in cycling; they actually approach it as a way of making life better.

I admire the Taiwanese approach to cycling, partially because I’m such a gear-head that I sometimes forget the joy of just riding. Of course, that admiration didn’t prevent me from asking VP Hu techie questions about Giant Bicycles. Next time I come to Taiwan, I must take the time to check out Giant’s factory in Taichung.

Back on the bikes for another short ride to the Fleur de Chine Hotel. The China Airlines flight attendants stopped for a photo op, and we walked down to the pier for a boat ride to Lalu Island for another Thao tribe cultural dance performance. Unfortunately, the schedule of the events had us back on the boat after only 10min. That’s the problem with a trip like this: you never have a chance to really soak in any one event.

Well, the banquet lunch at The Lalu Hotel, a five-star hotel, was enough to be savoured. Just a ton of food.

Lalu hotel.jpgAllen at Wenwu.jpg

After going back to the Hotel del Lago, our Taiwanese guide Allen took us on a tour of the two temples on Round-the-Lake Road. Wenwu is a Taoist temple guarded by two huge stone lions, painted red to honor the benefactor who contributed them (the family name meant “fire lion”). The temple was built after two temples lower on the lake shore had to be removed when the hydroelectric dam caused the water level to rise. The style is northern Chinese, and usually, it pays homage to multiple gods, both the literary god and a god of war. Further up the roads, we came to Xuanzang, the Buddhist temple. Built in 1965, the temple contains relics of the Xuanzang, a revered monk who brought many sacred texts back from India during the Tang Dynasty, greatly contributing to Buddhism in China.

wenwu 2.jpgA little further up the road is the Ci En Pagoda, built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. The nine stories (46M) of the pagoda on top of the 954M Shabalan Mountain put the structure at an even 1000M above sea level. Just getting to the base of the pagoda is something of a hike, though the many-stepped path is well-groomed and sure. As would become my theme for this trip, whenever the path went vertical, I went hard. High above in the top ring of the pagoda, the scenery looked like a stylized Chinese painting, if it were not for the luxury hotel lights glowing warm in the last of the blue daylight. We took turns taking pictures and ringing the Chinese bell, wondering how far across the mountains the sound must have carried.

Ci En Pagoda.jpg

After the tour bus took us back to the Hotel del Lago, our guide Allen took us to a restaurant a few doors away, where we scarfed down a mountain of food.

Shuishe dinner.jpg

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