Archives for category: taiwan natural beauty

Nighttime in the forests of Taiwan is velvety dark. Mysterious cries float through the leaves and massive tree trunks. A myriad of frogs, insects, and night birds croak, sing, and chirp. Giant flying squirrels cheep to each other in the canopy. And then you hear it: A sharp, echoing bark! Is it a dog?

Barking Deer in Fushan Forest

A tiny doe licking her fur to complete her evening grooming routine.

No, it’s Taiwan’s barking deer — English call them muntjac (latin name, muntiacus reevesi). These terrier sized deer have little antlers and fangs, apparently for fighting to maintain territory. The image above was taken by me in Fushan Experimental Forest; the image below is from mammals.biodiversityireland.ie.

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Male showing antlers and canine teeth.

These deer, called Shan Xiang in Mandarin, used to be favored prey of Taiwan’s indigenous hunters who used bow and arrow, and nets. Japanese logging at the turn of the century, farming, and development have reduced the forest-meadow interface that these animals prefer. They are protected now.

But the deer could be making a comeback. During my travels I heard them barking in several nighttime forests and as you can see above, I spotted little does grazing and grooming in the evening and morning. Also, indigenous farmers mentioned that Shan Xiang will sneak into gardens that are located near forest edges. I hope this charming Taiwanese animal continues to survive and thrive!

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Red eye of the sun winks at the horizon, it’s twilight in the Taipei mountains.

After riding the gondola up to the beautiful mountainside town of Maokong that overlooks the vast metropolis of Taipei, Dad and I stroll around looking for tea cuisine.

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The city below us; Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world, is to your right.

High above the sultry humid city, cool breezes rustle. A small opening in the green beckons us down to a delightful restaurant whose laid-back, Japanese ambiance in the evening calm evoke a Miyazaki moment.

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Shan Shui Ke Tea House: ‘Mountain Water Guest’. There are flowers and frogs tucked in everywhere. Seemed like kodamas, the tiny forest spirits of Princess Mononoke, were perched just out of sight.

The tea-oil chicken is so tender it falls off the bones, with a delicate tea-flavor throughout. It is graced with paper-thin crispy ginger slices that are so awesome Dad and I duel with chopsticks to grab them.

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The fragrance of tea rises from all three dishes…is your mouth watering yet?

A heap of crayfish have been shaken with sweet potato starch, salt, and white pepper, then fragrant oolong tea leaves are tossed in. The crayfish are fried to crisp perfection and scattered with chiles and scallions.

The fried rice also has crushed tea leaves along with shreds of egg, scallion, and pork. The delicacy of the tea flavored food and beauty of the setting are a treat never to be forgotten as the lights of the city wink on below us. The proprietor of Maokong Shan Shui Ke Tea House, proudly tells us that the chef working the miracles in the kitchen is his wife. For those of you in Taipei: go, go; for everyone else, I hope this entry gave you a few relaxed minutes in your day.

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Lights twinkling and trees rustling in the evening cool.

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The color of the bountiful ocean off of Lanyu; home to big schools of flying fish!

In Taiwan, if you want an amazing seafood meal, you need to go the source: the harbors. Next to the big busy warehouses where the fishermen unload and auction off their catch, small eateries attach themselves like limpets. Their humble appearance (tiny stools, sticky tables, cooks and waitstaff in Disney character tee shirts and rubber boots) belies the unbelievable quality of the food you can get there. Are you ready for some serious foodie writing?

In Chenggong Harbor on the east coast, we ordered four red and pink squirrel fish, their eyes a-goggle. Two were cooked in a savory sauce of brown bean, wine and chile with plenty of garlic and white pepper, garnished with crispy sweet slivers of green and red peppers. The other two fish were seethed in a delicate soup flavored with a hint of garlic, ginger matchsticks, and baby basil leaves.

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The weatherbeaten but colorful boats of Chenggong harbor. This photo from http://tour.taitung.gov.tw/en-us/Travel/ScenicSpot/619/Chenggong-Fishing-Harbor

Dad also grabbed a plate of ‘whatevers’—scraps like heads, eyeballs, a golden wad of fish eggs, mysterious bony fish bits, handed it to the cheerful, pretty cook, and asked her to do her best. Her best was delightful: the odds and ends were stirfried in a sweet dark umami sauce redolent of brown beans and garlic; the meat fell off the bones, the eggs melted in your mouth, and even the tough head pieces became flavorful and fun to pick apart for small savory rewards. We needed two bowls of fragrant sticky Taiwan fonglai rice to soak up all the sauces.

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Flying fish, sacred to the Yami People of Lanyu (Orchid Island), are hung out to dry in the fresh sea air.

Next, we travelled by ferry to the tiny island of Lanyu (Orchid Island). There we encountered the evolutionary and culinary wonder that is flying fish! After we sweatily dragged our bags to an indigenous lodging house, we hit the streets at twilight looking for dinner. A busy little local joint served us one crispy fried flying fish each. Their winglike fins and pretty tails were so crisp they shattered in the mouth and the flesh was firm, fresh, nutty, and delicious.

Side dishes included tender strips of pale white and pink raw clam meat on a bed of fresh cabbage, topped with handmade mayo and sprinkled with chili flakes; sea cucumber shreds in a salty black bean and soy sauce; and tender green ferns (a new species to me, curled like baby fingers) lightly braised with garlic and more chilis. Alongside was a bowl of delicately flavored algae broth and a savory dried shrimp omelet finished with fresh scallions. Oh what a dinner! For both of us it was just over $7 US.

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This is a public domain photo–they look exactly like this! So pretty, beyond words really.

On the ferry ride home Dad and I stood on the back deck in gale force winds, reveling in the clean air and huge beautiful rolling waves like dark blue glass. Lo and behold! A flying fish burst from the waves, wiggling like mad, its glassy fins blurring like a dragonfly’s. It seemed to float above the waves, a tiny miracle of evolution, before vanishing again. Underneath, a big predator — probably a swordfish — was chasing them. The flying fish continued to zing above the waves in silvery flocks, soaring for hundreds of meters. In these choppy seas when they hit a crest they somehow ‘skipped’ themselves to add another flight just like I would skip a pebble on a pond. Exquisite! Dad, I and several Taiwanese passengers whooped as each flock took to the air!

Have you ever eaten a fern? The young uncurling leaves, called fiddleheads in the US, can be amazingly tender and delicious. The Amis people love ferns, called ‘lokutl’ in their language, and gather them wild or cultivate them in gardens and forest plots.

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Mr. and Mrs. Wang’s fern garden. Can you see where the leaves have been harvested?

Our Amis friend Mr. Wang showed us a beautiful mountain spot, in his family for many generations, where he and his wife carefully grow the ferns for the local market.

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The stuff in the middle is damp, partly rotten, and smells like the soul of the forest.

The mulch that collects in each fern is collected as clean organic mulch for their gardens in town. Sadly, all of their children are working in modern jobs in remote cities with little interest in this Amis style of cultivating wild vegetables.

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A muntjac, or barking deer, spotted in the central mountains. They adore ferns, as Mr. Wang complains…

You might remember that Mr. Wang sold us fern leaves last month and the local restaurant covered them in a light batter, flash fried them, and provided a dipping mixture of salt and Taiwan white pepper (a more fragrant and complex cousin to the familiar black pepper in your shaker. To die for!! The tiny barking deer agree, and raid his garden regularly…

 

 

The trees of Taiwan each have their own unique personalities. So I’ve been trying to capture them in tree portraits!

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Crazy Banyan tree in a Taipei park nearby. You can get dizzy trying to trace the branches and roots…

Here is another one. I definitely do a better job with a can of lichee beer for additional inspiration.

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Tree ferns are fuzzy and cute, they look like you could stroke them like cats. I haven’t tried it yet.

This magnificent camphor tree graces the Buddhist temple near my Auntie’s Taichung apartment.

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I am dwarfed by this amazing camphor tree!

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The temple has ensured that the tree has all the support it needs using metal struts, and white paint over old wounds.

It is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. So, when this tree sprouted from a seed, Taiwan was home only to indigenous peoples. Its forests were untouched by axe and saw, its rivers ran clean and pure and a-swim with Formosan salmon, and clouded leopards and pangolins prowled the island’s mountain heart.

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This tree rivals General Sherman in its awesome age, size, and beauty. Note Dad looking distorted from the panoramic camera function.

Today this giant is lovingly tended by the temple staff. It has grown and intertwined into this complex human ecosystem, admired and appreciated by its human neighbors, wreathed in incense smoke, and reaching outward and upward to the light as it has for more than a millennium.

The ancestors of the Amis people, who are teaching me a lot about the foraging/gardening/farming interface, have occupied Taiwan’s beautiful east-lands for centuries. I took this picture a few days ago travelling with my father, cousin Sengbo, and Clint.

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High above the Pacific, looking east.

Here, two continental plates meet and the result is stunning: mountains come right down to the coast and in some cases, the cliffs plunge straight into the sea.

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Overlooking the coast near the tiny indigenous town of Su-ao.

Notice the lack of giant beach hotels, pollution, noise, and other build-up. Taiwan’s eastern beaches are nearly pristine, some of the last in the world!

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Clint and I near Yilan, largest town on the NE coast.

Last week I took some time to explore the northeast coast with friends and family. First we hit Yehliu, a weird and wonderful collection of hoodoos created when uplifts raised sandstone of varying hardness into the zone of wave and wind erosion. So these cool features are between 23 and 5 million years old!

Nanya Rock ColumnsLast year five Chinese tourists were swept to their deaths by a rogue wave at high tide. This is not uncommon here, a statue of a fisherman who tried to rescue a student in the 1960s testifies to his bravery although both perished.

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A question marked sandstone hoodoo at Yehliu, with a tourist for scale.

Next, we visited Nanya Rock Formation, just east and south around the tip of the island. I couldn’t find any age for these rocks but they might be Pliocene sandstones, between 3 and 1 million years old.

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At the Nanya rock formations it’s easy to see odd inclusions and the stratigraphic history, especially when there is a geologist handy.

 

 

On the east coast of Taiwan, Dad and I visited Ba Xian Dong or Eight Immortals Cave–Taiwan’s best-known Paleolithic site–which was created before agriculture.

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Standing at the edge of the biggest cave: you can see the characters for Lingwa Cave to the right.

These mysterious caves in sea cliffs echo the booming of the Pacific ocean. More than 30,000 years ago the waves pounded into crevices of the cliffs, opening up caves that ancient hunter-gatherers made into temporary homes.

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Home to Taiwan’s first human inhabitants more than 20,000 years ago.

As I held a pebble chopper that was last used more than 1,000 generations ago, I felt time moving through me as I moved through time…

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Paleolithic chopping tool created by skillfully removing just a few flakes from an ocean-rounded beach pebble.

The Eight Immortals are sacred to Taoist religion and also worshipped by Buddhists. In 2014, Ba Xian Dong was a bustling series of temples built right on top of the archaeological sites. Last year the temples were closed down by the Taiwanese government to protect the sites from further damage. Although the scientist in me is glad the site is being protected, the echoing emptiness of Lingwa Cave during a winter rainstorm is haunting…the Eight Immortals watching us…

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Three years ago the thriving temple…

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The same view today. Bare concrete, wires, and haunting bits of paint are the only testament to the old temple. The latest layer of archaeology added to 20,000 years of Taiwan’s human story.

While walking along the Mawaku River toward the sea, I spotted an unusual set of footprints in the mud.

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Dainty pawprints of the golden-bellied marten. Note the dog pawprint in the lower center of the photo for scale.

They were made by the golden bellied marten (Martes flavigula), a large and lovely member of the weasel family. Longer-legged and heavier than American martens, Taiwan’s marten is capable of hunting baby deer! Now that the clouded leopard is extinct and the Formosan bear increasingly rare, these beautiful secretive creatures, equally at home scaling mountain cliffs, slinking through the jungle undergrowth, or climbing into tree canopies, are Taiwan’s top mammalian predator.

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The gorgeous Martes flavigula, showing off impressive canines…photo in the public domain. 

I hope to see one while I’m here!!

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Hanging out waiting for a fat squirrel… this photo also in the public domain.