About Taiwan, FotoZon and lots of other stuff

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Taroko Gorge 太魯 閣 - A five Day Trip

Since I first took a motorcycle trip around the island in 1998 and saw this place for the first time, it has always stood out as probably the most fantastic natural place in Taiwan. The Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) would be amazing enough, but the addition of the highway threaded through the vertical walls with many tunnels and cutouts just makes it all the more incredible. When I first rode through on my old 150cc, there weren't so many bypass tunnels. Now the "Swallow Grotto" and the "Nine Turns" area are bypassed by wide new tunnels and you can walk the old road which turns out to very pleasant without the traffic. However, something in me missed the sight of all those tour busses trying to navigate the tiny twisting road. There are still several choke points in the road though where it narrows down to one lane providing some tight squeezes.

On the way, passing the Suao Port. We decided this time instead of driving over the Central Cross Island Highway, we'd go around on the freeway through Taipei and go through the new tunnel to Ilan. It looked close on the map.... The first day, in about 5 hours from Yuanlin, we emerged at the Jiau-Shi Hot Springs where we rented a deluxe room with a big soaker tub.

On the second day, after leaving Ilan we came to the Suao Cliffs. The turquoise blue water and white cliffs are striking. I like this shot because it shows the highway and also the railroad tracks on the right side.

Trucks, Trucks and more Trucks. The road was crawling with big trucks. I passed countless numbers of them even though we're only driving a Nissan Cefiro with a weak 2 liter engine. They all seem to be hauling rocks to and from the big cement plant there in the distance. The road around the cliffs is slow and winding, so we didn't really save that much time compared with driving over the mountain pass.

Ah, we finally made it to the gorge in the afternoon of the second day. This was the Thanksgiving Holiday back in America, so after finding our cabin we made our way to the Grand Formosa to enjoy a fine dinner. The hotel was strangely very empty though, and instead of the usual buffet, they were offering entre's instead.

My boy was thoughtful enough to take this shot of the cabin we stayed in for the second night.

Meanwhile I was busy snapping shots of the bugs. These cabins are up the road from Tian-shang and in a scenic area where there are some fields tucked into a plateau. The bugs were intense.

On the third day, we took the trail of the nine turns. This section of the highway is now bypassed by a new tunnel and offers a spectacular meandering walk. I wouldn't want to be there during an earthquake or heavy rainstorm though - a lot of rocks overhead.

Me, your author, sporting my camera. My six year old son took this shot with my old camera I gave to him. He is starting to catch the photographer bug and is excited to have his own equipment.

The eternal springs shrine 長春祠 . It seems to get dark even earlier in the gorge. This picture was taken from the railing of the coffee shop across the way near the parking lot.

A close up of the shrine. The tripod was sitting in the trunk of our car back at the parking lot, so I had to take this shot by pressing the camera down on the little bridge over the stream. I felt a little silly and poor when a bunch of Japanese tourists came behind me fully laden with gear, tripods lenses and camera bags. The shot came out ok at a special "low angle".

On the third night we stayed at the "Leader Village". I believe this place has taken over from the Grand Formosa the nicest place to stay in the gorge and could explain why the hotel was so quiet the night before.. The duplex cabins offer heated blankets which were most appreciated due to the cold weather. The food was great - I ordered a huge tasty meal called "When Wild Boar Meets Eiffel Tower" for dinner. On this fourth day of our trip was the first time the sun finallly came out. It was a beautiful blue sky morning in a beautiful place to wake up.

After spending the fourth night in Taipei, it was time to conclude our long trip and head back home to Yuanlin. It was a great 5 day trip during a very quiet time of the year. Its amazing that such a small island as Taiwan can offer so many fantastic places to see and how long it takes to drive around the island due to the rugged terrain of the east coast.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snake Kiln in Shueili - 水里蛇窑

On the way to thesouth end of Sun Moon Lake, after the town of Shueili, ( 水里 ) there's a place called the "Snake Kiln". We've driven past it many times, but never stopped. This time we decided to stop the car and go see what it was all about.

The Shueili Snake Kiln ( 水里蛇窑 ) gets its name from this long earthen
tunnel that serves as a kiln to make pottery. Many parts of this kiln
were reconstructed after the JiJi earthquake. It is reportedly the
oldest kiln in Taiwan.

A fire at the bottom of the tunnel, three separate stoking
boxes heat up the kiln and the fire is not wasted as it is used a
long ways in the tunnel before reaching the chimney at the end.

An old time wagon used to carry the pots to market.

Pot Wall. Pottery is everywhere outside and inside the Snake Kiln Museum.
Pipes, bowls, all kinds of pots and live demonstrations are available.

The walk from the road up to the Snake Kiln area is pleasant.
Even if you don't pay the entrance for the museum, its a nice
place to stop off for lunch. We stopped and enjoyed a yummy
plate of fried up Mountain Pig . I guess they re-use the skulls
as decorations. That does it for the stop over at the kiln. Now
we know what's on the side of the road!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Visit to a Car Museum

In late July, my Dad took a break from making cabinets in Stanwood and we went to tour the LeMay car museum in Tacoma, WA. How appropriate (or ironic?) that I'm posting this just now as the giants from Detroit - GM, Ford and Chrysler are struggling to survive and are begging the government for bailout money. The auto maker's glory days of the past may be gone, but thanks to museums like this one, their products live on for us modern day folks to see.

It's a fascinating place, this "museum". The story of how a garbage company owner assembled the largest private auto collection in the world is really amazing. While they are planning to build a new state of the art museum near the Tacoma dome to move the collection to it, now the cars are all housed in the campus of an old school. Some of the "extra" cars are just sitting outside in an open shed.

A frowning old Lincoln in the car shed.

The restored cars are packed in warehouses with not even enough room between them to open the doors. Most of the cars have their fluids drained and do not run. But they still look great.

The Chevys from the 50's and older all sit in this gym. Notice the cars even in the bleachers. I wonder if this was the inspiration for the racing scenes in the movie "Cars"?

A 1953 Chevy Deluxe. Wow, they just don't build them like this anymore.

The museum just goes on and on, like a labyrinth of cars and more cars. These beauties are all from the 20's . I especially like the "Crosley's" on the upper shelf there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Old School

Last month in early August, I visited my old school - the University of Washington in Seattle while my wife went shopping in the nearby shopping "village". It was great fun to stroll down memory lane and see all the changes and the classic old building that remain the same.

They are remodeling my old hall of economics.

Now - Why didn't they have that sign there
when I was going to school!?!

Classic old Denny Hall built in 1895 is the oldest university
building in Washington State.

Brand new William H. Gates Hall. named for not Bill Gates Jr. -
founder of Microsoft, but for his father class of 1950.

I expected a School of Computer Science...

Ah, the incoming freshmen take a tour of their new school.

A wedding party tours the campus to take some photos.

East of the University is a beautiful neighborhood with great
views and parks. These red scaly barked trees are native "Madronas".

A fancy house.. I imagine it belongs to a professor or someone.
Probably at least a million bucks right now.

Down the hill is a view of the "Sea Fair" on Lake Washington.
This neighborhood is pretty far from the action, but the Blue
Angel navy jets flying overhead were pretty cool.

- eot -

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some Nice Photos

While I was back in the states, my brother built a table for a "real" photographer in exchange for some professional shots of their work at the Grey's cabinet shop in Stanwood. I was gone the shoot, but I heard all about the experience and how the photographer spent about two hours lining up each shot with the lights and everything just so! Any little reflection or bright spots and he'd have to re-adjust and do another take. Wow, that is some real dedication! I regret I didn't go along to catch the process. Here are some samples of the photos:

Monday, September 8, 2008

In the Woods, On the Beach

A few pictures from our recent trip back the USA.

You can't really tell from the picture -, but I'm driving a
small tractor here and the kids are in the back in a trailer.

Quack Quack - Some ducks on Lake Crescent.

Camping out on the Pacific Ocean .

The Beach at Sunset - look at all those drift logs.

This guy apparently really likes wine!

Monday, August 11, 2008

All is Well in the Land of the Setting Sun

Well, here I am back in Taiwan after 35 days in the USA. It was a glorious vacation filled with beautiful scenery, clean air and lots of partying. Of course with flying, eating out and partying, there is always a heavy tax to pay. Now I'm happy to say that I'm back to work full time, saving money and working on this ole blog again.

During my vacation, Craig took over editorial duties at the TPod. He did an awesome job and hopefully I can hire him on full time. Unfortunately, we had several serious problems with the hosting company and the server. While there was intermittent service during the period, two whole weeks of data were lost in early July - right at the beginning of my vacation! Hence, there is still missing data from the July tpod archive. I think I can piece most of the photos together from the daily email, but to say the least it was a pain in the rear. Although the server is now working for the meantime, I am actively searching for new hosting. I'm thinking about getting a server here in Taiwan so it will be much faster to reach.

That's all for now. I will follow up with a few photo essays in the next few weeks reporting on our trip.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Picture of the Day - One Year

How time flies! It's been just a little more than a year since we launched the Taiwan Picture of the Day on the FotoZon web site. In one year, a lot of interesting photos have been submitted. Many web sites, blogs and personal pages have put the picture online.

Among the developments over the past year:

  • New Archive Section - I used a fancy "Light Room" javascript and a little programming to automate the menu and daily additions to the archive.
  • FaceBook Applicaion - This was a fun and informative project to create an application on Facebook for users to show off the Taiwan P.O.D. on their profile pages - so far 884 have added the application since it was added to the official directory.
  • Javascript Widget - Personally I like to use this application better than just the picture because the title and description change along with the picture each day. See it on the top of the right side menu on this blog.
  • XML Feed - This was one of the easiest (and earliest) additions. This is a good way to see the new picture each day from the comfort of your Rss reader or email.
  • Flickr Group - Making it easier for Flickr members to submit picture in consideration for the Picture of the Day.
What does the future hold? Well, when I find some spare time from cruising around looking for new contributions and helping decide which picture to select for the day, I have plans to add an application to Google Apps and a few other areas. If you have any ideas on improvements or other ways to further the project - Let me know!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

I was in the Wedding!

Because I was born as a pig (in the Chinese 12 animal symbols) I had a chance to ride in the wedding cars today! The normal guy who drives and arranged the borrowed cars was born a mouse so according to today's date, it was not good for him to drive. Don't ask me why. One of the older uncles told me I could probably spend a lifetime trying to figure out all the Chinese customs and still not get it. Anyways, the new tradition is the groom's family sends a fleet of six fancy black cars to pick up the bride from her home. At first I though I was supposed to drive the car, but it turns out that each vehicle sent must have at least one passenger. So, that ended up being my job, the passenger. I hauled some luggage and held the driver's tea cause there were no cup-holders. It was fun - and just as well because I would be a little nervous driving that fancy new Mercedes Benz. Anyways, after passing time drinking tea and smoking cigarettes while waiting for the groom, we slowly drove across town among fireworks and photo ops to pick up the bride at her parents house. After arriving, we hauled some of the dowry into our car. After passing more time smoking, we then drove back to the Groom's house. The whole process took 2 hours and mostly consisted of a lot of standing and waiting in the hot afternoon. Now I'm just passing the down time before heading to the wedding banquet later this evening.

Groom gives the Thumbs up from the wedding car.

Engagement Ceremony

Saturday, May 17, 2008

We Go To Taipei

Truth is, I'm not such a great blogger. I don't write that often, and when I finally do sit down to type some thoughts in, they probably aren't even that interesting! Well, actually I normally just run out of time to do anything here. Between work, wife and Two Kids, by the time I get a few minutes of quiet time, I'm ready to hit the hay. I'm not even finding enough time to go out on photo safaris so much anymore... It's time to make time!

The other weekend, we went to Taipei on the Taiwan High Speed Railroad. If you haven't ridden on it and you live in Taiwan, I strongly suggest it! It is an experience in and of itself. I've been on the high-speed trains before in Europe and they feel more like regular trains and usually depart from regular looking stations. Leaving on the train from the Taichung station, it is just like going to the airport: the drive in, the parking garage and the departure terminal. I guess the main difference is the security and the automated ticket machines. Once you're on the train, it's like flying on the ground. At one point we were going almost 300 Kmph (200 mph) which is about 3x faster than driving. Add to that the time spent slowing down for the toll booths, potential traffic on the toll-way, and the certain traffic in Taipei city center, it is quite a time saver If you are going to Taipei.

I'm not much of a city-lover. I appreciate the cultural attractions, the grand scale of things, and the occasional crowds. However, I like to be able to get out of the city at a moments notice and with the minimum of hassle. Finally, my wife talked me into going up to Taipei for the weekend for a trip. We arrived on the Taiwan HSR to the main Taipei station in about 1 hour from Taichung and after a lunch in the new station mall, we proceeded to look for a hotel nearby. Of course it was hot and sweltering and looking for a hotel room with 2 kids and some luggage in tow was no picnic. We found a place near the Mitsukoshi department store and settled in. In the afternoon we first went to the CKS memorial hall area and then out to Danshui on the MRT. I was surprised how long it took to get out to Danshui - there were a lot of stops. Finally we arrived just before sunset and had a great time walking around. Crowded and fun.

The next day we went out to the Sun-Yat Sen hall and then walked over to the 101 building area. Another hot sweltering day, but at least we left the luggage at the hotel. We thought about going up to the top of the building, but at 400 per person and 300 per larger kid, we decided it was impressive enough just looking up at it and went back down for some shopping at the fancy shopping area nearby before heading back on the MRT to catch the train back to Taichung. Wonder what happened to the lunch box in the train? They never came by and we had to survive on cookies and apple juice! We were smart on the way back and had dinner first in the station.

A man cleans up the grounds outside CKS Memorial area.

DanShui Area

What's that fire? Ghost Money?
No, they're burning their chopsticks.

All for now - Joe

PS, if you want to check out some real bloggers that post often , take a look at David (Taiwan Guide), Michael - (View from Taiwan) or many of the other Taiwan Bloggers!