The Beidawushan Series: The Cloud Forest

The middle elevations of Beidawushan are famous for the cloud forest. It is the largest primary forest in southern Taiwan.

Why is it called a cloud forest? I think these photos can give you a hint:

A tree seen through the mist

A group of trees with lots of mist

Looking up at a forest canopy with lots of mist

Taiwan is one of the wettest places in the world, and due to the moisture come from the strait of Taiwan over the plains of Pingdong, the cloud forest is one of the moistest places in Taiwan.

The cloud forest is famous for the currently rare Taiwan yew (tsuga mairei). It is closely related to the Sumatran/Chinese yew (tsuga sumatrana) and is sometimes regarded as being the same species, but apparently skilled botantists can tell tsuga mairei and tsuga sumatrana apart. Most Taiwan yew trees were logged and, since they grow slowly and are difficult to reforest, have not recovered. Now they are a source of the anti-cancer chemical paclitaxel. This website has tons of information about Taiwan yew.

The forest is also home to the endangered Taiwan Plum Yew (cephalotaxus wilsoniana).

The trunks of yew trees along the trail.

The trunks of yew trees along the trail.

During my Beidawushan hike, I saw a mammal dart through the yew forest. While I’m not sure what it was, it was mostly likely a wild boar.

While hiking through the forest, I saw plenty of Formosan rock macaques, which are the only species of primate (other than humans) native to Taiwan. They are closely related to Japanese macaques.

Formosan rock macaques at Wuling Farm (it was too misty for me to take photos of macaques on the trail to Beidawushan).

A photo of Formosan rock macaques I took at Wuling Farm (it was too misty for me to take photos of macaques on the trail to Beidawushan).

Formosan Serows also live in the cloud forest. Though I did not see any serows on my Beidawushan hike, I have seen a serow in a different section of the Dawu mountains.

A Formosan serow

A Formosan serow

It was believed that there were no bears living on the slopes of Beidawushan until a Formosan black bear was spotted in 2013. The question is, did the bear wander down from its refuge near the Batongguan Trail (the part of Taiwan which is supposed to have the largest population of black bears), or had a local bear population been surviving in the forests of Beidawushan all along? In any case, it’s estimated that there are only about a thousand wild bears in all of Taiwan. They are very difficult to find, and the only person I’ve met who has seen one is a Bunun mountain porter. I have, however, seen bear scratches on trees.

A Formosan black bear with two cubs.

A Formosan black bear with two cubs.

The most mysterious animal of the cloud forest, of course, is the Formosan clouded leopard, the only cat endemic to Taiwan. It has been officially declared extinct. Officially extinct animals have been found before, such as the discovery of a breeding pair of the ‘extinct’ Chinese crested tern found in the year 2000, but so much effort has been put into finding the clouded leopard that there is almost no hope.

An indigenous man, possibly Rukai, wearing fur from a clouded leopard

An indigenous man, possibly Rukai, wearing fur from a clouded leopard

About 500 leopard cats, the only other feline native to Taiwan, are believed to still live in the Taiwanese wilderness.

Continue to the next part: “The Japanese on Beidawushan”


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The Beidawushan Series: Lily, Butterfly, Viper

A butterfly drinks nectar from a flower

The title of this post is a pun on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword, the name of a famous Taiwanese novel.

The Taiwanese actors Ivy Chen and Baron Chen in the 2010 TV adaptation of Meteor, Butterfly, Sword

The Taiwanese actors Ivy Chen and Baron Chen in the 2010 TV adaptation of Meteor, Butterfly, Sword

The indigenous Rukai people live in the northern Dawu mountains, just to the north of Paiwan territory, and also used to be under the rule of the Puyuma King. Like the Paiwan, they have a class systems which distinguishes nobles from commoners, though they are more patriarchal. Linguists claim that Rukai was probably the first language to split from proto-Austronesian, so in a way it is the oldest living Austronesian language. You can hear the language in this song about the Rukai villages devastated by typhoon Morakot in 2009 (you can find a description of a trip to these villages here).

Replica of a traditional Rukai house

Replica of a traditional Rukai house

According to a Rukai legend, the goddess at the top of Beidawushan wept, and her tears fell onto a Taiwanese lily. The Rukai people were born from that lily, and a cloud leopard led them to their home. Thus, the Taiwanese lily is very important in Rukai culture, and there are rules about when using the design of the lily is appropriate.

A picture I took of a Taiwan lily along the Taoshan trail (in Sheipa National Park)

A picture I took of a Taiwan lily along the Taoshan trail (in Sheipa National Park)

The Rukai also have a legend about the daughter of a chieftain who fell in love with a hundred-pacer viper, so there are also rules about when to use the image of that specific kind of snake. This legend has been adapted into the novel Princess Banenn by the Rukai writer Danaro, which is as far as I know the only fantasy novel based on the mythology of Taiwan’s indigenous people. There is also a computer game adaptation, which is also, as far as I know, the only computer game based on the culture of a people indigenous to Taiwan. Though most of the story takes place at Little Ghost Lake, both the novel and the computer game have a scene which takes place at Beidawushan (there’s also some scenes at Taimali in what is now Taidong county).

The Paiwan people also have a legend about the hundred-pace viper marrying a young woman (illustrated here), and regard it as a sacred animal. In Taiwan, the image of the hundred-pace viper is often used as a symbol of the Paiwan people.

A photo of a hundred-pace viper

A photo of a hundred-pace viper

Why is it called the ‘hundred-pace’ viper? Folk wisdom says that it’s so poisonous that, if it bites you, you can only walk a hundred paces before you die. In reality, its bite will not kill you that quickly, but without timely antivenom treatment you will definitely die.

And there are the purple crows.

The purple crows are butterflies, not birds. They can be found all over Taiwan – I’ve seen a lot of purple crows in urban areas such as Keelung and Changhua city – but in winter most of Taiwan is too cold for their survival. Thus they migrate to the valleys of the Dawu mountains in winter, which have an abundance of flowers. Some come from as far away as Japan.

A purple crow butterfly in flight.

A purple crow butterfly in flight.

The purple crow is also a very important animal in Rukai culture, and there are also traditional restrictions on using the butterfly design. However, I suspect they might be easing the restrictions, since the Rukai villages in Maolin seems to put butterfly images everywhere (that might be for tourists). The Rukai have noted that the Rukai and the butterflies have generally chosen the same valleys for habitation.

A group of butterflies drink from a puddle

The butterflies generally only live at 500 meters above sea level or lower during winter, though in summer they can be found at much higher elevations. Even so, the Beidawushan hikes are generally at too high an elevation to see many butterflies. Nonetheless, I think it’s cool that Beidawushan is at the heart of such an ecological wonder.

18butterfly

Continue to the next part: “The Cloud Forest”


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The Beidawushan Series: The Paiwan People (Part 2)

The primary source of food for the Paiwan people is agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing. The staple is taro, and the Paiwan people have a unique preparation method to make taro lightweight, long-lasting, and quick to cook.

A traditional Paiwan stove for baking taro, as shown on the TV show 'Made in Taiwan'.

A traditional Paiwan stove for baking taro, as shown on the TV show ‘Made in Taiwan’.

The night before starting my Beidawushan hike, I stayed at a Paiwan farm in Wutan village. The food, which had all been grown on the farm, was delicious. The taro porridge was very good, but my favorite dish was the cooked plantains. The Paiwan cultivate their own varieties of plantains, and in this specific dish, it was unpeeled – the entire plantain was to be eaten.

The farm is run by a vigorous old Paiwan woman (who I presume owns the land) with help from some old Paiwan men. She says that the farm is completely organic. Among other things, they grow coffee beans, which she says are all shade-grown. On the way to the trailhead, I saw a lot of coffee bushes, which were in fact grown in the shade of trees. Of course, coffee is not the first non-native cash crop that the Paiwan have grown – in the past, the Paiwan grew quite a bit of tobacco, and it’s been incorporated into their culture.

One of the men talked a lot about history. He said that he had been born very close to the old trailhead of Beidawushan. When he was a kid, the Paiwan in the mountains still lived without money – if they wanted vegetables, they grew their own, if they wanted meat, they went hunting, and if they wanted shelter, they had to build it themselves. He said that the Juniper Valley Cabin had originally been a hunting ground – the hunters liked it so much because of its excellent water source. When he was a kid, Taiwu village was where the Paiwan and the Han people came together for trade.

The policy of the ROC government has been to get the Paiwan people to come down from the mountains and to live at lower elevations. The government built housing for the Paiwan in the new villages, but they didn’t give the Paiwan any farming land. Thus, even though the Paiwan spent their nights in the new villages, they returned to the old villages in the day to tend to their lands, and the old villages were still the center of Paiwan life.

I’ve also stayed at a hot spring run by Paiwan people in Taimali, on the eastern side of the Dawu mountains. The young man who managed the place emphasized that they were *eastern* Paiwan (the Paiwan are split into different cultural groups).

As typhoons and landslides continue to cut off roads in the Dawu mountains, settlements continue to be relocated closer to the plains. The Dawu mountains are full of abandoned Paiwan and Rukai villages, which some adventurers enjoy visiting. Here is a description of a trip to the abandoned Rukai village of Jiuhaocha.

Continue to the next part: “Lily, Butterfly, Viper”

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Some of the information in this entry came from the book Carefree Walks through Mountain Forests in Southern Taiwan (高屏山林縱情遊) and the TV show Made in Taiwan.


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Why I’ve Never Gotten into Fanfiction

I thought I’d have to skip the Carnival of Aces this month, but January’s theme gives me too good of an excuse to say something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

There have been times when I have been very involved in certain fandoms. Consistently, there was one big fannish activity that I mostly stayed out of: fanfiction.

At first, I thought the idea of fanfiction was awesome. I still think many aspects of fanfiction are fascinating from a meta-perspective, things such as how communities form around it, or the fuzziness of the line between fanfiction and original work. I even made multiple attempts to participate in it myself, as a reader and even (on rare occasion) as a writer. Yet it never really worked out.

Now, I think being aromantic/asexual is a big part why I could not get into fanfiction. When I first learned about online fanfiction, I imagined being able to explore many different aspects of stories I loved. When I discovered how the vast majority of fanfiction revolves around romance and sex, so much so that identifying the ‘ship is a standard part of categorization … I felt really disappointed.

I tried and I tried … and I just could not get much out of ship-py fanfiction. On the rare occasion I found a fic I genuinely enjoyed, it was almost always a) well-written AND b) a fic that was not about a specific ‘ship. Okay, there was one fanfic I really liked which technically was about a ‘ship’, but while the relationship was high on BDSM, it had nearly zero romantic and sexual content. (This is odd because BDSM is usually no more my thing than romance or sex). Yet finding fic which fits criteria (b) is so hard that it’s not worth it … especially when you are part of a community where you’re expected to at least read each other’s fics. I simply felt more comfortable just staying out of the fanfic arena.

I was also bothered by the tendency for all ‘ships between close relatives (siblings, parent-child, etc.) being interpreted as romantic and/or sexual, not so much because it’s incest (my incest squick factor is probably a little lower than average) but because it seemed like there was absolutely no space whatsoever for deep, non-sexual, non-romantic relationships. The fic writers could not even acknowledge the possibilities for profound and fascinating relationships between children, siblings, and parents without adding romance/sex.

This was well before I was identifying as aromantic, and most of it was before I started identifying as asexual.

I know that ace-spectrum fic is a thing, but if I go back into fandom, it will probably be a fandom with few openly aromantic/asexual people. That said, I have read very little ace-fic, so maybe I should check it out (when I have time – which is not now). I have yet to encounter any ace-fic in a fandom which interests me. However, I think I’d rather read fanfic about non-ace characters which are not about shipping than fanfic which ‘ships’ ace-characters, because unless it’s written by someone who understands asexuality very well, ‘shipping’ the ace characters would probably disturb me.

***

I’ve noted repeatedly that I actually like well-written romance fiction. However, it’s not hard to find original fiction focused on something other than romance, so when I choose to read romance-focused fiction it is a choice (not to mention that many ‘romance’ stories have a very broad focus). Thus, I feel less excluded by original fiction than fanfiction. That said, it’s very difficult to find original fiction which passes my test (and read this about aro female characters in fiction).


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The Beidawushan Series: The Paiwan People (Part 1)

According to legend, the Paiwan people learned essential skills, such as farming, from the goddesses which live at the top of Beidawushan. The goddesses asked the Paiwan people to occasionally invite them to their villages. Thus every five years the Paiwan celebrate Maleveq to greet the goddesses of Beidawushan and offer thanks for all of the good things the goddesses have done for the Paiwan people.

The peak of Beidawushan

The peak of Beidawushan

The Paiwan are an indigenous Austronesian people. The Austronesian languages are spoken from Madagascar, to New Zealand, to Hawaii, and linguists are almost certain that the proto-Austronesian language originated here, in southern Taiwan. Language preservation is an important issue for the Paiwan people.

Paiwan society is split into four classes: chieftain, nobility, distinguished, and commoner. Nearly all land belongs to the chieftain/noble class, and the commoners have to pay rent. The distinguished pay less rent/tax than the commoners and get to wear special tatoos. Traditionally, only the chieftain/noble class was allowed to wear intricately decorated clothes. Class is determined by birth, but it is possible to change one’s place in the hierarchy by great deeds or marriage.

Most of the indigenous societies in Taiwan are patriarchal, but the Paiwan are an exception. In Paiwan society, all possessions are inherited by the eldest child – regardless of the child’s gender. Chieftains are selected the same way, so the Paiwan have female and male chieftains (I do not know how traditional Paiwan culture reacts to gender-queerness). There is still a gendered division of labor (for example, hunting is an activity mainly for young men), but as far as power and privilege, the Paiwan are gender-egalitarian.

A Paiwan chieftain wearing traditional clothing (screenshot from the TV show 'Made in Taiwan')

A Paiwan chieftain wearing traditional clothing (screenshot from the TV show ‘Made in Taiwan’)

I once met a man in Taipei whose mother is Hoklo (i.e. of Chinese descent) and whose father is Paiwan. In traditional Han Chinese society he’s not considered Han because he doesn’t have a Han father. And, as he put it ‘mothers are very important in Paiwan culture’ (which brings this song to mind). Therefore, according to Paiwan tradition, he’s also not considered Paiwan because he does not have a Paiwan mother. Fortunately, most contemporary Taiwanese people, particularly in the younger generations, do not care much about such traditions. To them, someone with mixed Paiwan/Hoklo ancestry is clearly Taiwanese.

2016 Update: The newly elected president of Taiwan, Tsai Yingwen, has a Paiwan grandmother, and is the first president of Taiwan with (acknowledged) aboriginal ancestry. Is it a coincidence that the first female president of Taiwan has ancestry from the one culture in Taiwan which historically had female political leaders? I don’t know.

The Paiwan people had previously been controlled by the Puyuma (who had dominated southern Taiwan). In the Mudan Incident of 1871, the Paiwan people killed many Ryukyu shipwrecked sailors. When the Japanese asked the Qing court for compensation, the Qing claimed that the tribe was ‘wild’ and therefore the Qing were not responsible. The Japanese interpreted this as a renunciation of Qing sovereignty of Taiwan, which led to the 1874 Taiwan expedition where the Japanese directly punished the Paiwan people. After this, the Qing tried to exert military control over the ‘wild’ lands of Taiwan and … did not exactly succeed. In 1895 Japan took over Taiwan.

Continue to “The Paiwan People (Part 2)”

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Some of the information in this entry came from the book Carefree Walks through Mountain Forests in Southern Taiwan (高屏山林縱情遊) and this website.


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The Beidawushan Series: Geography

Taiwan has hundreds of peaks over 3000 meters above sea level.

A photo of Beidawushan

A photo of Beidawushan

Beidawushan, at 3090 meters, is the southernmost of these peaks.

‘Bei’ means ‘north’ in Mandarin, so ‘Beidawushan’ means ‘North Dawu Mountain’. The indigenous Paiwan people call it ‘Meli-miligang’ which means ‘fantastic beauty’.

The Dawu mountains are the southernmost mountain range in Taiwan. To the north of Beidawushan along the Dawu mountain ridge lies Wutoushan, and towards the south, of course, is Nandawushan ‘South Dawu Mountain’, which is 2841 meters above sea level.

The peak of Wutoushan, as seen from the summit of Beidawushan

The peak of Wutoushan, as seen from the summit of Beidawushan

The Dawu mountain ridge is the dividing line between Pingdong county in the west and Taidong county in the east, and often shields Pingdong / Kaohsiung from the fierceness of typhoons which hit Taidong.

Since moisture from the strait of Taiwan and the Pacific Ocean meet at the ridge, it is famous for it’s ‘cloud sea’, and many streams and waterfalls originate from the ridge.

The vast majority of the people who hike Beidawushan nowadays use the ‘Beidawushan National Trail’ (henceforth referred to as the ‘national trail’) which starts in Wutan Village, Taiwu Township, Pingdong county. The National trail has a ‘new’ and an ‘old’ trailhead. Originally, cars could drive all the way up to the ‘old’ trailhead, but Typhoon Morakot caused a large landslide in 2009 which wiped out the road. Nowadays, hikers can either take a trail from the ‘new’ trailhead which takes a detour around the landslide, or they can follow the original road and move directly across the landslide. Going directly through the landslide is faster, but more dangerous.

Ritangzhenshan, with the huge landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot on the left side.

Ritangzhenshan, with the huge landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot on the left side.

From the ‘old’ trailhead, one can also go on the trail to ghost village of Fanwu and climb Ritangzhenshan.

Map of the National Trail

There are various other trails coming from Pingdong to Beidawushan. There is a trail coming from Nandawushan, and another trail from Wutoushan, and well as several trails approaching the ridge from different points. There are also trails coming from Taidong county in the east, some of which follow the Taimali river up into the mountains, and pass through Bilu hot spring along the way.

You can see the peak of Nandawushan in the background of this picture

You can see the peak of Nandawushan in the background of this picture

The national trail is based on a trail originally established by the Japanese. The Paiwan people call the “women’s trail” because it is suitable for the less physically fit. Traditionally, Paiwan youths would climb Beidawushan by starting at Heping village, following the Aliaonan (Shelu) river, and going straight up the mountain – this route is called the “bear’s trail”.

Beidawushan is right at the edge of the Shuangguihu Major Wildlife Habitat and the Dawu Nature Reserve.

From the old trailhead, hikers must cross several landslides until they climb up onto a ridge, which they proceed along until they reach the ‘giant tree’, and then they must go on a very rocky trail, often requiring ropes (already in place) until they reach the Dawu ridge itself.

Click here to continue to the next entry, in which I discuss the Paiwan people, who regard Beidawushan as a sacred mountain.

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Some of the information in this entry came from the book Carefree Walks through Mountain Forests in Southern Taiwan (高屏山林縱情遊).


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