The Beidawushan Series: Putting It All Together

As I said in the introduction, this whole series is an exercise in connecting the dots.

Water > Roots > Trunk > Branches > Leaves > Mist > Water

Water > Roots > Trunk > Branches > Leaves > Mist > Water

That’s not to say I have done an exhaustive job. Far from it. I did not write anything about geology, for example. If I were to go into discussing everything connected to Beidawushan, I could keep this series running forever. The point is to make a deep enough scratch in the surface to get a glimpse of what lies below, or more accurately, to weave together some threads of knowledge to form an increasingly strong web.

This is the process of holistic learning. To quote Olle Linge:

“Holistic” might sound like a fancy word for some people, but it’s actually quite simple. Rather than focusing on single, separate units of data or facts, an holistic approach regards everything as a part of something, as part of the whole. Everything you learn will be connected to everything else you know, perhaps not directly, but at least via other bits and pieces of knowledge you have stored in your brain. A multidimensional web is the most accurate metaphor for this kind of structure.

This series was prompted by my departure from Taiwan. I completed and scheduled all of this posts before I left, but most of them were published after I was already gone. I want to hold onto my memories of Taiwan, and one way to do that is to put them together into a learning web so that when I think of one thing, it will bring to mind another thing.

A picture of Nandawushan

A picture of Nandawushan

You might think I chose Beidawushan because is my favorite place in Taiwan, or at least because it is very special. It is not. There are places in Taiwan more beautiful and fascinating than Beidawushan. Beidawushan has its unique features, but I chose it as a topic, not because it is exceptional, but because it is typical.

And as I said in the introduction, one of the most important things I have taken with me is an improved ability to learn holistically. I am a better learner now than when I came to Taiwan.

My father claims I have also become a better photographer.

My father claims I have also become a better photographer.

This type of learning is sorely lacking in formal education, both in Taiwan and in California. That’s not to say it is totally absent – some professional educators do try to foster holistic learning. But lots of formal education on both sides of the Pacific is highly focused on cramming facts into one’s head to pass a test set out by authorities, facts which will be promptly forgotten after finals. Students spend an incredible amount of time studying for exams when, in fact, if they want to get high scores they should stop studying.

Yet holistic learning is not just about becoming a better student. It’s about thinking about whole systems rather than isolated compartments. And a lack of systematic thinking cuts through the heart of the great crises of our time.

If that rope stopped being there, you might have a crisis

If that rope stopped being there, you might have a crisis

People fail so badly at managing environmental crises when they cannot think about the whole system. Take climate change, for example:

– Some people think that their consumption of fossil fuels are limited to simply the gas they put in their vehicles and the electric bills their pay, totally ignoring, for example, the fossil fuels need to produce frozen dinner they bought that day.
– Some people only look at carbon emissions, which might cause them to, say, ignore methane emissions, such as the methane emissions from factory-farm cattle or rice paddies.
– People who are only looking at climate change might ignore the fact that the earth is losing about 1% of its topsoil every year, the effects of nuclear waste, the collapse of fish populations around the world due to greedy fisheries, the prevalence of toxic chemicals in stuff sold to ordinary people, the destructive impacts of damming rivers … and this list could go on, and on, and on.
– Some people treat the environment as a issue that can be kept separate from social problems. It cannot. For example, why have fossil fuel companies devastated indigenous communities from Canada to Ecuador with toxic spills, and why are governments pushing policies which will continue the devastation? You can’t explain that without understanding finance (where do these companies get the funds to pollute the environment?) or colonialism and racism.

I think some people who suggest dealing with climate change by going to higher altitudes do not understand just how harsh higher altitudes can be.

I think some people who suggest dealing with climate change by going to higher altitudes do not understand just how harsh higher altitudes can be.

When discussing the documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above, some Taiwanese people said that the public will fix the problems described in the film. I was skeptical, not because I doubt the good intentions of the public, but because Taiwanese people pour so much time and energy into cramming their studies, working overtime to keep a job, or escaping through games/TV/social media/manga/movies, that I’m not sure how they’ll get the time/energy to understand the problems, let alone act. Hikers obviously have a bit of time and energy … and many hikers already understood the issues described and were harsh critics of government and business policies even before the film came out.

El Palo Alto, which is Spanish for ‘The Tall Tree’, is the name of a famous redwood tree, not unlike the famous red cypress tree on the Beidawushan national trail (indeed, once we reached the red cypress forest, I started yapping about coast redwood trees in California). Two entire towns, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, are named after this single tree. Palo Alto home of famous institutions such as Stanford University and Hewlett-Packard, and has been home to famous people such as Steve Jobs and Jeremy Lin. East Palo Alto is home to poor people, many of whom are Latino or black, who find it very difficult to escape poverty because there are few jobs, many cannot afford cars, and public transit is terrible. In college I knew someone living in East Palo Alto who did not have a car, so he had to either a) spend 2-3 hours each way riding buses to go to class or b) ask people who did have cars (few of whom lived in East Palo Alto) to give him rides – additionally, he worked part time to support his himself. On top of this, East Palo Alto has one of the highest homicide rates in California – I once overheard someone say ‘I live in Menlo Park. People live in Menlo Park. People die in East Palo Alto’.

The famous tree of the Beidawushan national trail, not to be confused with El Palo Alto.

The famous tree of the Beidawushan national trail, not to be confused with El Palo Alto.

Anyway, about El Palo Alto. California is currently working on building a high-speed train, which means that the train tracks which pass right by the tree will need to be expanded. This might damage the tree. Thus, local citizens have organized to protect the tree from the high-speed train project.

Someone pointed out that the area is so developed that the conditions which allowed El Palo Alto to grow so high no longer exist, thus El Palo Alto will have no successor when it dies (even coast redwoods are not immortal). The high speed train, on the other hand, might prevent additional road construction in California, or kill the intra-California flight industry (much as the high-speed train in Taiwan killed the Taipei-Kaohsiung flight route) which will help preserve old growth forests where redwoods can support a vibrant ecosystem.

I don’t completely agree with the commentator’s analysis, but at least he was thinking about forests, while some people were only able to think about a single tree.

Forests are more than a collection of trees.

Forests are more than a collection of trees.

In order to reduce the harm that contemporary civilization causes to our environment – and, you know, try to prevent billions of people from dying horrible deaths at young ages – we need to think more about the forest, and not just about the tree. And we need to think about the rivers which come from the forest, the farms which depend on the rivers, the people who depend on the farms, what the river brings into the ocean, and the mountain which collects moisture from the ocean and pulls it back into the forest.

And we need to stop thinking about nature as something separate from humanity – humanity is part of nature. That’s why I spend so much time discussing the humans of Beidawushan. Ecology, culture, economics, politics, geology – it’s all connected. For example, the Archdruid Report has some thought-provoking essays about religion and nature here, here and here.

For another example, hiking is a popular recreational activity in Taiwan. Hiking Beidawushan usually means riding a fossil-fuel powered vehicle to the trailhead – where the great typhoon Morakot landslide is. Burning that fossil fuel contributes to increasing the intensity and frequency of Morakot-like storms.

BenQ Digital Camera

One of the inspirations for this series is the piece “WHAT THE FLUCK”. It’s about a totally difficult topic, but I admire Adam Curtis’ ability to weave private equity firms, Philip K. Dick, high-heel shoes, elections for a coal-miners union, a former mayor of Minneapolis, a British sex icon from the 1950s, Standard Oil, an editor who had just been fired from his job, small farmers on the prairie, drug addiction, and kittens all into a cohesive narrative.

If you liked the individual bits of this blog series – the photos, the myths, the practical hiking information – that’s nice. But what I really hope people will take away from “The Beidawushan Series” is a sense that everything is connected, and that readers will become a little better at understanding how everything is part of a whole.

Farewell, dear teacher.

Farewell, dear teacher.


CC0


To the extent possible under law,
the person who associated CC0
with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring
rights to this work.

Advertisements

The Beidawushan Series: The Hikers

One of the pleasures of hiking in Taiwan is meeting one’s fellow hikers.

A photo off various bushes, with a mountain slope in the background, and a clear sky.

Together, to the ridge!

We hiked Beidawushan during weekdays, so we did not encounter many professional hiking groups, though there was one student group from northern Taiwan, and another student group whose was setting out for intense river-tracing. We mostly saw middle-aged people, but young adults were also well-represented.

A trail running through a forest

Onwards through the forest!

There was a group of Taijiang National Park rangers. Though Taijiang is not known for hiking, I suppose many of their rangers enjoy hiking in their free time. Perhaps they like hiking in their free time because it’s not part of their regular work duties.

Most of the hikers were small, self-organized groups from Pingdong and Kaohsiung. Many of them had hiked Beidawushan many times, and as I heard again and againg ‘each time you hike it, it’s different’. As a group not from southern Taiwan, we were considered a little unusual (okay, the fact that one of us came from Quemoy, and I am not even Asian was definitely enough to mark us as unusual).

A certain old man is known to have hiked Beidawushan over three hundred times…

A forest full of mist

Don’t get lost!

Here are some English-language tales of Beidawushan hikes. If you know of more, please comment!

Shan Ding Lu – Beidawu Mountain
Pashan – Beidawushan, the Ship of the South
Into the Mountains: Beidawu Shan
Hiking Taiwan: Beidawu

And here are some Beidawushan videos on YouTube:

A Good Video Made by Taiwanese Hikers – I think this gives a good sense of what many Taiwanese hiking groups are like. Just hearing them talk in Taiwanese is nostalgic for me.
Some Foreigners Try (and Fail) to Reach the Summit
A Beautiful Speeded-Up Beidawushan Video

The most famous hiking event is the ‘Coming of Age’ ceremony organized by the Pingdong County government. It is held every year so that Pingdong youth can build self-confidence and connect to their natural, cultural, and historic heritage – in other words, so they can experience all of the stuff I’ve been writing about in this blog series.

A photo of the giant red cypress tree

Let the young discover the majesty of the red cypress!

In clear weather, Beidawushan is visible from everywhere in the Pingdong plain, which is where most people in Pingdong live. While Pingdong is generally more rustic than, say, Kaohsiung City, the youth of Pingdong, like youth around Taiwan, have a tendency to have their lives absorbed by tests, electronic games, cram schools, manga, online-socializing, tests, TV, anime, tests. Those are not necessarily bad things, and they have all brought good into my own life (*ahem* I am a Manga Bookshelf contributor), but forming your life around those things tends to make one focus indoors, rather than nourishing a curiosity about one’s own position in history and the biosphere. I think bringing the youth out – both in a literal and metaphoric sense – is good.

Why is it good? That will be the topic of the next – and final – post.


CC0


To the extent possible under law,
the person who associated CC0
with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring
rights to this work.

The Beidawushan Series: Clouds and Sunset

The #1 draw for hikers to Beidawushan is seeing the ‘cloud-sea’ from the ridge, particularly at sunrise or sunset.

Hemlock trees as the sun has jst set below a sea of clouds

There is a noted sunset-viewing spot near Cedar Valley Lodge. I did not see any sunsets there because of the weather, but I did see this:

BenQ Digital Camera

That is the formation of a cloud.

Wind brings moist air up from the ocean, and then that moisture hits the Dawu mountain ridge. The moisture piles up, increasing the water saturation of the air. Since the only way is up, the moisture has to keep going up to higher and higher altitudes, which means the temperature gets lower and lower and – voilà! Clouds!

A cloud sea below the ridge, with high-level clouds above

As you can see in the above picture, there are both low-level clouds (below the mountain ridge) and high-level clouds (way above the mountain ridge). I’m not a meteorologist, so I’ll let NASA explain it all.

Clouds creep over the ridge

Clouds creep over the ridge

The forests are essential to this cloud-making process, as they a) hold the soil together on the steep slopes and b) help hold onto the moisture long enough that it makes nice, gentle clouds rather than, say, devastating floods.

Suffice to say, these clouds are an essential source of precipitation for both the Pingdong plains to the west and Taidong to the east – and this is in addition to the fact that many of the rivers in both counties originate from the Dawu mountain ridge. So if you have a farm in Pingdong or southern Taidong – or if you ever eat food from Pingdong or southern Taidong – your stomach is connected to this water cycle.

I did not see any sunrises during my hike, but I did see this sunset:

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

Of course, I’m just an amateur with a not-so-good camera. Scroll down to the slideshow on this page to see what professional photographers can do.

Continue to the next part: “The Hikers”


CC0


To the extent possible under law,
the person who associated CC0
with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring
rights to this work.

The Beidawushan Series: Sleeping on the National Trail

Most people need at least three days and two nights to reach the summit of Beidawushan via the national trail (and if you’re not taking the national trail, you’re going to need even more time). So where can you sleep?

Most hikers spend two nights sleeping at ‘Juniper Valley Lodge’, which is about 2000 meters above sea level.

A tree next to Juniper Valley lodge.

A tree next to Juniper Valley lodge.

As I’ve mentioned before, it was once a Paiwan hunting ground, and then the Japanese built a shelter there. After the Japanese left, the Paiwan built a school there. Eventually, the Pingdong Forestry Bureau put their own shelter there, and rebuilt the shelter in 2001. That is the structure which sits there today.

The shelter, being next to a stream, has plenty of water, and even has flush toilets. There is a private room for forestry employees, and a large room which can accommodate 60 people. Visitors need to bring their own sleeping bags.

In addition to the shelter, there are ten wooden platforms for 4-person tents.

It's very atmospheric.

It’s very atmospheric.

One can reserve indoor spaces (but not tent spaces) at Juniper Valley Lodge at this website – if you have an ROC ID (an ARC number will not cut it). What if you do not have an ROC ID number? Here are your options:

– Get someone who has an ROC ID number to make the reservation for you (it’s okay if they do not join you on the hike)
– Call the phone number, and ask them to make the reservation for you (I’ve done this and it worked, but I don’t know whether or not they speak English)
– Don’t make a reservation, and hope for the best. Chances are, if it’s not a weekend or holiday, and there are no large school groups, you can just show up and get a space

If you don’t have a tent, Juniper Valley Lodge is your only option. But if you do have a tent…

– Old Trailhead. There is plenty of space for tents at the old trailhead, and there’s even a ‘bathroom’ nearby (it’s a low-tech composting toilet). Alas, there is no water source.
– Last Water Source. The stream which passes by Cedar Valley Lodge of course originates from the ridge, and at about 6.3 km from the old trailhead you pass through the stream source. This is known as ‘last water source’ because it is the last place you can get water before reaching the summit. If you look carefully, you can find an excellent spot to pitch a small tent (3 people maximum). It’s well-protected by Yushan cane, and it’s right next to a water source!

'Last Water Source' is actually a bit dangerous to cross since it's quite slippery

‘Last Water Source’ is actually a bit dangerous to cross since it’s quite slippery

-Dawu Shrine. I met a Pingdong Forestry Bureau employee who was planning to pitch a tent at the Dawu shrine because he wanted to see both sunset and sunrise from the ridge. The shrine is the closest spot to the summit where sleeping is possible (the employee said that the weather is too dangerous at the summit itself for sleeping). Alas, there is no water source.

There are a couple other places where camping is possible, but I think these are the most useful spots.

Continue to the next part: “Clouds and Sunset”


CC0


To the extent possible under law,
the person who associated CC0
with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring
rights to this work.