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.


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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.


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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:

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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”


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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”


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The Beidawushan Series: Paperwork and Navigation

This post is scheduled to go live on February 28, which is the anniversary of a brutal authoritarian crackdown by the Republic of China government in Taiwan. One of the reasons police permits are required for many hiking routes in Taiwan is that anti-government dissidents, including some of the people who rose up against the ROC government in the aftermath of 2/28, historically had a tendency to hide in the mountains. Nowadays, the police permit system is mainly for safety (the mountain police are often responsible for rescue efforts). The mountain police I’ve met are friendly, and one even taught me a bit of the local language (Truku, in that case) so that I could greet any indigenous people I might meet on the trail properly. But I think it’s worth reflecting on why the system of policing ‘restricted mountain areas’ was set up in the first place.

If you want to hike Beidawushan, officially, you need permit(s).

A picture of trees with two peaks in the background.

Thou shalt not enter without the permit.

If you take the national trail, all you need is a mountain police (入山) permit. You can get it from the National Police Agency headquarters in Taipei, you can get it from at least two different police stations in Taiwu township (I heard conflicting information about which police stations issue the permit, but if you end up at the wrong one, they can tell you how to get to the correct one), and you can also get it from the police headquarters in Pingdong county. You can even get the permit online, though apparently you have to set the encoding of your browser to ‘Traditional Chinese, Big 5’. You do not need to get this permit in advance – you can get it the day you start the hike.

BenQ Digital Camera

Supposedly, you need to present your permit to a police checkpoint to get to the trailhead, but I somehow never did this since local people were driving me around and never stopped at any checkpoint.

I also know that some people have hiked the national trail without getting a permit at all, and there were no consequences. Even the person who oversaw Cedar Valley Lodge didn’t check it – but they regularly switch employees, so just because the overseer I met didn’t check it does not mean other overseers do not check.

Can hemlock be used to make paper to print the permits on? (okay, cutting down the hemlock trees to make paper would be totally horrible)

Can hemlock be used to make paper to print the permits on? (okay, cutting down the hemlock trees to make paper would be totally horrible)

I think it is also possible to hike Beidawushan via Nandawushan (Pingdong) or Paiyusenshan (Taidong) with just police permits, but you should ask the Pingdong or Taidong Forestry Bureaus to be sure.

If you attempt any other route, you will have to pass through either the Shuangguihu Wildlife Habitat or the Dawu Nature Reserve, and obtain a separate permit to legally enter those protected areas. You can get the forms (which of course are only in Chinese) here. I personally would never enter without the proper permit, but I know people who would go in without permits and probably get away with it.

The roads leading from the plains up into the hills to the trailhead are confusing, and many people get lost. The easiest solution is to hire a local driver. If you plan to spend a night in Taiwu township before the hike (highly recommended if you are interested in the Paiwan people) your accommodation should be able to arrange this. In a group of 3+ people the cost should be reasonable, especially if you choose to be picked up from Chaozhou train station instead of Pingdong train station. Local drivers probably will not get lost, but other interesting things might happen – for example, we went up through a minor road and another car was coming in the other direction – and the road was too narrow for the car to pass. On the other hand, the driver probably will not speak English. Also, watch out for motion sickness.

Remember to look out the window if you feel like puking.

Remember to look out the window if you feel like puking.

If you are using your own transportation, make sure you have a good map and consult the locals (if you use directions from the internet or GPS, double check that all of the roads are still open).

Continue to the next part: “Sleeping on the National Trail”


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The Beidawushan Series: Hiking Conditions

I am not going to describe basic mountain hiking safety in this post. You must make sure you understand basic mountain hiking safety before trying to hike Beidawushan, or any other high mountain.

A slope with forest and a landslide, shrouded in mist

Landslides and mist, oh my!

The new trailhead for the national trail is at around 1100 meters above sea level, Cedar Valley Lodge is about 2100 meters above sea level, and the summit is 3090 meters above sea level. Thus, if you follow a standard 3-day/2-night itinerary, the elevations look like this:

Day 1: ~7 km distance, +1000m altitude
Day 2: ~5 km distance, +1000m altitude, then in reverse ~5 km distance, -1000m altitude (note that there is a lot of up-and-down on the ridge itself)
Day 3: ~7 km distance, -1000m altitude

As you can see, Day 2 can be pretty steep.

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You do not need special climbing equipment for the national trail, but many sections require ropes (already in place), including a few landslides, lots of rocky scrambles, and some “exciting” bits on the ridge itself where you can fall to your death. If you have a thing about heights or exposed narrow ridge trails, think carefully before trying this hike. This is all much more dangerous in wet weather than dry weather.

Due to the abundance of moisture and life, to quote the Pingdong Forestry Bureau, “Leeches may kiss your feet”. Somehow, my feet have never been ‘kissed’ in places which are notorious for leeches (Jin Shui Ying Trail, Walami Trail, Wulai, etc.) yet they get ‘kissed’ in places like Yangmingshan National Park and Alishan.

Routes other than the national trail will probably need additional equipment, so you will need to ask someone with deep knowledge of the area to know what to bring. Someone I know who hiked Beidawushan from the Taidong direction said that he needed a machete.

You can check trail conditions on the national trail at this website if you understand Chinese. The trail is often closed due to typhoon damage.

The big typhoon Morakot landslide!

The big typhoon Morakot landslide!

Speaking of typhoon damage, never go there when a typhoon is coming or right after a typhoon. Even when there is no typhoon, high mountain weather in Taiwan can be extreme and change quickly. Do check the weather reports for Taiwu township, but understand that the weather at mid-elevations (which is what is forecast) may not reflect the weather at high elevations.

Hold on to that rope!

Hold on to that rope!

Beidawushan is in southern Taiwan, so the rainy season is May-October, and the dry season is November-April. Generally, dry weather is safer than wet weather. June-September is also the typhoon season, though typhoons can also happen in May and October.

Like other high mountains in Taiwan, summer rain tends to happen in the afternoon, so if you hike in the summer, plan to do most of your hiking in the morning.

This is the kind of weather you want for a hike.

This is the kind of weather you want for a hike.

It rarely snows in Beidawushan (i.e. it does not happen every year) but snow is possible in winter, and can mess up your hike if you are not prepared. Generally, winter weather in the high mountains can be fierce even without snow.

The safest times to hike are November-early December, and March-April. May is the best time to see rhododendron flowers.

Continue to the next part: “Paperwork and Navigation”


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The Beidawushan Series: Life on the Ridge

One of the pleasures of hiking Beidawushan is going through the different ecological zones. All journeys start in the tropical plains of Pingdong (unless you’re coming from the Taidong side, in which case you’re starting either in a tropical basin or at a tropical seashore). Then you get into the tropical hills, and then into the mid-elevation cloud forest … but, if all goes well, you’ll eventually reach the temperate forests.

About two thousand meters above sea level, one starts to find Taiwan red cypress, which many consider to be one of the most majestic trees in Taiwan.

An old cypress trunk reaches into the sky.

An old cypress trunk reaches into the sky.

The most famous stand of Taiwan red cypresses is in the very touristy Alishan Forest Recreation Area … but the national Beidawushan trail has its own famous red cypress tree, about 25 meters high and 11.7 meters in diameter, and estimated to be about 2,700 years old.

My own photo of the great old red cypress tree

My own photo of the great old red cypress tree

Taiwan’s mountains have plenty of azaleas/rhodededrons, and Beidawushan is no exception. I was not there in May, when the rhodededrons are in bloom, so I’m borrowing this photo from the Pingdong Forestry Bureau:

A picture of Taiwan Azaleas

Beidawushan is supposed to have a population of Swinhoe’s pheasants. While I didn’t see any there, I have seen a male while going through the Fenrui Old Trail through the Alishan mountains, and it was the most spectacular bird I have seen in Taiwan.

As one gets closer and closer to the ridge, one finds Yushan cane, a type of bamboo which excels at living in the harsh conditions of Taiwan’s high mountains. It often grows where few other plants can, and it one of the first species to come back after a forest fire.

Lots of Yushan cane

Lots of Yushan cane

I remember, when I was resting at the Dawu shrine, a Formosa laughing thrush came down. Formosa laughing thrushes are a very common bird in the high mountains of Taiwan. By the way it was eyeing my snack, it’s clear that many hikers feed the birds along the trail.

Some laughing thrushes on the road to Hehuanshan

Some laughing thrushes on the road to Hehuanshan

The highest reaches of the Dawu mountains have the largest forest of Taiwan hemlock in the entire world.

Instead of trying to describe the Taiwan hemlock forest with words, I will describe it with photos:

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

Continue to the next part: “Hiking Conditions”


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The Beidawushan Series: The Japanese on Beidawushan

The Dawu shrine, with the peak of Beidawushan visible in the background

The Dawu shrine, with the peak of Beidawushan visible in the background

As I described in “The Paiwan People: Part 1”, the Japanese first became involved with the people who lived near Beidawushan during the Mudan incident of 1871.

In 1895, the Qing empire ceded control of Taiwan to Japan. The Paiwan resisted, as did other indigenous peoples. The Japanese attempted to make the aboriginal people assimilate, which included building schools for them and teaching them Japanese (these schools were often right next to, or even, inside the police stations which were built to ‘pacify’ the local people).

A Bunun man I once met claimed that the Rukai people (who live on the north side of Beidawushan) were able to avoid the influence of Japanese culture longer than anyone else – for example, they were the last people to accept a writing system. Considering that the Rukai tend to live in isolated valleys, this is plausible.

After Taiwan got incorporated into Japan, a flood of mountaineers came in to explore this ‘new’ island. For example, Yushan (a.k.a. Niitakayama) is higher than Mt. Fuji and became the new high point in the Japanese empire, which of course meant that Japanese adventurers had to come down to Taiwan to bag the peak. Many mountain summits and routes in Taiwan were traversed for the first (recorded) time by Japanese mountaineers. In addition to adventure, many Japanese naturalists studied Taiwan’s ecology and first recorded in writing the existence of many species, which is why so many species in Taiwan have Japanese names.

The route used by today’s national trail was originally opened up by the Japanese. Noro Yasushi became the first Japanese person to reach the summit of Beidawushan in 1909. Japanese settlers built a shelter at the site of today’s Cedar Lodge for the purpose of building Shinto shrines. And indeed, one of the most famous sights of Beidawushan is the Dawu Shrine.

Look at the coins tossed into the shrine.

Look at the coins tossed into the shrine.

The Dawu Shrine is the best preserved mountain Shinto shrine in all of Taiwan. ‘State Shinto’ was a policy to try to use Shinto to get people in Taiwan (and other territories under Japanese rule) to assimilate into Japanese society, and shrines such as the Dawu Shrine were part of that policy. People used to come to this shrine every October 28th for worship.

The shrine was originally at the summit of Beidawushan itself, in spite of the protests of the Paiwan people who regard the summit as sacred. After the shrine got repeatedly hit by lightning (maybe the goddesses of Beidawushan were angry?), it was moved to a safer spot alone the Dawu ridge one kilometer away from the summit, where is remains today.

After the Republic of China took over Taiwan, they tried to erase Japanese culture, and destroyed many Shinto shrines. The Dawu shrine was probably spared because it’s near the top of a high mountain deep in Paiwan territory.

Most photos of the Dawu shrine show the torii standing up, so I was disappointed to find that the torii have recently fallen down. I was also amused to find that hikers had carved messages. For more information, check out Queenie’s answer to my question.

Next to the shrine is the Takasago Volunteers’ Monument, which was set up in 1944 to honor the Taiwanese aboriginal people who served in the Japanese armed forces.

A photo of the Takasago volunteers' monument.

A photo of the Takasago volunteers’ monument.

Continue to the next part: “Life on the Ridge”

***

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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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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