Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fifth Trip To Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) & Second Trip To The Ronghua Dam (榮華壩)

Another Sunday, another reservoir trip to northern Taiwan. As usual I arrived in Hsinchu at 8am, and immediately hopped onto the motorbike to get to the reservoir as soon as possible. This time my first objective was to get to Shihmen mountain overlooking the reservoir, so I took the 120, then the 115, then the 118 and then highway 3 before hitting the turn-off for the Shihmen mountain trail. I made it there just before 9.30am though I was slightly delayed by having to buy a new pair of elastic cables to tie up my tripod to the bike (I had forgotten to bring them).

Contrary to the weather forecast, which was that it would be raining all day in both Hsinchu and Taoyuan counties, the weather was in fact quite good with only the slight problem of there being the usual atmospheric haze partially obscuring the mountains. As Shihmen mountain overlooks the reservoir to the west this meant that I also had the morning sun directly overhead which exacerbates the effect of the haze in whitening the sky. Nonetheless I was not too disappointed with the shots I took...



I then headed off downhill to the little Buddhist retreat which affords a better angle toward the upstream face of the dam and spillway gates...


The same perspective below, but drawn back somewhat to encompass the view over the aft-bay downstream from the dam...


And below... myself standing on the edge of the patio with a twenty foot drop into the garden to my left. I might not look particularly happy in that shot, but I was reasonably pleased; this was the first time I had visited Shihmen reservoir without large helpings of mash-potato like cumulus clouds clogging up the skies...


The next objective was to head back down the other side of the mountain and enter the reservoir premises proper so as to follow the road up from the dam crest as it snakes its way up eastward to another vantage point...


On the northern spit that forces the major bend in the overall shape of Shihmen reservoir, there is a small pavillion and a minor toll booth for the road. The pavillion is a popular rest stop and it sits atop a crest looking out westward back across the reservoir to the dam with the several peaks of Shihmen mountain at the far side...



After I packed my gear up again to take off for the far eastern end of the reservoir near Fuxing, I stopped to admire an old BMW motorbike that had been well-kept and brought out for a Sunday morning spin by its' owner...


It only had a single cylinder 250cc engine, but it was a topper little thing with the front indicator lights being placed at the end of the handlebars so that they could also serve as the rear-facing indicator lights at the same time, which was textbook engineering elegance.

On the way around to the reservoir's far-eastern end, I couldn't help but stop at several points to take in the views. Here is one from under a tree looking back westward toward the other side of that northern spit after the major bend in the reservoir...


Here is another a little further upstream looking directly southward - note the tourist pleasure boat chugging back toward the eastern end (where the harbour lies)...


Near the harbour, I stopped off to buy another bottle of water and have a look around as I was particularly minded to photograph the remains of a tourist boat that had (presumably) been holed in an accident and then subsequently dragged up onto the southern shore and left to rot. As I was looking at it however, my eye was interrupted by a crested serpent eagle flitting about on a short peninsula jutting out from the northern shore. I immediately took out my tripod and switched over to the 300mm lens, but I had forgotten that it was still in auto-focus rather than manual and as a result all my shots were out of focus. Not exactly my finest birding moment...


I grabbed my new bottle of water and headed off to Fuxing to cross the bridge on highway 7 that follows the Dahan river upstream; at this point (getting on for 11.30am) the weather was still glorious...


My next objective was to do something a little risky and get some downstream shots looking up at the face of the Ronghua dam. First however, I decided to take a little uphill detour; after descending to the bridge that crosses the Dahan river prior to the tunnel on highway 7, I climbed up and up in the hope of finding an overlook from the east down to the Ronghua dam. As it turned out that hope was in vain, as the mountain road took me some distance to the south of the Ronghua dam whereupon it was well out of sight back around the mountains to my right. Still, the views were fantastic...


I slowly made my way back down the mountain (stuck behind a convoy of family cars) and stopped at the bridge. I had previously speculated that if there was a way down to the river bed, then it would be found somewhere near this bridge, and indeed there was...


That shot above was taken after about ten minutes walk upstream from the bridge along the river bed after having abseilled down the cliff-face using ropes that had probably been left there by enterprising fishing enthusiasts. The walk upstream took about half an hour or so, and involved picking my way between rocks and occassionally wading through shallow water; there were one or two climbs and a few uncertain moments, but nothing especially hair-raising. Naturally I concentrated on what I was doing so as to avoid accidentally twisting an ankle or something. Eventually I reached a rocky outcrop from which further progress would have been awkward but which nontheless afforded a decent enough view up to the face of the Ronghua dam. By this time there was the frequent rumbling of thunder in the distance and I predicted it would soon begin to rain...



It's a magnificent thing up close - one of only three concrete gravity arch dams in Taiwan, it stands well over thirty meters tall and I was very pleased to have reached it without anything going wrong. My only remaining task for the day was to head for home with the same hope of things not going wrong; as it began to rain on my way downstream I was slightly worried that, should it begin to pour down, the climb up the cliff-face back to the bridge could become a minor nightmare of slippery mud. As it was I managed to navigate my way back downstream without any silly slips and climb back up the cliff face whilst the rain was still a trickle.

I headed back down highway 7 and as soon as I turned right onto the 118 to take me back into Hsinchu, the clouds burst and I was soaked to the skin. I drove through the rain and after a short while I was back on a dry stretch of the 118 and the rest of my drive remained marvelously rain-free all the way back to the Hsinchu HSR station.

It was a good day's work.

Friday, 29 August 2014

An Orwellian Claim In A Taipei Times Editorial

I rarely read the editorial pages in the Taipei Times these days, but I did happen to read one on Tuesday (I had put my little scooter into the shop for a partial rebuild* and at one point was waiting around otherwise doing nothing). The editorial was written as a complaint that the government does not intend to raise the minimum wage, and though the whole thing is driven from premises that are easy to find fault with and worthy of attention themselves, it contains a truly Orwellian claim right at the end that cries out for singular attention...
"While the government’s favorable treatment of businesses [i.e. not increasing the minimum wage - ed] might help them grow, businesses that rely so much on government policies are obviously not healthy and not truly competitive. 
It is time for the government to honor its own words to the public, including workers, and let some businesses be eliminated through competition. Then those that survive would be truly competitive."
It is an astonishing mind-bender to claim that a business which relies upon the absence of further government intervention (in this case raising the minimum wage) is a business which is reliant on the government, and thus obviously not healthy. Now it may be technically true in the sense of the omitted clause, i.e. that such businesses are reliant on government policy not changing in a particular way, but since this clause is omitted, the claim is clearly being implied that such businesses could not survive without the government. It is an extraordinairily twisted defamation and is indicative of why I think the managing editor should be sacked - it is not because he is a socialist, but because he regularly permits editorials containing either ridiculous or outrageous conceits. Readers need only recall that this was the paper that claimed a DPP election gimmick (involving piggy banks) as Taiwan's version of the "Jasmine" revolution in North Africa a few years ago.

It makes you wonder why nobody at the Taipei Times ever signs their name to an editorial.

*New front suspension, new drive plate and clutch assembly, and a few other bits and pieces including a new seat. I bought another two years insurance too.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What If U2 Had Been Libertarians?

As their "best" or at least (probably) most recognizable song, "Where The Streets Have No Name", it is something I simply cannot listen to without thinking of something like the Periclean speech. To my ear, the song is about universalism, and the virtues of individual risk, entrepreneurial effort and achievement. I find it nauseatingly incomprehensible that Lefties can listen to this and think about something as trivial and narrow-minded as mere income inequality.

 

You have to have a shitty, ugly little mind to listen to something like this and think about how much more money your rich neighbours make than you do.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Monday Trip To The Ronghua Dam (榮華壩) Upstream From Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫)

I missed my 5 a.m. alarm on Sunday morning and slept in, so instead I took the HSR train up to Hsinchu again on Monday morning since I've got three days off work (ending today). My main purpose was to get myself over to the back of Shihmen reservoir in neighbouring Taoyuan county and follow the Dahan river upstream to find the Ronghua dam (榮華壩) which, curiously, is featured in the wikipedia entry for "reservoir". I had not previously seen this, so Monday's trip was my first time and, as always, there is a certain thrill to actually being in the physical presence of what I had only previously read about online. This is myself at about 1pm with the upstream side of the dam in the background...


A note on my route: I took the 120 heading east straight out of the Hsinchu HSR station and then turned north onto highway 3 before cutting off east again on the 118 which runs around the southern side of Shihmen reservoir to exit out onto highway 7 which runs southeast following the Dahan river upstream and eventually takes you to Ilan county. The 118 is a very nice road, and I kept stopping for pictures which cost me a lot of time. Here is where the Dahan river enters into the back of Shihmen reservoir as seen from a ridge along the 118. I took my recently acquired GoPro camera with me today and shot some brief videos just to test it out, but one thing I noticed was that, although I could hear the grunting and rustling of monkeys in the trees below me, the GoPro's microphone couldn't pick it up...



This was some time before 10am and the weather was fantastic - but it wasn't to last as later in the afternoon it became overcast and dull. Before the 118 turns onto highway 7, it brings you out onto a mountainside with spectacular views over the valley below...



At exactly 11 a.m. I reached the mountainside directly opposite the Ronghua dam...



I stopped briefly to take video and talk to a few people who hopped off a tourist bus (which had pulled over on the ridge in order for a little girl with car-sickness to vomit into a bag). I soon made my way around the mountains up to the Ronghua dam itself. The caretaker had a small pack of now somewhat elderly dogs that he had taken in and they all barked at me when I rolled into the courtyard on my motorbike. I didn't have any snacks on me to dish out, so I just kneeled down and held my hand out so they could see and smell me. I talked to the caretaker for a while and he allowed me to take whatever pictures and video I wanted and was keen to answer questions. 


I like this shot, and it is very common on a google image search for "榮華壩", but I'd also like to get some close up shots from the downstream side on another visit, if possible. This image does at least allow you to see the full height of the dam and the contrast between the downstream and upstream sides, as well as the pulley-track for lowering and lifting people as well as heavy goods and (possibly) sediments from behind the dam.
   One of the questions I asked the caretaker was how high the dam was, to which he replied that it was thirty meters. Another question was how deep the water is on the upstream side, with the obvious implication that from that you could work out how much silt there is - to this question he gave a long, convoluted answer of which I could only understand bits and pieces, but one thing I did gather was that the water bureau had removed a large amount of silt at some point last year.

The road skirts around the mountainside to afford a view back toward the upstream face of the dam, from where it is possible to clearly see the entrapment pen for a diversion tunnel (to the left in the image below), which channels water several kilometers downstream to a small hydroelectric power plant at the Yihsin weir (which straddles the same river but at a lower altitude)...



I drove on upstream for several more kilometers in order to ascertain whether there was, or had once been, an access road from the mountainside down to the river bed for the movement of trucks transporting sediments and heavy goods. Although I did see one gated, and long-since overgrown area on the left hand side of the road that looked like it had previously been an access road entry point, it was obviously long-since disused. Perhaps it had been there during the initial construction of the dam some forty to fifty years ago, in which case, all of the current maintenance for the dam would have to be performed using the pulley-track that hangs down the mountainside above the dam...


I left the Ronghua dam at some point well after 1pm, with the intent of getting back to the little town of Daxi at the back of Shihmen reservoir for gasoline and food. However, I hadn't gone very far when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that had elluded me on the way up to the Ronghua dam...


That is an inflection point for the diversion tunnel carrying water down from the Ronghua dam to the hydroelectric power plant further downstream next to the Yihsin weir. The main water exits from the windowed tunnel at the top right, but as you can see there is also a secondary source entering the penstock from the top left...


The larger hydraulic gate to the bottom left of the image, which is clearly open, is to allow the water to carry on flowing downstream through the tunnel on the way to the hydroelectric plant, whilst the gate opposite it to the bottom right of the image appears to be there to allow excess water out into a natural stream-bed in order to prevent flood damage.

I eventually made my way back downstream to the Yihsin weir and rolled up there to take a look around. There were two security guards, one of whom was relaxed and happy to talk to me (in Chinese of course) whilst the other was obviously nervous and kept asking me half-formed questions - presumably out of fear that I was a militant environmentalist out to cause trouble for his bosses! Unfortunately I have found this to be a fairly common, if not quite universal, reflex. Nonetheless I was allowed to look around on condition that I park my bike which was necessary anyway, but the views afforded from the security guard office were partial and obscured by vegetation. As I was about to leave the friendly security guard said I could take the other road down to the hydroelectric power station and take better pictures there. He was right; here is a view upstream toward the Yihsin weir itself...


It is a large weir with several lips over which the water cascades, and just a short distance downstream were the visible remains (on either side of the channel) of a previous weir which the security guard believed had been damaged beyond repair by typhoon Morakot in 2009...


 The hydroelectric power station, however, was not so easy to photograph given that it was on the same side of the river as I was but was something like fifty feet tall - there was simply no way to get the building into perspective even with my wide angle lens. To solve this problem I crossed the river and used my little, fish-eyed "GoPro" camera to take some snaps; the advantage of this camera being that it is housed in a waterproof casing, which was necessary as crossing the river was not quite a simple matter of wading across (ahem, the astute among you will read between the lines here). The GoPro is better suited for video of close-up action than for taking stills of objects at a distance though. I should be able to improve with further practice, but here is what I got out of it...


As you can see, the Yihsin hydroelectric plant is housed inside one of those 1960s concrete brutalist monstrosities - an ugly grey concrete block with tiny little peep-holes at the top instead of proper windows. The water exits the turbine and passes out through the north-east corner of the building; in order to get this shot, I did not cross here but somewhat further upstream where the water was very calm and the drag of the current was weak enough for me to cross easily in a few seconds. I would upload some of the video I shot, but the blogger format seems to have a limit of 100 MB for video, and I haven't yet figured out how to compress the files below that size on my new laptop. I also got some shots from below the power station using the DSLR...



After my little episode of frollicking among the rocks and hydropower infrastructure, I headed back onto the road and drove down to the little town of Daxi to stick some gas in the bike and get something to drink. I then drove back westward toward the front of Shihmen reservoir and I even surprised myself by remembering the route better than I expected, including a crucial poorly signposted turn-off. By this time however, the skies had become well and truly overcast and the light was fading, so the remaining pictures I shot of Shihmen reservoir ended up being unsatisfactory. These were the among the best I could manage. First, a couple of views over the harbour at the north-east end of the reservoir from just outside somebody's house...



I actually saw an Osprey there, but I was on the bike and had no chance to get the camera and long-lens out (that's the second or third good Osprey shot in northern Taiwan I've missed this summer). Second, a shot of the old dredging equipment from the 1960s following the disaster of Typhoon Gloria...


The current dredging boat in operation...


And a parting shot from the crest of Shihmen mountain. Every time I've been here, there have been too many clouds for my liking. Hopefully, I'll get here as early as possible next time on a cloudless morning for this shot (and one or two from further down the mountain)...


My next trip will be back here again to Shihmen reservoir as there are still a few things I want to get done before I shift the motorbike up to Taipei for the next big reservoir...

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Comment On Chris Wang's "Thinking Taiwan" Article: "Forgotten Souls: Where Are Taiwanese Soldiers In History?"

I woke up too late today to go to Hsinchu (too tired), so I've been pottering around the house doing chores and catching up on my reading. Here is my comment on Chris Wang's currently headlining feature article..

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I would be somewhat skeptical of the claim that Taiwanese school children mistakenly believe that Taiwan was bombed by Japanese rather than Allied forces if that claim hadn't been qualified as referring to "some" of them*. After all perhaps no other historical event is as well documented and widely published as world war two. The widespread availability of popular history books and television documentaries and the absence of government censorship on this subject should ensure that generally accurate information is available to those who wish to have it. Moreover, although the specific details about how many Taiwanese soldiers fought and died, where, when and for whom may not be present in school textbooks, the simple fact that Taiwan was a Japanese colony during the war easily facilitates the inference that large numbers of Taiwanese soldiers fought for the Japanese and large numbers of them were killed, captured or went "missing". So again, it is not as if the absence of this information from school textbooks means that it is absent and entirely unavailable to Taiwanese school children (or anyone else). Those who wish to have this information need only look for it and may obtain it for free or for a relatively trivial price.

It seems to me that the author's sense of outrage, largely directed at the government, is only partially justified. Yes, the government attempts to indoctrinate schoolchildren through the national curriculum and through political vetting of (especially, but by no means exclusively) history textbooks, and yes this is to be rightly lamented. However, the idea that this should be corrected by re-vetting the history textbooks and forcing all schoolchildren to learn a history of world war two that includes some focus on Taiwanese nationals is not something I would wish upon Taiwanese children. It's not that the veterans do not deserve recognition and some form of compensation for the unjust suffering they endured, it's that it involves the presupposition that children are the property of the State and must be educated in particular subjects against their will and irrespective of their own valuations and those of their parents. There are many children, particularly girls for instance, who lack any interest in history and especially military history and will not be more receptive to it the harder you try to ram it down their necks. Why should these children have their time and energy - the only life they will ever have - wasted by compelled attention to something in which they have no interest?

And it is not as if all or even the most important injustices of the history textbooks are the exclusive outrage of political and military affairs. The market for textbooks is rigged by the political selection of a national curriculum, and consequently Taiwanese students (like students in other countries) have little to no exposure to the history of commerce, the history of materials sciences and the history of finance. Yet all three subjects - commerce, materials sciences and finance - are arguably (and I would say clearly) far more relevant to students' future job prospects and broader participation in society. Yet in almost every country with a politically controlled national curriculum, these subjects tend to be comparatively neglected if not omitted entirely. How many Taiwense schoolchildren, for instance, are aware of Taiwan's importance via the camphor trade for the development of the world's first plastic (celluloid) and the consequent development of film-based photography, the increasing use of celluloid for household products such as combs and toothbrushes and the eventual end of the Belgian trade in African ivory? I would wager that number is very small. Yet that is no reason to ram it down their necks against their will.

If it is to be argued that there are problematic gaps in the content of what is taught through the national curriculum, then it must be accepted that other people will claim there are still other gaps. You cannot devise a single national curriculum that will satisfy all those who have various competing complaints for the simple reason that classroom time is a limited resource. This is one reason for abolishing the national curriculum and allowing parents and - crucially in my view - the children themselves to have greater control over how they spend their educational time and how. I was fortunate enough to have established good reading habits by the age of six or seven years old, and those habits were established at home not at school.

In sum, it seems to me that beside the injustice of soldiers being forgotten is the forgotten injustice of children being denied the chance to learn to make their own choices and develop their own interests under parental guidance. Whilst we may be able to estimate the number of soldiers who lost their lives or who were captured or mistreated in various ways because these things occured in the past, there can be no such estimates for the number of lives slanted, businesses never started, scientific achievements never reached due to the strangling effects of compulsory education because these things always belong to the future. Past injustices can never be truly righted, none of us can ever go back. The human will can only act from the present into the future, and no more can be asked of it than that.

*Of course, there will always be those who lack any interest in history and consequently are unaware of historical events, but that can hardly be blamed on textbook authors.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

I Need A New "Big" Bike

For some time now, actually the better part of this year and the back end of last year, I've been having various irritating problems with what I call my "big bike" (big because it is physically bulky and heavy despite only being a dinky little 150cc). The electrics keep giving out on me despite a new battery, the suspension needs to be entirely replaced and the carburetor has been having "hiccups" for a while now. I've had it with the bloody thing. To be fair though, I've had a good six years of service out of it, which is probably pretty good for NT$30,000 (I bought it second hand in excellent condition back in 2008).

So for now it's sitting in my garage acting as a repository for my various other bits of kit. However, reality needs to be faced eventually and that reality is that it needs to be replaced at some point. For the moment, I have my little Kymco 125cc scooter which I use for work and errands and my little SYM 125cc motorbike up in Hsinchu for reservoir trips. If that little Kymco has a problem then I'm stuck with no other option but calling taxis, and it is not exactly suited to long trips out to the mountains down here in the south.

The big bike needs to be replaced, and I've been giving it some thought; what I'd like to buy is not another large scooter and certainly not a dirt bike or street racer or anything like that. What I want is something like my SYM "wolf" up in Hsinchu, with its standard rider position, but a bit bigger with more power. But I don't want to go through the nightmare of having something imported (obscene taxation and regulation costs), and I don't want to end up with a "Venox", which is the 250cc V-twin cruiser offered by Kymco*. What I'd like to have is something like an old Suzuki GT or that new Yamaha SR400. Something that looks and feels like a farmer's motorbike and is mechanically simple and easy to maintain, but which also has a bit more kick than the typical Kymco Grand King 150cc. I might head out to the Yamaha store tommorow to ask if they will sell an SR in Taiwan or something similar. It also occured to me to buy a new Grand King and swap the engine for a 200cc, but I'm not sure if it will fit and it's probably not something I'd have the time or money to bother with anyway.

That Yamaha SR would be ideal, but even if they do sell it in Taiwan I suspect it is going to be very pricy.

*The Venox is very heavy and underpowered and the parts quality is not very good apparently; it's also extremely tacky in appearance (horrible decals) and they only offer it in three colours, none of which I like (black, red, and dark grey). Even the Kymco dealer warned me against buying it and recommended the smaller KTR instead.

Later...

A second hand dealer in Taipei has a 2008 Triumph Bonneville for sale... only NT$58,800. That would do the trick, except that parts would be a nightmare to get hold of.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Another Trip To Hsinchu & Miaoli: Baoshan Second Reservoir & Yongheshan Reservoir Water Entry Points

I took the train up to Hsinchu again this morning and managed to accomplish two things. First, and this was my main objective for the day, I got clear shots of the water entry point into Baoshan Second reservoir and was well pleased that I was able to do so. Here it is...


I will not go into details, but getting these shots was not straightforward, though in the end it did prove to be easier than I had thought. At the moment, Baoshan Second reservoir is full so what you see here is the top of a cascading slope punctuated by baffling blocks all the way down, only the top three of which are visible in the shot below...


After having accomplished my main feat for the day, I had a couple of ice creams in Beipu village and then made my choice of what to do next. I could either do more exploratory work at Emei Lake, or I could try to improve upon the crappy shots of the water entry point to Yongheshan reservoir that I took a couple of years ago. I chose to head south to Yongheshan reservoir. One thing I found was that the path I had originally taken two years ago doesn't seem so familiar now - some of the surrounding overgrowth had been cut, but some of it has grown monstrously such that what I did last time was no longer possible. Instead I headed back out onto the ring road and followed a little farmers' lane down to the water edge, and, after a bit of "manoeuvring", I was able to get some clear shots further down where the water actually enters the reservoir per se...


There was a lot of debris floating around there, much of it driftwood, though there was also some plastics. I managed to finish off this second little mission and get back to the bike before the downpour arrived. I raced back through Sanwan, Beipu and Zhudong back to Hsinchu city and managed to outrun the storm. For a nice change I was even able to take the earlier 4.33pm train back to Tainan.

There is a lot more I could say about today's work, but I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.