Field visit to 921 landslide area

Trip Start Apr 26, 2008
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Trip End May 09, 2008


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Flag of Taiwan  , Nantou,
Sunday, May 4, 2008

I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun was shining brightly and the little sliver of Sun Moon Lake that I can see from my window shows placid water. Breakfast was brought to my room around 7:30, and we were scheduled to leave around 8am. I still had postcards to mail so I wandered down towards the lake in the direction the hotel owner indicated. Although not the easiest to find, I did locate a post office box. Now, we'll see how long it takes for my postcards to make it back to the USA.

While I was finding a post office, Ted set off to Starbucks for coffee, and Melinda and Shuying walked to the edge of the lake to take photos. When we all return, Dr Wu decides that we will drive on the road that goes around the lake, and stop at the 2 temples that sit next to it. The first stop is at the Wenwu Temple, the temple we visited last night in the rain. Yesterday we had most of the temple to ourselves because the rain kept the tourists away. Today, is a different matter altogether. It is Saturday, the weather is beautiful, and there are people everywhere.

We parked, took some more photos of the lake and the temple, and walked among the street vendors. Melinda, Ted, and Shuying bought hats, while I purchased corn on the cob on a stick. It was very good, nice and sweet, even without butter or salt on it. This was the first time that we really got stared at with wonder. It is obvious that we don't belong, but we definitely fit in with everyone else in the camera toting tourist crowd.

We got back in the car and continued our journey around the lake. There is a very small island in the middle of the lake, called Lalu island, that was the homeland of a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe before the dam that merged Sun and Moon lakes was built. Dr Wu explained that before the 921 earthquake the island was bigger, but it sunk into the lake during the earthquake leaving just a very small area sticking out. It doesn't seem very smart to me to dam a lake that sits over an active fault line, but I am not an engineer. During our drive we could see a shore hugging boardwalk that has been built for tourists to explore the lake, and I wished we had a bit more time to stay here.

On the opposite side of the lake we stopped at the Xuanzang Temple which houses some of Taiwan's holiest Buddha relics. Again, just like at the WenWu temple, the decorations are very ornate and well kept. Inside, there was a little gold pagoda on an alter with a big fish eye lens built into the front. Inside the gold pagoda are housed 7 bones that had been found in cremated remains of highly revered monks that were brought back from the pilgrimage to India of a Tang dynasty monk. It sort of reminded me of very old Catholic churches in the US.

After looking around, we got back in the van and traveled to the town of Jiji to see the epicenter of the 921 earthquake. Unlike at Tsao Tung, the location of the earthquake museum, the city of Jiji was not as spectacularly affected. It is a large tourist attraction still, mostly for the Jiji railroad that will take passengers on a ride to the interior of the island. We don't have time to ride the railroad, but we did get to mingle with the tourists and shopkeepers out for the weekend. Melinda, Ted, and Shuying purchased fresh coconuts complete with straws to drink the milk. I wandered off to look for train souvineers for my boys.

All of our mingling is stressing out Dr Wu who likes to keep a tight schedule, but he seems to be willing to give us some room to look around. What it affects is his love of an enormous meal. To make up for lost time, our next stop after Jiji is a McDonalds for lunch, instead of a sit down dinner. It didn't bother us in the least to have lunch at McDonalds.

Our next stop on the trip is the site of the Tsao Lin land slide. It took us about an hour to get to the site, which again, Taiwan has turned into a national park. The land slide occurred during the middle of the night, as a result of the 921 earthquake. Nearly 40 residents of the area died as a result of the land slide. I know the photos don't show it well, but it is overwhelming to look at. An enormous part of the hillside went from having a flat slope to a bowl shaped relief. We were able to look at the landslide debris field from 2 different locations, and it is unfathomable how much rock shifted from one area to another in a matter of minutes. According to a plaque at the memorial, this is not the first time either.

After driving through this area, and winding back and forth through the roads, I can not imagine how you could situate a drill rig to conduct subsurface investigations. The mountains are so steep that in most places the roads are just barely wide enough for 2 cars to past. What few houses there are seem to cling to the hillside using magic. It is beautiful, but so different from the much older mountains in North Carolina.

We settled into a 2 hour drive back to Tainan from Tsao Lin. It is raining off an on, so I decided to take a small catnap. I was not the only one. I think everyone but David (who was driving) tried to catch up on sleep.

We arrived in Tainan around 5:15p and were surprised when Dr Wu invited us out to dinner to meet his family. I really was hoping to spend a few hours in my hotel room catching up on stuff, but it would be too rude to turn down his invitation. We checked back into our hotel rooms and tried to relax. Dr Wu would be returning at 7pm to take us to a seafood restaurant for dinner. I am not hungry. I have eaten so much food while I'm here.

Shuying and I discussed that it would be appropriate for us to take some small gift along with us to dinner to give to Dr Wu's wife, since he has spent so much time with us instead of with his family. We decided flowers would be a good easy gift to find. Although not a common gift in Taiwan, Dr Wu and his wife both went to graduate school in the US, so hopefully she will appreciate them. There is a flower shop across the road from our hotel, so we went there and had a grouping of roses put together. I don't think I took a photo of the flowers, which is a shame.

Dr Wu came to get us at a little after 7, and we took off to the harbor area for food. At the restaurant we were greeted by Andrew, Dr Wu's oldest son, who took us to the seating area in the restaurant. Andrew tells us that he was born in the US and lived there until he was 6. His english is spectacular, with no accent and a grasp of our quirky sayings as well. We also met Dr Wu's smaller children and his wife. They were all extremely pleasant and we had a great conversation over dinner.

After dinner we walked along the harbor. There is an enormous statue of a rooster that Andrew said was built the last time Tainan hosted the dragon boat races. There is also a statue of a goddess who overlooks and protects the harbor. Although it was after 9pm, there were many people out and about talking and laughing with friends. There were kids running around, people walking dogs, and merchants peddling their wares. The temperature was perfect. It reminded me of a comfortable night in early June in North Carolina at the coast.

Dr Wu took us back to the hotel around 9:30p. I am dead tired. I was hoping to sleep in tomorrow morning, but Patrick and Alan will be back around 8:30 to take us sight seeing.
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