Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Boundaries

My last weekend in Taipei for the ISGC conference, was spent experiencing a mountainous adventure. This was courtesy of our Academia Sinica hosts. Our mission was to reach the highest hotel and point in all of Taiwan: Mount Hehuan (Hehuanshan).
We started our journey by coach, travelling from North Taiwan to the centre of the island. Once we reached the bottom of Hehuan Mountain, our coach began its circular ascent to the top. On the way we arrived at a rest area, where you could find everything, from a flying Taiwanese ship, Japanese souvenir shops and an aquarium with jellyfish and panther stingrays.
We stopped off for lunch in a traditional Chinese restaurant and were served Bull’s testacies and fried worms. I’ll leave it up to your imagination of whether I had a taste or not.
In the afternoon we reached Shuili Snake Kiln, a town with a proud tradition of pottery and kiln work. They had small, large and weird kilns, including one that was used by soldiers in World War Two trenches to keep out the mud and water. Although, whether it could protect against shrapnel and bombs is highly dubious.
Other highlights of the Snake Kiln include seeing a massive kiln furnace that creates internal temperatures of over 1,200 degrees. The facility only stopped production in the 1960s. Also, it was my pleasure to be taught how to mould clay by an 85 year-old master potter. Even more intriguing was a massive 6.68-metre-tall kiln structure in the main garden area, that is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
By the evening, we finally made it to the hotel when the sun set. After a well deserved sleep, we expected a sunny and clear spring morning, where we could go on a scenic hike to see green pastures and wildlife for miles around. Instead, we were greeted by a chilly, foggy and snowy blizzard. I guess complete weather manipulation is still out of reach for humans - for now. Thus, our plans were sensibly postponed as we tried to get back down the mountain by coach. We ironically had to go up, before we got down.
But, even though our driver had attached snow chains, our vehicle could not move further. We ended up getting out and pushing the vehicle until it had enough momentum to move. We subsequently hiked on foot, in the snow at a 3,000 metre altitude, to catch up with it. Not exactly the hike we were expecting, but still a great mountainous adventure.
In order to reach my flight on time we caught the Taipei High Speed Rail. The train looked like a space ship and propelled us to 300 kilometres an hour. A great thanks to our ISGC hosts for a fantastic ride.

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