Although it’s presently cold and nasty out, with more rain promised, this has been the best autumn for several years in Taiwan, and I’ve been making the most of it, out enjoying some particularly wonderful hiking. Nothing’s ever perfect though, and several things have been getting my goat enough that I feel compelled to put fingers to keyboard and do a bit of wingeing. However before I get another of those occasional (actually just two so far, rather entertaining) comments from someone who was outraged by my views, this isn’t directed at you reading my blog (I’m grateful you read it!), but merely an attempt to let off some of my increasing frustration, and perhaps hear a few other people’s views as well.
I can’t imagine that any hikers or people who truly love the countryside would willingly or consciously pollute this beautiful land in any of these ways. I was about to include those that loudly proclaim to “love Taiwan” too for that matter, but there at times I think I’d be sadly wrong.
Anyway, here goes…
PLEASE don’t LITTER:
This past month I’ve grown frustrated enough at littering taxi drivers, students and day trippers out with the family for a walk in the wonderful grassy meadow of Taipei Arts University, which is very close to my home, to start a regular, more-or-less daily litter pick-up while out walking the dog, or on the way home from work.
I’ve been at it for about three weeks, and after the initial big clear up, each day something new – a couple of used hankies, a lunchbox, a plastic milk tea cup, a cigarette box – has appeared where the grassy verge was clear the day before. I now notice litter strewn in many other places as well as I go about my day; on Taipei’s city streets the daily street cleaners manage to keep the deluge of litter in control, but in many other areas it’s a pretty sorry sight. I’m beginning to think the Taiwanese are OK with thoughtless, senseless littering … and it’s so easy to simply take the milk tea cup, cigarette box, wet-wipes or whatnot away with you. Upon seeing someone drop litter in front of me I’ve resisted the temptation – til now – of running up to them and giving it back, but one day I might just break….
Of course this isn’t a problem limited to Taiwan (although I contend that in my experience it’s not as serious back in England – or at least in the area I come from). Back home the relatively small number of people who drop litter often seem to do it consciously and deliberately, as a rebellious gesture against authority. Here in Taiwan most people, it seems to me, do it simply because they’re just not thinking; they simply don’t give it a second thought. There’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of ignorance.
PLEASE RECONSIDER lighting SKY LANTERNS:
Fun, exotic, an old and fascinating tradition, and unfortunately also probably the main source of livelihood for several villages such as Pingxi and Jingtong on the headwaters of the Keelung River, Sky Lanterns are now being let off in such staggering numbers that they’re quickly turning into an ecological disaster for the area. The lanterns float down into the jungle-covered hills around the villages after the flame inside goes out, and the paper shell sticks around for years after the event. Apart from looking unsightly it can also trap animals, or harm them if eaten. Even worse, the internal frame of many lanterns is made of wire (admittedly some are made of bamboo, far better), which will take still longer to biodegrade (but then does metal biodegrade?). Meanwhile the hills are dotted with the forlorn remnants of bulky paper lanterns in various unnatural, bright colors. They punctuate all my hikes along the upper Keelung River valley at regular intervals, and with large numbers floating into the air these days most weekends (and even during the week) throughout the year, it’s not hard to imagine the area’s jungles groaning under a covering of brightly colored trash within another decade or so.
PLEASE keep Taiwan’s countryside NATURAL! :
OK, this is probably the one thing that I’m the most passionate about, because once done it scars the landscape forever. I was out on the wonderful ridge hike between the Grand Hotel and Neihu the other day, and was horrified to see the old stepping-stone stretch of the route (which connects the summit of Jiantan Hill with the lane that runs along the ridge above the National Palace Museum) is now under a wide strip of concrete. Even worse, the first kilometer or so of this concrete freeway is broad enough to drive a small car down! Someone suggested maybe it was to make the path more wheelchair friendly, but that wouldn’t really work, as the path is reachable only by hundreds of steps. Since this is such a popular path, erosion could of course be a major problem, considering the pounding of countless feet each day (especially after rain), but there are several far more eco/eye-friendly surfacing options available. Perhaps the alternatives were more expensive, but cost didn’t stop the authorities from ordering the concrete ‘path’ to be perhaps three meters wide for much of its length. Hikers using the path have already shown what they think about the ‘improvement:’ a strip of dirt beside the concrete has been compacted into a new dirt path by countless pairs of feet that (like me) are not fans of walking on hard, unyielding surfaces unless they’re natural rock.
A more cynical person might wonder if the authorities that commissioned the project didn’t receive some kind of financial ‘reward’ from the company contracted to do the work.
There are many reasons to wholeheartedly support opening up the beauty of nature to a wider section of the populace, but this HAS to be on nature’s terms. As much as I detest them, building stone stepped-paths up some of Yangmingshan’s summits was a smart move, because it opens up an extremely beautiful area to Taipei folks without causing too much damage to the local environment, plus it keeps the crowds on the strip of stone and out of the adjacent unspoilt woods and grasslands, and helps to ensure hikers don’t get lost in the often foggy weather up there.
On the other hand building wide, stone steps that would be more at home in a city up the lower slopes of Huangdidian or the Stone Bamboo Shoot near Pingxi not only makes no sense, but it also compromises the natural beauty of the place – forever! It’s also a bit stupid, and possibly even dangerous. This kind of wide, well-made stone path must be attractive to many casual visitors, including families with young kids or old people, and there’s often little or no notice that some of these easy stone paths will eventually turn into challenging climbs up craggy rock faces, or scale precarious ridges with sheer, unguarded drops. I wouldn’t like to bet that after climbing up steps for half an hour, ill-prepared, unsuspecting day trippers will all decide to turn back the way they came when the going suddenly becomes harder. Yet for many of them to continue would be risky or just plain dangerous.
Enjoying the countryside is of course a right that should be enjoyed by everyone, but it HAS to be on Nature’s terms. If you want to climb a high mountain, you HAVE to be prepared for it by having all the right equipment and gain the necessary experience first. If you want to climb Wuliaojian or the Stone Bamboo Shoot, you MUST work up to them by doing a few easier dirt trails first, and then accept the narrow and steep dirt trails that climb them. Building cable cars to wild mountaintops and steps up the side of rugged rocky peaks is morally wrong. We DON’T have the right to see every corner of the world that we wish to see: not if it means destroying the natural environment in the process. There must be a point when paths, mountain huts, cable cars, car parks, roads etc are no longer an acceptable compromise for allowing folk the privilege of enjoying the awesome great outdoors, because they start impeding overly on it. The dividing line between the what’s acceptable and what’s not will always be a big gray area, but one thing’s certain: at Huangdidian, the Stone Bamboo Shoot, and now on the Shilin-Neihu ridgewalk, the authorities have definitely crossed it.