Friday, July 3, 2015

Going to Orchid Island/蘭嶼へ行こう/去蘭嶼


I went to Orchid Island (Lanyu) recently.  Orchid Island is an island off the south-east coast of Taiwan.  It takes about two hours by boat, but I went by plane, which was only took 30 minutes from Taitung airport.  Orchid Island is interesting because it's rather different from the rest of Taiwan.  Under Japanese rule, the island was off-limits to most people, so aside from some small number of Japanese officials who would have been there, the island was only inhabited by its own native people, the Tao.  (Historically also called "Yami".)  This policy actually continued under the Chinese Nationalist government until 1967, when the island was finally opened up.  As a result, the Tao culture was isolated from Han culture until far more recently than is the case with Taiwan's other native people.  Even today the majority of the islanders are Tao people.  Many people say this gives the island a distinctly different vibe from the rest of Taiwan.



The Taitong Airport was decorated with traditional Tao canoes.


I arrived at the island and began immediately tearing around on a rented scooter.  I quickly realized something: the island is overrun with taro fields.


Despite its small size, the mountains on the island are decently tall.



There are these outdoor gazebo things all over the island.  Not only do tourists who have gotten too much sun use them, but many of the locals also seem to hang out in them.  It seems like there is more of a "hang outside and chat" culture on the island than there is in the rest of Taiwan.



The island is filled with pigs, goats, cats and dogs who roam free.


There was this very lonely-looking bust of Chiang Kai-shek.  It looks like the staircase leading up to it hasn't been repaired in quite some time.  Since the island only started to have normal contact with the Taiwanese mainland in 1967, Chiang Kai-shek (who died in 1975) is almost like a figure out of a foreign country's history from the point of view of Orchid Island.



Island traffic light



I didn't know it at the time, but this harbor is the harbor for the nuclear waste facility on the island.




I think this is "Dragon Head Rock".


Unfortunately, since I started out by going south, I already have to touch upon an unpleasant subject.  Orchid Island has a nuclear waste facility.  All over the island I saw anti-nuclear power posters.  According to what many of the islanders say, they didn't know what the government was building when it was building the storage facility, and they only found out that it would house nuclear waste after it was finished.  The power company tried to pacify them by providing free electricity, but not surprisingly, given the risk of nuclear contamination, many islanders are still not satisfied and want to see the facility removed.  The whole affair stinks of racism/ethnicism, with Taipei elites deciding to place something unpleasant and dangerous in an area primarily inhabited by people of a different ethnicity than them.



Lots of taro fields are pretty close to the sea (well, that's where the flat land is) so it seems they must be fairly tolerant of salt.



Every single town had at least one church in it.  Many aboriginal communities in Taiwan are heavily Christian from what I understand.  On the flip side, I only saw one Taoist temple during my stay on the island.  This is a pretty stark contrast from the situation in Tainan, where you can't walk twenty yards without tripping over a temple.



The amusingly-named Screw Palm Tree


These symbols were everywhere on the island.  They're (very stylized) eyes.  Traditionally, they were painted on canoes so that fishermen would be able to get home even if they were out past dark, or in unsafe waters.






The town names are are written in Tao, which looks very different from Mandarin.  (Well, not surprising since the two languages are totally unrelated.)


No matter how rural an area you go to in Taiwan, the school buildings are still impressive and large.


It was low tide, so I walked out onto the reefs.



Traditional canoe rides for tourists



This tunnel was dug during the Japanese period.  It used to be the only way around this rock here because the paved road in the front of the photo wasn't around at the time.


You can go in if you want.


The entrance on the other side is really low.



It looks like there was a military base here previously.



Unintentional art.


More to come!


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