I sit awake, cross-legged on my bed at 3:00 on Monday morning (thank you jet lag) thinking about the fact that spring semester classes start in just over 24 hours. It seems an impossibly short period of time, how can I possibly be ready for an 8 a.m. Tuesday lecture? But, then again, if it’s possible to travel more than halfway around the world, through 12 zones, between 7:30 p.m. and 9:10 p.m. what isn’t possible?
And doing as much as humanly possible in short periods of time is something many members of geoscience and geohazards in Taiwan have become quite good at.
After wrapping up the course last Thursday at National Cheng Kung University with individual presentations and traveling from Tainan to Taipei in under two hours (a distance we spent nearly two weeks traveling in the other direction) we arrived back at our old abode, The Friends Hotel.
And it is strange how much like home it felt when we walked through the frosty glass sliding doors and saw the leather couches where we had all met for the first time not quite three weeks before. Then we were a little shy, a little awkward and a little nervous about what we were getting into. Now, we were so worn into each other that shy and awkward had no place in that lobby. We had truly become friends as the hotel had presumed upon our arrival.
“So we will see you all at our final group dinner tomorrow night,” Tim told us. “Have fun on your last full day in Taipei.
And with perfect weather – maybe the last sunshine we will enjoy for months – we did just that.
But the best part of the day came at about 3:00 a.m. – funny how that works out – when we all stood arms wrapped around each other in our personal room in a multi-story karaoke palace singing one last song together. We knew it was late, we knew we would have to make a drastic time change very soon and we knew it was unlikely we’d ever all be together again, but, the time we had together in Taiwan we are even more unlikely to ever forget.
After a long day of travel and the anticipation for warmth and beaches running high no one was too excited to unload at the Chuhuo National Scenic Area. But with a little encouragement from Will (who promised a treat) and our field notebooks and cameras in hand we unloaded from our bus (fondly known as grasshopper) and headed for the trail.
Chuhuo is famous for its cracked mudstone bedrock through which natural gas leaks out due to the high pressure caused by rapid uplift of the rocks.
Often a description exaggerate and makes a natural phenomenon sound way more intense than it actually appears in person. But Chuhuo’s natural gas fields were the complete opposite. I had no idea what to picture, but it wasn’t blazing fire covering the ground like wild flowers.
At this point we didn’t need a treat, the fire was entertaining enough, but our professors delivered, with roasting sticks and dozens of marshmallows to go around.
It was certainly the first time any of us had roasted marshmallows upon the open ground, but for the Chinese tourists and our Taiwanese friends, it was the first time they had ever seen such a bizarre ritual. As I brought my perfectly toasted and slightly burned marshmallow towards my mouth I started hearing fearful shouts and the woman next to me was wildly gesturing.
“It’s perfect!” I said. Somehow, she didn’t seem reassured. “See,” I said as I stuck the entire marshmallow in my mouth, “yum.” As horror spread across her face, I sensed more than a language barrier.
“She was saying don’t eat the black parts,” Alice told me. “Roasting marshmallows is not a thing in Taiwan.”
Boy are they missing out, but despite my kind-hearted offers to teach the Chinese children how it’s done, they didn’t go for it.
As we headed back to the grasshopper – now on a sugar rush – the beautiful sunset reminded us, we were heading for vacation land. And Ken Ting did not disappoint.
After a night out on the small beach town – the Taiwanese version of Mexican food and a few sparklers may have been involved – we spent today doing what we do best, playing with rocks, dirt, mud and this time fossils.
Shells upon shells, upon shells, upon shells (and one prized shark tooth)
But we weren’t on the beach picking up snail shells that washed up yesterday. We weren’t on the marine terrace finding shells of animals that lived 20,000 years ago. Instead, we were deep in the woods, behind a junkyard-goat farm combo (don’t ask, we can’t explain) sitting on surprisingly sandy and muddy soil picking up hundreds of fossils from one million years ago.
Although I feared my subpar geology skills might prevent me locating even one fossil, I shouldn’t have worried. We all went home with bags filled while thousands more treasures lay strewn on the ground waiting for someone else to pick up…
The lightly-colored shell tumbled around in the water, tossed this way and that by the waves, occasionally catching the sunlight on its shiny face, other times rubbing across the muddy bottom a few meters below the surface. In one particularly violent wave the shell got caught. Its shovel-like edge dug into the muddy earth and there it stayed.
As the years went by more mud, sand and shells piled up around and above our little shell. The ocean above our shell swelled with water from the melting ice caps as the Earth around her slowly lifted upwards.
“Keep walking down the beach, just around that bend, up the slope a little, do you see anything?”
We peered over the edge of the mudstone bedrock searching for something unusual. There was an odd pattern of holes and a few white specs…
“A shell,” someone called pulling the lightly-colored fragment from the crumbling mudstone.
And it wasn’t any old shell. It was a very, very old shell – a shell dating to around 16,000 years ago – according to one of the leading Taiwanese geomorphologists who joined us for a hike along the rocky eastern shoreline near Taitung this afternoon.
Since we left the Central Mountain Range and gorges – and crossed over from the Eurasion plate to the Philippine Sea plate – our class has been investigating the coastal mountain range, and the coast itself.
The eastern shore of Taiwan is certainly not the relaxing, gentle beaches of the eastern shore at home. Instead, it is covered with volcanic ash, volcanic bombs, broken bits of coral and rapidly eroding mud and clay stones, leaving us with a dramatically beautiful vista, but one that won’t be here for long. Certainly not as long as our little shell stayed put.
As the bus drives along and we stare out the window we’ve all had that moment of awe. Wow, you think to yourself, this is unreal, this is unbelievable, I wish I could take a closer look…well, be careful what you wish for is all I can say.
As we left our mountain hostel and headed down the now familiar winding roads I barely had time to pull out my ipod and unwrap a piece of gum before we were stopped on the side of the road.
What? I thought to myself. Wasn’t this supposed to be a three hour drive? I had been secretly looking forward to sometime just to chill and not really think so much…
But whatever my desire, in a few minutes we were all standing on the sidewalk, hardhats on, looking down the clif into a rocky, river basin.
“Where are we going?” someone asked.
“Down,” was the answer.
With the help of a rope and a good pair of hiking boots we propelled down the shear face of the rock, boulder hopped for a few hundred meters and then found ourselves not only in the bottom of a river bed under the Cien Bridge, but looking at a beautiful waterfall.
The river was certainly fast flowing and landslides were apparent in the surrounding area but all of us were shocked to learn from Will that the landscape that we were sitting in was eroding away at a rate of 9,000 meters per million years or nine millimeters per year. That may not sound like a lot, but when compared with the average around the world of about 50 to 1000 meters per million years, the rate in Taiwan is enormous.
And this point was to be made again, and again, and again.
When we arrived at the Baiyang Trailhead after experiencing a 5.4 magnitude earthquake (the first time for many of us!) the point became even clearer. Hundreds of meters above our heads was a river terrace – an old river bed. As we hiked along the trail, through the caves and over rocks that had just fallen onto the path during the earthquake Will and Tim pointed out even more evidence for the incredibly dynamic landscape of Taiwan.
Landslides, waterfalls, river terraces, freshly exposed, clean rock and enormous boulders (some 20m in diameter!)
When I thought we couldn’t possibly see another gorge, we were led down under yet another bridge. Although most of us were so tired from a long day at the rocks we all got a little excited when the first acid test of the trip showed that the beach really had pieces of marble when the drop of HCl on my small white rock began to fizz.
Today the gorges only continued to come at us. The most impressive one in all of Taiwan – Taroko Gorge.
Taroko left us speechless. The only words that came to us put the magnitude of this geologic masterpiece into perspective…
Sorry for my absence, but our picturesque hostel deep in the central mountain range of Taiwan had everything we could have wanted – except reliable wifi. Now that we have settled into Tien Hsiang Youth Activity center I am back in action.
So let’s rewind back to January 5th, our first full day at high elevation.
With a few of us in the grasp of altitude sickness and many others fearing the cold a three hour hike up a mountain of Taiwan’s central range didn’t sound so appealing.
But as our new small vans – nicknamed the sheep – made their way slowly up the mountain ridge and the spectacular views came faster than our cameras could click, the eagerness for Hehuanshan East Peak grew.
photos from our drive from ChingJing Farm to Hehuanshan – the road was just a tad bit scary
We unloaded in a surprisingly busy parking lot where the air was notably thinner and only primitive bathrooms were available. The wind was blowing and many of us had dawned our hats, gloves and windbreakers – we were ready for the hike.
When I think of a hike I picture the rocky, rough trails of the White Mountains back home. So when they said we were going for a hike I wasn’t imagining hundreds of stairs – literally wooden steps – leading up a steep grassy slope.
The wind was fierce but we were all sweating – I kept my gloves on for maybe 10 minutes – as we marched up step after step. I was panting and my quads were burning but the anticipated beauty at the peak kept me going.
As ever present as the magnificent rocky outcroppings along the mountain roads of Taiwan are, they don’t come close to keeping up with the number of 7ELEVENs. On every busy city street you find at least four, on every side road you find at least three and at over a mile of elevation on a mountain ridge where Chiang Kai-Shek’s original soldiers retired to sheep farms you find not one, but two 7ELEVENs.
Imagine if all of the Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and CVS stores in a typical New England city were 7ELEVEN. That is maybe an accurate estimate, maybe.
And what can you buy at 7ELEVEN you may ask? A lot more than you can in the US. A better question would be what can you buy and do.
The expected things naturally – gum, advil, prepackaged snacks and drinks. But also spaghetti and meatball meals ready to go, seaweed sandwiches, stuffed animals and, always, your choice of boiling mushrooms and questionable roasting meats. Of course you can also exchange money, use the ATM, pay your parking ticket…the list goes on and on.
After surviving off the products of 7ELEVEN for nearly a week – where would we be without Mr. Browns – all 18 of us were distressed to hear that tonight will be our last night with access to our wonder store as tomorrow we head up even more in elevation where even 7ELEVEN dare not go.
“So stock up on whatever you may need,” Alice warned us all after dinner.
And we did, at the most decorated 7ELEVEN we have seen yet. It even had a gift shop where stuffed animals of their mascot – don’t worry they do have one, his name is OpenChan – can be purchased. Thankfully, we didn’t have to make our goodbyes to 7ELEVEN on our own. The swiss garden near our hotel gave us a splendid opportunity with a water and light show to the 7ELEVEN theme song.
So thank you and so long for now to the green, orange and white.
The excitement and intrigue of a destructive earthquake or volcanic explosion are what drew many of us to the field of geoscience, but as residents of the United States’ geologically stable east coast, few of us have ever seen the results of a recent geologic event. In Taiwan, however, the results are all around us.
The Chi Chi Earthquake, more commonly known as 921 to the local Taiwanese, shocked the nation with its rapid displacement of the land, by 15 meters in spots, on September 21, 1999. The event caused the immediate destruction of bridges and houses and the creation of waterfalls and dams that would drastically change the area’s landscape over the following years.
Hearing about Chi Chi is interesting, no doubt, but to walk in the river bed, see the gorge and measure the strike and dip of the fault line it formed was absolutely fascinating.
After being greeted by smiling merchants selling plump grapes and juicy star fruit – which our driver kindly purchased for us – we headed off the street and onto the dried riverbed formed in only one typhoon season after chi chi to discover what evidence Chi Chi had left behind in the rocks around us.
The story of Chi Chi will be continued for us tomorrow when we explore the main Chi Chi Earthquake museum.
After a few days of playing the tourist in Taipei or over a dozen hours of travel all 18 members of the geoscience and geohazards in Taiwan class were finally united as 2014 came to a close. But this wouldn’t be a new year’s eve like any of us had experienced before.
The afternoon started off with the gift of fresh fruit – including wax apples, a fruit cultivated specifically in and for Taiwan – and a baseball cap from the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Relief (NCDR).
It continued, after a talk by the chair of the NCDR, when we were all led into the control room. It felt exactly like the movies; the chairs, the screens, the microphones, the reporters’ balcony (possibly the most important feature to be aware of, especially if one decides a nap is in order). It was easy to picture the room filled with tension as government officials and scientists alike attempt to deal with an impending disaster.
Whether an earthquake, tsunami or typhoon comes to Taiwan the NCDR and government of Taiwan are prepared and currently researching how they can better prevent deaths and destruction in their cities and villages. Despite the assurances and our interest in geology, the last thing any of us wanted was for their system to be tested as we left the NCDR and headed for the fireworks at Taipei 101 along with nearly a million others.
And we were lucky.
We not only avoided a natural disaster, but also, with some help from Tim’s friend and colleague, enjoyed a direct view of the world renowned light show that ushered in 2015.
Although the fireworks were loud and impressive, the streets were surprisingly calm and quiet. Unlike New York City’s famous Time Square festivities, there was no loud screaming and cheering as the New Year began. People seemed happy – many more than one selfie was taken with the aid of the novel selfie-stick – but New Year’s didn’t seem to have the same craziness associated with it as we are all used to back home.
While our friends and family were partaking in such festivities back home (13 hours later) the first real day of field geology work had begun for us at the Yehliu Geopark on the north coast of Taiwan.
Measuring strike and dip was the activity for the day.
The views of crashing ocean waves and incredible rock formations – including the famed Queen’s head – inspired even those of us who didn’t know the first thing about identifying bedding (aka me) to get down into the rocks with our new best friend – the compass.
After more than a few funny failed attempts and compass confusion on the rocky shore, we loaded back onto the bus and started up the winding road toward the volcanoes.
With small farming villages and the ocean waves unfolding beneath us as the bus climbed ever higher up the side of the mountain the steam from fumaroles began to fill our photographs. The wind blew the steam and strong smell of sulfur all about as we unloaded from the bus into the unexpected cold of the Yangmingshan National Park Siaoyoukeng Recreation Area.
Although the last volcanic activity occurred about 300,000 years ago, the grassy cliffs crowned with thick steam and puddles of boiling water didn’t seem calm. And it is possible that they are not. As we learned it is up for debate whether or not the normal faults north of Taipei city and the volcanoes of Yangmingshan could be active. Is it possible that they could cause an earthquake, tsunami or lava flow? Only time can tell for sure – so 2015…here we come. Happy New Year!
The Taiwan night market, filled with food carts, small stores and crowds of locals and tourists alike, is an experience all visitors to Taiwan are told is a must. Although they are most lively and exciting after 11 p.m. according to local recommendations, they do open up as soon as the sunsets. Since I was barely able to stay awake while watching the changing of the guards at the Sun Yat-Send Memorial at noon time my cousin Matthew (and tour guide for the day) decided that we would aim to arrive at the start of the festivities.
The Shilin Night Market, the largest and most well-known in Taipei, was already filled with the smells of frying dumplings and steaming vegetables when we arrived at 5:30 p.m. The main street was filled with flashing lights and bright colored signs indicating the start of the market, but the heart of the activities lived in the winding, narrow alleys. Some alleys were filled with small shops selling scarves, stuffed animals, hundreds of garish socks, miniature Buddha statues, calligraphy tools and everything in between. Others were crammed with food stands where the owners were frying up not the customary hamburgers and hotdogs seen so often back in the US, but whole frogs, tentacles and every sort of dumpling or pancake imaginable.
We started off through the crowds with the idea to snack through a little bit of, not everything because there was no way I was trying the pigs’ feet or stinky tofu (a fermented tofu delicacy), but on anything that caught our attention as delicious. We quickly established the rule of buying from a vendor only if locals were also buying from the same one. Although some of the carts frying up indistinguishable meats looked intriguing…if the Taiwanese weren’t willing to try it I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be the first victim.
After working our way through an enormous pork and cabbage dumpling that’s crunchy exterior yielded to a burning hot meatball, extremely chewy vegetable skewers wrapped in something resembling bacon that left a sweet taste in our mouths and the most delicious egg, scallion, cabbage and who really knows what else pancake wrap we were on the lookout for a very specific delicacy Matthew said I could not leave the night market without.
Dragon balls. A dumpling filled with soup.
We wound our way through increasingly crowded streets peering at every potential cart for the characters indicating this must-have food.
By this time it was getting close to 7 p.m. and I was really starting to lose it. My feet were dragging and despite the loud chatter of the market around me I could barely keep my eyes open. Despite not having found the dragon dumplings and it definitely not being the 8 p.m. that I had wanted to stay up to, we decided to start heading back toward the subway station.
Suddenly Matthew stopped and shouted out something in mandarin. I looked up at him, he was grinning and pointing at a sign.
“What?” I said.
“It’s them, it’s the dragon- “ before he could finish his sentence a short, middle-aged Chinese man wearing a face mask over his mouth was standing in front of us and holding my cousin’s arm.
“Yes!” he said. “It is. Follow me this way, you must have them.”
We looked at each other curiously. Was this too weird? Probably. But what choice did we have as he practically dragged us up a stair case to a second story restaurant. He pointed us to a table at the far end of the restaurant.
“Sit there,” he said. We sat down and moments later he returned with menus, trying to convince us to buy different dishes that he insisted were delicious.
“We just want the dumplings,” Matthew said, resorting back to English. The man refused to talk to him in mandarin although he had tried many time.
“Just one dumpling?” he asked.
“No, a few for each of us.”
“We sell 8.”
“Okay. We will buy 8 dumplings.”
“Okay. Follow me. You pay now,” the man said as he began to turn away from the table. Both Matthew and I stood up and started to follow him toward the register. Suddenly, he turned around and stared directly at me.
“No,” he said loudly. “You must occupy the seat!” He was pointing back at the table where we had been sitting. “It will be taken. You must occupy the seat.”
There were dozens of open seats and no one appeared to be rushing up to this odd little restaurant attempting to steal our spots.
“Ah, okay,” I said as my concern mounted. I walked slowly back to the table, sat down and watched the man lead my cousin to the counter.
After my cousin returned to the table the man came back with two small bowls, spoons, chopsticks and a little dish filled with a vinegar-soy sauce combination.
“You must dip the dumplings in this vinegar,” the man said as though the very idea of eating a non-vinegar dipped dumpling was outrageous. “It release the acid. You must dip the dumpling in vinegar.”
As the man walked away Matthew and I could barely contain our laughter.
“We will die if I do not occupy this seat and dip our dumplings in vinegar,” I said, unable to keep a straight face.
When the dumplings arrived steaming in a round wooden basket, they were in fact delicious, although quite the challenge to eat.
“Well,” Matthew said as I struggled not to laugh, cheeks bulging with an entire dumpling, “this is certainly one for the books. I think we have really been taken in by the Shilin Night Market.”
We’re almost there! Students have begun to arrive and this year’s Taiwan Field Course is set to begin on Dec. 30th. Faculty and students are looking forward to touring Taiwan to learn about the islands diverse geology and geohazards and be introduced to Chinese culture and history. We will be sharing news of our travels in blog posts over the next 3 weeks. See below for some initial maps and itinerary.
Taiwan Geology and Topography:
2015 itinerary as it currently stands:
Dec. 30 (Wednesday)
Arrive Taipei* — *some students arrive earlier!
Stay at Yo-Xing Hotel (http://yoxing.ffh.com.tw/), Taipei
Dec. 31 (Wednesday)
Afternoon: Visit NCDR
Night: Watch New Year’s Eve Celebration at Taipei 101
Stay at Yo-Xing Hotel, Taipei
Jan. 1 (Thursday)
Morning: Yehliu Geopark
Afternoon: Yangming Shan volcano
Stay at Yo-Xing Hotel, Taipei
Jan. 2 (Friday)
Morning: Travel to Miaoli & begin the Chuhuangkeng anticline section
Stay in Miaoli (Plaza International Hotel)
Jan. 3 (Saturday)
Morning: Visit the Da’an dam and “mini-Grand Canyon”
Noon: Visit National Center for High-performance Computing
Afternoon: Visit Chi-Chi earthquake museum
Stay National Chung Cheng University Guest House (http://miswww1.cc.ccu.edu.tw/hostel/news.php), Chiayi
Jan. 4 (Sunday)
Morning: Visit the visit the frontal thrust outcrop at Gukeng, Yunling
Afternoon: Examine the slate outcrops east of Puli.
Stay Chingjing Farm area on Hwy 14
Transfer from bus to vans
Jan. 5 (Monday)
Morning: Travel to and hike the trail up East Hehuan peak (Miocene slate).
Afternoon: Travel to Guanyuan, possibly stopping at “pagoda” with slate outcrops.
Stay in Kuan Yun Youth Hostel (http://kwan.cyh.org.tw/eng/), Guanyuan
Jan. 6 (Tuesday)
Walk east along the Central Cross-Island Highway, stopping to observe deformation and Eocene conglomerate deposits.
Stay in Kuan Yun Youth Hostel, Guanyuan
Jan. 7 (Wednesday)
Morning: Travel to Tianxiang (Tienhsiang), stopping to observe metamorphic rocks, lineations, and the pre-Tertiary contact.
Stay in Tienxiang Youth Activity Center (http://www.cyctsyac.com.tw/indexe1.htm), Tianxiang
Jan. 8 (Thursday)
Morning: Taroko Gorge Tour and Intrusive Contact.
Afternoon: Half-day off in Hualien
Stay in East Coast Hotel (http://www.ec-hotel.com.tw/en/about.html), Hualien
Jan. 9 (Friday)
Morning: Travel down the east side of the Coastal Range (turbiditic conglomerates, volcanic rocks along the coast)
Afternoon: Study the island arc stratigraphy along the Hsukuiluan River transect.
Stay in Hoya Spa Hotel (http://www.hoya- spa.com.tw/en/01_about/about.html), Ruisui
Jan. 10 (Saturday)
Morning: Visit the Yuli River bridge and Chishang fault
Afternoon: Luyeh “tea” terraces
Stay in Taitung Hotel For Teachers Public Workers (http://www.ttp- hotel.com.tw/)
Jan. 11 (Sunday)
Morning: Visit the National Pre-History Museum (open at 9:00)
Afternoon: Examine southern Coastal Range tectonics, beach, and the “greatest” marine terrace.
Stay in Taitung Hotel for Teachers Public Workers, Taitung
Jan. 12 (Monday)
Morning: Examine Lichi mélange
Afternoon: Natural gas site.
Stay in Downtown, Kenting
Jan. 13 (Tuesday)
Morning: Visit the Nuclear power plant museum
Afternoon: Fossil hunting, and examine uplifted corals along the tilted table land
Stay in Downtown Kenting
Jan. 14 (Wednesday)
Morning: Examine mud volcanoes, “badlands” and travel to Tainan, arrive early afternoon
Stay in Zenda Suites (http://www.zendasuites.com.tw/en/about.php), Tainan