When Perci first emailed me about travelling to Taiwan again to visit Taiwan East Coast, my heart skipped a beat. I recalled the first time visiting Yilan with them and how I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the idea of visiting a new region of Taiwan with the locals really thrilled me.
I’ve never been much of a solo traveller, in fact, I’d even call myself quite an anxious solo traveller. It is something that I’m still trying to work on. The idea of being on my own in a foreign land is intimidating, probably because I’m a worry wart who constantly thinks about all the things that might go wrong while being on my own in an unfamiliar place. (What if I fall sick? What if the turbulence is bad? What if I get robbed? What if I lose my way?) I sometimes get anxiety from feeling obligated to interact with strangers too, I think that boils down to me being a little too self-conscious. *shrugs* Anyways!
I’ve never heard much about Taiwan East Coast before the trip. Up until Yilan happened, my impression of Taiwan is pretty much all gathered from Taipei. When people asked if I’ve been to Taiwan, I almost feel like I’m giving people the wrong impression when I reply, “Yes, 3 to 4 times” because there really is so much to the country that I’ve yet to experience and see.
Like a lot of fellow Singaporean travellers, I am unfamiliar with Taiwan East Coast and what it has to offer. This three-day tour with the locals really opened my eyes to Taiwan East Coast’s nature, culture and beauty.
Our first stop was to Lalaulan Tribe (拉劳兰部落）located at the eastern coastal area of Taimali Township. I had previously visited one of the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan before (pretty touristy one), but this one was really different. I vaguely remember that particular visit that happened when I was 9: photo-taking with their traditional costumes, lunch in a hall carefully decorated with their crafts, and ending the tour at their big and air-conditioned gift shop. Nowhere as personal as this. From what I understood, this place is not exactly open to public and is not a tourist destination. I feel very honoured to be able to pay them a visit because they are our guides’ personal friends.
We were given a little introduction to the Paiwan Tribe (排湾族) and the village before going through a simple “cleansing ritual” for non-tribe members.
I do not know much about the indigenous people of Taiwan – I have a mental image of traditional-costume-donning people… I know a lot of them are great singers! I assume that they probably aren’t city-dwellers, that they live in the mountains, and do not wear “modern clothes”. They hunt and farm and do crafts. They have their own languages/dialects. Do they even use technology?
I was SO ignorant.
Many indigenous people of Taiwan pretty much lead lives like you and I. They can have what you and I have, AND they also have a rich culture and history on top of it!
One of the highlights of my entire trip was to be able to meet Mr Sakinu (撒可努).
(Mr Sakinu was formerly a policeman by profession in Taipei)
A little excerpt I got from the internet:
Living on Taiwan more than 8,000 years before the first arrival of the Han Chinese in the 17th century, the Taiwanese aborigines (原住民) are Austronesian people, with linguistic and genetic ties to the people of the Philippines and other Polynesian groups. They are estimated to constitute about 2% of the population of Taiwan.
As a distinct ethnic group from Han Chinese, aborigines face many economic and social barriers, stemming from substandard education quality by comparison and language and cultural barrier. The majority of aboriginal people live in mountainous regions, primarily along the east coast nearby Hualien and Taiwan East Coast. Some communities located high up in the mountains may rarely visit the cities, and live by hunting and subsistence farming growing high mountain agriculture and produce such as vegetables and high mountain tea, some of which is sold to the cities to generate revenue for the tribe.
There are currently 16 different aboriginal tribes recognised by the Taiwan government.
Mr Sakinu‘s story truly touched my heart; his love for his tribe, country and its people is evident in the way he leads his life and how he is constantly pushing frontiers to promote and preserve the Paiwan tribe’s culture and way of life. In fact, the love that he has goes beyond that for Paiwan and Taiwan, it’s obvious that Mr Sakinu is a lover of mankind and the entire world. I was told by the guides that Mr Sakinu’s father is also known as “The Wind Hunter” – he moves around the jungle like the wind, leaving his trace, and everything else unchanged.
People would usually slash the vegetation in the jungle to make a path when they go out to hunt, but not these people. “There is on need to do that,” they said. Small things like that… I was touched and they had totally commanded my respect! I was enthralled by Mr Sakinu and his stories. One hour went by just like that.
He said Taiwan, and in fact the whole of mankind, is like a rainbow. We are different beautiful colours that will only be spectacular if we can coexist in harmony. ❤ MAI HEART.
Here is a movie called The Sage Hunter (2005) which is about the life of Mr Sakinu, who is also author of a book with the same name (山藸．飛鼠．撒可努 in Chinese). Do check it out if you are interested to find out more.
What a treat for my soul.
Home for the first night – Traveler Inn, 旅人驛站.
Day 2 was exciting – Standup Paddling and Moonlight Sea Concert!
I’ve only done standup paddling once before Taiwan East Coast. I’m not quite a water baby (can’t swim and pretty damn hydrophobic) and I usually have to coax myself a fair bit before I involve myself in any water activities. For some strange reasons, I felt comfortable doing SUP here, prolly because I trust that the rest of the team would take good care of me and that my balance is quite good so I won’t fall. Haha! (And I really didn’t fall, thank God)
The view was awesome! Well worth the sweat and all that paranoia! :p
Meet Ah Fei, the coolest dog ever! (In the far right end of the photo, there is also me looking like a mess heh!)
For those of you who are also looking for a little bit of such activities in Taiwan East Coast area, we were at 馬武窟溪 (Ma Wu Ku).
Visit 都歷海洋教室 T.O.S Torik Ocean Surf n Rent’s Facebook Page to get started!
I got the opportunity to get my hands
dirty cleaned at a soap-making workshop with 足渡蘭手工皂. They have got some really interesting flavours/scents for their soaps here; I remember tobacco, rice wine and betel nuts amongst many others. These three items hold a special significance to the aboriginal people. During our first visit to the Paiwan tribe, the guide told us that it is important for visiting guests to prepare three items as gifts/offerings during the welcoming rituals. Those are the three items.
I learnt that all the ingredients used in the soap making process were organically and ethically obtained. I tried the soap and it was REALLY good (it was as if I had body lotion on after washing/leaving lather on etc. Fo real.), I came home with a whole bag of soaps. :p
The very jovial and humorous owner cum soap-making maestro hehe.
AND of course!!!
The main reason I was in Taiwan East Coast was actually for the Taiwan East Coast Land Arts Festival 东海岸大地艺术节
Organised by the Ministry of National Landscape Management Office East Coast, the festival brings together the natural environment, tribal life, habitat residence of East Taiwan and showcases it in a festival that spans a period of more than three month. This is the 5th year of the festival and I was captivated from the first moment I watched the promotional video – culture, music, arts and a lot, a lot of heart. Just like how they have described Taiwan’s east coast in their website, the spirit of the festival really successfully encapsulates the essence of Taiwan East Coast, its people and beauty – quiet but wild, mysterious and sometimes loud, fascinating with a lot of soul.
There is an entire list of artworks commissioned by the festival throughout the years littered all over Taiwan east coast. I was honoured to be able to visit a few of them on this trip, along with my new friends! Can I just say for the record how I utterly LOVE ❤ Taiwanese people?
The lady in red is Muni. And she is the heart of every single party because she is SO MUCH fun, constantly brimming with positivity and energy. I just love her so much! On the last day of the trip when we had to travel back to Taipei (she had to leave us earlier because she was from Taiwan East Coast), she sang us a song in the bus, with her eyes closed. She said it is a song about parting, and her mother taught her that song. I don’t know of any other way to describe how I felt but it brought a tear to my eyes. That energy I felt was impalpable. It was really beautiful.
Ok back to the festival. The main festival grounds was kinda hippie heh! There was a lot of food stores and lots of crafts store to shop at! And since the festival was all about sustainability too (I ate my pasta dinner out of a pita bread that night!), I bought a beautiful handmade ceramic cup and used it for coffee right away.
Something else that caught my attention at this year’s festival was the exhibition by Rahic Talif who is also from one of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes Amei. It started with him picking up trash on the beaches when he discovered the obscene amount of slippers that were being discarded along the coasts. (That’s how this particular exhibition I saw was born) The sheer amount of rubbish he gathered was appalling. Here is a snippet about Rahic Talif. You should really watch it!
Moonlight Sea Festival got its name because of the beautiful location that it is held year after year.
Call me a hopeless romantic, but when one of the guides called the location we were at 天涯海角 (loosely translates to… edge of the world?). We were at the eastern-most edge of Taiwan and what lies ahead was an endless Pacific Ocean. It will be this same ocean all the way until it reaches the polynesian islands. Omg 天涯海角。好浪漫哦! :p I swooned (not openly, because people will judge). Hahaha!
It was a full moon night when I was there (Moonlight Sea Concerts only happen during full moon nights!) and everyone was stoked when the clouds parted. That bright, round moon casting its light onto the boundless Pacific Ocean – it looked so shimmery and glittery. I remember standing there with a beer in my right hand, with live indigenous tribal music in the background, feeling really moved and glad that I was there at that very moment, doing absolutely nothing except to admire the moon. It was truly cathartic.
It was a beautiful night made even better with kind people, wondrous indigenous music and delightful conversations.
If you are planning to include Taiwan East Coast in your next trip to Taiwan, do plan it around the next Moonlight Sea Festival!
Here are the festival dates for 2020:
We squeezed in a bit of time to visit the Ca’wi tribe 静浦部落 in Hualien on Day Three! They’re Amei people, the biggest indigenous group in Taiwan. I had a nice tan on my arms and some good fun there rafting and picking up a trick or two on how to cast a fishing net from our athletic and friendly guides. We also had a shot at archery (no pun intended) which I really sucked at. :p
They’ve got some real sick views there!
These activities are also available for booking if you’re in the area. Do note that prior reservation is required. Swing by their Facebook Page for more deets! THE HIGHLIGHT OF THIS PLACE tho, has got to be 陶甕百合春天. Over here, you’ll get to savour the taste of the Amei Tribe. A unique thing about this restaurant is how they do not have a menu; you’ll have whatever the team manages to gather from the sea and from the mountains that very day. How cool is that! I like how they served our group 8 fishes in total and all the fishes are different. Haha!
The food was divine! It works out to be about 80 SGD/pax.
The trip was perfect; I cannot ask for anyone better to see Taiwan East Coast with. I’ve made friends and there was laughter and heartfelt conversations even when we had only known each other for a couple of days. Special thanks to Perci and Ken who took great care of me and always making sure I’m alright, and to the wonderful tour guides Da Yi 大益 and Rita who truly, truly went far beyond a tour guide’s duties and became more like a friend to us. You know how you can feel someone because there is always an exchange of energy when you’re interacting with somebody? I’ve got nothing but good vibes from them. 🙂
With Dayi, Rita and the adorable Dong Suan! ❤
Thank you Taiwan East Coast and all the wonderful I met on this trip, it is a memory that I will always look back upon fondly. 🙂