Sunday, 26 February 2012

Birthday Earthquake!

It is nearly six months to the day since we arrived in Taiwan and my birthday today. More important than all of this, though: today we experienced our first earthquake! I suffer from mild vertigo, so when I started to feel as though the room was moving, I put it down to my affliction. But as it didn't seem to go away, and the door chain was undoubtedly swaying too, I asked Conrad if he could feel it. Sure enough, it was a very weak earthquake.

Despite the fact that this was a tiny one, being ten floors up lends a certain frisson to the experience. Conrad wrote to a friend in the UK today and said that it was like 'fear all over your body', which puts the feeling quite well, I think. As we were waiting for it to stop, I thought this was a good time to put together an earthquake plan in my head in case we get a bad one. This mainly consists of getting out of the building as quickly as possible.

It has been pouring down here for the last two days, rather marring the long weekend we're having, with two days' school holiday to commemorate 2/28. Plus I've hurt my foot, so even if it were beautiful outside we couldn't go far.

Enough complaining!

Last weekend Conrad and I went on a mini-hike around the hills next to Jingmei, the next suburb along from us. One of the best things about Taipei is that you can literally alight at an MRT stop, walk for five minutes and find yourself in beautiful rainforest.

The entrance to this hiking trail is next to a temple on one of the main roads in Jingmei. There are myriad paved trails leading from it, crisscrossing the hills. We trekked around for an hour and a half or so in no particular direction. It was impossible to get lost because the city is close by and even if you end up returning down a different trail from the one you came up on, it's very easy to get your bearings again.

As well as the beautiful, lush rainforest, there were some interesting sights. We came across this boulder, which had some kind of carving on it in the shape of a human face, as well as steps carved into the edge of it. I don't know how well you can make it out from my picture.

There was a sign next to it which explained more, but only in Chinese, unfortunately.

I assume it was carved by one of the tribes who used to live in the area before they were unfortunately forced out. As with many indigenous peoples the world over, the tribes who originally inhabited Taiwan were dispossessed by waves of colonisation from other countries, in this case, mainly southern mainland China. Interestingly, these people are ethnically Austronesian and share ancestors with Polynesians, Indonesians and Malaysians amongst others. In recent times, the Taiwanese government has made efforts to address the rights of the existing descendants of these peoples.

Another thing I find perennially interesting about walking in the hills and mountains of surrounding Taipei are the plants that I recognise. I'm not enough of a botanist or gardener to name them, but it always feels remarkable to see plants that I know as houseplants growing outside. The plants that have to be carefully nurtured in just the right conditions to survive in the UK are wild here. For example, does anyone recognise this tender houseplant? It's rampant in the hills of Taipei.

Now that spring is just nearly upon us, I'm looking forward to many more such enjoyable hikes.

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