Alishan

Alishan (阿里山) or Mount Ali is a scenic area in central Taiwan. It is the home of enormous trees, some of which are thousands of years old. It is a major tourist destination, which was especially clear when I went with a friend on Friday. Friday was a national holiday in Taiwan, because it was 10/10, “double ten,” which commemorates the beginning of the revolution that ended the Qing Dynasty in 1911, ending the rule of the Manchus over the Han people, and dynastic rule altogether. Alishan is named after an aboriginal chieftain named Ali, who was known for his extraordinary hunting skills.

We took the train from Taichung to Chiayi (2 hours), and from there a taxi (another 2 hours) into the mountains to Alishan. I’d never seen mountains like this before, except in pictures. The structure of the mountains and the trees rooted to them were alien to me.

Lastly there was a 10 minute ride in a train that looks old-fashioned on the outside yet has the interior aesthetic of a claustrophobic subway. Then we were surrounded by tall trees in something like Tolkien’s Lothlórien. The serenity of the experience was dampened somewhat by all the loud tourists, but it didn’t matter much, since I was preoccupied with looking at the environment.

Monet’s Japanese Garden began teaching me to slow my mind down and appreciate eternity in a single moment. Yet two years later I find this at least as challenging as I did then. This place is different from the garden in that it is enormous, situated in the mountains, and maintained rather than constructed by human hands. The moving crowds are like people in an art museum; Stop. Photograph (“One, Two, Three, Smile!”). Brush past an obtrusive stranger. Get too close to a tree and pick at the bark despite the numerous signs demanding the abstention therefrom. Check watch. Hasten to extraction point. Like many others I paused at the sights I thought were enthralling and looked, just for a moment.

There was a section along the path that didn’t have so many people. This was a view out onto other nearby mountains with the gray-white mist circling and accumulating with the trees barely transparent enough to see. Moving forward, my ears were assaulted with a familiar, nightmarish sound. Even here in the refuge of the mountains, I heard the song of the garbage trucks…

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(Click on the individual photos for a closer look)

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