Written by Finlay Scanlon, (University of Texas at Austin) Student Correspondent CET Taiwan, Spring 2019
There’s a reason why many Chinese characters are built on drawings from nature. The sun, the moon, rain and snow. The natural world is the basis of Chinese culture, a source of reverence, sustenance and inspiration, and because of this, going into nature in Taiwan is incredibly important to your experience of the country.
Taroko is a beautiful national park in eastern Taiwan. On the train out, you pass rice fields, palm trees, and much sleepier towns than our usual Taipei bustle. After the train, we take the bus into the thick of the park. Taiwan is a green wonderland already and this park is the heart of it. We start walking along the gorge and it’s one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever experienced. I’m trying to add some intrigue and drama to this story but it’s hard to make a peaceful place anything more than that. It’s so beautiful I have very few words to describe it. The river is rushing with bright turquoise water and we jump on the rocks that run back and forth across the stream. After all of this, the entire group is feeling pretty hungry but our train snacks are long gone. I knew that this area was named after the indigenous tribe that lives here, but I didn’t know to what extent the culture and people still inhabited the land. Right off the path, a small family had set up a stall with snacks and water for hikers. As I looked through the menu, I didn’t recognize many of the items. Different teas, grilled mochi with sesame powder, and finally, wild boar sausage. I don’t know why certain animals feel more weird to eat than others, but this sure felt like a new experience. As I continued hiking down the path, meat stick in hand, I felt very content. Not only am I meeting people and seeing the land, but I’m seeing people who have interacted and lived with the land for centuries. In the US, people are often removed from the soil we stand on. We don’t know where are food comes from, we don’t really care. We live a busy city life and don’t consider other ways. Our native population has been persecuted and killed into much smaller pockets of people who rarely get their voices heard. In Taiwan, the attitude is much different.
Firstly, everyone is stewards for the land. Sustainability is important because there’s a sense of urgency in protecting the little island that they have. Secondly, appreciating this land is of utmost importance. Every weekend, piles of aunties and uncles jump on the MRT with walking poles in hand to head to their favorite trailhead or mountain. Enjoying nature is a pastime with purpose here. You get exercise, you appreciate you country, and you remember these wild spaces when you return to the city, both for your own mental sanity and to keep the attitude to protect it. Lastly, an increasing respect, or at least awareness, for indigenous people here is incredibly inspiring. The history of indigenous peoples reach back hundreds of years, and their cultures and languages are seen as part of the national culture and identity, unlike back in the States. For all these reasons, Taiwan is important to the Taiwanese, and it show. The island is dotted with national parks and experiencing them not only allows you to take a walk in a beautiful place, but be inspired by the nature-focus attitude of the Taiwanese people.