Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 17 News List

A rocky harvest

The same typhoons that frequently devastate Taiwan's east coast also churn up precious rose stones, a source of wealth for those who know where to find them


Geological studies by National Taiwan University professor Lo Hua-ching (羅華清) indicate the rose-red or rose-pink color of these rocks is the result of the presence of rhodonite (MnSiO3) and quartz (SiO2). The black color that forms the veins on the rock -- which often resemble trees, forests, ponds, rivers, clouds, people, farm huts, etc. -- is the ingenious creation of braunite and hausmannite. Other minerals such as garnet, tirodite, albite and celsian are also present, giving the stones incredibly varied colors and shapes.

The black-looking rocks, a result of manganese being oxidized in their outer layers, usually come to weigh around 50kg, and can be easily carried by a Teruku man on his back. At Sanchan Community (三棧社區), situated halfway between Taroko Gorge and Hualien City along Highway No. 9, Yiu Yu-siu (游毓秀), a Teruku lady who married a local Taiwanese, prepared a pot of hot tea to entertain this Taipei Times reporter and shyly stated: "We have to get our friends to help us with anything that weighs 100kg. We make a raft using two rubber inner tubes from truck tires and a wood palette to form a base for the rock to sit on, using steel chains and rope to secure the palette and rock to the inner tubes. We then float the whole contraption downriver like a raft."

Giggling at the thought of how ingenious her tribesmen were she continued: "If it's way over 100kg, what we usually do is break the rock first and let the river carry it to us in the same way. But, you know, it's very dangerous work because someone has to stand on the pallet besides the rock and float in the river with it. Other men run along the riverbank to see that the pallet doesn't get stuck in the river. Also, the tubes may burst on other rocks in the river along the way."

It is common knowledge among local stone collectors such as Cheng Tai-yuan (曾泰源), a former prosecutor at the Hualien District Court, that rose stones produced in the Sanchan Stream are rose-red in color, while those originating from the Mukua Stream near Tungmen are noted for their picturesque patterns that resemble Chinese paintings. Rose stones from the Liwu Stream, which flows through the entire Taroko Gorge, are more rose-pink in color. Cheng has so many rose stones that they take up most of the space in his apartment.

The price of color

The price of a rock varies depending on its colors and veins. Normally a "good" 50kg rock, that has a potential to come out rose-red and looking like a beautiful landscape, costs about NT$30,000. A seller chips off a tiny portion of the rock's black surface to show the color and veins, and the buyer then has to take a chance by offering a price based on his own experience and intuition. One of the most precious of these rocks is known as the "seven-color rose stone" (七彩玫瑰石) and is prized for its apple-green color.

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