Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Discovering the secrets of longevity

Taiwan is luckly to have more than 100 nature trails, where fresh air and walking contribute to good health and a long life

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Beautiful hiking trails are almost everywhere, as you explore them.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAIWAN FORESTRY BUREAU

An 84-year-old man was showing a bunch of city visitors how to weave a fishing net properly in the coastal village of Jhaoyang (朝陽) one day. But as he was doing so, another old man came from behind and slapped him on the back of his head, saying, "Hey, kid, don't teach them wrong!"

An 84-year-old called kiddie? No kidding! The speaker was a 98-year-old man who regards his younger village neighbors as kids, having grown up with them in the small and reclusive Jhaoyang Community (朝陽社區) in Nanao (南澳), the largest east-coast town in Ilan County (宜蘭縣), near the border of Hualien County (花蓮縣).

It has a population of slightly more than 900 people, comprising around 200 Hakka families. Of these 200 families, more than 30 men or women are over 80 years old and more than 160 are over 70 years old, according to the head of the community development association Lee Shun-yi (李順義). The oldest person in Jhaoyang is 102.

Village tour guide Li Wang-sui (黎萬隨), a local fisherman who serves on the community board, said attitudes to age are different in this village. "I am a 50-something man. In my village, I am considered a relative junior."

As an explanation of one of the reasons Jhaoyang villagers live so long, Li pointed to a hill at the rear of the village, affectionately known as Turtle Mountain (龜山). The turtle is a creature that symbolizes longevity in Taiwanese culture. The hill, which is covered with dense forest and climbs to 280m above sea level, functions as a sort of community playground for the villagers.

Adults in the morning and children after school all enjoy hiking to the top of the hill nearly every day, to chat, pick fruits, collect flowers or run around the trails along the coast facing the Pacific Ocean. Fresh air, mild weather, frequent trail hiking and a thrifty village life naturally contribute to good health and longevity.

This newly renovated trail, officially called the National Jhaoyang Hiking Trail (朝陽國家步道), opened last week and is approximately 3km in length, taking about one-and-a-half hours to hike one way. The trail is bordered by a canopy of thick vegetation -- from trees such as maple, camphor, gordonia (大頭茶樹) and bamboo -- which cools temperatures even on hot days.

There are more than 100 natural hiking trails around the island and according to Lin Hao-chen (林澔貞), who is in charge of the Forestry Bureau's conservation and recreation department, these trails can be divided into four categories: Alpine trails, historical trails, countryside and coastal trails.

The high mountain trails are called National Alpine Hiking Trails and one of the most popular is a 46km walk found in the Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) area. Yu Shan's highest peak is 3,952m and the tallest in the region.

Many hiking trails were opened up by the Aborigines, chiefly for hunting purposes. A number of other trails were chiseled out of heavy rocks by soldiers for military and transportation purposes. These types of trails generally have long and colorful histories, often marked by stone monuments and are known as National Historical Trails.

The famed Batongkuan (八通關) historical trail, starting from Tongpu(東埔) in Nantou County (南投縣), and meandering to Yuli (玉里) in Hualien County, was first built in 1800. The trail was widened and even flattened by Japanese soldiers in order to transport horses and to drag cannons up to high mountains to suppress Aboriginal uprisings in the early 20th century. It runs from central to eastern Taiwan by traversing the backbone of the Central Mountain Range.

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