Fri, May 31, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Maolishan: Miaoli City’s backyard

The history of Miaoli’s martyrs is preserved in a local park sitting atop century-old abandoned railway tunnels

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

LED lights illuminate Gongweisyu Tunnel in various colors.

Photo: Steven Crook

Miaoli County has a thriving tourism sector, but few visitors bother with the county seat. Miaoli City isn’t a significant metropolis in any sense, and the opening of its high-speed railway station hasn’t led to a boom — in the three-and-a-half years since, the city’s population has dropped below 90,000.

Even so, it’s not a bad place to live, and not just because it’s near popular tourist destinations like Nanjhuang Township (南庄). Just as Taipei residents make the most of Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園), Miaoli folks seeking fresh air and exercise head for Maolishan Park (貓貍山公園), about 2km south of downtown.

The hill that gives the park its name is miniature by Taiwan’s standards, the summit being just 144m above sea level. To make sure I got a proper workout, I started my excursion by taking a local train to Nanshih Railway Station (南勢車站). It’s about 5km from Nanshih to Maolishan Park, and a bicycle path covers most of that distance.

BREEZY TUNNELS

Just before reaching Nanshih, northbound cyclists go through the 270m-long Old Tongluo Tunnel (舊銅鑼隧道). For most of the 20th century, this was a railway tunnel. When the old single-track line was replaced in 1998 with adjacent double tracks, the tunnel was decommissioned.

As far as I could see, there was nothing special about the old tunnel, nor the new one. The sun was getting higher in the sky, so without delay I got going.

But once on the bicycle trail, I kept coming across signs of misuse. Every single one of the metal hoops put in place to stop cars from driving on the trail had been removed and dumped by the side of the path.

Perhaps I was overreacting; only two or three cars passed me during the 80 minutes I spent on the path. Nevertheless, it struck me as yet another example of a local tendency to build infrastructure but not properly maintain it. Like a woman who applies makeup, but doesn’t brush her teeth, is sometimes how I think of it.

Despite there being a fair bit of shade along the trail, I was dripping with sweat by the time I reached the base of Maolishan. Fortunately, relief was nearby. The north-south railway goes right beneath Maolishan Park, and there’s another disused tunnel here.

Gongweisyu Tunnel (功維敘隧道) is 441, 452 or 465m in length, depending on which source you believe. Even before stepping inside, I could feel a cool breeze issuing from the entrance.

I wish I’d carried a thermometer to compare the air temperature in the middle of the tunnel with that of the outside world. The difference was at least 10, maybe as much as 15 degrees Celsius. It’s no wonder that some locals who come to Maolishan to exercise walk lengths of the tunnel, rather than expose themselves to the hot sun.

MARTYRS OF MIAOLI

Emerging from the eastern end of the tunnel, I took a steep path up the hillside, crossed Gongyuan Road (公園路) and began searching for the monuments and memorials that dot Maolishan Park.

Between 1946 and 1997, Maolishan was named Mount Fusing (福星山) in honor of Lo Fu-hsing (羅福星). Lo, who was born in 1886 in present-day Indonesia, lived in Miaoli for the final few years of his short life.

Thanks to Lo’s efforts to foment anti-Qing rebellions in China and anti-Japanese uprisings in Taiwan — for which he was executed by the Japanese colonial authorities in 1914 — he was until recently lionized by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). In 1981, his portrait appeared on an NT$2 postage stamp.

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