Wed, Jun 12, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Penghu: the art of knowing what to avoid

Forget about the cutesy restored villages and the selfie hordes, grab your bike and you’ll find tranquility just around the corner on Penghu

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The eastern coast of Siyu boasts a stretch of scenic paths with little traffic.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

My guesthouse owner looks increasingly puzzled as I tell her about my cycling adventure. “Why did you go there?” she asks. “There’s nothing to see.”

“That’s the point,” I reply.

I had purposely arrived on a weekday, but the tourist hordes had already overrun Magong (馬公), the only city in the scenic archipelago of Penghu off the coast of Chiayi. It turns out they were here for the Penghu International Fireworks Festival, which takes place every Monday and Thursday until the end of this month.

But as I soon learn, it’s not that hard to avoid the crowds. People seem to follow a pretty standard formula while touring Penghu’s main four islands, all of which are connected by bridge: rent a scooter and follow the suggested route, only stopping at the marked attractions on the tourist map. For example, after I was done snapping photos of the hundreds of people with parasols trying to crowd their way across a tiny land bridge that had just appeared with the receding tide, all I had to do was walk a few hundred meters to find an empty mountain path with stunning views of the blue expanse.

But why is such an idyllic path officially called the “Invincibly High View Mountain Loop (無敵嗨景環山草徑)? The main issue with these attractions are not just the crowds, but how they’ve been all coated with a thick layer of cuteness that has obfuscated any sense of authenticity. As if the jolly anime sculptures and kitschy, selfie-ready murals painted on dolled-up century-old structures weren’t enough, I was just enjoying the fireworks when a man suddenly proposed on stage to his girlfriend.

The announcer makes them kiss for 10 seconds and then wishes them eternal happiness. Normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I had become misanthropic after a day’s bombardment with all things saccharine. I run back to my guesthouse to wash off the sentimentality. If I still drank alcohol, I’d go find the trashiest bar possible.

SELFIE OVERLOAD

I had been wandering and relaxing for an hour at Jinguitou (金龜頭), an expansive cannon fortress built in 1887. Like most man-made attractions on Penghu, it has been unnecessarily restored to the point where the walls are shinier than a modern-day army base. This seems to have been recent work; even the official Penghu National Scenic Area Web site shows the fort in its original state, blemishes and all.

But I like the fact that I have a splendid view of the ocean beyond clusters of cacti, and that my only companions are the creepy fake soldiers who repeatedly startle me by suddenly barking out commands. I had escaped via just a five-minute walk over the hill from Dusingshi Village (篤行十村), Taiwan’s oldest military dependent’s village that has both fortunately and tragically been turned into Dusingshi Village Cultural Park. I came here for the history, and to pay respect to singer-songwriter Tom Chang (張雨生), the village’s favorite son, who died in a car accident at the age of 31. He was the first Taiwanese singer I listened to when I moved here as a child, and I still own one of his cassette tapes.

The village was in serious decay after its residents were relocated in 2007, but with its sparkling pastel retro-cute exterior that the travel Web sites tout as “perfect for Instagram” and “ideal spot for hipster check-ins,” it is now a bonafide hotspot with tour buses lined up just outside. It’s wonderful that this treatment has allowed for the village’s preservation, but like Jinguitou Fort, the implementation is simply too kitschy and heavy-handed. And there was nobody in the village history museum as selfies were the first priority.

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