Sand, sculptures and cycling

There’s two months left to see the sand sculptures in Fulong Beach, which features an Atlantis theme that is meant to explore deeper issues that relate to the lost city

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jun 19, 2019 - Page 13

After setting curious world records such as “largest gathering of children born as a result of in-vitro fertilization” and “most pop-ups in a pop-up book,” Taiwan’s latest feat sounds rather tame.

But it was a world record after all, and it took quite the effort to train 310 people to simultaneously build sand sculptures on Saturday. The quality of the work matters, as only 284 were counted; but it was good enough for the Guinness World Records. It’s the nation’s first this year after creating the world’s largest cup of bubble milk tea in November last year, adding to its lengthy list of wacky accolades.

All that remained on Monday from the weekend’s record-breaker was a lonely field of neatly-ordered clumps of sand, providing an eerie contrast to the deliberately crafted ruins of Atlantis at the adjacent annual Fulong International Sand Sculpture Art Festival (福隆國際沙雕藝術季).

There’s two months left to check out this year’s creations, and it’s the season where any excuse to hit the beach is valid. For the active types, the area also has an excellent network of mostly-seaside bike trails that take visitors to a number of nearby attractions and idyllic fishing villages.

TOO MANY POSEIDONS

The sculptures look underwhelming when they appear on my left while walking across the bridge to Fulong Beach. They look like a tiny cluster of mud huts from above and afar that could be perused in five minutes.

Of course, that’s just an illusion. The exhibition grounds are more like a surreal mini-town, and I spend more than an hour wandering through its streets and alleys. Don’t forget to go around the sculptures and look behind them as there are details there not to be missed.

While the exhibition has largely survived the elements, some pieces show obvious wear and tear, in some cases with entire chunks collapsed, which suits the main theme of “Finding Atlantis from a small town.”

And while the pieces are for the most part immensely detailed and impressive in craft and design, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the display takes the elements too literally. There are many opportunities to explore deeper themes that are connected to the fabled city, including power, corruption, rampant technological development as well as the fantastic mystique it’s had on the world even in the present day.

The pieces that spoke most to me were not the myriad intricate, stylized depictions of the Atlantis patron god Poseidon or other Greek figures, nor the ones that deal directly with the empire’s downfall, but those that carried a message and made me chuckle.

One of the sculptures to do so was The Evolution of Civilization, which showed a towering, muscular Atlantean warrior towering over an obese modern-day man lying on the sand with an arrow-through-heart tattoo carved into his belly.

It’s refreshing that sculptors took a light-hearted and subtle approach to the task — though in an exhibition calling itself “international,” organizers shouldn’t be lazy with English grammar:

“People nowadays have a relatively easy life,” writes one blurb, “so they can lay on the beach of Fulong and enjoy beautiful sunset.”

A few of the sculptures tackle marine conservation, and again light-heartedness works here. Instead of the sea turtle tangled in fishing nets covered with garbage, I was drawn to the polar bear with a diving mask and oxygen tank.

Curiously, the domestic competition portion has a completely different theme. Teams built depictions of settlements from around Fulong to go with the Tourism Bureau’s “Year of the Small Town” initiative. It’s a good way to promote these places and to encourage local participation, but maybe there could have been a better way to integrate it into the main theme, such as using Atlantean themes to promote seaside locales in Taiwan.

COASTAL BIKING

Even for the meticulous viewer, the whole display won’t take more than an hour to finish. Zoning out on the beach is always appealing, but taking a cue from the sculpture commemorating World Bicycle Day on June 3 and another piece depicting the nearby Old Caoling Tunnel (舊草嶺隧道), I mosey back to the train station to rent a two-wheeler.

There’s a shop right outside the train station exit, and a nearby lot offers free bikes for motorists who park there (or it could be the other way around).

Abandoned in 1986 and reopened in 2008, most cyclists seem to traverse the 2.2km-long tunnel, take a selfie on the other side and then return to Fulong. It’s a cool experience on its own — literally, as the temperature noticeably drops and the rider remains in the tunnel for about 15 minutes.

Keep going, though; the scenery is worth it as the tunnel cuts straight across the northeastern cape to Shicheng harbor (石城). From there, it’s a stunning seaside ride along the shore, past Sandiaojiao (三貂角) lighthouse and across the bay anchored by the quiet fishing village of Maoao (卯澳). Both are worth a stop, and take the time to wander Maoao’s winding streets and try its agar hotpot.

The route eventually leads back to Fulong, which provides an opportunity to explore the less-touristy part of the village that still operates as a fishing harbor. The bike route connects here to another path that takes riders about 5km west to Longmen (龍門) and Yanliao (鹽寮), but the beach is calling.

IF YOU GO

Getting there

Trains run from Taipei Main Station to Fulong Station, travel time is between 55 minutes but can take up to 100 minutes depending on the train type. Tickets cost between NT$83 and NT$128.

Bike rentals are plentiful, ranging between NT$100 and NT$300 per day depending on the model.