The Back of the Mountains

Cycling Provincial Highway 11

2019 / August

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

Surrounded by the Central Mountain Range, the Coastal Mountain Range, and the Pacific Ocean, the Hualien‡Taitung area has long been known in Taiwan as “the back of the mountains,” and is blessed with a unique natural environment. This place gives refuge to people from many other locations, who—because they have found a place where they can settle down and enjoy their lives—have made it “home” in their hearts and minds.

Starting from Dulan Village in Tai­tung County, we amble northward along Taiwan Provincial Highway 11, ultimately ending up in Chang­bin Township. All along the way we hear stories of “indigenous peoples” and “new immigrants.”

When you come to Dulan, you will see people heading for the beach carrying surfboards, artists’ and craftspeople’s studios in back alleys, and an Amis indigenous way of life that is close to nature. This is what attracted Zhang Jingru, the founder of 9 Dulan Soap, who goes by the Amis name Avi, to relocate her family to Dulan. She fell in love with an empty plot of land with a big tree in one corner, and decided to settle down here and begin a new chapter in her life.

9 Dulan Soap

“The main reason I wanted to move here was so that our children could grow up in a natural environment,” says Avi. She originally decided to have children because she likes children, but given the busy rhythms of daily life, the kids were sent to a childminder on weekdays, and Avi and her husband became “weekend parents.”

Faced with this contradictory outcome, Avi couldn’t help asking herself: “Is this really what we want for our children?” Thus, with their daughter not yet in primary school, Avi and her husband Sun Weizhi (Amis name Dagula) decided to leave Taipei and come to Dulan.

The couple restructured their priorities in life: Whereas formerly earning money was most important, now it was family first. Dagula had previously studied making soap by hand with a master soapmaker from the Nam­chow Chemical Industrial Company, and then spent two years combining cold-process soapmaking with hot-process soapmaking to develop his own patented method. Then Avi’s idea to extract essence of betelnut, tobacco, and millet and put these into soap came into play, forging a link with local indigenous culture and creating products that are uniquely the couple’s own, with the brand name “9 Dulan Soap.”

In Amis culture, betelnut, tobacco, and millet are sacred crops that link people with their ancestors, but they have been stigmatized in modern society. Aiming to reverse the negative stereotypes most people have about betelnut, tobacco, and alcoholic beverages (such as millet wine), Dagula sent his handmade soaps to be tested, and the tests showed the soaps to be naturally biodegradable, eco­friendly products. Betelnut and tobacco both have anti­bacterial qualities, while millet has moisturizing and whiten­ing properties that can solve skin problems for many people. This evidence gives Avi a great sense of achievement when she introduces her products to others. “It gives us more confidence because we use local ingredients,” she says.

So far, the thing the family has been most dedicated to is “living.” “In fact, we’re not very serious about running the shop,” laughs Avi. For the time being, taking their kids surfing, fitting into the local community, and understanding the Aboriginal way of life are more important.

Her son, who is in fifth grade, has been obsessed with the legendary Chinese deity the Third Prince (Prince Nezha) since he was in kindergarten, and each day at mealtimes he would share his love of the Third Prince with Avi. This year, after he talked it over with his parents, they decided to buy him a Third Prince costume, and he has worn it to take part in many temple processions and birthday felicitations for deities. Recently he has also been wearing it when he performs on Western-style drums. We can ­really get a feel for Avi’s sense of motherly satisfaction when we see the smile on her face as she describes the process of her son finding something he loves in life at such an early age.

The road back home to Taitung has given new shape to their lives. Dagula says, “I’m grateful for past failures, as they have been the key to finding courage for myself.”

“I tell myself, ‘Well done!’” says Avi with emotion. She is grateful to her past self for working so hard back then.

Wings to fly back home

From 9 Dulan Soap we freewheel down a small road and come across the Japanese-era “Sintung Sugar Factory.” We have come here to visit the Amis wood sculptor Siki Sufin.

Siki’s story can be said to reflect responsibility and the cruel irony of history.

After returning to Dulan from Taipei, Siki, who apprenticed for a short period in the workshop of the indigenous sculptor Rahic Talif, worked part time while continuing to make artistic works that convey Amis myths and legends, using driftwood as his material. He was the earliest artist to move into the Sin­tung Sugar Factory, and was a leader in creating the local atmosphere for creative artists.

Siki leaves the surface of most of his works untreated. “I like the marks that the chainsaw leaves on the wood,” he explains. He wants the concept behind each work to be able to directly enter the viewer’s consciousness.

Returning to his hometown, Siki discovered that there were a number of elders in the com­mun­ity who had pronounced Amis facial features but spoke mainland-Chinese-accented Mandarin, and he couldn’t understand this incongruity. It was only after asking all around that he unearthed the long-buried history of the “Taka­sago Volunteers,” Taiwanese Aboriginal soldiers who served in the Japanese military in World War II. Under different regimes, indi­gen­ous peoples were drafted by the authorities to go to the front lines and fight, only to be abandoned when the fighting was over. People failed to learn from history, for after the end of WWII much the same thing happened to these Mandarin-­speaking old soldiers in Siki’s community. Aborigines from Hua­lien and Tai­tung were conscripted and sent to mainland China to fight in the Chinese Civil War, but many were captured during the retreat of the Nationalist forces after 1947 and ended up fighting on the Com­munist side. ­Looking back on their lives, they were left with the perplexing feeling of not knowing what they had fought for.

Few people know about this period of history, so Siki filmed a documentary and set up a theater company to enable more people to remember it. According to an Amis myth, tribe members who die far from home can ask their ancestors for a pair of wings to carry their souls back home. This is why Siki has made many pairs of wings out of driftwood, to help these fellow tribespeople find their way home.

Speaking of the fate of both the Takasago Volunteers and the Aborigines who were sent to fight in the civil war, Siki says, “These things may appear to be of interest only to the indigenous community, but when you look more broadly you find they are an issue for the whole nation.” The artist is completely dedicated to getting people to pay attention to and reflect on the past. “If I am able, I want to build them a memorial, out there on Dulan Cape, so they will have a place where they can rest and be together.”

Pedaling through beautiful scenery

Continuing our cycling journey northward, we head to the Ma­wuku River to visit the two very different bridges that span the river mouth. The New ­Donghe Bridge, of red-painted steel, seems very masculine and modern. The Old ­Donghe Bridge was built in 1930. To accommodate the shape of the terrain on the two banks, the northern section of the bridge was designed with an arch, while the southern section was built on piers, making for an interesting juxta­position.

Nearby is the interestingly named “Baonon Bikeway.” Originally an old section of Highway 11, today it has been transformed into a bike path, and cyclists can see enchanting ocean scenery all along the route.

Leaving Highway 11, we turn into the Pisi­rian indigenous community near to San­xian­tai, a small island connected to the shore by a long footbridge. In Pisi­rian we can see an installation artwork depicting a bellwether goat, created by Amis people led by Rahic Talif. The work brings to mind scenes of days gone by when people here raised goats.

We then ride on to Zhong­yong Community in Tai­tung’s Chang­bin Township, where we find “Jin Gang Da Dao” (“Jingang Avenue”). As the seasons change, the ears of rice on both sides of the road turn from green to gold. The ruler-straight road heads directly toward the Pacific Ocean, offering a panoramic view.

Meeting a different self

Heading uphill along Jin Gang Da Dao, we see many “little suns” on roadside utility poles and fences. This is a clever idea of the “Sunny Buhouse” homestay. If you collect a number of suns along the route, then when you reach the end of the road you can exchange them for a chat with the owner that may turn your ideas upside down.

Sunny Buhouse is a new realm carved out by husband-­and-wife owners ­Zhang Nian­yang and Chen Cibu after ­Zhang lost his job in middle age. ­Zhang reminds us of the charac­ter Grandpa Tomo­zou Sa­kura in the Japanese comic ­Chibi Maruko-­chan, while Chen’s grace and ­cordiality make her like the girl next door, albeit an older version.

After being a public servant for 17 years, one day ­Zhang had had enough and felt the urge to change tracks. He got a job in an electronics company, but then the economy turned sour and the company was on the edge of collapse, so after eight years there ­Zhang found himself out of work.

Chance brought them to Chang­bin, where they bought land, built a guesthouse, and began to strive to fit in to local life.

Besides running their homestay, the couple has also launched the “­Chang ­Cheng Project.” The ­chang refers to Chang­bin, while the ­cheng refers to the Hua­yuan Xin­cheng gated community in Xin­dian, New Tai­pei City, where they lived for a long time.

Zhang Nianyang enjoys making friends, and his friends back at Hua­yuan Xin­cheng have many talents. Families in remote areas lack economic, social, and cultural capital, and children may have limited visions of their futures. But what if the children could be linked up with his friends, and they could share their ­experiences with the kids? The ­Chang ­Cheng Project opens windows on the world for children living in remote areas. ­Zhang and Chen hope to be there for the children of Chang­­bin as they go through the important process of growing up, and to awaken them to greater possibilities for their futures.

This idea has attracted all kinds of people to come and join the project. Renowned ultramarathon runner Kevin Lin came here on his own initiative to run with the children; Stacey Wei, spokesperson in Taiwan for Yamaha trumpets, brought a whole jazz band to Chang­bin to put on a concert; and Dr. Sheu Min-muh, winner of a Medical Contribution Award in 2014, has held free clinics here.

Part of the attraction of Sunny Buhouse is that it gives people a sense of ease that is like coming home.

At the guesthouse, the day begins with a breakfast meticulously prepared by Chen Cibu. Breakfast usually lasts two or three hours, with people sitting around the long table and chatting. The paths of many people have crossed at this long table, around which many stories have been told, and ­Zhang Nian­yang is skilled at observing people’s innermost thoughts and feelings, helping them to lower their defenses and speak from the heart. “Other people help out by building bridges or laying roads, but I don’t have those skills, so I just inspire new ideas in people,” he says. And Chen Cibu can often touch the softest spots in people’s hearts.

Having lived here for the last decade, Chen says that her personality has changed from preferring to be solitary to feeling now that being alone or being with many people are both fine. A perfectionist in the past, she is learning to relax and to accept herself as she is.

Zhang Nianyang, who was always a top student, has been most tied up by rules in life. He still hesitates: Though their income is now reasonably stable, he thinks about putting something aside for a rainy day, and wonders if he shouldn’t be working more and saving more. But now the guesthouse is closed two days a week, and the husband and wife contentedly say they are happy if occupancy is 80%.

This attitude and this mood are just the right fit for living on Taiwan’s East Coast.                         

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繁體 日本語



文‧鄧慧純 圖‧莊坤儒







這樣的本末倒置,Avi不禁自問,「這是我們想給孩子的嗎?」「孩子終究會長大離巢,人生一定會遭遇各式的問題,但一個開心的童年會支持他們度過一切的困境。」於是趁著女兒上小學前, Avi 跟先生孫偉智(原住民名Dagula)舉家離開台北,來到都蘭。








從足渡蘭門前的小路滑行下來,會遇到建於日本時期的紅糖製造廠「新東糖廠」。我們來拜訪阿美族的木雕藝術家希巨蘇飛(Siki Sufin)。































文・鄧慧純 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・松本 幸子









































X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!