Thursday, September 17, 2009

Namasia six weeks on.

Return to Namasia - a different Namsia. Here's the new view from Lief's land.I've been occasionally visiting Namasia over the last two decades, in recent years more regularly to see Lief's building projects and to guide people up its mountains and rivers. I was last in Namasia Township (Namaxia, Namasya, 那瑪夏鄉) in July. Then, it was still a bit strange to refer to this township by this name, the one it officially adopted almost 2 years ago. Most people that had any knowledge of this beautiful township still called it Sanming (三民鄉). Now everyone has heard of Namasia by its new, and more traditional name - is this the only good thing to come out of the last 6 weeks? The view up the Nantze River (楠梓仙溪) eventually leading to Yushan.
One of the reasons for this trip was to check on Lief's in-laws and his land. He reports the last few weeks well on his blog. We drove as far as we could, and then hiked the rest of the way in to his land. We were much relieved to discover it had not been buried, all looked well - and then we had a look at its northern edge... Here, looking west, the road and Lief's land end at the landslide at the end of his tripod.
My gut feeling is that Long-fong Waterfall (龍鳯瀑布) no longer exists. We didn't have the time to climb down and hike over to check, but I doubt very much there is anything familiar left. There is an enormous (high and wide) debris flow visible in the area the carpark used to be. It would seem likely that the valley the waterfall walk used to be in has been filled up. I hope you visited when you had the chance. The roof in the distance is the Falas campground.
Again, looking southwest to the end of highway 20 and the edge of Lief's land. I cannot imagine the road will be rebuilt. If anything is constructed, it will be a rough track following a new route on the riverbed towards the Longfong waterfall valley and Falas.
When visiting friends at Mingsheng Elementary School military personnel popped by. In classic Taiwan fashion a couple hungry dogs ran out to nip with the wheel-less undercarriage of the chopper.
The (rather intact looking) intersection for the now probably non-existent Longfong Waterfall. Note the new fall visible in the top left - '88 Waterfall'!
Travelling regularly on Taiwan's mountain roads, I am used to encountering landslides that in most countries would be a once in a lifetime's big story. Taiwanese road workers are expert at hacking roads through the most terrifyingly steep and loose slopes. The usual timescale: Day 1 massive landslide covers or removes section of road; Day 2 or 3, a passage is broken through by seemingly fearless excavator drivers; day 7 the road is now somewhat reasonably surfaced; 1 month you almost forget there ever had been any damage done. Travelling through Namasia six weeks on, it seems recovery is still on Day 2.
Landslide expert David Petley tells us 'For landslide scientists Taiwan has an almost mythical status'. The mythical status, in my mind, of Taiwan's excavator drivers being able to fix any road damage instantly has taken a hit. This is the only bridge connecting Minsheng Village (Takanua, 民生, 達卡努瓦村). This rickety suspension bridge can accommodate a small blue truck and nothing more. The concrete pipes are for the temporary bridge being built right on the riverbed.
The two routes in to Namasia are both in an appalling condition. Both are long, rough, and liable to be impassable with even moderate rainfall. Really is shocking that a whole township in modern Taiwan can be as isolated as this. Then you need to move around in the valley...

Both routes available now come from the eastern side of the township, across the tail end of the Alishan Range. Neither are ready for casual visitors, and certainly not visitors without the right vehicles and experience. This sign points the way along the river to Chashan ('tea mountain') from Dapu (大埔) Chaiyi County. The original road was on the opposite bank of the now small river, it was washed away and then the riverbed rose many meters.
In the midst of the disaster it was interesting watching how nature was taking over again in the absence of humans, their weed-whackers, their pesticides. It is mango season, orchards were littered with unpicked fruit. Here, the landslide to the immediate east of Lief's land a tributary of the big one.

The main street through Mintsu (Nangisalu, 民族, 南沙魯村) looking northwards.
Words I wish were not used:
Mudflow, Rocks, Landslip, Landslide - these imply a soft chocolate soup with lumps. When you actually are somewhere like this you need words more violent, more awful.
The consensus seems to be that Mintsu will not rebuilt in the valley, and certainly not in its current location.
Looking north from the deck with the best views.

Mintsu the township's southernmost village, and until now the administrative center is a scene of utter devastation. Much worse than we ever imagined.

The village has been completly evacuated, and out of bounds without special permission. One of the many vehicles trapped here. This is belongs to World Vision, a Christian charity that has a long-term excellent record assisting disadvantaged communities.
A Kaohsiung County bus missing its front end -due to rocks. Also missing was the main part of a President Ma election poster (to the left of this frame). Freshly torn off, maybe someone thought it would be better to remove his presence from this embarrassing part of his country...

Various sturdy buildings stayed together long enough to come to rest in the riverbed

Aerial pictures do no justice to the reality on the ground. Walking around boulders twice as high as me that have jammed in the frame of a surviving building, realizing that hundreds like it had flowed by.

The only sign of life in Mintzu was of feral dogs and cats. We had been warned about them, all were very thin, disheveled and confused. Matched the village.

Minchuan Elementary classroom.

Most familiar markers are gone, whether they were natural, or man-made. Even Lief who has traveled the valley several hundred times sometimes had to pause to get his bearings. This is the playground of Michuan Elementary. Hundreds of villagers took refuge here on August 7th not knowing that it was vulnerable too. They were glad that the school is now only a graveyard for their cars not them. This landslide could very easily have reached their 3rd floor escape.

The generator in Minchuan supplies power for 2 hours each evening. There are questions about the village's long-term viability, some suggest moving it to a much higher terrace.
Casting the typhoon spirits away...well maybe.

The cleared up section of Minchuan (Mangchu, 民權, 瑪雅村) main street. next to the police station.
The villages, and township in general, have a ghost town feel about them. The few people that are still living in Mingsheng and Minchuan have little to do. There is an eerie quietness, no children, no TV, few vehicles - fuel is at a premium, in some cases bicycles have been rediscovered. The main Minchuan thoroughfare, looking south.
Sanming High School. Some had hoped it would have been cleared in time for classes.
Minchuan visitor center. Will the Christmas tree be lit up this year?
Both Lief and I agreed, any goverment official trying to show how he understands the peoples' needs must be forced to take the road in like this family. No helicopters!

Once over the ridge the road gets better.

Those knobbly tires we didn't have.

Getting towed. Glad to be towed.
A convoy of weekend volunteers delivering supplies to the few remaining residents.

A traffic jam in the jungle!
Often I've found it hard to fully comprehend aboriginal ways.
Now even more so, their seemigly happy resilience is hard for me to properly take in. Overnight many not only lost their homes and propery, but a culture that is closely connected to the land all around them. Most of the people and all of the children now live as refugees far from their homes. It will be several years before there will be a signifigant road back in. What will Namasia mean to these children that have settled into a more urban enviroment? How can Bunun culture adapt to the loss of this lifestyle?
Checking out the road ahead. Very very slippery - and can it be slippery and sticky at the same time? Discuss.
The worst road I've been on in Taiwan. This on a dry day. Mud glorious mud.
This acess road was cut through on the route of a long abandoned forest trail. Much steeper than it looks here.
This family heading back in to the valley were a typical jolly lot. They were smart enough to change their truck tires to a knobbly sort - Lief wasn't. Did you know blue trucks all have four-wheel drive? Did you know how to say 'knobbly tires' in Bunun?
Note the red spray-painted sign for Namasia at the intersection on highway 20 near the border of Tainan and Kaohsiung.

1 comment:

  1. No, I didn't know all blue trucks have four wheel drive. Thats an interesting and erroneous fact.
    I believe knobbly tires are called 'bada bada' tires in an onomatopoeic representation of the sound the tires make.