Huandao Day 10

Getting salty between Chiayi and Tainan…

Long exposure of a glass building in the shape of a high-heel shoe, surrounded by a shallow pond.
High Heel Church. Photo: Zhen-Kang.
Distance 130 km
Ride time (with stops) 6 hours
Number of religious experiences 2

On my second-to-last day of huandao, I had two grandpas sing for me, I had two religious experiences, I narrowly avoided a snake, I was chased by dogs, and I climbed a mountain of salt.

Tomorrow’s gonna be underwhelming…

Five scooters parked outside Chiayi Park.  The park comprises flat grassy areas and many tall trees, with some palms nearer to the camera.
I started my day with a walk through Chiayi Park. An elderly man invited me to sit with him under a pagoda. He was a friendly guy who spoke perfect English. After an enjoyable chat, he offered to sing for me(!). I only grasped the gist of the song; something about missing the woman he loves. I asked if he sang it to his wife, and he said they sing it together. Then as I got up to leave, he asked if he could pray for me. And so, despite not being religious, I stood in Chiayi Park, head bowed, as this stranger prayed for my safe onward journey.
Sun-Shooting Tower in Chiayi. The tower is cylindrical in shape, 12 stories tall, with a sunburst-shaped concrete base.
In the middle of Chiayi Park is the 12-story Sun-Shooting Tower, named after the ‘sun-shooting’ legend of the Pingpu Indigenous People (平埔族群). In the legend, the world originally had two suns, but excess heat caused crops to be perpetually dry. So a group of three warriors shot down one of the suns, thus creating a more balanced climate. The design of the tower references many details from this legend.
Internal view of Sun-Shooting Tower in Chiayi Park, looking up from the first floor through the hollow core to the top of the building, approximately 10 stories higher.
The hollow interior references a crack in a sacred Pingpu tree.
The cafe on level 11 of Sun-Shooting Tower in Chiayi. The city can be seen through large windows, and in the foreground a void space has been covered by a net, off which are hanging hundreds of colorful cards with wishes written on them.
The elevator stopped at a gallery on level 10. I took the stairs to this cafe on level 11.
Close up of a sign next to a window, which says ‘Throwing objects is prohibited.’
I wondered how problematic this must’ve been, to prompt these signs next to every window.
View across Chiayi City, Taiwan. The treetops of Chiayi Park are in the foreground. In the distance is a sports stadium, high rise buildings, and more buildings leading to the horizon.
I walked up a second flight of stairs to the open-air observation deck on level 12. This is the west-facing view across Chiayi City. It feels like a comfortable, laid-back city. (Earlier, I’d run this hypothesis past the singing grandpa, and he agreed.)
A large pile of salt on the far side of a carpark. The sale pile is maybe 2 stories tall and behind a low fence. In front of the fence are two human-size cartoonish sculptures of mouse-like creatures in love.
I rode towards the coast for around an hour, before stopping at a 7-Eleven for lunch. Just around the corner was this giant pile of salt. It’s not as random as it may seem: this had been a famous salt-making area from the 1600s through to 2002. The salt was left behind when the factories closed.
Long exposure of a glass building in the shape of a high-heel shoe, surrounded by a shallow pond.
Nearby, I stopped at a more-intentioned landmark: the High Heel Church. It’s an 18-meter-tall building made with 320 pieces of blue glass, commonly used for weddings. My mind went to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert—but the design actually symbolizes an element of Taiwanese wedding culture: Traditionally, the bride wears high heels while walking on some tiles. Any that break are discarded, symbolizing the end of past misfortunes, ahead of a blissful married life.
The interior of the High Heel Church – it’s a large space without furniture and decorations hanging from the glass ceiling. At the front of the space is a floor-to-ceiling photograph of the High Heel Church.
The High Heel Church accommodates 100 people. After grandpa prayed for me earlier, going to church was my second religious experience of the day.
A 1-meter-on snake curled on the road in the sun. In the distance, a car is approaching.
It’s just as well he prayed for me, too: later I narrowly avoided this meter-long snake on the road. It’s first wild snake I’ve seen, in Taiwan or anywhere else.
The Tree of Life sculpture on the Tainan salt flats. The sculpture looks like a very large fan, split in the middle to allow people to walk through. The fan has cut-out shapes that give it the appearance of a tree. It is far from the camera, but perhaps 10 or 15 meters tall and twice as wide.
Sticking with the staying-alive theme, I visited this iconic sculpture—the Tree of Life (生命之樹)—in the middle of the Tainan salt flats. There were two groups ahead of me as I walked the 600-meter-long path to reach it. As we were arriving, a man in the first group ripped off his shirt and started striking bodybuilder poses, while another guy pulled out a professional camera. It was like a two-person flash mob. Myself and the second group of people were all a bit like ‘WTF?!’ Later, another WTF moment happened as I returned to my scooter: I met a second friendly grandpa—a retired English teacher from Tainan—who also offered to sing for me. In German.
Qigu Salt Mountain just ahead of sunset. The salt mountain is 6 stories tall and has a walkway up two sides. The walkway has guide ropes strung between metal poles. Near the top of the salt mountain is a sculpture that includes the words ‘TAINAN 400’.
Sticking with the salt theme, my next stop was Qigu Salt Mountain (七股鹽山)—a more dramatic salt pile than the one I saw earlier. It’s around six stories tall, and covers a hectare. The salt has compacted and hardened over the decades, bizarrely making Qigu Salt Mountain the highest point of ‘land’ in this part of Taiwan.
A sign labeled ‘Precautions when Climbing Salt Mountain’, with eight rules listed. Steps caved into the mountain are visible behind.
I was amused by two of the instructions for visitors: “As Salt Mountain is the property of Taiyen, removing salt from it is in violation of the law”, and “Please refrain from throwing salt for fun”. I don’t remember the last time I threw salt for fun.
Steps carved into Qigu salt mountain with people carefully descending.
The slippery climb to the top took a couple of minutes.
View from the top of Qigu Salt Mountain. There are two people standing on the top. The ground is a dirty gray where people have stood, but the rest of the salt mountain is white. The Tainan salt flats stretch out in the distance.
Soon enough, I knocked the bastard off.
Guosheng Port Lighthouse, a skeletal metal structure rising from sand dunes, with the sea visible to the left.
Just ahead of sunset, my last stop was Guosheng Port Lighthouse (國聖港燈塔)—at the western-most point of Taiwan. During my huandao, I’ve now visited Taiwan’s northern-, eastern-, southern-, and western-most points (and lighthouses).
Sun setting over the Strait of Taiwan with a beach in the foreground.
Here’s the sun setting on my second-to-last day of huandao. It looks peaceful, but minutes after taking this photo, I was chased by stray dogs on my way to Tainan City.

Day 10 soundtrack

  1. Drum Tower (Podcast)
  2. Ryan Adams – Heatwave (Apple Music) (Spotify)
  3. The Knife – Deep Cuts (Apple Music) (Spotify)
  4. Lucinda Williams – Live @ The Fillmore (Apple Music) (Spotify)
  5. Breaks Co-Op – The Sound Inside (Apple Music) (Spotify)

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