Mar 7, 2023
Of monkeys and mountains
Last week I visited Monkey Mountain three times, and saw plenty of monkeys…
A Formosan rock macaque on Monkey Mountain. Photo: Zhen-Kang.
National Sun Yat-sen University (國立中山大學) is wedged between Monkey Mountain (壽山) and the coast.
Its campus is notable for the monkeys that break into student dorms, its beachside location, and for being accessed through a pedestrian tunnel:
Sizihwan Tunnel (西子灣隧道) was constructed 90 years ago, during Japan’s 50-year occupation of Taiwan. In World War II it was used as a bomb shelter and Japanese command center, with a capacity of 2,150 people in a secret side tunnel. The tunnel is 260m long and decorated with video projections and hanging installations. Here, a mokey peeks down from a cloud. There are fairy lights at the NSYSU end. This campus map was painted on an outdoor wall at the end of the tunnel. Note a couple of features not found on most university campuses: a beach resort at left, and happy monkeys reaching for the dorms up top. The tunnel’s on the right. Here’s the Administration Building from the center of the map. My friend and I stopped at the pagoda on the left to drink tea. I forget the air temperature but it was pleasant—maybe 24ºC. I thought this tree, growing out of the rocks, was cool. This fish pond was full of koi (although there’s only one in this photo—so trust me). We followed the road below this sea-themed bridge… …To Sizihwan Beach (西子灣). The beauty of the beachside campus was obvious from this spot. Turning to my left, south of the beach, ships were entering Kaohsiung Harbor as the sun set. On the walk we hadn’t seen any monkeys, and had only skirted the side of Monkey Mountain (although we did walk through it). But this was just day one… Tuesday: The Former British Consulate at Takao
Britain was one of the first countries to establish a consulate in Taiwan, in 1879.
The Former British Consultate at Takao (打狗英國領事館) comprises two buildings: the harborside Consulate Office, and the Consulate Residence on the peak of Shaochuantou Hill (哨船頭), at the edge of Monkey Mountain.
The consulate closed during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. In 1931, it was converted to a marine observatory and then a meteorological observatory, before being restored in 1985.
I arrived one-and-a-half hours before closing time, which was nowhere near enough time to properly look around, take photos, and enjoy coffee.
I was advised the cafe was about to stop serving, so I bypassed the Consulate Office and headed uphill to the Residence:
The Residence track started gently enough… …Before getting a bit more challenging. Each of these steps was double-height. However, the total climb might’ve been equivalent to a six- or eight-story building, so it was a non-issue in the cool weather. At about the half-way point, I stopped to look at this life-size sculpture of Robert Swinhoe—the first vice consul and consul general in Taiwan, and the biologist who made the Formosan rock macaque famous. From Swinhoe’s samples, the British Museum identified the species as endemic to Taiwan. So it was fitting that, literally as I took this photo of Swinhoe and the monkeys… …A real-life monkey appeared next to me. My first time seeing a wild monkey. While I was watching it from two meters away, I saw it look directly at my bag. In that moment I remembered they’re famous for bag snatching, so I gently backed off. The monkey stuck around for a few more seconds before disappearing into the trees. I continued up the hill. Looking back down, I could see two scooter ferries crossing the harbor. A couple of minutes later I reached the gate of the Consulate Residence. When I someday upgrade from public transport to a yacht, it’s reassuring to know I’ll be able to find it from atop this hill. Here’s the former British Consulate Residence. A beautiful brick building, now housing a museum and cafe. There were 270º views from the garden—including towards the setting sun. People were gathered on the promenade below to watch. I took a seat on the verandah and ordered coffee from the “Tea & Art” book. My coffee was indeed artistic. The coffee had taken 20 minutes to arrive, so I didn’t have long to explore afterwards. But I liked the evening views from the verandah. Across the harbour I could see some of Kaohsiung’s most interesting buildings: Kaohsiung Music Center, 85 Sky Tower, the Main Public Library, the Exhibition Center, the Cruise Ship Terminal (which just opened two days ago), China Steel Corporation Headquarters, and also Great Harbor Bridge. Back at the foot of the hill, I stopped for a quick look at the Consulate Office. Life-size sculptures were installed out the front. I didn’t have time to take it all in, or to look inside for more than a minute. I look forward to coming back. Sunday: Monkey Mountain
I’ve wanted to climb Monkey Mountain (壽山) since arriving in Kaohsiung. The opportunity to see wild monkeys on a place called
Monkey Mountain—a name straight out of a fantasy novel— is too good to pass up.
It’s a place to visit in winter or early spring, as summer temperatures likely make climbing infeasible for most people.
(Climbing at night to avoid the heat is inadvisable: that’s when the snakes come out.)
So, on Sunday, a friend picked me up at 7am to make the most of the cool morning. We rode his scooter a few kilometres to the start point, then set out for the one-hour walk to the top:
The walk started next to Longquan Temple (萬壽山龍泉禪寺). The start of the track involved climbing these steps between shops that sell drinks, food, and hiking supplies. As we entered the forest, a series of signs warned “Why feeding and touching monkeys is a bad idea”, and explained what to do if a monkey jumps on you: Slowly walk back, and wait for the monkey to jump off when it gets bored. The entire walkway to the top comprised wooden stairs… …And boardwalks. The only time we touched the ground was when squeezing through these rocks. Otherwise, the whole multi-kilometer-long track was elevated. (There were more challenging dirt tracks, but I’m scared of snakes…) We could see the the city a couple of times on the walk. As you can see, air pollution was bad on Sunday morning—but the mountain air was fresh. We passed a couple of bamboo groves. The bamboo was thick and perhaps 20 or 30 meters tall. I saw volunteers carrying 20L water containers to the top of the mountain. I’ll explain this later… …But first, monkeys! I lost count of how many I saw. Perhaps 50 or 100. Some were really young, like this tiny monkey at the start of the track. Many were in the trees. Most of them ignored people passing by. I only encountered one that was aggressive, lunging as I passed. But it had done the same thing to someone ahead of me, so I didn’t take it as a personal affront. There were small pavilions along the track. At one, a man was practising tai chi. At another, an adult monkey was holding a younger monkey’s hand. Remember those volunteers carrying water up the mountain? Here, at the mountaintop pavilion, they make tea for the hikers. It’s completely free; they don’t accept donations. Taiwanese people are amazing. On the mountaintop we sat amongst the monkeys, having a drink… …And enjoying the view over Taiwan Strait. Recommended.