Lying within a valley, Keelung is just a 30-minute bus ride away northeast of the capital city, Taipei. Famous for its harbor, which has served both the local fishermen and military vessels very well, a view of this coastal town from the sea is actually an often-overlooked delight.
Luckily, tours are readily available for both land and sea. Situated right before the docks is Shuilu (水路, meaning waterway), a quaint museum and tour provider which also houses films and pictures depicting the importance Keelung’s harbor has played in Taiwan’s 19th and 20th-century history — black-and-white images of by-gone poets, public figures and massive foreign battleships posing by the pier and customs house.
After boarding and parting from the historic harbor, the choppy winter waters grow into larger waves slamming against the tour boat’s well-built hull.
The sea’s restlessness is infamous during this particular season, but we dock further within the harbor near the bright yellow Heping Bridge, and then walk towards the newly renovated scenic park at the very edge of this isle.
First witnessing the competitive struggle between Dutch and Spanish commercial ambitions, the area then became a base for Japanese colonial forces, building a garrison there after having defeated the Qing in 1895.
Unfortunately, nearly all of the structures left by these outside powers have been swept away by time, with the exception of some recently excavated remains – the Convent of All Saints (諸聖教堂) – which formed part of the Fort San Salvador (聖薩爾瓦多城) complex built in the mid-1600s.
Now a series of uncovered stonework and masonry occupying a housing block, visitors can see the convent’s ruins up-close and learn how the structure reflects the isolated lifestyle its sparse inhabitants once enjoyed before the Dutch arrived.
To date, ten skeletons have been uncovered as well as ceramics and other artifacts.
Heping Island Park was actually a separate, solitary landmass, but throughout the previous centuries, the landfill was used to link it with the rest of Heping Island.
Now, the northernmost point has been converted to a wonderful park which houses restaurants, a classroom where staff teaches local cuisine, and a gift shop selling an array of locally designed clothing, artwork, and house appliances (incl. many products made by Taiwan’s aboriginal population).
The moment one reaches this scenic area after walking through the quiet town on Heping, the smell of ocean waves and their droplets waft through the air, given that the sea now surrounds us on three sides.
Most exciting among the Heping Island Park’s attractions are the seawater swimming pool (和平島公園海水泳池) bordering along the reef. Just imagine dipping cooling off in the pool while gazing at the mountain ranges on one side and the crashing waves on the other.
Second on this list is the path towards the Hepingdao Lookout (和平島公園觀景亭), which wraps around the one cliff on the eastern side of the park, and hangs directly above the eroded rock formations and tidal forces slamming violently against it.
To us modern folk, this would seem a difficult location to settle, but those unaccustomed to our contemporary comforts, such as the Ryukyu peoples of olden days, would come down here from the Okinawa archipelago to fish and trade with inhabitants in the Taiwanese mainland.
To rap up the tour, the Heping Island Park provides local tour guides well-versed in the island’s long history.
After giving us a vivid depiction of the different cultures that once inhabited this land, they also take us winding the streets of the town to visit the Taoist temples and shrines and the customs they preserve throughout this aging yet persevering community.
Ending the trip at sunset on the bay overlooking the yellow Heping Bridge on one side and the row of pastel–colored buildings on the other – multicolored fisherman boats docked along the boardwalk – our visit to this ever-changing is just one of many more throughout these centuries, both past and future.
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