Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Foggy Day At Tseng-wen Reservoir

Last Sunday morning, I took the dogs out at six and drove off to meet Gary and Howie, two graduates of Cheng Kung University's chemical engineering department. They are learning their trade in the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of various kinds of panels and to that end they currently meet me once a week to help them prepare for a move to the U.S. later this year. This morning however, the plan was to take them to Tseng-wen reservoir for a laugh to let them see and appreciate a part of Taiwan they had never experienced before.

We met just outside Xinhua at a little after seven and we drove straight out to the reservoir, allowing only a brief stop for them to get gas and breakfast at Yujing. I was slightly worried however, because the weather forecast (sunny with clouds) was turning out to be badly wrong - it was foggy. We arrived at the bay sometime after nine and whilst they were excited by the aesthetic of the place, I was interested to again assess the fall in the waterline from two weeks ago.

Here is what it looked like two weeks ago...


And here is what it looked like this time (where Gary and Howie are kneeling off to the right, was where I had entered the water in my boat on February 8th six weeks ago)...


The wooden board which had served as my makeshift raft to transport my equipment two weeks ago was now stranded about eight feet or so above the waterline. That's how much it has fallen in the previous two weeks of drought - about two and a half meters...


Not far from my old raft, I found the blue T-shirt I had lost whilst stumbling around in the pitch black two weeks previously...

Holding my battlestained blue Liberal flag, er, T-shirt.
The clouds and fog were so heavy that I was expecting rain any minute and had half a mind to cancel the whole trip, but Gary and Howie were adamant that they wanted to go ahead and I couldn't blame them given that they had gone to the trouble of buying their own boats and following me all the way out here - plus the likelihood that they wouldn't get another chance at doing anything this for a long time, if at all before they move to the U.S. later this year. And so we began to get things ready...

Myself, busy inflating the new boat which has four rather than the standard three air compartments.
Howie, using my spare pump to inflate his boat - almost done.
All three boats ready, with Gary's in the foreground being the same model and colour as my old one which I had also brought along as a spare in case of mishap.
Gary was like an eight-year old kid about to go on a roller-coaster for the first time. I couldn't believe how excited he was.
Entering the water. 
There are three points to remember about getting into the inflatable boat. The first is that given the floor is muddy and sticky, there will be some resistance to lifting either foot off the floor and into the boat - it is best not to compound this problem by weighing your movement down with additional pressure owing to water depth - so enter at the shallowest depth possible. The second, is to put whatever gear you are bringing with you to the front of the boat. The third is to get your backside in the approximate center of the boat and lie down rather than sit up - this will mean your weight is more equally distributed across the boat and you're less likely to take in water. Both Gary and Howie managed to get into the boats fine...

Howie lying correctly in his boat just after setting off from the shore of the bay.
Gary in particular was eager to reach a little island that had become exposed during the past two weeks of drought. Below is a shot on that little island with Gary in the foreground and Howie in the background and our boats on the other side. Behind both of them is the spit of land on the eastern shore on which I took a short breather during my return swim last time I was here (at that time the island was entirely submerged)...


The view from the little island out toward the main ravine which cleaves through the middle of the western shoreline - it is barely visible due to the fog...


And looking further to the north up along the shoreline toward the floating barge over a kilometer away; again it is almost invisible...


This time I had the good sense to fetch the spare pump along in one of my waterproof bags along with a spare boat. If either of their boats lost air on reaching shore, I would be able to pump it up again, or substitute it entirely if necessary; and if two boats had been damaged beyond repair, at least I knew I could swim the distance with relative ease this time, not being encumbered by having to push a makeshift cargo-raft out in front of me. Fortunately there were no mishaps. The crossing to the western shoreline was quicker than I expected, but there were two obvious reasons for this - the first was that there was absolutely no wind at all and so we had no waves to contend with whilst the second was that, because the waterline had fallen so much over the past two weeks, the floating barge had been moved yet further south still: it was now some distance to the south of the little gulley I had swam over to return to the barge last time. Even though the crossing was much quicker this time, Gary and Howie made hard work of it; they couldn't seem to put into practice my instructions as to how to paddle and handle their boats...


The paddle must be gripped with both hand at or near the top of the pole for maximum leverage and the angle at which the paddle enters the water must be as close to 90 degrees as possible to generate forward thrust with minimum lateral spin. Rightward and leftward strokes must follow one another, one each, in quick succession. If you look at this image above you can see that Gary has one hand at the top of the pole and one hand closer to the actual paddle and that the angle at which he is holding it is closer to 20 or 30 degrees.

Arrival at the floating barge.
Eventually, we arrived at the floating barge on the western shoreline and were very lucky to catch the (semi) wild boars still hanging around after having been fed bread by the kids on the tourist boat that occasionally glides up and down the reservoir...


Gary and Howie feeding them...


After they were done I popped across the shoreline briefly to have a look at some of the changes. I approached the gulley I had crossed previously but from the south this time rather than the north...



An incongruous looking tree stump had now emerged just a few meters to the right of where I had entered the water last time...


There wasn't much point in hanging around as any pictures I could have taken would have been rendered next to useless by the fog, so we set off again for the return journey back to the eastern shoreline...

Finally returning into the bay past the eastern shoreline - Howie is tired but gives the salute of satisfaction.
I was the last to set off but the first to make it back to the bay behind the eastern shoreline. Once out of the boat, I took pictures of the other two paddling their way back...






After we got everything packed up and put away we drove off to the little village of Dapu at the northern end of the reservoir. I was curious to see how low the water level had fallen here (since the reservoir's bed is sloped at a slight angle from north to south, and therefore the situation should be much worse than in the middle and south of the reservoir). Indeed, although there was still some water left in the reservoir, it was rapidly approaching dry-out point; the narrow stream grooves for deep water coursing through the muddy bed on either side were now visible just beneath the surface. Several years ago the drought had proceeded to such an extent that I was able to walk across the reservoir almost to the other side, so there is still some way to go yet before things are that bad...



After marveling at my account of previous high and low water points at Dapu over the last few years, Gary and Howie followed me back into the village where we stopped for a quick bite to eat and something to drink before the drive back to Tainan city.

It is a remarkable thing to record these highs and lows in photography.

Friday, 20 March 2015

"Reservoir Music"

Misadventure At Tseng-wen Reservoir

This is a delayed post on what I did two weeks ago. I made my second crossing of Tseng-wen reservoir but this time something went wrong, resulting in a memorable experience.

I left Tainan in the early afternoon and it was somewhat hazy, which was unfortunate, but wasn't going to stop me. On the drive up the east side of the reservoir toward the bay, I stopped and backtracked when I saw an eagle sat upon an electricity cable post...


Having just arrived at the bay, camera kit and other gear still strapped to the iron pony...


I was astonished to see just how much the waterline had fallen during the previous month since I had last been here (this was March 8th, and I had previously been here February 8th).


Later this summer when the rains finally come, all of this will be once again submerged leaving only the background trees above water.


The difference was about three or four meters; the black speck sitting at the foot of the trail to the right of the image below is my gear. On my previous visit the waterline had reached all the way up to that point.


I initially believed the water to be slightly choppier than last time as I embarked from the bay, but once I was eventually out onto the main body of the reservoir it wasn't quite so bad and I made the crossing to the floating barge in an hour just as I had last time. However, the barge had been moved further downstream from its' previous position in order to maintain its' proximity to the western shoreline - if it had stayed where it was, the fall in the waterline would have meant that the barge would be floating further out from the shore such that the bridge would have fallen short.

When I arrived and sought to disembark, something happened to cause the valve for the main air compartment to spring open and I lost about half of my air. I had been very careful to depress all three valves before I left and I was wary of getting a puncture as I disembarked, so it may have been that I stood on it by mistake or else had it pushed up against one of the tyres attached to the barge. Whatever the cause was, the result was a minor disaster and I couldn't help but laugh at myself...



Having left the pump back on the eastern shoreline, there was now no way my boat was going to get me back across for the return journey. I still had plenty of options, but I quickly decided that the two I preferred were (a) to see if I could find a local fisherman to give me a lift back across after I had taken my pictures, or (b) to find some way of bolstering the pressure differential (e.g. by adding polystyrene foam) to allow my boat enough float to get me back again. There was plenty of foam attached to the barge, and I guessed there might be some spare in the hold but there wasn't.

For perspective, the view back eastward across the reservoir from the western shore just above the floating barge. That tree-clad spit of land on the other side is about 1.2 kilometers away in a straight line, with another 1.3 kilometers to go from there to the bay where I began. However, the actual distances I traversed would likely have been somewhat greater than those since I was not rowing in straight lines; the total distance would have been closer to 3 kilometers than 2.5.


Further downstream to the south there is a very large ravine opening up the western shoreline of the reservoir at its' approximate center. In that ravine there are a number of vessels moored on a semi-permanent basis. My main objective for the trip had been to photograph this ravine and explore it if possible as well as the shoreline in between the ravine and my disembarking point. So I headed south on foot. I soon came to a smaller ravine which allows a presently dried-up stream to enter the reservoir from the mountains...



I climbed around it, since I was carrying my kit with me (later in the day, as darkness drew on, I would swim back across it twice in order to fetch my boat from the barge).


Looking back up the deserted western shoreline with haze in the distance. The only other living presence besides myself had been the birds and the herds of grazing wild boars...


After an hour or so, I finally made it to the ravine as the sun was going down...


The whole floating complex was apparently deserted - I called out but there was no response.



Google stitched those last three images together into the following panorama...


Looking up into the ravine and the mooring cable running almost parallel to the mountainside...



Notice the weathering marks from previous waterlines - the drop from there to the water was perhaps as much as five or six meters.


Finding nobody there to ask for help, I headed back across the shoreline to find bits of debris I had noticed on my way. The plan was to use a three meter long wooden board I had noticed as the basis for a raft...


I also found rope and a few other bits and pieces (which in the end I didn't use). I dragged the wooden board from up on the bushy highground all the way down to the shoreline, and then went back for my kit and brought that to the shoreline too before heading off back to the barge to retrieve the boat (which was when I had to swim across that narrow gap and back again). When I finally got everything together it was after 6.30pm and it was almost dark. I tied my boat to the wooden board by threading the rope through the oar-loops and fastening it inside the middle of the boat. I loaded all my kit into the boat atop the wooden board and tested it to see if it had enough displacement to bear my weight also without taking in water. It didn't. I had no other choice but to throw my shoes and T-shirt into the boat too and push it out in front of me for the long swim back in the dark.

And a long, cold swim it was. I left the western shoreline at 6.45pm and didn't arrive back at the bay until 8.30pm. It was a cloudy, still night but if I could have taken pictures of myself from afar - swimming back pushing this raft out in front of me - they would have been brilliant. That is the enduring image I have in my mind of the swim. That, and my occasional northward gaze to watch fireworks and other lights as well as the agonizingly slow pace at which the eastern cliffs loomed into view. I was never so glad to finally get back onto dry land and into warm, dry clothes.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

In Which I Suddenly Find A Need For A 3D Printer...

Last Sunday, I had an accident with my inflatable boat; after I had crossed from one shore to the other and was getting out of the boat, I somehow managed to pop open the valve for the main air compartment. I lost about half of the air before I realized what had happened.

The ensuing events are a story in themselves*, but today I bought a new boat with a screw-cap for the main air compartment valve - which should mean that last weekend's accident is far less likely to reoccur. However, this new valve has a far larger aperture requiring the pump outlet nozzle to be 2cm in diameter. My current pump has two nozzles the largest of which is only 1.5cm in diameter. Naturally, the shop that sells the boats doesn't sell the requisite air pumps or the nozzles to fit to them. And naturally, the shop that does sell the requisite air-pumps does not have any additional nozzles of the correct size. So I went to the most expensive outdoor equipment shop in Tainan city, which naturally does not have an outdoor air pump but does have pumps for use with an indoor electrical outlet**. These pumps do have the correct nozzle, but naturally the shop does not sell the nozzles alone, only the pumps with the nozzles included. So I just had to pay almost NT$500 for a piece of plastic mold.

And this is after I wasted my morning diagnosing a water problem in my house. All my water flow had stopped. Earlier in the week the plumber had insisted I just needed to use the pressure switch, but today that didn't work - he had merely assumed the solution because he was just an old man who couldn't be bothered to diagnose it properly. So instead I tried diagnosing it myself and found that the solution was to remove the pile of clothes I had stacked on top of my boiler - somehow they had induced the check valve from the tank to close, and removing them resulted in the re-opening of the check valve.

*Essentially I was stuck and ended up constructing my own makeshift raft out of flotsam I found lying about on the deserted shoreline.

**What is the point of an outdoor equipment store which sells equipment that can only be used indoors? For pity's sake it's like I'm living in Ankh-Morpork or something.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

On The Universities Of Durham & Edinburgh

The British magazine Spiked has published a list ranking British universities as to their stance on free speech on campus; green for free, amber for intervention and red for outright censorship. I am dismayed but not at all surprised to find that neither of the two universities I attended (Durham) and am familiar with from my postgraduate days (Edinburgh) - are in the green category.

Looking back at my undergraduate days at Durham, one of the things I am quite thankful for is my attendance at various, student-organized far-left environmental groups both in Durham and elsewhere (Oxford). It allowed me to realize relatively early on (at least compared to most people in my generation), that they could not be trusted to tell the truth and that I had been completely wrong about them. That was possibly the most consequential lesson I learned at Durham.

On Edinburgh - I have said this before, but it is worth saying again - I still often miss that city very much, but, with a few exceptions, I cannot say the same about the people I knew there.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

UNESCO & Lord Elgin

"UNESCO is determined to do whatever is needed to document and protect the heritage of Iraq and lead the fight against the illicit traffic of cultural artifacts, which directly contributes to the financing of terrorism..."

The UNESCO director general Irina Bokova as quoted in an AFP piece in the Taipei Times today.

It just goes to show that Lord Elgin knew what he was doing in Greece with the Ottoman Turks in charge. If I was in Bokova's position I would try to arrange for the purchase or else the extra-legal removal of valuable historical relics from, let us say, "vulnerable" territories. The various nationalists in those countries can scream all they want in years to come, but it doesn't matter: it is the only reasonable thing to do.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Piece On KMT Reform

"Chen ascribes much of the KMT’s unpopularity and recent electoral defeat to slow economic growth and unequal wealth distribution. Those are unquestionably serious issues and a real source of grievance with the public."

I disagree with this. To call something "unquestionable" when it is an opinion rather than a fact is to beg the very question thus dismissed. It is your opinion that "unequal wealth distribution" is a serious issue, but it is not a fact. I don't doubt for one moment that some majority of people will agree with your contention, but that alone does not make them correct (nor convert your opinion to a fact). The complaint against unequal wealth distribution matters because it is either one of two things (or a combination thereof): pure envy or the conflation of inequality of wealth with material poverty. Yet they are not the same thing and to conflate them is to commit the zero-sum fallacy. What gets people out of poverty is the day-to-day work of creating wealth, not "make-it-so" star trek people in government presuming to "redistribute" (i.e. steal) it.

The Taiwanese people who have been dispossessed by interest groups using the levers of political power (e.g. the Land Theft Act) to their advantage need their freedom, and in particular, their right to private property protected. If the Taiwanese are to have a future as an independent nation, then they must first demand their independence as individuals, and that requires a defense of rights, not as privileges bestowed by a newly "empathic" ruling class, but as protections from political power and the necessary premises for their sovereignty over themselves as individual human beings.

Complaints about "unequal wealth distribution" directly undermine any such effort, and indirectly insult the pride and intelligence of people who might otherwise be willing and able to try to better their circumstances without being treated like infants by their ruling Empaths.