Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Brilliant Morning At The Li Xi Weir In Wuchieh, Nantou County

Myself, on the south side of the Li Xi stream across from the weir and entrapment pen which diverts water to Sun Moon Lake.
It's Chinese New Year, which means a week off work. Obviously on Sunday morning there was the earthquake which caused that disaster here in Tainan, and that day's trip to Nantou was a write-off anyway due to the fog. The weather on Monday was brilliant but I stayed in Tainan for a barbecue. The weather forecast predicted the same brilliant sunshine for Tuesday and then cloud for the rest of the week, so I decided to try the Nantou trip again on Tuesday. And it worked out very well...

What I had planned to do, in order to make the most of the time and sunshine, was to take the midnight train up to Ershui and drive through the night into Nantou, rather than wait for the first morning train which would have delivered me into Ershui as late as 9.30 a.m. (assuming no delays). However, when I told Karen my plan, she demanded to come too, which meant negotiating some conditions: an early start, me picking up my motorbike at Ershui, and splitting up when we got to Wuchieh. The problem is that, having done it once in the fog and rain, I have a fearful regard for the approach road to Li Xi weir because it is narrow, with a precipitous edge of maybe five hundred meters, in bad condition being constantly eroded by several areas of falling water, has few passing places and is subject to periodically falling rocks much more so than other roads so advertised. I trust myself on a motorbike up there, but even then I am very wary. The local aborigines organize tourist trips to the weir using their (frankly brilliant) Mitsubishi Delica 4x4s, but I wouldn't fancy that road in any sort of normal car. No chance.

Besides that, I love being on my motorbike up in the mountains.

On the mountain pass well above Wuchieh village just after 10 a.m.. The concrete arch bridge in the distance was one of two structures I had come to take a closer look at; it carries water left to right from the Li Xi weir through a tunnel to Sun Moon Lake. The natural beauty of this area is typical of much of Nantou County beyond the little towns like Puli.
Focus on the bridge using the 18mm lens. The first time I saw this bridge two years ago I mistook it for a road, as probably many people have done previously.
Then the eagles arrived. One observation I have made on my travels is that, in the mountainous areas south of Taichung you can have a reasonable expectation of seeing several of these birds, but Taichung and north until you get to Taoyuan County, not so much (I have seen several at Shihmen reservoir). I had previously thought they'd be easy to spot in Taichung, Miaoli and Hsinchu counties, but either I wasn't far enough east (unlikely) or they simply aren't there. 
One of the difficulties of photographing eagles in flight is focus; you cannot rely on automatic focus because the mechanism is too slow and there is the chance of focusing on a tree branch or something, so you have to use manual focus which is especially difficult because the birds are in motion and you are making adjustments to try to get it exactly right all the time. Still, even when a shot isn't quite in focus - as is the case here - I still get something out of looking at it.
Better focus on this shot, but a second problem: light. The problem here is that to avoid a washed-out sky, you reduce the exposure value, which then makes it difficult to capture the subtle differences among the bird's darker colours.
Banking; my second favourite type of shot (after the perched shot) is to get the bird banking with the back of its wings fully exposed to the lens; I haven't quite managed it here, but it was close.
Eventually, the eagles began to get closer to our position on the road. This is possibly the best pick of the morning; the focus is on the right wing rather than the bird's face, but otherwise a good shot.
The most amusing problem is when the eagles actually get too close to focus properly on them. I'd like to think this is evidence of eagles having a sense of humour and purposefully taking the piss out of photographers.
Not too bad; some light to illuminate the far side of the right wing and the upper-left side of the body, but not quite enough to show off the whole bird. The yellow bill has too much light. At least you can distinguish the browns from the blacks along the body, tail and wings. 
When we got down into the village, I took Karen to the path toward Wuchieh reservoir and left her there to walk her dog and look around while I went off to get what I came for. The first thing was to get some close up shots of the suspended tunnel across the Zhuoshui river which is part of an otherwise underground diversion tunnel transporting water from the Li Xi weir to Sun Moon Lake. It replaces the old Japanese tunnel which had previously filled up Sun Moon Lake with water entirely from Wuchieh reservoir.

The spectacular concrete arch which supports the tunnel. Given that it was built in 2006 (seven years after the deadly earthquake that hit Nantou in 1999), it should be interesting to learn about its' construction methods and what was done specifically to "proof"  the arch from collapsing when a large earthquake occurs. 
There are two Chinese language signs there which give some information about the construction method for the diversion tunnel and the concrete arch bridge; the tunnel was made using an expensive Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) by The Robbins Company based in Seattle (this was something I already knew) and the bridge for the tunnel was made using "concrete lapping method with pre-erected composite arch" (or CLCA). It turns out that this is a method for making permanent falsework. The initial arch is made out of steel tubes which are then filled with concrete to act as falsework to build the rest of the bridge around. In this case they'd have started with parallel tubes filled with concrete and then used more steel tubes to form reinforcing boxes between the two parallel arches, and then filled these boxes with concrete. So... you've got an arch made out of steel reinforced concrete based on concrete-reinforced steel arches.
The other panel giving further information which I'll have to have translated to find out if it's interesting or not.
The concrete arch bridge in perspective, shot using the 10mm lens.
Close up shot of the other side using the 300mm lens. Note the series of steel ladders and platforms on the mountainside.
The arch, bottom left, followed by three Addidas-like concrete support columns and the concrete abutment on the other side with stairway and railings.
Close up on a section of the pipeline supported by the bridge; there is a narrow gangway on each side supplemented by lamp-posts and a ten-foot fence with barbed wire at the top. Why that was thought necessary I'm not sure because it's not obvious how anyone without a James Bond skillset (and budget) could get anywhere near it. Or were they worried about inexplicably suicidal engineers attempting to jump to their deaths? Or maybe one of the chief engineers just thought a barbed wire fence would look cool. Who knows?
The second of three adit points, this is Adit B which is level with the pipeline. Adit A, which is below the pipeline, is further back down the approach road  and just up from Wuchieh village, and Adit C is on the other side of the river well above the tunnel. They are basically access points to allow assessment and repair of the pipeline whenever there's an earthquake.
Overlooking the concrete arch and pipeline from the precipitous approach road to Li Xi weir.
Note the use of steel housing for the pipeline on the west side of the river which is to protect the pipeline from falling rocks. However, the obvious questions are (a) why isn't there a similar housing  for that section of the pipeline on the east side of the river, and (b) why isn't the entire pipeline covered with such protective steel housing in the event of high winds and rockfalls? It could be that there is a legitimate risk-analysis reason for this, or it could be that there is an engineering reason for it, having to do with the additional load stresses placed on the arch, or it could just be that the project manager couldn't secure the funding to finish the job properly. 
Leaving the concrete arch and pipeline behind, I followed the narrow approach road to the Li Xi weir. This was only my second visit and this time the weather was absolutely perfect, though it is still a very dangerous road. When I arrived at the widened section of road leading up to the weir, I parked my motorbike and took my kit with me over the wall, scrambling down a shale slope to a concrete ledge running parallel to the walled road. Toward the end of the road I noticed that there was a group of families already on the river bank messing about; they had got there by means of a gated ramp I hadn't noticed on my previous visit. I jumped down and approached them, saying hello and happy new year and began taking pictures. They all promptly left on my arrival which I presumed without thinking was because they were already going to leave anyway. But I must have looked a bit odd with all my kit.

On the northern shoreline looking westward toward the weir; the stream is relatively shallow and very fast as you can see from the white heads of the rapids. Further down closer to the weir and just after the last of those foaming white waves, I found the shallowest spot I could find and waded across. The waterproof material of my boots didn't matter because at several points the water rose half way up my shins and flooded the boots anyway. It was a small price and worth paying, but I should have brought my water-shoe sandals along specifically for this.
On the southern shore looking westward toward the weir gates and entrapment pen where water from the Li Xi stream enters the pipeline to be carried to Sun Moon Lake.
Close up on the entrapment pen gates; in addition to the outside grille, there is also an inner grille to prevent debris from entering the tunnel and you can see some of it floating about inside.
An even closer shot shows that the debris is mostly broken bits of driftwood, which is what you'd expect given that tourists who come to the weir tend to be few in number and those of them who get down to the riverbanks will be even fewer still.
Close up on the weir gates.
Standing on the weir lip looking upstream at the on-rushing rapids before they reach the concrete box for the water to be calmed before passing through the grilles for the entrapment pen.
The sedimentation tank beyond the entrapment pen; this is where the water from the stream, likely already very clean, is stilled so as to allow fine particles to settle to the bottom of the tank before entering the pipeline. The original Japanese diversion tunnel from Wuchieh reservoir had no such tank and the Zhuoshui river is Taiwan's largest river containing vast amounts of silt. Hence the erosion of the original Japanese tunnel and the necessity of its replacement with the pipeline and tunnel from Li Xi stream.
Looking downstream from the lip of the weir; the channel to the right is what lies behind the weir gates, and whilst some small amount of water is allowed through to maintain the stream as it winds its way down to enter the Zhuoshui river, there is also some additional water added to it from a small portculis to the side (and bottom) of the sedimentation tank to take away sediment-filled water. 
One last parting glance back upstream at the Li Xi; aside from the weir, the valley is utterly wild and unspoiled and is home to a number of protected species. A really beautiful area.
When I was finally done (at about 11.00 a.m.), I crossed the stream again and made my way up the narrow ramp and through the twisted metal gate, and lobbed the wall. The two poor, underfed guard dogs who are permanently chained up there barked nervously at me once again, and like last time I fed them some of my beef jerky - of which I had more than enough this time (they got three packets each, and I would have given them more but I didn't want to upset their stomachs with what is actually fairly rich meat). I tried waving to get the attention of staff inside the building to see if I could talk to them and get them to let me enter the premises and take pictures of the sedimentation tank, but I couldn't get there attention. They were probably watching TV. So I squelched off in my water-filled boots up the road to get my motorbike and drive back up to Wuchieh to meet Karen and drive back to Ershui. On the way, we passed by Minghu and Mingtan reservoirs once again, and with the weather being so good, I went back briefly to take a wide-angle shot of Mingtan from the road running past it on the west side...

The oddly shaped Mingtan reservoir.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Article On The UK Petition To Recognize Taiwan

Here. I suppose it won't be long now before I am banned and accused of being a "troll", as is the standard practice among Leftists when dealing with someone who disagrees with them. Maybe I should take a break for a while and stop commenting, for the sake of my own sanity.

***

The petition is little more than virtue signalling.

To take it at face value is ridiculous; it is in effect asking a government (Britain) whose own constitution is said to be "unwritten" though it is arguably laid out across several different historical documents, whose Parliamentary sovereignty and national independence is compromised by membership of the European Union, and whose constitutional safeguards (due process in the courts, trial by jury, the political independence of the Crown Prosecution Service etc) have been poisoned by legislation of successive governments (particularly Blair's)... to actually help another country whose diplomatic status is a mess, whose written constitution cannot be properly reformed for fear of Chinese aggression, and whose constitutional safeguards are little more than a questionable commitment to the absurd UN convention on human rights.

But it's a good idea because "democracy" or something.

This shallow, sanctimonious mythologizing of "democracy" is a serious problem which is not being taken seriously. There are at least two aspects to this "sacred democracy" problem. First, it clouds the issue which concerns the proper function of government; is it to safeguard the individual rights of the population and maintain some semblance of freedom, justice and order, or is it merely to pump out good numbers for GDP, CO2 etc and provide rule consistent with "the desires of the public" (i.e. instant mob-rule)? That clouding of the issue will serve as propaganda to protect the new government elect from criticism, in ways which the previous government could only have dreamed of. Second, it diverts attention away from the importance of constitutional forms and the limitations they set on the scope and exercise of political power.

***

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The February 2016 Earthquake in Tainan: The Collapsed Weiguan Jinlong Building in Yongkang District (永康).

I post this the day after what is without doubt the worst earthquake during my time in Taiwan. It turns out the magnitude of the initial quake at 3.57 a.m. was actually 6.4 with a series of 4-5 magnitude earthquakes following as aftershocks. I remember it as occurring at four in the morning, and it was frightening because unlike previous years when I lived in high rise apartments, I now live in a little two-story house which shook violently from side to side. It felt the same as smaller, 4-5 magnitude earthquakes had whilst in my old ninth floor apartment. The dogs were terrified, but following the aftershocks we all went back to sleep.

I had already planned another field trip to Nantou and had tickets booked early because yesterday was the start of Chinese New Year and I had expected the trains to be full. When I woke up it was slightly later than I had planned and I was still very tired, not having slept well (partly due to the earthquake and partly due to other things I had had on my mind). I rushed myself through the usual coffee-shower-dress-kit routine and pushed the scooter out of the garage at about 7 a.m. with the train due to leave at 7.11 a.m. I drove fast as the roads were still empty and managed to get there on time only to find out that all trains had been delayed by 30 to 45 minutes.

The weather forecast for Changhua and Nantou counties had been sunshine with some cloud cover and relatively warm temperatures. However, as the train finally approached Ershui I noticed that it was all overcast and grey with not a ray of sunshine anywhere. The drive out of Ershui to Shuili was quick, interrupted only by a quick stop at a McDonald's to scoff a couple of egg-burgers, and it was not particularly cold (though I was in full-kit just in case). After Shuili though, the drive along the winding and dangerous 131 up into the hills lead me further and further into an especially dense blanket of fog. I had to keep wiping the condensation from my visor every two minutes. Eventually, and still at some considerable distance from Wuchieh, I reluctantly conceded defeat: even if I had continued on most of the photographs I had planned would almost certainly be ruined by the fog. I would only be able to take a few close-ups, but not the perspective shots of the tunnel infrastructure I had really wanted. So I turned around and headed back to Ershui. I stopped briefly only to change the engine oil; the bloke said he had felt the earthquake all the way up here in Nantou.

There was a bit of a nuisance with the trains, as I was given a ticket without any notice that I had to change trains at Chiayi. In the absence of a conductor or other train staff, I guessed my way onto one and then another south-bound train, which turned out to be the wrong one, getting me back to Tainan at 4 p.m. rather than the 3.12 p.m. time my ticket had originally stated. Once I had the dogs out and had had something to eat, I decided to go down to Yongkang with Karen; we wanted to see the building that news reports were saying had collapsed, and as I knew the road on which it had collapsed well, I was curious as to which building it was. I was also beginning to feel guilty about (a) going back to sleep after the earthquake, and (b) continuing with my trip to Nantou even though I had heard about buildings collapsing. I should have cancelled my trip and tried to do whatever possible to help, but I didn't. 

We drove down on my scooter to find the road cordoned off by police, so we parked at the 7-11 and walked down the road. Karen was nervous and concerned that the cops would bark orders at us to go away, but they didn't and I just walked on in any case with my camera bag and tripod. It was now well after 6 p.m. and dark. As we approached the scene of the collapsed building it suddenly dawned on me that it was a building I had known for several years, as I used to look out on it from the windows of a building I used to work in. It had always been a source of mild curiosity to me because of its' design; it had those tiles on the outside so typical of Taiwanese residential buildings, but instead of the usual white, as with the houses, these were a dirty, blue-grey colour. Of course it also had the typical rainwater stains down one side, and the water-tanks on the roof of the building had been housed in some kind of sculpture. The overall impression was of a building that was trying to look good on a very limited budget, which generates mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is something distrustful and creepy about it - the dark choice of colour, the attempt to look good with sculptures at the top but not bothering to prevent the rainwater stains with ledges. On the other hand, there is a sense of admiration at the builders trying to do their best and make something look mildly different and interesting within a limited budget. This is the kind of mixed feeling I get when I look at many Taiwanese apartment buildings of a certain age (i.e. built twenty to thirty years ago). They almost look good, but not quite - they mean well, though there is something wrong with them.

Here's the pictures I took last night...

In this shot you can see where the building snapped - the exposed white surfaces are the ceilings of what, just Friday gone, was somebody's apartment.
Even at this late hour, there were still clouds of dust blowing off the collapsed building.
This tea-shop at the back had been commandeered as a first aid center for the survivors; note all the boxes of bottled water.
From the north side of Yongda road looking south: the building just literally snapped and fell across the road. 
The army had cordoned off the road to allow only rescue workers and emergency services personnel through.
There were reporters and TV crews everywhere, outnumbered only by the emergency workers and the Buddhist charities. I chatted to some of them for a while, and one of them nodded at my suggestion that the building had had structural defects.
Excavators and cranes were used to prop up the north side of the building to prevent it from rolling over on one side.
The rubble between the excavators is from the sculptures that had adorned the building's rooftop.
A refrigerator tossed out of the building by emergency workers trying to work their way through the debris to find possible survivors. News reports last night were that over a hundred people were still missing, and twelve had been confirmed dead.
Emergency services personnel confer with one another beneath the brilliant light of an illumination tower they had set up earlier.
Entering the building via an upside down balcony door or window.
Another chap at an exit point signalling for something to be moved. Periodically, we would see them throwing debris out of the exits so that they could move around inside.
A crane was employed on the west side to lift various bits of rubble and concrete out of the way.
It's not just the collapsed building and the people trapped inside and underneath. The building also destroyed several businesses on the opposite side of the street. Once the remaining survivors are pulled out and the dead all accounted for, it is going to take months to restore this area to working order.
The emergency services people - the fire brigade men in particular, deserve all the praise they can get for their efforts. The building is still probably very dangerous and they could be killed whilst inside looking for survivors. It is remarkable that only this building, and one or two others elsewhere, collapsed and that many more buildings didn't. Perhaps the building contained structural defects in the design of the steel rods or the quality of the concrete used. If it did, I would be surprised if this was an exception and there must be many people throughout Taiwan now (certainly in Tainan) who live in similar high-rise apartments who are asking for information on their design and construction, and probably quite a few who slept nervously last night. I am certainly glad I no longer live in a high-rise apartment.

For now, those survivors who haven't been hospitalized yet are being housed in a junior high school behind the building to the west. I used to drive past this school several times a week on my way to work. For a lot of these people, this has been a colossal personal disaster and the worst possible start to Chinese New Year. I probably can't house any survivors myself but I can probably find some other way to help. I have an acquaintance in a former DPP legislator for Tainan who lives in this area. I can probably help him with whatever he is doing to help the survivors.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Earthquake!

I was rudely awakened at about 4 a.m. earlier this morning by a series of earthquakes. A 4.9, a 4.3, and a 4.5, with a series of smaller aftershocks to follow a few minutes later. The dogs were terrified as my little house swayed and the earth made it's noises. It was quickly over and everything was OK this time. However, I have just heard that several buildings have collapsed elsewhere.

I am getting ready to leave for another reservoir trip, so I will write more later. I just hope the bloody train station and railway lines haven't been damaged...

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Saint-Nazaire Raid, March 1942



An incredible story, and Clarkson tells it very well with the aid of interviews with some of the then surviving principal soldiers. I like the way Bill Watson says this, with an intake of breath:
"It made you feel that you could stand up to the test. I think that it was a relief to know that one didn't fall apart."

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Who Is Ted Cruz?

I have not been paying much attention to the U.S. voting circus, but even the little attention I have given it has simultaneously felt like far too much and far too little. Far too much in that mixing too many non-reality-realities gives me a headache. Far too little in that I have missed an interesting detail. Apparently senator Ted Cruz openly called for getting rid of the ethanol subsidies that many Iowan farmers depend - whilst campaigning in Iowa. And he won. Now if that's true, then that is a fact that demands explanation.

A somewhat interesting article on Texas senator Ted Cruz, here. His aim of impeding the growth of the Federal government is laudable, but the scale of the task is surely way beyond any one man even if he were to become president. Still, I would like to be able to visit the U.S. at some point in my life, and the further away from totalitarian despotism it is, the better.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Katrina Pierson On Media Dishonesty

I do enjoy seeing people in the media take well-deserved and well-delivered criticism; this woman is perfectly tempered in telling it like it is (she's beautiful too).

That enormous discrepancy between Trump possibly getting some crowd numbers wrong and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama actually lying about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi is just beyond parody.
 

For the record, I think a Trump presidency - or any other presidency - won't be able to stop the fundamental rot in the U.S. The problem is as much psychological and cultural as it is political and at any rate is far too large in scale to be tackled by this or that politician or administration. That being said, the more Trump pisses on the establishment Republicans and the dishonest, PC-mad hacks in the media the more I like him.