Saturday may or may not have dawned cold, damp and gray; I didn’t wake up until well past dawn. Regardless, it was cold, damp and gray when I left the hotel at 10 a.m., eager for the day’s adventures.
My host and hostess were Frieda and Ray, two of my Taiwanese co-workers. Frieda and I’d discussed plans to get together throughout the week, but I’d not had much opportunity to consider the specifics. Saturday, we were on our way before I knew where we were going: Taiwan’s Coal Mine Museum. We were outside of Taipei before I fully appreciated the scope of the adventure. Frieda doesn’t have a vehicle so Ray was recruited to be our designated driver. At some point I believe he asked her why she’d picked a destination so far away from the city.
While Thursday’s trip to the Night Market was an opportunity to join in everyday living, Saturday’s excursion to the Coal Mine was an opportunity to experience a local adventure. This was not the traditional “Let’s take the American tourists to see _____.” In fact, if you follow the link to the Coal Mine Museum’s website you’ll get a taste of what I tasted – a day of local tourism with very little English for the stray foreigner.
Our first stop was the village of Jingtong, where the miners lived. We strolled around checking out the train station and other bits of nostalgia.
Here are Ray and Frieda standing in front of a fence bearing wishes and prayers. The wishes/prayers are written on the bamboo wind chimes and hung there for prosperity. We enjoyed lunch at a small café owned and operated by the father of another Taiwanese co-worker.
After a few wrong turns (consistently noted by Ray saying “oops!”) we finally made it to the mine itself (and the museum). Almost every wrong turns resulted in a u-turn in a space hardly wide enough for the vehicle to sit long-ways, but in one case Ray successfully drove in reverse back up a narrow alley…almost a quarter of a mile.
Once at the mine, I found myself in need of the “facilities” (yes, only Eastern-style floor-mounted horizontal urinals), this is important information only because it confirmed my suspicions and further contributed to my willingness to risk dehydration vs. the inconvenience of potty breaks. With that behind me (pun intended) we were ready to learn about mining in Taiwan.
Our tour began with a video that lasted about 10~15 minutes. Frieda occasionally translated interesting tidbits, otherwise all that I learned came from the images (subtitles were in Chinese). It seems the mine was in operation from the 50’s through 1997, closing due to price pressure from foreign sources. The museum was opened by philanthropists interested in maintaining local awareness of this part of Taiwan’s history.
After the video we climbed aboard a small coal train. The cars were modified with wooden slats to create benches for passengers. We were given instructions (Frieda translated) to not stand up or climb out or otherwise behave foolishly.
All of my foolishness was inspired by the freezing rain. At this point I’m wearing Ray’s ski vest and a disposable raincoat purchased by Frieda. Otherwise I’d have been huddled in a corner of the coal car, pathetically shivering and whining about the cold. It was about 48F. And wet. Did I mention it was cold and wet?
We then travelled a short distance to a site where the coal was dumped out of the cars onto a conveyor belt and transported to a washing station. Fascinating, right?
After we were thoroughly exposed to the elements, we went back to the mine and entered a replica of a real shaft (we were not allowed into the real mine because it was considered too dangerous). We were regaled with interesting tales told in rapid-fire mandarin by a guide who never stopped for air (or allowed time for translation).
I studied all of the interesting photos, which included one of great interest to all. It seems that in the shaft conditions were quite warm, resulting in men and women alike working in their underwear.
Frieda finally admitted this was her 3rd time through the tour and I finally admitted I was freezing. Ray had long since wandered off to explore some of the mining equipment on display, so we bailed on the remainder of the tour and headed back down the mountain. We only made one stop before depositing me at the hotel – at the local 7-11 (there’s one on every block!) to pick up a cup of hot coffee and a bottle of red wine. The coffee addressed my immediate need for warmth and the red wine was in preparation for my next adventure: Saturday evening at Molder’s. But that story will have to wait!
If only I wasn’t working so hard I could spend more time telling you about the good times I’m squeezing in between the drudgery.