Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Day in Puli (埔里)

Last month our company was closed on Taiwan's National Day holiday (雙十節) (a bit like the US's 4th of July) and so our managers organized a trip to take us all out for a day in the mountains of Puli (埔里).

As with any organized activity here in Taiwan, down-time is a no-no, and so we had a full day's itinerary: a trip to the largest Buddhist temple in the area: Zhongtai Chansi (中台禪寺), followed by a stop at the Puli Winery, and then a BBQ in the mountains with an option for paragliding!

Our first stop was the Zhongtai Chansi Temple, which is and an imposing and absolutely massive Buddhist temple that was designed by the same architect that designed Taipei 101 - currently the tallest building in the world.

It was quite an majestic temple, but I do have to say the new-age design just doesn't hold the same appeal for me as the old temples do. On the bright side, it did have some really great Buddhist artifacts on display throughout the property. They even have their own museum.

To be honest, I found the Temple's design a bit tacky, but it was impressive none-the-less. This is one Buddhist monetary with lots of dough! It seems to me that no expense was spared during the construction of it, and they have built a huge middle school and high school that looks just as nice as the temple. Even the monks seem to be living large - we saw of them walking around with blackberries! (NO JOKE!)

To match the grand scale of the building, the main entrance houses four of these HUGE statues that keep watch over the inner sanctuary:

My favorite statue at the temple was this little guy

who was placed just inside the door, facing out. He has a great view of the mountains and I assume is serving as a watch dog.

After our morning at the temple, it was off to the winery. I was really excited about this part of the trip because I love wine tours. From Napa Valley, California to Stellenbosch, South Africa I'm always up for a visit to a winery.

I have been to a couple dumpy wineries in my day (I'm thinking of the time my family and I went on a "wine tour" up in Erie, Pennsylvania.) but in general all of the wine tours that I have been on have been fabulous. Beautiful scenery and delicious wine makes for a very relaxing day of sight-seeing.

Of course, if I have learned one thing this year living in Taiwan it is this: expectations are cultural. And NOTHING is ever quite what I expect it to be here in Taiwan.

My first erroneous assumption was that wine was actually made at this winery. They don't make wine - at least not what I think of when I hear the word "wine." What they produce is rice wine.... totally different! As such, the beautiful fields of grapes that I was expecting were obviously absent - along with anything remotely resembling countryside scenery.

Unless you count a parking lot full of tour buses:

So, what did we find at Puli's winery??

Well, nothing remotely resembling a winery, that's for sure. Although people persist in calling it a such, the sign at the entrance gives you a better idea of what it actually is: a Products Exhibition and Sale Center. It possessed the romance of a shopping mall and the thrill of a grocery store.

In the past they did make their own wine, but production has moved to another site. What is left here is basically a large open floor filled with vendors hawking local food - lots of which is made with alcohol: Jell-o, bread, cake, snacks, gummy things, desserts, etc.

Being that we went on a holiday, the sale center was wonderfully crowded:

Can you find Nick in this Where's Waldo picture?

To be fair there was a rice-wine tasting area:

Not quite Napa Valley or Erie, PA for that matter....

They did have a museum with wonderfully incorrect English translations that Nick really enjoyed, but I have to say I didn't find many redeeming qualities myself.

And so, after my supreme disappointment at the Puli Winery, it was off to the mountains for a BBQ.

The mountains of Puli are quiet, and if you ignore the sprawling metropolis that is Puli -population 86,500 - the backdrop of mountains was beautiful and relaxing to look at. The amazing thing is that Puli, pictured above, is actually considered the countryside here in Taiwan. It sure look like a city to me!

There were lots of people paragliding in the mountains that day, unfortunately, the wind wasn't consistent enough for any of us to get up on a tandem run. But, I did really enjoy watching all of them floating in the sky above the mountains.

And so that was it, our trip up to Puli. Aside from the craziness of the winery, we had a great day up in the mountains and out of the city with our friends.

I guess I'll just have to wait until next time to have a go at paragliding!

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