Save The Sanctuary!

Sean McCormack’s inspirational venture, a shelter for abandoned dogs and other animals on the north coast of Taiwan, is facing closure after the authorities declared their structures on their new location illegal yesterday (November 20th), despite assurances in the past on the contrary. In Sean’s words: Public Works came this morning. They said we have to destroy the kennels, even though they advised us we could remove the roofs and lower everything to legal height, which we have spent a lot of time and money doing instead of finding a new place. Judy will be calling Mr. Kao, the official overseeing our case, to find out why this is happening.

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Sanctuary residents get a walk

The Sanctuary is a not-for-profit organization established in 2010 and run by expat and local animal lovers to give a home to abandoned, injured and unwanted animals. Its mission, in its own words, is ‘To relieve the suffering of animals in the Taipei City and Taipei County areas, through rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming…‘ Presently over 200 dogs, plus various other animals, including cats, birds, squirrels, and even pigs, call The Sanctuary home. Unfortunately, through reasons beyond its control The Sanctuary is suddenly facing eviction from its present location, and with a long and wet winter coming up soon, a new home for The Sanctuary’s many animal residents is urgently needed. 

In Taipei the ‘problem’ of stray dogs (which make up the vast majority of The Sanctuary’s residents) is usually dealt with through animal pounds, where dogs are kept for 12 days (apparently in horrible conditions) and then put to death if a new family isn’t found for them. According to the makers of Twelve Days (十 二夜), a Taiwanese documentary from 2013 that unflinchingly describes the circumstance in which the dogs are held, about 200 dogs a day are put to death in the city’s animal shelters.

By contrast animals lucky enough to end up at The Sanctuary are given a home for life if they prove unsuitable for adoption (or don’t manage to catch the eyes of an adopting family). It already sounds very nice on paper, but to really appreciate just how amazing what’s happening at The Sanctuary really is, you should pay them a visit, and maybe treat a dog or two to a walk.

Recently moved in, and soon to be booted out - the  new location for the Sanctuary is sadly destined to be short-lived one

Recently moved in, and soon to be booted out – Sean McCormack at the new location for the Sanctuary, which may sadly be a short-lived one

A group of us headed up to Fugui Cape (Taiwan’s northernmost point) to say hi to Sean and his animal wards on a drizzly Sunday in mid November, and were ferried from the bus stop up to the shelter by Sanctuary manager Judy, who met us at the bus stop in a battered hatchback car – the Sanctuary’s solitary vehicle – whose seats were spattered in mud from resident dogs that had recently hitched rides in the back. The Sanctuary’s new location (they’ve only been there a few months) was similarly simple and functional, with dirt tracks leading up to a series of shelters where small groups of dogs barked excitedly as Sean walked up to them, talking to each in turn. His utter sincerity and dedication to them is immediately clear as mud. Later we take a group of lucky pooches for a walk along the back roads offering views over Taiwan’s northernmost point, and as we walked, Sean gave us the back story of each animal – how it was bought in wounded from being hit by a car, was found huddling scared in the central reservation of a busy highway, or had been caught in an animal trap that was slowly severing its leg. Sean and his team have worked miracles in getting dogs that most of us would pity, and restoring them to physical and – even more amazingly – mental health. Before we met the dogs, Sean cautioned us not to feel sorry for them, as they’d pick up on the vibes and would then feel unsettled. Walking among a group of ten of these miraculous rescues trotting at the end of ten leashes, it’s difficult  not to smile at just how full of life and energy they are, and impossible not to feel moved, grateful, and even a bit humbled that animals that have been through far more than most of us will ever have to face, have managed to turn over a new leaf and continue to live life with a fighting spirit and sheer love of living that puts us privileged yet too-often unsatisfied humans to absolute shame.

You can judge a man’s character by the way he treats his fellow animals. Paul McCartney hit the hammer on the head with those words, unlike narrow-minded critics of the Twelve Days documentary who opined that its makers would have been putting their exertions to better use by making a film spotlighting the suffering of humans in Taiwan instead. Visiting The Sanctuary is one of the more eye-opening things I’ve done in over twenty years of living in Taiwan. Sure, the island’s magnificent landscape is a powerful testament to our amazing natural world, but it’s never inspired me quite like the inspiring work being done at The Sanctuary. The extraordinary spectacle of blind dogs, dogs with only three working legs, and dogs who suffered from starvation, cruelty, or various diseases stemming from neglect such as mange getting so much from a simple walk is an extraordinary education. We’d be vastly better  humans if we could only follow their example and adopt just a fraction of their loyalty, enjoyment of life’s tiny pleasures and sheer love of life.

Helping The Sanctuary

The staff at The Sanctuary is doing a priceless job of giving animals that were facing a painful end a happy new life, and I’ve no doubt that they’ll find a way through this latest kick in the gut. It must be incredibly hard though – less than a month of fundraising for them at our group Taipei Hikers has proved pretty tiring, and I don’t know how they manage to do it year in, year out. To help out, it’s possible to sponsor an animal living at The Sanctuary (you can also send them a donation or pay the vets fee for a recently rescued animal directly). They’ve also set up a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo which is continuing until December 1st. They’re also always looking for people who can adopt their adoptable animals, and for people to give a dog or two a walk (which is a surprisingly enriching experience for the walker as well as for the dog!).

The Sanctuary counts Jane Goodall among its supporters, so please consider getting involved too: it’s an awfully good cause!

The Sanctuary Facebook Page 

The Sanctuary Website

Sean McCormack’s Facebook Page (the latest on the battle to keep The Sanctuary going)

Walking a few of The Sanctuary's residents

Sean and friends walking a few of The Sanctuary’s residents

The Daylily Mountains of Hualien and Taidong

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Liushidanshan

Liushidanshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

Winter is returning, and with it the Yangmingshan Calla Lily festival, which means that once again while heading up Yangmingshan to teach students there twice a week I’ll have to share the bus with gaggles of giggling young couples clutching armfuls  of white calla lily blooms.

What’s the big deal with calla lilies and the annual Jhuzihu Calla Lilly Festival? What drives so many to venture up into frigid, mist-shrouded Yangmingshan at the nastiest time of year just to see a muddy fields of apple-green foliage studded with white funnel-flowers which don’t even have a scent? Those who seem to think that the calla lillies at Jhuzihu make a fine display in the early months of the year really must make a point next summer of hiring a scooter, renting a car, joining a tour, or otherwise finding some way to get down to Taiwan’s east coast during the hot months (August and September are best) and see one of Taiwan’s most astounding annual sights: the blooming of the three great daylily plantations in southern Hualien and northern Taidong Counties that grow these golden buds for use in soup and other dishes in countless restaurants around the island. It’s not necessary to love flowers, to be in love or to even have any special interest in the natural world to be moved by the magnificence of the display that unfolds each year in August and September at three main places: Liushidanshan (六十石山) and Chihkeshan (赤科山) in southern Hualien County, and Taimali (太麻里) in Taidong County.

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Among the three, my favorite is Liushidanshan (which is also the easiest to reach – eight kilometers from Highway  9 – the main route through the East Rift Valley) but in full bloom, the first two are compulsory stops on any summer visit to the East Rift Valley, while Taimali makes an unforgettable stopover while heading south from Taidong city along the coast.

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Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading ‘Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake’

Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan

Hua Island Lighthouse

Hua Island Lighthouse

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Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island's north coast

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island’s north coast

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Hua Island (花嶼), with no airport and only three weekly boats connecting it with the outside world, is probably as far off the beaten track as you can go in Taiwan, short of walking several days into the high mountains. It’s the westernmost island in the Penghu archipelago (and is often quoted as being the westernmost point in Taiwan; in political talk Matsu and Kinmen belong to the ROC but are not part of Taiwan itself – look it up!). Quickly moving away from a highly sensitive subject, I think we can all agree that given it’s lack of connections with the rest of the world, Hua Island is something of a backwater. Continue reading ‘Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan’

Adrspach Teplice Rocks: an amazing ‘Rock Town’ in the Czech Republic

In the Adrspach Rocks

In the Adrspach Rocks

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

The lake at Adrspach

The lake at Adrspach

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The Mayor and Mayoress - the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

The Mayor and Mayoress – the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

Off the tourist paths

Off the tourist paths

Looking at photos of the amazing ‘rock town’ of Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, it’s easy to assume that this is someplace in China, perhaps. Certainly before I went, I’d never have guessed such an arresting landscape could have been found in …the Czech Republic… but yep, it is – up near the Polish border, about 170 kilometers from Prague, and the largest and most spectacular of several geological curiosities found in this part of Europe, both in the Czech Republic and over the border in Germany, near Dresden. Continue reading ‘Adrspach Teplice Rocks: an amazing ‘Rock Town’ in the Czech Republic’

Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe

Sucha Bela Gorge

Sucha Bela Gorge

Piecky Gorge

Piecky Gorge

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Summer is long gone, and my travels in eastern Europe seem like a distant memory by now, but before catching up with a few of the remarkable places in Taiwan we’ve been exploring the last couple of months, I had to make a brief blog about two amazing European day-hike spots, one each in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Continue reading ‘Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe’

Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem

The 'cave' on the Shanghuang Stream

The ‘cave’ on the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

Yangminshan has a couple of classic river traces – the wonderful Masu Stream (still one of my favorite river traces to date) and the popular Toucian Stream – a very popular place for beginners to learn the art of river tracing. The remaining river traces in the national park (and it’s beginning to look like there are quite a few good ones!) seem to be the preserve of keen local river tracers, and, if our discovery of this real gem last week is any indicator, there are some jealously kept secrets on YMS waiting to be discovered by the rest of us!

We only discovered the Shanghuiang Stream and its amazing gorge/cave scenery after a member of our hiking group posted a video of two blokes kayaking (yes, kayaking!) down it (probably after a typhoon). Continue reading ‘Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem’


Hi and thanks for visiting!

I'm a musician (a pianist) and writer who's been living in Taiwan since 1993. This blog is a new attempt to document my travels all over Taiwan and the outlying islands. I have written six books (Taipei Day Trips I and II, Yangmingshan: the Guide, Taipei Escapes I and II, and The Islands of Taiwan). Most of my post-April 2010 trips will hopefully appear here, along with some favorite past explorations, many of which are based on articles from a column I wrote (called 'Off the Beaten Track') for the China Post newspaper, here in Taiwan.

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