The Great Sun Moon Lake Quiz!
Test Your Taiwan Been-There Done-That Knowledge
Text / Rick Charette
Photos / Tourism Bureau, Nantou County Government, Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area
Yes, step right up folks, and dive right into the Great Sun Moon Lake Quiz, testing the depths of your knowledge of one of Taiwan's great resort destinations, her largest natural freshwater lake, nestled in a high-mountain basin near the island's exact geographic center - home of the colorful Thao native people, encircled by peaks oft shrouded in cloud and mist.
The rules are simple. A series of multiple-choice questions are asked. Players who have been to the lake and correctly answer six or more out of the ten questions qualify as "Old SML Hands." Those who haven't been there need just four or more. (Note: provisional status only; another trip to area necessary within one year for full qualification.)
Let's launch, shall we? For your convenience we provide the correct answers right under the multiple-choice entries, so no peeking beforehand.
Question 1 / Lake Creation
Where does the "Sun Moon" in the place name come from?
- Sun and Moon are names of original, separate lakes, with marsh between
- Sun Moon is name of a monk who established a retrea there
- Locals like to watch celestial bodies reflected in waters in that order
The first answer is correct. In the past, two lakes existed here, named after their shapes, their waters lower, today's Lalu Island then a high hill called Lalu Mountain, sitting between. During their 1895-1945 period of colonial rule the Japanese dammed the lake for a hydroelectricity plant and diverted water from a river about 15 kilometers away to power their great lowland industrialization projects. Lalu Mountain was almost drowned, and the lakes and their names were merged. The Nationalist government later raised the waters further.
The lake is 748 meters above sea level, maximum depth 38 meters, average 30 meters. It measures 7.93 sq. km.
The lake has a daily "tide" of a meter or higher. During daytime peak power usage the lake is drawn down for the dam; at night power is cheaper, and is then used to pump in fresh water from the distant river. The gentle churning from dam intake, freshwater pumping, and the tide are said to be behind the plumpness of the lake fish, who enjoy superabundant nutrient supply.
Question 2 / Natural Treasures
What is the "President's fish"?
- Private lake stock only Taiwan's president can catch
- A local fish late president Chiang Kai-shek loved to eat
- The largest and most aggressive of local fish
The second answer is correct. CKS had a villa here, and developed a fondness for cyuyao , a fish that is a bit bony but tasty. This and other local specialties can be enjoyed at local restaurants: freshwater shrimp, mushrooms, wild boar, bitter mountain gourd, and three-cup bamboo partridge. There is also lake-specific cili fish, best deep-fried.
For fauna perhaps best not enjoyed on your plate, note that the lake is a prime mid-elevation birdwatching area. Watch for the grey-cheeked fulvetta, Formosan yuhina, gray tree pie, bamboo partridge, Chinese bulbul, Muller's barbet, black bulbul, black-crowned night heron, and green-winged teal.
Question 3 / The Thao
Where do you go to see Thao song-and-dance performances and their arts and crafts?
- Dehua Village
- Lake-cruise boats
- Surrounding hills
The first answer is correct. The Thao are a small tribe, numbering somewhere over 400, but with increased control over their homeland's direction prospects have bettered and numbers are increasing. They received formal recognition as a distinct aboriginal group in 2001. Their greatest concentration is at Dehua Village, on the southeast shore. Local architecture reflects native themes. There are a number of gift shops here, the largest with a theater and scheduled performances of the traditional songs and dances of Taiwan's major tribes. Buy a gongma basket here, used to store ancestors' clothing, worshipped by many Thao as containers for the spirits of their forefathers.
Dehua is also called Sun Moon Village. The original settlement lies under the waters before town, flooded by the hydropower project. Lake-cruise craft pass overhead when stopping in at the town's pier. The Thao are believed to be related to the Tsou of the nearby Alishan area, drifting and resettling here in historical times because of the fish and game.
Question 4 / Lalu Island
What makes Lalu Island/Lalu Mountain sacred?
- The Nationalists for a 50-plus-year period renamed it Glory of China Island
- The tribe's ancient burial grounds are here
- It is the lake's prettiest landmark
The second answer is correct. Most lake-cruise craft circle Lalu Island, which almost sank under the waters in Taiwan's terrific 1999 earthquake. The main Thao settlement used to sit at the mountain's base, and the tribe's burial grounds were on its slopes. The Thao today have full control over the island, and Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area authorities allow tribal input in area-development matters. The NSA was set up after the earthquake to help the regional tourism and economic recovery.
Today non-tribal folk cannot step foot on the island, which is now surrounded by a thick carpet of "floating fields" - Thao aquaculture efforts initiated since its handover with results that can be savored in lakeside restaurants. Watch for the lake's waterfowl hiding amidst the greenery. Note the maples on the island, also sacred.
"Lalu" is a Thao exclamatory phrase, i.e., at the splendor of Sun Moon Lake.
Question 5 / Syuanzang Temple
Syuanzang was a person. Who?
- The famous monk in "Journey to the West"
- Once headmaster at China's Shaolin Temple
- Founder of a famous Taiwanese charitable Buddhist group
The first answer is correct. Heading west from Dehua Village, the hilliest section of the lake's loop road is traversed. Atop the hill at the peninsula's base - the peninsula splits the vestiges of Sun and Moon lakes - is the stately three-story Syuanzang Temple. In Tang Dynasty (618-906) architectural style, built in 1965, the temple honors the famous monk (602-664) of the Tang-period whose travels to/from India form the core of the classic novel Journey to the West. A sacred shard of his skullbone is within, and that's not all. A solid-gold, jewel-encrusted mini-pagoda in the main shrine holds shelizih nuggets, found in the cremated remains of great Buddhist masters, brought back from India by Syuanzang. Shelizih are supposedly formed by the forging of spirit and energy over a lifetime of meditation and discipline. The Buddha's remains yielded 12 cupfuls.
In 1955 a Japanese monk brought the Syuanzang skull-fragment, war booty taken from China in WW II, to Taiwan at the request of Chiang Kai-shek. He handed it over and, it is said, died on the spot; today his ashes sit in a nearby wooden pagoda.
Question 6 / Syuanguang Temple
Where can I see Syuanzang the monk in three-dimensional form, done up in gold?
- At gift shops in Dehua Village
- On Lalu Island
- At Syuanguang Temple
The third answer is correct. Also dedicated to the monk Syuanzang, this temple sits at the tip of the peninsula on which its sister Syuanzang temple also resides. Here one finds a gilt statue of the monk. From a pier below the structure visitors can hire rowboats/motorboats for fly-bys of nearby Lalu Island. The Syuanzang relics were housed here before the newer, more ornate temple was built.
Question 7 / Cihen Pagoda
For what purpose did Chiang Kai-shek have this structure built in 1971?
- As a lookout against Communist Chinese attack
- As a fire tower
- As a memorial to his mother
The third answer is correct. On a peak below the lake's south side, the ornate, nine-tier Pagoda of Filial Virtue was built to honor his beloved mother. The lake-basin's hills are said to have reminded him of his mainland home in Zhejiang Province . The tower is 48 meters tall, making it the tallest pagoda in Taiwan, and it reaches exactly 1,000 meters above sea level - one of many touches giving this site perfect fongshuei harmony. The 500-meter stone path up through Mt. Shabalan's cool glades of pine, maple, fern, and bamboo to the site (there is also side-road access) begins at a point 600 meters southwest past Syuanzang Temple along the loop road. The pagoda is lit up at night, and the nighttime views of the basin that it offers are spectacular.
Question 8 / Wunwu Temple
What does the "Wunwu" mean?
- Daoist and Buddhist
- Civil and Military
- Mountain and Water
The second answer is correct. On the lake's northeast side, grandiose Wunwu Temple was damaged severely in Taiwan's great 1999 quake but is now restored to health. The massive complex has three levels. The lower have shrines to warrior deities, Guangong and Yue Fei , both famous historical personages, both generals of admirable character. The uppermost level is dedicated to civil/literary beacon Confucius. The Confucius hall sits higher as declaration that, ultimately, the pen is mightier than the sword.
The two giant, auspicious stone lions guarding the grand entrance staircase, in conspicuous red, are Asia's largest. The seven-meter-tall, vividly painted main-door gods rivet one's gaze; the doors themselves are carved from solid camphor. From the hill up and behind the civil-god hall you can enjoy sweeping views of the placid lake.
Question 9 / Fireworks Festival
Who sets off fireworks over the lake during this annual event?
- The local fire department
- Thao warriors
- International fireworks teams
The third answer is correct. This festival sees the best fireworks teams from around the world dazzling onlookers on land and water with their scintillating technical and creative powers, hurtling fiery artworks through air and bouncing their reflections off cloud and mirror-like water. The main shows are off Chaowu and Shueishe piers . Other attractions are drama performances by international troupes, laser and dance performances, and street performances by international talent in Shueishe village .
Question 10 / Sun Moon Lake International Swimming Carnival
Do humans sometimes swim in great massed packs across the lake?
- I dunno
The answer is "Yes"; the "I dunno" didn't count. This annual cross-lake swim, held in November around the time of the fireworks extravaganza, is open to all bravehearts, including the physically/mentally challenged, and sees thousands of swimmers cross the lake from Shueishe to Dehua Village. There are no true "winners," for the point of the event is to promote love of nature and exercise. The multi-day celebration also features a Music Fountain performance and street performances, tug-of-war on boats, boat-relay race, and what is called an "above-water" treasure search.
The waters of Sun Moon Lake are only opened for swimming once a year, save for a controlled, open-water, seasonal "swimming pool" near the Sun Moon Lake Youth Activity Center . So don't miss the chance!
The village of Shueishe, on the lake's north end, is where the SML National Scenic Area info center is located, along with the greatest concentration of local restaurants and accommodations. Here also is the main pier for boat cruises (Shueishe Pier; prices depend on group size; rowboats available), now framed by a lovely boardwalk that reaches all the way around to Hanbi Peninsula Scenic Park to the southwest. There are also tours from three other piers. Plans are that the shore-hugging boardwalk will eventually circle the lake; other sections have already been built.
The lake is ringed by a wide, well-paved road. Walking is pleasant, but a leisurely circuit may take the entire day. Bike tours are highly recommended, the grades not difficult. Rental facilities are found at the Sun Moon Lake Youth Activity Center (also camping, BBQ facilities), on the southeast shore.
Note that there are many more attractions lying just outside the lake area in landlocked, mountainous Nantou County. Perhaps foremost among these is nearby Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Bring your walking shoes, for you'll be traversing nine major areas featuring faithful village mock-ups for Taiwan's major tribes, with live demos and song-and-dance shows. Beyond the educational, recreational family fun is at hand with an expansive amusement-park area.