Igor Tolkov
Software Engineer, Facebook
Co-founder and Lead Developer, taiLib
University of Washington, Class of 2013
B.Sc. Mathematics, Physics; B.Sc. Computer Science; B.A. Linguistics

Welcome!

I am a STEM quadruple major and recent University of Washington graduate. I currently work as a Software Engineer at Facebook.

Read more about me via the links on this page, and feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

Timeline

2014Apr+Software Engineer @ Facebook
2013Aug-Undergrad @ UW
2012JulChina Trip
2011FebtaiLib Launch
2009Aug-DecStudy Abroad in Europe
2007Sep+Undergrad @ UW

Contact Me

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If you can guess where the cover photo was taken, I will add your name to a list of winners (coming soon).

Blog

Here are the latest photos and posts from my blog.





















After I returned from Tamsui, J. and I had lunch near Dongmen. The place is called Kao-chi, and they specialize in shengjianbao. After lunch we went to another place where we had shaved ice. We also explored an underground mall and a department store.

That evening I went to the Shilin night market. Special mention to the hujiaobing stand - they sell crispy dumplings cooked in a large pot. The line was long, and I regret only buying one.





















This is Tamsui (Danshui, meaning “fresh water”, as contrasted with “salt water”). It is here that Tamsui River meets the Taiwan Strait. Here also is the history of George Leslie Mackay, a dentist-missionary who lived here.

Tamsui is a lovely place, and it’s a pity that I had so little time to spend here.





















It’s several months late, but I would like to finish my Taiwan story.

The taxi dropped me off close to the Taichung railway station (not HSR), and I bought the train ticket to Taipei. By this time, my phone battery was dead, but I had plenty of backup power on my laptop. So, I connected the phone to the laptop, turned it on, tethered the laptop back to the phone, got on-line, found the number for the hostel, and used the train station’s payphone to call the hostel and warn them that I would be arriving late. This was the last logistical difficulty on the trip, except for the return to the US - the next few days in Taipei would be more or less straightforward.

The train arrived in Taipei Main Station around 12:10, that is, twenty minutes before the last MRT trains leave the station. I made my way to the hostel. Once there, I found my room, dropped all the luggage in a corner, connected all my electronics to the wall, took a much-needed shower, and quickly fell asleep.

I began the day with a delicious meat dumpling. What followed was basically a mash-up of places in central Taipei. I didn’t have much of a clue of what I was doing, except I visited Freedom Square (CKS was, incidentally, closed on the same day for renovation), biked along the river, and saw the old street.

That day I had dinner with J. I don’t remember the location, except if probably thought it was a Korean restaurant because we got complementary side dishes.

Next: Tamsui, followed by lots of yum.


27.0 km - Sammammish River Trail


42.1 km - Lake Sammammish


50.7 km - Crossing Lewis Creek


52.2 km - Uphill climb on the I-90 trail


69.4 km - Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, Renton


74.0 km - Renton Municipal Airport


84.3 km - Rest stop near Genesee Park, Seattle


89.3 km - Downtown Bellevue, seen from Lake Washington Boulevard near Leschi Park, Seattle


95.2 km - Montlake Bridge


95.8 km - University of Washington Light Rail Station construction zone

Today was my first long ride of the season, as I went around the lake (Washington)… and the other lake (Sammamish). There was a lunch stop at Genki Sushi in Factoria Mall.

Total length: 109.9 km.
Wall time: 7:09:03
Saddle time: 5:19:47 (lunch took 41 minutes)





















It’s already mid-January, but I would like to share my goal for this year. In 2014 I logged 3025 km of biking, but I only started biking regularly in May. In 2015, I will bike 6500 km, or 125 km per week.

This is actually really easy. If I simply biked to work and back every weekday for a year, I would be almost there. But I won’t do that. I’m not persistent enough. So, there will be lots of interesting bike rides, lots of exploring.

Here are photos from my ride on the 31st of December. (If you follow that link, you get an elevation profile and a map.) By tradition, every year I get on my bike and go around my friends’ houses, delivering gifts. This tradition stalled somewhat over the past few years, but this time I was ready to resume it. This time I had to make two stops: one in North Lynnwood, the other in Brier. On the way to Lynnwood, I took the coastal route, which passes through Edmonds.

The day was clear and very cold.

This evening I was at the 46th District Town Hall Meeting chaired by Sen. David Frockt, Rep. Gerry Pollet, and Rep. Jessyn Farrell. The representatives made brief opening remarks and proceeded to answer questions about the upcoming legislative session.

My notes are below. DISCLAIMER: These are summaries that attempt to match the spirit of what was said - as such, they likely contain errors.

Main topics for the next legislative session:

  • Education
  • Climate change
  • Income inequality and racial injustice

Questions:

Do you plan to obey by the McCleary decision and implement Initiative 1351, and how?

  • We have to obey the court order. Initiative: maybe. The Senate thinks $740 million are needed for maintenance/supplies. According to the superintendent, it’s: $3.6 billion per year. I hope to find a way to fund initiative, but its a complicated fiscal challenge.

On Eric Garner: will there be legislature dealing with excessive force, grand juries, or prosecutorial independence; and, if so, what?

  • Very concerned. This is a very difficult, multifaceted issue. I will ask myself as I do my day-to-day business: am I adding to systems that are unjust or undoing injustice? I am not proposing new legislation, but will be supportive.
  • Body cameras are a development. Don’t forget that we are under DoJ review for excessive force.
  • I am very surprised by how evidence was presented to the grand jury. It is important for people to be treated justly by the system and to be able to get out of the system once their in it. For example, we can sometimes seal records so that people can get a job. No specific legislation, but open to ideas.

Legislative rules limit the number of years retirees can work. This creates a problem for substitute teachers. Can anything be done about the rules set in 2008 about substitute teachers?

  • We have a problem and need to fix it now.

I am proud that I-1351 passed but worried that it won’t get implemented; proud that the legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, losing the federal waiver as a result of this, but worried that you might backtrack.

  • You are right to worry. There is a battle in the legislature over the role of tests in education. The state said that the new standardized tests will be required to graduate. Why? Will students who fail these tests try to retake them, or will they just drop out? And using tests as basis for pay very bad, e.g. it penalizes experienced teachers who take challenges, take on the most struggling students.
  • This will be a key battle. Dems do not control Senate.
  • I am concerned about the lost waiver. Some districts are impacted by the loss of flexibility. The Federal Government has a terrible policy. Our current system is a compromise that has test data as a component. The new Congress should work with the President and broker a compromise.

The Bree Collaborative Report concludes that we need to increase access to chemical dependency services. But it ignores the role of licensed mental health providers, and many people with chemical dependencies have underlying mental health problems. Please find ways to let people with Masters level mental health degrees to be licensed to treat chemical dependency.

  • The Bree Report looks for best practices to let costs. Would like to work with these issues, as exact credentials not important.

The state gave $8.7 billion in tax break to aerospace (Boeing). That much money would pay for many things. The state did not put out any requirements to create new jobs, protect existing jobs, or pay living wages. How and why did this happen? What are you going to do to correct this situation?

  • I voted for this tax credit. Why: two observations. We use tax loopholes as a regular way of doing business for many reasons. And it is very hard to change systems. For example, we would like to close tax loopholes on oil, big banks, but can’t. I voted yes because as part of the tax credit we put in place brand new accountability measures, requiring submitting and reporting, etc. We now have opportunities now to hold Boeing accountable.
  • The 2003 tax break has no accountability measures. The one passed in 2013 added measurements. Last week I sponsored an amendment to, for the first time, recommend that the 2003 loophole be required to have measurements, with businesses losing a part of tax exemptions if it turns out that jobs are being lost.
  • The $8.7 billion is actually over 16 years, so it just extends the current rates. It doesn’t include job requirements, and I am supporting the legislation that was mentioned. One of the reasons I voted: an independent study shows a 3:1 return on the tax break. And it’s not just Boeing: hundreds of aerospace jobs depend on them being here. We need the aerospace industry in WA.

Personal story about a single mother who lives on $430 / month. DSHS recommends that she get welfare, but she says she needs a job.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. If you want to work, you should be able to find a good job. We are looking at raising the statewide minimum wage to $12/hour over four years - but it is a very modest proposal and not enough.

You are strong supporters of healthcare quality and safety. Safety is never a strong priority on the national level. Medical error is still the 3rd leading cause of death. The State should prioritize safety.

  • (This lady lobbied extensively to build infection reporting, got amendment that consumer agencies were asking us to change.) We need to have as much transparency as possible. Key drivers of cost are readmission rates. We can drive down these costs through better transparency.

Medical marijuana: there is a tremendous knowledge base of bad actors in the medical system. There is no provision for shops to have people to sit down. There is a circus atmosphere in these shops, which is not what patients need. Need to fix the medical system and push bad actors into the recreational.

  • Thank you.

Objectives or concerns over recreational marijuana?

  • We need to integrate the two systems. How to be respectful to medical marijuana patients? How to create revenue - after all, one of the selling points of I-502 was that it would generate revenue for the state?

Rent control: Kshama Sawant ran for rent control, which is illegal under state law. Have you thought about the pros and cons of that law? More generally, how can we create adorable housing?

  • On affordable housing, we have had enormous fights, e.g. a fight over implementing a $10 recording fee to provide housing. Rent control needs a way of allowing people to invest in buildings. We need system that encourages investment while allowing people to keep living there. On rent control, we have an opportunity to give local governments a choice. Also, I strongly believe that we need impact fees on new development in Seattle!

64% of Sophomores today won’t be able to graduate due to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. What can we do about that? 

  • We need to reduce the amount of tests. It is not even a Federal requirement that test scores be required to graduate. We also need to provide remedial support to those who don’t pass, which we do not do currently. Many people don’t realize that you have to pay for remedial classes, and there aren’t even enough slots in this classes to accommodate everyone. But I think it will take a parent and student revolt to make a change.
  • We need your help.
  • Follow the lead of students at Garfield.

Why has the Oil Transportation Safety Act not passed?

  • The Federal Government has vastly expanded the amount of oil that is transported across the US. This bill is to increase transparency, etc. It passed the House but died in Senate. Will try again this year. Need your help. Chair of Senate environment committee wouldn’t even give it a hearing. We are grateful for the Magnuson Act that protects our waters, but it need to be updated.

Issues at Kenmore Industrial Park, commonly known as Lakepointe. It is a very important watershed. Several court cases to get property owner to remediate that site. WA previously used it as hazardous waste dump. State is now using the site to build 520 bridge. Entire structure is now made there, with no environmental impact statement. Kenmore residents have to put up with toxic fumes, etc. being released by barge traffic. At the end of the day, the court order is not being followed by the government.

  • Three of us joined in asking the Governor and Department of Ecology to find the source of dioxins to start cleaning up Log Boom Park. The property in question is a huge piece of property that is the last undeveloped property that is not a park. The owner would like to see mixed use housing / recreational waterfront. We need a discussion about vision. But it is not about state money - the polluters are supposed to be paying for clean-up.

Tax reform: this is not the time and place to talk about specifics. I have a plan to present to legislators. The plan is comprehensive. I have shown it to legislators and know that it has merit. I would like to show it to different people and see how much support we have. I would like to ask people who are interested to work with me.

  • Applause

Medical cannabis: thank you for support in the last session. The future of medical cannabis is very much in doubt, but I know you’ll keep your heart and minds open to concerns of patients.

  • Applause

Women’s health: how can we make sure Washington can pay for basic services without cutting family planning?

  • This is just one of many health access issues out there. We can’t choose - we have to fund education. So, we need a fair tax system. The McCleary decision is an opportunity to make it more fair. We were taking earlier about a capital gains tax, for example.
  • We absolutely have to protect family planning. It is a smart investment. I helped write a bill to address the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision that works around the decision, and it has 23 cosponsors in the Senate.

Last five years, $2.6 billion was taken out of K12, and we have more students than 10 years ago. The budget was balanced on the backs of teachers during the Recession. The increased funding we are talking about is just returning to previous level. We need the CoLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment).

  • Absolutely.

We passed I-594 and HB1840. What may we expect in Olympia?

  • The Gun Safe Storage Bill, and will introduce the gun violence protection order. We also have to have a way to, when firearm restrictions are restored, notify the people who should be made aware.

How do we improve transportation? A lot of buses deadhead between Seattle and Snohomish County, park by Boeing, and we can’t use them. We need to incentivize agencies to be more efficient.

  • We need to use taxpayer dollars wisely. There are a lot of ways our transit agencies can be more efficient. Looking forward to discussing this.

I am concerned that the tone of discussion is anti-business: capital gains tax, rent control, highest minimum wage and mandated sick leave in Seattle, etc. How can we ensure that new businesses are excited to be in Seattle, while preventing existing businesses from leaving? How can we moderate the tone to be a little more pro-business?

  • We can be progressive (raise costs on payroll side) and still have a good economy. For example, we could streamline permitting. Also, the B&O tax is broken for businesses - it taxes gross receipts instead of net receipts. We can fix it. The sales tax also hurts our retailers and restaurants.
  • I saw you nodding when the B&O tax was mentioned. The average voter does not oppose this reform - big business does. We are the only state that does not have a capital gains tax. We will not lose a single business from the capital gains tax. [What is your source on this statement?] There have been studies, and no evidence of negative impact. And where will they go? Every other state has a capital gains tax.

I am concerned that we have no statewide plan for rail. Rural towns need rail just as we all need rail. There is no cross-state transportation for rail. Sounder trains sit idle on existing track, why can’t we use them? Commerce uses the same tracks. There are no plans for more passenger trains competing for rail space. We can push back on oil trains this way.

  • Bright spots: rail caucus. We are starting to develop more cohesion on state level. We do not own rail infrastructure, but we can invest in it. [You mean build new tracks? That is very expensive.] Let’s talk offline.

The Audubon Committee urges immediate action regarding oil transportation. This should be a bipartisan issue as cities all over the state are in great danger. Thank you for taking this on. Sorry that some issues that should be bipartisan are not.

  • Applause.

Services for individuals with developmental disabilities and wage parity for direct support staff: community residential providers and… (two others) serve the same people but are not funded equally. Wage disparity directly impacts turnover. Will you support and help pass bills proposed for wage parity for direct support staff?

  • We need to address turnover and balance issue.

I am pleasantly surprised by the results of the Elway poll supporting carbon tax. There is no question about the carbon tax and its bigger impact on the world. Climate change is the biggest issue affecting the world, and someone has to lead. What are your thoughts on the chances of this passing?

  • This is not just an environmental issue but a humanitarian issue. I am very supportive of taking action now. Prospects in Olympia: will be tough, need your help.
  • There is a reason this makes sense. It helps if we can be a part of a larger consortium of states taking action on climate change. New England has done this and saw no impact on their economy.
  • I expect we will need to be gathering signatures for an initiative.

On climate change: we are fighting not just for your children, but for the unborn child of my grandson.

  • Applause.

Sound Transit proposed putting in power line towers on our street in Haller Lake. I have asked the state to intervene and would like an update.

  • Let’s gather after for an update.

Question to the audience: Wow many of you have seen the Milky Way without binoculars or a telescope from your Seattle backyard? Since 1970 we lost the ability to see the night sky from our backyards. We could have a less light polluted state if we pass the Model Lighting Ordinance.

  • I have your Model Lighting Ordinance right here.

I woke up earlier because people were moving around. There was still some time before breakfast, so I repacked and had more of my snacks. I brought a lot of food up the mountain, and I ate most of it at the lodge. Eventually it was time for breakfast.

The call to leave was at 03:00. We all started out in one big group, though some people later went ahead, and some trailed behind. The trail of lights stretched far into the darkness. The moon was out, and the stars were dimmer in the night sky.

Just as it started to dawn, clouds and fog rolled in. They stayed throughout the morning, obliterating any chance of getting a good view off the summit. We did make it before sunrise, though. There were group shots.

At long last it was my turn.

After having their time at the summit, most people started back down. I decided to stick around, hoping for the skies to clear. (They didn’t.) In the process, I got to witness a funny ritual: a newlywed couple changed into wedding suit and dress and had a photoshoot that probably lasted a good half-hour. All this in freezing temperatures and sub-freezing wind chill.

I was then offered warm milk. And I needed it.

We prepared to leave. Here is the happy couple again, hopefully no longer freezing.

Descent:

I took some parting pictures of Paiyun Lodge and had my noddle soup lunch.

Then I said good bye and left. I was going pretty quickly, keeping a pace of 3 km / hour, which means I came down in just under three hours. It also means I had to wait two hours for my return bus.

I was quite happy to see the same driver on the bus as the previous day.  But this ride was more fun because I got to converse with a Chinese language teacher from Taipei. She made an excited conversation partner for me and the driver: “I didn’t hear what you said, could you repeat that?” At one point the driver was explaining how he would instruct me to transfer to get to Shueili. After he finished, she asked me: “Did you understand that? Yeah?” Then, to the driver, “See, he understands, you don’t need to explain to him again!”

I will be contacting her after this post goes live.

I ended up getting off the bus at a stop called Dingkan, which is the closest stop to Shueili. Eventually a bus came and took me into Shueili. I walked to the National Park Headquarters and saw my friend A. at the front desk, waiting for me. I was back.

We ate dinner. It was a kind of dumpling with a soft outside, which is eaten, and the meat is eaten with soup. Very cool! Unfortunately there was, yet again, not much time, even though I firmly decided that I would take the last shuttle taxi to Taichung. We did have time to stop at a bakery where I bought lots of baked things, which I enjoyed very much.

It was a good end to a long trip. For the next few days I would be in Taipei hanging out with J. and doing whatever I want.

This is the day when I hiked to the top of Yushan Main Peak. In the previous post I explained the steps to prepare for the trip. In this post I describe my experiences on the trip itself.

Start with a tranquil view of Sun-Moon Lake at 06:40. The ferry boats haven’t started their day yet.

My hotel (Crystal Inn Resort) gave me a take-out version of their breakfast since I had to leave so early.

I took the 07:00 “school bus” to the main bus station on the other side of the lake. The reason I call it a school bus is that the other passengers were schoolkids on their way to school.

Transfer time was about 40 minutes. It was plenty of time to eat breakfast and to get acquainted with a fellow Singaporean traveler - who, as it turns out, was on his way back from visiting Seattle.

The bus ride was quite fun. The driver narrated along the way, talking fast but in short phrases.

Soon we made our first stop at a specialty store that had wines, various kinds of candy, and really expensive tea. Outside, a lady was selling grapes. “I give you extra,” she said.

We were given a certain amount of time to explore the store. Before we bought grapes, I asked my Singaporean companion whether it was time to go back. “It’s okay,” he said. “Because I tell the driver that we’re foreigners, so don’t forget us.” This was good assurance.

The road was fairly new. Later I understood the reason why: the old road was washed away during a typhoon about a decade ago.

Soon we started climbing and entered the section of the road from which the Yushan peaks are visible. People were actively trying to take pictures through the bus windows. Eventually the driver stopped, and we got our shots.

Next were the “husband-wife trees.” These two trees were hit by lightning and died standing together.

And, at last, we came to the Tataka Visitor Center. I said good bye to the driver and to my companions, and went up the trail.

The Tataka Visitor Center is open on every day except for the second Tuesday of each month that is not a national holiday. The day was November 11th, the second Tuesday of November. The visitor center was closed. Fortunately, I knew approximately where to go. A trail leads from the main road up to the road leading to the road where the Tataka Mountaineering Center and Police Squad is.

The trail ended at a road where I turned right and descended a bit before reaching the Mountaineering Service Center. The permits were stamped, but there was some confusion about whether I needed to pay. A call to the HQ in Shueili resolved the matter. A shuttle then took me from the base to the trailhead.

I was off. The trail is beautiful in many ways, so I will just let the pictures speak.

Early on I passed a number of groups going in the opposite direction. Hello… Hi… Ni hao… Konichiwa! (I later learned that this hike is popular for Japanese tourists.) Some remarked that I started the hike a bit late. Eventually the returning groups stopped. But about 1.5 km away from camp I merged with the tail of a large procession of everyone else going up the mountain. Suddenly there were a lot of people around. “Are you alone?… Wow… How did you know how to get the permit?” I decided to stick with the group, and soon we made it to Paiyun Lodge.

Dinner was surprisingly good for a mountain meal.

Later, I went out and watched the sunset. It was beautiful.

I wanted to see the stars, too. For this I made a calculation: the middle of the night is around 23:30, but the moon is bright, and it rises early. So, around 21:00 is when I went out to see the night sky. Unfortunately, something was not right with my camera, and I wasn’t able to take good pictures of the stars.

I went to sleep, knowing that I would wake up for early breakfast around 02:30.

Yushan (Jade Mountain) is the highest peak in Taiwan (3952 m). The temperature at the summit is about 20 C colder than at sea level in Taiwan. In the Winter, the peak is typically covered with snow.

The mountain is protected by the Yushan National Park, which issues permits for the main peak and other trails in the park. The difficulty of obtaining a permit and the experience required depends on the weather conditions and itinerary. A two-day ascent to the main peak in snow-free conditions is the easiest and most common. This ascent comprises of a day-time hike to Paiyun Lodge, a night-time hike to the summit (before sunrise), and a morning descent.

image

Applying for permits

The number of permits that are issued to climb Yushan tend to be limited by the number of available bunks at Paiyun Lodge. The application process includes reserving a bunk and is somewhat complicated due to high demand.

There are three deadlines to keep in mind when applying for a permit to summit Yushan.

  • One week prior: last day to apply. Typically, by this time, all available slots would have been filled.
  • One month prior: the “draw”. Any applications received up to this time are pooled. If there are more applications than available slots, the winners are picked at random. If there are fewer applications than available slots, they are awarded permits, and later applications are reviewed in a first-come-first-serve order.
  • Thirty-five days prior: priority consideration deadline for foreign visitors. A certain number of slots are pre-reserved for foreign visitors, who do not have to go through the draw. Up to this time, these are awarded to foreign applicants via the “advance application” in a first-come-first-serve order. After the 35-day deadline, any free slots are freed, and foreign applicants must wait for the draw.

In summary: Foreign visitors should apply soon as possible, preferably before the 35-day point, and definitely before the 30-day point. Taiwanese residents should apply before the 30-day point.

The application process itself consists of several stages. Everything (except payment) is on-line via: https://mountain.ysnp.gov.tw/english/ApplyIndex.aspx?pg=02&w=2&n=22001

  1. The team leader fills out an application for his team (Online Application - Online Park Entry Application), including his/her personal information, emergency contact information, itinerary / supplies, and the number of people in the party.
  2. Once requested, everyone in the team uploads a passport copy (Online Application - Application Modification).
  3. The application goes through the draw (or doesn’t, if it is an advance application).
  4. Once requested, everyone in the team goes back to the application (Online Application - Application Modification) and fills out everything else. This includes watching a YouTube video, doing a quiz, and checking a box to say that you’ve done that.
  5. Separately, payment for the stay at Paiyun Lodge is required. Typically, this requires a bank transfer, but foreign visitors can pay in cash on-site.
  6. Within five days of the trip, print the permit (Online Application - Print out Permit).

Supplies

Yushan National Park has a pretty good introductory video that suggests supplies for the ascent. Those include warm clothes (expect a 20 C temperature drop and bring extra), extra energy-rich food, a headlamp, and a thermos for filling up with hot water at Paiyun Lodge.

You do not need to pack full meals or a sleeping bag (but I brought an inflatable pillow). You do, however, need to pre-order those in advance. Food is carried up the mountain daily, and sleeping bags are carried down / up for washing weekly.

The application is here: http://www.yushansky.com.tw/multimedia2.html

Note: I don’t see an “English” link, but there is an English-language form. Unfortunately, the form is a Microsoft Word document. I ended up uploading it into Google Docs, downloading as a PDF, importing into GIMP, and entering the order there. Obviously, it’s much easier to fill out the form in a rich text editor, but that requires that you trust the file.

image

This should be e-mailed to yushan.sky@msa.hinet.net Payment is via bank transfer, but if you’re a foreign visitor they might let you pay in cash.

Transportation

It used to be impossible to get to Tataka by bus. Then, in April of 2014, Yuenlin Bus Company opened a scenic route from Sun-Moon Lake to Alishan with a stop at Tataka. This bus has two runs daily, leaving Sun-Moon Lake at 08:00, 09:00, arriving at Tataka at 11:10, 12:10 and Alishan at 11:50, 12:50. It then waits for an hour and leaves Alishan at 13:00, 14:00, Tataka at 14:00, 15:00, returning to Sun-Moon Lake at 16:30, 17:30.

image

This bus isn’t intended to take hikers to Tataka. It is intended as a tour bus for visitors to Alishan, who would either spend the night there or spend an hour there and come back the same day. It is, however, easy to board and deboard the bus at Tataka. Just be sure to remind the driver that you intend to do so.

Unfortunately the bus is quite small, so advance reservations are required for the trip there and the trip back. These can be made over the phone, but may be difficult for a non-native Chinese speaker - I had a friend help out. Payment is required in advance at the kiosk at Sun-Moon Lake for the direction toward Tataka. Make sure you get the ticket to Tataka - If it says “Alishan”, you’re overpaying.

Something to consider while booking is the return trip. The most conservative option is to book the 15:00 bus from Tataka. But it doesn’t take that long to come down the mountain - the 14:00 bus is quite doable. A more risky option for a fast hiker is to book the 12:10 bus to Alishan and thus visit Alishan as well - but this means you can’t spend much time on Yushan, you will have to come down rather quickly, and the bus company might not be happy with you booking such a small chunk of the trip, especially on a busy day.

A useful source with more information:

  1. "Transportation Between Cingjing, Sun-Moon Lake, and Alishan", Travel Taiwan. http://taiwan-itinerary.blogspot.com/2014/06/AlisanCingjinSML.html

A note about getting around Sun-Moon Lake

It is important to check connecting buses when going on the trip. You will have to stay at Sun-Moon Lake in order to leave by the 08:00 bus. If staying in the Shueishe (Sun-Moon Lake stop) area, that’s easy, but the only way to get there from Itathao is to take the 07:00 shuttle, which arrives at the main bus station around 07:20. This is too early to buy breakfast or to eat at the hotel - try to arrange with them to pick up breakfast early or buy breakfast in advance. (The Crystal Inn, Sun-Moon Lake was able to do this for me.)

Also, the last bus from Shueishe (Sun-Moon Lake stop) to Itathao leaves at 17:20. If you need transportation after this time, the only way is to take a taxi or hire a private driver. Taxis need to be called in, arrive all the way from Puli, and so charge NT$500 for the ride to Itathao. Private drivers troll the area and will probably charge less, but be careful with those. If you do need to take a taxi, see if anyone else is waiting for one and split the fare.

Shuttle bus schedule: http://www.ntbus.com.tw/s03.html

It so happened on this trip that whenever my plans changed at the last minute, there was plenty of time to make the change. Such was the case this day when I bussed to Sun-Moon Lake. In brief: I was quite irritated by the atmosphere around the Sun-Moon Lake visitor center, so much that I took the next bus right back down to Shueili. From there I took the train to Checheng.

Checheng is an old town that sits on a train yard next to a hydroelectric dam.

I walked the streets of the old town and admired the paintings on walls and fences.

Then I found a place for lunch. This is a train town, so lunch had to be a Taiwanese train box.

Apart from lunch, at this place I found a shopfront with wooden items and a cat whose fur matched the color of the wood.

After lunch, more walking around and admiring the sights, narrow streets, paintings on walls.

There was even a private train museum:

Checheng one last time…

After this, I stopped by the gift store and bought some things; then hopped on the Checheng - Shueili - Sun-Moon Lake bus.

Next post will be about Yushan logistics, followed by photos from Yushan.

Shueili on a Monday morning:

A. and I had onion pancakes with egg for breakfast. Then A. gave me the key to her bike and went to work. We said good bye until lunch, and I took the mountain road to Jiji.

On the way I passed a funeral procession. I do not wish to disrespect anyone - I had no idea that it was a funeral procession until I saw the portrait while reviewing the pictures. They passed quickly, and the truck in the front played loud music.

Soon the palm trees appeared. Jiji, I guess is a banana town.

I stopped at an old train station and wondered if the railroad is active. (It is!)

Across the road is a military park featuring tanks, fighter jets, and a huge plane.

Jiji is probably most famous for its collapsed temple. It was a very good idea to leave the ruins in place and just build a new temple on the side.

Outside the temple is a market where I bought bananas, some candy, and two sorts of high-mountain Oolong tea. I biked on and found the other end of the old railroad.

They told me the round trip on this train takes 30 minutes.

A bit farther is the actual train station of the Ershui-Jiji-Shueili-Checheng line.

But I was on a bike, and so instead of returning by train I crossed the Zhuoshui River and returned by another road that took me through the fields.

Back in Shueili:

It was too late to go on to Checheng, so I returned the bike.

Before I came here, I thought Jiji was the name of a cute black cat. The town I discovered is cute, and might as well be named after the cat. Or the cat could be named after the town. It’s a fun little place.





















It was time to leave Kaohsiung. We hurriedly caught the next train to Ershui (Western corridor, mountain line), where we changed trains toward Shueili. I got to exchange a few words with the friendly conductor, who can be seen waving at us in the picture.

The town of Shueili sits on a tributary of the Zhuoshui River. It was night when we arrived, and decorations were lit around the creek.

Dinner was delicious. In a small town such as this one, you know a lot of people, and a lot of people know you (but, as A. remarked one day, ‘The dogs don’t know me yet’). The sliced persimmon was a treat for us, and it was a good treat to add to a day that seemed full of treats.

A. offered me her bike the next day to explore the area. After that I would go to Sun-Moon Lake to prepare for the upcoming Yushan hike.

We bid good night.

Meinong was A.’s family’s idea, and it’s great that we were able to drive there. Our first stop was the culture museum. The first thing we saw there was a salamander that ran along a bridge and plopped into the water.

Inside the museum were traditional Hakka household items. Something farming-related (I don’t know agriculture…):

Fishing:

For carrying things. (Really bad for your back, by the way.)

On the wall were paintings depicting the Hakka way of life.

A. explained to me that Hakka families used to live together in large houses. Water buffalo, used for farming, were treasured members of the household.

I forgot what this is for.

Paper umbrellas:

Bridal carriage:

Three types of baby cribs: rolling, rocking, and (I think) for picking up and rocking in your hands. In the US we don’t find these because we think it’s bad for the babies.

A real iron (not the fake electric one) and foot-powered sewing machine:

Outside we got some miniature paper umbrellas. In another part of the museum, we could paint designs on them, but we didn’t have time.

The next stop after the museum was a clay factory. I am familiar with how a block of clay becomes a finished cup or bowl, but here they also made the clay. We weren’t allowed to photograph inside.

From the hills, macaques stared ominously.

Meinong, mostly, is fields with mountains behind them. Very pretty.

Our final stop was a shopping place where we had lunch, and I bought souvenirs.

Taro ice cream!

Inside the gift store:

From the balcony we could see the fields and kids playing with traditional toys.

Here I bought an umbrella and a basket as gifts. I also was tempted by a wide farmer’s hat. I originally thought it would be difficult to carry, but everyone liked it on me, so I got the hat, too.

Back outside (I really like it when the well pumps work, because in the US they often don’t):

I close with me and my new hat.

The plan for Sunday was thus: we would go to the Hakka village of Meinong in the morning. Then A. and I would go by train to Shueili where A. works during the week.

But first we had to drop off A.’s younger sister at work. This put us close to the North end of Lotus Pond. We made a circle around the pond. First was the Confucius Temple.

Looking South at the lake one can see a large statue of Guan Yu.

Then there was the Qiming Temple.

Finally we came to the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. Visitors walk in through the mouth of the dragon and come out through the mouth of the tiger. Along the walkway are etched illustrations of various classic stories.

I climbed up to the top of the dragon pagoda. The view was good, but there were too many people waiting for their turn to go into the balcony. So, I went down one floor. The view was almost just as good, but the balcony was empty ;)

Here’s a fun angle…

Inside the tiger:

It was a short time by the lake, but I’m very happy we came here. Next stop: Meinong.





















This is Kenting. I’m too lazy to describe how to get there in detail. (There’s an express bus that connects with the HSR, and there’s a slower express bus that starts inside the city.) We (A. and I) got off at the Nanwan (South Bay, 南灣) beach stop.

After the beach, we walked down the road toward Kenting proper, trying to find a bicycle rental. There are lots of bicycle rentals around Taiwan, but it seems that in Kenting most people prefer motorbikes / scooters. We eventually did find a rental that had bicycles. In retrospect, we should have bussed to Kenting and then biked up to Nanwan. Though, I should also learn to ride a motorbike.

We took the bikes down the road to the Southern-most point of Taiwan. There was a structure that looked like an abandoned cafe with a paid entrance and tourniquets, but there wasn’t anyone selling tickets, so we just went through the tourniquets and looked at the ocean. Outside there were some shops, one selling ice cream, another selling sodium water, etc. We walked along the trail to the platform at the Southern-most point.

We then returned to Kenting. It got dark, and the night market started up. We ate all sorts of barbecued things and fruits.

And fell asleep as soon as we got on the returning bus.





















I arrived at the Zuoying station at around 16:30, which means it only took 3.5 hours to get from Lushan all the way to Kaohsiung. It helped that I took the high speed rail, though I never did that again - too expensive. My friend A. with whose family I would stay for the next two nights met me at the station and took me to their flat.

These are my first impressions of Kaohsiung. There was a book-themed restaurant where we had dinner. Then we drove to Love River and walked around the park. I was very tired after the mountain trip and slept well that night. The next day A. and I rose early and headed for Kenting.

This was the day I would walk 17 km to the Lushan hot springs bus stop. The path cuts through the Truku Seediq language area, passing at 5 km the village of Toda (都達 or 平靜, Pingjing) and at 10 km the village called, maybe, Sipaw (希寶) - I’m not sure, as this name is not on the maps, nor in my book on the Seediq language (Holmer, A parametric grammar of Seediq).

The day started with breakfast. It was standard but very good.

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I also include day-time pictures of the hotel. Note that individual rooms have private entrances, while the office and dining area are in adjoining structures.

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After I prepared to leave, the owner told me to wait and offered a ride back up to the main road. I declined, saying that I am headed down. The owner considered driving me down, but decided against it.

The better.

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I walked past tea fields, farms, and orchards. For the first time, I saw persimmon trees.

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The village seen in the distance in the photo above is Toda.

Soon I came across a house with a family sitting outside, chatting. They explained that they are from Toda, reassured me that I was almost there, and offered me some local fresh water (which I accepted) and beer (which I declined). Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I came to the bridge across Zhuoshui River.

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I entered the village.

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So, alang = tribe, Toda is the current place name, Snapaw is the place I came from (Qingjing), and hakaw means bridge.

Many of the houses here have a rectangular shape. They are modest in construction, yet some are quite nice-looking.

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There is even a place that advertises karaoke:

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That road exits the village. I didn’t want to leave quite yet, so I turned around and met some friendly folks who spoke English. They showed me inside a traditional Seediq log cabin.

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The sign says “sapah sbiyaw”. Sapah = house, sbiyaw probably means traditional.

A while later, as I was on my way out, one of them drove by on a little truck and offered to take me along the way. He then passed me off to another family in a car, and they took me down further.

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For this I am very grateful to all. Mhuwe namu.

I followed the road.

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That says “Sipaw tribe”. I searched for both Sipaw and the Chinese, 希寶, on the Internet but couldn’t find much. And it’s not in Holmer.

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Down the road, my new friend passed me again and gave me a lift to the hot springs area in the back of his truck.

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In all, that saved me about 7 km, or about 2.5 hours of walking. With a 35-kg pack, that’s significant. Plus, I don’t often get to ride in the back of a truck ;) Mhuwe su.

The Lushan hot springs area has a foot bridge connecting the North and South parts of the town. There is also a trail to a lake, and a road uphill which eventually leads to a monument where there was a great battle. Not to mention the hot springs. The town was very badly damaged by a typhoon a few years ago with whole buildings swept into the river, and I wanted to give the place some business. In the end, though, I only had the energy to see the bridge and walk around a bit.

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I took the 13:00 bus to Puli. There I transferred to a bus bound for Taichung. At Taichung I boarded the high speed rail bound for Zuoying. Thus my first mountain excursion was over.

This and the next post describe a two-day trek through the Cingjing-Lushan area. After exploring the touristy Cingjing, I would do what nobody ever does: descend from the ridge down a local road, cross a foot bridge over Zhuoshui River, and enter the village of Toda. I would then walk along a county road South to Lushan and the Lushan hot springs area, where I would board another bus down from the mountains.

To make the trip easier, I booked a hotel that was located directly on the local road out of Cingjing, two kilometers down (out of seven). The booking was confusing: a friend in Taiwan helped me make the required bank transfer, but I neglected to contact the hotel to tie the transfer to my name. However, it was not a busy day, and the hotel kept my reservation.

Now, in chronological order… In the morning I had breakfast, checked out, and walked to the bus stop. There was plenty of time to look around and say good bye to the town.

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At the bus stop, another lone traveler like me asked for directions to Taroko. Her bus was at 15:30. I advised her to stay in Lishan and explore as buses are rare in this area. She stayed, we left and soon got stuck at the construction area where we had to squeeze the day before.

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Past that, right at the fork, and we started climbing higher into the Central Mountains.

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We took a stretch break at the pass, 3158 meters above sea level.

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We then descended, passing Cingjing and Wushe. On the way to Puli the driver stopped again, for tea. I followed him and was treated to good high-mountain oolong.

My first impression of Puli was “busy streets, no sidewalks.” It wasn’t a very good impression - I was looking for a bank. I eventually found one, a good 15 minutes away. Fifteen more minutes, and I was back at the bus stop searching for the Cingjing-bound bus. I didn’t see it, so I asked a bus driver. He said the stop was “far away”, but on his way, and he offered to take me there. I remembered that I could have simply navigated using Google Maps instead of roaming busy streets with no sidewalks.

Eventually, I was in Cingjing. I decided to start at Old England and traverse North to Green-Green Pasture. Old England is a really expensive hotel.

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There are a lot of themed hotels here, as well as gardens.

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Eventually I came to a place called Little Switzerland. There I bought a cone of ice cream. The shops were cat-themed, even though there weren’t any cats. There was also a flower garden (paid admission), which I skipped.

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From here on, there is a foot path. It looked like the path also continued South of here, but if it did, I didn’t see it. Here is a map, though!

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They grow fruits here, in the mountains. And everywhere they sell them. I bought persimmon from one of the tents and had it with my cabbage. (I got some criticism for eating the cabbage raw - I know, I know, this variety is meant for cooking, but I was on foot and had no way of preparing it.)

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At the nature area, there was a horse show, where locals displayed their talent and heritage.

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North of here is the rest of the nature area and the Green-Green Grassland with sheep. It was rather yellow, and there were no sheep - perhaps it isn’t the season.

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The day was coming to a close. I found the local road (there were signs to Winlu Hotel; the Chinese characters for Winlu are really complicated) and followed it.

Some thirty minutes later I came to the hotel. It had a very inviting Japanese setting. Included in the room rate was an individual hot pot dinner.

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When I first came to the hotel, a white dog acknowledged me, barking. I waited. The dog stopped barking. I walked toward the entrance, and the dog followed me closely. Later, as I was putting on my shoes, our heads became level. It was then that we made eye contact, and I saw into its soul.

As I toured the Taiwanese countryside I got barked at on many occasions. Some dogs were chained, many were not. These creatures live in near-solitude for their entire lives, working for the family that feeds them. I have a lot of respect for them.

There are few guides on the town of Slamaw, known also by its Mandarin name Lishan (Pear Mountain). When I mention the name, most people think I went to a different mountain area that happens to be a popular tourist destination in Taiwan. When I correct, some people became very surprised, while others had no idea what I was talking about.

So, what is Slamaw, and why should anyone bother going there? For once, it lies on the edge of the Central Cross-Island corridor, which currently means routes 8 and 14 connecting Hualien on the East to Puli on the West. Much of the route lies inside Taroko National Park, but even the parts outside the park are extremely scenic.

If you are like me, crossing the mountains by bus, you will either arrive in the early afternoon from Hualien/Taroko and leave for Cingjing at 08:00 the next morning, or you will arrive in the late morning from Cingjing and leave for Taroko/Hualien on the same day at 15:30. Either way, you have about three hours to spare. I recommend two activities: the Lishan Guesthouse ecology trail and Fushoushan Farm. The Lishan Guesthouse ecology trail starts from somewhere around the Guesthouse (next to bus stop) and ends right at the South end of Fushoushan Farm, so they are perfectly aligned. I could not find the guesthouse trail, so I took the county road to the farm. This means I passed by the Lishan cultural museum, which had exhibits of traditional structures, tools, musical instruments, dress, etc.

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This was a beautiful place.

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Eventually I went off the county road and continued (with permission from people sitting outside a nearby house) along a foot path past the fields. Here locals grow cabbage.

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At the end of the path was Fushoushan Farm. It’s more touristy: there are paved paths everywhere and signs saying to not pick the fruit.

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I returned along the same path, which is why I missed the ecology trail. As I reached the county road, the same people whom I asked for permission to pass earlier saw me and gifted me a head of cabbage. It was quite a pleasant surprise, even though I had to carry it around with me everywhere. (Also, I suspect the dogs no longer trusted me with a cabbage hanging off my backpack.)

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Mhuay su balay. Thank you.

As I descended back to the town, the sun set and illuminated the surrounding hills and foliage.

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Dinner was modest. I realized that I do not have quite enough cash to pay for the next two days’ expenses, including bus rides and a hotel. The solution was to detour all the way to Puli, which has a bank. I would do that tomorrow. In the meantime, good food and a good night’s rest.

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From the road a small path leads to the hotel:

After breakfast, I accidentally happened on a flag raising ceremony. The Taiwanese anthem was played but not sung.

I took a last look at my room (best view) and checked out of the hotel.

In the center of the town I heard some loud music coming from a truck. I thought it might be something like an ice cream truck, but it turned out to be a garbage truck. Apparently, in Taiwan garbage trucks play music, and anyone who has trash must come down and throw the trash into the truck.

Right outside Tienhsiang there is a hill with lots of temples, statues, etc. I went up to the hill.

Finally it was time to board a bus and leave this town. The ride to Lishan took 3.5 hours. That included a 40-minute wait at a construction zone (traffic allowed through every hour) and slow going at another construction zone.

The next post will be dedicated to Lishan.

Former class schedules

I graduated in the summer of 2013, but my six years of course schedules are still up, and I have no plans to take them down.

About Me

If any of these topics interest you, click "read more". You will find a whole page related to that topic.

MathematicsRead more
I am most specialized in mathematics, particularly in algebraic number theory. Read about my early math days, my trip to Budapest, my graduate coursework, and see some of my course papers for math classes.

PhysicsRead more
Read about how I completed my physics degree upside down, browse through my quantum mechanics notes, and look at some of my seminar slides.

Computer ScienceRead more
Explore the fruits of my early computer science experiments, my computer science coursework and research, and my web start-up. Watch videos of projects I designed in the hardware lab.

Linguistics and ChineseRead more
Learn why I like linguistics so much, browse pictures of my trip to China, and read my course papers for linguistics and Chinese classes. Practice your traditional character recognition on a writing sample.

ActivitiesRead more
See what I do in my spare time. I used to lead a student organization, and that's no easy task. Read about that and my other leadership activities.

Websites and Profiles

Old Site http://igor.tolkov.com/archive
No longer maintained, but still interesting.
China Blog Stories and memories from July 2012
And any future China travel plans.
Tumblr Song of a thistle
My present blog, mostly with photos. Mirrored on this site.
Google+ "Not all those who wander are lost"
I occasionally post photos here.
LinkedIn My LinkedIn Profile
taiLib My taiLib Profile
A service I co-founded and run. We aim to connect students who have textbooks with students who need them.