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

E-mail
Secure e-mailread here

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.

This is the second installment of the STP 2015 series in which I describe the second day’s ride from Chehalis to Portland, but which begins with the night in Chehalis.

After dinner, which consisted of cheap all-you-can-eat spaghetti, I went directly to sleep. The night was good, with the exception of the sleeping bag being a bit too warm and the slight worry over road rash. (Fortunately, the road rash went away the next day, I applied the lubricant I got from a stand in Centralia, and was not bothered again.) The previous night I only got three hours of sleep with all the packing and trying to attach the number to the shirt, and this was a catch-up.

My home for the night:

image

The next morning, I packed everything back into the garbage bag and threw it back into the truck. Breakfast consisted of all-you-can-eat pancakes, eggs, and some meat thing.

image

The morning was cold. The cold was probably compounded by the fact that the only hot beverage they had was coffee. After breakfast, it was still cold, and the first twenty minutes were hard. Then the body woke up and again started feeling comfortable stopping and taking shots of the countryside.

image
image

The road was actually climbing another hill. At the top of the hill was Napavine. The name of the town derives from a local language and has nothing to do with (grape) vines or the Napa Valley. It is a small town that votes overwhelmingly Republican and, to STP riders, is known for its banana bread.

image

The next stop after Napavine was Winlock.

image
image

Winlock turned into Vader, Vader became Castle Rock, but neither had much of free food. (Vader had bananas, but by donation, and who collects donations for bananas.) Then came the official food stop in Lexington.

image

And then came Longview, and we got stuck in traffic. To be fair to all the drivers and truckers, we were the reason for the traffic, and we also had to wait in it. The reason for the mess was that bicyclists and cars / trucks took turns crossing the Lewis-Clark Bridge over the Columbia River. In the next photo, we the highway and bridge are to the viewer’s left, the river to the viewer’s far ahead.

image

When it did come to be our turn, we were warned to stay off the bike lane lest our tires be popped and our water bottles surrendered due to a metal plate on the downhill. Indeed, I saw a scattering of water bottles and even some tools on the shoulder as I slowly descended on the Oregon side of the bridge.

Oregon it was.

image
image

From here until St. John’s bridge, we simply followed the highway. There was another food stop at St. Helens High School.

Then came more of the highway and, finally, the crossing into Portland and St. John’s Bridge.

The other side of the bridge felt like Portland proper - an urban microcenter, followed by single-family houses and very bike-friendly streets. The finish was close.

This is the story of my pilgrimage to Portland. At the finish I finally bought a bike jersey (but not the official one - they were, as always, sold out), picked up my “free gift” (an aluminum cup), and  cached in my meal ticket (for a tiny portion of soup noodles they dared call pad thai). I wished then that I didn’t have to go to work the next day, and thus could continue my trip to Newport, and down the coast all the way to San Francisco or beyond. But that will have to wait a bit.

GPS Track: https://www.strava.com/activities/344915686

On July 11-12 I joined about ten thousand others in a two-day ride from Seattle to Portland. It was my organized ride or, as I put it then, the first time wearing a number. The total length is 331 km - I logged 348 km, which include 10 km to get from my house to the start line, because it doesn’t count unless I start at my house. Thus, I started at 6:16 at the minus-tenth kilometer, managing to stuff all of my baggage onto the bike.

image

On overnight solo rides, this is what my bike would look like.

At the start line, I pulled everything out of the paniers, stuffed it into a garbage back, and tossed it on the Chehalis-bound truck. The paniers then folded up, and all that was left in the bag was my camera, a spare water bottle some emergency food, and a spare shirt. The wind jacket I brought mysteriously disappeared somewhere between my house and the start line.

The first food stop was in Kent, the first place where I witnessed a sea of bikes (other than the start line).

image

We continued parallel to the Interurban Trail, then into Puyallup. In Puyallup came “The Hill”, the dreaded part of the STP which, actually, seemed easier than the Maple Leaf Hill I climb twice during my commute to work.

image
image

The most exciting part of the trip was the path through Joint Base Lewis-McCord. Interestingly, some groups of the STP detoured around the base. I’m not sure if this is because of moral objections or lack of permits. Going through the base was great because we got the roads to ourselves and biked in peace and quiet.

image

And the most exciting part of the most exciting part was the lunch stop at the McCord Airfield.

image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image

There was a town at the South entrance to the base, and that town was called Roy.

From Roy we took the highway to Yelm. We knew we were in Yelm because of an ugly old water tower.

We then took the Yelm-Tenino trail. The trail passes by a lake where I decided to take a break, eat some snacks, and watch the water.

When I got to Tenino, it was starting to rain. I made the best use of the spare shirt, loaded up on Clif bars (just in case) and made full speed to Centralia, and thence to Chehalis where I called for the night.

GPS track: https://www.strava.com/activities/344128124





















I have a backlog of biking trips to share. This one is a slow ride from the Kingston ferry terminal to the Bremerton ferry terminal: https://www.strava.com/activities/338521305

I wasted a lot of time sitting on a beach near Port Gamble and staring at the water (the beach may have been an abandoned graveyard, and the town has plans to clean up the polluted water), as well as in the Port Gamble museum (mostly about the two families which originally formed a European settlement there). The restaurant / bar above the museum serves high-quality organic brunch food at prices comparable to mainstream Seattle brunch locations.

The road is very pleasant into Port Gamble, and also down into Poulsbo and all the way until Silverdale. Silverdale is a huge car mall with wide roads and lots of traffic. South of Silverdale, the road is pleasant again until it becomes Kitsap Way - the shoulder there is annoying to bike on. Finally, Bremerton and it’s confusing one-way downtown and ferry terminal.



On one Saturday morning, as I rode the bus to the market, I heard an unfamiliar PSA on the bus loudspeakers. Intrigued, I recorded all three of them with my cell phone.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued. After many complaints from both passengers and drivers, the PSAs were pulled two days later.

Here they are. All three of them.





















Last Saturday I rode my bike into Mt. Rainier National Park. Starting in Sumner (ST 587 Seattle - Puyallup, every hour), I followed the most popular section of the Foothills Trail to South Prairie. (Last fall I traversed the entire trail.) I then took the direct route toward the Carbon River entrance.

The second set of five photos was taken inside the park.

There used to be a gravel road along Carbon River to Ipsut Campground. After the road was damaged during the floods of 2006, the Park Service decided to close the road to MVs and instead turn it into a bikeable trail. It mostly is bikeable, with a few rough patches. It does provide very easy access to the Wonderland Trail, though I didn’t have any time left to go on the trail.

What’s missing is any view of Mt. Rainier, at least from the main road. I did catch a glimpse of just the cap from a spur trail. The Wonderland Trail definitely has its views, too.





















Last Saturday I went on another long bike ride [https://www.strava.com/activities/288042332]. I left at 06:25, took the Interurban Trail North to Martha Lake, then descended to Snohomish, where I had second breakfast. Around 09:30 I continued North along the Centennial Trail to Machias, then took a country road in a loop that ended in Monroe. By this time, it was noon. From Monroe I continued South along my usual route (get off SR-203 as fast as possible), ending up in Redmond, then Factoria around 15:30.





















Today’s bike ride was easy and slow. Photos from Myrtle Edwards Park, Ballard Locks, and Golden Gardens Park.





















Houtong Cat Village is a cat village. Interestingly, the name Houtong means “monkey cave”. It also has a burned-down coal plant. And cats. Lots of cats.

Getting here is easy. Train from Taipei to Ruifang, then Ruifang to Houtong. It’s a good intermediate stop before exploring the Pingxi line, as Pingxi trains tend to stop either here or in Ruifang. I went on to Sandiaoling to hike the waterfall trail, but that’s in the next post.





















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.

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.