• James Chater

Fulong Beach 福隆海水浴場, Whistles and Sand Sculptures

I’ve been in Taipei for just over two weeks now. Yesterday, I woke up and realised I haven’t had a proper “day off” since I arrived. Not even on my birthday, not really. On my birthday (Sunday), I had a lie-in, but spent the afternoon enduring obscene heat in Huashan Park, sweating uncontrollably whilst I spoke to people attending the Taiwan with Hong Kong rally. Now, the beach was in order.

I don’t know why, but when I came to Taiwan for the first time last summer, I was surprised by just how beautiful the beaches were. It’s probably another one of the unjust equations many make between Taiwan and China. Swimming in the sea off Shanghai remains unappetising to my mind.

Yesterday, I retuned to Fulong Beach (福隆海水浴場) with my roommate, Eddie. Fulong is on Taiwan’s northeast coast, almost an exactly horizontal line east from Taipei City. It takes about 45 minutes on the train and costs about £2 on Taipei’s equivalent of the Oyster Card system.

On my only previous visit last year, there was a temporary ban on swimming. On that day, a typhoon still had about 4 days left to brew over the Pacific before it hit Taiwan; yesterday, a typhoon had passed over Taiwan about 5 days before. Then and now, I was informed by the attendant in the ticket booth that we could not swim because the “wind was too strong”, and the waves too large.

Even though the ticket booth is at least 300 metres from the sea, the waves still looked like they would struggle to reach the height of a child’s knees. As well as this, there was literally no wind. The attendant, although in a wooden booth, must have known this too, as she could see the sweat already trickling down my face after the less-than-five-minute walk from the train station. I only wished there was a bit more wind.

We bought the tickets and walked over the bridge that traverses the mouth of the Shuang River (雙溪), on to the beach. As we neared, the dreaded sound of the lifeguard’s whistle became audible, and soon, I located the source. He was wearing bright orange shorts, pacing up and down the shore much like Miss Trunchbull, whistling almost incessantly, and waving his arms at anyone who ventured into water deeper than their knees. He was flanked by an assistant on a quad bike, also armed with a whistle, who sped over to anyone daring enough to try and enter the water an extra 50 metres down the beach.

Despite Eddie being Taiwanese, he said that we can just pretend not to speak Chinese if Miss Trunchbull says anything, and feign ignorance in our best foreign accents: ting bu dong (I don’t understand). The whistling was was a bit irksome, but we got in the water anyway, making sure not to make any movements that might be mistaken for swimming. It was still relaxing. The sea off Taiwan is a great temperature.

After we got out, I noticed further down the beach some sand sculptures. As we neared them, their enormous scale became clear.

It turns out Fulong Beach is the venue for an International Sand Sculpture exhibition, with artists coming from all over the world to participate. The theme for this year’s exhibition was “crossing the town to find Atlantis” – “穿越小鎮尋找亞特蘭提斯”.

There were around thirty sculptures in total. The centrepiece was an enormous sculpture of a city, presumably Atlantis, at least 4 metres high. The detail on it was astonishing. It had huge sea creatures toward the bottom, a mermaid guard, buildings with Palladian columns, and a huge dome at the summit.

According to their wesbite, the sculptures have been in place since at least April. Some of the recent typhoon had damaged parts of the smaller sculptures, but the larger ones remained intact. Once completed, they must be sprayed with some kind of water-resistant substance so rain does not damage them. I hope a scientist can explain to me how this is possible.

It’s nearly 5:30pm by the time I was looking at the sculptures, so most of the people had left the beach. In a brief moment of quiet, with the overcast sky casting a greyish hue on the beach, I contemplated the unnerving sturdiness of a material synonymous with transience. Then, the sculptures looked haunting, almost primeval, as if they had been here looking over the beach for millennia.

HWEEEEE. “不能游泳!– No swimming!” The resumption of the lifeguard’s neurotic whistling pierced my brief meditative state. I turned around and saw there are about five people left in the sea.

I went back to my bag and got my camera before the beach closed.

This last picture gives some sense of the scale of the city sculpture.