Zhishan – a modern hideaway contains hidden treasures

On a sunny mid-October afternoon, as a gentle breeze blew, a group of third-graders could be found trotting around the Zhishan Cultural and Ecological Garden, a 10-hectare park situated within the Tienmu district of Taipei City.

The children were there because they had to be—because they were on a school field trip. Yet they were clearly enjoying themselves as they wandered through the garden; and they could not contain their sense of wonder and excitement as they were told by their guide what Taipei was like hundreds and thousands of years ago.

As  5000 years ago, their guide explained, many parts of what is now Taipei City had been a huge lake. Before then, for millions of years, the area had been inhabited by fish. The occurrence of plate tectonics turned a watery lake into dry land. To commemorate the city’s “history,” the entrance to the park contains an ecological lake, dotted with ducks, turtles, egrets and other creatures that live off the water.

A special type of fish—Marcropodus opercularis Ahl, more commonly known as Paradise Fish—is being raised in the lake; until only six months ago the species was considered endangered and had to be protected by a special wildlife protection edict.

Li Ming-hung, the park’s deputy-director, said that the park is unique in Taiwan because it is the nation’s first designated ecological park.

“Zhishan is like a living fossil, with traces of creatures that lived on this part of the land dating many years back. This being the case, we try to highlight the rich local geological system that consisted of plants found in the ocean, marshlands and inland—the only place in the Taipei Basin with such important geological features.”

Old as the Zhishan area is, as an actual park open to the public it has been in existence for only a few years, since Jan. 1, 2006. Before then it had been, of all things, an ammunition depot operated by the Military Intelligence Bureau under the National Defense Ministry.

After using the site for 40 years, in 2002 the MIB handed over the place to the Taipei City Government, whose Cultural Affairs Bureau started a series of renovations in an effort to transform the site into an educational venue and leisure center for residents and visitors of Taipei.

“We spent a lot of time getting rid of some kind of strange grease from the pond,” Li recalled. “We had no idea what kind of gasoline the military had dumped into the pond. But fortunately we were able to get most of it out.”

The main building sitting in the back of the garden is called Zhishan Exhibition Hall. On the first floor, visitors can view the history and ecological transition of Zhishanyan, such as the oyster shells dug up from the Songshan stratum (over 6,000 years ago), which are 10 times as big as the oysters seen nowadays. The room also contains many artifacts unearthed from archaeological excavations nearby, as well as information about those who resided on the cliff at various times.

The second floor houses a multifunction audiovisual theater, a multimedia classroom, and a TV studio, where children can practice being professional TV anchors and receive a DVD of their performance afterwards.

To the right of the exhibition hall stands the ecological greenhouse used for the cultivation of many kinds of native plants, with an aquarium enabling visitors to observe tree frogs and other animals up close. There are currently more than 280 native plants in the garden.

“One special attraction of the garden is the Bread Home, which is a rehabilitation center for injured birds established by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei with a sizable donation from Dow Chemical Taiwan Ltd. in the fall of 2006,” Li indicated.

Tentative members of the Bread Home include some Formosan Blue Magpie, Collard Scops Owls, and a few others. “The Home only accepts birds which are suffering from physical injuries and have been referred by a veterinarian. We cannot accommodate sick birds because they need more professional care,” explained Li.

Why “Bread Home”? Li told the sad tale of a pitiful bird that died from inappropriate care. Several years ago, a baby Collard Scops Owl had fallen out of its nest. Not knowing that owls are carnivores, the person who found the owl and tried to nurse it back to health fed it with bread.

Though the owl recovered from its injuries, it grew weaker by eating only bread. It was seriously ill by the time it was taken into the care of vets, who named the hapless creature “Bread.”

“And we named the facility ‘Bread Home’ in memory of the owl,” said Li with a sigh.

Next to Bread Home is a small vegetable garden where basil, mint, strawberries, eggplant, bitter melon, lettuce, Australian tea trees and native tea trees are grown.

“The purpose of the veggie garden is to show children how ordinary vegetables and herbs are planted.” Kids usually have a wonderful time recognizing the vegetables they eat, Li observed.

On the opposite side of the garden is the archaeological exploration classroom. The room displays an actual excavation in cross-section in which visitors are able to see the different cultures which existed on different levels. It serves as "living" material for people who are keen to learn about the geological history and various cultures of ancient Taipei.

As Li pointed out, the garden is still relatively young in terms of its operation history, and it is in urgent need of support from both the public and the private sectors. Though it receives funding from the Taipei City Government, it requires more money to improve its facilities in order to make it a better place to visit.

“Part of my job is to come up with projects that will help boost our customer base. At this moment, we are hoping to work with other tourist attractions in neighboring areas, including Guandu Nature Park, Beitou Hot Springs Museum and Hong Gah Museum to form alliances,” Li explained.

Each place could benefit from the sharing of resources. If they could all band together to create more fun activities for tourists, all would receive more ticket revenues, Li said. He hopes that his design of a one-day tour package will materialize within one year so that the garden becomes better known. Then perhaps its financial situation will improve as well, Li said.

To find out more about the garden, please log on to: http://www.zcegarden.org.tw.

Writer: Miss. Lishan Chang of Government
Information Office.Republic of China.dated 6th Nov.2009