This will probably become quite a self-indulgent post, so please excuse me. Just over two weeks ago, here was an explosion in the Pike River Mine on the West Coast of New Zealand, and 29 lives were lost. Coming from Greymouth, this has really affected me. I can't say I was close to any of the men in the mine at the time. But, they were people I knew of, people my friends and family knew, people that were close to friends of mine. And, beyond that, it's something that will impact our community today, tomorrow, next year, forever. Something that my children should know about and appreciate.
And then, I find out we have moved to an ex-mining community right here in Taiwan, and that Taiwan has a rich mining history. And THEN, I hear about the Taiwan Coal Mine Museum; a privately-run museum, set up to educate Taiwanese about their coal mining history. So, I drove around the North East Coast, and took my children to this museum. And, you know, they got a lot out of that experience, and I am now recommending it to other parents. So many towns in Taiwan are ex-mining towns, and this history needs to be passed down to our children.
The Taiwan Coal Mine Museum is actually the site of the closed New Ping-Shi Coal Mine. It is the only coal mine in Taiwan that the government has allowed to be set up like this. Most of the facilities have been well-preserved, so you can see the real mine, ride the real train, walk into the real bath area, and touch the real coal mining tools.
Currently, there is very little English explanation at the site, but don't let that put you off. I am going to share some things I learned yesterday with you, and you can also read this bilingual page on their website. If you plan to go to the museum, I suggest you go before the middle of next year, as the new highway is going to go right over the site and the curator is already sure some of the beauty of the area (including the tea plantation) is going to be lost.
Entrance: 200 per person. This includes a 20-minute ride on the actual train that used to take the coal to the area where it would be shifted out. The "A-ma" who drives the train has been doing this for over 30 years!
Video: There is a 15-minute video introducing the history of the mine and coalmining in Taiwan. It is in a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese. My children didn't last the video, but they are only six and four years old. My six-year-old did pick up a few things from the 10 minutes he watched. The curator told me they do have a short film in English, made by a foreign film company, that you can ask for. Print out this post and show them if your Chinese is not good enough to explain what you want.
Train ride: The train takes you along the real track that the coal was taken along for so many years. The coal was sent down to Shr-fen station, and then the coal cars were PUSHED manually by six women to the main train station, where the engine waited. You can see the coal township from the platform. The school used to have 1300 students, as the mine school serviced three mines in the area. There are now only about 50 students in the school.
Story area: Currently, there is no English in this area. There are many photos. They all tell their stories. You can see how difficult coalmining in Taiwan was. The seam of coal is very thin, and the walls are soft. Miners could not stand up when working on the face. They had to lie down or crouch, for several hours at a time, sometimes in a pool of silt. There is a high level of gas in the mines in Taiwan, making explosions a strong possibility. (In 1984, there were three accidents in mines in Taiwan, resulting in the loss of over 200 lives.) Many miners were Taiwan aborigines, as they had the stamina to do the work, and could not find other work to do. Miners in Taiwan really believed they might not have any "tomorrow" so they worked hard and partied hard. The Taiwan aborigines loved to drink and sing so they were given their own dormitories where they could live the lives they enjoyed (this is a direct quote from the curator, not my own observation). Taiwan's miners also did a lot of praying to their gods, such as "土地公" (local earth gods) and the gods related to Ghost Month. After over 200 years of mining in Taiwan, there are no working mines on the island.
Coffee Shop: There is a coffee shop. I would suggest taking a picnic with you and buying a drink from the shop. The area is a lovely spot for a picnic.
Gift Shop: There are a few bits and pieces to purchase. There is an honesty box where you put your money in for your purchases.
Coal digging pit: Like a sandpit, but I think the kids dig for coal with little coal shovels. Might be fun for little ones, just watch they don't eat it!
This museum is more suited to children of at least elementary school age, and to get the most of out of it you would need to print out some of the English material here, or speak some Chinese. But, my four-year-old daughter loved the area and the train ride. It's a good family outing, even without visiting the other sites very close by (Shi Fen waterfall, taking the Pingshi train, etc).
How to get there:
By car: Take highway 3, heading to Highway 5 (Ilan 宜蘭 direction). Get off at the Shiding 石碇交流道 exit, get onto highway 106, drive to Shi Fen's 69K十分69K area and follow the signs on the local road.
By train: Take a train to either Badu or Reifang (八堵 or 瑞芳), and take the Pingshi line平溪支線 to Shifen十分. Walk back in the direction you came, about 800 meters, which is about an 8 minute walk to the lower entrance of the site.
By bus: Take the Muzha MRT to Muzha Station. Then take Taipe Bus Company's No. 16 bus (台北客運16路公車) to Shi Fen (於十分寮下車).
Link to the Chinese directions and map.
Opening hours: Everyday from 9am to 5pm. Ticket sales stop at 4pm
Cost: $200 per person, including the train ride and a DIY item.
Now, you will reach the lower entrance of the museum. When we drove there, I felt a bit like I had entered some movie. We parked our car, got out to silence, and then this very old Taiwanese woman with a straw hat and apron came over, pointing and talking to me in Taiwanese. If I had been a newcomer to Taiwan, I would probably have got nervous and left. But, we went into the little mining hut and got sorted with tickets (200 per person, children three and under free.) She then pointed to the road we had to drive (go behind the sign and follow the road to the right, all the way up the hill, about a three-minute drive). The museum has a courtesy van, so if you walked and she starts pointing and talking, she is likely telling you to wait for the van.
I don't have any photos right now, as my camera failed me again. But, we will be visiting again soon, to get some pictures.