One of the many things I love about Taiwan is that there is a folksy “legend” attached to just about every notable geological formation. I put “legend” in quotation marks in much the same spirit Marcy put “enchilada” in quotes in the 1974 Weight Watchers recipe cards (see here), because their status as actual “legends” is truly questionable, but they are, nevertheless, entertaining.
For example, there is a small island off the southwestern coast called Sanxiantai, or Terrace of the Three Immortals. It’s got three big knobs of rock that stick up out of it, and the locals used to keep goats out there. Why? I don’t know. Now, there’s a wild, wavy bridge connecting it to the shore that is a chore and a half to traverse, but looks really cool. Anyhoo, the local “legend” goes that, once upon a time, China’s Eight Immortals were flying home to China from vacationing in the United States…you know, like they do…they stopped on this island for a rest, and three of them decided to stay, because it is so pretty. So, those three big rock outcroppings represent the three lame Chinese “Immortals” who punked out on flying all the way back to China…from vacationing in the USA. Yeah. Legend worthy, for sure, no arguments here. Although, the locals’ self-esteem is concerning me, if they don’t think they were worth all eight of the Chinese Immortals, or even a simple majority of them, choosing to stay there with them.
My favorite one, though, is the “legend” associated with the Yehliu Cape, about an hour or so northeast of Taipei. The coastal landscape in this one area is comprised of a ginger-colored sandstone layer underneath a denser sedimentary rock layer. Erosion from the rough surrounding seas eats away at the underlying sandstone faster than the rock layer, creating these groovy, mushroom-like stone towers with black rock caps on top.
It’s otherworldly. The black stone caps sort of look like turtle shells on the softer, narrower sandstone stems, so the area is also colloquially known as the Yehliu Turtle. Now, here comes the legend (note, no “enchilada” marks on this one).
Yehliu Cape is just north of Keelung harbor, which used to be one of the main commercial harbors in Taiwan for shipping traffic from China. The seas around it are pretty dangerous, and there were a lot of shipwrecks. The locals attributed the danger in the shipping channel to the troublesome “turtle elf” at Yehliu.
The Jade Emperor, whoever that is, dispatched an elephant-riding fairy with a holy sword to deal with the truculent turtle elf. So, she saddled up her elephant, got her spear and magic helmet—sorry, I mean, sword—and galloped out to pick a bone with the Yehliu Turtle. According to the Yehliu Cape Park website:
“When she arrived, she yelled at the turtle and said, ‘What a naughty turtle; how dare you do such evil things and kill so many innocent people. I, bestowed with the power of this holly [sic] sword, shall punish you and you shall have no way to escape.’ The turtle elf was serious hurt then. After that, whenever the weather changes, people may notice a strand of smoke permeating through the air at Yehliu Cape. And that’s when you’ll hear local people say, ‘Look, the half-dead turtle is making its last breath again.’”
I can’t tell if the turtle elf’s feelings were so hurt by the serious tongue lashing he received from the elephant fairy, that he curled up on the cape and sulked and smoked for eternity, or if she actually just did a half-assed job of killing him. I think I prefer the former; I’d rather think of a sullen turtle dude smoking a joint out there by himself, than a wounded turtle elf, wheezing and gurgling away next to the sea, unable to just kick the bucket once and for all.