How far is it to the very ends of the earth and what would it look like once you got there? How remote does a place really need to be to feel like it’s the last outpost? The place, I imagine, is lying in wait somewhere just before the Great Nothingness. Right on the edge of that once sorely feared, yet entirely fictitious, drop off into oblivion.
Surely Dongji Island (東吉嶼) sitting in the Taiwan Strait, must come pretty close to this mythical last place of all places? Dongji is like some kind of odd, not quite right dream straight out of a Murakami novel. The village, much like the one in Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, is quaint and old-world, and somehow an empty ethereal beauty hangs in the air. Though instead of the ominous Wall that surrounds the village in the novel, the vast ocean encompasses this small island.
Once, more than 3000 people lived in the village, now less than 11 families etch out their meager living here. With the decline in fish in the surrounding ocean waters, villagers began to abandon the island for greater prosperity in the big city. As a result empty dwellings, amongst habitable ones, fall further into decay with each passing year. Their owners are now gone and unlikely to return. Goats outnumber people and have taken over derelict buildings, including the old school house. Those few people who remain must now deal with the inevitable regression back to nature.
There is virtually no employment on the island, so, much needed water and other basic supplies are delivered to residents every 10 days by military coastguard boat. A few households grow what they can and collect rainwater, though through the howling winter this can be difficult. Residents amble the days away in quite solitude and make what they can from the infrequent visitors who appear from time to time. During the summer a few adventurers manage to set foot on the island to explore its secrets. Some visitors come for the renown snorkeling and diving while others just to wander the landscape. The diving and snorkeling is said to be the best in Penghu, with high visibility and an abundance of fish and coral. The waters are deep though and the currents strong.
Not too long ago the future of the island and the few remaining villagers was at stake. Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs chose the location as one of two potential nuclear waste dumping grounds. The remoteness and few inhabitants made it an appealing choice to far removed government officials from the Ministry. Naturally, the proposal was met with resounding opposition from Penghu locals, who aren’t keen on nuclear waste being dumped in their backyard. As a result, the Penghu County government, in one of its most honorable moments, moved to protect the island by designating it a conservation zone, thus preventing any further speculation by the MOE. The fate of the island was rightfully returned to the elements, and those who live there. The balance of life is tentative, yet plods on just the same as it always has.
There’s a peace here, much like the other islets of the Penghu Archipelago, one that is born of the harsh sun, merciless wind and endless ocean. The appeal of such a place in my mind isn’t the beautiful beaches, coral reefs and impressive lighthouse, but rather the sheer remoteness of it all. There’s a sense that time ceases to move forward once you set foot on the island. Time stagnates and quite possibly even ticks backwards, leaving Dongji behind in some far off distant past where it’s best left – another of Penghu’s well kept secrets.
Where: Dongji Island, east of Wangan Island – Penghu, Taiwan
How to get there: Private boat from Wangan or Magong
What to do: Camp (beware free-ranging goats!), Dive, Snorkel, Swim, Fish, Stroll the Village, Visit the Lighthouse and the Village Temple
Amenities: Toilets besides Harbour Master’s Office as well as behind the temple, small General Store, Pagodas