Ban Li Beach and a few of its Secrets
By Kevin Stoda, living next to the Beach
I live and work at Ban Li Elementary School, which is situated between Ban Li Village and Ban Li Beach here on the island of Beigan in the Matsu archipelago. Nowadays, I walk the beach in my sandals almost every day.
Along the road to the southwest of the Ban Li Beach is both the oldest temple on the island. It is the island’s temple dedicated to the Goddess Mazu, and next to it is a tiny fortified military base—one of the few still left on the isle. Directly south of the beach are located Mt. Li and Mt. Nigu—which are not really mountains but are hills of about 350 feet in height –unless you consider that any island is really a mountain rising from the sea.
On the northside of Ban Li Beach is another hill (Mt. Qin, which rises to nearly 700 meters) that hides the famous Beihai (Northern) Military Tunnel—also named the Wusha Tunnel. Soldiers and ex-soldiers come here all of the time to reminisce about days gone by—i.e. when the Ban Li Beach was a major point of confrontation between mainland China and Taiwan during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1958 five Chinese ships were sank in the bay during what was known as the second Matsu crisis. Two hundred soldiers were killed through careless construction techniques in building it in the late 1960s, i.e. when the R.O.C. was still considering an invasion of the P.R.C.
Two weeks ago, I saw one nostalgic R.O.C soldier touring the island with a large red-white-blue Taiwanese flag here in Ban Li and again at the tunnel. The man waived the flag from place to place (and photographed) as he toured and thought about the hundreds who died here—and the hundreds of thousands who served here during the Cold War. Beigan, which now only has about 2000 residents—of which 1000 or more are still R.O.C. soldiers—was under martial law till about 1993. The Beach of Ban Li was generally closed to the public and was mined. My current school, Ban Li Elementary, was originally also the location of officers quarters at the beach.
Now, Ban Li Beach is supposedly cleared up of mines. I went swimming on Ban Li Beach often last August and September. However, in late November this past 2010, there appeared suddenly orange suited Cambodians, who were experts in demining.
They stayed on Beigan for about 11 days before returning to work on the other 18 Matsu islands. They work for both the United Nations and the R.O.C. and are still busy in Matsu. These Cambodian mine experts labored for about a week on and around Ban Li Beach. I was told by a colleague at Ban Li that the experts took out several ancient mines on the south end of the beach, which were suspected by the locals as being “likely” rather harmless–but still large.
I talked with these same mine experts later—some of whom, it turned out, were European, rather than Cambodian–,and they related that Beigan had relatively few mines after past demining projects in recent decades. They said they had more worries on the other islands to get rid of.
WALKING THE LARGEST BEACH ON BEIGAN: Granite
The Matsu islands are mostly made of marble. For example, Nangan island was created mostly of a reddish marble while Beigan is made of black and white speckled marble. Because of these large numbers of marble formations in the Matus region, the beaches at Ban Li thus have a lot of colored granite rocks and stones that wash up on it throughout the year.
As I walk along the shore in the evenings, I can see red granite, orange granite, black granite, pink granite, green granite, yellow granited and white granite stones. In addition, there are all kinds of speckled combinations of marbled stones of varying shades and hues.
With this large variety of granite stones, I imagine that I could–and should–start a granite collection—but as these colored granite stones often are larger than baseballs or softballs in size, I would need a lot more room than most anyone at the elementary school dormitory has to spare. I just looked up the terms “marble” and “island creation” on the web just now and discovered that the Hawaiian, Galapagos, and Greek islands are made of marble, too. It’s too bad there is no homegrown-granite-sculptors here in Matsu. They would make nice souvenirs.
Tourists, I am certain, would love such artifacts to carry home.
Interestingly the sand, where the rocks land ashore, is of a nice soft brown color on the massive beach. Alas, there are leftover military cement and block structures dotting part of the otherwise pristine beach of Ban Li.
NOTE: I should admit, though, that the beach is not as clean as it should be. A lot of plastic, bamboo, wood, paper, Styrofoam, and light metal items wash ashore here at Ban Li Beach—and at other Beigan beaches. I am told, though, that they this pollution does not usually come from the R.O.C. citizenry or the tourists. (Taiwan has generally become cleaner and cleaner in recent years through a variety of educational campaigns.)
Here are some sources on pollution in the Taiwan straits between China and the R.O.C.
My fellow teacher on Nangan Island nearby has stated recently that he has suggested to his own Taiwanese students that they write the Peoples Republic of China and ask that they reign in their pollution for Earth Day.
From my walks on Ban Li Beach, I agree. Contacting the PRC and its people may be the most effective way for Matsu to reduce pollution in the Taiwan Straits.
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I don’t spend 500 a month to live on Ban Li beach either.