Summary: Whether it's UFOs or lost underwater cities, Taiwan's fringe scientific societies hope to make monkeys out of their doubters over the coming year and prove once and for all that the truth is really out here
At 5:30pm on Jan 4, 2004, Taipei's Steven Lai (賴明宏) was standing with his camcorder near the Shin Kong Tower (新光大樓) when he caught sight of a triangular object in the skies above him. Making use of his top of the line digital recorder Lai filmed what he believed to be a UFO circling the skies above Taipei.
Lai sent his footage to the Taiwan Ufology Society (TUFOS, 台灣飛碟學會) -- previously known as the Taiwan Unidentified Flying Objects Association (台灣飛碟學研究會) -- for confirmation as to whether or not he was witness to a UFO sighting. He hadn't. According to experts, the clumsy and slightly out of focus footage, which shows a triangular entity with red and green markings in flight, is a man made object.
"We studied it for some time, but the object was too close to the buildings to have been a UFO," said TUFOS President James Huang (黃朝明). "We reckon that what he saw was probably a plastic bag or some other small man made object that had been picked up by the wind and was blowing through the air."
While Lai's footage wasn't this year's first Taiwan UFO sighting, hundreds of people still trawl the skies with high-powered telescopes daily hoping to catch a glimpse of the unexplained. They send their reports, whether credible or not, to TUFOS. Now boasting 500 members, the group is the nation's sole Ufology society and is a sorting house for dozens of reports that come in annually regarding UFO sightings in Taiwan.
Since Taiwan's first officially recorded sighting of a UFO by Tsai Chang-hsien (蔡章獻) on March 5, 1956, there have been upward of 54 feasible sightings and countless false sightings of unidentified flying objects cruising the skies above Taiwan. All these reports have landed on the desk of Ho Hsien-jung (何顯榮), TUFOS' chief investigator.
Affectionately known as "Ufo Ho" to his friends and colleges, the articulate Ufologist spent months wading through pages of reports filed by Taiwanese citizens over the years. Realizing the information his organization had gathered was wasted sitting in his computer, Ho decided to publish a complete record of Taiwan's UFO sightings.
"There's certainly no shortage of books touching on UFO sightings, but there was nothing specific to Taiwan," he said. "No one had ever set out to catalog the nation's UFO sightings and publish all the written and photographic evidence in a single publication before."
It took Ho almost a year to sift through information and contact and re-interview the people who had reported the sightings, to ensure there were no discrepancies. Entitled On the Trail of UFO Sightings (UFO目擊大追蹤) the book, which was released last week, details 54 of the most important UFO sightings ever to have been reported in Taiwan, as well as the countless sightings TUFOS had been informed of in China.
The results of Ho's book point to a drop in UFO sightings in Taiwan in recent years, with only two recorded incidents taking place last year, and an increase in the number of sightings on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait.
"Obviously there are more people in China than anywhere else, so I'm not surprised at the increase in sightings there. The recent drop in UFO sightings can be put down to several things," he said. "There are now more diseases than ever before, and anything landing here would be susceptible to falling victim to them. And secondly, I think the military use of lasers means that fewer extra-terrestrials now dare to enter the Earth's atmosphere in case they are shot down."
While Ho and his fellow TUFOS members continue to scan the skies looking for explanations for the unexplained, the Underwater Archeological Institute (UAI, 中華水下考古學會) plans to go in the opposite direction and uncover more photographic and documentary evidence regarding four strange edifices deep under the ocean floor of Taiwan's territorial waters.
The UAI hit the headlines in July 2002, when it stumbled across a 100m-long wall-like structure 28m beneath the murky waters of the Penghu archipelago's Hsichi (西吉島) and Tungchi (東吉島) islets. Hoping to follow on from this success, UAI divers will be taking to Taiwan's waters again this year in search for more clues surrounding lost civilizations and the legendary continent, Mudalu (姆大陸).
"After four years searching we were very happy with the find in Penghu. It created a lot of interest, especially in Japan and has given us quite a lot of credibility," said expedition chief, Steve Shieh (謝新曦).
"There's definitely a lot more out there. As to how much I wouldn't like to say, but I think there is a much bigger find waiting to be discovered."
Allegedly stretching from the South China Sea to Hawaii and encompassing large numbers of Pacific Islands, the legendary continent was supposedly home to Asia's earliest peoples, the Ketagalan (凱達格蘭族), who lived in East Asia between 7,000 and 15,000 years ago.
Known as Taiwan's Four Underwater Fabulous Ancient Mysteries (台灣水下四大傳說古文明之謎), the group comprises the recent Penghu find, which has become known as the Dongxiji Islet underwater farm house (東西吉嶼村屋之謎); the Hujing underwater castle (虎井沉城之謎), which is also off the coast of Penghu and was first discovered in 1982 by a Japanese underwater research team; the Jialeshui underwater altar (佳樂水祭台之謎), which lays of coast of Pingtung; and the Taimali underwater cliff path (太麻里懸崖步道之謎) near Taitung.
"We plan to take to the water again some time in April, when the weather conditions are best, and continue to search the area around the Jialeshui area. It lies roughly 300m off the coast in waters measuring from 16m to 40m in depth, so it's a pretty simple dive," said the UAI's expedition leader. "Of course, it's not cheap. A three-day dive with 12 people costs around NT$400,000 and we're still looking into finalizing the funding."
If funding permits, then the UAI also plans to take to some of Taiwan's less-accessible waters this year. In its most ambitious project to date, the group hopes to take to the high seas at the periphery of Taiwan's territorial waters and search an area 240 nautical miles (386km) southwest of Kaohsiung near the Dingxia Islet (東沙島), or the Pratas Islands.
"It's a big project and we've only just contacted the Kaohsiung City Government in regards permission to explore the waters around the islet. I'm sure we'll be given permission" Shieh said. "The government hasn't been interested in our finds so far, but we hope to show them things this year that they simply won't be able to ignore."