Monday, March 30, 2009


My wife and I drove down to Foguangshan last week, the first time I've been to this very well-known Buddhist centre. If you go, do arrange an English-language tour in advance. You'll learn a great deal about religion. If that doesn't interest you, the art gallery might. The museum about Buddhism is, unfortunately, mostly Chinese only.
The photos here show some of the architecture and a few of the many hundreds of Buddha statues in the grounds.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Coconut skulls

If this was Cambodia, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a big pile of skulls. But no, simply discarded coconut shells beside Highway 182, not far from Neimen in Kaohsiung County. Neimen is best known for the Song Jiang Battle Array. Cyclists will like Highway 182: Lots of twists and turns but not much traffic, some up and down, and just enough civilization en route if you need to use a temple bathroom or stop for a cold drink.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Urban bike rentals

Both Taipei and Kaohsiung cities have launched high-tech bicycle rental systems, and Tainan is talking about it. I haven't used any of these systems, but I looked at one of the rental points in Kaohsiung (pictured left), right outside a KMRT station. Even though the English version of the instructions was perfect, it still seems a little complicated. Moreover, the bicycles are definitely on the small side if you're a Western man of average dimensions.

On Kaohsiung's Qijin Island there are a number of private bike-rental businesses. Qijin has some quite decent bike trails, and the traffic isn't too bad.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mountains of the Moon

Yesterday, coming back from Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, I drove through Tianliao Moonworld, one of three or four places in South Taiwan famous for dry, foliage-free ridges and hillocks. There's some striking scenery but I'm not sure I could give useful directions to someone who doesn't speak or read Chinese. There's a very real chance of getting hopelessly lost (or running out of fuel).

Friday, March 13, 2009

A scholar's house

While in Taipei earlier this week, after visiting the Confucius and Dalongdong Baoan temples, I set off to find the old abode of a long-dead scholar. Chen Yue-ji's House is marked on a number of tourist maps, but as soon as I got there I realized it wasn't a normal tourist attraction. There were sacks of trash out front, dozens of cigarette butts on the floor, and racks of laundry drying in the courtyard.

It's a sprawling single-story complex still inhabited by dozens of people. Some of it dates from 1807, but because of additions and renovations, it's now a real hodge-podge of different styles and materials. In some places the wood is quite rotten, but other parts are still attractive. There's stonework, red bricks, and walls that were once covered with plaster. The residents didn't seem to mind me wandering through the courtyards and taking photos.

If you want to take a look, one entrance is at Alley 14, Lane 235, Yanping North Road Section 4 (延平北路4段235巷14弄).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Know your gods: The Old Man Under the Moon

This gentlemen is a divine matchmaker. He refers to a list given to him by a goddess, and using invisible red thread ties together those destined to marry.

He can be found in all sorts of temples, though he has few shrines of his own. The loveless and heartbroken petition him for help finding Mr or Ms Right. Sometimes they write down their requirements/hopes on a small piece of paper, and tie it with red thread to a board beside the altar. Some of those who later find love come back and leave behind one of their wedding photos as proof of his powers.

The photo here was taken in Chiayi's Cheng Huang Temple.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The grave of William Hopkins

I spent most of yesterday in Kaohsiung, collecting information for the guidebook and for an article for Travel in Taiwan magazine. In addition to visiting some of the usual tourist haunts, I went to check if one of the city's odder, unofficial relics was still in existence: The tombstone of William Hopkins, an Ulsterman who drowned in 1880 and was buried in the foreigners' cemetery.

The cemetery as such disappeared long ago; it seems the land was occupied by squatters. For some reason, Hopkins' tombstone is still here, right beside a small single-story concrete house. It's a little hard to see because it's down an unmarked lane and sometimes hidden behind clothes put out to dry...

I've no idea if Hopkins' bones are here or not. For that you'd need ground-penetrating radar. Also, the current occupiers may not be eager to know about skeletons a few feet under their floor. If you want to visit the site, the address is 30-7, Lane 60, Dengshan Rd, Xiziwan (高雄市西子灣 登 山 路60巷30-7號). Follow the lane for a short distance until it forks. Take the alleyway on the right (the one that goes slightly uphill); the house is on the right, just a few meters up the alley. Walk past the house and you'll see the tombstone nestled against the wall.

In north Taiwan, Danshui Foreigners Cemetery has been preserved and is open to the public.