Friday, May 29, 2009

The romanisation mess

Here's a pair of street signs I spotted in Yanshui, Tainan County, the other day. I've never seen Wu (which here means 'martial' or 'military') spelled this way in any other part of Taiwan. Foreigners have bemoaned, lamented, ranted and raved about the mess that is romanisation in Taiwan... the way governments have adopted one system and then, a few years later, another... and the sad truth that many signs aren't proofread before being put up. It's sometimes a major problem for visitors who can't read Chinese and don't know that Zhongzheng is the same as Jhongjheng or Jungjeng or Chungcheng.

If you want to learn more about the issue, visit this excellent website:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Know your gods: Guan Gong

Guan Gong (aka Kuan Kong or Guan Di) is traditionally depicted with a red face and wielding a guan-dao, a weapon somewhat like a halberd. He's one of the most prominent deities in Chinese religion. A general who lived more than 1,800 years ago, he's worshipped by police officers, gangsters, businesspeople and others.

He's prominent in several temples, including this one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Green Island

...and then we took a ferry to Green Island. On the voyage over (well, hardly a voyage - it only takes 40 minutes) we saw flying fish skimming the waves. On the way back I spotted a dolphin.

The photo on the left shows the few from the Across Mountain Old Path, a 1.8km-long track that goes through part of the interior. I've never seen so many lizards in one place as I did tramping up the stone steps. Green Island perhaps doesn't have as many butterflies per square kilometre as other parts of Taiwan, but it does have some species you don't often see on the 'mainland'.

Our trip was arranged by Green Island Adventures, probably the best-known and longest-running of Taiwan's foreign-run local tour operators. I interviewed the founder for this article.

South Cross-Island Highway

Drove from Tainan to Taitung on Sunday, across the South Cross-Island Highway, one of Taiwan's most scenic mountain roads. Unfortunately we didn't have time to pause at all - or even half - of the scenic stops, though I did get a quick look at a new national forest recreation area, Siangyang.

UPDATE: Since August 2009's Typhoon Morakot, this road has been closed much of the time, and even now isn't considered safe for ordinary vehicles. In a 4x4, on a mountain bike, or a very carefully driven motorcycle, you have a good chance of making it across. At times, police checkpoints limit access to people living in the villages along the highway. Richard Foster of Barking Deer Adventures blogged about driving the entire length of the road - and not enjoying it - in January 2010. I'm adding an old photo by Rich Matheson showing a high-altitude stretch of the road in its heyday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Know your traditions: Houses for the dead

I spotted this yesterday while heading home on the motorcycle; it's a mock house made of paper and cardboard that will be burned as part of a funeral. To ensure their loved ones have shelter, furniture, transport and money in the next life, relatives of the deceased often buy (or have made) items like these. In major cities you'll come across shops selling such things. Oftentimes they're located very near temples associated with death, such as Tainan's Dongyue Hall.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Visitor information centres

These kiosks (in the book I refer to them as VICs) can be found in major train stations, high-speed stations and some of Taipei's MRT stops. They live up to their name: The staff are helpful, many of them speak excellent English, and if they don't know something they're willing to keep making phone calls until they've got the answer. Make good use of them!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Little Liuqiu Island

A couple of photos from a trip a few weeks back - my first-ever excursion to Little Liuqiu Island, southeast of Kaohsiung. It's a lovely little place, good for a daytrip, wonderful for an overnight stay.

Most of Liuqiu's residents live in typical modern concrete homes but there are some endearingly old structures. The one pictured left is perhaps the most ancient on the island. Known as the Tai Mansion, it dates from the 1820s and was the abode of one of the island's most important families. A small part of it is still occupied, and modern additions like a stainless-steel water tank diminish the beauty of that wing. The construction of a breakwater for a nearby fishing harbour is said to have upset the location's fengshui and caused the original residents and their descendants to scatter.

The mansion is largely made of coral as a building material. This is hardly surprising; the island is almost entirely coral (there's not much soil; I saw just two or three little vegetable gardens). Wave and wind erosion have given the island an exceptionally picturesque coastline, one of the most famous sights being the Vase (lower picture).