Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chiang Kai-shek's adopted son

I've been working on the history section of the guidebook. It's been a pleasure and an education. Unfortunately there are lots of colourful episodes and anecdotes I'd like to include but there just isn't space. The life story of Chiang Wei-kuo (蔣緯國, 1916-1997) is one.

In 1988, Chiang confirmed what many had guessed: That Chiang Kai-shek wasn’t his real father and that his birth was the result of a love affair in Tokyo between Tai Chi-tao, a KMT heavyweight then in exile, and a Japanese woman called Shigematsu Kaneko. Chiang Kai-shek adopted Wei-kuo to protect Tai’s reputation and marriage, and later sent him to Germany for military training. There he proved his worth as a soldier. He served as a tank commander during the Anschluss, Hitler’s takeover of Austria, and was promoted to the command of a Panzer unit training for the invasion of Poland. Before that operation was launched his father recalled him to China, where he applied what he’d learned in Germany first against the Japanese and then against the Communists. Decades later in Taiwan, he stood for the vice presidency on an unofficial conservative ticket opposed to Lee Teng-hui.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Taiwan's churches

Among a slew of articles of mine which have just come out is a long magazine piece about church architecture in Taiwan. Westerners visiting Taiwan probably aren't coming here to see Christian places of worship - but, whatever your interests, you may well find Shenshan Catholic Church interesting. I don't have any good photos, but follow this link to see an interesting melding of aboriginal art and imported religion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dapeng Bay

I visited Dapeng Bay - which is gradually emerging as one of Taiwan's most important watersports destinations - back in March, and a newspaper article I wrote about that place has just been published.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Know your traditions: The Chinese coffin

It looks a bit like a dug-out, but this is a typical Taiwanese coffin, photographed in a coffin-maker's workshop in Sanxia, near Taipei. As you can see, shape-wise it's quite different to you usual Anglo-Saxon casket. The very best coffins in Taiwan are made from a single tree trunk and can weigh as much as two tonnes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

North Cross-Island Highway

Taiwan used to have three cross-island highways - north, central and south. The central road has been closed to non-locals since the 1999 earthquake, while the southern road has not reopened since 2009's Typhoon Morakot. Driving across the North Cross-Island Highway in good weather is always worthwhile, however, even if you lack the time to linger at Cihu Sculpture Memorial Park. The stretch between Fuxing and Baling is sometimes very busy because cars and tour buses head up to Lalashan for the peach season. East of Baling, however, the road is superbly scenic and almost totally free of traffic.

The North Cross-Island Highway links Daxi (a small town worth an hour or two) near Taoyuan with Yilan in the northeast. The photo here shows the view from Fuxing Youth Activity Centre's coffeeshop.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Only for drowned accidents

Westerners living in Taiwan like to make fun of the strange wording that can be seen on many signs and notices, but the English is almost always understandable. I took this photo in Nanzhuang Township, Miaoli, at a lovely little spot called Shensiangu.