Saturday, October 31, 2009

Taipei: From 'drab' to 'panache'

"I last visited Taipei in 1983, and what was then a rather drab and sprawling non-descript metropolis, has now morphed itself with panache and verve into a sophisticated and vibrant capital city. Cradled in a large basin that in prehistoric times was an enormous lake, the city’s arteries are an amalgam of wide, tree-lined boulevards, mimicking Europe’s best, and quaint old-fashioned, back-alleyways resonating with all the delights of Asia. Blessed with a sophisticated service industry, cheap and efficient public transport, a blend of modern shopping malls and traditional night markets, the best Chinese food in the world, and a vibrant nightlife scene – Taipei is surely one of the most unsung and underrated tourist destinations in Asia with something to offer everyone."

So writes John Hagan in The Seoul Times, an English-language newspaper in South Korea. His article covers the main attractions - Taipei 101, National Palace Museum and the city's food - but, as with any write-up of less than 1,200 words, just scratches the surface. The capital has a huge amount to see, do, eat and buy - spend a week here if you can.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Door gods, traditional and modern

The doors of Taiwanese temples almost always bear full body-length portraits of door gods, men in classical garb with long beards. The 'door gods' pictured here were photographed at the Jinmen Hall in Lugang. Less than 100m away I came across some interesting 'door-god' style decoration on the entrance of a private house (below). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Electric scooters

The best way to see many parts of Taiwan is by rented motorcycle, preferably a 125cc Vespa-type machine that's easy to ride (no clutch, no gear changes) and easy to park whenever you spot something of interest.

In this Taipei Times article, it's reported that the ministries of transport and economic affairs are working together to rid some of Taiwan's minor islands of petrol-burning motorcycles and replace them with electric scooters. The latter are, of course, much better for the environment and far quieter. I think it's a great idea and hope it happens. Green Island reportedly has 6,000 motorcycles registered for a population of around 2,700, because so many scooter-rental businesses serve incoming tourists.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue skies in Taipei

Who says it rains all the time in Taipei? I just spent three-and-a-half days in the capital, and had blue skies and comfortable temperatures 95 percent of the time. I took this photo in the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park.

The skyscraper in the background on the right is the Shinkong Mitsukoshi Department Store, formerly Taipei's tallest building. The one on the left is National Taiwan Museum, a colonial era edifice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mixed signals

Everyone agrees that Taiwan's government agencies need to do a little more (or a lot more) to make the country really tourist-friendly. Here's an example from Penghu. At the entrance to Yuwengdao Lighthouse (漁翁島燈塔, pictured here) in the Penghu Islands there are various signs. One says, in English and Chinese, 'No Entry'. Another, just below, states 'Welcome (Admission Free)'.

So, is this lighthouse open to the public or not? It seems to be. No one stopped us, or the Taiwanese sightseers there at the same time, from wandering around the grounds.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lost wallet

Yesterday afternoon, after checking in and passing through security at Magong Airport in the Penghu Islands, I realised I'd mislaid my wallet. When we arrived in Tainan my wife called the Penghu police and asked if they could stop by the coffeeshop where I thought I might have left it. Within an hour they'd done so and called back, saying they'd recovered the wallet (the workers were holding on to it, expecting I'd come back and ask for it) and all the contents.

Well done Penghu police for your efficiency, and thank you coffeeshop employees for your honesty.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Know your fruit: The starfruit

This is the starfruit, sometimes known as the carambola. They're native to Indonesia and the Indian sub-continent, but they're grown widely in Taiwan. Wild varieties, smaller than the fist-sized ones you'll see in markets, are also fairly common. Often eaten fresh, starfruit can also be turned into juice. Personally I dislike the taste, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try one.

In Chinese they're known as yáng táo (楊桃). Taiwan exports this fruit to Russia and other markets.

This photo is courtesy of Craig Ferguson.