Monday, November 30, 2009

Metal bashing in the backstreets

Wandering through Tainan's backstreets and alleyways is always interesting, always rewarding. Recently I came across this friendly gentleman, in his early 70s, who was quite happy for me to take photos as he fixed farmers' tools and custom-made various implements. Blacksmiths are a dying breed in Taiwan - I'd be very surprised to hear of someone under the age of 50 doing this job.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Butterflies big and small

During recent trips I came across two unusually cooperative butterflies. The first, one of the largest and most magnificent I have ever seen, posed for me during a visit to Fuyuan National Forest Recreation Area (also called the Butterfly Valley Resort) in Hualien. If I've identified it correctly (I'm a butterfly fan but no expert) it's a Small Birdwing. According to the Council of Agriculture's website, the forewing span can be as much as 20cm.I haven't been able to identify the other butterfly. I'm pretty sure it isn't rare; in any case, there were hundreds of similar specimens where I found it, flitting over a freshly-mowed lawn near my home in Tainan. As you can see, it's tiny, each wing being barely 1cm across.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Zhou Guang-hui's Collection

Zhou Guang-hui (周廣煇), a local Amis chieftain, school teacher and member of Hualien County Council, spent his retirement accumulating farming tools and household utensils, hunting paraphernalia and models of his tribe's traditional thatched huts which he'd made with his own hands. In addition to animal skulls, traps and catapults, there are gowns and a foot-powered rice thresher still in working order. Unfortunately, nothing is labelled in English and since Zhou's death the collection has opened to the public only sporadically. However, if you ask around in the village of Dabalong (太巴塱) near Guangfu, no doubt a friendly local will lead you to it and likely track down whoever is holding the keys.

Perhaps the most precious item inside is the multi-generation family tree that Zhou compiled. The names of many of Zhou's ancestors are written in romanized script only; the more recent members of his clan are listed with both their Amis and Han names (the latter in Chinese characters). I regret not taking a photo of it...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Homestays / B&Bs

Learn to recognise this emblem: It's the sign given to homestays (also known as bed-and-breakfasts, though not all of them offer breakfast) which satisfy fire safety and other regulations and are thus legal and licensed. Homestays have become very popular in Taiwan in recent years because they offer a different experience to hotels - one that's friendlier, less formal, sometimes quirkier...

In the guidebook I recommend dozens of good homestays.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Puli's paper church

I've moved the text about what's officially called Puli Paper Dome (埔里紙教堂) to this page.

APRIL 2012 UPDATE: The architect who designed the Paper Dome, Shigeru Ban, has been commissioned to create a cardboard replacement for Christchurch cathedral, which was so badly damaged in a February 2011 earthquake that it will be demolished.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Know your fruit: The banana

The humble banana, pound-for-pound one of the cheapest fruits grown and sold in Taiwan. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, up to 80,000ha of land was devoted to growing bananas, and the fruit was one of Taiwan's top three exports. (Refined sugar was consistently no. 1). Most went to Japan, a total of 653,800 tonnes in 1967 alone. Local bananas are excellent and healthy!

This is another of Craig Ferguson's photos.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A house made of mud

We spotted this old house, made mostly but not entirely of mud bricks, yesterday. Appropriately, it's just a few kilometres from one of Taiwan's mud volcanoes.

In the past couple of years, mud has made a bit of a comeback as an eco-friendly, sustainable building material, as this article relates.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mangroves, birds & crabs

Yesterday we joined a two-hour-long boat tour of Sicao, an area of wetlands, mangrove swamps, creeks and abandoned salt pans that's exceptionally rich in birds and marine life. Sicao will be part of Taiwan's eighth national park, Taijiang National Park.

The tour is a good introduction to the ecology of lagoons that came into existence almost 200 years ago after a strong typhoon reshaped the coastline. and sediment blocked river mouths.

I'm posting details of this on the blog but won't put anything about it in the guidebook because English-language tours are not available; indeed, the guide seemed to prefer speaking Taiwanese to Mandarin.

The Mangroves Protection Association of Tainan City can be contacted at tel: +886 6 284 1709; fax: +886 6 284 0701; e-mail: