Thursday, January 28, 2010


Ximending is a centre of youth culture in Taipei, a district full of boutiques, tattoo parlours and shops that sell fashion magazines imported from Japan, garish accessories and cheap curios. Its streets are among Taiwan's liveliest and in addition to pedlars and snack vendors, you'll see strange characters like this gentleman. I have no idea what he was doing. Judging by his hairstyle and garb, he was more likely a martial artist than some kind of monk...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival

Two weeks after the Lunar New Year, a small town not far from my home celebrates its victory over a 19th century cholera epidemic. The Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival is one of the most exciting events I've ever attended. All of these photos were taken by Rich Matheson.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kayaking and river tracing in Taiwan

Taiwan has high mountains and short, fast rivers. There's no shortage of places, therefore, where you can go kayaking or river tracing. For space reasons I won't be saying much about these sports in my guidebook; instead I'm posting some links for people interested in those sports.

Here's an account of a 2006 kayaking trip to Taiwan. There's information about river-tracing here and here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Anping's decaying private residences

Tainan's Anping District, which is where the Dutch had their Taiwan base in the 17th century, has retained a lot of its traditional character. Many of the homes, such as the one pictured here, date from the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945).

Few are in perfect condition: Taiwan's younger generation seems to have little interest in doing up and living in such places, so when the owners die, the buildings are either demolished or simply left to fall apart. However, Tainan City Government has paid for the renovating of some private residences, and the entire district continues to be very worth slowly wandering around. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Local colour I

Handmade noodles drying in the sun - something you'll see in small towns throughout Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Craig Ferguson.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Zhiben Forest Recreation Area

Last month I visited Zhiben (Jhihben) Forest Recreation Area, just south of Taitung City, for the first time since the early 1990s. Because the weather was surprisingly good, there were few people and it's a very well-managed place, I spent more time there than expected.

Here are some photos. From top to bottom: (1) Looking downriver from the bridge visitors cross before entering the forest, which is on the north bank of the Zhiben River.

(2) One of the forest's many giant banyans.

(3) A waterfall in the lower part of the forest recreation area.

 (4) A magnificent male Hebomoia glaucippe formosana spotted just outside the visitors centre and identified for me by this blogger (many thanks!). Unfortunately I couldn't get a full frontal. The forest offers much better butterflying than birding.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The ROC's founder

I won't have space to fit this short profile of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the man regarded as the founding father of the Nationalist Republic of China, in the book.

Sun Yixian (Yat-sen is in fact the pronunciation of his given name in Cantonese) was born on November 12, 1866 in a village 26km north of Macau, then a Portuguese colony. After receiving a high school education in Hawaii he studied medicine in Guangzhou and then Hong Kong, where he was baptised.

Troubled by the backwardness of China and obsessed by the cause of national salvation, he joined an anti-Qing secret society and took part in several unsuccessful rebellions. In 1896 he was a political exile living in London. Later he travelled in Japan, the USA and Canada, raising funds and seeking support from Chinese in those countries. After the uprising that toppled the last emperor in 1911, Sun became provisional president.

One of Sun's first decisions was that the government would follow the Gregorian calendar rather than the lunar calendar and that years would be counted from the founding of the ROC. He quickly relinquished office – too quickly, many think – and China’s central government loss sway over much of the country. In the months before his death from liver cancer on March 12, 1925 he urged national reunification. The following year, Chiang Kai-shek – the man Sun had chosen to head the ROC’s military academy and his widow’s brother-in-law – launched the Northern Expedition.

In Taiwan, Sun is commemorated in street names (every town and city has a Zhongshan Road, Zhongshan being his honorific name) and the name of a major university. In the eastern part of Taipei, the main landmark - apart from Taipei 101 - is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Snail scourge

Look closely at a rice field or any kind of pond in Taiwan, and you're likely to see pink bubbles like these. Each cluster is about as long as your little finger and usually 5-10cm above the water line.

They're snail eggs. The gastropods are known in English as golden apple snails, and in Chinese as fu-shou-luo
(福壽螺). They're not native to Taiwan and they're considered a major pest, but they're quite interesting to look at. Unlike its dry-land counterparts, each golden apple snail has a tubular siphon on its left side. This functions as a snorkel, allowing it to breathe while submerged, and thus making it less vulnerable to birds.
According to the website of the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization: 'The golden apple snail was introduced from Florida and Latin America to Taiwan and the Philippines in the early 1980s by private snail farmers hoping to reap big profits exporting snails to Europe. Easy to rear and fast breeding, the snail’s high protein content also apparently made it an ideal [foodstuff] ... Unfortunately, the snails were not a success with consumers, and ... their market value soon plummeted'.

Snails were discarded or simply escaped. They spread quickly through waterways and irrigation channels, and now a great many rice fields are infested. At night and around dawn, they feed on young rice plants. Unfortunately for rice farmers, the snails reproduce very fast. Healthy females lay egg masses of up to 500 eggs every seven to days. Pale pink egg masses are newly laid; those that are crimson are close to hatching.

Different methods of snail control and eradication have been tried. In Taiwan, fields have been treated with tea seed cake powder (which seems to kill the snails without harming the humans who later eat the rice). Raising catfish or ducks (both species eat snails) also helps.
Some farmers resort to catching the snails by hand and smashing them on the nearest road surface. I’ve seen piles of discarded snail shells near my home, and also beside water chestnut ponds a little further north.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Know your fruit: The birthday peach

I spotted these in a morning market in Taitung City recently. They're called 'birthday peaches' in English; in Chinese they're 壽桃 shòu táo, literally 'long-life peaches'.