Monday, May 24, 2010

Great Taiwan travel blogs

I'd like to recommend four excellent travel-related blogs .

Tainan City - An Aimless Guide has carefully researched and beautifully photographed entries on the former capital's attractions. I especially like the posts about Tiantan and the building that's now the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature.

Taiwan in Cycles features detailed descriptions of the blogger's bike rides around Taiwan

Wandering Taiwan is a bilingual (i.e. Chinese as well as English) blog with fairly short entries and nice photos. Most of the posts are about well-known attractions; one of the longest and most thorough is about Yingge near Taipei. The bloggers have also been to some places I haven't been to, such as Waziwei Ecological Reserve.

Hiking Taiwan is the work of Stuart Dawson, with whom I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Mount Jade last month. (The weather was foul, that's why neither he nor I have blogged about it). As I write in my guidebook, Snow Mountain is one of Taiwan's most beautiful hikes - and Stuart has winter photos to prove it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Know your gods: Obscure personalities

A recent exhibition at Kaohsiung Museum of History featured dozens of folk-religion effigies and images.

For me, the most interesting artifact was an icon of a Catholic priest (pictured right) from a mountainous part of rural Kaohsiung. Unfortunately, the label does not reveal if the aborigines who carved the statuette prayed or made offerings to it. (If they did, did they regard the priest as an addition to their pre-exisiting pantheon, or were they converts to Christianity who treated him as a saint?). Nor does it say when the carving was made.

Also intriguing is this effigy of Liao Tian-ding (廖添丁). Like many other divine personalities, Liao (pictured lower right) was once an ordinary human. However, unlike most of the entities worshipped in Taiwan's folk temples, he was born and died in Taiwan. Revered for fighting the Japanese then in control of the island, icons of him began appearing in temples soon after his violent death in 1909. Some biographical details can be found here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Local colour V

I spotted these betel leaves (also known as betel pepper or piper betle) outside a house in Taitung City. They're cultivated for use in Taiwan's massive betel-nut industry (betel nut is the island's no. 2 cash crop, after rice). The leaves are wrapped around the betel nut (Areca catechu), a stimulant favoured by truck drivers, manual labourers and others, and sold from roadside kiosks by skimpily-dressed young women.

According to this website, "The betel leaf is ised in a number of traditional remedies for the treatment of stomach ailments, infections, and as a general tonic... Some evidence suggests that betel leaves have immune boosting properties as well as anti-cancer properties."

If the last point is true, it's just as well chewers chomp on the leaves while enjoying betel nuts, as habitual use of the nut dramatically increases your chances of suffering from oral cancer.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Retro appeal

There's no English inside the Kaohsiung Museum of Military Dependents Villages, but the exhibits will appeal to those with a taste for 1950s bicycles, radios, telephones and TVs. After Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists retreated to Taiwan in 1949, servicemen and their families were housed in hastily-built neighbourhoods near military bases. These "villages" - most are now abandoned and many have been demolished - were culturally distinct in that the vast majority of inhabitants were of mainland descent, that very little Taiwanese was spoken, and that support for the Nationalist regime was solid. The Kaohsiung Museum of Military Dependents Villages is built on the site of a former navy settlement in Zuoying; it's open from 9am to 5pm but closed Mondays and the days after national holidays. The full Chinese name of the museum is 高雄市左營區眷村文化館 and the address is 高雄市左營區海光三村左公二公園園區; tel 07 588 2775. The museum's website, on which there's minimal English, is here. There's a similar museum in Hsinchu.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A statue you don't see every day

Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) died in 1975. Some statues of the generalissimo have been removed (many have been sent to this park), yet the island still bears thousands of reminders of the dictator, among them road and district names (Zhongzheng, sometimes spelled Jhongjheng, 中正, is an honorific title for Chiang and one of Taiwan's most common road names).

Statues of Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) like the one pictured here, near Lotus Lake in Kaohsiung - are a rarity. Many Taiwanese have a positive impression of the younger Chiang thanks to his efforts to develop Taiwan. He was, however, complicit in many of his father's crimes.