Thursday, December 23, 2010

Slow train to the high-speed rail station

Tainan's high-speed railway (HSR) station has an absurdly remote location southeast of the city centre. Getting to it is now easier, at least, thanks to the brand-new conventional branch railway that links Shalun (site of the HSR outpost), central Tainan and some nearby towns. Trains leave Tainan TRA Station bound for Shalun about every half hour between 05.53 and 23.18. Journey time is 23 minutes, so it's significantly quicker than the shuttle buses that link parts of the city with the HSR station. One-way fare is a bargain NT$25.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fresh facts I: Orchid Island

The first time Orchid Island (also known as Lanyu) appeared on a map was 1626, when it was included in a Spanish chart of the Philippines and its surrounding seas. Not until 1878 was it shown on Chinese maps, and when the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895, the latter weren't sure of the island's status. Negotiations with the Spanish - rulers of the Philippines between 1565 and 1898 - confirmed that Orchid Island belonged to Taiwan.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wenshan Hot Springs to reopen

Last month I interviewed by email Yu Teng-lang (游登良), director of Taroko National Park Headquarters, for this article in the International Herald Tribune. Yu he told me something that will delight fans of natural, open-air spas: Wenshan Hot Springs, closed following a fatal rockslide in 2005, will reopen mid-2011.

In the past few years, a steady stream of people have climbed over the gate and bathed, official closure notwithstanding. In Taiwan, wide gaps like this between official status and reality aren't unusual.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Notable Taiwanese living in the UK

Unlike the US, Canada or Japan, the UK doesn't have a substantial Taiwanese community. However, at least three Taiwanese living in Britain have made a splash in their fields. They are:

Ching-He Huang (b1978, 黃瀞億) is a food writer who's gone on to present TV cookery shows. At age five her family emigrated to South Africa; six years later they moved to the UK. I interviewed her by email for this article.

Hsiao-Hung Pai (b1968, 白曉紅) is a campaigning journalist who has written for The Guardian and various other publications. I interviewed her and wrote about her first book, Chinese Whispers, for Taiwan Today, an English-language government website.

Richard Lin (1933-2012, 林壽宇) is best known for his modernist painting, one of which was sold by Sotherbys in 2008 for GBP34,850. Since the 1980s he's devoted himself to sculpture and spent more time in Taiwan than the UK. He first travelled to the UK in 1954 to study architecture and art, and then spent decades in London. He's a descendant of the rich and once-powerful Lin family of Wufeng, Taichung.

Although she's now based in Macau, Chu Mei-feng (b1966, 璩美鳳) - who lived for a time in London - is also worth mentioning. I'm guessing this former politician relocated to the UK to find peace and obscurity, having acquired more than enough fame and notoriety in Taiwan as a result of one of the country's most spectacular sex scandals.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Crystal bracelets

To a Westerner, the idea that certain crystals have special properties sounds distinctly New Age. In Taiwan, it's widely accepted that a bracelet made of clear crystal can boost the wearer’s powers of concentration and memorization; that turquoise helps one recover from surgery; and that yellow crystal attracts unearned wealth (such as lottery winnings) while also protecting the lungs (it's popular with smokers as a result).

Rose quartz is a love stone. If worn as part of a bracelet, it indicates the wearer is searching for love. Presenting a piece of rose quartz to a member of the opposite sex is a declaration of affection. A rose quartz sphere placed in the matrimonial bedroom should enhance a couple's sex life. Topaz is said to bring you love and happiness, and help you avoid accidents (fires in particular). Lapis lazuli is often given to children as it's believed to aid their all-round development, while amethyst is thought to confer wisdom.

Crystal bracelets are sold in night markets, in and near temples and online. They're seldom expensive but if you're not a gemologist, it's hard to know exactly what you're being offered.