Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Taiwan's two and a half million Chens

If you spend any time in Taiwan, you'll come away with the impression that a great many people are surnamed Chen, Lin or Wang. This is something I touched on in my first book, in which I quoted a local idiom: "Chen, Lin, Li, Guo and Cai are half the people in the world." (Li is often spelled Lee, as in the case of a former president; Guo is often Kuo, and Cai is usually Tsai).

This webpage makes a fascinating comparison between the frequency of popular surnames in Taiwan with those in the USA:

Imagine taking everyone in the United States named Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown, Davis, Miller, Wilson, Moore, Taylor, and Anderson … and giving them all the new family name of “Smith.” Then add to the Smiths everyone surnamed Thomas, Jackson, White, Harris, Martin, Thompson, Garcia, Martinez, Robinson, Clark, Rodriguez, Lewis, Lee, Walker, Hall, Allen, Young, Hernandez, King, Wright, and Lopez. Those are, in descending order beginning with Smith, the 32 most common family names in the United States. It takes all of those names together to reach the same frequency that the name “Chen” has in Taiwan.

Chen [the traditional version of character is shown right] covers 10.93% of the population... Smith, the most common family name in the United States, covers just 1.00 percent of the population there.

In Taiwan, the 10 most common family names cover half (50.22%) of the population. Covering the same percentage in the United States requires the top 1,742 names there. And covering the same percentage as Taiwan’s top 25 names (74.17%) requires America’s top 13,425 surnames.

Why is Taiwan dominated by a handful of family names? I'm not sure, but in South Korea the situation is even more extreme. There, the four most common surnames account for almost 70% of the population.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Taiwan Birdathon 2012

Taiwan is holding a 30-hour Birdathon event on the weekend of November 24-25, 2012. It starts at 8:30am on Saturday and ends at 2:30pm on Sunday.

It will be held in the southern counties of Yunlin and Chaiyi plus Tainan City. This region is home to great birding sites such as Alishan, Yushan National Park, Huben, Beimen Wetlands, Aogu Wetlands, and Qigu. A wide range of shore and forest birds can be expected, including many endemics and wintering specialties. 

Teams, each consisting of three or four members, will aim to spot as many bird species as possible in the 30-hour period. Foreign teams are especially welcome: Accommodation and food will be provided for November 23-25, and foreign teams can be paired up with local guides if necessary. No registration fee is required.

The event is organized by the Taiwan Ecotourism Association and sponsored by the ROC Tourism Bureau and three national scenic areas: Southwest Coast, Alishan and Siraya.

For more details see the official website (the English section is still under construction) or see Richard Foster's blog post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taiwan's lighthouses

Taiwan has around 1,600km of coast and well over 100 minor islands. In the 19th century, shipwrecks were frequent and they sometimes led to international incidents, so it's no surprise the government operates 34 lighthouses to ensure maritime safety. For the past 140 years, these lighthouses have been managed by the Directorate General of Customs, a body founded back in the Qing Dynasty and headed for 48 years by Sir Robert Hart, an Ulsterman. 

At the end of this year, however, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications will take over responsibilities for lighthouses, and to celebrate the handover, 12 lighthouses will be open to the public on June 30. The 12 were built between 1872 and 1983, and six are opening their doors to the public for the very first time. Several other lighthouses are open to the public year round, among them the one that stands on Qijin Island and overlooks the mouth of Kaohsiung Port. Judging by this photo, Suao Lighthouse has a spectacular location, but it isn't open to casual visitors. 

I visited the lighthouse pictured here (Creative Commons photo by Shih-Pei Chang) while researching the Penghu County section of my guidebook; the grounds are open to visitors, but the building is off-limits. Or so it seems.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

B&B profiles on Tra News

Tra News is a trilingual (Chinese, English and Japanese) website on which you'll find some useful information if you're planning a trip around Taiwan and want to see what's happening. The short articles reflect Taiwanese rather than Western interests; there's a great deal about local delicacies and festivals which travelers who can't speak Chinese will find dull or bewildering. That said, the photos and details of numerous homestays (B&Bs) are useful when looking for somewhere to stay. Also, several establishments offer discount coupons through the website.

The letters "TRA" usually stand for Taiwan Railway Administration, which manages the island's conventional railroads. However, there seems to be no connection between this website and the railway agency - and there's no explanation on the site of what "Tra" stands for.