Saturday, September 22, 2012

Taiwan Design Museum

Located inside Taipei's Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, the Taiwan Design Museum (open: 09.30-17.30 Tue-Sun; admission NTD50/30; Chinese-only official website here; photo gallery here) contains a small but thorough selection of  local and overseas items, mainly appliances and furniture items. Taiwanese are acutely aware they have a reputation for copying rather than innovating, so it's especially interesting that one of the museum's audio-visual presentations, describing the first locally-made rice steamer to reach the market, delicately notes it was created in the early 1960s ‘with reference’ to Japanese designs.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gourmands and gourmets will find useful when planning where to eat in Taiwan's capital. With details of around 1,500 eating establishments, divided into categories like "vegetarian" or "bakeries" - and English-language reviews of many of them, it's probably the best dining site for visitors and expatriates after A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Military Brothel Exhibition Hall

Last week in Kinmen County, I visited one of the ROC's newer museums, the Military Brothel Exhibition Hall (特約茶室展示館, open: 08.30-17.00 daily; admission free). Housed in a single-floor building that used to serve as a 'special teahouse' between the 1960s and 1980s ('special' in the sense that sexual services were sold here, rather than just tea), the hall has two large rooms with bilingual information about the system of military brothels on Taiwan's frontline islands, plus three much smaller rooms furnished just like those in which the goods, so to speak, were delivered.

The displays are interesting as far as they go but left me with several questions. The cost of 30 minutes' of sexual services in various eras is compared to the salaries received by soldiers at that time (sex got relatively cheaper between 1951 and 1990, when the last brothel was closed). It's said civilians weren't allowed in, but nowhere is it made clear whether men in uniform always had to buy the coupons with which they paid the girls (direct payment in cash wasn't allowed) or whether coupons were sometimes given as rewards to exemplary soldiers. Also, some details about how the girls were recruited would have been interesting. The displays stress that no women were forced to work in the brothels, yet one of the people I visited with said he'd heard that girls who were in legal trouble in Taiwan were sometimes offered a choice by the authorities - jail time, or two years' work in a frontline brothel. Given that many of them probably faced prostitution charges (selling sex has long been a crime in the ROC; buying sex isn't illegal), brothel service probably looked the better of the two options.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Playing for those praying

Camera-shy musicians inside Lugang's Queen of Heaven (Tianhou) Temple accompany rites. Both are playing a two-stringed instrument often called an erhu in English; this name comes directly from the Mandarin èrhú (二胡). Sometimes it's referred to as a zither. To get an idea of how it sounds when played by an expert, watch this YouTube video