Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bunun Hunters Restaurant: Indigenous Specialties in Kaohsiung (Travel in Taiwan)

All the focus is on the food at Kaohsiung’s Bunun Hunters Restaurant (布農族獵人餐廳), where adventurous diners try specialties of the Bunun and Paiwan tribes, including some very exotic dishes.

Tourists who come hoping for the kind of cultural-visual experience some indigenous establishments offer may leave disappointed. The multiethnic staff don’t wear tribal costumes. There’s no stage on which aboriginal entertainers sing or dance for the customers. In terms of decor - apart from the a handful of wild boar and barking-deer skulls, plus some nice woodcarvings - the interior looks much like a thousand other Taiwanese eateries.

Entertainment is provided by a TV. Most of the 40-odd seats are arranged around circular banquet-style tables. If it’s a sunny day - and in Kaohsiung it usually is - consider having your lunch at one of the slate-topped tables on the shaded deck. But if the temperature is above your comfort zone, you’ll find the air-conditioned interior very welcoming.

Visitors who come expecting good food, however, will leave more than satisfied. In the five years he’s been running the restaurant, owner Yibi (一比) has built up a loyal following in this affluent neighborhood near Chengqing Lake (澄清湖), about 7km northeast of downtown Kaohsiung. Yibi is a member of the Bunun tribe, the fourth-largest of the 16 Austronesian ethnic groups recognized by Taiwan’s government. Just over one tenth of the island’s 541,000 indigenous inhabitants are Bunun. Most live in mountainous parts of Kaohsiung City, Hualien County, Nantou County and Taitung County. 

Yibi has a great deal of experience in the restaurant industry. Until mid-2009, he ran two eateries along the South Cross-Island Highway, a road linking Tainan and Kaohsiung in Taiwan’s southwest with Taitung in the southeast. One of his operations was in the hot springs resort of Baolai (寶來). The other was very near where he grew up, in what’s now Kaohsiung City’s Taoyuan District (桃源區, not to be confused with Taoyuan in north Taiwan).

That summer, the region suffered dozens of landslides and serious floods in the wake of Typhoon Morakot. Ever since the disaster, the highest and most scenic stretch of the South Cross-Island Highway has been closed. Visitor numbers dwindled as a result, so Yibi was forced shutter his restaurants. Like many other indigenous residents, he decided to relocate to the lowlands where making a living is easier.

Yibi doesn’t claim to offer absolutely traditional aboriginal fare, emphasizing that when using a gas stove, it’s very difficult to recreate the exact taste of dishes normally cooked on a wood fire. But there’s no doubting his skill and knowledge. He’s much in demand as a teacher of indigenous cuisine in local elementary schools and evening classes...

To read the complete article, go here and click on the cover of the May-June 2015 issue of Travel in Taiwan. The images accompanying the article were taken by Rich J. Matheson; he also took the one above, which doesn't appear in the magazine. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wulai: The wilderness on Taipei's doorstep (En Voyage)

Wulai has superb natural scenery, hot springs and fabulous birdwatching. It’s also just one hour from central Taipei, so it would be very surprising if this mountainous district hadn’t emerged as a tourist favorite.

Few visitors know the district is actually larger than Taiwan’s capital. Yet as soon as you see the steep forested hillsides and turquoise creeks that characterize Wulai, the massive disparity in population makes sense. Some 2.7 million people are crammed into Taipei’s 272 square kilometers, while a mere 6,100 people are spread across Wulai’s 321 square kilometers.

A third of Wulai’s residents are members of the Atayal tribe, one of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous Austronesian ethnic groups. They’ve lived in these parts for well over 1,000 years, and gave the area its name. Wulai is derived from kilux ulay, an Atayal phrase meaning “hot and noxious” which describes the spa here. But the slightly alkaline, sodium bicarbonate-rich waters aren’t in the slightest bit unpleasant, as a quick dip in the free riverside hot-springs pools confirms.

Those with good legs will have no problems hiking from the main village as far as Neidong National Forest Recreation Area and its waterfalls, but an even more alluring destination is Fushan and its environs up Road 107. Hundreds of cherry trees have been planted along this route, and when they blossom around February, sakura fans from throughout Taiwan pour in to Wulai.

Fushan can be translated as “fortunate mountain,” and those who can visit this part of Wulai are indeed lucky. From the final cluster of houses, a 950m-long path heads up the gorgeous Daluolan Creek to Wulai Butterfly Park. If you prefer avians to lepidopterans, get yourself onto the forestry road that climbs hillside on the other side of the river. Especially during the cooler months, when several spots in Wulai throng with birds usually seen at higher altitudes, you’ll find yourself sharing this road with binocular- and camera-wielding birders.

Hard-core hikers will be delighted to know that Fushan is the starting point of three serious walks. The Kalamoji Trail [pictured here] is 2.4 km long and the trailhead is a stone’s throw from the village, but at the time of writing the middle third of the path was in poor condition and not recommended. That said, do consider exploring the first 500m so you can get into some of the region’s most attractive bamboo groves...

Click on this link to go to the first page of the article in the electronic version of the magazine, which is EVA Air's inflight monthly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Building on Regional Advantages (Taiwan Review)

Countless international businesspeople have become intimately familiar with venues such as the Taipei World Trade Center (TWTC) in recent decades as the Republic of China’s capital cultivated a global reputation for excellence in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry. Now cities and counties across the nation are seeking to emulate this success by constructing new facilities and expanding MICE services—efforts that are being aided and promoted by the central government’s Meet Taiwan program.

The initiative, which is overseen by the Bureau of Foreign Trade under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, aims to enhance the quality of industry services and strengthen Taiwan’s brand in order to turn the nation into one of the world’s leading MICE destinations. “The program is an integrated strategic marketing plan to promote the overall image of Taiwan’s MICE sector, and it includes cities such as Taichung as well as Taipei and Kaohsiung,” explains Philip Huang, director of the Taiwan MICE Project Office, which was set up in 2006 under the ministry and manages Meet Taiwan.

One aspect of the program involves the development of human resources. “We’ve created training programs with syllabuses based on the needs of stakeholders within each geographical region,” he says. “In 2013, we held approximately 70 professional courses across the island.” Meanwhile, since 2013 the program has been offering support to the special municipalities of Taipei, New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Tainan as well as Hsinchu City and the counties of Chiayi, Hualien, Pingtung and Yilan. “We not only provide local governments with professional advice, but also assist with advertising,” Huang says.

The annual Taiwan MICE Awards, which are arranged by the Taiwan MICE Project Office, highlight the overall growth of the industry. “Many of the winning events have been held outside of Taipei,” the director notes. For instance, the Taiwan International Orchid Show (TIOS), organized yearly in the southern city of Tainan since 2004, won prizes at the awards ceremony in 2013 and 2014, receiving the Gold Award for Exhibition Visual Design and the Bronze Award in the Exhibition Group A category, respectively.

“One in every six orchids sold around the globe is from Tainan, and TIOS is one of the world’s top three orchid shows,” says Yeh Ting-chun, a member of the Tourism Service Section in Tainan City Government’s Tourism Bureau. Yeh believes that the city has much to offer as a MICE destination due to its diverse mix of ecological and heritage sites. “Last fall, the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents held their annual overseas convention in Wu Garden, and participants said the city’s abundance of culture and traditional atmosphere are big attractions for people from Hong Kong,” she says.

While the municipality is renowned for its cultural sites, Tainan City Government also recognizes the need to complement these advantages with modern facilities, and its plan to build a convention center big enough for 600 standard booths near Tainan High Speed Rail station was ratified by the central government in 2012. “Tainan City Government and the Bureau of High Speed Rail [BOHSR] have jointly started recruiting corporations to invest in the development, and the city government is considering buying land from the BOHSR so it can accelerate the process,” she adds.

Jun Shinohara, director of sales and marketing at Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Tainan, believes such infrastructure improvements are essential if the city is to host more international conferences. “Tainan has huge potential to attract both domestic and overseas visitors,” says the Japanese native. “But air links, public transportation services, and the number of guest rooms and conference venues must be expanded.”

Although Tainan’s airport was upgraded to international status in 2011, the city has lost MICE business to Kaohsiung because the latter is easier to reach from overseas, Shinohara says. Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the potential for growth in the short term. “Currently, less than 10 percent of our total room revenue comes from MICE, but we’re targeting 10 percent and more in the near future,” he says.

While Tainan is seeking to capitalize on its abundance of cultural sites, Taichung is boosting its MICE sector by taking advantage of local industrial clusters. Taichung and Changhua County in central Taiwan are home to more than 1,000 companies involved in the making of bicycles and bicycle components. Many of these enterprises are original equipment manufacturers that produce frames, wheels and other items which are then sold by North American or European brands.

The global importance of this cluster is demonstrated by the success of Taichung Bike Week (TBW), a business-to-business trade show that facilitates meetings between local suppliers and international buyers. TBW, which started out as a series of ad hoc gatherings in 2004, has been a formal event since 2007...

To read the whole article, which appears in the March issue of this government-published monthly, click here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My photo in a Microsoft video

Almost all of the photos I've sold since 1996 have been alongside articles I've written, but even without trying I enjoy a trickle of image-only sales. The most recent was to the company that made thisjust-released video on behalf of Microsoft. A black-and-white version of my photo (which they found on my guidebook blog, here) can be seen almost four minutes into the video, on the right side of the layout the woman is working on.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Eating Your Way Through Tainan's Former Capital (Taiwan Business Topics)

Following the merger of Tainan City and Tainan County at the end of 2010, the special municipality of Tainan now encompasses 2,191 km2 (eight times Taipei's land area) and has almost 1.9 million people. Among its far-flung attractions are the hot springs at Guanziling, and the Zengwen, Wushantou, and Nanhua reservoirs.

Much of the best food, however, is found in the old heart of the city. This article focuses on two very central parts of the municipality, plus one other district easily reached by public transportation.

East Market is just 700 meters south of the railway station. This neighborhood’s culinary offerings are best enjoyed as part of a walking tour, which also takes you to two of Tainan’s most interesting places of worship.

The first is the Prefectural Cheng Huang Temple (at 133 Qingnian Road), where the city god and his wife are among the deities worshipped. Inside, hanging right above the main doorway, a huge iron abacus reminds visitors that the gods are constantly tallying both their righteous deeds and their sins. The city god’s birthday, the 11th day of the fifth lunar month, will fall on June 26 in 2015.

Located just a few doors east of the temple, Qingqi Breakfast (at 135 Qingnian Road; open 4:30–11:30 a.m. and 1:30–10 p.m. daily) is a long-established eatery serving excellent vegetarian food. Help yourself to the dim sum in the circular bamboo steamers out front, grab some turnip squares or deep-fried spring rolls, and order noodles if you’re especially hungry. Then take your selection to the counter inside where you pay before eating. The bright lights and white-tile walls may remind you of an old hospital, but there’s no doubting the cleanliness of this establishment, as well as the tastiness of the food.

If you prefer meat with your noodles, head for Amei Lumian (at 88 Minquan Road; open 7 a.m.–1 p.m. daily). The signature dish (dalumian) is the only hot food available...

The other neighborhoods featured are the Old Five Channels Cultural Zone, which includes Taiwan's only Wind God Temple, and Anping. To see the whole article, which is accompanied by Rich J. Matheson's photos, go here. I took the photo above in a beef restaurant I mention in the article.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Exploring Taiwan’s Southern Tip (En Voyage)

If beach capers are the be-all and end-all of your vacation, it makes sense to minimize the time spent getting from Taiwan’s second city to its premier seaside resort. But if your interests are broader and you’ve access to a hire car, you’ll discover a region that makes for a wonderful multi-day road trip.

Expressway 88 and Freeway 3 allow a rapid escape from Kaohsiung and its suburbs - but also bypass the intriguing destinations of Donggang and Jiadong...

This article, which also appeared in the December issue of EVA Air's inflight magazine, goes on to mention Donggang’s bluefin tuna and boat-burning festival, Jiadong’s superb Hakka mansion, Mount Lilong, Longluan Lake, the beach resort at the heart of Kenting National Park, and the Alangyi Ancient Trail. The photo above, which I took in 2010, shows Longpan Park in the southeastern part of Kenting National Park. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Taiwan's aboriginal food (En Voyage)

More than nine-tenths of Taiwan’s population is of Han Chinese descent, yet the island’s indigenous minorities (537,000 out of a total population of 23.4 million) have managed to preserve many of their Austronesian traditions. Aboriginal languages are still spoken in remote mountain villages, and indigenous festivals delight foreign and domestic tourists. What is more, aboriginal cuisines are quite different to the Chinese-influenced fare usually eaten in Taiwan.

In the mountains that dominate Taiwan’s interior, aboriginal people traditionally lived by snaring and trapping wild animals and gathering wild greens utterly unlike the vegetables usually grown in the lowlands. These days, very few indigenous lives are untouched by modernity, but hunting and foraging habits still influence what aboriginal people eat. Mountain boar is leaner than domesticated pig; other succulent meats include muntjac and wild dove. What members of the Bunun tribe (one of 16 Austronesian ethnic groups recognized by Taiwan's government) call bubunu resembles a nettle, but when cooked in a soup it can ease a hangover. Bunun women learn from their mothers how to distinguish the nutritious balangbalang from a similar but poisonous plant. Rather than rice, taro and millet are the carbohydrates of choice.

Big-city restaurants run by indigenous people rely on family connections to source ingredients. As you might expect, aboriginal food is easiest to find in those parts of Taiwan with substantial indigenous populations, such as around the famous mountain resort of Alishan. In the eastern counties of Hualien and Taitung, where over a quarter of residents are indigenous...

This is one of two articles I wrote for the December issue of En Voyage, the inflight magazine of EVA Air. It appears on pages 32 and 33; the entire magazine is online. The photo, which I took earlier this year, show Bunun dishes at a restaurant in Kaohsiung City's Namasia District.