Taipei Times, Taiwan's main English-language newspaper, devoted a whole page to Life of Taiwan, the recently-launched travel website to which I contributed about 27,000 words of text. I'm quoted in the second half of the article. Unfortunately, the email address provided at the very end of the piece - in both the print and online versions - is wrong. It should be "contact" not "contract."
Taiwan, an archipelago with 70 percent of its land area covered by mountains, is a paradise for visitors who enjoy the natural scenery of the mountainous areas and the culture of tribes living there. Some of Taiwan's most beautiful mountainous areas are in the southern part of the island, such as Maolin and Namasia near Kaohsiung... This article was written for a special Taiwan supplement planned then cancelled by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's leading English-language newspaper. In the end, the newspaper used it in another section of the newspaper.
Taiwan's south is a stronghold of Taiwanese Holo culture, yet it also has some of the island’s most intriguing pockets of Hakka culture. Small towns and villages dominated by Hakka clans are close enough to Kaohsiung's urban core to make for easy day-tripping, yet distant enough to present scenes of bucolic tradition. Southern Hakka often say their ancestors arrived in Taiwan during the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1661–1722). Dating the migration in this way is fitting, as many early settlers joined militias which not only defended Hakka communities from rebels but also helped imperial troops put down uprisings. These loyalist bands formed six units (六堆, liu dui in Chinese). Later, the term Liudui came to mean not just the fighting men but also the six zones of Hakka settlement in Kaohsiung and Pingtung. Men from Meinong fought as part of the Liudui’s Right Unit. This town of 43,000 is still more than nine-tenths Hakka, and hundreds of residents live by making and selling handpainted oil-paper parasols or thick noodles. Long before they became choice souvenirs, the former were popular gifts when couples married, and not only for their beauty. Auspiciously, the Hakka word for paper sounds like the word for children. Also, the word used to describe a parasol’s roundness has the same pronunciation as the word for completeness, so they came to symbolize family unity. In souvenir stores miniature parasols decorated with images of birds and flowers can be bought for less than NT$500. Painted-to-order versions are also available. Meinong’s most famous specialty dish is ban tiao. These thick white noodles are made from rice flour, unlike most of the noodles eaten in Taiwan, which are made from wheat. Typically fried with slivers of pork and carrot, or boiled and served in a soup with a little pork and a few greens, they go down well before or after exploring Meinong’s quaint neighborhoods...
This is part of an article which appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Unity. I took the photo on the outskirts of Meinong a few years ago.
February 24, Taiwanese people around the world celebrated when Ang Lee,
who was born in Taiwan 58 years ago, won a second Best Director Oscar,
this time for Life of Pi. Now, on May 7, 2013, comes a new website introducing the scenery, cultures, history and cuisines of Taiwan. Life of Taiwan has more than 150 pages of information about the East Asian island.
arrivals have been growing for the past decade, and we think Taiwan's
tourism industry will enjoy a big lift thanks to the success of Life of Pi, which was made right here in Taiwan” said Mark Sinclair, founder and CEO of Formosa Services, the Taiwan-based startup behind Life of Taiwan.
providing high-end tailor made tours targeting professionals and their
families. There is no safer place to travel than Taiwan and as everyone
who has been here knows, the Taiwanese are a very special people.”
website covers everything from Taiwan's aboriginal tribes and their
festivals to the island's diverse and vibrant religious culture.
Gourmands can read about Taiwan's tastiest foods, while outdoors types
will discover that Taiwan has more than enough mountains, rivers and
dive sites to keep them busy, plus hot springs where tired muscles can
be soaked at the end of a tiring day. And if they're not already aware
of Taiwan's treasures, birdwatchers and other kinds of ecotourist will
find the website's description of Taiwan's spectacular natural diversity
The website is gorgeously illustrated with photos taken by Michelin and Asian Geographic
photographer Rich J. Matheson. Rich specializes in images of religious
events and Taiwan's aboriginal groups; his work can be seen athttp://www.thetaiwanphotographer.com
The text was written by Steven Crook, author of three books about the island – Keeping Up With The War God (2001), Dos and Don'ts in Taiwan (2010) and Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide
(2010). Steven is currently updating his Bradt guide for publication in
For much of Taiwan’s postwar history, Kaohsiung wasn’t so much lagging behind as written off. Business visitors described the oceanside city as irredeemably polluted, saying it had the sprawl and congestion of Taipei but little of the capital’s cuisine and none of its cultural attractions.
Until the late 1990s they were mostly right. An early sign of the city’s betterment was Love River changing colour. Even before Taiwan made the shift from authoritarianism to democracy, public demands that something be done about the smelly, tar-black waterway were too loud to ignore.
Sewage plants are one reason why Love River [pictured left] now has a much healthier hue, but ecological engineering techniques also played a role: so that the water’s edge would take on a more natural appearance, the river’s banks were covered with coconut-fibre matting in which aquatic plants could take root, but which will eventually decompose.The fact that many of the city’s nastiest industries have migrated to the Chinese mainland has helped. Kaohsiung’s sky, like its river, is bluer than it used to be.
In late 2010, Kaohsiung City merged with the surrounding county, increasing the population to 2.8 million. The municipality now encompasses many rural districts, up to and including the south face of Mount Jade (Yushan), East Asia’s highest mountain. But even before the reorganization, urban Kaohsiung managed to go from way behind Taipei in terms of green space per resident to slightly ahead. It’s little wonder that "the general impression of Kaohsiung has taken a 180-degree turn," to quote a mid-2012 article in CommonWealth, one of Taiwan’s most respected Chinese-language publications.
Kaohsiung Software-based Technology Park (KSTP) is central to government efforts to wean the region from declining heavy industries. Established in 2005 on land formerly belonging to Taiwan’s state-owned oil company, the park quickly signed up Foxconn as a tenant. But the manufacturing giant had no plans to make iPads in Kaohsiung. Rather, it’s developing a cloud-computing centre.
The authorities hope KSTP will do in the 21st century what Kaohsiung’s export-processing zones did in the 1970s: attract foreign investment and know-how which can boost the economy and create jobs. The image of thousands of women leaving export-processing zones at the end of each shift on bicycles (in the 70s) or motorcycles (in the 80s and 90s) is part of Taiwan’s collective memory, but not a scene likely to be repeated, thanks to the progress made in public transport.
Kaohsiung’s mostly underground rapid-transit system, the KMRT, has two lines and 36 stations compared to Taipei’s 10 lines and 97 stations. Daily passenger numbers are a tenth of Taipei’s, which means you’ll almost always find a seat...
Here’s an an odd fact. Dajia (大甲) was named one of Taiwan’s top ten tourist towns last spring, yet - as far as bureaucrats are concerned - it had ceased to exist more than a year earlier. Ever since Taichung County was merged into Taichung City, the town has been a mere part of one of the municapilty's 29 districts. The district’s almost 80,000 inhabitants aren’t fazed by these changes. The place called Dajia at the center of the former township is still a "town" in everything but name. It has great character and history, and it retains its preeminent place in Taiwan’s religious culture thanks to Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮). This house of worship is known throughout Taiwan as the start and end point of the annual pilgrimage honoring Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea who’s perhaps Taiwan’s single most popular deity.
The custom of worshiping Mazu was brought to Dajia and other points on Taiwan’s west coast by 17th- and 18th-century migrants from mainland China’s Fujian province, and Jenn Lann Temple was founded in 1732. However, as our guide explained, people were living in Dajia long before those settlers arrived. In fact, the toponym Dajia derives from the name of the lowland aboriginal tribe that once dominated the area, the Taokas.
Like Taiwan’s other indigenous groups, the Taokas were of Austronesian origin and spoke a language very different to Mandarin or Taiwanese, but somewhat similar to the Maori tongues of New Zealand. As a distinct tribe, the Taokas disappeared long ago, but some of their culture lives on in special local traditions.
That aboriginal beliefs have influenced local religious practices is obvious at the little shrine where childless couples hoping for a baby pray to a 30cm-high rock. At first glance, the Baogong Stone has a crudely phallic appearance. But if you look closely, you’ll notice what could be eyes and other facial feature...
This article appeared in the March-April issue of Travel in Taiwan.