Tuesday, June 23, 2015

More photos on Life of Taiwan

In addition to a slight redesign to improve user experience, we've added almost two dozen new images to the Life of Taiwan website. 

More than half of them are mine, including the one posted here which shows a delicately carved window-grill in the Queen of Heaven Temple (Tianhou Temple) in Magong City, Penghu County. Additional new pictures show, among other tourist destinations, Yangmingshan National Park, Mingde Reservoir in Miaoli County, and Qinbi Village in the Matsu Islands. 

Long-time collaborator Rich J. Matheson contributed two photos this time around, while Richard Saunders (author of several guides to various parts of Taiwan, including this one to Penghu and its outlying islands) graciously gave permission to use one of his photos. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

Mixed Messages (Indulge)

If you prefer classy to brassy as you savor your favorite cocktail, take a shot of Taipei's urbane but selective bar scene. There are few better cities in which to enjoy a drink than Taipei. If you're heading that way, here are some stylish spots that raise the bar.


For top-notch drinks and views of Taipei 101, W Taipei's Yen Bar is perhaps unbeatable. Senior bartender Jay Liao, however, seldom has time to gaze at the skyscraper through the bar's floor-to-ceiling windows, or lounge on one of the signature purple sofas. He spends more than half his working hours preparing cocktail ingredients.

For his Oolong Martini, he steeps oolong tea leaves in cold gin rather than use an oolong beverage which would dilute the spirit. His Ti Kuan Yin Mojito is flavoured with Iron Kuanyin oolong leaves and Jay uses vodka rather than rum, preferring brown cane sugar for its additional flavour and crunch.

When asked to suggest a whiskey, Jay often introduces Kavalan Oloroso Sherry Cask, an exceptionally dark single malt which he describes as "reminiscent of a cognac." It is made less than 50km from Yen Bar by the people behind Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, which was recently named the best single malt whisky on Earth at Whisky Magazine's World Whiskies Awards. "Nine out of ten guests trying Kavalan for the first time think it's excellent," he says.


"The name Ounce is a homage to bartending culture in New York, which is where the bar's founders hail from," explains co-owner Yee Soong. Just like the Prohibition-era speakeasies which inspired the bar's dark wood, candlelit interior, Ounce is accessed through a secret door at the back of a coffee shop. The surroundings are conducive to conversation, or simply sitting back in the shadows while savoring your drink.

Taipei's cocktail culture is very much influenced by Japan, Yee says, and one of Ounce's goals is to educate its guests about the way cocktails are made and enjoyed in 21st-century North America.

"We're into sharing and having fun," he says. "We do what we do because we love it. We do twists on old favourites and spur-of-the-moment innovations. As well as several Japanese whiskies, we use Kavalan whisky and even kaoliang (a clear local liquor made from sorghum) in our cocktails."

This article, which featured five bars in total (the others being Marsalis Home, Trio and Alchemy), appears in the third 2015 issue of the quarterly Chinese-English magazine Indulge, which is published by the Hong Kong office of Bauer Media Group and distributed on ferries linking Hong Kong with Macao, as well as Star Cruises vessels. The photo above, courtesy Sean Marc Lee, shows one of Ounce's bartenders crafting a cocktail. Those who like a tipple may find this website useful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The World Vegetable Center in Tainan (Taiwan Business Topics)

A short distance from the Southern Taiwan Science Park and its cluster of optoelectronics and green-energy companies, an institute quietly does vital work in an entirely different direction. What is now known as “AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center” aims to alleviate both malnutrition and poverty by increasing the production and consumption of nutritious vegetables.“The world depends on 15 to 20 staple crops, but there are thousands of vegetables which can be eaten,” says Dyno Keatinge, the center’s director general.

Citing the World Health Organization’s recommendation that people eat at least 400g of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding starchy foods like potatoes and cassava, he says: “The nutrient value of most vegetables has fallen over the past 50 years because they’ve been bred for shelf-life and appearance. If people are to eat a more balanced diet, we need to have much more investment in vegetables. The lack of research is a major problem.”

Keatinge point out that “biofortified” crops - those selectively bred so as to be especially rich in nutrients - are an alternative to vitamin supplements. He gives an example: “The golden tomatoes developed here are rich in vitamin A. However, because their color is different to normal tomatoes, winning over consumers took some effort.”

Since 1978, the center has released 184 tomato varieties (also called “lines”) in 44 countries, including 22 in Taiwan and 17 in India. As well as improve diet, some of these have reduced “food miles.” Until recently, Tanzania’s biggest tomato processor and producer of ketchup had to import most of the tomato pulp it uses from China. However, since the World Vegetable Center introduced a new cultivar with thicker skins (making for easier shipping, and lasting much longer after picking without refrigeration), the company has undertaken to source tomatoes from 3,800 local smallholders and hopes to increase this number in the future.

The center’s efforts go far beyond improving vegetable varieties and helping farmers maximize yields. Researchers also identify inexpensive and convenient food-preparation methods which retain vegetables’ nutritional value, and devise ways in which vegetables can be profitably processed and marketed by farming households and small-scale entrepreneurs.

In Keatinge’s opinion, improving humanity’s diet requires cooperation between the public and private sectors. “Pre-breeding, hybridization work is very expensive. No private-sector body can afford it,” he says. “The private sector has the distribution networks which enable us to share new lines with farmers in a timely manner.”

“Our work is very multidisciplinary, and goes all the way from the farm to the table,” says Maureen Mecozzi, AVRDC’s head of communications and information. In the Philippines, which currently has the lowest rate of vegetable consumption in Asia, the center works with celebrities to encourage people to eat more vegetables. Seed kits are given to families in South Asia, where small home gardens have been found to dramatically increase vegetable consumption while cutting grocery bills. The center’s scientists search for biocontrol agents, such as flies and wasps which prey on Maruca vitrata, a moth whose larvae can decimate legume crops...

To see the article in full, click here. The photo shows African scarlet eggplants growing in the center's demonstration garden.

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 this just-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.