Sunday, May 11, 2014

The second edition of my guidebook is out

I've just received my advance copy of the second edition of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide (link to Amazon here; an electronic version will be available very soon) and I'm very pleased with it. The inside photos are much better than those in the first edition (thanks to the efforts of photographers including Rich J. Matheson), the maps are clearer because hotel and restaurant names have been moved to listings boxes, more of the attractions are listed in Chinese script as well as by their English names, and the background sections on history and nature are tighter and sharper, as well as fully up to date.

Attractions appearing for the first time in this new edition include the National Museum of Taiwan History, Lanyang Museum, Lintianshan and Baibau Creek (both in Hualien County), Japanese-era landmarks in downtown Taichung, the Foguangshan-affiliated Buddha Memorial Centre, and what is perhaps the only museum in the world dedicated to the sex industry - Kinmen's Military Brothel Exhibition Hall.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Native Beauty (Sawasdee)

Taiwan is often presented as a thoroughly Chinese society, and you’d be forgiven for thinking its people were homogenous. Long before the 17th century, when Chinese migrants began to settle on the island, Taiwan was home to at least 25 Austronesian ethnic groups. These aborigines, who currently number around 534,000, still speak more than a dozen languages. These tongues are very different to the Mandarin and Hokkien used by most Taiwanese citizens, and the fabulous linguistic diversity they display is one reason many scholars are now convinced Taiwan is where the Austronesian branch of humanity began.
Archaeological discoveries also support the theory that Austronesian people spread out from Taiwan to Polynesia, Hawaii, New Zealand and other places in the first millennium AD.

Taiwan's indigenous people are slightly darker and stockier than their Chinese compatriots. Their eyes are rounder, their noses more prominent. But generations of intermarriage have blurred the boundaries between Chinese and Austronesian. Many, possibly a majority, of the former have some indigenous blood. 

Taiwan’s aborigines account for just over two per cent of Taiwan's 23 million people, but they're very well represented in the fields of pop music and professional sport. However, these glamorous worlds are far removed from the lives of most indigenes. On average, they earn less and have fewer years of schooling than Taiwanese of Chinese descent. Many leave their villages in Taiwan’s mountainous interior to take labouring jobs in the big cities...

The complete article can be read in the May edition of Sawasdee, the inflight magazine of Thai Airways, and is accompanied with photographs taken by Rich J. Matheson. The photo here, taken in Pingtung County's Wutai Township, is mine.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Opening Up Taiwan's Clam Heartland (Travel in Taiwan)

Taiwan is - no exaggeration - a paradise for lovers of seafood, with clams being a particular favorite. They appear in soups and stir-fries, and can also be grilled or pickled. Curious why Taiwan enjoys such an abundance of clams, and eager to sample some of the island’s best, Travel in Taiwan recently headed to the southern city of Tainan in search of answers.

Clams are found around the world, in freshwater as well as oceans. An Arctica islandica clam found in the sea off Iceland in 2006 turned out to be 507 years old, making it the oldest individual animal ever discovered whose age could be accurately ascertained. Clams, like trees, have annual growth bands, although the ones enjoyed in Taiwan’s restaurants are seldom more than two years old.

For as long as humans have been living on the island, clams have featured in Taiwanese cuisine. Clam shells have been discovered in middens around the island. Even now, at many points along the coast, some members of the older generation still gather and cook wild clams. But the vast majority of clams eaten in Taiwan nowadays are cultivated in coastal ponds along the southwestern coast. With over 100 hectares devoted to raising clams, Tainan’s Qigu District (台南市七股區) plays a major part in local shellfish production.

Outside Taiwan, Qigu is best known for Black-faced Spoonbills and other migratory birds which spend each winter here. The presence of so many birds is no coincidence. The mild conditions in which clams thrive also support shrimps, snails and small fish, staple foods for waterbirds.

Qigu’s clam-raising heartland is utterly flat. Compared to other parts of Taiwan the absence of buildings and greenery is striking. The region is criss-crossed by long straight roads and utilities poles; at least three quarters of the surface area is covered with water...

This article also appears in the May/June issue of Travel in Taiwan, and on the magazine's website.