Monday, December 29, 2008

Bradt Travel Guides

I've been contracted to write a guidebook for Bradt, a British publisher. Over the past 30-plus years they've published 130 titles. Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide
 will be their first Taiwan guide. I need to deliver the finished manuscript by February 2010 for publication in autumn 2010.

So that's what I'll be doing next year.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Changing Heartland (Taiwan Review)

Some Americans who live on the coasts of the United States refer to the country's interior as "flyover country," because they only see states like Arkansas and Iowa from the air. It is a belittling, and sometimes disparaging, term. If there is an equivalent region in Taiwan, a section of the island that the hip and the influential seldom view except through the windows of a high-speed train, it is likely to be the patchwork of farmland and small towns between the southern boundary of Taichung City and the Tainan section of the Southern Taiwan Science Park.

Chiayi is part of this flyover region. However, while it might not seem to be the most exciting part of Taiwan in the eyes of urbanites, those living in this heartland area see things differently. Proof in point: According to CommonWealth, a Chinese-language business monthly, Chiayi City ranked as one of the 10 happiest places in Taiwan in the magazine's annual "Happiness Survey" of 23 cities and counties for 2007 and 2008.

Chiayi City and Chiayi County are separate local government units, with the latter possessing twice as many people and more than 30 times as much land as the former, which it surrounds. In recent years, the greater Chiayi area has benefited from various infrastructure works, but one project in particular has won widespread national attention. Appropriately, given that county notables include creative icons Lin Hwai-min, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre founder, as well as rock star Wu Bai, the new facility is a cultural undertaking: the NT$6 billion (US$188 million) National Palace Museum (NPM) Southern Branch...

The article is now on the Government Information Office's website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bizitou: A botanical garden in Chiayi's backstreets (China Post)

Bizitou Botanical Garden isn't the only botanical garden in Chiayi City. There's another in the city's sprawling and eponymous park, some kilometers to the southeast. However, Bizitou doesn't get nearly as many visitors, partly because it's a little hard to find. It's just west of the main railway line, less than 10 minutes drive north of the city's train station. Keep your eyes open for bilingual signs.

It's a good place to go to learn about Taiwan's plants and trees, and to enjoy a breath of nature without having to leave the city. Because there aren't many humans, it's also a good spot for watching birds. The botanical garden, which covers 4.6 hectares, has been open to the public since 2005...

Go here for the rest of the article.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I've always hoped that the Tourism Bureau would make more use of the articles I and other people write for Travel in Taiwan, as the magazine isn't always to find and the website doesn't do anyone any favors. It seems some Travel in Taiwan articles do also appear on, one of the Tourism Bureau's many websites. Here's one I wrote about the KMRT - albeit with a typo in the title, no byline, and tiny photos...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thao language rouses foreign interest (Taiwan Journal)

Taiwan's aboriginal languages may be spoken by only 300,000 people, but they have a significance far beyond this small number. Many linguists believe the island was the place of origin of the entire Austronesian language family, a grouping that includes the national languages of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, plus hundreds more spoken in places as far apart as Madagascar, Hawaii and New Zealand.

Robert A. Blust, a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii, has argued that Austronesian languages can be divided into 10 main branches, nine of which exist only in Taiwan. In other words, more diversity can be found within the 26 or so Austronesian idioms known to have been spoken in Taiwan than there is among the approximately 1,240 languages that together form the Malayo-Polynesian branch and are spoken by over 350 million people.

In 2003, Academia Sinica's Institute of Linguistics published Blust's Thao-English dictionary. Unlike the Siraya, the Thao are recognized as an indigenous ethnic group by the government. Most of the tribe's approximately 600 members live near Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan.

Fewer than a dozen, however, still speak the Thao language, and in his introduction to the dictionary Blust wrote: "The present situation of the Thao can be described as one of terminal assimilation..."

This short article accompanied the one below in the December 5 issue of Taiwan Journal.

Breathing life into the Sirayan language (Taiwan Journal)

In 1624, the Dutch East India Co. established a trading post on Taiwan's southwestern coast, at what is now Tainan City's Anping District. Dutch merchants, soldiers and administrators were joined by a small number of Protestant missionaries who traveled into the interior to convert to the Christian religion the aborigines who, at that time, outnumbered Han Chinese settlers.

To reach out to the native population, the pastors studied the language of the Siraya tribe, the ethnic group that once dominated what is now Tainan County. Few people alive today know much about their culture, and even fewer identify themselves as part of the tribe, but this is something the Siraya Culture Association is endeavoring to change.

The SCA is a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, aims to "reconstruct Siraya culture seek government recognition, and revitalize the Siraya tribe."

Prior to the arrival of the Dutch settlers, the Siraya people had no writing system, so the missionaries devised an orthography based on the Roman alphabet which they used to translate the Gospel of Matthew; copies survive of a bilingual edition which has Sirayan on the right side of each page and Dutch on the left.

This writing system lasted much longer than the Dutch occupation, which came to a violent end in 1662. For at least 150 years after the Europeans left, the Siraya people in the Tainan region used the Roman script when drawing up leases and mortgages contracts...

The rest of the article is here. An earlier article on the same topic can be found here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jiayou Bike Path: The best way to downtown Chiayi (China Post)

The Jiayou Bicycle Trail is a worthy addition to Taiwan's fast-growing network of bike paths and tourist cycling routes. Just three-and-a-half kilometers long, it links Gexiliao in Chiayi County's Shuishang Township with Shihsian Road in the southeastern corner of Chiayi City.

Like several former sugar refineries around Taiwan and the Gold Ecological Park in Jinguashih, the trail is another example of industrial heritage being repackaged as a tourist attraction.

Originally, a narrow-gauge branch railroad operated by CPC Corporation, Taiwan - the state-run oil company - it was converted to a cycle path and opened to the public in late 2007. The name was chosen by local citizens via an Internet poll. The tracks, which were laid in 1942, are still in place. On either side there are concrete lanes just wide enough for bicycles to pass each other. As on a normal road, cyclists are expected to stay on the right...

As usual, the whole thing is online.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rail art (Silkroad)

Kaohsiung isn't often thought of as a place where manmade beauty touches everyday life. The Taiwanese city has long been associated with heavy industry; it's a place where ships, chips and fortunes are made, rather than the location of cultural landmarks.

Now, however, the city's 1.5 million inhabitants can be proud of an underground train system that's not only clean and convenient but also rich in architecture and public art.

The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (KMRT) was opened to the public in March with a 29-kilometer Red Line running from north to south. In mid-September, the east-to-west Orange Line, running over 14 kilometers, began operations. This has provided the city with a slick transportation system - but it's the work of world-renowned architects and artists in the stations that will move travelers the most...

Silkroad is the inflight magazine of Dragonair, and this article appears in the December issue. It isn't online. The photo here (provided by the KMRT) shows the ceiling in the O5/R10 station.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The monster trees of Taguanshan (China Post)

Taguanshan is one of Taiwan's most accessible 3,000-plus-meter-high peaks. Located right beside the highest stretch of the Southern Cross-Island Highway it can be scaled in just under two hours.

Chinese-language hiking guides refer to it as one of the "Three Stars of the Southern Cross-Island Highway." The other two are Kuhanuosinshan and Guanshanlingshan.

No technical climbing skills are required to get to the top of Taguanshan, just decent footwear and a strong pair of legs. Ropes and nets have been added to several points along the trail, but they're barely needed. You will, however, find yourself gripping roots and branches on the steeper sections.

Don't underestimate this mountain. Bring at least one liter of water per person, a few snacks, plus a waterproof jacket just in case the weather turns nasty. And, of course, tell someone where you're going and when you expect to get back...

The article is here. Several excellent photos can be seen here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter simmer (Dynasty)

Taiwan's winters are strange. They always feel much colder than they really are. Perhaps it's the contrast between the eight degrees Celsius common in January and the 37 degrees often suffered in July. It may also be because many Taiwanese buildings are unheated, frigid-in-winter (but sweltering in summer) concrete boxes. Taipei's unrelenting damp certainly has something to do with it.

Whatever the cause, one consequence is obvious: A switch in eating habits. The colder months see a wholehearted embrace of warming soups, a voracious appetite for beef noodles (each October, the Taiwanese capital hosts a beef noodles-themed contest and festival), and a revival of the hot-pot cult.

As in other prosperous parts of the world, Taiwan's restaurateurs and housewives are no longer limited by geography and climate. If something's out of season, or simply doesn't grow locally, there are imports shipped or jetted in from Australia, Thailand and other countries. But in the not-too-distant past, food-supply issues shaped Taiwan's winter cuisine. Unlike Korea, where a fondness for pickles has been ascribed to winters so hard few vegetables could grow after September, the Taiwanese have always enjoyed fresh greens year-round.

Kai-lan (sometimes called Chinese broccoli or kale) grows best in the hottest months, as does kong-xin-cai (water convolvulus). However, spinach, celery, salad lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and certain types of pak choi are considered winter foods, because they've traditionally been grown in paddy fields after the year's second rice harvest.

If you've spent any time in Taiwan, you've likely eaten another of the island's winter vegetables: Garland chrysanthemum, a.k.a. crown daisy or chop-suey green. The stems are thrown into stir-fries and soups. The leaves are added to the oyster omelets served up by roadside vendors. Both parts appear in steamboat stews, more usually called hot pots.

Like a Swiss fondue without the cheese, a typical hot pot features a piping hot cauldron atop a gas burner. Fresh and processed seafood, cubes of tofu, ducks' eggs, mushrooms, thin slices of meat, asparagus, baby corn, turnip, cabbage and other vegetables are simmered in a broth. The precise consistency of the soup varies from restaurant to restaurant; some famous establishments take great care to keep their broth recipes secret.

For many Taiwanese, hot pots are comfort food, so the familiar is favored over the unfamiliar. That said, new varieties of hot pot hit the market every year. In addition to the perennially popular vegetarian and super spicy versions, there are now yoghurt hot pots, soymilk hot pots, and hot pots with Thai or Korean ingredients. In the mountains you might be able to order a hot pot based on the traditional foods of Taiwan's aboriginal minority: Meat from boars and the Reeves's Muntjac (a small deer-like creature noted for its dog-like bark), plus foraged vegetables which resemble nettles.

At some hot-pot establishments trays of food are brought to your table. At others, it's a matter of helping yourself from a buffet table. Either way, it's up to you what and how much you cook in your hot pot, and how long you boil it for.

This is why hot pots win over some Westerners who aren't otherwise fans of Taiwanese cuisine. If you think that much of what's served on the island is overcooked, you'll enjoy being able to eat vegetables that are still crunchy. If you dislike the sauces and condiments many locals slather on their food, go for a standard (neither spicy nor packed with medicinal herbs) broth, and savor the natural flavors of the greens.

Hot pots are best enjoyed by groups of five or six people. (Some restaurants do serve mini-pots for solo diners). They're a social institution - a bit too social for some people's liking. If you get invited to a hot pot, but you're uncomfortable with the idea of your acquaintances dipping their chopsticks in the soup seconds after they've put them in their mouths, ask everyone present to dedicate certain utensils to handling what's going in to and coming out of the pot, and to use their own chopsticks only for eating. If that doesn't work, just remind yourself that the broth is hot enough to kill all but the hardiest bacteria.

Most hot-pot restaurants are all-you-can-eat, and it's easy to go overboard. Finger-length sections of you-tiao (savory donut sticks more usually eaten for breakfast) boiled in a spicy hot pot are especially delicious, but are packed with calories and cholesterol.

Nevertheless, asserts Hu Shao-han, a 29-year-old office worker, "Hot pot can be a very healthy meal." Hu claims to have eaten at least one hot pot a week, regardless of the weather, since returning to Taiwan from Canada almost four years ago - and she remains a svelte 47 kilograms.

"Don't overcook the vegetables," she says. "Don't dip everything in the sauce, which contains a lot of salt. Try to enjoy the true taste of the different things." Hu also advises hot-potters to skip any rice or noodles on offer.

Meat, vegetables, no carbohydrates, and a few pieces of fruit for dessert: It sounds a lot like the Atkins diet, but Taiwanese winter cooking is informed by far older healthy-eating theories.

In Chinese (and thus Taiwanese) folk medicine, foods and preparation methods are either yin ('cooling') or yang ('warming'). Balancing the two is thought to be critical to maintaining one's health. A person suffering from a fever, for instance, should consume yin items such as bananas, grapes, oranges and soy products.

Beef, chicken, goose, rabbit, turkey, ginseng and garlic, plus almost all fried foods, are considered yang, and so are best consumed on cold days.

Casseroles made with rice wine are another winter staple. Teetotalers shouldn't assume they won't be able to enjoy these dishes - the alcohol content isn't especially high, and the flavor of the wine won't overwhelm your taste buds. Chicken cooked with rice wine is very popular. Even though duck is classed as yin, duck casserole is another cold-season favorite: Lots of onions and ginger are mixed in a chicken stock with garlic and star anise, plus small amounts of sugar and groundnut oil. The duck meat should be in large chunks and still on the bone.

Duck casserole is often eaten in the month that follows the Beginning-of-Winter Festival. Li-dong, as the festival is called in Mandarin, usually falls on November 7. The period after it is called bu-dong, meaning 'supplement nutrition ahead of winter.'

Taiwan's winters are mild, but in North China - the cradle of Chinese civilization and the region where the custom began - conditions are much tougher. In the days of yore, people there certainly did need some extra nourishment to survive the bitter cold. Many restaurants, including some inside major hotels, advertise bu-dong menus throughout November and December. You may see listed Mutton Hot Pot, Black Jujube Stewed With Mutton (mutton and lamb, like beef, are considered yang), Twice-Boiled Chicken With Wild Yam And Medlar (a herb used in both ancient China and medieval Europe to treat kidney stones), and Pork Rib Herbal Soup.

If none of these dishes appeal, snack on longans, almonds, walnuts, cherries or dates; all are yang comestibles. Between now and the spring, should someone criticize you for having an indulgent breakfast of chocolate and coffee, just point out that both are yang. It can't be too long before someone in Taiwan starts selling coffee-and-chocolate hot pots, can it now?

This article appeared in the November issue of Dynasty, China Airlines' inflight magazine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nation needs a workplace rethink (Taiwan Journal)

Taiwan has a small army of self-employed designers, programmers, and translators who work from home. Most of these individuals receive assignments and deliver finished work via the Internet. They do not waste time commuting to an office, nor do they have to dress smartly for work.

Despite a very high rate of Internet access and an economy that is increasingly white-collar, few nine-to-five employees have joined the ranks of Taiwan's e-commuters. Across the island, working from home is still very much the exception. While there are no reliable statistics as to the number of people who work in this manner, it is certain that compared to their counterparts in the United States and Japan, Taiwan's large companies have been slow to adopt telecommuting...

I wrote about telecommuting and the lack of it in Taiwan back in 2006. The rest of this follow-up commentary is here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pilgrimage to the South (Travel in Taiwan)

A decade after my previous visit, I returned to Beigang to look for an old nail. I figured it would still be there: It's a relic of sorts, and because it's embedded in stone, it'd be very difficult to remove.

Despite the comings and goings of pilgrims and tourists, plus the rebuilding work going on throughout the 314-year-old Chaotian Temple, I found the nail without difficulty. The dab of red paint that draws attention to it has faded, and the temple authorities have still to put up an English-language sign. But the nail remains lodged in the timeworn granite step where it was hammered, more than 200 years ago, by "a filial son surnamed Xiao, a native of Quanzhou in Fujian Province."

Xiao, the Chinese-language plaque continues, was desperate to know if his parents had survived a voyage across of the Taiwan Strait. He asked Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea worshipped in this and countless other temples around Taiwan and southeast China, to give him a sign they hadn't perished. When the nail penetrated the hard stone, Xiao knew his mother and father were still alive.

Chaotian Temple is a multi-chamber temple with several altars. In addition to the Mazu idols displayed for veneration, near the back of the complex you'll find a storeroom stacked full of icons donated by the faithful. Many of them are images of Mazu (recognizable by her black face, ornate headgear, and "veil" of beads); some represent Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion; there are also a few tiger-god statuettes. This room is usually locked, but it's worth peering in through the windows just to see shelf upon shelf of "shelved" deities...

Go here for the whole article.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yanshuei, Taiwan: Street on Fire - and More (

Taiwan isn't all tech gadgets and Taipei 101. Beyond the big cities it's a different story, a different country altogether. Yanshuei, 240 kilometers down island from Taipei, is the town modern, laptop-manufacturing, cell-phone toting, Taiwan forgot. A century and a half ago, it was the island's fourth-largest settlement. Then its harbor silted up and things went downhill.

Or, rather, they stayed the same. The town didn't get any bigger, the roads weren't widened, and traditional businesses weren't replaced by factories and condos.

The wooden-framed merchants' shop-houses on Ciaonan Street, one of the oldest thoroughfares in Taiwan, still stand. Many are dilapidated, some have been abandoned. All of them exude a tangible antiquity that makes photographers gasp and history buffs gush... is a US-based website. They're also the first outfit to pay me via Paypal. The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Temple of the dog (China Post)

The second most-famous temple in Yunlin County's Beigang Township has the misfortune of being just a few hundred meters from one of South Taiwan's best known places of worship.

Were it located elsewhere, Yimin Temple would enjoy greater prominence. It is historically important and rich in art. Fine wooden decorations, plus numerous plaques, tablets and engravings commemorate the "yimin" - the "sincere and righteous martyrs" - interred on the temple grounds.

More significantly, it differs from the vast majority of Taiwanese shrines in that the spiritual entities worshipped here include not only gods and deities that were once human, but also a dog...

The article is here, while the entry on my iPhone travel app can be seen here. The title, of course, is an allusion to this rock band.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Food from the hills (Verve)

Taiwan's aboriginal minority enjoys a high profile in pop music and sport, but when it comes to cuisine - the subject closest to the hearts of many Taiwanese - the island's indigenous people and their cultures are curiously underrepresented.

Browse through any Taipei restaurant guide and you'll find more information about Turkish, Burmese and Spanish restaurants than you will about eateries that serve indigenous dishes like ahvai (fermented millet and pork, wrapped inside large leaves) or barbecued sakud (the meat of the Reeves's Muntjac, a small deer-like creature).

Of the 100 establishments described in the book "2007 Taipei's Top Restaurants" (Fish and Fish International Co.) not one is aboriginal.

But, just as Australians are showing renewed interest in the "bush tucker" that sustained some early white settlers as well as the country's aborigines, more and more gourmands are seeking out the traditional fare of Taiwan's indigenous tribes...

Verve is EVA Air's inflight magazine. This article, the third I've done about aboriginal food, appears in their November issue.

Pretty gritty (Review Asia)

Oil refineries, steelworks and shipyards. One of the world's busiest container terminals. Too much pollution and nowhere near enough culture. Also, according to an analyst quoted in a recent Newsweek article, "an angry town with 20% unemployment."

That analyst was seriously misinformed as to the state of the city's economy, but even so, Kaohsiung is what tourism experts might call "a hard sell." Despite the exodus of manufacturers to the Chinese mainland, Taiwan's second city still pulls its weight and more in terms of metal-bashing and plastic-molding, but loses out to Taipei when it comes to media attention and visitor numbers.

If Taiwan's sleek capital is a lounge bar, Kaohsiung is a roadside eatery with folding tables and plastic chairs. That's the perception, at least, and there's some truth to it. Kaohsiung offers the curious a grittier side of Taiwan - both figuratively and literally.

And that's one of the reasons I like the place. Another is less perverse, and probably has a lot to do with the 20 years I spent in drizzly England: In Kaohsiung, the sun shines almost every day of the year. Even the most partisan boosters of Taipei admit that the southern port city's 1.6 million inhabitants enjoy much better weather than their compatriots in the northern capital...

Quite a bit of the article is devoted to Qijin Island, where I took this photo, and which I worry will lose its charm if development plans go ahead. Review Asia is a Hong Kong magazine distributed around the region.

A magazine that used to pay, but no longer...

Back in early 2007, I did a short article on Yanshuei's Beehive Fireworks Festival for realtravel, a British travel magazine. I was paid GBP50 for my trouble - acceptable given the brevity of the piece, and the fact it was simply a rewrite of something I've sold several times over.

Recently I contacted the magazine again, asking if they'd like a piece on aboriginal food (I suggested this title: Have you ever eaten raw pickled flying-squirrel intestines?). They said yes. When I asked about payment, this is what I was told:

"As we receive such a high number of pieces for our Have You Ever section, we no longer pay readers/writers for these submissions. Should you still be interested in writing for us, do get in touch."

The apparent willingness of many people to write for nothing upsets and outrages some people trying to make a living by travel writing. I don't lose any sleep over it - but I do find it more than annoying that a magazine that started off paying, and presumably makes enough money to continue paying, decides it's no longer necessary.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Faithful partake in Buddhist mountain retreats (Taiwan Journal)

Taiwan's social freedoms and religious diversity have led to a proliferation of sects, faith-based charities and evangelical organizations. One of the best known is Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association (DDMBA), founded in 1989 by revered monk Master Sheng Yen.

According to one of its Web sites, DDMBA is "committed to serving humanity by working to relieve human suffering--physical, emotional and spiritual." The association, which has affiliates in several Asian and Western countries, also aims to "eliminate conflicts and barriers through global interaction, dialogue, and collaboration." Dharma Drum members practice Chan Buddhism, a form better known in the West as Zen.

DDMBA's main base is in Jinshan, a coastal township north of Taipei City. Called the World Center for Buddhist Education, it includes Dharma Drum Sangha University, which trains monks and nuns, Dharma Drum Buddhist College, the Chung Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, and the Museum of Buddhist History and Culture.

"We do encourage people outside Taiwan to join retreat activities held in the World Center for Buddhist Education," said Ivy Cheng of DDMBA's Division of International Relations and Developments. "We don't actually calculate the exact number of people from overseas who join retreat activities," she added explaining, though, that most of the people who attend are ethnic Chinese, and include Dharma Drum followers from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

"Most of the retreats held in the center are conducted in Chinese. People who cannot speak Chinese can contact us and we can help arrange interpretation. The retreats range from two days to 49 days..."

This article, which appears beside the one below in the print version of the Taiwan Journal, is also online.

Religion to help nation's tourism industry (Taiwan Journal)

The travel industry is always searching for new markets and new products. Ecotourism took off in the 1990s. More recently, "voluntourism," which combines vacation travel with volunteer work at the destination, has become popular. Currently, one of the fastest growing segments of the industry is religious tourism, which includes pilgrimages, short-term missionary work, monastic retreats, faith-based camps, and visiting sites of religious significance.

Religious tourism is one of the oldest forms of travel in the world. People have been making pilgrimages or traveling great distances to acquire religious knowledge for millennia. But until very recently, trips motivated by faith were largely ignored by the mainstream travel industry.

This is changing. In the United States, faith tourism is growing at double the overall rate of the industry. According to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the total number of U.S. residents venturing beyond the United States, Canada and Mexico increased by 3.6 percent between 2006 and 2007; the number traveling for religious reasons grew by 7.4 percent.

Taiwan, which has been working hard to attract tourists, may be able to win some of this business. Religious aspects of Taiwanese society enthrall many foreign visitors and residents.

"Personally, I think the religious culture here is amazing," said Robert Kelly, main author of Lonely Planet's Taiwan guidebook. "Some of the displays of devotion and the exorcisms I've seen in South Taiwan rival Cuban Santeria in intensity," he added. "I love how Taiwan's temples are public spaces and well used..."

The entire article can be read here. The photo shows Beigang's Yimin Temple, one of my favorite places of worship in Taiwan.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A short but sweet tour: Biking the Houfong trail (China Post)

Houfong Bicycle Path is the shortest of Taichung County's bike-only tourist trails. Just 4.5 kilometers long, it doesn't take more than an hour and a half to cycle from one end to another and back again.

If you have time on your hands, you can go further afield, up into the hills behind the small town of Houli, or along the nearby Dongfong Bicycle Path.

Most people begin their exploration of the Houfong Bicycle Path at its southwestern end, close to the interchange between Taiwan Highway No. 3 - an old road that runs almost the whole length of the island - and Freeway No. 4...

I rode this trail on the same hot summer day I explored the Dongfong Bicycle Path. The complete article is here. The photo here shows the Dajia Creek, which both bike trails cross.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dingtugou: A village shared with butterflies (China Post)

Compared to the island's birds, Taiwan's butterflies do not attract much interest from foreign enthusiasts. The English-language section of the Tourism Bureau's web site, which has several pages devoted to haunts for birdwatchers, contains just a few references to the insects.

This is a shame. Taiwan has 400-plus butterfly species - more than any Western European country, more than Japan (which has 10 times Taiwan's land area), and more even than Sri Lanka, which promotes itself as an eco-tourism destination.

Like birds, butterflies can be found in Taiwan's city parks and on farms, as well as in unspoiled rural and mountain areas. The warmer and sunnier the weather, the more active these flitting insects become. Unlike bird watching, which often is most successful in the very early morning or just before dusk, butterfly watching is best done between around 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Moreover, butterflies are more approachable than birds because they are less sensitive to sound. For these reasons, butterfly appreciation is perhaps a more accessible hobby than birding.

Unfortunately, in many parts of Taiwan, lepidopterans (the taxonomic order which includes both butterflies and moths) are in decline because of habitat loss. However, there are a few places where landowners are making an effort to attract and protect butterflies. One is Dingtugou Butterfly Village, southwest of downtown Chiayi...

Follow this link to read on.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Many seams, far from exhausted (

Academics are often so specialized that their ideas reach only a narrow audience. American anthropologist David K. Jordan [pictured right] is one scholar who has achieved a broader reputation, at least among English-speaking people living in or interested in Taiwan.

His book Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors - Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village, published by the University of California Press in 1972, has won a lasting readership among expatriates and visitors in Taiwan.

The book's nine chapters include sections on: divination; ancestor worship; the supernatural protectors and enemies of the village in Tainan where he did most of his research; and tang-ki - spirit mediums who, while possessed by gods, cut themselves with swords or pierce their cheeks with long needles.

One of the attractions of Jordan's book for general readers is that its focus on religious practices sheds light on other aspects of Taiwanese society: The preponderance of certain surnames and the customary insistence on surname exogamy; clan rivalry; and the crucial importance of male descendants.

Printers on the island sold pirate editions of the book during the 1970s and early 1980s. The success of these illegal reprints led to a 1985 legal reissue by Caves Books Ltd.

Jordan begin teaching at the University of California San Diego's Department of Anthropology in 1969. Since 2004, he has held the post of professor emeritus.

In a recent interview with, Jordan recalled that, when he first arrived in Taiwan in the autumn of 1966, he found himself in a near-ideal environment for doing fieldwork.

Despite language difficulties, and the island being under martial law, he found that he had "nearly unrestrained freedom to go anywhere and talk to anybody. I assume that things might have been somewhat different if I had been doing research on island politics or political protesters or something like that, but frankly such questions have never interested me very much."

Local residents greeted Jordan's research aims with enthusiasm. "Tainan County was a very rich area for research because of its long traditions of religious practice, and because of the high salience of religion in the minds of most people," he said. "I remember arriving in 'my village' and people saying, in effect, 'It's about time people came to study our customs. We are fascinating...'"

To read on, click here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We have not disappeared! The Siraya people of Tainan County (

Tainan County, where there are few mainlanders and even fewer Hakkas, is usually thought of as a Hoklo stronghold. It does seem, at first glance, to be a place dominated by families of Han Chinese descent who have lived on the island for two or three centuries, and who at home speak the language variously called Taiwanese, Southern Min, or Holo.

The leaders of the Siraya Culture Association (SCA) think otherwise. They say that many Tainan people are in fact of aboriginal descent - even if they do not know it.

Jimmy Huang, a US-based linguist working to revive the Sirayan language, is one of those who did not understand his true ethnic background until recently.

In 2004, Huang moved to University of Florida to begin work on a doctorate in linguistics. In the summer of 2005 he returned to Taiwan to see his family, and also to visit the National Museum of Prehistory in Taidong County.

In the museum he saw a display of traditional Siraya implements. "They included things like fishing equipment, bamboo utensils, and a cradle," he recalls. "I realized that these things were common in my own home. I was confused because back then I only thought of myself as simply 'Taiwanese' - ethnically speaking, Southern Min or Hoklo."

"I called my home in Jiali Township, Tainan County, to ask about my identity. Surprisingly, the elders told me, 'Oh, yes. Our family is actually 'fwan-a' (barbarian). That's when I first learned I was in fact a Sirayan aborigine..."

The complete article, together with photos provided by the SCA, is here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cited in the Asia Business Council 'Green Buildings' report

The writers of a very comprehensive report, Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings Are Key to Asia's Future, published by the Asia Business Council late last year, included an acknowledgment that they drew on this article of mine. It's gratifying to know that something I wrote has been read and thought to be of value.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fongyuan to Dongshih for cycling fanatics (China Post)

Bicycle-only tourist paths are popping up all over Taiwan. The northern part of Taichung County now has three, two of which join up on the outskirts of Fongyuan City.

With some determination, they can both be done on the same morning. The Dongfong Bicycle Path is by far the longer of the two. It stretches 12 kilometers to Dongshih, a town of 54,000 people that was once a center of Taiwan's logging industry.

Twelve kilometers may sound daunting if you seldom walk further than the nearest 7-Eleven. It may sound easy, if you drive 50 or 100 kilometers a day. It's neither. In fact, it's an excellent length for a recreational bicycle path: Enough to give riders a good workout, but not so long that occasional cyclists are frightened off.

The path follows the route of an old branch railway that used to carry people as well as timber. The trains stopped running in 1991, and nowadays only a few short sections of track remain. You'll likely cycle past these rusting rails without noticing them, until you come to the temblor-twisted tracks where Shihgang Railway Station once stood [pictured above].

These remains will almost certainly have you stopping for a few minutes and taking photos. They're an impressive reminder of the power of the earthquake that struck at 1.47 a.m. on September 21, 1999, leveling tens of thousands of buildings and killing more than 2,400 people...

The article is already online. This part of Taiwan has been in the news this week because a road bridge collapsed following a typhoon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back In Time: 2006

I did 20 travel articles for the China Post. Rather than post links to all of them, here are the six of my favorites: Madou is an interesting little town not far from my home. Beimen Street in Hsinchu City is one of Taiwan's more authentic 'old streets.' I've long been interested in Taiwan's industrial and infrastructure heritage, be it sugar refineries like the one at Suantou, or Japanese-era train stations. Eco-tourists will like Shuangsi Tropical Viviparous Forest. If that's too far away, just walk over to your nearest rice field.

My column in Skyline, Far Eastern Air Transport's inflight magazine, debuted in February 2006 with an article about Taiwan's viciously hot but glorious summers. Later in the year I wrote about souvenir shopping, forest recreation areas in Taiwan, and foreign influences on Taiwanese lifestyles.

Of all the articles I've done for Taiwan Business Topics over the years, this one on butterflies is perhaps my favorite. The photos in the magazine were taken by Ariana Lindquist, who's now based in Shanghai. The picture here was taken by me in Chiayi County. The day I spent in Hsinchu was a lot of fun, and yielded this piece in Topics.

For the Taiwan Journal, I wrote about
medical tourists coming to Taiwan, Taiwan's English-language media (there are three daily newspapers, several magazines, and one radio station), international schools, the 4th Taiwan Design Expo, and two major international conferences: the 1st International Summit of Waterfront Cities and Waterbirds 2005 (yes, the conference was in late 2005, the article didn't appear until February the following year). I also did a two-part article on foreign artists who live in Taiwan (Part 1 and Part 2). Most of the stories I write for the Taiwan Journal are based on suggestions I make to the editor; this topic, by contrast, was suggested by the Journal.

In addition to the weekly Taiwan Journal, the Government Information Office publishes the Taiwan Review, a 64-page full-color monthly magazine. I made my debut in the Taiwan Review in December, with this piece on
telecommuting (or, rather, the lack of it) in Taiwan.

Maple Leaf, the magazine put out by the Canadian Society in Taiwan, seems to be defunct. In 2006, however, it was going strong, and I wrote two pieces for their fall issue. One was a feature about Taiwan's disappearing
tobacco farms, the other was an interview with Robert Kelly, main author of Lonely Planet's Taiwan guidebook.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Southwest Taiwan's Ecological Treasure-House (Travel in Taiwan)

When people think of Chiayi, a largely rural region in Southwest Taiwan, they usually think of Alishan and other attractions in the mountainous eastern part of the county.

Many visitors ignore the county's thinly-populated coastline. This is unfortunate. Not only are the river mouths, mudflats and wetlands rich in wildlife - they're also good places to see people engaged in traditional occupations like fishing and raising oysters.

Producing salt by evaporating seawater was once a major undertaking - Chiayi's dry, sunny climate is ideal for it. Salt is now longer made this way in Taiwan, but the coast here still bears signs of the industry: Abandoned salt pans, salt warehouses, and even a small "salt mountain" [pictured above] just outside Budai.

Eco-tourists who head for the hills won't, of course, be disappointed. But if it's birds you hope to see, add the townships of Budai and Dongshih to your itinerary.

Aogu Wetland [pictured right] is an excellent place to begin. Much of the land belongs to the Taiwan Sugar Corp., a state-owned enterprise that has spent the past half-century reclaiming and afforesting parts of the peninsula. Much of the land is now left fallow, and almost no one lives here, so it's no surprise the area has at least 120 bird species...

The complete article appears in the September-October issue of Travel in Taiwan. To read it online, go here and do a search using my name.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How Bizarre: Taichung's Night Markets (Hong Kong Airlines)

It's been said before but it's worth repeating: If you're staying just one night in Taiwan, spend part of it at an evening market. In between finding interesting - and shocking - things to eat, you'll be able to hunt for gifts and souvenirs. Also, you'll likely soak up so much local color that your clothes will carry cooking smells right back to your hotel room.

Natives of Taichung, Taiwan's third-biggest municipality and the economic driver of the island's central region, claim their city has Taiwan's best night markets. The reason usually given is simple: Taichung's prosperity has drawn people from the north, the south and the mountainous interior, and none of these migrants is so far from his hometown that he can't get the unique fresh local ingredients needed to produce distinctive, authentic comestibles.

Taichung's night markets are thus one-stop smorgasbords where gourmands can sample the signature snacks and dishes of places they're unlikely to ever visit. This claim may well be correct, as last summer Taichung County was chosen to represent Taiwan at the 2007 Malaysia International Food and Beverage Trade Fair. Amid all the migrant offerings, at least two of the county's very own dishes are easy to track down in the region's night markets: Qingshui Pork Chop Noodles and Fengyuan Meat Balls.

So, if you're a visitor and you don't know the city, where do you go? Taichung's best-known after-dark gathering spot is the market that sprawls in every direction from the main entrance to Feng Chia University. It's active seven nights a week from dusk till midnight, and is known to every taxi driver in the city.

You'll see the crowds before you see any vendors. And before you've closed the taxi door, you'll understand that when people say night markets have a lot of atmosphere, they don't only mean what tourists call 'character.' By 9 p.m., the air at Feng Chia is thick with smoke from grills loaded with sausages, and with steam from soup vats that bubble like mud volcanoes.

Foods unfamiliar to Westerners (stinky fermented tofu, spicy ducks' heads, chickens' feet boiled in an unidentifiable black broth) have miasmas all of their own. There's often a dash of cigarette smoke, especially around the pachinko machines.

Pachinko parlors might be dying out in Taiwan, but every large night market - Feng Chia is no exception - features rows of these pinball-type distractions, plus other games of skill and chance. There are often coin-operated basketball machines (shoot the balls through the hoop as quickly as you can to win extra time), ring-throwing events (you might go home with a fluffy toy), and shooting ranges (blast away with an air gun).

If business meetings go on till late, don't fret that you'll miss the action. Instead of Feng Chia, head to Taichung's Zhonghua Road Night Market (close to Gongyuan and Minquan roads). Most of the merchants there operate until 4 a.m. every night of the week. Yet another big night market keeps more conventional hours right behind Taichung's old train station (not to be confused with the high-speed station on the outskirts).

Night markets are full of incongruent sights: An oyster omelette vendor may fry up his gooey concoctions right next to someone selling candy floss. And beside a table covered with cheap fashion accessories and other ephemeral distractions, you might come across a fortune teller ready to give advice on life's deeper questions.

Places like Feng Chia are excellent for people watching. You'll see entire families in pyjamas and flip-flops, noshing beside hip young couples dressed for a night on the town. A few of those portering boxes or shoveling food around hot plates sport large, swirling tattoos. They're gang members gone straight. Don't worry about them; microbes in what you're eating are a much greater threat to your health.

Don't expect to see anything resembling a salad, but neither should you assume there's nothing healthy to eat. In every night market, peddlers hawk freshly cut, ready-to-eat fruit. Bags of diced pineapple, peeled apples and sliced mango are sold with large toothpicks or tiny bamboo forks. These utensils are not so much to keep your hands clean as to keep the chicken grease already on your fingers from spoiling your enjoyment of the fruit. Thirsty? Look for vendors who squeeze oranges or guavas into fresh juices, or using high-speed blenders to make papaya, watermelon and carrot milkshakes.

There are traditional local desserts, too: Pineapple sorbet, and a kind of almond pudding made according to an ancient recipe.

Food is central to the Feng Chia experience, but you won't be bored if you're not hungry. Who's that giving a speech to an audience sat on tiny plastic stools? More than likely he's selling patent medicines or aphrodisiacs.

Compared to ten years ago, very few pirated goods are now sold openly in Taiwan. You might see counterfeit handbags being sold at absurdly low prices, but the CD/ DVD vendors have been driven underground. More likely, you'll come across a different sort of knock-off - a daypack, say - that bears a logo clearly modeled on but deliberately different from a world-famous brand. An R changed into a B seems enough to deflect lawsuits. You'd not be the first to find these goods so intriguing as to be almost collectible.

Most night market goods are inexpensive and there's little scope for bargaining. However, if you're buying something priced over NT$500, or if you need three or four items from the same merchant, it's worth asking for a discount. A grasp of Mandarin or Taiwanese helps but isn't necessary. Scribble numbers on paper, or use the electronic calculator most merchants keep at hand.

Often there's a Buddhist monk in attendance, and you may think he deserves a donation. Amid the noise and bustle of the night market, his sales pitch could well be the best. Standing stock still behind his begging bowl, expressionless and silent, you can't help but notice him.

Hong Kong Airlines is the inflight magazine of - it goes without saying - Hong Kong Airlines. The photos accompanying the print version were taken by Chris Stowers, a Taipei-based Englishman who I interviewed for this article.

Jingliao: Modern church, ancient homes (China Post)

Houbi, a rural township in Tainan County, is best known these days for being the center of Taiwan's thriving orchid export industry and the site of an annual orchid trade show.

For the average tourist more interested in heritage than horticulture, Houbi has some interesting attractions. The town's train station - a very picturesque wooden structure - dates from the final decade of the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945). If you've seen the station and like this kind of thing, drive northwest along County Road 82 to the village of Jingliao.

Jingliao is best known for the Saint Cross Church, a Roman Catholic place of worship designed in the 1950s by Gottfried Boehm, who was born in Germany in 1920...

The rest of the article is here. This photo shows one of Jingliao's traditional houses.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bus revolution is way to the future (Taiwan Journal)

Now that cycling is back in fashion, bus travel has become perhaps the least glamorous form of short- to medium-distance transportation in Taiwan. This is unfortunate, and not only for the island's cash-strapped bus companies. If greenhouse-gas emissions from road vehicles are going to be significantly cut sooner rather than later, there will have to be a revolution in bus usage.

Mass rapid transit systems take too long to build - 20 years from conception to operation in Kaohsiung's case. And despite government subsidies and rising fuel prices, few alternative forms of transport to gas-burning cars, such as electric vehicles, can be seen on Taiwan's streets.

Outside of Taipei and a couple of other places, very few people take buses to work. They drive or ride. Those who commute by train tend to drive or ride to and from the train station. In this regard Taiwan is not very different from other industrialized countries. However, when it comes to getting these people to use buses rather than private vehicles, Taiwan does have some advantages...

To read the rest of this opinion piece, go here. Some of the ideas in it were inspired by George Monbiot's excellent book Heat: How We Can Stop The Planet Burning, others by what I've observed in Taiwan and other countries.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

American anthropologists find island engrossing (Taiwan Journal)

Few professors can claim to have written a book so popular with non-academic readers that illegal "pirate" editions appeared, and which - in a legal form - remains in print more than three-and-a-half decades later.

David K. Jordan is one. He has been at the University of California San Diego's Department of Anthropology since its founding in 1969. The book - his first - is called Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors.

In his preface, Jordan described the book as an effort "to present an overview of folk religion as it is lived by farming people." Based on fieldwork he did between 1966 and 1968 in a village in southwestern Taiwan, "Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors" has chapters devoted to ancestor worship, exorcism and divination.

The complete article is here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Taiwan's newest forests (China Post)

Interest in and concern for the world's forests has never been greater. Trees are seen as important weapons in the fight against global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.

How much trees really help to combat climate change is unclear, however. Woodlands may or may not have a higher albedo (the tendency to reflect sunlight back out into space) than built-up areas or plots of bare soil. Moreover, different species sequester carbon at very different rates.

Before his election victory, Ma Ying-jeou promised he would push for an eight-year, 60,000-hectare lowland afforestation project. This would represent a massive expansion of existing lowland tree-planting efforts. Between 2001 and 2007, around 10,000 hectares of flat land was afforested.

Previous afforestation efforts concentrated on vulnerable slopelands, the goals being soil and water conservation and landslide prevention. Mature trees can draw up 100 liters of water in the first hour after a thunderstorm, and this ability to store water is especially important for Taiwan. The island receives far more rain per square kilometer than most of the world, but in terms of rainfall per capita, it gets less than one-sixth of the global average.

The entire article is on the China Post's website in two parts, Page 1 and Page 2. Almost a year ago, I did a much longer, more general article on Taiwan's forests for the Taiwan Review.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to make friends

The title of this post is sarcastic.

Recently I've been researching an article on a particular trend in the travel industry. I contacted a body which describes itself as a global association for that niche, and asked what dealings they've had with Taiwan-based companies and organizations.

The answer I got was "none." When I emailed back to confirm some facts about the association, and to ask the person who'd answered my question for her surname, so I could quote her, I got this message:


Mr. Steven Crook,

You may NOT use [name deleted by Steven Crook]'s quote in the email below. She is NOT the official spokesperson for the [organization]. In addition, the quote you are suggesting below is incorrect on multiple fronts.

As such, we have forwarded your email below and all correspondence to our legal department.

If you wish to obtain an official quote from the [organization], you MUST go through our Public Relations Office by submitting your credentials to us and identify what your role is at Taiwan's Government Information Office including bio, full contact information and full disclosure regarding your background. You must also provide full disclosure regarding your report/project.
Public Relations Dept.

A demand for 'full disclosure' from someone who doesn't provide his or her own name. An implicit threat of legal action. An insistence that one goes through the correct channels. This organization - I'm assuming - exists to promote part of the travel industry, yet they're behaving like they've got something to hide.

AUGUST 18 UPDATE: The organization's president has since been in touch, and has answered my questions quickly and graciously. He's obviously far more media-savvy than his 'PR' department.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finally... Fountain No. 5

Fountain Issue No. 5, about sports and exercise in Taiwan, is now out. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, as it includes four articles I wrote: One about the World Games, another on the various venues where Games events will be held (including the main stadium), a profile of Chi Cheng (an Olympic bronze medalist and one of the most famous athletes in Taiwan's history) and a short whitewater rafting piece.

I spent most of a day with Chi Cheng, touring Games sites and interviewing her about her sporting experiences in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as her role as CEO of the World Games Organizing Committee.

Unfortunately, just as Fountain was about to go to press, she was replaced as CEO, and now concentrates instead on international promotion for the Games. It's not the first time events have swept the ground from under me between finishing an article and it being published, but this was the most serious shock/annoyance of this kind I've yet experienced.

Fountain is backed by the Council for Cultural Affairs, a central government agency.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

South Taiwan's Mud-Spewing Volcano (

Daniel White, founder and editor of, doesn't pay for contributions, but he asked me nicely, so I sent him this article previously published in Skyline, the inflight magazine of now-defunct Far Eastern Air Transport. isn't just about Taiwan; there are articles about China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, India and other countries.

Friday, August 1, 2008

First world transportation for Taiwan's second city (Taiwan Business Topics)

After two decades of planning, construction, cave-ins,and scandals over the use of foreign labor, Kaohsiung's mass rapid transit system (KMRT) carried its first paying passengers on April 7 this year.

During the 29-day free-travel period that preceded commercial operations, up to 400,000 people used the system each day. Inevitably there were glitches.A few passengers seemed not to understand the no-eating/no-drinking/no betel nut rule, and some first-timers using the ladies' restrooms sparked panic when they confused the emergency alarm button for the flush.

Since then things have been running smoothly. According to Vivian Wu, a public affairs assistant administrator at the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp. (KRTC), between April 7 and June 16 passenger numbers averaged 80,000 to 90,000 on weekdays, and 130,000 to 140,000 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Currently, there's just one line in operation. The 28.3-kilometer-long Red Line runs from Ciaotou Station (R23) in Kaohsiung County down through the northern part of Kaohsiung City to Kao- hsiung Main Station (R11). From there, it veers southeast to the Sanduo Shopping District (R8) and Kaohsiung International Airport (R4) before terminating in the sprawling blue-collar district of Siaogang (R3).

A second route, the 14.4-kilometer Orange Line, is scheduled to begin commercial operations before the end of October. Running east-west, it will link the harborside neighborhood of Yanchengpu (O2, also known by its old Japanese name, Hamasen) with the cultural center (O7, actually 15 minutes' walk from the auditorium complex) and Fongshan (O12), the most populous city in Kaohsiung County.

By international standards, the 20 years it took to make the KMRT a reality isn't embarrassingly long. Copenhagen needed just 10 years to get its metro going. However, construction of the Second Avenue line of New York's subway, which was conceived in 1929, began only last year.

A feeder-bus network links the Red Line with points throughout the city. A leaflet available from KMRT stations explains the various routes, all of which are prefixed by the Chinese character for "red." Unfortunately, this leaflet has very little English, and it doesn't list useful bus routes that predate the KMRT. City bus 50, for example, serves both the Love River and the cultural center, and stops very close to Central Park (R9). The leaflet's city map lacks a scale, so visitors who like walking can only guess whether their ultimate destination is 500 meters or three kilometers from the nearest KMRT stop.

The complete article is on AmCham's website. The photo here shows one of the entrances to the 05/R10 Formosa Boulevard Station.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

From the Japanese era: Shanshang's Watercourse (China Post)

Shanshang Township is one of the most bucolic parts of Tainan County. The population is less than 8,000. Many residents are fruit farmers, and most people younger than 35 have moved away to work or to study.

The Zengwen River, one of South Taiwan's most important drainages, forms the township's northern boundary. More than a hundred years ago, the Japanese regime that was handed control of Taiwan chose Shanshang to be the location of a water-filtration plant that would supply drinkable water to the region's growing population.

The facility, now known as the Old Tainan Watercourse, has not been used since the 1980s. The complex (two large structures, plus a handful of smaller buildings surrounded by tall trees), however, remains a striking landmark and a fascinating - albeit difficult - place to visit.

The Tainan Watercourse was first proposed in 1897, but the colonial authorities did not allocate funds for its construction until 1912. A decade later, the British-made filtration system - the first installed in Taiwan - was cleansing 450,000 cubic meters of water a day.

In 2002, Tainan County Government designated the watercourse a local historic site. Three years later, the Ministry of the Interior added it to the central government's list of national relics...

To read the rest of this article, go here. Last year I wrote a longer article about the same place for, a government-sponsored website.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chinese Whispers (Highway 11)

This is an interview with Hsiao-Hung Pai, author of Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour. The same magazine has a Chinese-language version of the interview here.

To see the first article I wrote about Pai and her book, go

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Interview with Ron Froehlich (Travel In Taiwan)

Ron Froehlich is president of the International World Games Association. I talked to him about preparations for the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung.

The interview, plus full versions of the two Travel In Taiwan articles immediately below, can be read online. Go to the magazine's
website, then type my name into the search function. A list of the articles I've done for them since 2005 then comes up.

Touring Kaohsiung by KMRT (Travel In Taiwan)

It's taken a while, but now it's up and running. The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit system (KMRT), first proposed back in 1987, has been moving people around Taiwan's second-largest city since March.

The Red Line runs from Ciaotou (R23) in Kaohsiung County down through the northern part of Kaohsiung City to Kaohsiung Main Station (R11). From there, it veers southeast to the Sanduo Shopping District (R8) and on to Kaohsiung International Airport (R4) and Siaogang (R3).

The Orange Line, due to start operations by October this year, will link the old harborside neighborhood of Yancheng (O2, also known by its old Japanese name, Hamasen) with the Cultural Center (O7) and Fongshan (O12), the most populous city in Kaohsiung County.

Inevitably, people are going to compare the KMRT with Taipei's MRT. Here are some facts and figures: The Red and Orange lines in Kaohsiung (combined length 42.7 kilometers) will have a total of 37 stations, including one planned but not yet funded. Taipei currently has eight lines, 67 stations, and 76.6 kilometers of track...

The complete article is here. Attractions easy to reach by KMRT include Kaohsiung Hakka Culture Park.

Banana belt, carrot country, pineapple paradise (Travel In Taiwan)

Taiwan is a fascinating place in several respects. Political scientists are interested in the way the country has embraced democracy; economists like to analyze its rapid industrialization and the success of its high-tech companies; social scientists are intrigued by the survival of folk religion and superstitions in an otherwise ultra-modern society.

Taiwan's farms, however, don't get much attention from outsiders. This is partly because much of the island's prime farmland has disappeared under factories or housing developments. It's also because, while millions of Taiwanese have grandparents who tilled or still till the soil for a living, few of the country's youngsters hope to make a career in agriculture. Nowadays, fewer than one in 20 Taiwanese is a fulltime farmer.

It's easy for visitors to forget that, in the hinterland between the bustling cities and the sublime mountains, there's a great deal to see and do. And south Taiwan, which is less built-up than the north and center, is perhaps the best part of the island for rural lowland sightseeing...

The photo above shows longans drying outside a home in Longci, Greater Tainan.