Friday, October 30, 2009

Watershed casino vote reaffirms Taiwan’s democracy (Taiwan Today)

On September 26, Penghu County residents voted on whether to allow casino developments in international standard hotels and resorts planned for the outlying region, which consists of 90 islands and islets.

The issue aroused the interest of people throughout the ROC, with the manner in which the referendum was conducted and its eventual result seen as having significant implications for the nation’s democratic development.

Out of Penghu’s 73,651 registered voters, just over 42 percent cast ballots, with 17,359, or 56.44 percent, against the proposal and 13,397, or 43.56 percent, in support. The result came as a surprise to those who assumed that securing a “yes” vote in the referendum was a sure bet. After all, Penghu’s pro-gambling faction was backed by international and local business interests, as well as the central government and several local politicians.

However, not everyone connected with the ruling Kuomintang supported the plan. On September 17, Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien, an individual whose views carry significant moral weight, said a “disaster” would strike Penghu if casinos were allowed to open there.

Echoing Wang’s remarks, Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen urged Penghu’s voters to reject gaming September 21. But it was a coalition of non-governmental organizations and religious groups that deserves credit for the upset.

By rebutting several of the claims made by the pro-gambling side, and bringing in experts from overseas whose statements were widely quoted by the local media, the coalition was able to undermine casino proponents’ core argument that gaming would bring economic benefits for the majority of residents...

The entire commentary is here. For me and many people I know, the result of the referendum was a surprise, but a delightful one.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A photographer's paradise (Verve)

Not every visitor or expatriate develops a deep and enduring love for Taiwan, but few deny the island is visually striking, with streets jammed full of people and vendors, classical courtyard houses a stone's throw from ultra-modern skyscrapers, strange and wonderful foods, and steep mountains wrapped in forests and wreathed in clouds...

This article in the October issue of Verve, the inflight magazine of EVA Air, reports the views of four Taiwan-based photographers: Richard Matheson, Chris Stowers, David Barker and Craig Ferguson.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Old Hakka streets: In search of nostalgia in old Miaoli towns (Travel in Taiwan)

If you follow Taiwan’s travel scene, you’ll have noticed this trend: Instead of being bulldozed and redeveloped, as often happened in the 1970s and 1980s, traditional downtown neighborhoods are now being cherished, revamped, and packaged as tourist attractions.

When a thoroughfare changes from being simply “old” to an “Old Street,” it undergoes a striking physical metamorphosis. The buildings are scrubbed clean; modern accretions like air-conditioning units, stainless-steel water tanks, and television cables are hidden, either behind the houses or beneath the road; and the asphalt road surface is replaced with stone slabs. Entrepreneurs move in and begin selling goods that tourists like to buy — often snacks and souvenirs, sometimes antiques.

Almost every town in Taiwan, it seems, has an Old Street. Some, like Daxi near Taoyuan, have two or three, depending on who's counting. Xinhua, just outside Tainan, has what I consider to be Taiwan’s finest Old Street — superb early-1920s architecture and businesses that still cater largely to locals, not visitors.Because of their isolation, Nanzhuang and Beipu have retained a lot of their preindustrial character...

The rest of the article can be found, with a little searching, on the publisher's website.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Even a cathedral: Taiwan's rich Christian architecture (

Christianity has deep roots in Taiwan. The religion has been a continuous part of the island's religious landscape since the 1860s, although it arrived on Taiwan's shores much earlier. Spanish Dominicans arrived in the north in 1626; at the same time Dutch Protestant missionaries launched a conversion effort in the southwest.

No more than one in 20 Taiwanese is Protestant or Catholic, but Christian places of worship can be found in every corner of the ROC. Among them are buildings designed by world-famous architects, naves rich in local art, and even some intriguing examples of stained glass.

In recent years non-Christian Taiwanese have begun to embrace these chapels, basilicas and mission houses. Some want to learn how Christianity has influenced the development of Taiwanese society. For other Taiwanese, churches as exotic as folk temples are to visiting Westerners.

Many of the missionaries active in Taiwan in the late 19th century – men such as George L. Mackay and James L. Maxwell – were financially backed by co-religionists in their home countries. Some used this funding to purchase plots of land in locations that today would be unimaginably expensive or reserved for government use.

Taipei's Chi-nan Presbyterian Church, which faces Zhongshan South Road right beside the Legislative Yuan, is an example. Designed by Moli Yamasi of Japan and completed in 1916 for the use of students and faculty at what is now National Taiwan University Medical College, this building is something of a pastiche...

To read the entire article, go here.