Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping behind the times in Lugang (Verve)

Nothing ever changes in Lugang (often spelled "Lukang"), and that's why so many people adore it. Halfway down Taiwan's west coast, the town is a place where tradition has stood firm against modernity.

For this we can thank the crude pursuit of profit that used to dominate the town, some stick-in-the-mud thinking, and the selfishness of a colonial power. Old school commerce made Lugang what it is. For over 100 years, from the early 18th century, the only settlement in Taiwan larger was the then capital, Tainan. Qing Dynasty mandarins seldom made their presence felt in Lugang, as disputes were mediated by the eight guild-like trade groupings called

The shape-shifting nature of Taiwan's coastline dealt the town a series of blows. Silt choked the harbor in 1717, but by 1740 it was again broad and deep. When times were good, thousands of vessels per year unloaded Chinese cloth and crockery, then shipped Taiwanese rice, sugar, hemp and ramie to the Chinese coast. In the late 19th century, sediment again blocked the port. And when the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895, they reoriented the island's economy, at a stroke rupturing ancient trade links between Lugang and Fujian. The town might have recovered were it not for the conservative outlook of local leaders. In the early days of the Japanese occupation, believing rail transportation would never catch on, they lobbied against a rail link...

This article appeared in the August issue of Verve, EVA Air's monthly inflight magazine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Taiwan Balloons Museum blends fun and industrial heritage (Culture.tw)

Several museums in Taiwan celebrate the industries which transformed the island from an agrarian backwater to an economic powerhouse. Former sugar refineries have been converted into tourist attractions, and there are places where visitors can learn how saxophones are made, or how hot glass is blown to make lampshades.

Taiwan Balloons Museum focuses on a line of business that few people think about unless they are organizing a wedding or a birthday party. In most people's minds, balloons are the humblest of products – cheap, simple and thrown away at the end of the day. But, as anyone who tours this museum will find out, there is much more to making a good balloon than meets the eye...

To read the whole article, go here. I visited the museum as part of this project.