Taiwan 101: Part 3. Aspects of Taiwan

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage, which starts in Taoyuan City and heads all the way down to Yunlin County and back

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

 

While the natural beauty of Taiwan will always be its greatest allure for me personally, the island also has an extraordinary wealth of cultural, historic and industrial attractions. Salt harvesting has been carried out on Taiwan for hundreds of years (with a history of eight centuries on the ROC-controlled island of Kinmen). Today salt production is a very minor industry here, but some of the salt fields (and a pair of unusual salt ‘mountains’) remain; the best have a strange beauty that’s quite unlike anything else on the island. Sugar, one of Taiwan’s biggest industries in the 1950s and 60s is now produced at only two sites on Taiwan, but some of Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 2. Eastern Taiwan

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Hualien and Taitung Counties are finally becoming easier of access, with fast (although famously difficult-to-book) Puyuma trains, and big improvements (still ongoing) in the notoriously dangerous Suhua Highway, and the undisturbed, peaceful nature of this region might eventually change, but for now it remains one of the most enchanting regions of the island. Since the Central Mountain Range is relatively inaccessible from the eastern side, the main attractions of the region (apart from Taroko Gorge) is its rich aboriginal culture, beautiful, often Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 1. The North

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

The Buddha's Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

The Buddha’s Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

I’ve started exploring new places again, and should start getting back to regular blog posts in the next couple of week. Meanwhile, I thought I’d make a few posts giving a short overview (in photos) of my latest book, Taiwan 101, which aims to show the incredible variety of sights around Taiwan (and the ROC-controlled islands). It really is an amazing place, and I’ve come to realize this even more during the several years I’ve spent researching and writing the new books (there are two volumes), during which I’ve seen loads of places, attended a number of amazing festivals, and done quite a few things that I’ve never done here before. Hopefully I’ll get out six posts, one for each of the six main sections into which the two volumes of the book are dvivided.

 

First up: the north: Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Keelung City and Yilan County. Here’s a taste of the many, many places to Continue reading

Taiwan’s Fascinating Memorial Arches, Historic Tombs and Ancestral Shrines

 

Here’s another (somewhat abridged) chapter from my new book, Taiwan 101: unforgettable places, events and experiences on Isla Formosa (working title: feedback and suggestions for improving it welcomed!). It’s a bit more ‘specialized’ than the majority of the 101 sections, but these historic curiosities become remarkably interesting when you start to explore them, and they’re sadly little known and under-appreciated. The chapter in the book will include more examples of each. 

Qinjing Arch, Kinmen

Qinjing Arch, Kinmen

Zheng Yong-xi Tomb, Hsinchu

Guardian statues at Zheng Yong-xi Tomb, Hsinchu

The beautiful Wuluanqi Cemetery  in Taiping, Taichung City

The beautiful Wuluanqi Cemetery in Taiping, Taichung City

View from the Tomb of Huang Wei over the flat plains of northern Kinmen island

View from the Tomb of Huang Wei over the flat plains of northern Kinmen island

At first glance, Taiwan’s historic relics seem rather humble in comparison with the island’s magnificent natural beauty and its extraordinary cultural richness. It’s a sad fact that much of Taiwan’s history has been lost for good owing to a lack of money in the past to preserve many old and crumbling structures, combined with an unfortunate eagerness to tear down historic houses to make room for more modern structures, or rebuild precious old temples simply to make them bigger and grander. Thankfully though, the Taiwanese authorities are generally far better these days at looking after the island’s remaining historic treasures, and, although Taiwan has little that’s likely to quicken the pulse of the average European historian, there’s a great deal of pleasure and fascination to be found by exploring the island’s heritage structures. Continue reading

The Wind Lion Gods of Kinmen

Wind Lion God at Xiyuan

Wind Lion God at Xiyuan

Houhu

Sihu

Xiguoshan

Xiguoshan

It’s been many months since I posted a blog here, simply because I’ve been working flat out getting my new book (actually a pair of volumes), Taiwan 101: unmissable places, sights and experiences on Isla Formosa (working title!) researched and drafted. It’s finally getting there! Here’s a draft of one of the 101 sections (slightly abridged: the book will have GPS coordinates for each statue, and some more info) that will be in the book as a taster. Kinmen is a must-see stop in any tour of the ROC (I know – it’s NOT part of Taiwan, so no angry messages please!), and the island’s fengshiye (wind lion gods) are one of its quirkiest and most fascinating sights [my total of statues found and photographed to date is 78 of the 81 statues – wind lion god statue hunting can become an obsession!), so they deserve a chapter all to themselves. The pair of books will be out in May 2016. Continue reading

The best of the best: five fantastic Taiwan day hikes

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

On the Stegasaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

On the Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

On the 'Cliff Trail', en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

On the ‘cliff trail’, en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Without a doubt, Taiwan’s finest hiking is in its astonishing high mountains, but with a very few exceptions (the peaks of Hohuanshan and the Southern Three Stars, which are still out-of-bounds over half a decade after Morakot destroyed the road leading to the trailheads) arranging the logistics of the trip (permits, transport, accommodation etc) is guaranteed to prove anything from a headache to a full-blown migraine.

However Taiwan (and especially the northern half!) has scores of outrageously good day hikes, most of which are free of such irritating hassles, and there are enough hikes of all grades to satisfy all but the most demanding of hikers. Continue reading

Save The Sanctuary!

Sean McCormack’s inspirational venture, a shelter for abandoned dogs and other animals on the north coast of Taiwan, is facing closure after the authorities declared their structures on their new location illegal yesterday (November 20th), despite assurances in the past on the contrary. In Sean’s words: Public Works came this morning. They said we have to destroy the kennels, even though they advised us we could remove the roofs and lower everything to legal height, which we have spent a lot of time and money doing instead of finding a new place. Judy will be calling Mr. Kao, the official overseeing our case, to find out why this is happening.

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Sanctuary residents get a walk

The Sanctuary is a not-for-profit organization established in 2010 and run by expat and local animal lovers to give a home to abandoned, injured and unwanted animals. Its mission, in its own words, is ‘To relieve the suffering of animals in the Taipei City and Taipei County areas, through rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming…‘ Presently over 200 dogs, plus various other animals, including cats, birds, squirrels, and even pigs, call The Sanctuary home. Unfortunately, through reasons beyond its control The Sanctuary is suddenly facing eviction from its present location, and with a long and wet winter coming up soon, a new home for The Sanctuary’s many animal residents is urgently needed.  Continue reading

The Daylily Mountains of Hualien and Taidong

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Liushidanshan

Liushidanshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

Winter is returning, and with it the Yangmingshan Calla Lily festival, which means that once again while heading up Yangmingshan to teach students there twice a week I’ll have to share the bus with gaggles of giggling young couples clutching armfuls  of white calla lily blooms.

What’s the big deal with calla lilies and the annual Jhuzihu Calla Lilly Festival? What drives so many to venture up into frigid, mist-shrouded Yangmingshan at the nastiest time of year just to see a muddy fields of apple-green foliage studded with white funnel-flowers which don’t even have a scent? Those who seem to think that the calla lillies at Jhuzihu make a fine display in the early months of the year really must make a point next summer of hiring a scooter, renting a car, joining a tour, or otherwise finding some way to get down to Taiwan’s east coast during the hot months (August and September are best) and see one of Taiwan’s most astounding annual sights: the blooming of the three great daylily plantations in southern Hualien and northern Taidong Counties Continue reading

Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading

Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan

Hua Island Lighthouse

Hua Island Lighthouse

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Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island's north coast

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island’s north coast

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Hua Island (花嶼), with no airport and only three weekly boats connecting it with the outside world, is probably as far off the beaten track as you can go in Taiwan, short of walking several days into the high mountains. It’s the westernmost island in the Penghu archipelago (and is often quoted as being the westernmost point in Taiwan; in political talk Matsu and Kinmen belong to the ROC but are not part of Taiwan itself – look it up!). Quickly moving away from a highly sensitive subject, I think we can all agree that given it’s lack of connections with the rest of the world, Hua Island is something of a backwater. Continue reading