The travel section in today's China Post has a short article on some old Japanese-era train stations http://www.chinapost.com.tw/travel/detail.asp?ID=89328&GRP=g
Sunday, August 27, 2006
We made our first overnight trip with Amber this weekend, and what better place to choose as her first destination than the capital of this island, Taipei (Taibei たいほく 台北). It may be the largest city, and the seat of government, but it hardly is representative of life on Formosa. Unlike Osaka and Nagoya in relation to Tokyo, Taiwan's number two and three cities, Kaohsiung (Gaosyong たかお 高雄) and Taichung (Taijhong たいちゅう 台中) bear little similarity to Taipei. I've always considered Taipei to be Taiwan's version of Pyongyang. Just as the latter has long been North Korea's "model city", so Taipei represents an image of a modern Taiwan that the powers-that-be want the outside world to see. Here are a few of the things that you can find in Taipei that you won't find anywhere else on this island:
Abundant Western restaurants
Branches of well-known Japanese eateries
Enforced traffic regulations
Drivers that wait for pedestrians to cross the road before making their turns
And here are some things not usually seen in Taipei, but that are easily encountered everywhere else:
Dog shit on the sidewalks
Betel nut juice on the sidewalks
Girls in skimpy outfits selling betel nuts
Taike (台客) and Taimei (台美)
I suspect that most foreigners who come to Taiwan never venture out of Taipei during their stays, so the government works extra-hard to present the image of Taiwan as being a progressive, prosperous Western(izing) country. It wouldn't suprise me if Taipei turns out to be some kind of Potemkin village, with all the boutiques, department stores and restaurants turning out to be just facades, and all the well-dressed people being paid by the government to look like that. And if you think this is all just paranoia, a few years ago the government of neighboring Taoyuan County tried to crack down on the revealing outfits being worn by the betel nut sellers. The rationale wasn't to crack down on unlicensed businesses peddling an addictive cancer-causing substance, the cultivation of which is also causing great harm to Taiwan's environment. No, the government was worried what foreign visitors going by bus from the airport in Taoyuan to Taipei would think.
As for the trip itself...
Amber on the bed in her first hotel, the Hotel Delight. Located conveniently close to the Chungshan (Jhongshan) MRT subway station and costing an Internet special 1800 NT (US $50 or ￥6400), it wasn't bad. However, the room was small and windowless, and Amber uncharacteristically woke up several times during the night crying, so we didn't get much sleep. To top things off, the power went out around 6:15 in the morning, leaving our windowless room pitch black for a couple of hours, not to mention stuffy.
Our first stop on Saturday after checking in was Taipei 101, currently the world's tallest building. We walked from the hotel to Taipei Main Station and Amber had her first train ride on the MRT.
I first visited Taipei 101 before the building was finished. At the time, it really stood out because there was very little in the surrounding area. Now, the area has undergone rapid development, with new department stores and shopping centers having opened up, with more on the way. One new mall was called "New York, New York" and had the first Mister Donut I've seen in Taiwan. It also had the first long line of people waiting to get inside a Mister Donut I've seen anywhere. This Mister Donut, however, didn't have my favorites. No Honey Dips, no Custard Creams. On the other hand, next door there was an underwear promotion event featuring three dancers. So here are my first photographs of what the Taiwanese call "La mei" or "Spicy girls":Yowza!
Amber proved to be a great hit. The entire time we were in Taipei people would stop to look at her in her stroller, and comment on how cute she was. Amber has picked up on this very quickly, and now she always smiles when she hears someone say "Hao Keai!" This McDonald's employee gave Amber a free balloon with quickly became her favorite plaything
Oh yeah, Taipei 101. The view from the top is incredible, as you would expect, though our Saturday wasn't the clearest of days.
We also visited the outdoor observatory. We ended up staying there long enough to see the night view as well. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't take very good night shots, which is just as well. Because of the large number of low-rise apartment buildings in Taipei, especially in the vicinity of Taipei 101 itself, there aren't as many lights to see at night as you might expect from a city of 2.64 million people. If you have to choose between day and night, pick a very clear day to go.
On Sunday (today as I write this) we checked out of our hotel (after the power returned) and tried to drive to the Shihlin Official Residence (しりんかんてい 士林官邸), Chiang Kai-shek's former estate. Tried to, as there were no empty parking places anywhere near the grounds. We ended up backtracking to Taipei's soccer stadium, where we parked the car and then hopped on the MRT a couple of stops to Shihlin Station, from where we walked. At the station, we paid special attention to the wind
Chiang certainly lived well. The Shihlin Official Residence contains a number of well-maintained gardens, and admission is free. I imagine Chiang spent a lot of time here thinking about which dissident to lock up next on Green Island, Taiwan's version of Siberia, politically-speaking. Amber was in a good mood
Pamela and I swear we can make out a face in this picture, the altar of what is called the "Victory Chapel"
Chiang's former home, however, appeared to be barred to the public
After lunch, the weather turned nasty. With thunder and lightning all around, Pamela smartly decided to return to the car with Amber and wait things out. I, on the other hand, paid visits to the Confucius Temple (こうしびょう 孔子廟)and Baoan Temple, where one bolt of lighting struck something uncomfortably close by.
We finally said goodbye to Taipei in the late afternoon
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Back when I lived in Tokyo, I would often go out on weekends exploring, armed with a Japanese-language guidebook to Tokyo. I was able to discover a lot of places never mentioned in English-language sources. I've been trying to do the same here in Taiwan, using a Chinese-language guide to Taichung County that I picked up at the local department store. Unfortunately, gems have been few and far between on the excursions so far. Today's outing to Wujih, a small township just south of Taichung, was no exception. The most interesting things to see there were the dishes we had for lunch:
You're looking at a plate of eggs, seaweed, tofu skins, pork skins and ginger.
Minced meat on top of noodles.
A bowl of (cloudy) clam soup.
Amber had a good time at the restaurant, enjoying all the attention she got from the other diners:
Pamela was able to come up with this composite picture, taken from inside Wujih train station:
Afterwards, we stopped off at Steve's new apartment on Meitsun (Meicun 美村) Road in Taichung. These pictures were taken from his rooftop:
Steve with his son, Eli, and your humble servant in his tastefully understated Shimizu S-Pulse http://www.s-pulse.co.jp/ jersey.
The sisters-in-law were in town, so we ended the day by going out for dinner in Fengyuan. Despite the lack of anything interesting to see, it was good to get out of the house. I wonder what we'll do next weekend...
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Despite some rain in the late morning and mid-afternoon, I went for a short hike today. My destination - Taichung's Kuanyin Temple, located at the entrance to the Takeng (Dakeng 大坑) mountain area. Kuanyin is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuanyin In Japan, she's known as "Kannon". Supposedly this is where the Canon camera company got its name. It's a short but steep hike from the road to the temple, and especially on a humid day like this one, it didn't take long before I was dripping with sweat. Here are some photos of the temple:
Above on the right is a memorial to the four victims of what is known in Taiwan as the "Pachang (Bachang) Creek Tragedy". On July 22, 2000 four people working in the shallow Pachang Creek in Chiayi (Jiayi かぎ 嘉義) County were trapped by a flash flood, and waited for three hours while the military and police argued over whose responsibility it was to rescue them. The four were eventually swept away and drowned, and the whole unfortunate incident was broadcast live on TV.
I have no idea who this figure represents. I just like the expression on his face.
No day in the hills would be complete without some critter pics:
I'm not sure what this is. A whip scorpion perhaps?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
An old house which looks like it dates back back to the colonial period. The style is definitely Japanese. Not many of these houses can be found these days in Taiwan.
The vaguely Stalinist-looking Taichung County government building. Fengyuan (Fongyuan とよはら 豊原) is the seat of Taichung (Taijhong たいちゅう 台中) County.
There's money to be made from Buddhism in Taiwan, as this building demonstrates.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
This morning I got out of the apartment and went for a walk in Hsintien. Hsintien is located in Fengyuen (Fongyuan とよはら 豊原), close to the border with Tantzu (Tanzih たんし), and has several hiking trails. I like to go for walks in the mountains in the late mornings and early afternoons because there are fewer people on the trails during that time, and I'm better able to listen to birds, cicadas and other insects. It's also a lot hotter and a lot more humid then, but that's a small price to pay for some relative solitude.
Today wasn't a particulary healthy day to be tromping up and down hills, and gulping down large amounts of oxygen. As you can see from this picture
the air quality was none too good. You might say it was smoggy today, but I have a very good friend who's an eternal optimist and thus never uses that word. To him, the weather is "hazy".
Look at the photo again - somewhere there is a city in all that smo...er, I mean haze. So with not much to look at in the distance, I spent much of the time pointing the camera at things much closer.
A small caterpillar pretending to be a stick.
These huge spiders are everywhere. They're as large as my hand, but I wasn't about to put my palm next to one to give you the proper perspective. Just take my word for it.
A grasshopper that didn't mind having its picture taken.
A lizard that I almost stepped on. I jumped away thinking it was a snake.
The entrance to the Hsintien parking area. From a distance, the statue of the hawk looks more like a vulture, waiting for something unfortunate to befall the hiker.
According to Pamela, dogs with white paws are not popular with Taiwanese because it's believed they bring bad luck. A few months ago there was a story on the TV news about an American couple that came all the way to Taiwan to adopt a dog like this one because there weren't any Taiwanese willing to give it a home.
A small Taoist temple by the roadside. The two gods inside looked like they were in jail. Attica! Attica! Attica!
If I'm going to stay in Taiwan for a while, I'd like to invest in a traditional Taiwanese home. This place looked like it might be available. With a little elbow grease, an air conditioner or two, digital TV connection, who knows? My wife, however, would prefer to live in something more modern. "Modern apartment building" in Taiwan, unfortunately, also means "Ugly concrete monstrosity".