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Tuesday, April 3, 2012


An example of my amazing powers of observation. Nearly seven years I have lived in Fēng​yuán 豐原, and until last night I had no idea there was a huge covered market in the downtown area. Consider yourselves lucky that I never went into the field of law enforcement.

There exists in Taiwan a shadow world, an underground economy, if you will, an unholy alliance between tour buses, private kindergartens and small "leisure farms" secreted in the mountains or hidden among the farms in the countryside. At least that's what it seems like each time my school decides to take the young ones out on an excursion. Large buses are chartered from private companies to bring the kiddies to the above-mentioned establishments, which seem to feed on a steady diet of school trips for their continued survival. As always when we embark on these outings, I bring my daughter along for the ride, even though she attends a Chinese-language kindergarten.

Starting them out young - just like their parents, the kids sang karaoke songs on the bus. Amber got into the spirit of things by belting out a Chinese kiddy favorite. The visuals that went along with the songs were a different matter, however. One child's tune featuring adults drinking and smoking in an obvious hostess bar didn't seem to raise an eyebrow with anyone on board, not even when one of the men stuffed some money down a woman's blouse. I guess with some of the kids, it's what Dad does after work sometimes. Jingle Bells (yes, the Christmas favorite, and with English lyrics) was accompanied by scenes from a Taoist temple festival, complete with lion dances, fireworks and young gangsters painted up to look like the soldiers of the gods.

Can anyone spot my little one in the obligatory group photo? The "farm" we visited today was located in the foothills of T'aip'ing (Tài​píng) 太平. For some odd reason, no one seemed the know the name of the place, so all I can tell you is that it was in Taiping. The children were led around the grounds of the establishment in two groups, where they were shown such wildlife as tadpoles and bees, and engaged in activities such as tire rolling. At one point, the kids were given leaves to feed to a family of goats, and Amber was one of the lucky few to be allowed to hold one of the kids:

A required component of these field trips is the arts and crafts activity, which is Taiwan is often referred to a "DIY". Our DIY today was making candles utilizing real beeswax:

Later, a giant friendly bee showed up to congratulate the children on a job well-done:

Lush vegetation does not photograph well on dreary overcast days:

One neat activity arranged by the Taiping farm staff involved outfitting the kids in helmets and ropes, and having them climb a tree. Here's Amber gingerly making her way up:

This rather disturbing photo does not show a child attempting to hang herself while a staff member tries to talk her down. Amber slowly made her up a stack of seven cartons. Upon reaching the top, the cartons were taken away and she was gradually lowered to the ground with the rope affixed around her waist and back:

It was a long day, but all the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, mine included. Today was also the last opportunity for both Amber and myself to go on one of these excursions, as our time in Taiwan starts to wind down. 

Enthusiastic Western bloggers keen on all things Taiwanese like to complain about fellow Westerners complaining about ugly local architecture (whining about whiners? Irony, thy taste is sweet). I wish I knew where they bought the blinders that allow them to ignore sights like the one above. Had I known earlier, these last few years would've been much more enjoyable.


  1. It's not so much that we have blinders. It's more...if you hate how the place looks so much, why not leave? (Although it seems like you are going to do just that).

    Sure, there's ugly architecture. Nobody can deny that. But there's a lot of good stuff, too, and a lot of interesting things going on at street level. That's the point, not that the architecture doesn't exist. Just because a lot of it is ugly doesn't mean it all is, and it's much more worthwhile and healthy to the soul to look for the good rather than focusing on the bad.

  2. It isn't a simple matter of "loving" or "hating" a place, and therefore "staying" or "leaving". Experiences and feelings about Taiwan are far more complex than that, and "lack of blinders" or "ugly architecture" have played absolutely no role at all in the decision to leave after a cumulative total of almost 11 years on this island.

    I disagree about looking for the good rather than focusing on the bad. Good and bad together combine to make for a far more enriching experience, with one playing off the other, and both acting in concert to provide the total perspective. Deliberately overlook one, and you're denying yourself what the society truly encompasses. Architecture in general is horrible in Taiwan, and I enjoy the awfulness of it. I'm fascinated by it, and Taiwan wouldn't be Taiwan without the dreary, gray concrete combined with the corrugated metal.

    Of course, I haven't had the pleasure of being in Taipei on a day to day basis. The city has made great strides in sprucing itself up - you should have seen it circa 1999! And yet the other week, when we took the bus from Fengyuan to visit the AIT, I was reminded of just how grungy and grimy the city is on its outer edges. And I found that to be fascinating.

    And, of course, Taipei isn't representative of the rest of Taiwan. I lived for a couple of years in an agricultural/industrial area in Shengang, which used to be a town before getting swallowed up by Greater Taichung. My wife and I lived above my brother-in-law's factory, in one of those ugly (yes, I said it again) concrete row houses with the illegal rooftop additions. Our neighbors were not the two-dimensional stereotypes of the Taiwanese you read about on so many blogs (unless you count the gangster with the violent temper who lived next door), but real people going about their everyday businesses. The whole area consisted of the same hideous houses sitting atop noisy, sometimes polluting factories. Or to put it another way, our neighborhood was nothing out of the ordinary for much of Taiwan.

    There was one exception, however - a modern, "Japanese-style" home. My mother-in-law thought THAT house was ugly because it clashed with the rest of the neighborhood!