Guidebook Update and Taiwan History

31 08 2007

It has been a while since my last post, so I apologize to my (three) regular viewers.  I have been busy with work, houseguests, and of course, continuing to get ready for our trip to Taiwan.

I have been reading two new Taiwan guidebooks – Insight Guide Taiwan and The Rough Guide to Taiwan – over the last couple of weeks.  I am more than halfway through Insight Guide and it’s actually a very interesting read.  While not as useful as other guidebooks for hotel and restaurant recommendations and for “on the ground” use while traveling, the book provides a great general overview of the history, culture, and traditions of Taiwan and offers a glimpse into modern Taiwan life.  In addition, the book is full of wonderful photos that are helpful for deciding which places to visit.  I would recommend it as a supplement to a solid guidebook such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.  Basically, the guide is more like a reference book for Taiwan than a guidebook.

I also found an interesting new blog called Jeff’s Taiwan that offers thoughts and insights into the history that can be found all over Taiwan.  His most recent entry is about the Sino-French war in the 1880s in Keelung.  The blog is well-written and organized, and includes some interesting maps, illustrations, and photos.  I also like it because it shows that there is history in Taiwan outside of the events that happened in the 1940s.  Jeff plans to blog mainly on hiking, historical sites, and flora.


More Batman Pictures

25 08 2007

I was alerted by Charles that they were filming a scene from Batman yesterday, so I headed over to see the hubbub and for lunch just north of the Chicago Board of Trade on LaSalle St. This is what I found: a movie scene set up for a policeman’s funeral. There were GPD (Gotham Police Department) vehicles, a stage with very nice flowers, and tons of GPD officers. A GPD Swat team also stood nearby.

The scene was set up right in front of the CBOT and next to the Chicago Federal Reserve building.

GPD vehicles

It started raining, so they had to cover up the seats. Notice the bagpipers sitting on stage.

Funeral stage

Since this was such a big funeral set up, and this was before Gordon becomes commissioner, I am guessing that this is Gordon’s predecessor’s funeral.

And no, I did not see Christian Bale. Or Morgan Freeman.

If you haven’t seen my previous pics from the filming of Batman: The Dark Knight, scroll down a couple of posts or click on the word “Batman” in the tag cloud on the right side of the page.

Taiwan’s Team

24 08 2007

Here’s a picture of the entire Taiwan little league team. Some local Taiwanese Americans went to meet them at the airport to welcome them to the US. I would have gone too if I were on the east coast!

Taiwan Little League Team

The team looks so cute in their suits and ties!

Photo Credit: CTC

Taiwan’s Little League Team

23 08 2007

Li-Shing, Taiwan’s little league team that hails from Taichung, Taiwan, came to the US this month as champions of the Asia-Pacific region to compete in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. My dad went to Williamsport on Sunday to see them play against Holland in the Little League World Series. He sent me a couple of pictures that he took at the game. Taiwan, or Chinese Taipei as they are called in this league, won 11 to 1 in Sunday’s game.

The Taiwan fans came out in force:
Taiwan Crowd

Here’s the pitch!


#3 hits


#10 pitches

#10 pitch

#10 pitch 2

Li-Shing/Taiwan/Chinese Taipei/Asia Pacific went on to beat Mexico in the next game before facing Japan in the semi-finals.

I don’t really follow sports in general, but I think it’s great Taiwan is known for something like Little League. If anyone knows the names of these players whose pictures I have posted, let me know! Thanks.

Batman Pictures

20 08 2007

The Dark Knight, the new batman flick, has been filming in Chicago the entire summer. The film has mostly been filmed in the Loop, Chicago’s business district, and the old Post Office building just south of the Loop. Since I work in the Loop and love Batman, I have been trying to get glimpses of the filming all summer. After hearing about all the sightings in the area, I finally dragged my husband around one weekend and took a bunch of pictures of some Batman sets. These props from the movie are just lying out in plain sight all around Chicago.

Gotham Police Car

Gotham Police Car

A Burned Out Helicopter Shell Under the “L” tracks

Burned Out Helicopter

The Old Post Office Building, aka Gotham Bank

Old Post Office Bldg

An Overturned Truck


A close-up… it’s a circus truck. How interesting…

Joker's Truck?

Seeing the movie filmed in Chicago is so exciting – I can’t WAIT until this movie comes out. The only bad thing is that I haven’t seen Christian Bale yet. THAT would totally make my day!!

Taiwan Travel Videos, And the Lack Thereof

17 08 2007

While guidebooks on Taiwan seem plentiful, there seems to be a great dearth in travel videos on Taiwan. As a frequent viewer of travel television shows, I was quite disappointed that out of the multitude of travel programs out there these days, only one had ever done an episode on Taiwan (that I could find). I know that Taiwan is not really on the tourist map, but maybe this is part of the reason why.  Well, there are several other reasons Taiwan is not a destination, such as the fact that Taiwan is not easy to navigate if you do not know Chinese.  I believe Taiwan has made great strides in the right direction, however, and hopefully with better signage, resources, and exposure, Taiwan will become a better place for tourists. It sounds like Taipei is already there or close to it, but the rest of the country needs to catch up.

The travel video I am talking about is Globe Trekker: Hong Kong & Taiwan. As you can see, the episode in question is not even exclusively about Taiwan, but actually 2/3 about Hong Kong and 1/3 about Taiwan. Now, I have to acknowledge that I was happy that Globe Trekker even made it to Taiwan and that Megan McCormick, the host, is very adventurous and seems like a nice person. However, the content of the Taiwan episode was terrible.  I felt that the activities and sights the host visited were designed to either emphasize how weird and different Taiwan was or take advantage of the show’s access to the architect of Taipei 101, who also designed the monastery they visited. 

Modern Buddhist Monastery in Puli, designed by the same architect who designed Taipei 101.

Puli Monastery

In the DVD, Megan visits The Grand Hotel, the Martyr’s Shrine, Snake Alley, and has a private tour of Taipei 101, which at the time was still under construction.  These Taipei tourist sites I have no big complaints about.  Outside of Taipei, she visits Taroko Gorge, Jade Mountain, a modern Buddhist monastery in Puli, and the Yami on Orchid Island.  Written out this itinerary doesn’t sound too bad, but the program spends an inordinate amount of time in the not yet completed Taipei 101, in the modern Buddhist monastery, in snake alley, and on Orchid island.  On the other hand, only a few short minutes are spent in Taroko Gorge and Taipei (besides 101).  I did find the Jade mountain segment pretty neat though. 

This is an actual picture of a Yami, one of the many aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.  He is in traditional dress.  

Yami in traditional dress

The show seriously made it look like Taiwanese locals are either buddhists who live in Vegas-like monasteries, colorful natives who don’t wear clothes, or street carnies who eat/drink snake all the time.  I am not being flip when I describe it this way.  In fact, I thought the idea of being able to visit a Buddhist monastery was very cool.  I guess I was just shocked that those were the places the show decided to go, when in my eye there were so many other more interesting places to visit in Taiwan.  It just wasn’t a good reflection of Taiwan, either from a daily life point of view or from a typical tourist’s point of view.  I mean, if the three photos in this post were the only pictures you ever saw of Taiwan, what would you think?

And really, did Megan really have to drink the snake bile?  Who does that besides old Taiwanese men?  From what I know, snake alley is only there for the tourists nowaday.  I have to say in her defense, though, the snake vendor was totally invading her personal space when he put the big boa constrictor or whatever that snake was on her.

A Snake Alley Vendor, Photo Thanks to budapest8 from Virtual Tourist

Snake Alley

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of Taiwan with the Hong Kong segment immediately before that bothered me.  The show portrayed Hong Kong as a bustling metropolis with beautiful views and a harbor.  The host did all the typical tourist things like visiting the famous tailor who makes suits for famous people, going to a temple and getting her fortune told, and taking a ferry.  In addition, she was able to meet Bruce Law, the famed action stunt coordinator for Hong Kong movies.

Maybe I just took the show a little too personally, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.  I still watched it twice, though, because despite all of this, it was still entertaining.

Taiwan Guidebooks

13 08 2007

To my surprise, there is quite a variety of guidebooks available for Taiwan. There are five whole guidebooks devoted to Taiwan. They include Lonely Planet Taiwan, The Rough Guide to Taiwan, National Geographic Traveler – Taiwan, Insight Guide – Taiwan, and Culture Shock! Taiwan. Actually, when I was first looking guidebooks there were not many available. At that time, Lonely Planet Taiwan was considered the authority on Taiwan travel according to reviews with National Geogrphic Traveler Taiwan as a good supplement for its photos and tourist site information. Insight Guide and Culture Shock were a distant third and fourth. The Rough Guide to Taiwan was just published in May 2007, so I didn’t know of its existence until today! I am going to try to get a copy of the RG Taiwan because it is rated well on Amazon.  I will edit this post to include my thoughts on the RG Taiwan.

I have read the Lonely Planet Taiwan book and found it a good general reference guide. The most helpful part is that they have the Chinese names spelled in both Wade-Giles and Hanyu pinyin romanizations for all the locations. Wade-Giles is still used extensively in Taiwan, but most texts for learning Chinese mandarin are taught in Hanyu pinyin. In addition, the sections on Taiwanese/Chinese culture and traditions are insightful and accurate for the most part. The section on kinds of food is also a big help for travelers to Taiwan. I would definitely recommend getting this book if you are heading to Taiwan. However, I would not use it exclusively as 1) it is difficult to figure out exactly what you should visit unless you read the book from cover to cover 2) there are better sources for crafting an itinerary 3) the version I had was published in 2005, so some new attractions have not yet made it into the book and some of the information may be outdated and 4) the section on Kaohsiung is paltry. I found the Taiwan page on Tripadvisor and the Taiwan Tripadvisor forums to be much more helpful in terms of planning an itinerary and figuring out transportation.

More Taiwan Blogs…

9 08 2007

Just wanted to write a quick post highlighting some other great Taiwan travel and photo blogs.

Exploring Taiwan! is an extensive travel journal detailing a two week vacation to Taiwan written by Keong from Singapore.  There are some great examples of outdoor/hiking/backpacking activities to do in Taiwan.  Taiwan is a very popular vacation destination for Singaporeans, as evidenced by their overwhelming representation on the TripAdvisor Taiwan message boards!

Craig Ferguson posts on Lukang, an old preserved harbor village outside of Changhua (also written as Lugang).  These beautiful photos are accompanied by lots of useful information and history.  Craig is a professional photographer.

David on Formosa is a popular Taiwan blog with lots of interesting posts and photos.  Check it out!

Lee Wei-I’s Kaohsiung photos on Flickr.  This is a shout-out to my mother’s hometown, Kaohsiung (i.e. the OTHER big city in Taiwan).  Lee Wei-I is a very talented Taiwanese photographer who lives in Taipei.  I found his Flickr photos by chance one day by googling Kaohsiung and was really impressed.  He has several photo collections and is a favorite among Flickr users.

Spirited Away to Jiufen

8 08 2007

It’s not secret that I am a big Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki fan. I grew up watching such classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Gauche the Cellist in Japanese with Chinese subtitles (meaning I couldn’t understand a word), so I appreciated the art of Studio Ghibli before I understood the storylines. My interest grew when I finally got my hands on Japanese versions with English subtitles.

Studio Ghibli logo

How can anyone not fall for such a cute and furry character?

So imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that Jiufen, a village located on the northeast coast of Taiwan, was one of the inspirations for the village in Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). Apparently Mr. Miyasaki visited the little village on a mountain and was charmed by it. There is even a teahouse set in the mountain that features masks similar to the ambiguous black robed spirit (No Face) with a mask in the movie.

Here’s a movie poster for Spirited Away:

Spirited Away Movie Poster

Here is a picture of Jiufen at night.


What do you think?

According to Wikipedia, Jiufen was a gold mining town that reached its peak under the time of Japanese rule in Taiwan. After the gold was exhausted, interest in this town declined significantly. Since the town was largely forgotten except by those living there, it is a well preserved example of a mountain town under Japanese colonization. The town was “rediscovered” as a tourist destination after it was featured in a movie called “City of Sadness” that was released in 1989.

We are planning to visit Jiufen along with Lukang, another preserved historic village, on our Taiwan visit. I’m not just visiting it for the Studio Ghibli tie-in, don’t worry. It is supposed to be a very quaint town with lots of specialty foods set in a beautiful mountain overlooking the ocean. I will report back with my thoughts after I see it with my own eyes!

Why Taiwan?

8 08 2007

With so many countries and places to visit to experience Chinese culture, this is a question that comes up quite a lot when I am talking to friends about visiting Taiwan.  Obviously I have a very compelling reason to go myself because of my roots, but I believe that Taiwan is worthwhile to visit even if you do not have relatives or business interests on the island.

I think Cindy Loose of the Washington Post received the best answer when she asked this very question in an article she wrote on Taiwan in 2004 (“And Now, Taiwan“, March 14, 2004, Washington Post Travel Section). 

“Why should tourists go to Taiwan instead of, say, Hong Kong or mainland China?”

Rather than taking offense, Cherng-tyan Su, director of the Taiwanese tourism bureau, gives an intriguing answer. “Hong Kong has a colonized Chinese culture. True Chinese culture should be in China, but the cultural heritage has been broken by 50 years of Communist Party rule, the Cultural Revolution and the interference with religion.

“In Taiwan,” he promises, “you will find the true, unbroken, traditional Chinese culture.” Here too, he says, you will find in a compact area all the regional cuisines of China and the cultures of 10 aboriginal tribes.

While China is certainly a must-see for those who are studying or interested in Chinese culture, Taiwan provides a wonderful juxtaposition.  Not only is it considered by some as an example of an unfettered Chinese society, but it is also the only true Chinese democracy, albeit a very young one.  The first large wave of Chinese immigrants began settling Taiwan in the Ming Dynasty in the 1600s.  The next major wave of Chinese settlers were comprised of Chinese nationalists fleeing Mao’s communist party in 1949.  During World War II, Taiwan was also occupied by the Japanese.

If the evolution of Chinese culture in modern times is of interest to you, I would also suggest Singapore and overseas Chinese communities as places to visit.  Singapore was a former British colony that was then part of Malaysia before gaining independence.  With a population that is over 75% Chinese, this city-state is a good example of a modern, wealthy, and rigid Chinese society (with Malay and Indian influences) that is focused on Western-style advancement.  English is the official language and the main language used in schools.  In terms of overseas Chinese communities, Chinatowns around the world are a wonderful introduction to Chinese culture, although they will be heavily influenced by where these Chinese immigrants originated.  Most Chinatowns in the US, for example, are dominated by Cantonese speaking Chinese from Hong Kong or Canton.

As a further cultural enticement, Taiwan has the largest and most valuable collection of Chinese Imperial treasures in the world, including China.  Since around the year 1000 A.D., Chinese emperors have acquired the empire’s greatest antiques, art, and treasures and kept them in the Forbidden City in Beijing.  After the last emperor of China was deposed, these treasures were catalogued and stored until the Japanese invaded China.  The treasures were then packed and moved many times to protect them from the Japanese forces.  When the Communists began to take power in China, the head of the Nationalists moved the most valuable treasures to Taiwan for safekeeping, where they have been resided since.  This Imperial collection is housed in the National Palace Museum, where anyone can now visit for less than $5 US.  Apparently the collection is so large that only a small portion is displayed at one time on a rotation basis.  

Three of the most famous pieces of the collection at the National Palace Museum in Taipei include the carving of a jade cabbage, a sculture carved from stone of a hunk of pork dipped in soy sauce and an ivory carving featuring 21 concentric balls nestled within each other.  The carvings utilize the naturally occuring color and texture to their advantage.

Pork StoneIvory Ball

Jade Cabbage

I am looking forward to visiting the National Palace Museum as an adult.  When I last visited I was 13 and was not too enthusiastic about spending hours in a museum, no matter the subject.  I will certainly be on the look out for these food-related carvings!

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