THE AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IN TAIPEI
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Travel & Culture
TAIWAN BUSINESS TOPICS July 2013 | Vol. 43 | Issue 7 中華郵政北台字第 號執照登記為雜誌交寄 5000 7_2013_Cover.indd 1
July 2013 | Vol. 43 | Issue 7 www.amcham.com.tw
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volume 43, n umbe r 7 一 ○二年七月號
Don Shapiro Art Director/
沙蕩 美術主任 /
Katia Chen Staff Writer
Manager, Publications Sales & Marketing 廣告行銷經理
photo : rich j. matheson
American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei 129 MinSheng East Road, Section 3, 7F, Suite 706, Taipei 10596, Taiwan P.O. Box 17-277, Taipei, 10419 Taiwan Tel: 2718-8226 Fax: 2718-8182 e-mail: email@example.com website: http://www.amcham.com.tw 名稱：台北市美國商會工商雜誌 發行所：台北市美國商會 臺北市10596民生東路三段129號七樓706室 電話：2718-8226 傳真：2718-8182
6 Temple Procession Troupes evolve with the Times
While still meeting religious needs in the countryside, Taiwan’s yizhen are now appreciated in the cities – and internationally – as a performance art form. By Rich Matheson
18 Putting Keelung back on the map
A new national museum, growing passenger-ship business, and planned heavy commercial investment are bringing new life to the old city. By Mark Caltonhill
Taiwan Business TOPICS is a publication of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, ROC. Contents are independent of and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Officers, Board of Governors, Supervisors or members. © Copyright 2013 by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, ROC. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint original material must be requested in writing from AmCham. Production done in-house, Printing by Farn Mei Printing Co., Ltd. 登記字號：台誌第一零九六九號 印刷所：帆美印刷股份有限公司 經銷商：台灣英文雜誌社 台北市108台北市萬華區長沙街二段66號 發行日期：中華民國一○二年七月 中華郵政北台字第5000號執照登記為雜誌交寄 ISSN 1818-1961
OFFICERS: Chairman/ Alan T. Eusden Vice Chairmen/ Bill Wiseman / William J. Farrell Treasurer: Sean Chao Secretary: Edgard Olaizola 2012-2013 Governors: Richard Chang, Sean Chao, Michael Chu, Louis Ruggiere, Revital Golan, David Pacey, Lee Wood, Ken Wu.
10 Getting in Touch with your Inner Farmer
Taiwan’s leisure farms give city-dwellers the chance to exchange urban bustle for bucolic tranquility for a few days. By Steven Crook
14 Taitung – more than Worth the Trip
The southeastern county offers fine hiking and biking, Aboriginal culture, and superb mountain and coastal scenery. By Steven Crook
2013-2014 Governors: Alan T. Eusden, Thomas Fann, William Farrell, Edgard Olaizola, Stephen Tan, Fupei Wang, Bill Wiseman. 2012 Supervisors: Susan Chang, Cosmas Lu, Gordon Stewart, Carl Wegner, Julie Yang.
photo : steven crook
24 blessed by bats
A symbol of good luck in Chinese tradition, bats are also useful in reducing the number of mosquitos and other insects. By Steven Crook
28 exploring the liuzhangli Cemetery
COMMITTEES: Agro-Chemical/ Melody Wang; Asset Management/ Christine Jih; Banking/ Victor Kuan; Capital Markets/ Jane Hwang, C.P. Liu; Chemical Manufacturers/ Luke Du, John Tsai; CSR/ Lume Liao, Fupei Wang; Customs & International Trade/ Stephen Tan; Education & Training/ Robert Lin, William Zyzo; Greater China Business/ Helen Chou; Human Resources/ Richard Lin, Seraphim Mar; Infrastructure/ L.C. Chen, Paul Lee; Insurance/ Dan Ting, Lee Wood; Intellectual Property & Licensing/ Jason Chen, Peter Dernbach, Jeffrey Harris, Scott Meikle; Manufacturing/ Thomas Fan, Hans Huang; Marketing & Distribution/ Wei Hsiang, Gordon Stewart; Medical Devices/ Susan Chang, Tse-Mau Ng, Dan Silver; Pharmaceutical/ David Lin, Edgard Olaizola, Jun Hong Park; Private Equity/ William Bryson; Public Health/ Jeffrey Chen, Dennis Lin; Real Estate/ Tony Chao; Retail/ Prudence Jang, Douglas Klein, Ajit Nayak; Sustainable Development/ Kenny Jeng; Tax/ Cheli Liaw, Jenny Lin, Josephine Peng; Technology/ Revital Golan, Jeanne Wang; Telecommunications & Media/ Thomas Ee, Joanne Tsai, Ken Wu; Transportation/ Michael Chu; Travel & Tourism/ Anita Chen, Pauline Leung, David Pacey.
A walking tour of this sprawling graveyard provides a wealth of insights into Taiwan’s past and present. By Mark Caltonhill
32 Taipei Zoo Combines Fun, education, and Conservation
Planned new projects will give the Zoo even more opportunity to familiarize children (and their parents) with the animal kingdom and its importance. photo : tourism bureau
By Joe Seydewitz cover photo : rich j. matheson
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july 2013 • Volume 43 n umbe r 7
coV er SPonSor
ever rich Duty-Free bringing Innovation to Taiwan’s Gateways for the public benefit
photo : taipei symphony orchestra
37 New Leadership for the Taipei Symphony Orchestra
Appointment of a highly respected international musical figure as principal conductor is to be followed by construction of a dedicated concert hall. By Don Shapiro
41 Be Funny or Be Embarrassed
Now anyone with the courage and the belief that they’re amusing can try performing stand-up comedy in Taiwan. By Mark Caltonhill
44 Taipei’s Changing Hotel Scene
With the entrance of new five-star hotels and high-quality three-star properties, established five-star venues are renovating to keep their competitive edge. By Jane Rickards
The duty-free shops operated by Ever Rich have a long track record of serving domestic and foreign travelers while adding to the distinctiveness of Taiwan’s international airport terminals. Its facilities helped the Taoyuan International Airport raise its rating in the 2012 Airport Councils International ranking to third place among medium-capacity airports. The operation sites include downtown pre-order centers in Taipei in addition to the facilities in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 of the Taoyuan International Airport, as well as the Kaohsiung, Songshan, Taichung, and hualien Airports and the Keelung harbor passenger terminal. In recent years, Ever Rich has also been actively promoting tourism in the offshore islands by investing in Kinmen, penghu, Green Island, etc. In addition to its business dedication at the airports, the company has also participated in comprehensive planning aimed at improving the airports' public spaces and facilities. Ever Rich has won the public Construction Commission’s “Golden Thumb Award” many times because of its excellent work in airport planning and operations. In 2013, Ever Rich was even honored to receive the "Taiwan Tourism Special Contribution Award" from president ma Ying-jeou. The core business philosophy of Ever Rich founder Simon Chiang is “Serving the Interests of Society and the General public.” That focus includes encouraging employees to take part in community activity, and the company was previously recognized with a “National public Service Award” for profit-seeking enterprises. Ever Rich is one of the most active companies in Taiwan for engagement in corporative social responsibility activities.
昇恆昌免稅商店 創新公益關懷，台灣國門榮耀 昇恆昌為國人所投資設立的免稅商店，長期服務國內外旅客、打 造具特色的台灣國門機場，並提昇桃園機場在2012年榮登ACI協會 「中運量機場」排名的全球第三名。營運據點有台北市區預購中心及 昇恆昌免稅廣場，包括桃園機場一、二航廈，高雄機場、松山、台中 及花蓮機場與基隆港等；近年更積極推廣離島觀光，投資金門、澎 湖、綠島等處。除機場商業服務外，亦全方位規劃改善機場公共空間 與設施，多次以機場經營規劃案獲得行政院公共工程金擘獎特優肯 定，2013年更獲馬總統頒發「台灣觀光特別貢獻獎」作為嘉勉。 phoTo : AmbA
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創辦人江松樺先生的經營核心理念是「社會公益導向，利益大 眾」，專注本業之餘也率領員工從事公益慈善等活動，曾以營利事業 獲獎人身份獲得「國家公益獎」的殊榮，是台灣積極落實企業社會責 任的公益企業。 taiwan business topics • june 2012 5
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Temple Procession Troupes Evolve with the Times
While meeting religious needs in the countryside, Taiwan’s yizhen are now appreciated in the cities – and internationally – as a performance art form. TEXT AND PHOTOS BY RICH MATHESON
aiwan’s temple procession troupes called yizhen (藝陣) – characterized by the exotic spectacle of bloodletting spirit mediums and the fierce dance of painted, exquisitely attired demon-catchers – continue to be an important element in traditional religious rituals. They have also become a vital part of Taiwanese society as a mechanism for the transmission of beliefs, promotion of spirituality, and the bolstering of community structures. Recently their performances have been further evolving into a refined art form that, apart from any religious significance, introduces a vibrant folk heritage to a discerning global audience. Although yizhen have had a rough ride at times, this uniquely Taiwanese phenomenon is emerging as a cultural and tourism ambassador for Taiwan. Early Taiwan was a veritable petri dish for the propagation of religion. Migrants to Taiwan faced many hardships, starting with successful navigation of the dreaded Taiwan Strait – fearfully called the “black 6
ditch.” Settlers who reached Taiwan’s shores then had to deal with pestilence and disease, roving bands of bandits and headhunting Aboriginals, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, and floods. Given their limited medical facilities and other resources, they often sought assistance from the supernatural. Most boatloads of immigrants carried several god effigies for protection, and an eclectic pantheon of deities developed. Taiwanese have a god for nearly every complaint or hardship, and new gods can be created to meet any additional need. These effigies were first housed in makeshift shrines, and if deemed efficacious were later upgraded to communal worship in temples. Besides being houses of worship to be visited for seeking divine assistance, temples thus became central to the social organization of each locality. As they were built and paid for by the community, everybody had a vested interest in them. Temples contributed to the solidarity
of local society through their functions as community centers for business, education, entertainment, village meetings, politics, and festivals. A constant element throughout Taiwan’s religious development has been the vibrant temple festivals – riotous affairs with throngs of people, noise, smoke, and performances, all for the sake of praying for peace, good fortune, and the exorcizing of evil influences. The anniversary of a god’s deification, a seasonal event or holiday, or the commemoration of some past exorcism of pestilence could all provide the inspiration for a festival. Festival culture in Taiwan is still alive and well; in fact, there are more festivals now than ever. In Gods of Taiwan , Neal Donnelly writes that there were between 7,000 and 8,000 temples in the 1970s and 80s and that the number had risen, according to Ministry of Interior (MOI) statistics, to more than 28,000 by 2005. On any given day, there is a reasonable likelihood of finding a festival underway at one of these places of worship. “People today have more money to lavish on festivals and it is not just the large temples that hold celebrations,” observes troupe leader Fang
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Zong-yin, who has spent a lifetime in traditional folk arts. “Today, more than ever before, smaller private shrines and temples are having festivals to honor the deities they worship,” he says. An important convention at many festivals is a procession or parade. Statuettes representing deities are borne on grand palanquins, supported by bamboo poles carried on the shoulders of bearers and followed by an assemblage of believers carrying incense. Themed mobile troupes accompanying the gods – the yizhen – provide protection, perform important religious rituals, and entertain the celebrants. Over the years, the yizhen have taken on new forms to adapt to changing times and circumstances. U r b a n i z a t i o n, f o r e x a m p l e, h a s strained the role in society of popular religion and traditional performances. Xie Wu-chang, director of general affairs at the Qingan Temple in Tainan’s Xigang District, explains: “Before, transportation
was poor, so people didn’t travel to far away festivals. Everything was local; life was simpler. People identified deeply with religion because it was part of everyday life. With modernization came many new diversions to vie for our attention. There are more dangers; young people have more choices and parents would rather their children excel at school than practice yizhen .” With industrialization, modernization, and Taiwan’s economic prosperity, folk religion came under some scrutiny. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, it was standard government policy to inhibit popular religious activities that were often seen as superstitious, wasteful, and at times dangerous – overall, a source of embarrassment. It is thus surprising that these ancient traditions not only survive but thrive in modern high-tech Taiwan. Popular religion’s vitality can be attributed to Taiwan’s amazing climate of tolerance and religious freedom. The International Religious Freedom Report 2012 estimates that
as much as 80% of the Taiwan population believes in some form of traditional folk religion, and MOE statistics identify the presence of some 27 religious denominations as of 2011.
Local volunteers Yizhen were originally local rituals and the domain of volunteers. Villagers gathering at local temples to relax and socialize participated in yizhen as an honor and form of propitiation. By the 1980s, when Taiwan was growing more prosperous, large amounts of money were still being spent on religious festivals but people had less time to participate in performances. As a result, professional troupes gradually supplanted the traditional volunteer groups in urban centers. During this time it was not uncommon for temples to become fronts for local gangsters, who recruited gang members from the streets or schools ostensibly to perform yizhen . Taiwan’s sensationalist media often focused on these negative aspects, in particular regarding the “eight general troupes” – a type of yizhen charged with expiating demons during pilgrimages. These groups soon became synonymous with delinquency and hoodlumism, imposing giving a lasting pejorative stereotype on yizhen culture. To counter this perception, many urban troupes have worked hard to generate a new image through the refinement and creativity of their performances, often exchanging the street for the stage. Besides the increased time pressures, modern Taiwan is also characterized by a profusion of exciting new forms of entertainment – in stark contrast to the isolated rural landscape from which this ancient tradition came from. To enhance the attractiveness of yizhen for today’s audiences while maintaining the tradition, some troupes have modernized and adapted it to better compete on an entertainment level. At the forefront of this movement is the avante garde Zhen Zhong Folk Art Troupe. Leader Fang Zong-yin learned Song Jiang battle array, a traditional martial yizhen , as a youth in Kaohsiung’s rural Neimen District, and after demonstrating great skill in martial arts was invited to China’s famed Shaolin Monastery to train. In 1990, Fang was teaching and performing in Song Jiang taiwan business topics • july 2013
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troupes at temples and schools in Taiwan, trying to pass on the traditions taught to him by his father. But he was frustrated by the lack of interest among the younger generation. “Youth were bored with standard traditions, so I innovated to make yizhen more fun for students,” Fang recalls. I n 1995, h e f o u n d e d h i s p r o g r e ssive temple performance troupe, initially performing Song Jiang battle array and martial arts but soon expanding its repertoire to include over 20 different types of yizhen . These are still performed today by his troupe of up to a hundred performers. Fang’s most noted innovation was the formation in 2009 of Taiwan’s first and still only female “eight general” troupe. Most of the members are trained dancers whose skills are incorporated into the performance, but Fang says the main reason for forming the troupe was to counter the negative reputation that “eight generals” had acquired. D e v o u t l y r e l i g i o u s h i m s e l f, h e i s dedicated keeping the traditions alive to stimulate interest in Taiwanese folk art and religion. He continues to perform over 20 times a month at temples, on the stage, and internationally. “Society is changing, so yizhen must change,” Fang says. “Audiences are demanding newer, more refined performances on the streets as well as on the stage.” The “eight general” troupes still have a problem with gangsterism, as they can be an attractive outlet for marginalized students who are susceptible to influences from “black society,” but that tendency is decreasing. Instead, more and more of the performance troupes are inculcated with strong humanitarian values. The Chio-tian 8
Drum Art Troupe is an example. The focus of the recent Taiwanese movie Dintao , Chio-tian has performed adaptations of yizhen on stage nationally and abroad. The troupe tries to counter public disapproval and affect positive social change by ensuring that members attend school, adhere to strict rules, and follow a rigorous training regimen. Chio-tian’s founder, Jason Hsu, a Taoist master and abbot of the Empress of the Nine Dark Heavens Temple in Taichung, is a good leader who has taken many youngsters off the streets and given them a bright future. Wen Sheng-zhi, researcher for the International Center for Tainan Area Humanities and Social Sciences, notes that “traditional volunteer troupes based in the community with good leadership and solid religious foundations will not be led astray, while troupes that are professional and have no community ties are more susceptible to corruption.”
Without media attention, numerous traditional grassroots troupes are still performing in their local communities, as they have for generations with little change. The fertile Chia-nan Plain in southern Taiwan’s Chiayi and Tainan is a hotbed of traditional religious activities that have continued unabated, unaffected by outside reports of hooliganism in yizhen . One such area is Tainan’s Xigang District, whose triennial religious procession has been conducted without interruption since 1784. Every three years, 55 yizhen troupes from five Tainan districts recruit local residents to participate in Qing An Temple’s festival procession, which can stretch for several kilometers. The event was listed by the government as an important national grade cultural asset in 2009. One of the participating yizhen troupes is Jishan Temple’s Bajiajiang troupe, the official escorts of Xigang Temple’s main gods, the Lords Qian-sui. The troupe,
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whose function is to drive demons from the area and perform ancient exorcism rituals for appreciative spectators, still draws its members from the local community and is afforded great respect by villagers. The members, ranging in age from 16 to over 40, often inherit their position in the troupe from their fathers.
Adjustments to modernity The processions were once all on foot; troupes would walk to nearby villages blessing the neighborhood as they went. Now troupes often jump in trucks to get to different temples. Even gods’ sedan chairs are often pulled on wheels rather than carried on bamboo poles by bearers. “Things change as society’s values change,” says Mr. Chiu, an elderly temple volunteer. “We previously burned boats in the Tsengwen River, but now we are environmentally conscious, so we burn them on the shore. The symbolism stays the same.” Yizhen have never been static, as the Great God Generals – imposing oversized god puppets carried on the shoulders – attest. Techno Santaizi (三太子) are lighter, cuter, cooler versions of Great God Generals that dance to techno music and can be seen at temples, nightclubs, and events around the island. They opened the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung, have performed in Canada and Japan, and even ran across the Sahara Desert. Some traditionalists condemn these changes, though there are myriad precedents for evolution in these performances over the generations. In the late 19th century, for example, beiguan (北管), a musical form of yizhen , split into rival factions – xipi (西皮) and fulu (福祿) – and a classic tale of temple one-upmanship ensued. The xipi performed a dragon yizhen , and – in an intended insult – fulu responded with performances centering on the deity Nezha Santaizi (哪吒三 太子), who as a baby boy kills a dragon king in the Chinese classic Investiture of the Gods . Not ceding, the xipi featured Li Jing (李靖), the Pagoda Bearing Great God
General. Li Jing is Nezha’s father and with his pagoda has the power to defeat his son. The many Great God General yizhen performed today evolved from these origins. Evolution continues, and is inevitable. Nowadays one can petition for divine guidance by drawing divining sticks, burning votive currency and incense, and making offerings to the gods… all online! Believers can even load a divining-block app onto their smart phones to query the gods at their convenience. When Mazu leaves Jenn Lann Temple on the annual Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage, a real-time camera atop the goddess’s sedan chair follows the procession so that those unable to attend can follow from home or on the go with their smart phones. Religious organizations, including yizhen , are not missing the opportunity to promote themselves online. Beigang Chaotian Mazu Temple’s facebook page has over 40,000 online followers, and Chiotian Drum Art Troupe’s has almost 70,000 fans. According to MOI statistics, between May 1990 and April 1991 an average of 40 activities each day were held by temples in Taiwan. With the advent of the internet and the proliferation and ease of social media, it is now easy to discover where a good festival can be found at any given time. In the new millennium, popular religion has become an important cultural tourism
draw, and festivals contribute to community prosperity. Some festivals, like the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, have become internationally known, although the participants now consist more of young thrill-seekers than the devout. Whereas the Taiwan government once tried to curtail folk religion activities, it now actively promotes them. Taitung’s Bombing Handan Festival was once prohibited as part of a crackdown on gangsters, but is now promoted by the government to draw tourists and their dollars. Folk beliefs are intimately connected to place, people, and time, and Yizhen are modern-day remnants of an important legacy of history, traditions, and folklore. While urbanization has indeed changed yizhen as it developed along with Taiwan’s economy, arguably the change was for the better. Discerning urbanites have gained sophisticated cultural performances that boost tourism and showcase Taiwan’s heritage, while in rural communities the traditional performances continue virtually unchanged, nourishing spiritual cravings and bolstering community cohesion. These rites may at first seem exotic and strange to the outsider, but the wish for health, peace, and stability are universal. Yizhen continue to develop and adapt today as a living testament to Taiwan’s rich heritage of religion and folklore.
J i s h a n Te m p l e ' s B a j i a j i a n g h a v e sought to preserve and protect ageold traditions from outside influence, and only tour locally during the triennial Xigang boat-burning festival. taiwan business topics • july 2013
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T o u r i s T fa r m s
Getting in Touch with Your Inner Farmer
photo : Steven Crook
Taiwan’s leisure farms give citydwellers the chance to exchange urban bustle for bucolic tranquility for a few days. BY STEVEN CROOK photo : Da Mo R lee
v e r t h e p a s t h a l f c e n t u r y, agricultural production has declined to less than 2% of Taiwan’s GDP. At the same time, agricultural tourism and leisure farms have boomed. The introduction of two-day weekends are a major reason, but the government’s Council of Agriculture – which views tourism as a way of lifting farmers’ incomes – also can take some credit. Relatively few Westerners take advantage of this aspect of travel in Taiwan. Most of the leisure-farm managers interviewed for this article said the bulk of the non-Taiwanese tourists they see are from Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong. Small Swiss Homestay, located in the tea-growing uplands of Chiayi County, welcomes plenty of foreign guests, both Western and Asian. But “only a few of them are interested in tea growing and processing,” says owner Charlies Liu. Liu, a member of both the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association [TLFDA, Tel: (03) 9381-269; www.taiwanfarm.org.tw] and the Alishan Leisure Farms Development Association, says the leisure farms in the Alishan area do not 10
currently receive a significant number of foreign tourists, but during meetings of these associations, members often discuss how more foreign visitors could be attracted. “The biggest problem is the language barrier, since most owners or their family members can’t speak English,” Liu explains. The TLFDA’s own promotional efforts seem to prove his point. The association does not seem to respond to English-language inquiries. Also, its website – which lists 202 member farms – has no usable English content. Fortunately for those who would like to learn something about how food is grown, or who think a day or two in the countryside would be fun and healthy, several of Taiwan’s leisure farms are suitable for visitors who speak little or no Chinese.
High in the hills Sheipa Leisure Farm has a comprehensive English-language website as well as some English-speaking staff. The farm, in Hsinchu County, has 78 rooms and
cabins in European-style buildings; staying overnight costs from NT$4,020 to NT$10,240 per room, breakfast and dinner included. As the name implies, Sheipa Leisure Farm is near Shei-Pa National Park. The Guanwu Forest Recreation Area is a short drive away. A nearby peak, Yemakanshan (1,923 meters above sea level), can be reached via an hour-long hike. When the weather is clear – often it is not – the scenery in this part of Taiwan is spectacular. The owner, Fan Zeng-da, left a career in industry more than 20 years ago and settled here with his wife. For the first eight years, they lacked electricity and depended on candles at night. The temperature hereabouts is typically 15 degrees Celsius cooler than on the lowlands. The Fans now grow various fruits and flowers, and claim to be the only farmers in Taiwan successfully cultivating blueberries. Guests can try their hand at making blueberry vinegar. The farm’s restaurant serves shrimps with blueberry sauce, plus items based around the farm’s other signature products such
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as kiwi wine and kiwi jam. To reach the farm from the lowlands, take Freeway 3 to the Zhudong/Qionglin Interchange at the km90 point in Hsinchu County, then follow the signs into Zhudong. From there head south on Road 122 toward Wufong. Continue 21.5km beyond Qingquan – the aboriginal village where Manchurian warlord Zhang Xue-liang (also spelled Chang Hsuehliang) was kept in detention by the KMT between 1949 and 1957 – and you will see the farm’s bilingual entrance sign. Several kilometers before the farm there is a police checkpoint where outsiders need to obtain permits; bring your passport or ARC, and make sure to get there before the checkpoint closes at 5 p.m. For those not used to narrow mountain roads, the drive can be grueling, so consider using the farm’s shuttle service from the Hsinchu High-Speed Railway Station (NT$1,450 per person one-way; journey time two hours).
Fish and fireflies Chienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm differs from most other recreational farms in two respects. Whereas many leisure farms focus on growing fruit or raising animals, Chienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm specializes in sturgeon culturing. Visitors can see several sturgeon species, including Amur, Chinese, Russian, and beluga, which is the source of some of the
photo : Steven Crook
world’s most expensive caviar. Also bred here are trout, eel, and Mississippi paddlefish. Like sturgeons, paddlefish can grow to a length of more than two meters. They have an endearing way of feeding – when approaching floating food, they turn over and eat with their bellies upward. Sturgeon and paddlefish dishes can be enjoyed in the farm’s restaurant. Another difference is that the farm does not offer lodging. However, its location in a hilly part of New Taipei City’s Sanxia District means it is an easy daytrip for anyone living in the capital. If you decide to stay in the area, consider spending half a day at the farm before or
photo : Steven Crook
after exploring Manyueyuan National Forest Recreation Area. If you have not previously seen it, do look around the exquisite Zushi Temple in central Sanxia. The farm owners’ son, Lin Dian, has good English-language skills. If contacted in advance, he is often available to guide foreign visitors on weekends and during holidays. In addition to helping visitors gain a broad understanding of aquaculture, he can introduce bee ecology and the area’s ferns. Chienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm also accepts telephone orders for the home delivery of fresh trout, mountain chicken, and various other products.
photos: Da MoR lee
Left, sturgeon harvesting at the Chjienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm, and right, some of John Lamorie's baked goods at the Da Mor Lee Eco-Friendly Leisure Farm.
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photoS: Steven Crook
Dongshi Forest Garden covers 225 hectares and is thus one of Taiwan’s largest recreational facilities. Located in the hilly interior of Taichung City – but managed by the Changhua County Farmers’ Association – the garden is famous for the fireflies that gather in large numbers between March and May. During those months, visitors are taken on short tours of the garden’s firefly hotspots and told something about the insects’ life cycle. At other times of year, guided walks focus on the garden’s frogs and beetles. “One of our strengths is our guiding system. We have over 200 volunteers here, and all of them have passed a test,” says Rio Lin, a representative of the garden’s operators. Lin suggests that Englishspeakers planning to visit Dongshi Forest Garden contact him in advance. He also recommends that overnight visitors try to arrive by 3 p.m. so they have plenty of time to tour the garden on foot in the late afternoon, enjoy its hot springs, and join the evening guided ecology walk. Weekend room rates start at NT$2,600.
Locations in Yilan Yilan County has an exceptional number of recreational farms, among them is the San-Fu Leisure Farm covering 14 hectares 12
in Dongshan Township, just 13 kilometers from the Luodong Interchange of Freeway 5. According to Archer Chang, special assistant to the owner, about 8% of the farm’s guests are foreign visitors, 60% of them from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. Visitors requesting an English-speaking staff member to show them around should contact the farm well in advance. “Since the early phase of San-Fu Leisure Farm, we have been applying natural farming methods, forgoing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These conditions have produced a wide variety of plants and wildlife and make for a perfect natural classroom,” says Chang. “Visitors can take part in nighttime guided ecology tours during which, accompanied by a professional guide, they will glimpse frogs, beetles, fireflies, and owls – a myriad of nocturnal life.” Chang recommends staying for three days and two nights to really enjoy the local scenery. Room rates range from NT$2,100 (for a two-person room midweek) to NT$5,600 (for a six-person room during Chinese Lunar New Year), including Taiwanese-style breakfast and the after-dark ecology tour. In keeping with the farm’s pro-environment ethos, guests are requested to bring their own
toiletries. Meals are available and there is an emphasis on low-fat, low-salt dishes. Also in Dongshan Township, Guang Shing Leisure Farm is well used to foreign visitors, with about one in five of its guests coming from outside Taiwan. Popular activities include collecting freshwater clams and a form of cooking known in Chinese as kongyao (控窯). Roughly translated, this term means “dirt oven,” and it is a fitting description. First, a fire is set in an oven made of clods of dried mud. When it is hot enough, the flames are extinguished and the oven is loaded with food, typically sweet potatoes and mushrooms wrapped in aluminum foil, plus a chicken sealed in a tin cannister so that it bastes in its own juices. The oven is then collapsed so the food is buried beneath hot soil, which slowly cooks everything.
The Kiwi housebuilder Da Mor Lee Eco-Friendly Leisure Farm is likely the only foreign-run tourism farm in Taiwan. Canadian-born John Lamorie and his Taiwanese wife, Shelly, have been welcoming guests to their rural retreat since 2010. They say booking is advisable for larger parties so parking can be assured.
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T o u r i s T fa r m s In New Zealand, where he migrated in 1970, Lamorie was a volunteer ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for the government. “One of the families I was providing language and cultural support to came from Taiwan, and they suggested I go to Taiwan to teach English,” John notes. “I’d been teaching computers for 12 years and wanted a change, so I quit everything and arrived in Taiwan in January 1999.” The Lamories run a private English cram school in Ligang, a small town in the northwestern corner of Pingtung County. “My wife wanted a place in the country, so we bought this land, five kilometers from Ligang, in 2006,” says John. Since acquiring the farm, John has used a range of skills picked up in a long and varied working life. “In New Zealand I did construction work and also had a small farm. I’ve experience taking care of land and animals.” His background in the food and beverage industry has also proved useful. “I’ve been a busboy, kitchen hand, bartender, wine waiter, and cook. In New Zealand, I owned a fish’n’chips shop and an ice cream shop.” In 2009, Lamorie built a small schoolhouse where he could teach English
on weekends. He made all the bricks in the walls from old newspapers, and used window frames salvaged from his mother-in-law’s property. “Later a friend brought around a newspaper reporter for the Liberty Times . She wrote an article that ended up on their front page. The TV stations got hold of it and we were on several channels,” he recalls. “We have the internet to thank, or blame, for what we're doing now. People come here to see and learn about the ways we recycle materials into useful items, then stay to enjoy the farm. I made a raft, which kids love. The parents started asking for food, so I designed and built a wood-fired oven to make pizza and bread,” says John, who last year started a DIY house-building activity in response to inquiries. “We also do DIY pizza- and bread-making, as well as making sailboats out of milk cartons.” “I put a ‘Western’ slant on most things as I want to separate us from the local pack,” explains Lamorie. “Also, I believe we’re very different from most Taiwanese places because we aren’t too big.” There are no accommodations at Da Mor Lee, but John and Shelly are developing a B&B about two kilometers away.
PLACES MENTIONED Small Swiss Homestay http://small-swiss.so-buy.com. Email: charlies200388882003@yahoo. com.tw (usually need 3-6 days to reply). Sheipa Leisure Farm – Tel: (03) 585-6192; www.sheipa.com.tw; email: spfm8910@ ms59.hinet.net; no admission charge. Chienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm Tel: (02) 2672-0758; www.fishfarm.com.tw; email: service@ fishfarm.com.tw; open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; admission and access to activities: NT$320, NT$300 for children under 12. Dongshi Forest Garden Tel: (04) 2587-2191; www.tsfa.com.tw; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; open 6.30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; admission NT$250, NT$200 for students, NT$125 for those 65 or older; parking fee NT$50 per car. San-Fu Leisure Farm Tel: (03) 9588-690; www.sanfufarm. com.tw), email: email@example.com; open 9.30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; admission NT$100, can be offset against accommodation, activities, souvenirs, or food purchases. Guang Shing Leisure Farm Tel: (03) 951-3236; www.pigs.com.tw; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; admission NT$100, NT$50 for children and seniors. Da Mor Lee Eco-Friendly Leisure Farm Tel: 0925940989; email: email@example.com); open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday to Tuesday; admission NT$150, can be offset against food and activities.
photo : Steven Crook
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Ta i T u n g
Taitung – More than Worth the Trip
The southeastern county offers fine hiking and biking, Aboriginal culture, and superb mountain and coastal scenery. BY STEVEN CROOK photos: tourism bureau
f y o u l i v e i n Ta i p e i , o n e o f t h e remotest parts of Taiwan is Taitung County. There are more scheduled flights per day to the Matsu islands (nine) than to Taitung (six to eight), and the flying time is a full hour, compared with 50 minutes to Matsu. Driving to Taitung takes a whole day, and there are no direct buses. The fastest of the 14 or so daily trains from the capital takes four hours, 40 minutes to reach Taitung City, although quicker service should be possible by the end of this year when the route is fully electrified and double-tracked. Getting to Taitung, in other words, is either time-consuming or expensive. Flying a party of four there and back costs around NT$16,000; one-way tickets on Tze-Chiang express trains are NT$785 each. The expense and inconvenience are probably the main reasons why, even though tourism is of growing importance to the county, Taitung receives relatively few visitors compared with other parts of the country. According to Tourism Bureau sta14
tistics, just over 94,000 people entered Taitung’s Zhiben National Forest Recreation Area last year. In comparison, the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area – a favorite of mainland Chinese tourists – notched 2.08 million visits, while the total for the Xitou National Forest Recreation Area came to 1.45 million. Taitung’s best-known museum, the National Museum of Prehistory, had around 172,000 visitors in 2012, while the National Palace Museum sold 25 times as many tickets in the same period. If you want to get away from the crowds, yet still enjoy a range of natural and manmade features, Taitung is thus an excellent option. The county’s 226,000 people are spread over 3,515 square kilometers; only Hualien and Nantou counties are larger. Almost half of the population lives in Taitung City, which is big enough to support one lively, friendly bar where English is spoken (KASA; 102 Heping St., Tel: 0981-693-495; open 11 a.m.-12 midnight daily) as well as an aboriginal restaurant
praised in at least three English-language guidebooks [Mibanai Indigenous Cuisine Restaurant; 470 Chuangong Rd., Tel: (089) 231-084; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. daily; Chinese-only website at www.mibanai.com.tw]. The county’s odd shape – it does not quite reach Taiwan’s southernmost tip, yet has a narrow band of coastal land tacked on to its northeast – is a result of mountains pressing in from the west and the north. The Central Mountain Range is so forbidding that road and rail routes linking Taitung with Kaohsiung swing far to the south. Although the Coastal Mountain Range is not nearly as high as the central sierra, it gives the eastern littoral an appearance strikingly different from Taiwan’s pancake-flat western lowlands. One American convinced of Taitung’s attractiveness is Robert Storey, who wrote the first six editions of Lonely Planet’s Taiwan guidebook. For most of the past 16 years, he has made his home in the county. With his wife, a Taitung
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Ta i T u n g native, he now runs a three-room homestay in Taitung City called Outside Inn (35 Siwei Rd., Sec. 2; Tel: 0937 057 624; www.great-taiwan.com). “I was living in Taipei, renting a closet-sized sweatbox, and one day realized how insane that was when for about the same price I could rent a whole two-story house in Taitung,” he recalls. “The better weather in Taitung, plus the clean air and spectacular natural scenery, sealed the deal.” “Taitung is a place for outdoorstypes, so what you see and do depends a lot on how physically fit you are,” says Storey, a self-described “refugee from New York City.”
Great for cycling Few would dispute his assertion that the county “boasts some of the best bicycling areas on the island.” He advises serious cyclists to tackle Highway 197, which he describes as “a hilly back road with little automotive traffic that runs north of Taitung through the inland valley, parallel to Highway 9.” The 21-kilometer-long bike path that rings Taitung City – taking in the Seaside Park, Taitung Forest Park, and the Liji Badlands – is flat and safe, and so ideal for less-fervent cyclists. The path goes near, but not all the way to, the National M u s e u m o f P r e h i s t o r y [ Te l : ( 0 8 9 ) 381166; www.nmp.gov.tw; open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; admission NT$80, NT$50 for children and seniors]. This museum is certainly worth visiting if you are interested in Taiwan’s distant past. The section about Taiwan’s prehistoric animal population (which included rhinos and horses) deserves a close look, as does the downstairs hall focusing on the several prehistoric cultures that flourished in Taiwan more than 2,000 years ago. Among the objects on display are jade knives and ornaments, arrowheads, and funerary items. Decent bicycles can be rented for NT$150 a day from Aloha Bike Rental [Tel: (089) 323-273; open 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily]. This store is easy to find if you walk down Datong Road to the Seaside Park and turn right. If you are looking for a more professional set of wheels, Storey recommends the Explore Taiwan
Bicycle Shop [1 Datong Road; Tel: (089) 361-336]. Another family-friendly bike trail can be found in Guanshan, a mostly Hakka township far from the ocean in the East Rift Valley. Guanshan’s Around-the-town Bike Path is just 12 kilometers long but takes riders through a range of landscapes; it can be done in an hour but visitors would be better advised to allow the better part of half a day Storey and his wife live in Luye, which you will pass through if you drive or take the train from Taitung City to Guanshan. “Luye has recently gotten on the tourist map due to the well-attended hot air balloon festivals staged during the past two summers, but the area is also known as a venue for paragliding,” he says. Storey points out that Highway 20, which once linked Taitung with Tainan on the other side of the Central Moun-
tain Range, has reopened on the eastern side as far as Xiangyang National Forest Recreation Area (open 8:30 a.m.-4.30 p.m. daily; free admission; http://recreation.forest.gov.tw/RA_En_JP/0700002/ RA_EN-01.htm). Even though this road, also known as the Southern Cross-Island Highway, is now a dead end, Storey believes exploring it is worth the time and effort. Xiangyang, 2,300 to 2,700 meters above sea level, is the starting point of some longdistance hikes, including one to Jiaming Lake. This highly photogenic oval-shaped body of water, 120 meters long and 80 meters across, was created millions of years ago by a meteor strike. “Those with less time might prefer the much shorter drive to Tianlong Bridge, a beautiful spot adjacent to the luxurious Chief Spa Hotel,” suggests Storey. The current bridge dates from the 1980s and
photo : tourism bureau
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Ta i T u n g leads to an ecotourism trail; the original one was built by the Japanese in 19271929 as part of the colonial authorities’ efforts to control the area’s Bunun tribespeople. Inland from the bridge, the highway winds through Wulu Canyon, a ninekilometer-long scenic gorge cut by the Xinwulu River. Chief Spa Hotel [Tel: (089) 935-075; http://chiefspa.hotel.com.tw/eng/] has 61 rooms, each with its own hot-springs bath. There is also a public pool (open 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 4 p.m.-10 p.m. daily; call ahead and the staff will clean and open it) where non-guests can soak for NT$250 per person. Taitung’s best known geothermal springs are those at Zhiben. About 15 kilometers south of downtown Taitung as the crow flies, they have been drawing tourists since the Japanese colonial era. A few years ago, Lisong Hot Springs – 1,170 meters above sea level and accessible only to those willing to drive far up the Southern Cross-Island Highway and then hike for an hour – were voted Taiwan’s most beautiful. “Largely unnoticed by foreign visitors are three charming little hot springs resorts in the village of Siwei on Highway 9, about five kilometers south of Luye’s train station,” says Storey. The three are Yingjia Hot Springs [Tel: (089) 561-615, http://yingchia-spa.com.tw], Luye River Hot Springs [Tel: (089) 552-033], and Shanyue Hot Springs [Tel: (089) 561-
photo : bixilian alliance cultural Foundation
618]. The last of these is the “newest and plushest, while Yingjia is the least expensive and has an especially friendly feel,” he adds.
Coastal spots Storey names Sanxiantai, near Chenggong – a fishing town famous for its sailfish catch each October – as his single favorite coastal location. “The thing to
do here is enjoy the relatively easy walks over the arched bridges out to the rocky islets,” he says. “In the past few years, the place has become noticeably overrun with mainland Chinese tourists, to the great joy of the local souvenir shops and restaurants, which now gladly accept renminbi. I don't necessarily see this invasion as a negative feature. I've actually found it pretty interesting to talk to the mainlanders. As long as you avoid any sensitive political issues, it's fascinating to get their views on Taiwan and their rapidly changing society in China. In some respects, the tourists are an attraction in themselves.” Another coastal spot – Dulan, formerly a center of the county’s now-defunct sugar industry – has been much talkedabout in recent years. Storey ascribes its popularity to “all the foreigners who have moved in, providing a source of amusement for Taiwanese tourists. You might think of it as an inverted image of San Francisco's Chinatown. I personally find it overrated, but on Saturday nights
Taromak villagers in Taitung perform with song and nose flute.
photo : cheryl robbins
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Ta i T u n g
Taitung County is becoming wellknown for its paragliding and hotair ballooning activities, as well as its hot springs, such as the one shown in the inset. photos: tourism bureau
there are often good bands playing at the Dulan Sugar Factory.” Nevertheless, he describes the 3.8kilometer-long hike to the top of a nearby mountain that shares Dulan’s name as “spectacular... very rewarding.” Hikers should allow five to six hours to get to the summit of Mount Dulan (elevation 1,190 meters) and return to the trailhead at the km151.5 point on Highway 11, the coast road between Taitung City and Hualien City. About one-third of Taitung County’s population belongs to the indigenous Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, and Rukai tribes, and anyone interested in exploring the region’s Austronesian cultures would do well to get a copy of Cheryl Robbins’ new bilingual book A Foreigner’s Travel Guide to Taiwan’s Indigenous Areas: Hualien and Taitung (Taiwan Interminds Publishing, NT$380). According to Robbins, one of the most appealing indigenous communities in Taitung as far as Western visitors are concerned is Beinan Township’s Dongxing Village, also known by its name in the Rukai language, Taromak. “This village is just off Highway 9, so it’s accessible but it still retains its indigenous village ‘look and feel,’” says Robbins, a native of California. “People con-
gregate and make handicrafts together or barbecue, and it is a friendly place where people can interact with the locals. Millet, once a traditional staple crop, is grown here. So during certain times of the year, you can see the millet growing in the field along with the very colorful Formosan lambsquarters [an edible leafy green].” Robbins suggests that prospective visitors get in touch with Lily Wen (Tel: 0921-271-883; email: rukailily@yahoo. com.tw) who runs Dawana Homestay [22 Dongxing Road; Tel: (089) 381258), “She speaks great English and there are often foreigners staying at her guesthouse. She can also arrange for a jeep ride up the mountain to the former site of the village where traditional-style buildings have been constructed. This is a great place to experience Rukai culture, history, and hospitality.” Robbins does not hesitate to nominate Hao De Bai [61-2 Dulan Village, inside the Dulan Sugar Factory; Tel: (089) 531702] as the county’s single best indigenous souvenir store. “The English-speaking owner has collected books, CDs, and handicrafts from all around Taitung, not just Dulan Village,” she notes. “This is really a good place to get an overview of Taitung's handicrafts, especially indigenous handicrafts, as well as indigenous
music and information.” Robbins, a professional licensed tour guide, now works with the Alliance Cultural Foundation (www.thealliance.org. tw), a not-for-profit organization headed by well-known hotelier and author Stanley Yen. The ACF was established in December 2009 to aid Hualien and Taitung counties by developing sustainable tourism. It advises local entrepreneurs how to upgrade their services, and provides training to young people. Jointly with the county government and 3M Taiwan Ltd., the foundation has also installed drinking-water stations at 20 locations so cyclists and other tourists can refill bottles rather than buy new ones. One of ACF’s major projects has been working with the Amis tribe’s Bixilian community to build the Bixiliang Cultural Center (260 Bailian Road, Chenggong Township; admission NT$500, NT$300 for infants), where – in the words of the ACF’s website – “trained local youth perform with the unique paw-paw drum.” Performance times are listed at http://pawpawdrum.weebly.com which also has an 11-minute video with musical excerpts. The cultural center is not easy to get you if you are depending on public transportation. If you would like the flexibility of your own vehicle but do not want to drive yourself, at least two English-speaking taxi drivers in the county offer tours – Wang Po-chiang (mobile: 0937397100) and Allen (mobile: 0920928255). Both charge around NT$3,500 for eight-hour excursions; call well in advance to make a booking and list the places you are interested in seeing.
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Putting Keelung Back on the Map
A new national museum, growing passenger-ship business, and planned heavy commercial investment are bringing new life to the old city. BY MARK CALTONHILL
Model of proposed new Keelung Harbor Terminal
couple of decades ago, Keelung City (基隆; pronounced Jilong ) regularly came in second in surveys of the best place to live in Taiwan, due to its clean air, high employment rate, and thriving port. Nowadays it places around second from last. With the exceptions of its Temple Entrance night market (廟口夜市) and once-a-year floating lantern ghost festival (中元祭) and associated arts festival (which are officially sanctioned national-level cultural attractions), Keelung is almost completely off the tourist map. In fact, to be brutally honest, most people think it is a bit of a dump. City officials are keenly aware of this attitude. Some say they understand why people hold such opinions, and – off the
record – some even quietly agree. Nevertheless, they are determined to redress this situation. Moreover, unlike some other local administrations, which simply throw money at a publicity blitz to change perspectives, Keelung is investing in infrastructure, urban regeneration, and the clean-up of polluted waters, and then hoping that word will spread as a result. (This article, for example, was not sought or commissioned by the municipal government). In reality, Keelung already has a wide range of attractions, many popular only with locals and other fans in the know. One well-kept secret, for example, is that Keelung has the most accessible beaches for residents of Taipei City; the one at Waimushan (外木山) is around 30 minutes by car using highway and expressway, and
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only slightly longer by train and bus – or much more romantically via the coastal bikepath north of Keelung’s railway station. Swimming is also possible to the east of downtown Keelung, near the fishing villages of Bisha (碧砂) and Badouzi (八斗 子), and at Heping Island (和平島). There is even an annual open-water swim competition to rival the better known one at Sun Moon Lake. With its unusually shaped rock formations, the recently re-opened Geopark on the northern side of Heping Island is Keelung’s challenge to the more famous Yeliu 20 kilometers up the coast at Wanli. Although it lacks the latter’s spectacular “queen’s head,” “fairy shoe,” and “sea candles” natural sculptures, its lack of tourist hordes make it worth a visit, as do the lovely views across to Keelung Island (基隆嶼). Unfortunately, the nearby Aboriginal museum does not meet the standard of others in Taiwan, and can be avoided unless this is one’s only chance of an introduction to indigenous culture during a short trip to the ROC. More worthwhile is to cross the bridge onto the island, turn right, and climb the short hill. This walk takes one through a modern community of Amis Aborigines who migrated from Taiwan’s mountainous east coast in search of work in Keelung. The round shape of Keelung Island is often cited as the origin of the city’s name,
since it looks like a chicken cage (雞籠), which is also pronounced ji-long . Although this story has a long history, the name was actually derived from an earlier Aboriginal place name. Trips to the island are currently available for NT$500 from Bisha Harbor. The western part of this former fishing port has recently been converted into a yacht marina, and many of Taiwan’s rich and famous keep large boats here. The area also features a small tourist fish market and row of seafood restaurants, the Haigong research vessel that went to the Antarctic in 1976 and might eventually be turned into a small museum, and the site of dragon boat racing in the fifth lunar month. All proceed under the gaze of a rare statue of Chiang Ching-kuo (the ROC President from 1978 to 1988), who is said to have enjoyed frequent visits to this stretch of coast.
Appeasing the ghosts The next point to the east is Badouzi Harbor, an active fishing port and site of the annual floating lantern event at the full moon of the seventh lunar month – also known as Ghost Month – which this year falls on August 20. Ceremonies to placate “hungry ghosts” (also known as “good brethren”; 好兄弟), the spirits of people with no descendents to make regular offerings to them, are held throughout Taiwan and other Han-Chinese communities. The observance in Keelung has several unique
features, deriving from special aspects of the city’s history. Like elsewhere, the ghosts are treated to a magnificent banquet, but in addition to the usual choice of meat or vegetarian dishes, in Keelung a third option of Western food is available. This modification came about because of the large number of foreigners known to have died in the city, explains Chang Chien-hsiang, Director-General of the city’s Cultural Affairs Bureau. The Spanish settlers who arrived in 1626 in pursuit of coal, tea, and gold were followed by the Dutch in 1644, French in 1884, and Japanese in 1895. The Japanese stayed for 50 years, and so perhaps left the most foreign ghosts, but for some reason are not specifically catered to at the ceremonial feast. Occasionally the foundations of some Spanish or Dutch buildings are unearthed, says Chang, such as when the city-center car park was being renovated. French ghosts are the main focus, however. Danshui to the north of Taipei, and Keelung to the east, saw landings by French forces as a side skirmish during the Sino-French War of the 1880s over influence in Vietnam. Although some troops died in the initial fighting, many more died of disease during the four-month occupation of Keelung that followed. Consequently, up to 700 corpses – including some from Penghu and other locations where French soldiers fell – are buried in the French Cemetery on Zhongzheng Road, which has a magnificent battle-scene mural on its outer wall, rather than images of soldiers dying of dysentery. Western food is offered during Ghost Month, and last year, for the first time, a Catholic priest was invited to participate in the religious aspects of the ceremony. Ghost Month rituals are an unusual mix of Buddhist and Taoist practices, as the two religions share ideas of helping spirits in the afterlife. Keelung’s second unusual feature is that its ceremony is organized by surname-groups, which transcend kinship ties as people from all over China share a relatively small number of family names. The origins of this practice date from Taiwan’s period of large-scale Han-Chinese immigration, when southern Chinese and their descendents fought Aborigines, Westerners, Japanese, and – with particular intensity – each other for control of land, taiwan business topics • july 2013
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The six-story statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin, and a few of the cross-Strait ferry through the eye of the statue.
resources, and profits. In 1851, a fight between groups speaking the Zhangzhou and Quanzhou dialects of Minnan (閩南; the southern Fujianese language now usually called Taiwanese in the ROC) left 108 people dead, and elders and leaders from the two sides felt that enough was enough. Their elegant solution was the organization of ghost month festivities by groups with members drawn from across dialect divisions, and to this day the decorated floats that parade through the city before heading out to Badouzi each bear a single character, that of a surname-group. The third unusual feature are the floating lanterns in the shape of miniature shrines, which are carried into the sea and set adrift until they catch fire, burn up, and sink. Although this is not exactly a competition, it is believed that the further the lantern sails from shore, the better the group’s fortunes will be over the coming year. Held around midnight, this event is well worth attending. For those visiting Keelung at other times of year, there is a Keelung Mid-Summer Ghost Festival Museum (280 Xin 2nd Rd.), though the English translations are more entertaining than informative. Despite the address, the museum is actually located inside Zhongzheng Park (中正公園). Other attractions within the park include the 20
Martyrs Shrine, which like many around Taiwan is a converted Shinto Shrine from the period of Japanese rule; the Keelung History Museum, which has interesting models of the city’s numerous forts and masses of information but only in Chinese; and the Dafo Monastery (大佛禪院) with its six-story statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin, which can be climbed inside and offers views over the harbor. Like other officials, Chang laments Keelung’s fall from favor. He attributes it to economic decline as the natural harbor, so long the city’s strong suit, is not large enough to accommodate the larger new generation of container ships, which now head to the new Taipei Port at Bali to the west of the capital. Chang identifies three developments that the city hopes will put Keelung back on the map. One is a plan to accentuate the promotion of Keelung’s unique features, including the night market and ghost festival, as well as the three main temples – the city god temple with an atypical second shrine to the city god’s wife at the back; the temple of the seafarers’ deity, Mazu, with its many subsidiary deities providing something for every pious person, Buddhist as well as Taoist; and the Dianji temple around whose gates sprang the ever-growing night market. In addition, Chang points to the often
overlooked attraction of the seven historic forts, mostly built at the end of the Qing dynasty (1683-1895), following the attempted French invasion, or early under Japanese rule (1895-1945) to repel the Russians and others. Three of the forts are national-level relics, while the other four are city level, and they are located in a horseshoe on the various hills that encircle the harbor and outlying districts. Chang particularly recommends Fort Gangziliao (槓子寮砲台) to the southeast, reachable by car or via a pleasant one-kilometer uphill trail from the back of the National Ocean University, which has grown over 60 years from a small vocational school to a technical college and finally to a bustling campus of 8,500 students. The signs at Fort Gangziliao are all in Chinese, but they describe little more than the size of the gun barrels and other technical details. Possessing a vivid imagination is much more useful. And even that is not necessary at the toilet block of the barracks; life must have been tough on this frontier of Japan’s first colony. The second development cited by Chang is the new National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (國立海洋科技 博物館) housed in a disused coal-fired power station at Badouzi. Three sections are already open, including an introduction to the traditional way of life of the fishing
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people of the area. Next to open will be the large and comprehensively stocked aquarium. When the museum is fully operational, Chang expects it to draw 2.6 million visitors annually. Of these, up to two-thirds will be from China. Ted Ching-ta Zhuang, director of the university’s Institute of Marine Affairs and Resource Management, who helped advise on the project, notes the transportation bottleneck that currently exists along the coast between the museum and downtown Keelung. Three forms of transportation service are being employed to overcome this problem, he says. The city will operate shuttle buses to eliminate the need for people to use their own vehicles; it is also building a branch railway line – or rather renovating the old line that carried coal to the power station from Ruifang, connecting with the tourist destinations of Jiufen and Jinguashi; and it is encouraging boat operators to establish a round-trip route from Keelung Harbor via Keelung Island and on to the museum’s back door. The third development is the increasing use of the harbor to accommodate ferries transporting travelers across the Taiwan Strait and cruise liners plying Asian routes. Last year, around 450,000 passengers passed through Keelung, and this figure is expected to grow by 10% this year and annually for the foreseeable future, according to Chiu Wen-chih, chief of urban design
in the city’s Department of Urban Development. Despite steady growth in the Taiwanbased cruise business, the vast majority of these tourists will be Chinese, he says. At present, Chinese tourists disembark from the cruise liners and cross-Strait ferries from Xiamen and immediately board buses bound for Taipei and beyond. The city is therefore seeking ways not only to attract more passengers to the harbor but to persuade them to stay for a while and spend some of their tourist dollars in Keelung. Toward that end, the city government – joined by the central government and local private companies – has plans for substantial infrastructure investment. Chiu says that around NT$5.6 billion (US$190 million) has been earmarked for the museum, NT$6.2 billion for a new port authority terminal, NT$2.6 billion for a new railway station (to be located below ground behind the present station), NT$4.4 billion for widening and improving Zhongshan 1st and 2nd roads heading north beyond the station, and NT$12.8 billion of private money for commercial facilities in this same area. The harbor plaza is already an evening gathering place for locals and tourists. An international design competition was held for the plaza, which is characterized by wooden decking, abstract sculptures, and the name “Keelung” writ large and illuminated at night. Last year, another international architectural competition was
held to design the terminal. Five teams were short-listed, and then, working with Taiwanese partners, submitted their final proposals. At year-end, the winner was announced: Neil M. Denari Architects of Los Angeles, and its local partner, Fei & Cheng Associates. Vice President Michael C.Y. Fei of the local firm says the assignment was to come up with an iconic design, something that would capture people’s imagination and serve as a gateway not just to Keelung but to Taiwan. “Our design is extremely modern-looking, but has a nod to history – to the forts of Keelung – in the three-story, 50-meter-high tower at the front end, at the top of which will be a restaurant offering views across the harbor to the hills,” he says. “We chose the chartreuse color as it shows through, even in the gloomy weather for which Keelung is known. It is often used in buildings which are to be visible at night.” The project owner is the port authority, which was previously part of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, but is now a semi-autonomous corporation like the body running the airports. “Like an airport, the functional, immigration and security aspects of this building are paramount in its design,” notes Fei. “But unlike an airport, which has planes arriving every few minutes, the harbor terminal has just a few ships per week, but each vessel carries several thousand people. The specifications we were given was that we should be able to disembark and process 1,500 international passengers per hour – in other words, to empty a cruise liner of 3,0004,500 people in two to three hours.” Visitors can see a model of the future terminal building in the lobby of the Keelung Railway Station. As for when visitors will be able to dine in the restaurant and take in the views, Fei says the scheduled opening is the end of 2017, or beginning of 2018, or … you know what schedules are like. Until then, there is still the famous night market, albeit with its street-level views.
A fishing boat heading out to sea passes an abandoned fish-processing plant on Heping Island.
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Blessed by Bats
A symbol of good luck in Chinese tradition, bats are also useful in reducing the number of mosquitos and other insects. BY STEVEN CROOK ph o to s: cou rt es y of t he bat cons ervat ion s o c i e ty of ta ipei
n Western societies, bats are viewed with distaste and occasionally fear. Many people find their fur and tiny teeth repulsive. Unlike birds, bats are never brightly colored. It is fair to say they resemble demons or gargoyles, and they have long been associated with vampires. Some of those who suffer from chiroptophobia (a clinical fear of bats) worry they may be bitten by a blood-sucking species. Just three of the world’s 1,200-plus bat species feed on blood, however, and they are found only in Latin America. In Chinese tradition, by contrast, bats are esteemed. Images of bats decorate many old buildings, among them the Lin Family Garden in New Taipei City’s Banqiao District. Patricia Bjaaland Welch, in her book Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, explains why: “Because both fú meaning ‘bat’ (蝠) and the sentiment fú meaning ‘good wishes’ (福) share the same phoneme... a depiction of a bat has come to represent good luck.” In Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs: An Alphabetical Compendium of Antique Legends and Beliefs, as Reflected in the Manners and Customs of the Chinese , 24
C.A.S. Williams is emphatic: “The bat is by no means regarded with aversion as in other countries. On the contrary, it is emblematic of happiness and longevity. The conventional bat is frequently employed for decorative purposes, and is often so ornate that it bears a strong resemblance to the butterfly.” Williams goes on to say that bat symbols in mansions are often painted red – an auspicious color – and that five bats shown together represent the “Five Blessings” (五福, wǔfú), a recurring motif standing for wealth, health, virtue, reaching an old age, and dying a natural death. The National Palace Museum collection includes a number of items adorned with bat patterns, including glazed vases from the 1735-1796 reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong. The Compendium of Materia Medica , a late 16th-century Chinese book on herbal medicine, links bats with longevity, stating: “In the caverns of the hills are found bats a thousand years old, and white as silver, which are believed to feed on stalactites. If eaten, they will ensure long life and good eyesight. The blood, gall, wings, and so on, are therefore prescribed as ingredients
in certain medicines.” Of course, no bats live for a millennium, but some have been known to survive for almost 40 years, far longer than other small mammals such as mice and shrews. Bat feces play a role in modern Chinese herbal medicine. Known by the Mandarin euphemism yèmíngshā (夜明砂, literally “night brightness sand”), they are believed to clear the liver and help with eye ailments such as night blindness and cataracts. The oft-repeated claim that bat droppings are an ingredient in some brands of mascara is erroneous. Bat feces, however, like seabird guano, are rich in nitrogen and thus an excellent fertilizer. Bats are mammals; like humans, they give birth to live young and nurse them with milk. Bats have considerably bigger brains than birds of the same body weight, and whereas birds have hollow bones, the bones of bats are filled with marrow. Just as Taiwan amazes those who appreciate birds and butterflies, the island boasts a bat population of stunning diversity. Most bat species eat insects or fruit. Taiwan has an abundance of both, so it is no surprise that the island is home to an
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impressive number and variety of Microchiroptera (microbats, which are generally small and insectivorous), as well as three kinds of Megachiroptera (flying foxes, also known as megabats). Taiwan has 35 bat species, confirms Wu Chung-hsin, associate professor of life science at National Taiwan Normal University and chairman of the Bat Association of Taiwan (BAT). Eleven of these species are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth. Japan, which has 10 times Taiwan’s land area, has 36 types of bat. The United States has 45. Unfortunately for people curious about the island’s bats, less has been written about them than Taiwan’s birds, Lepidoptera (the insect order that comprises moths and butterflies), or even its snails.
Information on the web The BAT website (www.bats.org.tw) is in Chinese only. English speakers will find it more useful to visit the site (www.batinfo.org) of the Bat Conservation Society of Taipei (BCT). If you scroll down the menu at the left of the home page to “Events” and click on “Bat Watching Map,” you will see the cover of an e-book titled Bat Watching in Taiwan . Clicking on the words “Open Publication” brings up a brief bilingual booklet with details of six bat-watching hotspots, Taiwan’s six most common bat species, and bat-watching etiquette. “The Formosan lesser-horseshoe bat is one of my favorites,” says Hsu Chao-lung, secretary-general of the BCT, speaking of a species whose scientific name is Rhinolophus monoceros. “This dainty, cute,
and bashful bat is an endemic species and easy to find at different elevations. I think they’re lovely because they have elaborate noses and relatively huge ears.” Formosan lesser-horseshoe bats tend to live in caves, so they are not the most visible bat species in Taiwan. According to Hsu, the bats seen flying just after dusk in urban and lowland areas are usually Japanese house bats (Pipistrellus abramus). “They prefer roosting in buildings or holes in trees, and their preferred food is mosquitoes and other small insects.” Building bat houses is not only a good way of helping these bats live in urban environments, Hsu says, but also a way of reducing the number of mosquitoes in the neighborhood. BAT’s Wu has described bats as “natural pesticides,” pointing out that a single bat can eat 3,000 insects per night. If you find a bat in your house and
want to remove it, catch it gently using a cardboard box, the BCT website advises. Do not touch it, and do not release it during the daytime. “In certain places during the summer, Chestnut bats (Scotophilus kuhlii) and Formosan Golden bats (Myotis formosus flavus) are very common,” says Hsu. The first of these is known in south and southeast Asia as the Lesser Asiatic yellow bat; the latter, also found across a wide swath of Asia, is alternatively known as Hodgson’s bat. “Another species widespread in suburban, agricultural, and forest areas is the Taiwan tube-nosed bat (Murina puta),” he adds. This species is also endemic. According to Hsu, another common insectivorous cave-dweller is the Formosan leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros armiger terasensis). Some experts consider that it is also endemic and should be named Hipposideros terasensis. A 2003 paper in Zoological Science , the journal of the Zoological Society of Japan, describes the Formosan leafnosed bat as “the largest microchiropteran bat... in Taiwan. Its forearm length ranges about 85 to 100mm, and it weighs from 50 to 75g.” The paper, “Roost Selection by Formosan Leaf-Nosed Bats” by Ying-Yi Ho and Ling-Ling Lee of National Taiwan University’s Department of Zoology, notes that researchers have found that some Formosan leaf-nosed bat colonies use the same roosts year round, while others migrate seasonally. In addition, “summer roosts can be categorized into two types: breeding colonies contaiwan business topics • july 2013
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sisting mainly of females and non-breeding [or bachelor] colonies consisting mostly of males.” This separation of the sexes is unusual among bats but not unique. Taiwan’s most vulnerable bat species, and the only bat protected under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act, is the Formosan flying fox (Pteropus dasymallus formosus). This endemic subspecies feeds on fruit, nectar, blossoms, and pollen. Small numbers survive on Green Island, Lanyu, and Guishan Island. “It’s the largest bat in Taiwan’s low-elevation broadleaf forests,” says Hsu. “Habitat loss as a result of agriculture and urbanization is the main threat to their survival.” The Formosan flying fox differs from Microchiroptera in that it does not use echolocation to find food and avoid collisions. Echolocation is judging how close and in what direction objects lie by measuring the time delay between the bat’s own high-frequency calls and the echoes that bounce back. Formosan flying foxes instead depend on a well-developed sense of smell and excellent vision. (In fact, most bats have good eyesight; the expression “as blind as a bat” is erroneous.)
Averse to noise and light In addition to habitat loss, bats often suffer from noise, light, and smells generated by Taiwan’s human population. A small number of bats continue to roost in Beihai Tunnel on Nangan in the Matsu archipelago. However, according to guides who take tourists on boat trips through the oceanside tunnel – dug by the ROC military so supply boats could be unloaded during Communist bombardments – the bat population has dropped in recent years as a result of noise caused by visitors and the bright lights installed to ensure their safety. Yet Beihai Tunnel is also an example of how bats sometimes benefit from humanity’s impact on Taiwan’s environment. Of the 32 potential roosts Ho and Lee examined for their study, only 15 were natural caves. The others were abandoned military facilities, traffic tunnels, or other manmade structures, and 14 of the 32 were mainly or entirely concrete. For geological and tectonic reasons, Taiwan lacks huge caves of the kind that host massive bat colonies in Thailand, Texas, and other places. Fre26
quent earthquakes mean caverns sometimes collapse or are sealed by rubble, so roosts inadvertently created by humans are especially important. At least a dozen spots around Taiwan are called “bat caves,” but most have no pteropine residents. Guanxi Bat Cave, in the Hsinchu County township of the same name, is fairly well known. Richard Saunders, in his blog Off the Beaten Track , writes that “the cave mouth... is a vertical chimney about 15 meters in depth. A long and awkward rope ladder is permanently fixed to the rock, and at the bottom a long steeply sloping passage dives down into the bowels of the Earth... there are LOTS of bats inside, as you’ll find out as soon as you enter!” Admission to Hualien County's Yue Cave (open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily; NT$100 for adults, NT$50 for infants and senior citizens) includes a short boat journey through a water-filled cavern where tourists can see – in addition to thousands of bats – stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils. Taiwan’s most famous bat-watching site is near the coast in New Taipei City’s Ruifang District. “More than 500,000 female Common bent-wing bats (Miniopterus schreibersii) go there each summer to give birth. Some former air-raid shelters are now bat roosts, but none of them has a population as huge as Ruifang’s cave,” says Hsu. Shei-Pa National Park has an exceptionally diverse bat population, 24 species having been found over the past five years in the Xuejian Recreation Area and Guanwu National Forest Recreation Area, both in the park’s northwest. Since 2008, the park has spent NT$120,000 building 16 bat houses. Earlier this year, the largest of these got its first bat resident, an Asian barbestelle (Barbastella leucomelas). This species is found in China, Japan, and cen-
tral Asia, but is very seldom seen in Taiwan. Individual bats are vulnerable to typhoons and cold snaps. Like birds, some are killed by cats, cars, or wind turbines. White-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed millions of bats in the United States and Canada, has yet to appear in Taiwan. The BCT supports research into causes of bat deaths, and invites anyone who finds a dead bat to send the remains – so long as they are fresh enough for the cause of death to be detectable – and any pertinent information to them for analysis. Their website gives instructions in Chinese on how to do this, and provides a phone number (02-2325-4836) to call. Before aiding a bat that appears injured or exhausted, you should take steps to protect yourself. Although there is no risk of catching rabies or other lyssaviruses (Taiwan is one of the world’s few rabies-free territories), bats are wild creatures and so may carry disease, the BCT website warns. Wearing cotton gloves will protect your fingers if the bat's fear causes it to try to bite its rescuer. Moreover, gloves make it less likely you will leave your own odor on the bat, which could cause a baby bat’s mother to reject it if they are reunited. If you do not have any gloves, use a small towel. Afterwards, wash your hands thoroughly. Bats should be handled very gently because their bones are fragile and accidental suffocation is a danger. Specimens found outdoors can often be picked up with a stick, as touching the bat’s feet with a stick usually prompts a grab reflex. If there are no obvious injuries, place the bat somewhere safe, such as on top of a wall. If it is daytime, make sure the bat is shielded from the sun. Do not move a baby bat far, to increase the chances its mother will find it. But do use the opportunity to get a good, close look at one of these remarkable, beneficial creatures.
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Exploring the Liuzhangli Cemetery
A walking tour of this sprawling graveyard provides a wealth of insights into Taiwan's past and present. TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK CALTONHILL
Top left: Relatives repair a tomb and pray at the Fude Cemetery during the Qingming Festival; Top right, the layout of a typical Taiwanese grave. 28
alking through a cemetery is a good way to learn about a city, town, or village – about its history, religions, former residents, wars, purges, and epidemics, and about its periods of peace and health, when many people lived into old age and were laid to rest in the presence of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Many Westerners have the habit of doing this in their own countries, and when abroad they include a cemetery tour in their itinerary. Most Taiwanese, on the other hand, think spending time wandering among ghosts is just plain weird, and avoid stepping foot in a cemetery from one annual tomb-sweeping event to the next.
One important graveyard or, more accurately, series of interconnected graveyards, starts geographically at Chongde (崇德) near the Liuzhangli MRT station and extends for more than 10 kilometers along Chongde Street to Fude (富德) near the Taipei Zoo in Muzha. It also starts historically with Jiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), a revolutionary patriot during the period of Japanese rule (1895-1945), and runs through the mass immigration of mainland Chinese in 1949 following Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat to Taiwan, through the “white terror” of the martial law period (1949-87), and ends with today’s environmentally aware “tree burials.” It further begins when men could still have more than one wife, when young widows were
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commemorated for not remarrying, when some wives and, even more so, unmarried women didn’t merit recording of their names, and ends in the emancipated and egalitarian modern age. It has Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians lying almost side by side, as well as a separate Muslim cemetery, located where it is convenient for corpses to be lain facing Mecca. Before setting out, it is worth learning a little about Taiwan’s burial customs so as to understand the sites and sights one will encounter, as well as remembering the basic formula of words used on a gravestone, which at first glance look impenetrable but, with a little practice, give up their information willingly.
Layout of a grave The concept of fengshui (風水; “wind [and] water”) was originally developed for graves, and was only later applied to homes, offices, and other buildings. Ideal grave fengshui has water in front and is curled into a bend in a mountain behind. Even where this arrangement is not possible, the back wall is still curved and raised. The wall bears the 姓 (xing ; “family name”), usually a single character, such as the 周 (Zhou) in the photo on the previous page, though double- and even multiplecharacter xing exist. In front of the wall is a chamber for storing urns, and then the gravestone, which records names, places, and dates, plus a small altar for offerings such as wine, candles, and incense. In front of that, but not apparent in the photo, is the temporary burial plot of the complete body before decomposition. This area is commonly decorated with auspicious phrases and pictures, such as symbolic birds and flowers, and frequently with images of the “24 Filial Exemplars.” These are mythological and historical stories of children doing exceptional acts of filial piety for their parents, such as the woman who breast-fed her husband’s toothless mother in old age. Other examples include a child lying on ice to melt it to catch fish for parents in winter, another lying naked near his parents’ bed to attract mosquitoes away
from them, and a couple who were willing to bury their son alive so his grandmother would have enough to eat. Nearby trees and shrubs will usually be cypress and pines, whose evergreen leaves are symbolic of eternal life. At the front, usually on the left, is a small shrine for the worship of the Lord of the Land (土地公; Tu-di Gong ), here identified as Emperor of the Land (后土; Hou-tu ). Setting out along Chongde Street from Liuzhangli and traveling southeastward, one passes the last few houses, several of which sell flowers and offerings – useful items such as shirts, shoes, cigarettes, and beer, but all made of combustible paper – or have lists of graveyard services for hire. These latter includes long-term grave maintenance, retouching the gold paint of the gravestone writing, selection of auspicious dates, new trends such as returning bones or ashes to ancestral hometowns in mainland China, and traditional occupations such as “bone collecting” (撿骨; jian-gu ). The latter is the process by which, after decomposition of the body in the temporary grave in front of the gravestone, which takes at least seven years, the bones are collected on a day chosen as auspicious by a geomancer. They are then cleaned, placed in an urn in correct order from the feet at the bottom to the skull on the top, and on another auspicious day given a “second burial” in the tomb behind the gravestone. With the growth in the use of cremation, encouraged by the government, bone cleaning is in danger of becoming a dying profession, in a second sense. Soon the graveyard begins. It is immediately clear that Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians are buried side by side, and that despite a few dissimilarities in decoration and wording, their graves look essentially the same. In the first cemetery, Taipei Public Cemetery No. 6, a brown sign on the left side after about 200 meters indicates the way to Jiang Wei-shui’s grave up a short path. Jiang (1891-1931) was a co-founder of the Taiwanese Cultural Association and Taiwanese People’s Party during the period of Japanese rule. Imprisoned for parts of 1923 and 1925, he was active in trying to
form a Taiwan Assembly, and in bringing the worst excesses of Japanese colonial brutality and exploitation to the attention of the League of Nations. He died of typhoid at the age of 40, and is a hero to today’s advocates of Taiwanese independence. The No. 5 Highway from Taipei to his Yilan hometown is named after him, as are roads in Taipei, Yilan, and Jiaoxi. In 2010, 50 million NT$10 coins bearing his image were issued. Jiang’s memorial was recently designated a historic monument. During the martial law period (1949-87), the tomb became a rallying point for anti-government activists. At the base is recorded his deathbed exhortation to his comrades to work together and intensify their struggle.
Muslim cemetery Continuing southeast, the road rounds a bend, and on the right is a general cemetery, while on the left is the Muslim Public Cemetery (回教公墓) with graves unlike those of other religions. Muslim graves are simple, says Musa Chi-sheng Ma (馬吉盛), assistant Imam of the Taipei Grand Mosque. Gravestones are simpler too, and the earth above the body is slightly raised so that people will not walk on it by accident. There are no decorations;
A shrine to the Lord of the Land (Tu-di Gong), with Taipei 101 looming in the background. taiwan business topics • july 2013
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An example of a grave in the Muslim Pubic Cemetery.
people who wish to give flowers are advised to donate the money to charity instead. “And we do not celebrate the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival,” says Ma. “In fact, if we go up to the cemetery and find people mixing religious practices, we teach them the truth about offering prayers at the mosque to their ancestors. Muslims bury their dead as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. First the corpse is washed, and then wrapped in a plain cloth; coffins are not used. In Taiwan, bodies are buried with their head turned to the right, over the shoulder, facing Mecca. One of the bigger graves in the Muslim section belongs to Yulbars Khan (堯樂博斯; 1888-1971), a general from Xinjiang who was appointed governor of that mainland Chinese province after arriving in Taiwan in 1951. (It is said that former governors of Gansu and Qinghai are also interred here, but this author has not found their graves.) Khan’s grave is small, however, when compared with the massive mausoleum at the top of the hill, dedicated to General Bai Chong-xi (白崇禧; 1893-1966) and his wife Ma Pei-zhang (馬佩璋), with grave plots prepared for his 10 children, three of which are already occupied. Whether son Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai (白先勇), the author and playwright, and other children will return from the United States remains to be seen, though they take an active interest in their parents’ grave. 30
In Taiwan, General Bai was very active in Islamic social affairs. Before coming here, he had been a key warlord in southwest China from the 1920s until the civil war. At times he was an ally of Chiang Kai-shek, rising to become Minister of National Defense from 1946 to 1948, but then largely ignored as Chiang took major decisions himself. At other times he was Chiang’s rival, which perhaps explains his semi-retirement from office once separated from his strong Muslim power base in Guangxi Province. According to news reports last year, back rent is still owed on Bai’s tomb. In fact, it seems that no rent has been paid for the entire Muslim graveyard since the land was set aside in 1949. Later reports say a compromise has been reached, and all but the last five years’ rent has been written off. Early this year, to mark the 120th anniversary of Bai’s birth, his mausoleum was designated a national historic monument. Two further crises face the Muslim cemetery, however. One is that space for new graves is running out, with nowhere left for expansion; the Muslim community’s negotiations with the last two central government administrations have come to nothing. The other problem is that the Taipei City Government no longer allows new burials as it moves to promote cremation. Burning of corpses is expressly forbidden for Muslims, so at least for the time being the city administration is allowing them to be an exception to the rule.
arriving at the massive Fude Cemetery, where the hills are covered with graves as far as the eye can see. The views are truly awesome, as are the queues for buses – private cars are banned – during the days before and after the Qingming tombsweeping festival of April 5. This is the one time that most Taiwanese will be seen alive here (though Catholics also visit graves on November 2, All Souls Day), and is probably the only time that visitors will not be guaranteed a fine walk with fresh air. Each cemetery has one or more columbaria (靈骨塔; “spirit bone towers”), where the bones or ashes of people without private plots are stored. Storage of bones at the Fude columbarium – the last building at the far end of this tour – costs NT$30,000 for Taipei citizens and NT$90,000 for people from other cities or counties. Storage of ashes is one-third of those costs. Burial of ashes under bushes and trees in the Yong Ai Yuan (詠愛園; “Sing-in-praise-of Love Garden”) is currently free, as is burial of animals in the pet section. Although Taipei City is surrounded by New Taipei City and has no direct access to the sea, it is coordinating with neighboring jurisdictions to make the environmentally low-impact option of sea dispersal of ashes available to its citizens, by appointment. Please don’t just hire a boat or stand at the top of a cliff to toss ashes into the breeze.
Standard burials A little distance beyond the Muslim Cemetery there is a branch in the road, with the left fork leading up to the Taipei City Standard Cemetery. Here, graves are strictly arranged in straight lines, probably an attempt by the authorities to make the most efficient use of limited land resources. There is also a memorial to victims of the 38-year martial law era. Official figures admit that 3,000 to 4,000 people were executed, many from the local Taiwan elite, with over 100,000 others imprisoned or otherwise disadvantaged. Anti-government activists claim higher figures. There are two or three more cemeteries – it is hard to identify boundaries as one graveyard often runs into the next – before
A columbarium for storing bones or ashes, with a Christian grave in the foreground.
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C e m e t e ry W a l k
Deciphering a Taiwanese Gravestone
typical gravestone contains four main topics of information: name(s), dates of birth and death, names of descendants, and hometown. The first three are given in columns, and the fourth is written horizontally near the top. All are in gold paint, unless the spouse of the deceased is still alive, in which case red is used until he or she is interred, when the red is changed to gold and the date of death is added. Names. The central column contains the name or names of the deceased. The example shown is for a husband (龔家舟; Gong Jia-zhou) and his wife (王; Wang). Reading downwards, the full text is 顯考 龔 公 家舟 府君 之 墓 on the right and 顯妣 龔 母 王 太夫人 之墓 on the left, with some characters appearing just once but belonging to both sentences. 顯考 (xian-kao ; literally “illustrious old-father”) is an honorific term for one’s deceased father. Common alternative ways to refer to the “deceased ancestor” include 祖考 (zu-kao ) and 故考 (gukao ). The equivalent term for one’s deceased mother is 顯妣 (xian-bi ). 龔 (Gong) is the family name. 公 (gong ) means “duke” and is an honorific title placed between the man’s family name and his personal name. The equivalent for a wife is 母 (mu , or sometimes 媽 ma ) meaning “mother.” (Often, but not in this example, the name is introduced by a small character inserted to the right side. 諱 (hui ) is the name, regarded as taboo, of the dead emperor or, on gravestones, the head of the family.) 家舟 (Jia-zhou; literally “Family Boat”) is the man’s personal name. The woman’s name is indicated merely by her maiden name, 王 (Wang); no personal name is recorded. 府君 (fu-jun ; literally “palace gentleman”) is a respectful title for one’s deceased father; 太夫人 (tai fu-ren ; “noble mother”) or 夫人 (fu-ren ; “Mrs.”) follows the woman’s name. An unmarried female might be 姑娘 (gu-niang ; “young woman”). 之墓 (zhi mu ; “X’s grave”) or just 墓 (“grave”) is the most common ending to this formula, though euphemisms such as 佳城 (jia cheng ; “fine city”) or, for Christians, 安睡
處 (an shui chu ; “peaceful sleeping place”) are also seen. Dates. The column on the right is subdivided into four sections, which read (with some characters appearing just once but belonging to all columns): 民國前九年農曆五月廿三 日 In the ninth year before the Republican era, the 23rd day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar 民國前二年農曆三月十八日 two years before the Republican era, the 18th day of the third lunar month 民國七十五年農曆 八月十三 日 75th year of the Republican era, eighth lunar month, 13th day 民國五十四年農曆十二月 三十日 54th year of the Republican era, 12th lunar month, 30th day. Converted to the Western calendar, the man, Mr. Gong, was born on June 28, 1902, and died, aged 84, on September 16, 1986. His wife, neé Wang, was born on May 7, 1909, and died, aged 56, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, January 21, 1966. Descendants. The column on the left ends with the character 立 (li ; “erected”) or 敬立 (jing-li ; “respectfully erected”), and lists the names of the children and other descendants surviving the deceased. (In the case of a dead child, the names of the parents erecting the gravestone are listed.) In this example, erected on an “auspicious day” (吉日立) in 1986, there are: 男 (nan ; “boy,” i.e. son) named 道鋒 (Dao-feng); 媳 (xi , “daughter-in-law”) named 黃美薇 (Huang Mei-wei); and 孫 (sun ; “grandson”) named 宜弘 (I-hong); as well as 女 (nü ; “girls,” i.e. daughters) named 妙芳 (Miao-fang) and 靜芳 (Jing-fang), and their husbands, 婿 (xu ; sons-in-law) named 周慶岳 (Zhou Qing-yue) and 張海明 (Zhang Hai-ming). Hometowns. Traditional Chinese is read vertically in columns, moving from right to left across a page. Chinese addresses have the opposite order from English, that is, from large to small: country-province-city-district-road-lane-alleynumber. Hence 浙江 (Zhejiang ), on the top right, is Mr. Gong’s home province, and 鎮海 (Zhenhai), top left, now a district of Ningbo City, is his hometown.
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Taipei Zoo Combines Fun, Education, and Conservation photo : j oe seydewitz
Planned new projects will give the Zoo even more opportunity to familiarize children (and their parents) with the animal kingdom and its importance. BY JOE SEYDEWITZ photo : courtesy of taipei zoo
ike many other people, for years I've had mixed feelings about zoos. I appreciate that they provide youngsters with an opportunity to learn about animals and their habitats, and I hope this knowledge will help young people grow into conscientious adults who avoid behavior – such as buying ivory-inlayed objects and eating shark fin soup – that harm animals or put endangered species at further risk. At the same time, I'm always bothered by the thought of animals confined to spaces less than a fraction the size of their natural environments. Still, as I strolled through the Taipei Zoo in Mucha recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find an environment where the exhibit spaces appeared animal-centric, the common areas for visitors were well-designed, and the overall campus was beautiful, lush, and accommodating. 32
The weather was hot during our Sunday visit, but the Zoo was nevertheless flooded with visitors. Young boys and girls wearing fashionable sunglasses too big for their little faces carefully balanced ice cream cones. Other youngsters posed for photos in the open jaws of hippo statues at Hippopotamus Square, a brick courtyard with a group of sculptures resembling these large beasts in a partially submerged state. Mothers and fathers gleefully captured the adorable moments on their phones and cameras. The mood was festive and fun. Upon entering the Zoo, we walked by pink flamingos congregating around a shallow pool, then past the neighboring gibbons before arriving at the Zoo’s Education Center for a quick history tutorial. We learned that Taipei’s zoological garden was established in 1914 when the Japanese colonial administration of
that period purchased a plot of land and private zoo owned by a Japanese national and turned the property, just south of the current Grand Hotel at Yuanshan, into a public park and zoo. In 1946, after Taiwan’s return to the Republic of China following World War II, responsibility for the Zoo was transferred to the Taipei city government. A plan to build a more modern zoo began to take shape in 1973, and 13 years later, in August 1986, the Yuanshan site closed, and the current Zoo celebrated its grand opening on New Year’s Day of 1987. Among the most popular attractions are the Giant Panda House, Koala House, Bird World, Penguin House, Insect Valley, Fern Garden, and Children’s Zoo. There are also special areas for Formosan animals, desert animals, amphibians and reptiles, and for wildlife from Australia, Africa, Asian tropical rainforests, and
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Site of the new hippopotamus area due to open next year. It will feature a tank enabling visitors to view the hippos while they are underwater.
photo : j oe seydewitz
temperate zones. Today, the Taipei Zoo receives nearly 3 million visitors a year and enjoys membership in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The association’s mission, writes WAZA president Mark Penning in the book entitled Back to the Wild in Taiwan , “is to provide leadership and support for zoos, aquariums and partner organizations of the world in animal care and welfare, the conservation of biodiversity, environmental education and global sustainability.” WAZA not only provides support to its member zoos, but it helps ensure that its members maintain an acceptable standard as well. In order to become a WAZA member, the applicant must satisfy an evaluation committee with regard to the zoo’s overall standard, animal welfare, husbandry management, and diversity. Upon entry into WAZA, members gain access to a global network of zoo information, as well as authorized channels for procuring new animals. “Members are able to trade and sometimes purchase animals from other WAZA member zoos around the world,” says Shawn Peng, the Taipei Zoo’s animal curator. Members of the WAZA network are obliged to comply with the organization’s Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare, adopted in 2003. The Taipei Zoo presents an inviting space for visitors and its animal residents due in large part to the activity carried
out behind the scenes. During my visit, Peng showed me some of the key facilities where the real work is done. We rode in his car around the outer perimeter of the 165-hectare Zoo (the largest in Asia, according to Wikipedia), viewing key functional areas like the nutrition facility, veterinary hospital, and a plot of land set aside for growing the special strain of eucalyptus required for the koalas. “Every morning our zookeepers need to pick fresh eucalyptus for the koalas,” says Peng. “There are no days off for Zoo staff
because our residents require daily attention,” Peng continues. In fact, many Zoo staff members reside in an on-campus dormitory in order to be available to quickly care for animals as needed. Newborn residents, for example, require extra attention regarding nutrition and overall safety. The birth this March of five coati babies (South American mammals of the raccoon family) has kept some Zoo staff quite busy. To again quote Penning, the WAZA president wrote that “a critical role of the modern zoo and aquarium strives to integrate conservation activities into all aspects of its operations, and recognizes that playing a meaningful role in field conservation efforts is becoming increasingly important.” The Taipei Zoo embraces this notion by routinely engaging in educational programs with an eye to teaching young people and raising overall public awareness. “The Taipei Zoo is one of the most popular educational facilities [in Taiwan],” says Peng. “It receives a large amount of visitors and also educational
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Zoo The Zoo is helping with efforts to save the Formosan Black Bear, an endangered species that is Taiwan's largest terrestrial mammal.
resources from the Ministry of Education.” The Zoo organizes numerous popular events, including overnight summer camps for children, evening hours on Saturdays during the summer, and a special annual “Dream Night at the Zoo” for children with disabilities or serious diseases. Dream Night is part of a global zoo initiative that started in Rotterdam in 1996. “It’s is a very nice event because we prepare many special programs for kids who don’t normally have the chance to get too close to animals,” says Peng. “Saturday evenings during July and August each year are also a lot of fun,” he notes, “because we arrange programs that incorporate music, culture and art with an appreciation of the animals.”
Community activity In recent years, the Zoo has been seeking to expand its role in public education even further. “In the past,” Peng wrote in an article entitled Reconciling Man and River Through Community Education , “the Zoo focused on the maintenance and management of animals. But recently, in addition to improving the quality of life for zoo animals, the Zoo has been actively going beyond the Zoo and into the community and carrying out environmental education and habitat preservation projects in order to keep in step with international conservation trends.” 34
“The Taipei Zoo sits by the Jingmei River,” writes Peng, “and is naturally interested in its ecological environment. Therefore, with support from the Council of Agriculture's Forestry Bureau, the Zoo has been working with the Taipei Zoological Foundation on the Jingmei River Wetland Wildlife Community Conservation Project since 2003. The Zoo has also been cooperating with Wenshan Community College and other educational groups to hold a series of events based on protecting the Jingmei River. This work has received wide acclaim.” Additionally, the Zoo has worked with Wanfang High School students to help them understand how to monitor and record river water quality. The Zoo is currently undertaking two impressive renovations that will undoubtedly enhance visitor value, while planning two near-future additions as well. At present, the hippopotamus area is being updated to include a viewing tank. “Hippos will be in a tank so that visitors can observe their behavior under water,” says Peng. Meanwhile the bird sanctuary is being expanded to provide more room for birds to fly. Planning is also underway for a new Asian tropical rainforest area that will eventually take the place of the current Nocturnal House. The proposed rainforest site will include a large dome, and will incorporate both Asian and South
American species. The Zoo may need to revise its budget for this project, though. “The rainforest project budget was made 10 years ago,” says Peng, “so it’s a little difficult to attract the interest of construction companies based on those figures.” Nevertheless, planning is moving forward. An aquarium is also being planned as a result of a city government request for help to improve the neighboring Maokong Gondola cable car and shopping mall area. The proposed aquarium will not only be a welcome addition from an educational perspective, but it will also be an aesthetically pleasing alternative to the somewhat drab shopping area that currently occupies the space next
photo : courtesy of taipei z oo
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Zoo to the MRT station. “We’re planning a structure that will include an education center for learning about rivers and the environment, as well as fantastic viewing areas for visitors to see actual underwater activity,” says Peng. Due to the lack of a large nearby source of saltwater, the aquarium will be mostly fresh water.
But the plan to rebuild the Jingmei River banks for optimal underwater viewing should make for some exceptional visitor experiences. Thoughtful improvement plans coupled with a commitment to educate and an attractive campus has helped make the Taipei Zoo one of Asia’s best. Programs
like the Jingmei River Conservation Project help young people appreciate the importance of our environment. Meanwhile the planning and development of the new rainforest area and future aquarium should ensure the Zoo’s continued long-term relevance as a great destination for learning and fun.
photo : courtesy of taipei zoo
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, two giant pandas who arrived in 2008 as a gift from China, continue to be among the most popular attractions at the Taipei Zoo. Beijing’s effort at “panda diplomacy” was initially the subject of considerable political controversy. In fact, China’s offer to present the animals was initially rejected in 2005 when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government of President Chen Shui-bian was in power. But when the Kuomintang’s Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, he reversed that decision, and the pair took up residence at the Taipei Zoo in December that year. DPP supporters still had their suspicions of China’s motives, however, noting that tuanyuan means “reunion” in Mandarin. Though Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan have achieved celebrity status, their fame has not yet matched that of bull elephant Lin Wang, who died in 2003
at the age of 86, having been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest Asian elephant in captivity. He had been affectionately known as Grandpa Lin Wang to generations of children and adults, and huge crowds turned out for a “Requiem”
ceremony presided over by then Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. The mayor conferred “honorary citizenship” on Lin Wang posthumously, with the award accepted by his longtime keeper, Chen Chung-ping. “Lin Wang is part of the collective memory of four generations of Taipei residents,” said Ma. “We've seen him grow old and he's seen us grow up; it's been a warm and moving process of interaction.” At any given time, however, the crowd favorites are likely to be latest cute infants to have been born in the Zoo. Currently, that honor goes to the five little coatis mentioned in the main article (and described on the Zoo’s web site has having “pointy, elf-like noses). Another new arrival was a male white rhino born in early February, and in April orangutan Niu-li celebrated her first birthday at a party featuring a fruitcake and some handmade toys.
— By Don Shapiro
photo : joe seydewitz
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New Leadership for Taipei Symphony Orchestra Appointment of a highly respected international musical figure as principal conductor is to be followed by construction of a dedicated concert hall. BY DON SHAPIRO phot os : cou rt es y of tai p ei symp ho n y o ches t ra
ith the recent appointment of distinguished European conductor Gilbert Varga as its principal conductor, and with planning underway to construct a new concert hall to serve as its permanent home, the Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is looking forward to contribute to boosting Taiwan’s prominence on the international musical scene. The TSO, administered by the Taipei City government’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), is one of Taiwan’s four major symphony orchestras. The others are the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), which is affiliated with the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural
Center in Taipei and gives its performances in the center’s National Concert Hall; the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO), which comes under the Ministry of Culture and is based in Taichung; and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra (ESO) established by Evergreen Group founder Chang Yung-fa (and whose recordings provide the background music heard on EVA Airways flights). For the past four years, the TSO had operated without a principal conductor while a search was conducted to fill the position. During that period, with the orchestra relying on a series of guest conductors, ticket sales declined – as reportedly taiwan business topics • july 2013
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Symphony did the morale of the musicians. The announcement in mid-May that Varga had been signed to a three-year contract to take over the musical direction of the orchestra was therefore greeted enthusiastically both within the organization and in the Taiwan cultural community as a whole. Speaking to local media, DOCA Commissioner Liou Wei-gong said it was “bliss” for Taipei music-lovers that Varga had agreed to take up the post. He praised the conductor for his skill in communicating his musical directions to the orchestra members and his persistence in working toward his objectives, both virtues that he said the search committee valued highly. Liou added that Varga’s strong background in a broad repertoire – including Germanic, Romantic, and 20th century music – were also factors in his selection. A British subject, Varga is the son of the famed Hungarian violinist Tibor Varga, and he himself trained as a violinist until a muscle-contraction disorder forced him to forsake the instrument for a career as a conductor. Varga has been described as a “commanding and authoritative figure on the podium,” and has conducted dozens of leading orchestras in Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world. From 1997 to 2008, he was music director of the Basque National Symphony Orchestra in Spain, and led tours across Europe and South America. Varga is no stranger to the TSO. During visits to Taiwan in 2009 and 2011, he led the orchestra in performing three concerts, and impressed the orchestra members with his musicianship and his enthusiasm. As part of the selection process for principal conductor, DOCA sought input from the orchestra members, who gave high ratings to Varga based on their past experience under his baton. Still, after the job offer was extended, it took another nine months to finalize the terms of the contract and complete the city government procedures. In an interview with Taiwan Business TOPICS in early June, Varga emphasized that an integral part of his mission in Taipei will be to work with the city government in finding a suitable site for a new concert hall, then proceeding with the 38
design and construction of the facility. In fact, under a separate contract he will act as a consultant for that project. “Getting our own hall is our numberone objective – it’s the key to everything else we want to accomplish,” the conductor told TOPICS. At present, the TSO divides its performances between the National Concert Hall and the historic but less serviceable Zhongshan Hall in downtown Taipei. Opened in 1936 during the Japanese era and originally intended more as an auditorium than a concert venue, Zhongshan Hall was where Chiang Kai-shek was inaugurated when he resumed the post of president after the Nationalist government’s move from the China mainland to Taiwan. For decades, it was also the headquarters of the government’s National Assembly before that body was disbanded. At the more modern and acoustically friendly National Concert Hall, priority in booking dates is given to NSO concerts and other events sponsored directly by the National Chiang Kai-shek Cultural Center. It is usually only in the third round, when no one else has shown interest in a particular time slot, that the TSO can book the space. The orchestra’s schedule for 2014, for example, lists the dates and programs of concerts with the notation that the location is still unconfirmed. If the National Concert Hall turns out to be unavailable, the venue will be the Zhongshan Hall. The difficulty in scheduling is a huge inconvenience, says the conductor. “When an orchestra is sometimes playing here and sometimes playing there, it’s confusing for would-be concert-goers. Also there’s no regularity in the schedule. But we’re dependent on the National Concert Hall to get space, and perhaps they say yes and perhaps not. Then we have to wait and change the date. It’s very frustrating. No orchestra in the world can work at a high professional level without having its own venue.”
A place to practice Another reason why a new hall is vital is to provide an appropriate, regular environment for rehearsals. “It’s like you’re a baseball team, but you don’t
have an actual baseball field to practice on,” says Varga. “Now our rehearsal space is a small room – maybe about 20 meters by 12 or 14 meters – where there’s no opportunity for the sound to develop. As a result, you can’t work on the quality of the sound properly. It gets muffled. There’s no way this orchestra will ever have its own distinctive sound unless we have a better space to work in.” Preliminary plans call for the new building to have a main concert hall seating 1,500 people, making it somewhat more intimate than the 2,100-seat National Concert Hall, yet still large enough to carry the sounds of a full orchestra. The multi-purpose structure is also envisioned as containing a smaller auditorium with about 300 seats for recitals, a music-listening library open to the public, office space for the orchestra management, and if the land area allows, an amphitheatre or stage for outdoor concerts. Several possible sites have already been considered, but rejected as too small or too inconvenient to reach by public transportation. Additional sites are now being evaluated. When it comes time for construction, the city will engage international firms with experience in building concert halls and in acoustical engineering. Varga says the TSO has talented musicians and the potential to become recognized as one of the leading orchestras in the region, but four years without a musical director has taken its toll. For three days before his first concert as principal conductor, a June 14 performance with Argentine pianist Nelson Goerner as soloist, Varga put the TSO through long hours of rehearsal, including separate sessions working with each section of the orchestra. “It’s like having a wonderful old watch that you’re very proud of,” says Varga. “Sometimes you have to turn it over to an experienced jeweler you can trust, and let him take the whole thing apart to clean and oil, making sure it works to perfection, and then carefully put it together again.” Assistant conductor Wu Shou-ling says the orchestra members worked very hard during those three days but came away “really inspired by him to play well.” The effort showed in the June 14
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Upcoming Concerts Conducted by Gilbert Varga performance, which was warmly received by the audience. Concert audiences can expect to hear the TSO perform a diverse selection of music under Varga. “I love Chinese food, and one of the things I like about it is the wide assortment of many different dishes,” says the conductor. “I think musical programs should be equally varied. Personally, I don’t much like programs where you have only one composer, or even worse when you have a whole season with a particular theme. If you do a whole cycle of Mahler symphonies, for example, after three times you’ve had enough of it, and secondly after that one year you can’t do Mahler again for five or six years. I much prefer variety.” Besides bringing the TSO to a permanent home and building up the quality of the orchestra, Varga sees his other main mission as making the orchestra better known and more accessible to residents of Taipei. He hopes to reach out to the community – including the foreign community – to develop greater support for the orchestra. “This orchestra can be an icon for Taipei, helping it to raise its image as an international city. This is the orchestra of Taipei, paid for by the taxpayers of Taipei. Come and listen to what we do with your money, and be proud of your orchestra, which is going to have an exciting new start.”
August 15 – National Concert Hall Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Ray Chen violinist Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 October 13 – National Concert Hall Faure: Pavane in F# Minor Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole in D Minor; Clara-Jumi Kang, violinist Berlioz: Hungarian March Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane, Suite No. 2 November 30 – Zhongshan Hall Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B Minor; Daniel Muller-Schott, cellist Ives: The Unanswered Question Respighi: Roman Festival January 24, 2014 – Venue to be Announced Saint-Säens: Piano Concerto No. 2; Jean Philippe Collard, pianist Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 April 4, 2014 – Venue to be Announced Mendelssohn: Das Märchen von der schönen Melusine Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major; Kristóf Baráti, violinist: Bartók: The Wooden Prince June 2, 2014 – Venue to be Announced James MacMillan: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel or Jennifer Higdon: Percussion Concerto; Colin Currie, percussionist Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 Ticket prices range from NT$300 up to NT$1,000 at the Zhongshan Hall and NT$1,500 at the National Concert Hall. For more information, visit the TSO website at www.tso.taipei.gov.tw or telephone +886-2-2578-6731. taiwan business topics • july 2013
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Be Funny or Be Embarrassed Now anyone with the courage and the belief that they’re amusing can try performing stand-up comedy in Taiwan.
BY MARK CALTONHILL ph o to s: ma rk ca lt onhill
’d like to read you a poem about the devastating effects of Typhoon Morakot and the damage done by mud flooding into people’s homes, but a friend said my poem is too sedimental.” Not a great joke, I admit, but it got a chuckle or two, and more than a few groans. That was okay. I was aiming for groans with my puns – what Taiwanese call “cold jokes” – hoping just to get the audience to warm to me. I had no choice but to continue on this course, and followed with two more jokes in the same vein, puns
about my poems being mawkish and trite. The groans got louder. As I opened my book to read my first – hopefully humorous – poem, my hands were still shaking uncontrollably, but I felt content that the audience was more or less on my side. That was my first attempt at performing stand-up comedy. In the weeks between putting my name down for a set and climbing onto the stage at Taipei’s Comedy Club, I had become so nervous I could barely function. I remembered Matt Bronsil’s warning: “Stand-up is probably the hardest performance art form to pull off, especially on the first try.” It didn’t help. Bronsil runs an improv theater group in Taichung, but the American was also one of the first foreigners to perform at the Comedy Club when it opened in 2007. “Be prepared for failure,” he continued. “You can sometimes get a lot of laughs by telling jokes to your friends who have similar ideas and similar past experiences, but the audience might not get them.” That was more worrying, since even my friends don’t find me funny. I decided to meet more comedians and get more advice about what to do and how to do it in order to prepare for my first, and no doubt last, stand-up performance.
“Taiwan doesn’t have much of a history of stand-up comedy,” says Sosio Chang, part-owner and day-to-day manager of the Comedy Club. “Traditionally we had xiang-sheng (相聲; the rapid-fire “crosstalk” between two performers), the whitefaced clown of Peking opera, and humorous elements in puppetry and Taiwanese opera. “While I was an electrical engineering student in the early 1990s, I got into experimental and alternative theater, such as gaoshou (稿手; from Japanese Kuso ) which focuses on bad-taste humor. After graduating, I ran a small theater/café in Taipei’s Gongguan district. Later I spent three or four years writing dramas for television, but this left me very disillusioned. I wanted to return to theater, but what kind? “I didn’t want to do the same as before, but liked the theater/café model. Also, I’d always loved comedy. Comedy would be low cost and low trouble, as I wouldn’t have to pay for months and months of rehearsal. Three of four comedians can put on a one-hour show. But were there standup comics in Taiwan? “In the end, two things happened. One, we trained many of the Taiwanese comics ourselves. But before that, Kurt Penney walked in off the street. Kurt asked if he
The author takes the microphone to try out his material in front of an audience.
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S ta n d u p c o m e d y
could put on an English-language comedy show. I hadn’t thought of doing that, but decided to try. It was a success. On a Saturday night in August 2007, he and half a dozen others put on two shows, selling more than 50 tickets for each. Kurt and comedy hypnotist David Brian Phillips, and later Dan Machanik who had performed previously in America, and Hartley Pool, Tom Levene and Mr. Sausage [Mark Goding] put on shows every month. Kurt took to the street handing out flyers, and Dan had lots of friends. “To be honest, there would be no Comedy Club now if it wasn’t for them; we would have gone under in the first year. As well as the money they brought in, they were important spiritually. Also, the Taiwanese comedians learned a lot from them. At that time the Chinese shows were worse than the English. Now it’s reversed – the Chinese shows are better. The English standard is worse than before, when Hartley and Dan in particular had a more professional style. Dan is back in the States, Hartley is in Malaysia, Kurt home in Canada. Only David and Sausage are still around.” Mark Goding, it turns out, is busy running Mr. Sausage’s Kitchen, which sells his home-made Western-style sausages and beers in an Aussie-themed bar. “The performance bug never goes away, however,” he says, and in May 2013 he was coaxed out of semi-retirement to show off his poetry-and-Hollywood act. “The hunger is always there,” Penney agrees via internet from Toronto. “You can never eradicate it, only keep it at bay.” Having left Taiwan in 2009 due to “visa issues,” he now teaches mathematics at a college. He still performs occasionally, and is focusing on doing Mandarin shows for Canada���s Chinese community. How Penney got his start is almost a comedy routine in itself. “It was at a talent show in Tobago. I was there for my brother’s wedding, and signed up for the show on a whim. The promoter said I’d be performing for cruise ship passengers, but it turned out I was the only white face in front of a local black audience.” Somehow he survived, even though he says he hadn’t even prepared any jokes, and it gave him confidence to keep performing. “I did my first Taiwan shows at for42
eigner-frequented bars. My game improved when I met and worked with Dan Machanik. I then began to produce shows at various places with Dan headlining.” Readers who have been in Taiwan for some time might remember bars like Citizen Cain and Bliss, both of which have now closed, and might even remember seeing Penney there between 2003 and 2007.
New location In May 2010, the Comedy Club moved from Taishun Street to a new first-andbasement location near City Hall MRT Station. “The old club was too small, and as it was only in a basement; we had no frontage onto the street,” says Chang, who has no regrets about the move. Several of the foreign performers are less happy, however. “It’s harder for us to get audiences,” one says, off the record. “Taishun Street is in the Shida [National Taiwan Normal University] neighborhood, which is frequented by many overseas students. We could simply invite them in off the street. Now we have to persuade them to cross town.” Chang has no such problems. “The new neighborhood has more office workers instead of students, and they are willing to pay more,” he notes. “Another problem was our own,” admits Levene. “Most of us weren’t writing enough. It was essentially the same
Sosio Chang with the poster for the first show in English.
performers month after month, and many were doing the same material.” To remedy that situation, in December 2011 Levene, Torch Pratt, and a couple of others who had followed the club eastward organized a Taiwan’s Funniest Teacher competition to garner fresh faces. Two or three of today’s crop derive from that event, and there is still at least one monthly English-language show and usually two. Both have openmike (by pre-arrangement) spots for newcomers to try their hand, which is what I had signed up for. I told Clint Rand, winner of the funniest-teacher competition, that I was getting so nervous I could barely function. “I clearly remember the FEAR,” he told me. I got a metallic taste in my mouth around 1:30 on the afternoon of show, which wasn’t to start till 10:30 p.m. It was a taste I had experienced a few times before big basketball games, before my move to Taiwan, and before my wedding. But I had never felt it this intensely.” And what advice could he give me? “Practice, practice, and more practice. The better prepared you are, the better you’ll look and the more professional you’ll sound.” What kind of jokes should I prepare? “Stand-up comedians don’t tell jokes. In stand-up, you take situations in your life or that you think of and tell them in a funny way or make it funny. Write ideas about what could be funny, things that strike you as odd, about differences between Taiwan and where you’re from.” Like a number of other performers in Taiwan, Rand recommends the Comedy Bible by Judy Carter. “After a few shows, read books like the Comedy Bible . Learn how to use callbacks, segues, and the Rule of Three [establishing a pattern with two examples and then throwing the audience off-guard with the third]. Remember that in Taiwan you’re dealing with more than two cultures. It’s not just Taiwanese and foreigners. It’s Taiwanese, Filipino workers, South Africans, British, Australians, American, Canadian, Kiwis...,” advises Bronsil, suggesting yet more reasons why I will probably fail. “Be prepared for failure, but don’t take a defeatist attitude. Even if you hit a home run, great, but know that failure will come some days; actually many days. Learn from
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S ta n d u p c o m e d y
Rifat Karlova, a.k.a. Wu Feng
ast year, Turkish national Rifat Karlova became the first non-Taiwanese to win a Golden Bell Award (the local equivalent of an Emmy) as the host of a travel TV program, the I Walker show on SET TV. His performance roots are in stand-up comedy, however. He has done over 100 shows, mostly at the Comedy Club, and despite his fame and hectic schedule, he still appears on stage from time to time, saying it keeps him sharp for bigger shows. Although he is fluent in English and German, as well as Turkish of course, he always performs in Chinese under the name Wu Feng (吳鳳). Karlova says he came to Taiwan to study political sci-
your failures, but learn from successes too.” Bronsil also stresses that it is not simply a case of standing in front of an audience and being amusing, like telling stories to your friends in a bar. “Write down funny ideas, lines, but realize that it takes a lot of work to go from an idea to something funny on stage. Write every day, even if it isn’t funny. Oh, and edit.” Scott Flynn, another American who also lives in Taichung but performs mostly in Taipei, recommends I take a more relaxed attitude before my first show. “The first few times, get on stage and do whatever you want. If you like it and want to do better, read how-to-comedy books like the Comedy Bible , learn how to structure a joke, and how to develop your style and have some consistency. “When writing a joke, I dig deep in my mind to find funny things that nobody else could possibly think of. I think it was Steve Jobs who said creativity is just connecting things. If you talk about one thing, the chances are very high that someone else has already said it. But if you connect one thing to another thing that doesn’t seem related, you might have some original material.” Ross Yang is a Taiwanese who performed in English at the old Comedy Club but now acts more as an agent, finding gigs for comedians around Taiwan. With one eye on finding performers to entertain the increasing numbers of mainland Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan, he has a more pragmatic approach than most of the comedians I talked with. Nevertheless, he also has a deeper understanding of what
ence at Shida, and his change of career came about almost by chance. He was walking to lunch one day when a television producer invited him to audition for the role of 19th-century missionary George MacKay in a documentary, History of Taiwan People. In the future, he hopes to take stand-up to China and Chinese-speaking communities in the United States and elsewhere. Karlova suggests that someone thinking of trying stand-up should believe in himself, and be natural on stage to make it easier to connect with the audience. A strong performer has to keep creating new jokes, so he recommends thinking up new new material 24 hours per day.
can be achieved through comedy. “A comedian is like a singer; your material is like a song. If you are a star, the audience has come specially to see you and has expectations. If you are not a star, like all beginners, the audience has not come for you, so you must make the audience warm to you as soon as you get on stage. Keep it personal, which means keeping it real. Audiences see through bullshit very quickly. “But beyond that, ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with stand-up. It’s not simply about being stupid and making an audience laugh. With all the best comedians, the audience takes something away. The comic uses a funny way to explain
Clint Rand at Toast Bar and Bistro
something: a social issue, for example, or a critique of the government. Your comedy should have a message.” I was clearly out of my depth. My sedimental pun might be original, but it didn’t connect things in a Steve Jobs’ original way, and it didn’t have a message for the government. I was going to die. On stage. In front of my friends. Trying to be funny. For me, the hardest part about standup comedy is that simply going on stage is almost akin to saying “I think I’m funny, and I think you should think I’m funny.” And I don’t think I’m funny. I think some of the jokes I thought up might be funny, and I’m even a little proud of some of my comic poems and comic songs. But I don’t think I'm a funny guy. “Have faith in your material then,” said Yang. “Be detached, like a singer performing someone else’s songs, even if they really are his own.” I tried. Tried to detach myself from Rand’s metallic taste, wished I’d had a beer to calm my nerves, tried to detach myself from the growing feeling that actually the audience was warming to me, and then worried that I would get over-confident. I opened my notebook at my poem “Not Funny,” which combines traditional standup themes of failing to meet women, embarrassing oneself in public, getting caught masturbating by one’s mother and … … well, I survived my audition, and am still performing around Taiwan. Come and catch my show if you want to hear more. A schedule of upcoming shows can be found at www.facebook.com/mark.malarkey.9 taiwan business topics • july 2013
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photo : amba
Taipei’s Changing Hotel Scene
With the entrance of new five-star hotels and high-quality three-star properties, established five-star venues are renovating to keep their competitive edge. BY JANE RICKARDS
dorning the walls of the boutique hotel amba Taipei Ximending, a hand-painted message says: “Don’t make decisions when you are angry. Don’t make promises when you are happy.” In the hotel bar known as The Lab, bartenders in white lab coats mix cocktails in chemistry beakers. An eight-meter construction made from 2,012 recycled plastic bottles serves as the hotel reception desk. A total departure from the Taiwanese three-star hotels of the past, the amba is doing a roaring business. “We want to provide a different hotel experience so that visiting foreign tourists will have more and more choices,” says hotel spokeswoman Daphne Wu. Opened in February last year, the 160-room hotel is a creation of the Taiwanese Ambassador Hotel Group, which decided to mark its 50th anniversary by launching amba as a designer hotel brand. Styled to resonate with globallysavvy urban travelers, its promotional literature says, the hotel has adopted “creativity, connectivity and conserva44
tion” as its motto, and this theme permeates the hotel’s design. Furniture in the minimalist-style bedrooms are made from recycled objects such as tin barrels, and the hip cocktail lounge is decorated with retro music speakers and vinyl records. Noted Taiwanese designers, such as Grace Cheung of award-winning Xrange, who designed the outer gray-colored façade, were involved in the project.
Hotel guests come mainly from Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, and the occupancy rate is a robust 80-90%, partially because Ximending itself is a big tourist attraction. The property has been so successful that a second amba hotel is scheduled to open in the Songshan district in 2014, and there are loose plans for one in Kending, says Wu.
photo : amba
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Innovative hotels like amba are part of a hotel boom that is sweeping the island, spurred by increasing numbers of visitors, mostly from China, who are boosting the overall tourism industry. Boutique threestar hotels are springing up all over the island, and the planned openings of at least four new five-star hotels in Taipei in the next few years, including the Mandarin Oriental Taipei on DunHua North Road near the corner of MinSheng East Road, are causing Taiwan’s existing fivestar hotels to spruce themselves up with renovations. According to Tourism Bureau statistics, 7.3 million visitors came to Taiwan in 2012, up from 6.08 million in 2011, for a 20.11% growth rate. The largest number, at 2.59 million (a 44% growth rate), consisted of mainland Chinese visitors, followed by Japanese at 1.43 million and then Hong Kong and Macau at a little over one million. The Tourism Bureau’s goal is to reach 10 million visitors by 2016. The Bureau classifies 63 of Taiwan’s hotels as five-star – including 22 in Taipei – along with 27 four-star and 125 threestar hotels. Although Taiwan so far does not have many hostels designed specifically for students and backpackers, there are numerous cheap hotels and bed and breakfasts. Hotels in different areas of Taipei serve different clienteles, notes Achim von Hake, general manager of The Sherwood. The west side of the city, with its historical landmarks, mainly attracts tourists, while the Xinyi district is preferred by high-end spenders seeking some nightlife, he says. The middle part of Taipei near the Songshan Airport, where the Sher-
wood is located, primarily serves business travelers, partly because the airport now offers relatively quick flights to Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai. Most hoteliers say business recently has been healthy. Expansion has not been too rapid, and there is no shortage of rooms, aside from during major events such as the international computer expo Computex. Generally, five-star hotel executives in Taipei report occupancy averaging around 70-80%. Von Hake and some other interviewees see room for even faster expansion in the industry, as relaxed cross-Strait travel restrictions will create growth in the individual or FIT (free and independent traveler) sector, as well as the highvolume MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) market. Pauline Leung, CEO of Compass Public Relations and co-chair of AmCham’s Travel and Tourism Committee, notes that since a MICE trip may be a company’s reward to employees for good work performance, a top hotel is usually required. Von Hake says he sees the potential for especially strong growth in major down-island cities such as Tainan and Taichung. But some sources say the Taipei mar-
ket could only absorb a few more fivestar hotels before becoming over-crowded. “The market is not mature enough to sustain a lot more five-star hotels,” says Marcel Holman, general manager of the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Taipei. Interviewees said Chinese tourists prefer three-star hotels and tend to spend more on shopping and food during their tours, which usually last for a little under a week. The result is likely to be a rise in three-star hotel rates, von Hake says, despite continuing growth in the number of rooms, particularly as the three-star category is well-suited to group tours.
Rise of the three stars Another trend is the greater prominence of upmarket three-star hotels, narrowing the gap between Taiwan’s five-star and three-star hotels, says von Hake. He cites the Fullerton hotel chain in Taipei as an example. “Five-star and three-star now does not necessarily differentiate the level of quality, and often the difference is the facilities offered,” he says. Five-star hotels will have a fitness center, swimming pool, business center, and an assortment of restaurants, while taiwan business topics • july 2013
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Hotels a three-star hotel may have just a breakfast nook. Room rates at the upmarket three-star hotels are around NT$3,000 to NT$5,000 a night, while the fivestar hotels average around NT$8,000 to NT$9,000, presenting a challenge for the five-star hotels. The five-star hotel market, von Hake adds, tends to focus on corporate travelers. Business travelers accounted for only 893,767 of the over 7 million visitors in 2012, the Tourism Bureau says, a decline of -9.25%. But although this market is declining, it is still healthy, von Hake notes. Even so, he considers that the five-star hotels need to make still greater efforts to differentiate themselves from the upmarket three-star hotels, for example by focusing on service quality and delivering higher yields. Industry insiders say that the scheduled opening at the end of this year of the Mandarin Oriental Taipei, part of the famous luxury hotel chain owned by the Jardine Matheson Group, is likely to be a game changer in the market. Andrew Chou, corporate executive assistant manager of the Leefoo Tourism Group, which owns The Westin Taipei, says the added competition from the Mandarin Oriental and other newcomers is likely to boost
five-star hotel quality – and more crucially their room rates. “Taiwan’s average room rate is below the average in other cities in Asia, not to mention around the world,” Chou says, adding that he hopes room rates will rise to at least NT$9,000 to NT$10,000. Von Hake says he also expects the Mandarin Oriental Taipei to spur development in the Dunhua North Road near the Songshan Airport, encouraging the entry of new teahouses, shops, and restaurants. The Sherwood is in the same neighborhood, leading von Hake to express optimism about the competitive situation following the opening of the Mandarin Oriental. “We will lose a certain part of the market share, but we will also gain some,” he says. The Mandarin Oriental Taipei’s website notes that the hotel will be equipped with 256 spacious guest rooms and 46 suites, including two luxurious presidential suites, each fitted with a private spa and gym. It also will have six restaurants, a grand ballroom that can seat 1,008 guests, and even a ceremonial chapel. (Hotel representatives declined to grant interviews before the opening.) In addition, the Marriott International hotel chain of the United States will be
coming to Taipei, with two Marriott hotels franchised out to different companies. Von Hake reports that the company that owns the Sherwood, Yihwa International Corp., has started construction in Dazhi of what will be a Marriott hotel complex with up to 400 rooms, extensive convention facilities to accommodate the growing MICE business in Taiwan, and even residential units. The hotel complex, which does not yet have an official name, will have its soft opening in the middle of next year. Meanwhile, reports Chou, the Leefoo Tourism Group is in a franchise agreement to build a 460-room Courtyard by Marriott, a brand designed for business travelers but also suitable to accommodate families. The location is in Nankang in order to take advantage of business from the Taipei World Trade Center Nankang Exhibition Hall. Construction began early this year and the opening is scheduled for 2016. Another new addition to the local hotel scene will be Humble House Taipei in the Xinyi district, due to open at the end of this year. The hotel will be run by My Humble House Hospitality Management Consulting Co., which operates the Sheraton Taipei Hotel and Le Meridien Taipei under license from Starwood Hotel and Resorts Worldwide. Designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates, which was honored at the India Interiors Summit in 2012 as best interior designer of the year, Humble House Taipei will offer 235 rooms, including 10 suites, plus a ballroom that can accommodate nearly 1,000. Yet another relative newcomer that opened in August 2012 is The Okura Prestige on Nanjing East Road near Zhongshan North Road. Part of the fivestar Okura Hotels chain from Japan, the hotel has over 200 rooms. General Manager Shinji Umehara notes that Japanese companies are increasingly setting up shop in Taipei, and as a result “the Taiwan market is very good compared with Tokyo.” He reports an occupancy rate of 73%, with Japanese accounting for about half the guests. Umehara says Okura A depiction of the luxury hotel The Mandarin Oriental Taipei, due to open late this year. photo : mandarin oriental taipei
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Above, a new deluxe king room at the Westin; right, rooms before renovation (top) and after (below). photos: westin taipei
had been looking for a site in Taipei for around a decade before finding the right location. The majority of the mainly Taiwanese staff, including the numerous bell boys with their white pillbox hats and jackets, speak some Japanese.
Getting a new look Meanwhile, a number of five-star hotels are undergoing renovations in the face of competition. The Westin Taipei spent NT$500 million renovating its 288 rooms, including 42 suites, the first overhaul in the 13-year history of the hotel. The work, designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates, was completed last year. Angular lines in the rooms were softened with items such as wall murals, and the color scheme was changed from brownred to a softer cream and pale brown. The East West restaurant was entirely revamped and renamed Silk Road. At the Grand Hyatt Taipei, the transformation is still underway, with the first phase of the renovation in completed this May and the next stage scheduled to begin in August. “This is certainly the largest makeover the hotel has experienced since opening in 1990,” General Manager David Pacey is quoted as saying on the hotel’s website. He notes that the first phase covered over 40% of the total rooms and suites, plus upgrading of the Grand Club® lounge and the various meeting and event venues. “We are looking forward to fully operating the entire
853 brand-new accommodation facilities in spring 2014,” he says. The redesign is being carried out by prominent international designers, merging Eastern and Western concepts to create a modern yet simple, luxurious but comfortable living space for hotel guests to enjoy, according to the website. The revamping also includes “well-selected art piece collections” to bring a “tranquil and cultural touch to the space,” as well as equipping each room with state-ofthe-art information and communications technology to enable travelers to stay connected with the rest of the world. The redesigned function rooms can be used either individually or connected to one another to meet guests’ requirements. “The vaulted ceiling opens up the space, while the delicate white leather wallpaper around the room projects a unique texture that matches the elegant furniture,” notes the website. The Leefoo Village Theme Park in Hsinchu, which features an African safari with animals such as lions and giraffes, is building 45 new villas, bringing the entire number up to 200. The new villas will be built on existing land, with construction to begin this year and finish around 2016. The lobby and other facilities will also be upgraded, says Andrew Chou. The majority of visitors are Taiwanese, with only about 1% from mainland Chinese. At the 420-room Shangi-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, renovations are due to start sometime in the second half of this
year and be completed in 12-13 months. “This hotel is 19 years young and every hotel should renovate over time,” says general manager Holman. “Basically the rooms will go back to concrete – stripped and then rebuilt,” he says. “The result will be a more modern product but it will still retain elegance and timelessness.” The designers are AB Concept, an award-winning Hong Kong-based design firm. The rooms, which currently have warm and rich colors, will be redesigned with more subdued earth tones, along with grays and blues, Holman says. The ceiling heights may be raised for some rooms, while other rooms might have a free standing bath. One unique new feature, found in some other Shangri-La hotels, will be a special shutter that joins the bottom of the door with the carpet, sealing out noise. The changeover will also bring speedier check-ins and a new paperless checkout system involving signing a tablet. taiwan business topics • july 2013
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Taiwan, Island of Never-ending Festivity
pend a week in Taiwan and you are sure to have the chance to encounter a celebration of some kind – whether a major nation-wide event like Double Ten Day (marking Taiwan’s national day, October 10) or unique local festivities such as a deity’s birthday. To spread the word about Taiwan’s rich and diverse festival culture, and help potential visitors plan itineraries around events that interest them, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau is highlighting 42 world-class activities in 2013 as part of its “Time for Celebration” promotion. The selected events showcase Taiwan’s culinary delights, finest scenery, and greatest ecological treasures, as well as its religious, folk, and ethnicminority cultures. To enable travelers
to access and store information about the activities, the Tourism Bureau has created free downloadable calendar pages and smartphone apps full of links to tips on food, accommodations, transportation, and shopping. Featured events can be found in each season and every region, so whatever time of year you plan to visit Taiwan – and wherever business or family commitments may bring you – you will find no shortage of things to do. In summertime, traditional life in Taiwan is dominated by events linked to “Ghost Month,” the seventh month on the lunar calendar. Taiwanese believe that at the beginning of the month (this year August 7 on the Gregorian calendar), the gates of the afterworld open and ghosts return to the realm of the living. Especially feared are so-called “wandering ghosts” – spirits of those who died without descendants to honor and care for them. Wandering ghosts have a tendency to cause mischief unless placated with offerings of incense and food, so throughout Ghost Month you will see huge prayer events featuring Taoist priests, Buddhist monks, and tables covered with fruit, cookies, and
joss paper. As an alternative to physical offerings, some pious citizens pay for performances of Taiwanese opera or other entertainments. These shows are open to all. Taiwan’s most exciting Ghost Month celebrations are in the port city of Keelung, a short train ride from Taipei. Now dubbed the Midsummer Ghost Festival, this raucous yet good-natured event has a history of more than 150 years. A high point is the lighting and dispatching of waterborne lamps, which – according to the faithful – guide lost souls back to the nether world. Another north-coast event is of far more recent provenance. The Ho-HaiYan Rock Festival was first held in 2000, and like pop music galas around the world it attracts a young, informal crowd. Admission is free and performers include unknowns and the up-andcoming, as well as established stars. The venue, Fulong in New Taipei City, has long been one of Taiwan’s most popular beaches. If your taste in culture leans more to the contemplative, you will likely enjoy the Yingge International Ceramics Festival. The town of Yingge, 13km
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southwest of Taiwan’s capital, has a very long history of producing practical and decorative pottery items. The festival features the works of local and international artists as well as DIY activities in which members of the public can shape and glaze their own ceramic creations. Like Keelung, both Fulong and Yi n g g e a r e e a s y t o r e a c h b y t r a i n from Taipei. And if trains really tickle your fancy, make sure to attend the Nantou County Train Festival, which runs for precisely one month starting July 15. Now in its seventh year, this event draws trainspotters by offering a photogenic combination of vintage trains, including steam locomotives, a nd sup er b s ce n e r y. N a n to u is a n appropriate place for such an event, as for decades the 29.7-kilometer-long Jiji Branch Railroad, which takes passengers into the hilly heart of Taiwan’s only landlocked county, has been a tourist favorite.
ity. The venue, Wushi Port, was where many of the Han settlers who opened up Yilan in the 1820s first landed. These pioneers faced disease and other threats. Many perished, far from their homes and families. To ensure they did not become troublesome “wandering ghosts,” surviving settlers and their descendants began holding the Chiang Ku Ceremony. As with other Ghost Month rites, sacrifices are made to the denizens of the spirit world. Some of the offerings are then attached to the ku peng , an elaborate platform-type structure, about 12 meters high and comprising dozens of bamboo shafts coated with beef tallow. Young men try to climb up and grab the offerings, which include gold pendants and flags believed to confer good fortune on those who collect them. It sounds dangerous, and it is. These days, only registered contestants, working in teams of five and wearing protective gear, are allowed to take part. September is daylily season in east Taiwan, and there are few sights more restful than a hillside covered with these golden-yellow flowers. Hualien’s Liushidan Mountain is a well-known spot for daylily appreciation, and several local restaurants serve delicious specialty dishes that incorporate daylily buds. For details on how to reach Liushidan Mountain, go to the website of the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration (www.erv-nsa.gov. tw). Regarding other events, as well
as general travel information about Taiwan, visit the website of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau (www.taiwan.net.tw), or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan). Each August over the past two decades, to the delight of millions of gourmets, the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition has showcased every aspect of Taiwan’s food multiverse, as well as a good number of overseas cuisines. But this foodies’ paradise has outgrown the physical space available, so this year the mouth-watering event is being reinvented as the 2013 Taiwan Food Activities Series. Rather than a centralized exhibition, the Food Activities Series pulls together suggested culinary tourism routes created by Taiwan’s 13 national scenic area administrations, night-market specialties, cooking contests, coupons, and special offers throughout July and August.
In Great Britain, when people speak of “climbing the greasy pole,” they usually mean rising high in the world of politics. In Yilan County, in Taiwan’s northeast, the expression has a literal meaning. The Chiang Ku Ceremony, which culminates on the final day of the seventh lunar month (falling this year on September 4), is unique to the coastal township of Toucheng, where tourists will also find the acclaimed Lanyang Museum (www.lym.gov.tw). Pole-climbing events feature in folk games the world over, but the Chiang Ku (Grappling with the Ghost) Ceremony differs from others in that it is not merely a test of bravery and agiltaiwan business topics • july 2013
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