Saturday, 20 December 2014

Huashan Creative Park, Taipei

In the heart of Taipei, in the middle of the sea of anonymous apartment blocks built in the decades following World War II, there lies a former industrial area that has remained virtually unchanged since its construction in the first half of the 20th century. This is the former 'Taipei Wine Factory' (台北酒廠), a complex of buildings that belonged to Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Monopoly. By the 1980s. when Taiwan's economy was booming and its capital, Taipei, was growing fast, the presence of this factory in what had become the city centre (but was periphery in the Japanese era) raised environmental concerns. Therefore, in 1987 wine production was moved to Linkou Industrial Area, in the suburbs of Taipei County (present-day New Taipei City).

However, this 'museum-like' neighbourhood has not been saved by wise and history-conscious city planners, but - paradoxically - by neglect and indifference. Politicians were simply too idle and uninterested in order to make something out of these buildings, and so they left them alone for decades, in a state of decay and dilapidation.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Goodbye, Occupy Central

The Hong Kong police have given the students that have occupied Admiralty an ultimatum: they must leave before 11 am today. Whoever stays will be arrested. 

Apparently the students have decided to comply. They are dismantling their tents, saying goodbye to the 'Umbrella City' they have created. The images of the occupation - a symbol of civil disobedience - will remain in the collective memory, just as those of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement did. The power of those images and ideas is stronger than the short-term failure of the protesters' political objectives. 

Rumours had been going around for weeks that the police would soon clear the sites of the protests. On the evening of December 1st I met a friend of mine. I hadn't seen her for a year. We went to a cafe' called Kubrick, in Yau Ma Tei. We talked a lot, and Occupy Central was one of our topics - it seemed impossible not to mention this issue when conversing with a Hongkonger, a proof of how passionate the people of Hong Kong are about the future destiny of their home city. After chatting for a few hours, we went back to the MTR station. It was raining outside, and it was suddenly colder. We said goodbye. 

I was happy to have met her again, and I felt somewhat energised. But I couldn't leave Hong Kong without seeing Occupy Central for the last time. Although it was late and the weather was bad, I went to Admiralty. There was hardly anyone on the street but me. I walked around the tents, the heavy rain pouring on me. A gloomy atmosphere enshrouded the usually lively and colourful encampment of the students. Only a few of them ventured out of their tents that night. It was about 3 am. Everything was quiet. As I walked along Cotton Tree Drive towards Wan Chai, I said goodbye to the students - those who were sleeping in the tents, braving the cold, and those who were at home.   

Occupy Central has made Hong Kong more beautiful than ever, giving its citizens passion, freeing their creativity, inspiring them. This 74-day long protest has shown the good side of Hong Kong, of which its people can be proud. Unluckily, the sad, boring, conformity-minded Communist government and its Hong Kong allies are triumphing again: greed, suspicion, fear is their way, a worldview hardly compatible with the spontaneity, freedom and idealism of the students. 

Occupy Central may have not accomplished its goals. But it has won a great victory. It has touched the hearts of thousands - if not millions - of people who have seen this movement unfold, who have witnessed the enthusiasm, fervour and solidarity of the citizens of Hong Kong. 

Tomorrow - when the traces of the occupation have been removed and the cars have reconquered the streets - Occupy Central will be history. Yes, it will be history, like the May 4th movement and the Tiananmen Square movement. It will be an indelible part of our collective memory for generations to come, and the seeds of change it has sown will grow. 

Goodbye, Occupy Central

Below a gallery of the pictures I took during the protests


Friday, 5 December 2014

Taipei's Beimen MRT Station and Its Hidden Treasures

Two days ago I took for the first time the new Songshan-Xindian MRT line (松山新店線, Line 3), which opened on November 15 (I wasn't in Taiwan at the time). The new line is an extension of the former Xindian-Danshui Line, which connected Xindian, in the southern part of New Taipei City, and Danshui (淡水), in the north. This South-North axis has now been split and two distinct MRT lines have been created: the Danshui-Xinyi Line (淡水信義線), and the aforementioned Songshan-Xindian line.

One interesting result of the completion of the MRT network is that all of the five city gates of Qing Dynasty Taipei Walled City now have stations named after them - Ximen (西門, 'West Gate'), Dongmen (東門, 'East Gate'), Beimen (北門, 'North Gate'), Nanmen (南門, 'South Gate') and Xiaonanmen (小南門, 'Little South Gate'). This highlights the infrastructural importance of the gates and of the boulevards which the Japanese constructed after the city walls' demolition in the early 20th century.

I decided to visit Beimen MRT Station, which is in many respects different from all other underground stations in Taipei. Because of its historical significance a section of it has been turned into a permanent exhibition about the history of that area from the Qing Dynasty to the present.

Friday, 28 November 2014

A Walk in Hong Kong's Wan Chai District: Old Post Office, Blue House, Hung Shing Temple, and Pak Tai Temple

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend of mine at a Thai restaurant in Central. After we finished our meal my friend went back to work. Since the weather was quite pleasant that day, I decided to take a walk to Tin Hau.

During my walk I took a few pictures of some interesting old buildings in Wan Chai District. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, these old structures are among the few ones that have withstood the urban development frenzy of the post-war era.

Wan Chai

In the morning of 26 January 1841 Sir James Bremer of the British Royal Navy, accompanied by army officers and Royal Marines, landed on the north-west part of Hong Kong, a spot that came to be known as Possession Point (which is now the site of the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal). He toasted Queen Victoria and took formal possession of the small island in her name. Hong Kong had been ceded to the British by the Qing Empire during the First Opium War. London secured the naval base through the Convention of Chuanbi and later through the Treaty of Nanjing (29 August 1842). 

Hong Kong had a population of just 7,500 Chinese, mostly fishermen and farmers (Steve Tsang: Modern History of Hong Kong, A: 1841-1997, 2011, p. 16). Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston dismissed the newly acquired colony as "a barren island with hardly a house upon it" (ibid., p. 14). Hardly anyone at that time could have imagined that Hong Kong would become one of the world's greatest metropolises.

Once the British had occupied Hong Kong island they set about the task of developing it and building a replica of a European city on Asian soil. They first founded the city of Victoria, which was deemed the capital of Hong Kong until the 1997 handover. Victoria largely corresponds to present-day Central District.

Over the next decades thousands of mainland Chinese flocked to the British colony, which offered refuge from the Qing Empire's deteriorating economic and social conditions. As the Taiping Rebellion ravaged China, scores of mainlanders moved to Hong Kong, which by the early 1860s had already reached a population of about 120,000 (R.S. Chaurasia: History of Modern China, 2004, p. 326).

Plans to develop new areas outside of Victoria began already in the 1840s. At that time, Wan Chai, which was adjacent to Victoria, was sparsely populated and its inhabitants were chiefly Chinese fishermen (Michael Ingham: Hong Kong: A Cultural History,2007, p. 59). In the 19th century, present-day Queen's Road East was Wan Chai's coastline.

The colonial government originally planned to turn Wan Chai into a high-class European settlement and commercial district. Western-style buildings began to be constructed around Stone Nullah Lane and the surrounding hills (Jason Wordie: Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island, p. 102). But the plan never really took off because Wan Chai was cut off from Victoria by the naval barracks and docks which were located in present-day Admiralty.

Instead, Wan Chai became an area of Chinese settlement and an 'entertainment district' for off-duty sailors and officers, who at the turn of the 20th century had been banned from the more respectable Victoria city (Po Hung Cheng: A Century of Hong Kong Island Roads and Streets, 2001, p. 70; Ingham 2007, p. 59).

In order to solve the issue of land scarcity, the British colonial government undertook a series of land reclamations. If there hadn't been these land reclamations, Wan Chai would look completely different today. Land reclamation projects in Wan Chai were carried out in the 1880s, 1920s, 1960s and 1970s. Up until the 1920s, present-day Johnston Road was still the waterfront.

In the 1920s, a major land reclamation project was commenced, and Morrison Hill was flattened to provide earth for it. Hennessy Road and Gloucester Road were built on reclaimed land. After World War II, more land was reclaimed, and new, controversial reclamation projects are underway.



Saturday, 22 November 2014

Hong Kong's "Umbrella City"

When I left Hong Kong back in September, Occupy Central had just begun. I went to Admiralty and Central on the first day of the protests, which was the 28th. The following morning I flew to Taipei. 

I was very sad, not only because I was leaving a city which I love more and more each time I return there, but also because I had seen history unfolding before my eyes and yet I was suddenly cut off from those events. While I was sitting on the express train to the airport, I had already made up my mind that I would go back to Hong Kong as soon as possible. 

And I was right. What I have seen in Hong Kong over the past few days is amazing, and I feel glad and privileged that I could be part of this historic moment. At least I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that I was here. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

YouBike - Good or Bad for Taipei?

In 2008 Taipei City’s Department of Transportation launched the Taipei Bike Sharing Pilot Program, which evolved into the highly successful YouBike, a bicycle rental project with over 30 million users as of October of this year.

I welcome the use of bikes as a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to scooters and cars. However, I think that the YouBike so far has had a negative impact on Taipei. There are three major problems that need to be addressed:

1) the government has failed to make the population aware of the risks of riding their bikes on sidewalks;

2) as the city lacks an extensive network of bicycle paths, pedestrians now have to share the same, often narrow spaces with a growing number of bikes;

3) YouBike riders are not required by law to purchase an insurance, like scooter and car drivers do.

As you can see from the video below, some cyclists (in my experience, the great majority of them) have absolutely no sense of responsibility when riding their bikes on sidewalks. Unfortunately, as YouBike grew more popular the situation has worsened considerably. 

Last month I was waiting at a traffic light and, as usual, several cyclists were waiting behind me. As the light turned green, both pedestrians and cyclists moved forward, with bikes dashing from all sides trying to overtake the slower pedestrians. A bike then hit my foot; had I worn flip-flops, I may have got hurt. Luckily, the tire only left a scratch on my shoe, which is still annoying enough, since the shoes were expensive. The girl who was riding the bike smiled, said sorry, and rode off. A few days later, a bike coming from a side alley almost hit me while I was crossing the street (I couldn't possibly have seen it coming from behind a building). 

I have seen this kind of behaviour many times, and I also witnessed minor accidents. I think it should be common sense that bikes and pedestrians cannot share the same space. Especially children and elder people are at risk. Unfortunately, very few people in Taipei seem aware of this, and they ride their bikes carelessly. 

It turns out that walking in Taipei has become increasingly unpleasant and dangerous. Given that traffic regulations are often ignored and very selectively enforced, I am not surprised. Even policemen don't seem to care. Just a couple of days ago I was trying to cross Gongyuan Road at a zebra crossing. Cars and scooters simply wouldn't stop, although a policeman was there. And he simply ignored us pedestrians. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

My Pictures of Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

Yesterday I arrived in Hong Kong and, despite being extremely tired - I had slept for only one hour and a half in two days -, after leaving my stuff at the hostel I immediately went to see how Occupy Central had transformed the city centre. 

However, I was way too exhausted and hungry to go to Central, so I just had a look at the Causeway Bay site of the protest, which is quite close to where I'm currently staying.

The 'Occupiers' have by now settled permanently in some limited areas, one of them being a section of Hennessy Road, formerly a bustling traffic artery, now turned into a sort of 'encampment' with tens, colourful pictures, collages and posters. Actually, Hennessy Road has never been as beautiful as it is today, and the occupation does not seem to affect shops or normal life. The only thing it has affected is traffic, but, well, does Hong Kong really desperately need more cars and pollution? 

The atmosphere is quiet right now, and very little seems to be happening for the time being. This is another proof that these students are no rowdies that want to disrupt the life of Hong Kong. I can't think of a more peaceful manifestation of dissent in a city where the people have not been given a legal mechanism for changing a government they don't like. 

So far, traffic disruptions have been limited. The means of transport which has suffered the most is probably the tram, which is the only one that can't change its routes to circumvent the 'occupied' areas. 

Yesterday, I took a tram from North Point MTR Station to Central, but it didn't get that far and stopped at Victoria Park. This is now the last stop of all eastbound tram routes. At Victoria Park, trains have to change direction and go back. Obviously, the tram staff have to do quite a lot of extra work, not just to revert the tram's direction, but also to inform the puzzled passengers.

Apparently, the occupation has turned into a tourist attraction by its own right, with numerous tourists - some of whom come from mainland China - taking pictures of the site. The many versions of the 'Occupy Central Xi Jinping' are among the most popular artworks (whether it is wise to mock the commander-in-chief of the same PLA that crushed the democracy movement in 1989, is another matter).

Friday, 7 November 2014

Customer Service in Taiwan: A Day At Guanghua Digital Plaza

When I lived in Germany many Taiwanese I met there told me that service in Taiwan is much better than in Europe. "The customer is king," they often said. I heard this opinion so many times that I obviously came to believe it. Since I myself considered service in Germany and Italy - the two countries in Europe where I lived longest - overall pretty bad, I was looking forward to coming to Taiwan and experiencing an entirely new level of customer service.

I will write in another post about the myth of Taiwan's customer service. Here I will just share my experience at Guanghua Digital Plaza (光華商場) which is, I believe, the most famous consumer electronics market of the Taiwanese capital. 

I'd been thinking about buying a new laptop for quite some time. Today my old one was so slow I could hardly use it, and I decided to buy an "emergency" laptop before purchasing a better one in Europe (if you're wondering, computers in Taiwan are not cheaper than in Europe).  

Guanghua Digital Plaza is very easy to reach. Since I like walking, I just walked from Taipei Main Station along Civic Boulevard (市民大道). I passed by Shandao Temple and Huashan Creative Park, turned left and then right, and there I was. If you don't want to walk, you can just reach it either from Shandao Temple MRT Station or Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station (Guanghua is just between the two stations; check out the map). 

Here is the building from the outside:

Friday, 24 October 2014

Old Houses in Taipei

A while ago I wrote a short post about an old house in Taipei's Roosevelt Road which I'd been often passing by, wondering if it was a building from the Qing Dynasty or from the Japanese era. I thought there weren't many such old houses left in that area, but, while taking long walks around Gongguan, Taipower Building Station, Guting and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, I found out that I was wrong.  In fact, there are several of them, scattered all around this part of Taipei City. However, they are not very visible, and if you don't look carefully, chances are you won't even notice them. There are three reasons for this. First, they usually stand isolated among modern buildings, sometimes sandwiched between or hidden behind them. Second, they are usually surrounded by high walls. Third, they tend to be so decrepit and neglected that they lose much of their charm. 

Just a few days ago, I found a house that might be from the Japanese era. It is so far one of the best preserved I've seen, and apparently the building is being renovated, so we may hope that it won't be torn down for the sake of some new high-rise apartment block, of which Taipei has already more than enough. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Real or Fake News? - Mainland Chinese Boy Pees At Restaurant Inside Taipei 101

On October 19 Apple Daily published an article about a mainland boy who peed in public at the famous restaurant Ding Tai Feng (鼎泰豐, often spelt 'Din Tai Fung') inside Taipei 101. 

According to the report, at the beginning of October a group of 5 tourists from China's Shanxi province went to Ding Tai Feng, a chain of restaurants renowned for its xiaolongbao (小籠包, a kind of dumpling). During the meal, a 3-year-old boy had to pee and his mother let him urinate inside a plastic bottle in public. Although there is no toilet inside Ding Tai Feng, there is one just about 100 meters away from the restaurant but still inside Taipei 101. Allegedly, other customers saw that the boy had pulled down his pants to pee and felt shocked. Moreover, the boy 'missed his target' and sprinkled the table and the food. 

The group consisted of a 37-year-old mother and her two children, her 73-year-old father and her 41-year-old sister-in-law. They arrived at the restaurant at around 12:30 of October 2. When the incident occurred, the waiters didn't know how to handle the situation and called senior staff members with more experience. 

A spokesperson of the restaurant told the media that the waiters "immediately went to the table and told the customers how to get to the restrooms. They also reminded them that they [should] avoid disturbing the other customers." She added that the area of the restaurant where the mainland group had sat was disinfected after what had happened.

A mainland group leader defended the woman. "There's no reason to blow the thing out of proportion," she said. "This kind of thing will happen. It's the same on the mainland. The child is still very young, if he needs to pee there's nothing you can do. As a mother, you will sympathise with your child. I have children, too."

Friday, 10 October 2014

Tiu Keng Leng - A Former Guomindang Enclave in British Hong Kong

Tiu Keng Leng (調景嶺; pinyin: Tiáojǐnglǐng) is an area in Hong Kong's Sai Kung District. Today it is a modern neighbourhood with high-rise buildings and shopping malls, but in the past it used to be a settlement of Guomindang sympathisers and supporters of the Republic of China (ROC). 

Tiu Keng Leng is often called 'Rennie's Mill', after Alfred Herbert Rennie. Born in Canada in 1857, Rennie moved to Hong Kong in 1890. He found work as a clerk at the Government Public Works Department but he resigned in 1895 to start his own business. He wanted to build a flour mill, since Hong Kong imported flour from abroad at the time. He bought land at Junk Bay (Tseung Kwan O) and built his mill between 1905 and 1906. However, the business turned unprofitable and failed. Desperate and disillusioned, Rennie drowned himself in 1908 (Bard 2002, p. 234). 

The Chinese-speaking population henceforth called the area 吊頸嶺 (Tiu Keng Leng, literally "hanging neck ridge"). As the name was considered too inauspicious, it was later changed into the similar-sounding 調景嶺. 

As the ROC government collapsed during the Chinese Civil War and retreated to Taiwan in 1949, many Guomindang refugees and ROC supporters moved to Tiu Keng Leng from mainland China. A community arouse which was in many respects unique; it was a semi-autonomous Guomindang enclave made up of huts and improvised buildings constructed by the refugees for lack of government housing. It had its own schools, and flags of the ROC were displayed publicly as if the settlement had been part of the ROC.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Chinese Tourists - Good or Bad for Taiwan?

A few days ago I was walking from Taipei Main Station towards Gongguan, when I bumped into a big crowd at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Dozens of people were gathered around something which I at first couldn't see. I decided to stop for a while and take a closer look. 

I noticed that many people were taking pictures of two guards that were standing by a flagpole. Guards - I don't know if they are actual soldiers - are regularly stationed at the mausoleum of the former President of the Republic of China and perform daily ceremonies that have become major tourist attractions, as has the building itself, which is one of Taipei's most important landmarks. 

As I soon realised, a flag lowering ceremony was to be performed. The national anthem of the Republic of China was played. Then, the guards began the flag lowering ritual. While I was watching and taking pictures, I found that many, if not most people around me were mainland Chinese (I could tell from their accent). 

The number of mainland visitors in Taiwan has been growing steadily over the past few years, after the 2008 elected Guomindang government liberalised cross-strait tourism. Last year, 3 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan - a third of the total number of tourists. Between January and July of this year, 1.88 million mainlanders came to the island. While in the past tourists from the mainland were allowed to visit only as members of groups, at the end of June of this year individual travellers from selected Chinese cities have been permitted to visit Taiwan. The number of individual tourists has reached 625,000 in the first seven months of the year.

But is it a good thing for Taiwan?

Friday, 29 August 2014

"Little Thirds" (小三) - Taiwanese Businessmen and Chinese Mistresses

One day I went with a friend of mine to a nice coffee shop near the campus of National Taiwan University. I don't know how or why, but we began talking about family values. I don't recall the details of that conversation, but one scene I remember vividly as if it had happened yesterday. She smiled at me and said, "We are more responsible."

What she meant, of course, was that Taiwanese people care more about their families than Westerners. I have challenged this view several times, showing that terms like 'love' or 'responsibility' have different meanings in the West and in East Asia. In this and the next posts, I would like to talk about the phenomenon of the "little thirds" (xiaosan, 小三, also called 二奶), which, as I will show, derives from traditional East Asian concepts of family life.

In this post I will tell a few stories of Taiwanese businessmen who took mistresses during their stay in mainland China. In the second post I will show how "cross-strait families" (husband in China and wife in Taiwan) actually reinforce traditional values and social roles. In the third post I will provide ancient examples of concubinage, and in the fourth one I will explain the concept of "feeding", or "nurturing" (養) a mistress, and what this has to do with traditional family structures.

Nightclubs, 'Company Girls', and China's 'Little Taipei'



According to the Washington Post, in 2010 more than a million Taiwanese lived in mainland China, half of them in Shanghai, most of them for work. Stories of Taiwanese men who spend almost the whole year apart from their families in Taiwan are therefore not uncommon. And while men in East Asian countries may keep mistresses and concubines according to their financial possibilities, men who live far from their family and native social environment are often even more tempted to do so. 

As Taiwanese businessmen face tougher competition in China, they are also experiencing greater difficulties in keeping a mainland mistress. Since the economy of the mainland has developed rapidly, Taiwanese are no longer as wealthy as they used to be when compared with the local population. A Chinese mistress may demand a monthly allowance of 300,000 NTD (around 10,000 US dollars), which is more than many Taiwanese can afford. Many men can't make a "deal" with potential mistresses if they offer a lower price. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bao'an Temple (保安宮) in Taipei's Datong District

Bao'an Temple (保安宮, pinyin: Bǎo'āngōng) is one of the major temples of Taipei's Datong District. It is located on Hami Street, in an area known as Dalongdong, one of the oldest Han settlements in the Taipei Basin. Bao'an Temple is just a few minutes walk from the Confucius Temple, and close to Chen Yueji Residence as well as Yuanshan MRT Station

The first nucleus of Bao'an Temple was built in the 7th year of Emperor Qianlong (1742) by Han settlers from Tong'an, in Fujian Province. The temple is devoted to Baosheng Dadi (保生大帝, literally "Life Protector Great Emperor"), a deity of the Chinese pantheon worshipped in Fujian Province and Taiwan. As is often the case in Chinese folk religion, Baosheng Dadi is a deified historical figure, a doctor and Daoist practitioner surnamed Wu (吳), born in the village of Baoliao, near Xiamen, in Fujian Province. He is said to have performed medical miracles, and after his death in 1036 he began to be worshipped as a god. He was subsequently deified by emperors of the Song and Ming dynasties.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cisheng Temple (慈聖宮) in Taipei

Cisheng Temple (慈聖宮, pinyin: Císhènggōng; literally "Palace of kindness and holiness") is a temple located in Taipei's Datong District. Along with Xiahai Chenghuang (霞海城隍廟) and Fazhugong Temple (法主公廟), Cishenggong is one of the three major temples of Dadaocheng, an area of Datong which under Qing rule used to be a small port town outside of Taipei walled city. As one of the oldest parts of what is now Taipei City, Dadaocheng has retained its "Chinese" character, shaped by the immigrants who came to Taiwan from southern China over the centuries. 



Cisheng Temple was built in the 19th century by immigrants from Tong'an, a district of Xiamen city, in China's Fujian Province. It is devoted to the Sea Goddess Mazu, one of Taiwan's most popular deities. In imperial times, crossing the strait was dangerous and the Chinese settlers who went there often risked their lives; this explains why so many of them were eager to thank Mazu after they had started a new life on the island. At the beginning, the people from Tong'an lived in Mengjia, one of the oldest Han settlements of the Taipei Basin.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Chen Yueji Residence - Taipei Qing Dynasty Historic Site

The Chen Yueji Residence (陳悅記大厝, also called 陳悅記祖宅), commonly referred to as "Teacher's Mansion" (老師府), is one of Taipei's lesser known treasures. It is located on Yanping North Road, in Taipei City's Datong District. It is one of the few remaining residences built during the Qing Dynasty era. The residence is close to other major tourist attractions, such as the Confucius Temple. It can be reached on foot from Yuanshan MRT station



During the Qing Dynasty, the Chen Yueji Residence was part of Dadaocheng, which at that time was a city of its own. When the Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1895, they set about building a modern colonial capital. They tore down Taipei city walls as well as nearly all buildings constructed in Taipei walled city under the Qing. The only Chinese buildings that they did not destroy were four out of five city gates and a part of Taiwan provincial administration hall. On the ruins of Qing Taipei they created the government and business district of Jonai; an entirely modern, Western-inspired district where nothing Chinese was left that could awaken the Taiwanese people's nostalgia for their past. That part of the city still maintains its Japanese colonial structure. 

In the 1920s Jonai, Dadaocheng and Mengjia were united to form Taipei City. Dadaocheng and Mengjia were the more traditional and "Chinese" districts, where mostly native Taiwanese lived. That's why up to this day several Qing era buildings, especially temples, survive in these two areas, giving them a characteristically "Chinese" flair. 

The Chen Yueji Residence began to be built in the early 19th century by members of the Chen clan (陳氏) in the traditional style of a Chinese courtyard house. The Taiwanese branch of the family was established by Chen Wenlan (陳文瀾), a doctor who came to Taiwan from mainland China during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆; reigned from 1735 to 1796). Chen Wenlan's eldest son, Chen Xunjing (陳遜經), set up a store that sold ship components, since trade between mainland China and Taiwan prospered at the time. The store was called 'Chen Yueji' (陳悅記).

Monday, 18 August 2014

Taihoku: The Modern Capital - Taiwan Under Japanese Colonial Rule

We - the Westerners who have had the privilege to stay in Taiwan long enough to know it at least a little bit better than the occasional traveller - are not the first generation of foreigners who have been to this island and have had the chance to discover its treasures. Most of the people who came here long ago did not write down their impressions, feelings and observations, and their memories are now lost to us. Yet some of them did, passing on to future generations their invaluable knowledge and experience.

One of these Westerners was Owen Rutter (1889-1944), a British historian, novelist and travel writer, who visited Taiwan in the 1920s, during the Japanese colonial era. In this post I share with you the 7th chapter of Rutter's book Through Formosa, in which he describes Taipei (called Taihoku by the Japanese) and the general development of Taiwan as a colony. This part of the book is interesting for several reasons. 

First, it shows us the Taihoku of the 1920s from the perspective of a foreign traveller. Second, it sheds light on how the Japanese wanted their colonial capital and their colonial enterprise on Taiwan to be perceived by the outside world; in fact, Rutter's 'tour guides' were Japanese officials who, as a matter of fact, explained to him the development of Taihoku from their own point of view. Third, it proves how successful the Japanese colonial administration was in the eyes of Western imperialists; Rutter was very impressed by what Japan had achieved on the island in merely thirty years, believing that the Japanese were better colonisers than the British. 

Obviously, Rutter was a man of his times, and his thinking reflects prejudices and stereotypes of early 20th century Westerners (some of which still exist).

The following chapter is divided into sections. Some parts have been omitted to make the reading easier. 

***

Owen Rutter: Through Formosa - an Account of Japan's Island Colony. London 1923, Chapter VII



I.

We arrived at Taihoku in a blaze of glory. A host of officials was waiting for us on the platform as the train drew in; there seemed to be a never-ending procession of them as they were introduced, card in hand. Among them were Mr. Kamada, head of the Foreign Section (the immediate chief of Koshimura, who now effaced himself), Mr. Hosui, also of the Foreign Section and chief interpreter to the Governor-General, Mr. Yoshioka, an official of the Monopoly Bureau, and Major Akamatsu, who was on the Headquarters Staff of the Formosan garrison. All but the latter spoke English and all were very anxious to do everything they could for us. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Donghe Bell Tower and Soto Zen Temple in Taipei

One evening I was walking along Ren'ai Road (仁愛路), close to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, when suddenly I noticed a peculiar old building on my left. I was surprised because I had never seen it on any Taipei guide. On second thought, though, I wasn't sure whether it was an old building at all. It actually looked brand new. Was it one of those neoclassical oriental structures so beloved by the old KMT guard? After all, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, too, looks like an ancient building, but in fact it was constructed in the 1970s. 

I drew closer and saw that it was a bell tower. It stood lonely behind a huge high-rise building and next to a gloomy construction site. I looked around to see if there was any plaque that explained its history. I went into the archway at the centre of the tower. Suddenly I heard a coarse coughing and the sound of steps, and I stopped. An old man emerged from the other side of the tower. His scrawny upper body was naked, his skin was dark, and he looked as if he hadn't taken a shower in a while. In the distance I saw an improvised bed made out of several blankets. It was probably a homeless man that I had disturbed in his sleep. I turned around and decided to return another day.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Qing Dynasty Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall (臺灣布政使司衙門)

A few weeks ago on a Saturday I decided to go to Taipei Botanical Garden to take a walk and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Established during Japanese rule in 1921, the botanical garden is in itself a tourist attraction worth visiting. Located just a few minutes walk from Xiaonanmen MRT Station, the park has about 1,500 species of plants, and there are also animals such as frogs and squirrels. However, I didn't go there to enjoy the nature, but to see a building that I'd been wanting to visit for a long time.

It is a small, Chinese-style building, with a traditional curved tiled roof, white walls, and full of Chinese-style decorations. It is hard to believe that only a century ago, this structure stood in the middle of present-day downtown Taipei, on the location of today's Zhongshan Hall

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Foreigner Goes Berserk, Assaults Taiwanese Bus Driver

The case of a foreigner that assaulted and insulted a bus driver in Taoyuan has become a major piece of news in Taiwan yesterday.

On August 4, a US national of Taiwanese descent named Jason accused a bus driver of not halting at a stop. The driver, surnamed Chen, claimed that the passenger had not pressed the stop button on time, while Jason himself argues that he did. Jason was travelling with his pregnant wife. 

A female passenger sunamed Lin uploaded a video in which Jason can be seen shouting at the driver and threatening him. He can be distinctly heard saying to the driver: "I will f*** kill you, bitch". Jason was furious because the driver had not stopped after he pressed the button. He insulted him repeatedly. The word "f***" can be heard 17 times. Jason also demanded the driver apologise to him. Several elderly people intervened and apologised on behalf of the driver in order to soothe the man who had turned violent and had entirely lost his temper. 




Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Taiwanese Peeing in the Street, Chinese Peeing in the Street

Over the past few years Taiwanese and Hong Kong media have often exposed cases of mainland Chinese children urinating or defecating in public areas. The anger felt in Hong Kong and Taiwan against mainlanders' misbehaviour has even prompted China's Xinhua News Agency to publish "Six Guidelines and Six Taboos", a guide for Chinese tourists travelling outside the mainland. 

As I have argued in one of my posts, I believe that, although it is right to expose and criticise those individuals who misbehave, it is not acceptable to blame 1.3 billion people for the faults of a few. It is also necessary to try and understand the background of these people. Only a few decades ago, China was a predominantly poor and rural country, and old ways of life may have survived despite the country's recent economic development. Furthermore, it must be noted that in mainland China itself public urination and defecation has led to violent altercations. Admittedly, there seems to be a certain level of acceptance in China towards children who "can't hold" their urine any longer. This has probably to do with education. It can only be changed through public campaigns. A successful example of government-enforced bans of bad behaviour is Singapore, where public spitting has been outlawed (as it is considered a form of littering) as a habit that is not only unhygienic and could spread diseases, but may also hurt other people's sensitivities (see David A. Mackey: Crime Prevention, 2011, p. 393). 

As habits have changed and are changing in East Asia, so are they in the West, as well. Ross Coomber, professor of sociology at Plymouth University, once stated: "There are reports of people spitting in parliament right up to the end of the 19th century. I like to remind people that we were still building pubs in the 1930s with spitting troughs at the bottom of the bar." Smoking, too, used to be a universal habit tolerated in almost all public areas

Despite frequent complaints about mainlanders' misbehaviour, I must say that I have never witnessed any such case myself when I was in Hong Kong or during my brief stays in Beijing and Shanghai. I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of mainland tourists during my long walks in Central, Admiralty, Tsim Sha Tsui etc., but nothing strange ever happened.  

However, I have seen people urinating in public in Taiwan. Usually, I just look at them in astonishment and keep on walking. But yesterday, I decided to take a picture of a man who was peeing in the street near Guting MRT Station.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Modern Love, Confucian Values - The Case of Huang Yuting (婷婷)

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an article about Huang Yuting, commonly known as Tingting (婷婷), the ex-wife of Taiwanese actor Shao Xin (邵昕). The article appeared on the popular Taiwanese tabloid Apple Daily, a newspaper that often talks about the private lives of celebrities.

Tingting and Shao Xin divorced two years ago. This year, a friend introduced Tingting to a man who is now her boyfriend. They have been together for about half a year. He has already proposed to her and they are planning to get married. 

What interests me about this article is not the gossip. What I find fascinating is how Tingting and her boyfriend explain and articulate their relationship by using a mix of traditional Confucian values and of modern concepts of love. Let us examine the text a little closer. In an interview, Tingting stated:

There is almost no resistance [on the part of our families] to our being together. My mother likes him. His parents, too, have accepted me (我們在一起幾乎沒有阻力,我媽很喜歡他,他家人也接受我).

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

16-Year-Old Girl Uses LINE App to Organise Prostitution Business

As Apple Daily reported, a 16-year-old Taiwanese girl and her boyfriend have been arrested on charges of human trafficking after the police discovered they were using the popular social App LINE to lure customers. 

According to the newspaper, 16-year-old Xiaoya [fictitious name] used LINE, an app owned by the Korean company Naver, in order to lure male customers with whom she had sexual intercourse. Because her 'business' was increasingly successful, she couldn't handle it all by herself and decided to find other young girls to work for her. 

5 girls, all of them between 15 and 17 years old, agreed to have compensated dating for money. Xiaoya would contact the potential customers through LINE, and then would arrange a meeting with one of the girls. Each client paid 3000 NTD (around 75 Euros), of which Xiaoya took 50%. Xiaoya's boyfriend worked as a pimp and bodyguard for the girls. However, after one of the girls went to the police and claimed to have been sexually assaulted, the authorities launched an investigation and discovered the illegal business. Xiaoya and her boyfriend were arrested and face a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Experimental Farm of National Taiwan University

On one of Taipei's hot and sunny day there's nothing better than finding a shadowy place to take a rest and eating a delicious ice cream. If you're looking for a such a place you may consider visiting the campus of National Taiwan University (NTU).

About one and a half years ago a Taiwanese friend of mine showed me for the first time the campus. She took me to a small shop - a nice one-storey building with a few tables outside and protected from the sun by trees. She explained that all the products sold in that store are made through crops grown on NTU farmland. I bought an ice cream in that shop, and it was one of the best I've ever eaten (not surprisingly, on weekends, when many families go to the campus to walk and relax, this ice cream is often sold out).

The Affiliated Experimental Farm to the College of Bio-Resources and Agriculture of National Taiwan University, as it is officially called, is a place of teaching, research and practice for students of the said department as well as for students from nearby high-schools. It originated from the Practice Farm of Taihoku (Taipei) High School of Agriculture and Forestry, established in 1924 during the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945). 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Loss of Face for Taiwan? - 2 Taiwanese Tourists Damage Hotel in Japan

I am Taiwanese and I am working in a hot spring hotel in Japan. Our hotel cares a lot about Taiwanese people and we are very nice to them. Our hotel hopes to offer them a top-level service, and we also care about the habits and customs of our Taiwanese guests. However, yesterday evening two Taiwanese guests have repaid the kindness of the Japanese this way [shows the pictures of wrecked furniture]. Four Japanese-style doors and two windows in one of the rooms have been damaged. When we told the boss's wife about it she was so angry that she cried....

This is a passage from a Facebook post published by a Taiwanese user who calls herself MikiJuan. The post was soon shared thousands of times. Several Taiwanese newspapers wrote articles about it. Many netizens reacted angrily. "Taiwanese abroad should not do things that put Taiwan to shame"; "Tell us the names of these people so we can understand what kind of parents and schools taught them to do this sort of things"; one netizen who commented on Liberty Times Net wrote: "When did Taiwanese become like Chinese people? What a loss of face!

MikiJuan said that two Taiwanese were about 10 years old. Except for damaging hotel's property they were also seen putting their feet on the table. They had travelled to Taiwan with a tourist group, but their parents had not travelled with them. "Will our international etiquette (國際禮儀) allow us to be proud of saying 'I am Taiwanese'?" she asked. "I just hope that after seeing this Taiwanese people will think about that." She added that the two Taiwanese had apologised and paid for the damage.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Two-Faced Friends - Discovering a Person's Other Self

One day I searched the name of a friend of mine on Facebook. She'd been having a difficult time and I wanted to send her a message to ask how she was doing. But when I typed her name into the search bar not one, but two profiles appeared: the one which was familiar to me, and another one, of which I'd known nothing. 

This person - I'll call her J. - had always been nice to me and we spent quite a lot of time together (she is not Taiwanese; I met her in another Asian country). She had told me quite a lot about her personal life, but since we'd been knowing each other for just a few months I was aware that I did not know her deeply. 

She had always acted in a cute, friendly and open way, and she seemed very well-behaved and quiet. Her Facebook profile reflected my impressions of her. But, as often happens, people are not what they seem, and what they show to others is not necessarily how they really are, but how they want to be perceived. 

As I looked at her second Facebook account I was astonished. Not only was she in a relationship (something she had never mentioned to me, but, of course, why should she, as we are just friends?) But two other things were strange: her job was not exactly what she had told me, and she had joined several night club groups - and when I say night clubs, I mean the kind which advertise themselves through pictures of half-naked girls. Among her friends there were many girls with heavy make-up and sexy dresses.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The 'USA Taiwan Government' Occupies Taiwan's Provincial Government Building

In the afternoon of July 7 two tourist coaches took around 200 supporters of the USA Taiwan Government (UTG, Chinese: 美國台灣政府) to the seat of the Taiwan Provincial Government located in Zhongxing Xincun (中興新村) in Nantou County. The leader of the UTG, Cai Mingfa (蔡明法), and his followers entered the building through the toilet and occupied it. They raised a banner of the UTG in the office of the Governor of Taiwan Province, Lin Zhengze (林政則), who was in Yilan that day. 

Cai Mingfa declared: "We should not allow the government-in-exile of the Republic of China (流亡的中華民國政府) to use illegal and violent methods against the Taiwanese people. We urge the Taiwanese people to regain possession of their own rights."

The UTG was founded on April 25, 2013, in Washington DC by Cai Mingfa, a 58-year-old native of Guanmiao District (關廟區), Tainan City. He lived in the USA for 11 years and has an American passport. 

The UTG believes that the legal status of Taiwan after World War II was never determined in favour of the Republic of China (ROC), and that the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty as well as the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty of 1952 do not explicitly state that Taiwan is part of the ROC. They therefore believe that Taiwan is still under the occupation of the United States, and that the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act sanctions Washington's military protection of the island. The UTG has 2000 members. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

My Friend Was Assaulted in Australia

Today I'm really angry. A friend of mine just told me that she was assailed by a man, who not only robbed her, but also punched her, apparently without any reason. She is a flight attendant and was spending a day in Perth after a flight. At around 5 pm the man assaulted her, took her shopping bag and hit her. Her eye was badly injured and now it's displaced. She may need surgery to fix it. 

I feel so sorry because I cannot do anything for her. Actually, she is really brave and perhaps she doesn't even need my help. But I'm just so upset. I didn't expect something like this to happen in Australia, let alone in the afternoon. She went to the police, and they told her that such crimes usually don't happen in that area of the city. But they couldn't do anything. 

My stay in Hong Kong wouldn't have been so great if I hadn't met her. She showed me a lot of interesting places and was always very nice to me. I can't believe that someone has done this to her. I really hope that she will recover as soon as possible, and that the Australian police may catch and punish that man. 

We should always be careful when we travel. I myself have been involved in dangerous situations a few times. Once, I was waiting for a night train in Heidelberg, Germany. The platform was empty. Then a man came. He was carrying two huge black bags and had a foreign accent. He asked me where I was going. After chatting for a few minutes, he asked me if he could travel with me (that is. I said my ticket was just for one person and there was my name on it. But he insisted. Luckily, the train approached and we got in. When the guards came, the man said that I had his ticket and we were travelling together. I explained that that wasn't true and showed the guards my ticket. Suddenly, the man jumped out of his seat and shouted at me: "You f*** Italian! You're just a cheap, f*** Italian!". The guards had to call the border police and took him away. 


Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Armed Forces Museum of the Republic of China (Taiwan)

A couple of days ago I was walking from Ximending to Taipei Main Station when suddenly I came across a number of ... cannons and bombshells - an unusual sight in the middle of the city. I took a closer look at them and, after reading an explanation label, I realised I was standing in front of the Armed Forces Museum (AFM; Chinese: 國軍歷史文物館, literally: Museum of the Historical Relics of the National Army).


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Taipei Before and Now - Hengyang Road from the Qing Dynasty to the Present

At first sight Hengyang Road (衡陽路) doesn't seem to be a particularly interesting street. You are indeed unlikely to even notice it, immersed as it is in the jungle of buildings and roads in Taipei Main Station area. However, the appearance is deceptive. In fact, Hengyang Road is a fascinating example of all the changes and upheavals Taipei has gone through over the last two hundred years. 

In the late Qing era, Hengyang Road was known as "Stone Memorial Archway Street" (石坊街) because of the memorial arch that stood there. In the picture below, you can see the arch, whose name was Commonweal Memorial Arch (急公好義坊). At the end of the road, you can still see the West Gate (Ximen), which was demolished by the Japanese in 1905. The picture also shows the structure of typical Qing Dynasty streets of Taipei, with the simple two-storey buildings and the tile roofs. 



The Commonweal Memorial Arch was built on the 13th year of the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (1887) to commemorate Hong Tengyun (洪騰雲). Hong was an immigrant from Quanzhou Prefecture in Fujian Province. He came to Taiwan as a 13-year-old boy in 1824, following his father, a merchant who settled down in Bangka (or Mengjia, 艋舺) and became wealthy thanks to his thriving business with Quanzhou and Xiamen. 

He and his son were known for their social engagement. In 1880 Hong Tengyun donated a sum of money to Taipei so as to build an examination hall (考棚) in the northeastern part of Taipei Walled City (close to present-day Taipei Main Station). In 1887, the Governor of Taiwan Liu Mingchuan petitioned the Guangxu Emperor to allow him to build a Memorial Arch in honour of Hong Tengyun. 

The Commonweal Memorial Arch still exists, but it is now in a different place. When the Japanese built the Taipei Park (now 228 Peace Park) in 1908, they moved the memorial arch next to one of the park's entrances.