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Showing posts from April, 2014

Zhongshan Hall - A Witness To Taipei's History

Zhongshan Hall is probably one of those buildings in Taipei that most tourists won't even notice. Despite being located in the heart of Taipei, just a few minutes walk from Ximending, and around 10-15 minutes from Taipei North Gate, Zhongshan Hall is not a major tourist attraction. The square in front of the building is – surprisingly enough in the bustling city - one of those relaxing and quiet areas that have preserved their clean, calm Japanese-era atmosphere. 

Contrary to what one may expect, however, Zhongshan Hall is a very important place in the history of Taipei, and thus I think it's worth dedicating a separate post to it.
Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) is located on Yanping South Road (延平南路), which during the Qing Dynasty was called North Gate Road (北門街). This long street ran from North Gate down to the Qing government district. In fact, from North Gate one could walk directly to Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall (布政使司衙門). This shows that the place where now Zhongshan Hall s…

Taipei Post Office (台北郵局)

The Taipei Post Office is located in Zhongxiao West Road, just a few minutes walk from Taipei Main Station, and opposite lightly to the left of the North Gate.
Immersed in Taipei's concrete jungle, the post office can be easily overlooked by first-time visitors. Unfortunately, this destiny is shared by many buildings of that area, which during the Qing Dynasty constituted Taipei Walled City, and under Japanese rule was the centre of the colonial capital.


James W. Davidson's "The Island of Formosa" and Liu Mingchuan's Modernisation of Taiwan

While I was writing my last post about Taipei Main Station and preparing the next one about Taipei Post Office, I realised it is impossible to talk about Taipei's modern infrastructure without some background knowledge of the modernisation efforts of the last two decades of Qing rule in Taiwan. Those decades seem to us so far away, both because little of what was built then still exists, and because in the meantime many things have happened which have changed Taiwan profoundly. However, they are an integral part of the island's complex history.

Luckily, some books written in those crucial decades can help bring back an era that has almost sunk into oblivion. One of them is The Island of Formosa, Past and Present, by James Wheeler Davidson (1872 – 1933). The book, published in 1903, is a fascinating account of the history, economy and society of Taiwan, as seen through the eyes of a writer who lived in the country during the transition from Chinese to Japanese rule.

J.W. Davids…

Taipei Main Station

I remember my first hours in Taiwan. When I arrived at Taoyuan Airport I went to buy a sim card for my phone, and then a ticket to Taipei Main Station. It was 5 pm, the sky was cloudy, and the weather hot and humid (at that time it was shocking to me that the weather could be like that in November). A bus driver shouted at me in Chinese, asking me where I was going. Then he pointed at an old bus. Hoping that my Chinese pronunciation - which I tested for the first time - had not betrayed me, I boarded the bus, and so began my adventure. 
I still recall the excitement and nervousness of those moments. I looked outside the bus window, trying to see as much as possible as we drove through the outskirts of Taipei and entered the city. I couldn't believe that I was really in Asia, so far away from Europe, in a country where everyone spoke Chinese and where I was truly a foreigner.
Around two hours later - the bus was quite slow and there was a lot of traffic - the electronic display final…

The Blogging Therapy

For over a year blogging has been part of my daily life. Before going to Taiwan I had never thought about blogging. When I was still in Berlin and planning my first trip to Taipei, a Chinese friend of mine told me that I should start a blog so I could keep my friends in Germany and Italy updated about my new adventure. But I had no idea how to write a blog, and at that time I had no interest in it, either. 
Perhaps I should have started to write a blog in those days of euphoria, when Taiwan was an entirely new and exotic place to me, when I had so many emotions and felt so much enthusiasm. I used to update my private Facebook page, instead. I had never used Facebook so much before, and I turned my life in Taiwan into a sort of show. In hindsight, I think that show was a technique of self-persuasion. 
While at the beginning I felt as if Taiwan would be my new home and I was passionate about it, after a few months I became much more sober and disenchanted. I began to see many aspects of T…

Taiwan, Europe and the Problem of Nationalism

Recently I have been criticised by some people because I used the term "Taiwanese nationalism", which to some apparently sounds too negative. 
In this post, I will briefly explain what I mean by nationalism and why I am in principle sceptical about it. I am not arguing that nationalism is not a legitimate ideal. But I view nationalism as very problematic; first, because it presupposes a collective identity and the subordination of the individual to the community; second, because the "nation" itself can hardly be defined rationally and objectively.
I won't be using any academic material as reference this time; since I want to respond to recent critical comments, I didn't have time to write down any quotations. This post will just be a blueprint, perhaps to use in the future for a more detailed analysis. 
The Problem of the Nation
On April 2, 2014, the Italian police arrested a group of Venetian separatists who allegedly were plotting to commit terrorist acts (no…

The Sunflower Movement, the Media, and Showbusiness

Popular protests in the digital age are made half on the streets and half online. Whether a political movement is successful or not, whether it is supported by a large number of people or not, depends on how the media depict it, and on how skillfully the protesters use the most formidable peaceful weapon of our time, the internet. 
While I was following the events around Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, I felt like a man who goes out to take a nice walk in th park, but ends up in the middle of an unbearably noisy and smoggy highway full of cars. There's just too much information around, there are too many different interpretations, and, above all, too many people shouting and screaming, arguing that they - and they alone - are right, and those who disagree are the absolute evil and do not represent anybody. 
The protesters claim that they represent Taiwan, that they love Taiwan, and that they want to save Taiwan. Therefore, whoever agrees with the trade pact, or whoever disagrees wi…