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Showing posts from 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 …

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 passio…

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 earl…

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 ChaiIn 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 throug…

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. 

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. Unfortuna…

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 hap…

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).�…

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 pr…

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 …

Hong Kong Chief Executive Once Again Blames Occupy Central On 'External Forces'. But Where Are The Proofs?

In a televised interview on Sunday, Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, has once again accused foreigners of interfering in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movements.
"There is obviously participation by people, organisations from outside of Hong Kong, in politics in Hong Kong, over a long time," he said. "This is not the only time when they do it, and this is not an exception either."
Whenever I read or hear this kind of opinion, I feel blood rising to my head. 
First of all, what proofs does he have in order to make such an accusation? Who are the people and the organisations outside of Hong Kong that are behind the pro-democracy movements? Certainly, some foreign individuals have taken part in Occupy Central. But there is not one leader of the movement that is a foreigner, and virtually all protesters are Hong Kongers. Now, if Leung makes such an accusation, the people should demand that he proves the link between the leaders of Occupy Central as well a…

Video of Chinese Mother Beating Her Child Sparks Outrage

Is corporal punishment a good method for teaching children how to behave? Or is it just a way for impatient and frustrated parents to unload their negative emotions on defenceless children? 
Just a few days ago I was walking on a street in Taipei and I saw a mother who kept yelling at her young daughter. Then she suddenly hit the child across the face so hard that her cheek immediately reddened. I do not know exactly why the mother was so upset, but slapping her daughter in the middle of the street and in front of everybody doesn't seem to me a good way to teach anything. Passers-by, of course, saw what happened, and some looked slightly shocked. But as this is considered a private family matter no one would have dared interfere or even show too much attention. The child will have to learn to submit.
As I have explained in one of my posts, corporal punishment used to be common in East Asia and is still relatively widespread, though not as much as before. However, mild forms of aggre…

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…

Taiwanese Policeman Killed by Mob Outside Nightclub in Taipei's Xinyi District

On September 14 Xue Zhenguo (薛貞國), a 38-year-old police detective, was beaten do death during an altercation with several members of a criminal gang near ATT 4 FUN, a shopping mall and recreation centre in Taipei's Xinyi District.
According to 'Apple Daily', the causes of the incident date back to September 13, when a man named Zeng Weihao (曾威豪), his girlfriend Liu Xintong (劉芯彤), and three other people went to SPARK, a famous nightclub inside ATT 4 FUN. Customers at a nearby table complained that the group was too loud, and a fight broke out between them. The nightclub's security intervened and forced Zeng and his friends to leave the premises. Zeng was enraged and vowed to settle the score. "We are from the Hetang*," he said, "we'll teach you a lesson."
*(和堂, pinyin: Hétáng, is a subgroup of the notorious Bamboo Gang, one of Taiwan's most powerful criminal syndicates)
The 28-year-old Zeng Weihao immediately went to his friend Xiao Ruihong (蕭叡鴻…

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 numbe…

"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 &q…

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 g…

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 …

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 distric…

Jackie Chan's Son Jaycee and Taiwanese Star Ke Zhendong Arrested in Beijing for Drug Use

Yesterday the Beijing police confirmed that Jaycee Chan (房祖名; Fang Zuming), the son of martial arts film star Jackie Chan, and Taiwanese Actor Ke Zhendong (柯震東, also spelt Ko Chen-tung in Taiwan's Wade-Giles system) were arrested on August 14 in the Chinese capital on charges of drug use. 
The 23-year-old Ke Zhendong had achieved notoriety on both sides of the Taiwan Strait with the 2011 romantic film You Are the Apple of My Eye (那些年,我們一起追的女孩, literally "Those Years, The Girl We Chased Together"). Ke is accused of drug consumption and faces 14 days in prison. 
Jaycee Chan, however, is accused of a much more serious crime. The police found in his Beijing residence 100 grams of marijuana which was probably destined for other people's consumption. He faces a prison sentence of up to 4 years.

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 perspec…

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 look…

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.

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. 



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 cer…

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).

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 assau…