Tag Archives: Taiwan

A Taiwan Fairy Tale


New words by Stuart Hill. Drawings by Yu Sha, taken without permission from “Across the Taiwan Strait” published by the Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, ROC, June 2004.

Taiwan Strait

Once upon a time there were two families living on either side of a river. The father of one family, Little Brother was now living in Minorland. He left home decades earlier after a huge fight with this older brother, Big Brother.

They shared a common family history, language, and heritage. But after so many years they had grown apart and many of their similarities had evolved into significant differences of opinion. In fact, while they agreed they needed to talk to each other at times, and other members of their extended families got on much better, they couldn’t bring themselves to deal with each other too often and too directly. It was hard for them to be friendly for more than a few minutes at a time.

What made things hard was that the Big Brother from Mainland always thought he was right, no matter what Little Brother from Minorland had to say.

cross strait relations

Of course there was always hope that one day the two brothers would resolve their arguments, and that both brothers could be closer to each other. In fact many extended family members were hoping that day would come sooner than later.

The biggest problem between the two was that their life experiences had become very different. Even their lifestyles and values had developed over the years in strikingly different directions.

cross strait good will

As a result, each of the brothers’ families had also grown up with differing ways of seeing the world. They seemed to have fundamentally opposing views on a whole range of sensitive issues. This atmosphere made it hard for the brothers to reconcile, and in turn their problems had a negative impact on those of their other family members.

Missiles pointed at Taiwan

Big Brother from Mainland was always the bully, acting aggressively ever time the two brothers had a disagreement over something; even a trivial issue. Over the years an acute level of competition had grown between the two. There were even times when Big Brother used his influence outside the family to prevent Little Brother from attending events and travelling. Of course, this made Little Brother very unhappy, but he felt powerless to respond or resist, especially when Big Brother would say: “Nobody cares about you!”

Sometimes it was hard for Little Brother to believe otherwise.

Taiwan precluded from international bodies

After many years of anger and animosity, Little Brother decided to improve his relations with Big Brother. He proposed an ongoing conversation in the hope that Big Brother could be persuaded to see things from his point of view.

Big Brother was open to a new conversation. He believed that any chance to talk would bring Little Brother one step closer to following Big Brother’s direction. Little Brother was confident that his views were right, but not very confident that Big Brother would listen.

Cross strait dialogue

When they finally started talking Big Brother seemed to be willing to listen. Little Brother also said he was prepared to listen. For a while there was a lot of goodwill between the two. Big Brother felt his decision to talk to Little Brother had been justified, even though he still disagreed with the lifestyle and attitudes of Little Brother’s Minorland family.

Big Brother explained that other families from Minorland had returned to Mainland, and they were living happily ever after. Big Brother explained that as long as he followed his house rules, Little Brother could still have his own lifestyle if he wanted to return home.

One China two systems

Although Little Brother had a lot of sympathy for Big Brother’s ideas, he understood that deep down Big Brother would find it hard to keep his side of the bargain. He’d seen other families in similar situations start off well, but eventually both sides felt frustrated and annoyed, and arguments would quickly erupt.

peace and stability framework

In the end Little Brother said he would agree to disagree. He hoped that Big Brother would start to see things his way a bit more, and that he was optimistic that over time, Big Brother would understand why Little Brother was the way he was, and why he preferred to keep the lifestyle that he had built with his family over all these years.

Big Brother lost his patience. He couldn’t understand why Little Brother was so belligerent. He pleaded and threatened, pronounced terrible things would happen to Little Brother and his home on Minorland.

Hope for the future of the Taiwan Straits

While he could see that Big Brother was unable to accept this position, Little Brother still held out the hope that one day they would again be better off – and that eventually the old disagreements would be forgotten.

Little Brother could see a time when the conflict between each side of the family was resolved. He only had to wait…

hope for peace on each side of the strait

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Top Taipei Day Trips: Taiwan’s Towns of Gold


JiuFen’s sister town JinGuaShi offers an intriguing historical hike around KeeLung Mountain. Exploring the area’s mining past can be stretched into a whole day of outdoor adventure.

By Stuart Hill

If there was any place in Taiwan deserving the description ghost town, it must have been the twin towns of JiuFen and JinGuaShi in the 1970s. The once prosperous mining towns – bankrupt and abandoned – were now eroding ruins on the side of Keelung Mountain. No doubt also haunted by those poor souls caught in mine accidents and the documented persecution at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. No wonder this bleak and tragic hideaway was such a lure for a nascent artistic community of the time.

Golden Waterfall, JinGuaShi

Seeming to emerge directly from the mountain, the Golden Waterfall gets its name from the iron and copper deposits that are leaching down the mountain and out to the sea below. It’s a beautiful sight close to sunset. The water is highly toxic.

While JiuFen has received all the fame and commercial attention of two films based around the streets of the old town, the JinGuaShi side of KeeLung Mountain today provides a far better historical journey, back to pre-Japanese days and the discovery of gold and then later to the mining of silver and copper in the area.

For a time, JinGuaShi was Asia’s equivalent to the gold rush towns of San Francisco and Australia’s Ballarat. It’s estimated that 80,000 people were living in the area. To put that in context, the number is about double the current population of the entire RuiFang District of which JiuFen and JinGuaShi are just a part.

Night in JinGuaShi

Far less commercial than the sister town of JiuFen, JinGuaShi has a sleepy hamlet like feel, especially at night.

When the Japanese colonized Taiwan, they controlled the mining rights, dividing access between two Japanese businesses. Ultimately JiuFen represented the less profitable side of KeeLung Mountain and was later sold off to various local interests, which goes some way to explain how much of a mess the place is today.

However, the Gold Ecological Park represents the section of KeeLung Mountain that was maintained under the control of the Tanaka Group until 1945, after which it was taken over by the KMT. The grounds surrounding the Japanese-built structures, including a residence for Japan’s Crown Prince, have a feeling of a small and planned town, and well worth exploring.

JinGuaShi Crown Prince Residence

Given the glittering prize that JinGuaShi must have represented to the Japanese throne, the simple yet restful residence was never occupied by the Crown Prince himself. The restored building is not open to the public, only the surrounding garden.

There are places to eat inside the park, so it is possible to spend a morning hiking up past the HuangChin Waterfall then onto Cyuanji Temple, then grab lunch before exploring the park itself.

The Museum of Gold provides a history of mining in the region, placed within the context of gold mining throughout China and other parts of the world. The centerpiece of the museum is a huge gold bar – which you can touch beneath thick glass – whose fluctuating value is indicated on the display. Entry to the museum is free.

Museum of Gold Ingot

A major attraction at the Museum of Gold inside the Gold Ecological Park is this huge gold ingot — apparently the world’s biggest, weighing 220 kg.

Next to the museum is the entrance to a section of one of the original mine shafts, BenShan No. 5 Mine. Inside you’ll quickly appreciate the kinds of conditions the miners worked under, including how wet working in these tunnels must have been. The local area is said to have over 600 km of tunnels — some even reaching below sea level — and if that is the case the whole mountain must be a honeycomb of shafts and tunnels. There is a model in the museum that illustrates these structures.

Above the Gold Ecological Park are the remains of a shinto shrine which requires a steep climb of about 20 minutes to access. It has a good view looking out to sea.

Kinkaseki POW Camp

The extraordinary sight of this war memorial for Japan’s prisoners of war, should on second thoughts come as little surprise, considering the vital role Taiwan played in building the Japanese Eastern Economic Sphere of Prosperity. That Taiwan housed 15 POW camps in places like XinDian, TaiChung and JinGuaShi is a somewhat forgotten piece of World War II history.

Back down the hill, just down from the Cyuanji temple, is a memorial to the World War II POWs that were brought to concentration camps established by the Japanese across Taiwan. The camps housed westerners captured after the fall of Singapore and other places. There were 15 camps spread across Taiwan, with over 4300 prisoners held captive in total. Those in JinGuaShi were put to work mining copper and many died from the severe conditions. The memorial lists all those who were incarcerated in Taiwan by the Japanese.

Ecological Park Cafes

The Gold Ecological Park in JinGuaShi houses a number of places to eat and drink. The food is simple, but you can’t beat the view (except from the Shinto Shrine further up the hill). There is also a tranquil cafe on the level above and behind the post office.

Other areas of the mountain still retain evidence of their industrial past. Of particular note are the long chimneys that stretch from the bottom of the mountain around the ruins of the metal refineries, to the top of the mountain ridge. Many are collapsed, but you can still see how they snake their way up the steep slopes.

More info on Taiwan’s towns of gold:

  • If you are travelling by bus you can catch the 788 from KeeLung or the 1062 from ZhongXiao FuXing MRT station (new Sogo) — the last bus leaves JinGuaShi at 9:30pm on weekdays, 8:40 pm on weekends
  • Check out Richard Saunders book Taipei Escapes 1 on his day hike to the Gold Ecological Park (available in Eslite bookstores)
  • Gold Ecological Park website
  • Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society
JinGuaShi Refinery

Below and to the left of the Golden Waterfall (assume you are climbing up the mountain) are remains of various buildings from when JinGuaShi was a place for mining copper. These days the buildings are in ruins, but photograph nicely.

Chinese Flash-point: Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands


You don’t need to be a military historian to appreciate the part that Kinmen has played across centuries of conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Among several good reasons why you must visit, Kinmen’s rich military history and the evidence of war that still remains today are well worth seeing for yourself.

By Stuart Hill

When journalists talk about Taiwan as an Asian flash-point, what springs to mind is a theoretical naval blockade, a high-tech hack, or medium range missile attack from China. What triggers this violence is usually described as the result of Taiwan’s belligerence over the one-China principle.

Chiang Kai Shek Keeps Kinmen

A triumphant Chiang Kai Shek greets the troops after the bitterly fought battle of GanNingTou. The conflict helped re-define the map between Communist and Nationalist China.

But rewind 60 years or so and the context is quite different, and far less diplomatic. By 1949, the Communist Party’s success in consolidating its power and ridding most of China of foreign control was all but complete, with Hong Kong (Britain), Macao (Portugal) and Taiwan (Japan) the main unfinished parts yet to fix.

Kinmen Houses

Kinmen houses – like this abandoned western-style mansion – were retrofitted for use as battlements in case of invasion, with spy holes and rifle holes built into the walls and on roofs. Some houses still show the evidence of being in the line of enemy fire.

Hong Kong and Macau would be left for another day. The only thing stopping Taiwan’s integration was the remnants of China’s Nationalist Party (KMT) and the retreating population of KMT supporters “split” by the Chinese civil war.

The KMT had withdrawn from the Chinese “mainland” across these islands to the larger base of Taiwan. But in the meantime, the islands of Matsu and Kinmen had become the new front lines in defense of the Chinese Nationalist government “on Taiwan”.

Kinmen Anti-ship Spikes

While much of the obvious (and low-tech) defenses built during the 1950s to 60s have been removed, there are still some remnants of the most basic forms of defense, like these anti-ship spikes embedded along the beach.

Dug into the rocks of islands just 2 kilometers off the coast of southern China’s Xiamen city, the KMT military had appropriated Kinmen’s islands, turning them into fortresses from which to block any onslaught from across the narrow strait.

Kinmen tunnels

The KMT soldiers were extremely industrious in turning the Kinmen islands into a warren of tunnels and caves, such as these coastal defenses used to house ships.

In 1949, the Communists mounted an aggressive multi-pronged attack, with the bay around GanNingTou receiving the bulk of the assault. The KMT defended their position. The bloody result in effect drew a line in the sand, marking the political boundaries for what became the separation of “the two sides of the Taiwan strait” which exists to this day.

3 Spirits of Kinmen

The KMT military machine provided lots of reminders about what it meant to defend Kinmen. Inside this local bomb shelter is a sign outlining on the right the “Spirit of Kinmen” in three principles: 1. Don’t fear the bitterness of life; 2. Don’t fear the difficulty of work: 3. Don’t fear death from battle.

For centuries Xiamen’s Golden Gate, Kinmen, had been a form of defense from marauding pirates, a district of FuJian. Kinmen’s local inhabitants had come from China in various waves, and had used the opening of Xiamen to international trade as an opportunity to find new fortunes overseas.

Yet as the KMT retreated, Kinmen was remodeled for a drawn out war, with tunnels, excavated caves, bomb shelters, anti-ship spikes, landmines, anti-parachute spikes, and all sorts of artillery added to the landscape.

Kinmen Bomb Shelters and Tunnels

Based on personal observation, it seems that every second Kinmen house had an entrance to a bomb shelter or a tunnel leading to one in their backyard or basement. This tunnel leads from within a museum building to the other side of the local community, roughly 10 minutes walk underground.

In 1958, the Communists mounted another major assault on Kinmen’s islands,  and the Matsu islands further north as well. For 44 days Kinmen was bombarded with over 470,000 artillery shells.

Generally speaking local life was tough with restrictions in place throughout a roughly 40 year period of martial law. Military regulation was even more severe than that experienced in Taiwan itself.

There were nightly blackouts and curfews, limitations on travel, banning of objects that could be used as flotation devices. In the early days of KMT occupation, soldiers were billeted to families to make up for a shortfall in accommodation.

Food and drink was relatively scarce. Jobs and social responsibilities were geared to the key goal of preparing the island for an imminent communist invasion. There was a booming prostitution business on the island to satisfy the needs of the 30,000 soldiers based there.

Kinmen brothels and prostitution

Government sanctioned brothels or “tea houses” were a booming business from the early 50s right up to the 1970s. Each brothel was classified according to quality, with higher ranking officers able to get the best choice of comfort women. Government regulations limited each soldier to 30 minutes of pleasure.

This tense atmosphere and highly controlled environment was still in place right up to the early 1990s, at which time Marshal Law was lifted. For the decade or so before that, the rest of Taiwan was experiencing its heady boom phase as an Asian Tiger economy.

Kinmen Speakers

This concrete work of art – located in close proximity to the battlefield of GanNingTou – is a massive speaker composed of dozens of loud speakers projecting music across to the people of Xiamen, about 2 kilometers away. In less friendlier days it probably conveyed more strident threats about imminent counter-invasion.

Today, Kinmen still has a lot of its military history intact and on display, which offers a kind of tribute and reminder to the struggles of both the people of Kinmen and the Chinese Nationalist Party.

At the same time, the island’s ongoing role in the strategic defense of the areas of Taiwan, Penghu, and Matsu remains hidden away from public view.

Taipei Escape: 5 Reasons to Visit Taiwan’s Kinmen


A trip to Taiwan’s outlying island of Kinmen (金門) helps explain many of the convoluted plot twists in the story of Taiwan’s troubled relations with China. An intriguing must-visit on many levels, a lot of evidence of Kinmen’s complex history is available for all to see. 

by Stuart Hill

If the over-arching story of Taiwan is about how its people have dealt with its geographic location and strategic position in the paths of far more ambitious global powers, then Kinmen (spelt JinMen in pinyin) epitomizes this perilous state.

Stuck on the doorstep of China’s southern coast, Kinmen has been more heavily impacted by the fluctuating relationships of external powers and international trade than arguably Taiwan’s mainland island has ever been.

Kinmen's Proximity to China

At night, the lights of XiaMen sparkle brightly on the horizon. But it’s the flight in from Taipei that highlights just how close Kinmen is to China’s XiaMen.

The group of islands and rock outcrops that constitute Taiwan’s Kinmen have in the last few centuries fallen under the control of China’s KMT, the Japanese, Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, and various families involved in trade before that.

Modern Kinmen is still a relatively under-developed countryside dotted with groups of urban communities and linked by well-constructed cross-island boulevards built primarily as military transport infrastructure.

Today, while direct transport links between Kinmen and XiaMen draw in boat loads of tour groups from the China side, visitors from Taipei can arrive via a 1 hour flight out of SongShan Airport.

Although the local government is doing its bit to expand the appeal of Kinmen as an eco-tourism attraction, in any case, a key reason to visit is the mix of southern Chinese history, culture, architecture, and cuisine, you’ll find all over the island group.

Kinmen's JuGuang Tower

For Taiwanese, JuGuang Tower is arguably the most famous building on Kinmen; it is at least the most over-exposed Kinmen subject for stamps issued by the ROC. As well as viewing the small museum’s artifacts and climbing to the roof balcony, visitors can watch a light show projected onto the building each night.

Here are just 5 of the many reasons to visit Taiwan’s Kinmen:

1. Kinmen’s Role in the KMT’s War History

Kinmen's Military History

Given that the battle for Kinmen represented the Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT’s, last stand against the communists, it is impossible to avoid the weight of Kinmen’s importance in the KMT’s military legacy. This painting is one of many at the GuNingTou (Battle) War History Museum. From residential bunkers to sea tunnels to anti-ship spikes, and more, there are many other examples of Kinmen’s past military struggles.

 

2. Kinmen’s Fujian Style Architecture & B&Bs

Kinmen's Fujian Architecture

Kinmen’s excellent examples of traditional Fujian houses are dotted across the island in large ‘clan’ communities. Many have been restored and converted into B&Bs by local families. There is a comprehensive explanation of the architectural styles at the ZhongShanLin Tourism Center that’s well worth a visit.

 

3. Kinmen’s Long Connection With South-East Asia

Kinmen's Connection to South East Asia

Following China’s ignominious defeat in the Opium Wars, Xiamen was opened as a trading port in goods and labor. As a result of this accelerated trade between China and South-East Asia, many Kinmen men sailed south. Of those that made a success as laborers and traders, many repatriated earnings back to their home towns. The result was a boom in construction of Western-influenced residences across the island. This photo is of Chen Cheng-lan’s residence built in 1921, who made money in Singapore and in running shipping between Kinmen and Xiamen. The building was later used as a military hospital and entertainment center.

 

4. Kinmen’s Locally Produced Sorghum Wine (Kinmen Kaoliang)

Sorghum on Kinmen

Kinmen’s sorghum was originally grown to create a local revenue-generating spirits industry while also helping to reduce the cost of importing alcohol for the resident troops. Today, you can purchase sorghum spirits from the Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor company all throughout Taiwan — but you might feel more inclined to visit their factory showroom and store. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised to encounter the strong scent of fermenting crops in various parts of the island.

 

5. Kinmen’s Wind Lion God Statues of Protection

Kinmen's Wind Lion God

Reportedly deforested by Zheng Cheng-Gong during the Ming dynasty, Kinmen’s relatively flat and small size make it vulnerable to strong winds that blow across the Taiwan Strait. To help protect their crops, and in hope of tranquil seas, locals have traditionally called on the Wind Lion God for relief. Today you’ll find over 100 statues spread across the island, usually facing the worst wind-affected areas. Finding these statues is a treasure hunt in itself, as their shape, size, style, and locations vary.

 

Tips on travelling to Kinmen:

  • Plan for 2-3 or even 4 nights to cover most of the sights on the main Kinmen island — choosing between your preference of military history, local architecture, nature watching, and local cuisine
  • Be prepared for cool nights and scorching day-time sun, especially during summer. Winds can be fierce.
  • Avoid planning a trip in April-May when local fog disrupts air and sea traffic
  • Stay in one of the many “homestay” B&Bs to get a feel for how families used to live
  • Hire a motor scooter from within the airport terminal; you’ll find the company beside the Tourist Information center
  • Some areas under Taiwan’s military control are restricted from foreigners, even Taiwan citizens may need to apply online for entry, while areas of strategic importance are still off-limits to non-military personnel.
Local Kinmen Food

As you can imagine for an island community, Kinmen’s seafood dishes — including clam noodle soup — are local specialties. There’s a strong influence from Fujian and GuangDong provinces, and parts of South-East Asia. This breakfast selection includes sweet and savory baked buns, rice congee, fried bread sticks and sweetened soy milk.

Taiwan Boutique Hotel: Hotel de Plus


Located on an isolated stretch of road between Kenting and the beach community JiaLeShui, Hotel de Plus offers a unique mix of easy-going tranquility and stylish sea-side living.

By Stuart Hill

If your idea of living by the ocean is a simple and relatively quiet life listening to the waves crashing on the beach, gazing at a brilliantly clear night sky of stars, and surrounding yourself with practical and stylish objects, then Hotel de Plus is likely to be the place for you.

Established by a group of investors with a passion for style as much as comfort, Hotel de Plus is a getaway experience that takes the Kenting visit down a notch in volume and pace. And that’s exactly they way you’ll want it to be.

The photogenic Hotel de Plus

Hotel de Plus provides boutique accommodation with its own unique style and ambience. In sunny summer months, the stark white exteriors contrast with the blue of the sky and the green of the surrounding farmland. Windows in each room, provide abundant natural light, which combined with the unique details of the building’s interiors, offer a pleasant visual quality to each stay.

The hotel sits on a flat patch of green opposite the sea at a comfortable distance from the road. At night the only sound is the crashing of the ocean, and the occasional car passing by. Early in the morning, the sun welcomes you to the day through one of the square attic-like windows in each of the hotel rooms. It is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise, go-with-the-flow kind of life.

Room numbers at Hotel de Plus

Each room at Hotel de Plus has a number representing a particular decade. It is not particularly relevant to the design or furnishings of each room, but it offers a quirky alternative to single-digital room numbers. Room details are available on the Hotel de Plus website (see link below).

The strong focus on clean design, stylish furniture, and quirky retro accessories, is a large part of the attraction of staying here. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that, according to the management, many guests tend to be interested in architecture, film, or design.

Room interiors of Hotel de Plus

Each room at Hotel de Plus follows a distinctly modern aesthetic, with concrete floors, white walls, and a slightly hospital yet early 20th Century feel to their bathrooms and accessories. Each room looks out onto the ocean side of the building, though some of the larger suites also face out to the mountain side of the hotel too. The rooms are furnished with basic amenities, including TV and air conditioning, and feature classic furniture of a rustic, retro, and minimalist style.

The hotel’s restaurant has a small menu of nicely prepared dishes, which would be adequate for a few days’ stay. You can tell the staff if you have any specific dietary requirements and they will try to meet your needs as best they can.

Breakfast is included with a night’s accommodation. The restaurant is also open for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and evening drinks. They have deserts, a beer menu, and serve cocktails.

Restaurant at Hotel de Plus

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Breakfast is included in an overnight stay, and consists of quiche or scrambled eggs, salad, a piece of fruit, and a variety of breads, tea, coffee and juice. For afternoon tea you can order tea or coffee and a selection of cakes, which also make up evening deserts. At night the restaurant sells a choice of imported beers, or the staff can make you up a cocktail.

The nearby community of JiaLeShui attracts its fair share of tourists and surfers. You can grab fried chicken at the town’s famous tin shed restaurant, or western style cafe food further down the street toward the entrance to the JiaLeShui scenic reserve, among one of the B&B’s.

At the turn-off into the town there are surfboards and kayaks to rent, and you can hire a 4-wheel jeep with driver to take you out onto the dunes. The scenic reserve allows walks along the rocky coastline, with a sealed roadway making an easy 1.5 hour return trip. Or you can walk the distance between JiaLeShui and Hotel de Plus — which is a good trek across the beach and along the road for over 1.5 hours one way.

At the hotel, you can borrow one of their charming bicycles — objets d’art in their own right — but just be sure to prepare against the sun and the rain (which can be unpredictable in the morning). The hotel has umbrellas if you forget to bring your own.

Hotel de Plus movie night

Hotel de Plus hosts an outdoor movie under the stars on Saturday nights, projecting a film chosen by the staff onto the white walls of the hotel building. Starting at 6:30 pm, staff lay out blankets for people to sit on the lawn outside. This night’s movie – Garbage Warrior – was a documentary about an LA architect’s quest to use recyclable materials for creating environmentally friendly buildings.

Most people come for a weekend, staying overnight on the Saturday, which tends to be the busiest day. However, the hotel provides discounts on each day you add to your stay, dropping each successive day by 10% of the daily fee. You can ask about any special pricing for long stays, which you can inquire about online, or by contacting the hotel reception.

All up, Hotel de Plus is a relaxing, visually pleasant destination, located on its own pretty coastal strip of Kenting.

More Information:

Other stories:

Hotel de Plus

Hotel de Plus, near Kenting’s JiaLeShui community.

On his second visit to Hotel de Plus, the author stayed as an overnight guest of management. Dinner and drinks were paid for by the author.

 

About Taiwan: Some Useful Quick Guides


In dramatic contrast to the poor quality of English information provided in the past, the Taiwan government has started to produce some incredibly useful booklets and brochures for foreigners. Here are two that can be valuable as resources for both old Taiwan hands and new arrivals.

By Stuart Hill

It used to be the case that all the information you could get about Taiwan was found in the pages of travel books like Lonely Planet, which was next to useless. Government information, when available in English was hard to find across a number of government agency brochures, or even rudimentary websites.

Yet the quality of the writing and its ease of understanding were very patchy at best. Today, however, there are several publications that indicate that various levels of government are taking the task of communicating more seriously. With the involvement of South East Asians as care-givers and construction workers, but also with the growing number of foreign students, it’s great to see how things are changing.

The Handy Guide for Foreigners in Taiwan

Handy Guide to Taiwan

As the name suggests, the Handy Guide for Foreigners in Taiwan is an extremely useful collection of information from a range of government agencies, covering everything from visas to driver’s licenses and where to find a local night market.

While the layout is pretty basic, and the fonts are a little lazily selected, this downloadable 110 page booklet provides a lot of information for anyone wanting to get to know Taiwan before (or just after) they arrive.

Beginning with a description of the country which borders on government-inspired spin, the booklet covers a solid range of topics that will help anyone to get acclimatized fast.

Fairly direct descriptions cover immigration, transportation (including driver’s licenses), housing tips (including recycling policies), employment, investment, healthcare, banking, and studying. The information also delves into the topics of entertainment and lifestyle, covering food (including a list of Taiwan’s famous night markets) and shopping (including consumer protection), as well as leisure, such as tourist information, museums, national parks, festivals and other cultural activities.

Handy Guide to Consumer Logos

In addition to contact details for government agencies, details about where to shop, websites for museums and national parks, the Handy Guide for Foreigners in Taiwan includes a description of a number of industry certification logos.

The booklet excels itself by providing phone numbers for the organizations it mentions, with a large number of tables for things like museums and national parks, but also includes websites, physical addresses, and business hours for many others. Many of these entries link directly to the English section of the website they refer to.

No doubt on many topics readers will want to dive in deeper to get information concerning specific issues, but as a source of the basics, The Handy Guide for Foreigners in Taiwan lives up to its name and is an excellent starting point.

The booklet is published by the Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan, with contributions from a broad range of government departments and bureaus.

Study In Taiwan, Learning Plus Adventure

Study In Taiwan booklet

The nicely designed Study in Taiwan booklet is just one in a series of publications that detail Taiwan’s educational facilities and learning environment.

With the government hoping for a growth in the number of foreign students choosing Taiwan as a place to learn, the Ministry of Education has provided its backing to a number of publications that will make it easier to understand what kinds of courses are available at Taiwan colleges and universities.

Beautifully laid out in pages of bite-sized information, the booklet is a combination of first hand quotations and biographical information from several foreign students, interwoven with statistical information, historical and cultural detail about Taiwan itself, and some facts about the educational system and learning environment that foreign students can expect to find here.

For prospective students, the booklet does a great job explaining why Taiwan might be just the place they’ve been looking for, but also offers practical tips as to how to choose a school and course, and how to commence enrollment.

While the document was published in 2012, information about course application requirements and fees still provides a valuable reference point for someone thinking about studying in Taiwan. The final chapter of the booklet provides the websites of every university and college in Taiwan, including Chinese language centers, plus the contact details of Taiwan’s overseas cultural and trade offices.

Tips for Studying in Taiwan

Study in Taiwan contains personal bios from a number of students who have studied in Taiwan, and includes useful tips for how to find the right school and course.

Perhaps that most useful section is the listing of study programs available to foreign students for each university, with courses graded according to the level of English used in each course. Starting from 90% to 75-90%, and 55-75% to less than 50%, finally 0% taught in English (which do make up the bulk of courses).

Information about visas and residence is also summarized, followed by a section on scholarships. Links are provided for more information. A short chapter on Living in Taiwan helps the future student understand issues like accommodation, costs of living, postal and transportation service, and more – though a more useful companion document would be the Handy Guide to Foreigners in Taiwan (mentioned above).

More Info

Top 5 Stories of 2013 on Syurati-vision


Travel and food are always popular topics, but in 2013 other stories also struck a chord with readers. Here is a list of the top 5 stories published on Syurati-vision this year.

By Stuart Hill

Although stories published earlier in the year would naturally pick up more views, the top 5 stories did not completely follow a pattern based on the months that they were published in.

Generally speaking stories about places to visit in Taipei and around Taiwan rate pretty well, but this year a story about Chinese language and food also made the top 5.

Number 1: Living With Chinese as a Second Language (January)

Where did you study Chinese

Where Did You Study Your Chinese? is possibly the 3rd or 4th most asked question. Surely the absence of a Beijing drawl and a failure to curl my tongue around each “Yes” should be an obvious giveaway?

 

Number 2: Taipei Escape: Taiwan’s Penghu Islands (May)

PengHu Two-Heart Weir

One of PengHu’s most iconic images, and one somewhat over-used in Taiwan’s tourism campaigns is the “two-heart stone weir” on the island of QiMei. The weir is a human construction made by fishermen to capture fish and other sea creatures.

 

Number 3: Taiwan Beef Noodles (February)

Beef noodle soup with tendons

While the soup is a heavier version of beef broth, the meat is a mixture of beef slices and tendon. Both happen to be cooked so they are soft and easy to chew. The noodles are round spaghetti-like style.

 

Number 4: Taiwan Road Trip: MeiNong Hakka District (March)

MeiNong Farms

While tobacco was the biggest crop grown in the MeiNong region, and arguably generated its most wealth over the years, the shift in economics has forced farmers to harvest other crops, such as fruit and flowers. This farm near the Hakka Folk Village, and others nearby, offers lots of photo opportunities, and highlights the beauty of the region.

 

Number 5: Top Taipei Day Trips: NeiHu’s Strawberry Fields (November)

NeiHu Strawberry Farms

The farms in near White Rock Lake – BaiShiHu – grow colder climate fruits like strawberries and peaches. Picking season starts in November.

These rankings do not take into account the number of views each story received by readers scrolling down on the home page of this blog.

Compare the 2013 postings against the top 5 stories of all time below: