culture and place, taiwan

One more, I thought–I need one more blog entry to do my trip to Taiwan for a Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminar justice. I was there with a group of faculty for a month, and spent three days there on my own. Then I snap photos almost daily while at home, so you know I had a zillion shots from Taiwan. Why not share more?

Here goes, then. I thought in this entry I would focus more on typical Taiwan scenes, with ones not only from Taipei but from around its territory. After all, we made stops in small towns in the mountains, larger western cities, including the onetime colonial capital of Tainan, the sprawling southwestern city of Kaohsiung, and eastern cities, including Taitung and Hualien.

Among the things we did and saw along the way included:

  • Hearing from high school students in Kaohsiung about virtual international exchange studies, the level of study required in Taiwan (intense, dramatic), college prep, and the like. Some of the same students led us, in separate groups, on tours around an art park and redeveloped commercial and tourist district near downtown (Pier-2 Art Center).
  • Toured an architectural dig near an old Dutch colonial site in Tainan, after hearing from a panel of archeologists about their work and how it refects or involves the island’s complex history.
  • Took a brief Chinese drumming class, toured, and played around at a one-time Japanese colonial sugar mill turned into a theme park of sorts (Ten Drum Culture Village).
  • Spent a couple of hours at a tea farm near Alishan, where we were treated to a tea tasting and learned about the economics and social aspects of the high mountain tea business.
  • Spent an afternoon at an indigenous house and farm near Taitung, learning about traditional foodways, as well as typical means of building or construction.
  • Stopped at many a temple, learned about (mostly Chinese folk religion and Buddhist-oriented) religious and cultural life in the cities and countryside, and the like, with an especially heavy dose of this in the Zuoying District of Kaohsiung.

We were presented with mounds of delicious food (most Chinese or Taiwan-Chineese, but some indigenous food, along with Thai-inspired dishes, Japanese, and American and Taiwanese-American hybrids) along the way, usually delivered to and pushed around on lazy susan-type tables.

Along with other faculty grantees, meanwhile, I visited night markets, shrines tiny and vast, huge bookstores with elaborate stationery and writing utensil sections, roadside tourist villages, convenience stores with stationery sections and emergency business apparel, and on and on and on. But I also visited a few places on my own or with one or two other faculty, including an outstanding photography museum in Taiepei (whose exhibits, housed in an old colonial Japanese building, often reflected the country’s dialogues about its history and identity).

Almost every other faculty member went home a few days after our return to Taipei, where we worked on our curriculum projects and made presentations about them. But I opted to spend three days on Taiwan on my own. The reason? I was allowed that option at my own expense. In that time, I went to the giant, Sanrio-sponsored Taiwan International Balloon Festival near the tiny Luye Township. Then I took a ferry from Taitung to Green Island, where I took a scooter around the island and stayed at a mod-looking backpackers hostel.

Logically, after that, I spent a night and most of the next day being pampered and eating exceedingly fine Chinese and Asian food at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel. I was feeling exhausted and stuffy by then, so that was a fine end to the most eventful trip I have ever taken.

Now, a few shots, then even more. Hopefully, they show what I saw: A modern, dynamic place with so much color, good humor, and joy–so much life. It has little crime, friendly people, a highly educated population, and it is organized, but not to a stifling degree. I hope the island gets the future it clearly deserves.

Scooters in a “school of fish” (my words) formation, moving onto an expressway in Taipei