Not much remains of the former Taichū Aerodrome 臺中飛行場, a Japanese colonial era airbase originally built in 1911 on the northwestern periphery of central Taichung 台中. The airbase saw a lot of action in World War II and several kamikaze units were stationed there in the final months of the war. After the arrival of the KMT it was used as a hub for aviation research and development before entering into civilian use in the 1970s as Shuǐnǎn Airport 水湳機場. In 2004 operations were transferred to the nearby Taichung Airport 台中航空站 and, over the following decade, the former Japanese airbase was completely demolished as part of an ongoing city-wide urban renewal plan. The only building spared was a lone gun tower built in 1940, formally designated a historic site in 2006, and officially known as the Former Japanese Army Taichung Aerodrome Gun Tower 原日軍臺中飛行場機槍堡.
This guide features a list of cheap, direct flights from Taiwan 台灣 for planning visa runs and inexpensive vacations. Most non-Taiwanese simply fly across the Strait to Hong Kong 香港 to file paperwork but I prefer spending a few days wherever I go to make up for the needless hassle and bureaucracy of international air travel. I have put a lot of work into compiling and updating various lists of potentially low-cost routes to destinations in East and Southeast Asia so I figure I may as well share my findings here.
This was the last image I captured in Toronto prior to boarding a long haul flight to Taiwan 台灣 little more than a week ago. Pictured here is Tilted Spheres, a massive steel sculpture by Richard Serra, installed 2002–2004, prior to the opening of Pier F at Toronto Pearson International Airport in 2007. The building was actually constructed around this imposing monument to the ritual disorientation of international air travel.
The airport is a movement processing machine, which directs the passengers through its spaces to the aeroplane (and back out). It channels and directs the flow of passengers through both security and retail spaces. Serra’s Tilted Spheres requires an act of passage, the walls all tilt inwards as well as curving, creating a looming pathway to be traversed.
The sculpture slowly comes into view as the traveller descends the escalator from the mezzanine. After reaching the floor, a decision must be made: pass through one of the three channels or go around. I decided to pass straight through—and stopped in the middle to test the acoustic properties of the piece by clapping my hands together. Sure enough, there was a strange, reverberated echo, an alien sound ringing in my ears.
With an odd smile I continued on my way. 17 hours later I landed in distant lands.
Slightly more than two weeks have passed since I left Taiwan 台灣. Already my sense of the daily experience of being there is slipping from my mind the way a dream dissipates in the hazy minutes after waking. We write a dream down when we want to remember it—which should explain why I have invested as much as I have into documenting my experiences. I remember more clearly those events and impressions that I have captured in words and imagery. The memories themselves, however transformed by the passage of time and the idiosyncrasies of human cognition, remain accessible because I have cut myself these keys, many of which I share with you here in these pages.
I captured this photograph in Taoyuan International Airport prior to my departure. This vintage postcard, originally published in 1955, depicts various landmarks and products from around Taiwan. Looking at this map, with its many unfamiliar romanizations, I can trigger memories: riding a scooter into mango country in Tainan 台南; encountering water buffalo by the seashore in Taitung 台東 in the midst of a typhoon; aimlessly wandering around the fishing harbour at Badouzi; surfing at Waiao and partying next to the beach in Fulong; enjoying that first free pineapple cake in Nantou 南投; bicycling across the red steel bridge connecting Yunlin 雲林 and Changhua 彰化; attending a protest in front of the Presidental Office Building in Taipei 台北 months before the Sunflower Student Movement exploded; and, of course, visiting Taroko Gorge, the most awe-inspiring place I have ever been—a place far too grand to be captured by my lens or described with any degree of verisimilitude by my virtual pen. While I generally try to avoid collecting souvenirs I will admit to keeping this postcard as a memento, something physical to remind myself that no, it was not just a dream…
I captured this photography on the afternoon of my departure from Taiwan 台灣 at Taoyuan International. Down in the basement I found this curious reflective display showing times from various cities all around the world, some of them inordinately obscure. I couldn’t find Toronto but I did see Godthåb of all places flash before my eyes when the English translation came up. How many of these places have I been and how many will I visit before this life is over?
Walking away, I was left with the sense that one lifetime might be enough to see the world in passing—but there’d be no way to experience all these far-flung places as deeply as I have experienced Taiwan. Our consumerist culture tends to fetishize quantity-over-quality tourism, relegating our experiences of the wide world beyond the borders of our homeland to a growing list of places we have visited without regard for how much we lived and learned and loved in those places.
I would much rather adhere to this more personal metric, one that emphasizes depth and quality of experience, than live my life trying to make a number go up, though I certainly won’t disparage anyone for having different priorities. I’m just glad I decided to stay in Taiwan awhile rather than move around as much as some people do—and I look forward to being able to continue my explorations, either in Taiwan or some other place, whenever the opportunity arises.
But for now it appears prudent to stay somewhere I already know quite well—and experience it like an outsider, with new eyes.