The Divine Dictator

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A statue of Chiang Kai-shek as god inside a small temple in Tamsui.

Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuíxīng 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wénchāng 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.

Have You Seen Him

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A series of stickers referencing the events of the Sunflower Student Movement.

Today I wandered by the former American embassy, now the Spot Taipei Film House 光點台北電影院 in , and noticed this series of stickers on the electrical transformers across the lane. In bold lettering it says: HAVE YOU SEEN HIM. I wondered what it meant—and it seems I’m not the only one. Turns out the man in the photograph was one of the police officers involved in evicting people from the Executive Yuan 行政院 in the early mornings hours of March 24th, 2014, during the Sunflower Student Movement. He was caught on camera beating protesters and, when student leaders demanded the police identify the officer, they initially claimed to not know his name or whereabouts. Later it was revealed that the officer was not even relieved of duty in the aftermath of that violent night.

Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村

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Immediately outside the main gate to Jiahe New Village.

Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村 is one of more than 800 military dependents’ villages (Chinese: juàncūn 眷村) built in in the late 1940s and 1950s to provide provisional housing for KMT soldiers and their families fleeing from the Chinese Civil War. Around two million people crossed the Taiwan Strait from from 1945 to 1949, bolstering an existing population of approximately seven million. More than 600,000 of these Chinese immigrants ended up in military villages like this one in , , which was forcibly abandoned only a couple of years ago as part of a wave of urban renewal projects sweeping the nation.

Please Recycle, Dear Leader

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Kim Jong-un implores guests to “please recycle, thank you”.

Yesterday I dropped in for brunch at a quirky diner in known as Lucky Southeast Asian Dining Hall 金福氣南洋食堂. The decor is decidedly pan-Asian kitsch, with all manner of recognizable icons appearing on signs and posters around the shop. This particular graphic features a cartoon version of Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea, imploring guests to recycle chopsticks. Hey, at least it’s not Hitler!

The Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店

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The awe-inspiring Grand Hotel of Taipei… and a tourist doing her best flamingo impression.

Yesterday’s impromptu ride around the riverside bikeway network delivered me to the palatial Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店 (pinyin: Yuánshān Dàfàndiàn), a famous landmark in . Located on a hilltop overlooking a bend of the Keelung River 基隆河 in , it was established in 1952 at the behest of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 to provide the ruling elite with a luxurious place to host and entertain foreign dignitaries. The distinctive building seen in these photos was completed in 1973 and was the tallest building in the Free Area of the Republic of China until 1981.

A Muslim demonstration in Ximending

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Indonesian migrant workers demonstrating in Ximenting.

Today I was surprised to see a small group of Muslims at the entrance to , a popular entertainment and shopping district in the northern part of in . The area around exit 6 of Ximen Station is more commonly used for busking, not political demonstrations, and is always busy with pedestrian traffic during the day. It isn’t common to see anything like this in so I stopped to see what was going on.

Showdown at the Taipei Dome

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Taipei Dome construction site in the gathering gloom.

The Taipei Dome 台北大巨蛋 (literally “Big Egg”) is a potent symbol of the corrupt relationship between government and developers in . Pretty much everything that could go wrong has—often more than once. It has been the site of countless protests over the many years since plans were announced to redevelop the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory into a world-class sports stadium and adjoining “cultural park”, a euphemism often employed to downplay the role of big business in such projects. For context, the flatlands of lack the sort of green space you’ll find further west in Daan Forest Park 大安森林公園, so it’s no wonder local residents and activist groups were compelled to fight back.

Soon to be a distant memory

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A faded photograph outside a famous beef noodle shop in Zhongli.

I was out for a late night snack at Yǒngchuān Beef Noodle 永川牛肉面, a famous shop located on the ground floor of an abandoned movie theater in , when I noticed this faded photograph posted on a board out front. It is customary for politicians and celebrities to visit popular shops and have their photo taken (or sometimes sign walls or menu boards), so I have begun inspecting these boards for familiar faces. Wouldn’t you know it, but that’s Eric Chu 朱立倫, absentee mayor of and presumptive KMT presidential candidate, pictured with the boss of the shop. Something about the decrepit state of the photograph brought me great amusement as I sat down for a hot and spicy bowl of dumpling soup.

Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文古厝

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Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home in the village of Fenggang.

One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cài Yīngwén), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in in , the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fēnggǎng 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文主席古厝!

When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation I could manage, not even knowing if my Mandarin was understood, and we all laughed about the absurdity of some random white guy on a bike riding over and taking an active interest in such an obscure place.

Anyhow, there you have it: the childhood home of the woman who might be the next president of Taiwan. And if that’s the case they’re going to have to get a new sign!

Update: Tsai is Taiwan’s president-elect and, just as I predicted, her childhood home is already in the news!

Taiwan as American Territory

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Taiwan Civil Government movement on the streets of Taipei.

One of the more imaginative interpretations of the unresolved political status of is that it remains an American territory. The argument for this position is rather arcane, requiring one to ignore the last half century of history and focus almost entirely on the ambiguous minutiae of post-war agreements like the Treaty of San Francisco. Proponents of this idea suggest that American hegemony (whether in the form of statehood or some other arrangement) would inhibit from annexing Taiwan as well as provide international recognition and representation for the Taiwanese people. Detractors are skeptical, to say the least, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s a fringe movement unlikely to gain mainstream traction in or the .