I was on my way out for lunch yesterday in Taichung 台中 when I stopped to check the radar as I usually do. It’s a good thing I did, for there was a huge spring storm moving up from Changhua 彰化. With rooftop access to a residential high-rise on the north side of the city I had some fun taking these pictures of the oncoming storm.
Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it is a record-breaking 30°C in Taipei 台北. In Chinese culture it is customary to consume tāngyuán 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dōngzhì 冬至, a time when families gather together and celebrate growing one year older. Since I have no family here I will be lining up at 36 Yuánzǐ Shop 三六圓仔店 for a bowl sometime later on—though I might just skip this particular ritual if the line-up is too crazy. Two years ago I was informed, contrary to expectations, that you won’t actually age without eating tangyuan on dongzhi. If I miss it this year I suppose I won’t mind.
The seasons are changing here in Taiwan 台灣. It is getting cooler up north—and winter rain is sure to follow. People on the streets are starting to bundle up and some are even wearing parkas and such. I am holding onto summer as long as I can, sticking to short sleeves until I can’t stand it any longer. Admittedly it was rather chilly today—but it warms the cockles of my heart to play the role of oblivious nordic emissary here in subtropical Asia.
Today I stepped out into the crisp afternoon air and noticed an unusually striking blue and white Christmas tree in front of the Taiwan Adventist Hospital 臺安醫院 in Songshan District 松山區. This apparition failed to stir within me feelings of nostalgia and holiday cheer. Instead there was something oddly alien about the scene, the same sort of feeling I have when I take a chance on something like french toast only to have it materialize at my table without ever coming into contact with someone who’s actually had french toast before. Yeah, it’s pretty close, but there’s something not quite right about it. (This is not a value judgement, by the way!)
Christmas in Taiwan is not an official holiday. From the sounds of it nobody even has the day off. And why should they? Christians are vastly outnumbered by the highly syncretic cornucopia of spiritual traditions followed by most Taiwanese who care to identify with religion. Christmas might be more secular in much of the west but it’s still an artifact of societies with a Christian background. Christmas here is not unlike Halloween with a different colour scheme. You might notice a tree in the lobby of your local bank or some Christmas-themed LED lights bedazzling some government building but you really shouldn’t expect much. Apparently companies sometimes sponsor trees, as was the case with the one in the picture. Restaurants, cafes (especially Starbucks), and retail shops also get into the Christmas swing of things—mostly to increase sales, if you wanna be cynical about it. (Not that different from the west, is it?) But do regular families set up a tree, have turkey dinner, and exchange gifts? Nah.
I wonder what I’ll be doing for Christmas this year? I haven’t made any plans as of yet. I’d be tempted to ignore the whole thing if it weren’t for Facebook being my primary point of social contact with the English-speaking world. Whatever I end up doing can’t be much worse than last year, which was a whole lot of nothing—but that’s a story for another post. Either way, there’s no sense in assigning too much importance to this alien holiday.
In the summer of last year I was nearing the end of my first sojourn in Taiwan 台灣. By the beginning of August I would be in Canada for a wedding in the family with no idea what I’d be doing after that. Since I wasn’t sure if I would be returning to Taiwan I made vague plans to go on a road trip. With only about a week to go before my departure the weather took an ominous turn as Typhoon Matmo 麥德姆 barreled toward the island. On July 20th, with the pressure of time bearing down on us, my girlfriend and I hopped on a 125cc scooter—the same kind of dinky, puttering scooter you see people riding around any Taiwanese town—and set out from Changhua 彰化 with the goal of crossing the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 at Wǔlíng 武陵, the highest paved (and publicly-accessible) mountain pass in Taiwan at 3,275 meters above sea level. With luck, time and weather permitting, we’d be able to visit Héhuānshān 合歡山 and maybe even drive down into the amazingly scenic Taroko Gorge 太魯閣峽谷 on the east side of the island.
Yesterday I shot this moody photograph of Taipei 101, easily the most iconic landmark in Taiwan 台灣, while walking through the grounds of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall 國立國父紀念館 on my way to a haircut. It neatly captures something of the ambiguity of Taiwan’s unique political situation. Here we are all lost in the clouds, waiting for the nation’s wave function to collapse.
Looking back, I haven’t posted many photos of this famous skyscraper, but not for any particular reason. I tend to emphasize the obscure here on my blog—but that’s mainly because I’d rather invest my time in covering what others do not (in English, of course—it’s all been done in Chinese), not because I don’t like popular things. In fact, I can say without reservation that Taipei 101 is an amazing feat of design and engineering, particularly if you consider this example of an early building by lead architect C.Y. Lee.
Little fluffy clouds swept into Taipei 台北 and everyone seems to have lost their minds. I captured my own version next to the iconic Shuǐyuán Market 水源市場 near Gongguan Station 公館站 in the southeastern tip of Zhongzheng District 中正區 and was amused to see dozens of people doing the same once it finished uploading to Instagram. I know it unnerves or annoys some people to be a part of a trend but in Taiwan 台灣 I really don’t mind. It’s kind of charming how even the smallest, most trivial things can unite an entire city, if only for a moment.
Everyone’s been posting photos of today’s double rainbow (oh my god!) so I figure I may as well make my own contribution. I captured this shot from Hōnglúde Temple 烘爐地南山福德宮 near the top of Hōnglúsāi Mountain 烘爐塞山 in Zhonghe 中和, just south of Taipei 台北. From this vantage point the rainbow appears to end at Hwa Hsia University of Technology 華夏科技大學. Pretty, isn’t it?
Keelung 基隆 is the darkest city in Taiwan 台灣, averaging a meagre 1,276 hours of sunshine per annum1. This is slightly more than half the sunshine experienced in the southern cities of Kaohsiung 高雄 and Hengchun 恆春, both of which enjoy more than 2,200 hours every year. Seattle and Vancouver, two North American cities known for an unusual amount of rain and gloom, clock in at 2,170 and 1,938 hours of sunshine respectively2. Turning now to Europe, London bottoms out at 1,481, and you’d have to head north to Glasgow, with its 1,265 hours of sunlight, to find a place gloomier than Taiwan’s northernmost city.
I went out on a road trip through rural Chiayi 嘉義 in May 2014. It was one of those days where you couldn’t be certain what the weather might do next. The mountains to the east were shrouded in thick tangles of dark, roiling clouds, always looking like they might break off and sweep across the western plains at any moment. Thankfully, this was as bad as it got—a light sun shower out on backcountry roads. If you look closely you might even see the faint streak of raindrops as they fall to earth.