People’s Park In The Sky is a peculiar attraction located about 60 kilometers south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular leisure destination in the province of Cavite in the Philippines. Perched on top of Mount Sungay at an elevation of 709 meters, the highest point on the northern rim of the immense Taal Caldera, it was originally planned to be a palace suitable for state visits during the kleptocratic reign of Ferdinand Marcos. Construction began in 1979 with a drastic leveling of the mountaintop, which previously reached 759 meters, but ground to a halt with increasing civic unrest and the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s state visit in 1983. Following the People Power Revolution of 1986 the unfinished mansion was transformed into a public park and monument to the greed, corruption, and excess of the Marcos era.
Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 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 Taiwan 台灣 venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.
Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村 is one of more than 800 military dependents’ villages (Chinese: juàncūn 眷村) built in Taiwan 台灣 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 China 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 Zhōngzhèng District 中正區, Taipei 台北, which was forcibly abandoned only a couple of years ago as part of a wave of urban renewal projects sweeping the nation.
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 Taipei 台北. Located on a hilltop overlooking a bend of the Keelung River 基隆河 in Zhōngshān District 中山區, 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.
Today I was surprised to see a small group of Muslims at the entrance to Xīméntīng 西門町, a popular entertainment and shopping district in the northern part of Wànhuá District 萬華區 in Taipei 台北. 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 Taiwan 台灣 so I stopped to see what was going on.
The Taipei Dome 台北大巨蛋 (literally “Big Egg”) is a potent symbol of the corrupt relationship between government and developers in Taiwan 台灣. 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 Xìnyì District 信義區 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.
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 Zhōnglì 中壢, 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 Xinbei 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.
One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan 台灣 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 Fāngshān 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, 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!