People’s Park in the Sky

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.

Taipei’s Xiaonanmen 臺北府城小南門

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 tangyuan 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dongzhi 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 Yuanzi 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.

An Alien Holiday

The seasons are changing here in Taiwan. 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 Sōngshān District 松山區. This apparition failed to stir within me any feelings of nostalgia and holiday cheer. Instead there was something oddly alienating about the scene, a feeling similar to what I sometimes experience when taking a chance on western food in the more remote parts of the nation. Imagine ordering “french toast” only to have it materialize at your table without ever coming into contact with anyone who’s actually had french toast before. It might be the same general idea but there’s something off about it.

Crossing the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan

In the summer of 2014 I was nearing the end of my first sojourn in Taiwan. 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 Wuling 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 Hehuanshan 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.

Taipei 101 in the Mist

Yesterday I shot this moody photograph of Taipei 101, easily the most iconic landmark in Taiwan, 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 Over Taipei

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 Shuiyuan Market 水源市場 near Gongguan Station 公館站 in the southeastern tip of Zhōngzhèng 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 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.

Double Rainbow Over Neo Taipei

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 Honglude Temple 烘爐地南山福德宮 near the top of Honglusai Mountain 烘爐塞山 in Zhōnghé 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, City of Darkness

Keelung 基隆 is the darkest city in Taiwan, 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 Héngchūn 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.