I’ve already introduced Taiwan, but I sort of left off most of the history part which I realized while typing this blog may make sense to go over… quickly. The Ming Dynasty (China) sort of dabbled in Taiwan before Europeans arrived (as they always did) but the Ming didn’t really control the island. The island was first recorded by Europeans as Formosa – a named bestowed upon it by passing Portuguese sailors. It was the Dutch, however, that first colonized Taiwan in the early 1600’s, though the Spanish tried really hard but failed to stop them. Some dude named Koxinga – a Ming loyalist – defeated the Dutch a few decades later and Taiwan sorta kinda ruled itself for a while. I mean, the Ming sort of ruled it but they were really busy trying to stop the Qing Dynasty from taking everything of theirs so I can’t imagine too much attention was paid to Taiwan so the island was quasi-on its own… until the Qing Dynasty invaded and took over. It appears nobody on Taiwan liked the Qing Dynasty, just like nobody on Taiwan likes the Chinese today. China then lost a war with Japan and was forced to gift Taiwan to Japan in 1895 (Japan had been eyeing Taiwan for ages). Taiwan tried to be independent at that point, but the Japanese were like “fat chance” and forcibly took control. Taiwan wasn’t really happy with Japanese rule, but as I’ve already pointed out in my previous blog, the Japanese did do some good things for Taiwan. Japan gave up its claim to Taiwan in 1945 after World War II and Taiwan entered a state of limbo not knowing what would happen to it. When the Chinese government was kicked out of mainland China by communists, they set up their exiled government in Taiwan and have continued to rule Taiwan to this day. Over the decades since then, a distinct Taiwanese identity has developed separating the island from China more and more as time goes by.
Got all that? Ok. Let’s move on to the first half of Taiwan.
A few highlights of my time in Kaohsiung and Tainan:
Based on my observations, I was the first ever white tourist to fly into Taiwan via Kaohsiung. In fact, I saw only 4 other western people during my time in Kaohsiung. I counted. I saw 2 white guys at the night market, 1 white American guy working at the night market (an English teacher having a little fun making quesadillas for the locals), and an African-American lady walking up a hill to a fort. We both smiled and nodded at each other with a look that can only be translated at “what the fuck are you doing here too?” But I think more and more of us should be going there. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second biggest city with nearly 3 million people and I found it an absolutely lovely place to visit. Someone once told me that Kaohsiung is the Melbourne of Taiwan, but I think that’s incorrect. It’s not quite there yet. Instead, Kaohsiung to me is the Brisbane of Taiwan. It’s liveable, it has some cool things, and it will probably keep getting better as time goes by, especially as the city works to tackle pollution that has plagued the city (and also been the source of its prosperity).
The highlight of Kaohsiung was the National Science & Technology Museum with its exhibit on the industrial history of Taiwan. Most of the statistics were quite old – indicating that maybe Taiwan is past its heyday – but it was interesting nonetheless. Did you know that Taiwan was once the footwear manufacturing capital of the world? Did you know that Taiwan was once the tennis racket manufacturing capital of the world? And, most recently, a 2011 statistic put Taiwan directly involved with the manufacturing of 90% of the world’s laptops. Crazy. Most of the other exhibitions had limited English signage but they seemed to be geared toward children anyway so I pretty much left after the industrial history hall. Other museums I visited include the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts with its excellent rotating exhibitions of funky modern art, the Kaohsiung Museum of History which had very limited English but was still pretty interesting, and the Former British Consulate at Takow which informed me of the history of the British in Taiwan (they never colonized it, but they had a big presence for trade.)
Elsewhere in Kaohsiung:
A loop around the Lotus Pond was a great walk including stops at the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the 24 metre statue of the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, and the famous Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. Once heavily polluted, the Love River has been cleaned up and green spaces have been installed along the river for residents to use recreationally – and for tourists like me to stroll along. Cijin Beach was a short motorbike ferry away from the main city. It was too cold to go into the water but I got to briefly explore the ruins of the old Cihou Fort nearby. I ate well at the Ruifong Night Market, and the Pier 2 Arts District – while still in need of some more tenants to move in – had some really awesome sculptures, cute stores, and various delicious-looking restaurants.
Most importantly – and this is critical – Kaohsiung has not one, but two… Costco stores! This city gets an A+ in my book.
I travelled slightly north from Kaohsiung to Tainan – a city of nearly 2 million people that was once the island’s capital. Tainan was noticeably quieter than Kaohsiung but a very pleasant place to explore. While my 2.5 day tour around Kaohsiung was done in a bit of a rush, 1.5 days in Tainan was sufficient for exploring the sights, though I wouldn’t have minded an extra day just to wander and explore some of the shopping streets. I visited a Matsu Temple (Taoist) and a Confucius Temple, the famous Hayashi Department Store (originally opened during Japanese rule), as well as the Chihkan Towers – originally a Dutch fort that changed hands four times throughout history.
Anping is an area of Tainan that pretty much has similar things to what I found in the centre of Tainan. I visited another Matsu Temple and the remnants of an old fort. The Fort Zeelandia Museum inside the fort mainly focused on the Dutch era of the island. The Former Tait & Co Merchant House – one of several merchant houses in the Anping area that were established by Western powers – had a splendid old “tree house” in the back. The “tree house” wasn’t a house up in a tree but rather an old building that has been taken over by a wild-growing banyan tree.
National Museum of Taiwan History:
A short taxi ride outside of the centre of town was the National Museum of Taiwan History which went over – in great detail – every single moment in Taiwan’s history from prehistoric times to the present. It was seriously a play-by-play. After realizing that I’d need to pick and choose what I looked at if I had any hope of getting out of the museum by the following week, I quickly skimmed through and spent most of my time in the areas outlining the Japanese occupation and the modern area – though the latter was the one display that could definitely have been expanded on.
In both Kaohsiung and Tainan – and in Hualien and Taipei that will be featured in the next blog – I visited a plethora of night markets. These markets are usually huge, usually packed (as was the case with the extremely crowded Ruifong Night Market in Kaohsiung), and always awesome. The markets for me were centred on the food – and there is a lot of food – but I will discuss that in the next blog. What I want to mention here is that the markets also have games for kids to play – sort of like a carnival – and they also sell things like clothes and backpacks and accessories and household goods and porn. Yes, porn. There will be a stall full of thousands of DVDs full of hardcore Taiwanese erotica right next to a stall featuring a game clearly designed for children.
+1 point Taiwan. I love it.
I have one more installment on Taiwan. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Kaohsiung and Tainan, follow this link: