Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Taipei's first international salsa festival


Such a great weekend..dancing salsa almost non stop, with some amazing dancers and teachers - including world champions - all in Taipei.
The salsa scene here is small but growing. Hopefully events like this will make it get even more popular.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Trouble at the memorial

Tensions rose and tempers flared with several people - mainly journalists - injured outside a memorial hall and square dedicated to Taiwan's former ruler, Chiang Kai-Shek.

A few months ago, the goverment held a ceremony rededicating the building as a symbol of the island’s democratization. But legal disputes with the city government – whose mayor is a member of the opposition Kuomintang – prevented the government from formally removing the building’s inscriptions and plaques, honouring the late President.

Putting up the barricades

Now, however, the ministry of education – in charge of the building’s management - believes it has the legal right to make the change . Its ordered workmen in..and they’ve begun putting up scaffolding around the monument, ready to removing some of the inscriptions . It also sent in several hundred police to try to prevent protestors from disrupting the work.

Barbed wire barricades have been put up to prevent people from entering the plaza around the memorial hall.

Chiang Kai-shek remains a highly controversial figure in Taiwan. He fled to Taiwan with his troops and followers in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war, where he set up a rival government and ruled with an iron grip.

The current government has blamed him for the deaths of thousands of people by ordering crackdowns on political dissidents. In the past its ordered Chiang's statues to be removed from public buildings and military barracks; and erased his name from Taiwan's main international airport.

But not everyone agrees with those steps...and the latest move is no exception. Many protestors outside said it was a waste of money; and driven only by political ideology...a gambit by the ruling DPP to mobilise supporters ahead of legislative and presidential elections next year.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Rockstar reception for artist

An amazing event in Taipei on Friday night. The Taipei Arena (seating around 15,000) was packed out as people came to listen to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, talk about his work.

He's been dubbed Japan's Andy Warhol (whom the artist regards as a personal hero) ...mainly because of his ability to blend "high art " with "low art" - drawing on contemporary culture in Japan (manga, anime and pop) and blurring the boundaries between fine art and commerce. He embraces "cuteness" - or "kawai" - welcoming pop culture and consumerism.

He's now one of the best known Japanese - and Asian -contemporary artists...and his works can fetch huge prices at auction (his painting, Vapor Trail sold for $2.1m at Sotheby's in New York this year)

. He's probably best known among the general public for his collaboration with designer Marc Jacobs in designing handbags and fashion products for Louis Vuitton. More recently, he collaborated with rapper Kayne West on the singer's album and is designing a jewellery line for him.

He calls his cartoon-like style “superflat” - characterized by flat planes of color with no artistic perspective.. And he's effortlessly moved across different genres from huge sculptures to painting and commercial work. He's now planning to release a full length feature animation in 2009, Kaikai and Kiki - which is also the name of his factory. The factory holds a twice yearly event, promoting other contemporary young Japanese artists.

Murakami is an individual, an art name and a brand. His work has been copied onto mugs and t-shirts., as well as the expensive LV bags.

He has said he's inspired by the business models of Bill Gates (Microsoft) ; and Steve Jobs at Apple computer.

Does the commercialisation of his work undermine it or diminish its value? not according to the artist, who says the art market needs famous names and lots of art works. History will judge, he says.

He's quite a phenomenon. I'm intrigued to see what he will do next.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UN torch relay

Thousands gathered outside the presidential office early this morning to cheer on runners in a round-the-island torch relay - the latest in a series of publicity stunts to demonstrate the island's wish to join the UN.

President Chen Shui-Bian and Vice President Annette Lu - holding burning torches - led the runners - jogging down Ketagalan Boulevard, outside the Presidential office, to a nearby old city gate
Its the first leg of a round the island relay covering 1200 kilometres, and taking in 25 cities and counties.

Of course, the event has attracted political controversy. The Taipei authorities (the Mayor is a member of the KMT) argued it was a political not sporting event and the organisers needed to apply for special permits - almost derailing the plans.
The magistrate of Kinmen - the offshore island closer to China than Taiwan - was the most upset. He said officials there would not offer any help with the event calling it an obvious political stunt designed to boost the DPP's chances at the next presidential elections.
The DPP is pushing for a public referendum to be held on the same date as the presdiential elections, asking the public if they support Taiwan's bid to join the UN under the name Taiwan, rather than its official title, the Republic of China (this was the first year Taiwan made a bid to join the UN under its "Taiwan" name).
The KMT are proposing another referendum - asking the public to support a vote for Taiwan's membership of the UN under its name, ROC, Republic of China.
They are also launching a round the island cycling event to support their own referendum idea.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ilan hot springs

I had a great weekend sampling some hot springs in Ilan, north-east Taiwan, which was marking a hot spring cuisine festival...celebrating the hot springs and great foods in the region.
First, we let our feet be feasted upon my these tiny "doctor" fish...they feed on the skin of your feet...yeuch.
There are plenty of hotels with their own spas, but some public springs too..like this one. Just 80 nt!! (a little less than $3 usd) - a bargain.

This is the source of the spring.

Jiaoshi is the township which has the most hot springs in Ilan.

Performers at opening for hotspring festival Cute food

thought this was funny...a sign saying no spy cameras are installed at this hotel - with a spy camera next to it. Note the unfortunate name of the hotel!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Happy Birthday

Taiwan has been marking its National Day. And for the first time in 16 years, the official ceremony featured a military parade.

Fighter jets - American F16s, French Mirages, and Taiwan's IDFs flew overhead - while military vehicles drove past the presidential offie, carrying missile systems - including some domestically developed advanced missiles.

Some Taiwanese special combat units were also part of the event.

Of course the show of strength is laden with political symbolism. A message to China that Taiwan can defend itself against any military attack. And a message to the public to show that the island is capable of building its own defences.

Protestors - while few- were kept well away from the plaza. Barbed wire, riot police and plenty of road blocks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Taiwan's dark village

View from Liushidan mountain - down in the valley below, is nestled the Dark Village

Its hard to imagine that in high-tech Taiwan – one of the most wired societies in the world – there can be any community without access to electricity. But there is: a settlement of aboriginals from the Amis tribe – one of the island’s 13 officially recognized tribes - living in Hualien county on Taiwan’s east coast. Its not connected to the electricity grid and has no access to power. Its known locally as as The Dark Village.

Amis villagers celebrate at a day lily festival.

Legal disputes over the land are the main reason the site never got connected to the mains grid. Decades ago, the land was seized by the government and developed for forestry. But today, the local people – members of the Amis aboriginal tribe; one of Taiwan’s 13 officially recognized tribes – are trying to reassert their ancestral land claims.

Amis women

When I first met them, the tribe were celebrating at a newly-opened sales centre at a festival promoting their locally harvested crop - the daylily, an edible flower, which traditionally used in Chinese cooking, especially soups.

Early picked day lilies

day lily meal

Day lily fried chips

Day lily icecream

For the past three years, the non-governmental organization, World Vision Taiwan, has been working with the community, giving them technical and other training, helping them turn to organic farming methods. It means they can sell their crop at prices five times higher than before.

One of the community leaders, Sawmah tells me the project is giving people a new sense of pride – and employment opportunities for the tribe’s younger generation who would normally leave for the cities in search of work.

"Organic farming can earn us more money; and it’s a healthier product for customers to eat", he says. "My children picked day lilies when they were young..but for them it was difficult work. When they finished school, they chose to work in the city.
"But I told them they can come back any time; now we have this sales centre, they can work there, they don’t have to do farming. We are trying to achieve more here..and let young people see that if if you are a farmer, you can still have a good life. "

Will they still live in the village when they are older?

But life is still tough.

houses at the Dark Village - pic courtesy of World Vision Taiwan

The tribe spend about half a year living in the Dark Village – during the main planting and harvesting season – housed in basic iron corrugated buildings. No electricity means they need to build wood fires to cook; At night, oil lanterns provide a little light. They’ve lived like this for years.

Cooking at night by fire in the village

"Having no electricity..its like being blind" , says 63 year old Kiko. She tells me its hard to keep food fresh- especially meat. I ask her what's the first thing she would buy if they had electricity in the village. " A refrigerator..a washing machine..a tv..a cell phone. lots of things", she says, barely pausing for breath.

These day lilies have bloomed..and cannot be eaten

Those items could soon be within their grasp. The appearance a few months ago of electricity poles near their village in the valley – which were installed to pump stream water to a nearby mountain resort – is making many tribal elders, like Potal, keen to see their own settlement connected to the power grid.

Electricity poles appeared near the settlement a few months ago.

"I really really want power in the village", he tells me "because I've been living there forever. I want to enjoy some modern life..put something in the refrigerator; I don't want to heat up wood to burn things, to cook. I've been waiting for it all my life.", he says.

You might think the whole tribe would welcome the arrival of electricity - but that's not the case.

And, surprisingly, opposition is coming from the tribe's younger members. 28 year old Masawo says there’s a special community spirit – as they sit around fires at night singing songs and chatting – which he fears might disappear forever.

"We don’t have electricity, so people get together after work; chat, and talk about important things. In the past, we would tell stories and sing too. If we had electricity, we’d all just sit around watching TV and wouldn’t talk about things", he says.

Okoc, a mother of four, agrees. "We don’t want regular electriricty. I like things the way they are.
"Here we use oil lanterns, like in the old times. It seems better like that. If you had power, you wouldn’t be able to see all the stars; and all the natural living things, like frogs and other animals, would run away. "

The debate is creating such damaging divisions within the tribe that younger members say they will respect the wishes of the elders. But one compromise solution could be solar power - which would be more in keeping with the tribe’s goals of developing future projects like ecotourism and trekking.
But whatever’s decided in the future, with the advent of power, one thing’s for sure: the Dark Village will have to change its name for good.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Happy journalists day

Not surprised by the general results of this poll, reported by CNA (Taiwan's Central News Agency). ..though nearly half wanting to quit their jobs is pretty depressing.

Time to have some media reform!

Reporters have mixed sentiments toward their job: survey

Taipei, Sept. 1 (CNA) Taiwan's reporters have mixed sentimentstoward their job, according to a 1111 Job Bank online survey released Saturday. The survey was conducted Aug. 23-30 among media reporters onwhether or not they are happy in their work, to coincide with the jobbank's celebration of Sept. 1 Reporters' Day.

The poll results show that 22.76 percent of the respondents wereunhappy with their jobs, while 31.41 percent said they enjoy work.Another 45.83 percent of the surveyed reporters were ambivalent.

Analyzing the results, the job bank found that reporters who saidthey were cheerful were mostly those who work for magazines,accounting for 44.45 percent of surveyed happy reporters.

Those who said they were unhappy and stressed were mostlytelevision reporters, accounting for 40.62 percent of all the unhappyreporters surveyed, according to the poll. Asked what kind of events they dislike covering, 60.58 percent ofthe respondents answered "controversial political events, " followedby "social events" with 58.33 percent. Lifestyle and travel are the two subjects that reporters lookforward most to covering, attracting 58.01 percent and 51.6 percentof the polled reporters, respectively.

Asked whether or not they wanted to change careers, 49.04 percentsaid they wanted out of journalism, while 50.96 percent said theywanted to remain in the business. According to 1111 Job Bank statistics, jobseekers who wanted towork as reporters had only 0.67 job opportunities on average in 2006,a ratio that dropped to 0.55 this year. In the August survey, the respondents anticipated that they willwork as reporters or related jobs for an average of 13.85 years. A total of 312 valid questionnaires were collected for the onlinesurvey.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

looking for recognition

Representatives from one indigenous group in Taiwan held a small protest, near the Presidential Office in the capital, Taipei, calling on the government to grant them official recognition and status.

The event – held by members of the Pingpu lowland indigenous people’s – was held to coincide with the International Day of the World’s Indigenous people. The protestors handed in a petition with their calls to the Presidential office

The Pingpu people – numbering around 200,000 - live in Taiwan’s western lowland plains , unlike most aboriginal groups who come from the island’s mountainous areas and east coast. Their geographical location brought them into the closest contact with the first wave of ethnic Han Chinese settlers to Taiwan four hundred years ago, hastening their assimilation into the main population.

As a result, many of their customs and languages began to die out. Today, pingpu dialects are only spoken in three out of ten tribes – and mainly by the elderly. Activists say their traditional cultures and languages are in danger of dying out altogether – unless they get government help.

Over the years, the authorities in Taiwan have granted official recognition to 13 aboriginal tribes –who make up about 2 per cent of the population – which gives them access to greater government funding and support to promote their indigenous culture and languages.

The Pingpu, though, have not been successful in their efforts for recognition - having failed to meet certain thresholds on language useage, cultural observance or possession of territory. They argue the thresholds have been set too high. And they’ve levelled accusations of discrimination and exclusion.

Whether they’ll be able to succeed in future efforts to lobby for government support remains to be seen; but time is running out. And some scholars have warned that, without official help, the unique culture of the pingpu people could disappear altogether within the next decade.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


We've had terrible rains over the past few days thanks to a tropical storm. But today was quite lovely..breaking in was the sun ..and a rainbow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Austronesian links

Taiwan, its 6 Pacific diplomatic allies, and the Philippines, announced they were establishing an Austronesian Forum - aimed at promoting closer ties between Austronesian members.

What's "Austronesian" ? you may ask. The Austronesian language is the world's biggest linguistic group, spoken by more than 200 million people.

Many scientists believe Taiwan was the birthplace of the Austronesian language family. Another, more controversial theory suggests that Taiwan could have been the original homeland of the Austronesian people, who then migrated to a wide area across the Pacific and beyond.
A beautiful traditional boat build by Orchid Islanders who rowed for the first time from their island to Taiwan.

The new Austronesian Forum aims to promote exchanges, academic, economic and cultural, between Austronesian communities. The body will be formally established next year. A draft charter pledges founder members to work to promote the goals of democracy, good governance, human rights and sustainable development .

This Hualien chieftan gave a traditional blessing at a ceremony to launch the first step in setting up the Austronesian Forum.

In recent years, the Taiwanese government has worked hard to promote its links with other Austronesian countries - seeing it as a way of trying to break out of its diplomatic isolation and stress its distinctiveness from China.

The island is recognised by just 24 governments around the world - six of them in the Pacific . Taiwan's own Austronesian people are members of the island's 13 officially recognized aboriginal groups who make up about 2% of the population.

President Chen Shui-Bian pointedly reminded his audience that Taiwan's indigenous peoples - like other Austronesian groups - had their own ancient cultures and languages which were totally different and unrelated to the culture of the Han Chinese - the main ethnic group in China and Taiwan.

But, like many aboriginals around the world, Taiwan's indigenous peoples have also been marginalized and faced discrimination. In recent years, though, they have gained more political power and recognition. Establishing closer links with other Austronesian countries could give Taiwan's own aboriginal communities a greater sense of pride and leadership - and wider respect .

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saving the green turtle

Green sea turtles are an endangered species around the world. But their populations are especially precarious in Taiwan.

A green turtle swims in a tank at the Turtle Conservation Centre, on Wang-an island, in Penghu.

Female turtles used to nest on many beaches around the island; but industrialisation, the loss of beach areas to development; as well as the killing of turtles for their meat and shells; and poaching of their eggs caused a rapid decimation of turtle populations.

There are now just two main nesting areas: in the Penghu archipelago (where several beaches are now protected reserves) and on Orchid Island. Both have documented around 12 female nesting turtles .a tiny population if you compare the same number, say in Hawaii..where populations are as high as 600.

The turtles are now a protected species in Taiwan. And efforts are underway to conserve the remaining numbers.

Their shells are brown or black in colour; but their bodies have a greenish hue becuase their main food sources are seaweed and microalgae.

Some turtles end up by accident trapped in fishing nets. Injured turtles are treated at a vetinary clinic at the Conservation Centre in Wang-an.

Prof. Cheng I-Jiunn, who has spent 16 years researching the green sea turtles, shows us one that's being treated at the Turtle Conservation Centre. It was found floating by the coastguard - and treated for malnutrition and minor injuries.

We were lucky enough to see one turtle nest on a beach. The green sea turtle is timid and only comes onto beaches to give birth at night. We were called out to one spot, where a turtle - bigger than 1 metre in length - had just laid her eggs. She was now digging a pit to carefully cover them - ferociously kicking up sand with her hind legs to cover them. It was pretty amazing to see the reptile frantically burying her eggs. And to reflect that turtles have been around 150 million years or so.

When she was finished, conservationists kept her in a wooden box on the beach overnight. They found she'd laid 138 eggs - a big batch (the average is 100-110) - which were taken back to the conservation centre, where they'll be looked after before they hatch.

Only about 70% of the eggs successfully hatch. And only 1/1000 babies actually make it to adulthood (20-50 years old) - when they will be mature enough themselves to give mate and give birth.

In one season, a turtle can nest 3-4 times; but that's it for another 3-5 years.....so its understandable why the populations are so precarious.

Early in the morning, Professor Chneg I-Jiunn, from the Institute of Marine Biology at the National Taiwan Ocean University, and student volunteers, attach a gps satellite transmitter on the turtle's back. It is state of the art equipment (costing around $7,000 US) and researchers hope it will give them vital clues about the turtle's lifecycle - especially its diving habits.

Fixing a gps satellite transmitter

After the transmitter is carefully glued, the turtle is released from its box...and inch by inch, clumsily works her way down the beach to the sea's edge.

Released from its wooden box

Ready to head home Crawling down the beach ... slowly does it...

Heading home, finally....

Turtles usually nest on remote beaches..and try to return to the same beach for future nestings, no matter how long it takes to travel there. But it abandons the sites if they're disturbed or have disappeared.

Whether we will see this one return, still remains to be seen....