Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A new tribe

The government has granted official recognition to people from the Sakizaya tribe - who have become the 13th legally recognised aboriginal tribe in Taiwan.
They have an interesting story: the tribe were once one of the strongest and largest in Taiwan; but almost decimated after an attack in 1878 by soldiers from China's Qing dynasty.

Survivors hid among aboriginals from the Amis tribe, to avoid persecution. Abas Lai, a primary school teacher from the tribe, told me that the tribal chief was killed in a particularly vicious manner..his skin cut into 1,001 pieces.

"The Sakizaya just hide [with the]Amis [tribe]… they lose their self confidence. They don’t want to show their name, because they are afraid of the force, of the army, of the government… ", she said.

The group began to push for recognition about 20 years ago. As Taiwan emerged from martial law and began to flourish as a democracy, the island’s ethnic groups demanded greater rights and government recognition. Today, its thought there are between 5-10,000 members of the sakizaya tribe, who have traditionally lived in the island’s eastern county of Hualien.

While government recognition is largely symbolic - giving the tribe a sense of pride that their culture and language is now valued and respected - it also means tribal members will have access to government funds to help preserve their culture as well as medical and educational benefits.
But as the Sakiraya celebrate, several other groups in Taiwan are still struggling to get official recognition – including the Pingpu plains people. To get recognition, groups need to meet
certain thresholds to demonstrate they have a unique language and culture, or occupy specific territorial areas.

Despite living with the Amis, and having many similarities, the Sakizaya have demonstrated their language is unique; and also say there are differences in their costume and dance.
They hope now that their new status will give new life and confidence to the tribe – which once was in danger of disappearing altogether

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Car of the future?

Taiwan's first hydrogen powered car to make a roadtest was unveiled today.

Looking a bit like a golf buggy, the canary yellow vehicle is powered by hydrogen gas which has been extracted from water using a solar panel powered process.

The vehicle was produced by students at Mingdao University in Changhua county. But its still a working prototype. It can only generate about 5kw of power; and runs for 30-40 kms before it needs refuelling.

As oil prices rise, more people are looking at energy and transport alternatives. GM recently announced a new electric car - powered by a battery; while BMW also announced a luxury hydrogen-drive car.

Still likely to be many years before the majority will be using green technologies though.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


I was waiting to see how long it would take before this was raised as an issue: birds killed by Taiwan's new high speed rail.

On a press trip, we could see the snub nose of the train smeared with blood: having hit birds along the route.

The PR people told us it happens with all high speed rail systems around the world.

Anyhow, this is a story that was running in Taipei Times yesterday: with a somewhat sensational headline.

High speed trains said to be causing bird massacre
BIRD BLOODBATH: Birdwatchers in the south of the country claim that the bloodstains on bullet trains are evidence of wild birds' inability to avoid the vehicles

By Shelley Shan
STAFF REPORTER Monday, Jan 08, 2007,

Only days after beginning official operations, the high speed rail system has attracted the ire of yet another group of critics: bird lovers.

Birdwatchers in southern Taiwan said last week that bullet trains are killing "many" wild birds along the high speed rail routes. Although they could not provide numbers to support their claims, they pointed to bloodstains "commonly seen" on the bullet trains as evidence of an avian massacre.

Activists are urging the Council of Agriculture to investigate: and said if they found that birds' lives were endangered by the high-speed rail, they should file
a lawsuit against Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) for violating the Wildlife Conservation Law .

THSRC were quoted as saying:

"railway accidents would not jeopardize the safety of the high speed rail. It also said that it believes wild birds would learn to avoid flying near the fast-moving trains."

Friday, January 5, 2007

Biting the bullet

After several delays, Taiwan's new high speed train service - based on the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train technology - finally began commercial services. But not without more glitches: as the media reported ticketing problems and overbooking of services.

The train will link the capital to the island's second city of Kaohsiung - turning a four hour plus journey into a 90 minute trip.
Its cost more than $15 billion; and advocates say it will revolutionise the way people work and live along the island's western corridor (home to 94% of the population) - turning "Taiwan island" into "Taiwan city".

Lofty goals. And the goverment has plans to develop 5 new towns alongside some of the new stations. But they are so far plans on paper. Some fear unless there are efforts to boost services and infrastructure in some cities, the big metropolitan cities will act as magnets, hollowing out poorer rural areas like Yunlin and Changhua.
I took a test ride in November: it was a very quiet and smooth ride; though I felt the cabin seats were a little cramped. The one business class carriage on each train was pretty comfortable.
Anyhow, top marks to local designer Jamei Chen, who has come up with some very wearable and great looking uniforms for the train staff: very tasteful - and we really liked the cool waist bags that some of the female staff were wearing; wonder if they will go on sale at high speed rail counters?

See also : BBC NEWS:

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New Year 2007

About half a million people poured onto the streets to see $1m US dollars worth of fireworks go up in smoke at Taipei 101 - the world's (still) tallest building on New Year's Eve.
I got stuck in a traffic jam making my way across town. But we still got to see the spectacular fireworks at midnight.
Here's hoping 2007 is a more peaceful and rewarding time for everyone.