Thursday, July 30, 2009


Three days were not enough. Of everywhere I've been in Taiwan, Kinmen is the place I most want to revisit.
From Kinmen

I feel lucky to have gone now: Kinmen is like a storybook Chinese island. It's quiet and clean. There weren't many cars. 7-11 was the only chainstore we saw. The buildings are old, and not very tall because of military regulations.
a Kinmen cultural village
Little Kinmen Street
The old village in front of our guesthouse
As China and Taiwan's relationship improves, I suspect Kinmen will continue to grow - it already benefits from economic ties to Xiamen.

But for now it's still a ways off the beaten path. We didn't spot any other Westerners during the trip.
No boats on this beach

We spent three days immersed in the testaments to an amazing part of Taiwan's history. We stayed in a refurbished 80-year-old guesthouse. The old man running the place showed us the blast scars in the home's inner courtyard from bombing. It was located just behind a six-hundred-year-old Fujianese village. We were told the village was designed to confuse pirates. That made James and I feel a little better when we got lost on our way home the first night.
The view from the second story of our guesthouse.

On our first night we sat outside sipping Kaoliang, a very strong liquor which I believe is only made in Kinmen and Matsu (another outlying Taiwanese island). To help wash down the kaoliang, we ate Kinmen peanuts and local clams marinated in oil and basil picked from our host's garden.
Our host serves James

Our first tourist stop was Maestro Wu's knife shop, where they make knives out of old PRC shells. Today most the knives are made out of propaganda shells - the PRC continued to send pro-communist messages to Kinmen long after the bombing stopped.
Maestro Wu knife shop
raw materials
making Kinmen knives

We spent most our time running around from monument, to museum, to observatory, to giant supply tunnel - trying to soak up all the history, but we definitely didn't get all of it.
Beishan, one of the first places to fall to the PRC in 1949.
The Nationalists later recovered it, and today Beishan is an important patriotic memorial for Taiwan.
supply tunnel for boats
We went through a lot of tunnels.
old underground barracks.
me + plane
Life was rough on Kinmen for a Commie in 1949, painting at Guningtou Museum
General Chiang Kai-Shek's Jeep
If you don't have a flame thrower handy, best find a flameth rower.

There is still military presence on Kinmen, though significantly reduced. However, James and I were given the mad-dog by an m.p. when we turned the car around in the wrong driveway.
Also, there are still quite a few minefields on the island. We even saw this guy clearing one.
"He's playing the live-action version of minesweeper," James.

Poor fella, out there by himself, I thought. But then I saw an ambulance parked nearby just in case, so that's nice for him, I suppose.

On our second night, at our host's suggestion, we went clam digging. And let me tell you - little Taiwanese clams are SO much easier to catch than Oregon razor clams. We didn't even need shovels. You just dig in with your hands, paw around, and come up with some tasty treats.

So fun - everybody was doing it.
I think this little boy didn't know what to make of me.
Taken early on, we filled this bucket up.
jelly thing. jellyfish?

Besides terrific military history, Kinmen has many beautiful villages. Here are just a few pictures of the lovely places we went.
Lots of good James pictures on this trip
driver playing traditional Chinese fiddle
We took a boat to Little Kinmen and attempted a brief bike ride.
Sights along the way
Look closely, I have a sunscreen/sweat moustache. Too hot for bikes.

A caution to anyone thinking about a trip to Kinmen: We did all our business in Chinese. We couldn't find an English map of the island. I'm sure Kinmen can be done if you don't speak Chinese, but our trip was definitely made easier by the fact we do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There it was

I am now in the unique position where I can say I've never been to the People's Republic of China, but I have taken a picture of it.

This is a picture of Xiamen, a city in Fujian province, as seen from the island of Little Kinmen. Xiamen is so close to Taiwan that with binoculars we could see people playing on the beach.

There was also a huge lettered sign facing Taiwan - kind of like the Hollywood sign, except in simplified Chinese, and, of course, in red: "One country, two shores, one China."

Before last weekend, I'd never even heard of Xiamen. But there it was - home to 2.5 million people - skyscrapers and everything. Xiamen isn't even the capital of Fujian!

Takeaway impression? China is big.

More on Kinmen soon - possibly my favorite place in Taiwan thus far.
Edit: My dad reminded me when we went to Macau in 1997, we could also see the PRC - making Kinmen the second place I've traveled and taken a picture of China.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We Goin' to Kinmen!

Kinmen National Park

Tomorrow morning we fly out to Kinmen, which lies just two kilometers from Fujian Province. I am so excited to be headed to a place with such unique status and historical legacy. It should be a special trip.

Kinmen (along with Matsu) was a key battleground during both Taiwan Strait Crises of the 1950s. After the shelling stopped, both sides continued to drop propaganda leaflets on one another for years.

In 1953 Eisenhower "unleashed Chiang Kai-Shek" by lifting the U.S. naval blockade, which was preventing Chiang from attacking the mainland.

Because of its military importance, it wasn't until the mid 1990s that civilian travel to Kinmen was allowed, says Wikipedia. Taiwan still doesn't allow individual mainland tourists, they must travel in groups.

Westerners say Kinmen is beautiful and interesting. I get mixed opinions from my Chinese friends: Some share my interest in the history. Others scrunch up their noses, "I hear it's really boring." I'm guessing they were influenced by the men in their lives who got stuck there:

Taiwan has mandatory military service for men. Just one year now, it used to be three years. You have no say in where you are stationed or what job you get. If I'd been sent to Kinmen for three years (like the husband of James' family friend), I'd probably vow never to return too.

We'll be gone three days. Yippee!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


From Eclipse
This morning I made for Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall to watch the eclipse.
Taipei is tall and dense. I wanted to go somewhere open, where my view wasn't blocked by a skyscraper.
Lots of people had the same idea. City workers passed out nifty free glasses so we could look at it without hurting our eyes.
with my cool shades on

I was interviewed by the news. Don't know if I made it on TV. We don't have cable, so I didn't bother asking what channel. TV interviews are weird. The anchor kept saying things like, "Do you think it's incredible? Is it unbelievable?" and I felt strangely compelled to parrot her, "Yes! It's unbelievable and incredible!"
They interviewed me.

The most covered the Sun got was 86% - so it didn't get dark like it did in Shanghai and various other locations across Asia. However it was cooler and less bright than usual. By midmorning, Taipei usually feels like the inside of a car left in the sun. Today it was almost comfortable.

We should have an eclipse every day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MJ Tribute, Taiwan-Style

Flash mob pays homage to Michael Jackson at intersection in Ximending, one of Taipei's hippest hangouts.

Thanks to Andre in Taiwan. I found the video on his blog and had to repost.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insensitive Obama Misappropriation: Taiwan Edition

歐巴馬麵包 ( Obama Bread)

Click on the link to go to Taichung blogger Naruwan's flickr. I found the picture from his twitter. My Chinese isn't nearly good enough to read the sign, but that's what it says.

Too Much Hiney

In Taiwan, if a restaurant sells beer, it sells Taiwan Beer and Heineken. Third-most popular are assorted Japanese labels (Asahi, Sapporo). After that, I see a lot more Corona than American labels.
I suppose this is a reflection of local tastes, people must like light beers here.

Heineken is just okay. But I'd take it any day over Taiwan Beer, which reminds me of all the watery brews I pumped out of a steel drum at 'SC. Taiwan Beer's slogan should be: "Easy to drink ... But why would you want to?"Taiwan Beer just came out with a new brew, Mine Malt Beer, which is slightly better than the namesake label "Taiwan PEE-jiu" (emphasis on PEE is my own).
Heineken must have decided to step up their game. I took these pictures a week ago at Zhongxia Fuxing station in Taipei. What you're looking at is a three-story long ad that runs up the side of a very steep escalator. It takes about a minute to get from top to bottom, so it's impossible to ignore.

While initially overwhelming, the three-story long Heineken tunnel doesn't have me rushing out for a six-pack.