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Visiting Taiwan – Experiencing Hakka Culture in Beipu

17 Oct
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Beipu Old Street (北埔老街)offers visitors a collection of local Hakka delicacies.

Although the vast majority of Taiwan’s population is Han Chinese (indigenous people make up only about 2% of the population) there are still many sub-divisions of this group living on the island.  One of the biggest groups is the Hakka people.  Hakka people represent about 20% of Taiwan’s population and although you will find them all around the island, the majority still live in the hills of Miaoli, Hsinchu and Kaohsiung Counties.  The Hakka people are believed to originally be from the Central Chinese mountains, but the emigrated south to the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, and from there some made their way to Taiwan.  Although, they are similar to the Hoklo people who make up 70% of Taiwan’s population, they also differ in many ways and have very distinct clothing, architecture and cuisine as well as their own language.

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Taiwan Stories – What is in a name? The etymology of Taiwan’s towns

28 Sep
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When I first arrived in Taipei I had a terrible time with place names, often a complete inability to pronounce certain places in a way that a Mandarin speaker could understand. Many places have very similar names (Shulin 樹林 and Shilin 士林 confused me for a long time) and the complete mess that is the Romanization system makes it a nightmare for many a new arrival. But, of course, after a while I got used to the names and now the likes of Ximending or Zhongxiao Dunhua are as familiar to me as Piccadilly or Greenwich.

A few years after I arrived as I begun to push my Chinese studies beyond being able to order a bacon danbing (a kind of bacon and egg pancake) for breakfast, I began to become quite intrigued by the names given to towns and cities. Most people here have probably pondered why there is a Taipei 台北 (North), Taidong 台東 (East) and a Tainan 台南 (South) but no Taixi 台西 (West).  Well, actually there is a Taixi (in Yunlin County) it is just not as big or famous as it’s brothers.

At the time I was living in Xindian, which means new store in Mandarin and this seemed a really bizarre choice of name for a city. So I asked my Chinese teacher and a few local friends without much luck, so I decided to do some research. At first, I was a little disappointed to find out that the name Xindian was actually because a new store was built where the city is now and the name just stuck. However I kept looking through for other place names and what I found was fascinating, and I ended up spending hours on end reading up about these stories. Whenever I found somewhere new that had an interesting name I would go back and check up to see where the name originated.

Here are a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across…

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Taiwan Stories – Escaping the Summer Heat in Taiwan’s High Mountains

19 Aug
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View From Yushan Peak at Sunrise

View From Yushan Peak at Sunrise

Growing up in the North of England every summer was eagerly anticipated, especially because I lived by the coast and loved going to the beach, when summer did come around I would even pray that it would get hotter.  Wishing that just for a few days of the summer the thermometer would creep past 25 degrees and the long-abandoned shorts and sunglasses could come out of hibernation.  Nowadays in Taiwan, I still love the summer for all the same reasons I did when I was younger – beaches, swimming outdoors, picnics etc. – but there is also a sense of dread that comes each year with the final days of spring.

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Taiwan Stories – Sea Kayaking around the North-East Coast

30 Jul
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Published in Travel in Taiwan (July/August 2010)

Almost everywhere in Taiwan you will find breath-taking scenery, but perhaps the views that leave the deepest impression on visitors are those of the majestic, dramatic coastline. And what better way to take in all the splendour of these picturesque cliffs and bluffs than from the (somewhat) comfortable seat of a kayak!

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Taiwan Stories – White Water Rafting in Hualian

14 Apr
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Published in Travel in Taiwan magazine (May/June 2010)

The summers in Taipei can be overwhelming, even for long-term residents the combination of high temperatures and humidity are uncomfortable.  Fortunately, Taiwan has a plethora of different water-based activities to help you cool off and still get outside and make the most of the summer.

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TongXiao, MiaoLi County

14 Apr
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Field of Flowers

Published in Travel in Taiwan magazine (March/April 2010)

Rural Taiwan, has long played second-fiddle to the booming industrial areas in the island’s Economic Miracle, is finally seeing somewhat of a renaissance.  City dwellers, longing for fresh air and expansive countryside are looking to the farming areas that once drove the nation’s economy to find the peace and relaxation they seek as well as having a chance to re-discover some of the island’s more unique traditions.  TongXiao, in Miaoli County, is just one of the places taking advantage of this new tourism wave and we took the short train ride from Taipei to find out why.

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Maolin after Morakot

24 Nov
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DuoNa Mountains in the morning

Maolin Township is located in Kaohsiung County in Southern Taiwan. The Maolin township is intersected by the picturesque JuoKuo creek and lies between 230 and 2700 metres above sea level. The area has long been famous in Taiwan for it’s incredible natural hot springs that are set against stunning mountain backdrops as well as being the winter resting place for the purple crow butterfly. The township is composed of several small villages that are connected to one another and the rest of Kaohsiung County by a single, small road that weaves and winds its way through the steep mountains and over the creek. Almost all of the 2000 people who call Maolin home are members of the Rukai tribe of Taiwan aborigines.

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