Tag Archives: travel

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 – The River Tracer

7 Sep
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The river  tracer

The River Tracer


My friends and I spend many a summer weekend looking for relaxing swimming holes to cool off in.  However the first one we found several years still has a special appeal and we find ourselves there every few months.  This particular time was a Saturday morning and the weather was looking less than ideal, thick grey moody clouds rolled in above us, looking on intimidating as we set out on a narrow treacherous fisherman’s trail that follows beside the river, winding and weaving it’s way through the dense, teaming undergrowth.

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Taiwan Stories – Coffin-hunting in Tainan

6 Sep
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“When you go there, you absolutely must try (insert local delicacy)” is a phrase that every foreign resident in Taipei must have heard countless times. A few years back the Taiwan government came up with a new idea for promoting travel within the island. As such, each county promoted a snack for which it is famous for – a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to the government promotion. Nowadays, whenever I mention to a Taiwanese co-worker that I am going away for the weekend, they will insist that I try out these famous snacks. I usually scoff at the idea (mostly because similar products are available everywhere) but perhaps I have underestimated the power of food! On this particular weekend I was heading for a long awaited trip to Taiwan’s former capital, Tainan, and the snack I was searching for – the less-than-enticingly named Coffin Bread.

Coffin Bread

Basically, coffin bread is a very thick slice of bread that is coated with egg and then deep-fried. Then the coffin-like case is cut open and filled with a kind of seafood chowder. Tempted?

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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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17 Nov

Motorcycling near JinGuaShi

Motorcycling is something that I never imagined myself getting into.  Given that I’m a bit of a coward and the inherent dangers of riding a motorcycle, I figured that it was something I would always steer well clear of.  The first six months that I lived in Taiwan I didn’t touch a scooter or motorcycle.  I would see them fly past as I walked down the road and more often that I would have liked, saw them lying broken in the middle of the road after an all to common accident.  That was enough to put me off trying one out.  But one day, a friend inviting me on a trip to Taroko Gorge and naturally I jumped at the offer and took the train down with him and the rest of the group.  It wasn’t until we got on the train that my friend mentioned we were going to be hiring scooters and riding them to the gorge.  For those who have driven in Taroko Gorge before you will know that it isn’t the ideal place for a beginner to start out learning to ride a scooter.  Just the thought of the winding, narrow roads, coupled with sheer, near-vertical drops a matter of feet to the side of the road (not to mention to the tour buses or trucks that go through)  was enough to make my stomach churn with anxiety. Continue reading

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