Tag Archives: wulai

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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Visiting Taiwan – Taipei and Surrounding Areas

20 Mar

Taipei, the capital city, is in the North of the island and probably the first destination of any visitor. The city itself is a short bus ride (40 mins) from Taoyuan International Airport (CKS). Taipei City is located on the danshui river and is surrounded by mountains which rise up to 1120 metres above sea level. The city itself has a population of around 3 million, but including the Taipei metropolitan area (Xinbei City as it is now known) the population swells to almost 7 million.

Taipei 101


Taipei 101 sunset

Perhaps the most famous of all Taipei attractions is Taipei 101. Once the world’s tallest office building, Taipei 101 soars above all the other ‘skyscrapers’ in Taipei to dominate the skyline. Photgraphers from all over the world line up to take pictures of this building, that apparently was designed to resemble bamboo. The intersection of Xinyi and Keelung Roads being one of the most popular spots to take pictures, especially at night. The first four floors of the building form the Taipei 101 mall and the surrounding area is home to several department stores and a couple of good book stores – Page One and a branch of ESLite.

Taipei 101 can be reached by taking the MRT to Taipei City Hall station.

National Palace Museum

Taipei’s other main attraction is the National Palace Museum (or NPM as they are confusingly trying to promote it as now). The biggest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world resides here and is so large that it is said that they only ever have about 2% of the total collection on show at any one time. It is also worth remembering that the museum is free to visit on Saturdays after 6:30pm.

The National Palace Musuem can be reached by bus from Shilin MRT station

Night Markets

Next on Taipei’s list of highlights is Shilin Night Market. Located in the Shilin district of the city, not too far away from the NPM, Shilin is the biggest of all of Taipei’s many night markets. Whilst there are a great deal of things for sale here, the highlight for me personally is the food. The snacks on offer at Shilin are fantastic and all very reasonably priced. The night market starts around four and is busy every night of the week. Make sure you go with an empty stomach and spend the evening soaking up the hectic atmosphere while trying a host of weird and wonderful snacks. Reccomendations – Duck pancake rolls, the deep-fried chicken breast, xiaolongbao (a kind of steamed dumpling), dabingbaoxiaobing (literally big cake wraps small cake) and many, many others. Follow your eyes and listen to your stomach. If it looks good, try it. If it doesn’t look good, it probably still tastes good!

Shilin Night Market is located at Jiantan MRT station.

Le Hua Night Market is a short walk from DingXi MRT station.

The Four Beast Mountains

I love the outdoors but I also love living in a vibrant, busy city. In Taipei I get the best of both worlds because I have amazing mountains right on my doorstep. The Four Beasts are situated in Taipei’s Xinyi District, just a short walk from Taipei 1010. The beasts are mountains named after four animals – lion, tiger, panther and elephant. For more information check out these brilliant blogs by two long-term Taipei-ers, Stu and Neil.

Yangmingshan

Yanmingshan National Park, formerly known as grass mountain (caoshan) is a large area in the North of the City that includes the mountains of Datun, Qixing and Huangzui. The elevation here means that it is a pleasant place to come, even in the summer when Taipei is roasting (partly due to the heat island effect) the higher mountainous areas of Yangmingshan remain relatively cool. A lot of visitors to Yangmingshan complain that the area is over-crowded, which can often be the case on weekends, but we have found that if you avoid them much lauded Qingtiangang and Xiaoyoukeng areas you can find a nice quiet spot even on a busy summer weekend. There are also several natural hotsprings (as well as more developed ones) in the national park – my favorite has to be the Bayan Springs.

There are several bus routes to Yangmingshan, most leave from Jiantan MRT station

Danshui

Stu cycles Danshui

At the far North of Taipei is the port town of Danshui that is exceptionally popular now. It was one of the first places that early European settlers came to and as a result is home to some of the islands oldest buildings. The most appealing of which is the Fort San Domingo. Danshui is also a very popular spot for fishing and a sunset watching. Recently a bicycle route has been completed along the side of the Danshui River (and in fact, the Keelung and Xindian Rivers, too) and bikes can be rented for a small fee on the riverside.

Danshui is reached by taking the MRT to Danshui station

Beitou

Between Danshui and the rest of Taipei City is the area of Beitou, one of Taipei’s oldest districts. Beitou is famous for it’s hot springs and if you visit the area, you simply must try soaking in the pungent sulphurous water here. There are outdoor public pools and private hotel pools depending on what you are looking for. Also worth a visit if you are in the area is the recently built Ketagalan Cultural Center which is a great place to learn about the indigenous people of Taiwan.

The Hot Spring area and Ketagalan Cultural Center are both located a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT station

Wulai

One of the most scenic areas in Taipei is also another hot spring area is situated in the south of Taipei (Xinbei City)
– Wulai. The hot spring water here has none of the sulphurous odour that the Beitou and Yangmingshan springs have. There are free public springs located beside the river just off Wenquan Street and there are a multitude of hotels varying greatly in price and quality. Wulai also has an excellent Atayal Museum(one of the tribes of indeigenous people) and an ‘old street’ where you can buy traditional snacks and sample some Millet Wine.

The area of Wulai aslo offers fantastic hiking, river tracing and cycling. It is also just a great place to cool off in the crystal clear, cool water on a summer’s day.

Wulai can be reached by taking bus Number 1601 from Xindian MRT station

Maokong

The area of Maokong has been in the news a lot recently. A few years back it was a quiet tea-producing area in the south of the city that was home to lovely, peaceful teahouses where you could sit, enjoying the beautiful mountain air and views whilst drinking a cup of local produced tea. Then the government decided to build a gondola (cable car, to you and me) to take people from the zoo at the bottom of the mountain to the tea houses at the top (environmental and safety issues seemingly completely ignored). Pandemonium ensued, the area was swamped with tourists, more and more ‘teahouses’ popped up, there were horrendous queues for the gondola. Then a typhoon stopped all that. The area went back to normal for a while. Now the gondola is back in service (but, for how long is anyones guess). The gondola trip is quiet enjoyable (not in summer though, there is no air-con) and the area is still nice and there is a quite interesting and there is a Tea Promotion Center that is certainly worth a visit.

Maokong can be reached by gondola from Taipei Zoo MRT station or taking bus brown 15 from the same MRT

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