Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beijing Tour II

Mutianyu Great Wall
Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling etc. are sections of the great wall that can be accessed from Beijing. Being the first portion of the great wall to open to tourists and for its well established traffic network, Badaling is the most visited section. I was indecisive of which section to visit, considering the number of tourists, accessibility, transportation and level of restoration. I chose the Mutianyu for my great wall adventure.

According to websites, to get to Mutianyu one can take bus no. 916 from Dongzhimen station in Beijing City to Huairou County then change to a taxi or minibus to the Mutianyu. The moment I walked out of the Dongzhimen subway station I saw a bus no. 916 picking up passengers at a bus stop. I ran to the bus and soon realized that it was not an express bus. The ticket collector told me that in order to get the express one I would have to go to the Dongzhimen long distance bus station which is located at No.45, Dongzhimenwai Xiejie, about 100 meters from the subway line 2 exit B. The express bus no. 916 commutes between Beijing City and Huairou County via the Jingcheng expressway (ticket can be purchased on bus from a ticket collector, RMB12, about a 40 minutes ride). I asked the ticket collector how could I go to Mutianyu from here at the Huairo bus ternimal before stepping out of the bus and she told me to take a bus no. 916 elsewhere. I was totally confused: I was on a bus no. 916 and that bus didn't pass by any places that looks like a great wall and why couldn't I take a bus from the terminal? I figured the bus no. 916 in Huairou County took a different route than the one in Beijing City so I followed her instruction and walked to a bus stop waiting for the bus. The driver of the first bus no. 916 shook his head when I asked him whether Mutianyu was one of the destinations of the bus then I walked across the road and got the same answer from the second bus driver. I walked back to the bus terminal and this time got a promising answer: take a bus no. 936. After getting another shaking head answer from the driver of bus no. 936, I surrendered to a taxi driver who had been trying to sell the service the moment I got out of the bus. According to websites, the price of a one way trip to Mutianyu is from RMB 30~50 and I made a deal with the driver in a cost of RMB80 for a round trip.

The Mutianyu great wall (07:30~17:30; RMB40/45 without/with CD) has 2 cable car stations, one of them also equipped with wheeled toboggans to ride down from the wall on a winding metal track. I took the cable car (RMB35 for oneway/50 for a round trip) that lifted to the No 14th watch tower; from there I turned right and climbed all the way to the tower No. 1 where the road ended. I was hoping that I could catch the tail end of autumn hues as a background but as it turned out, the withered surroundings helped the great wall to stand out in the sun and diminished the modern look of it from the renovations, creating a greater sense of time proper to the place.

Mutianyu on Wikipedia: (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù) is a section of the Great Wall of China located in Huairou County 70km northeast of Beijing. The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is connected with Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs.

First built in the mid-6th century during the Northern Qi, Mutianyu Great Wall is older than the Badaling section of the Great Wall. In the Ming dynasty, under the supervision of General Xu Da, construction of the present wall began on the foundation of the wall of Northern Qi. In 1404, a pass was built in the wall. In 1569, the Mutianyu Great Wall was rebuilt and till today most parts of it are well preserved. The Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall.

Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction.

  • Watchtowers are densely placed along this section of the Great Wall - 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-meter-long stretch.
  • Both the outer and inner parapets are crenelated with merlons, so that shots could be fired at the enemy on both sides - a feature very rare on other parts of the Great Wall.
  • The Mutianyu Pass consists of 3 watchtowers, one big in the center and two smaller on both sides. Standing on the same terrace, the three watchtowers are connected to each other inside and compose a rarely seen structure among all sections of Great Wall.

Besides, this section of Great Wall is surrounded by woodland and streams. The forest-coverage rate is over 90 percent.

Bird Nest and Water Cube
I think the most mentionable architecture on the planet in August 2008 was the Bird Nest (ticket selling: 09:00~17:30 at gate D, RMB 50; open hours: 09:00~18:00) and the Water Cube (09:00~18:30, RMB30) in Beijing. Getting there is best done by subway line 8 from the two stations, Olympic Sports Center and Olympic Green. There is no better station as both stations are situated in a 10 minute walk from the center of the venues.

I followed the arrow signs that were hung on the fences of the water cube to get a ticket to go in. After circumnambulating the building I still couldn't find the place for tickets. I overheard a guy asking a security about the location of the ticket booth, so I followed him to the booth that was one block over the water cube on the west side. It was 18:00 around, all the lights were off and the area looked like a construction site. I read the rule for ticket purchasing: started at 8:30AM, 5 sections would be opened daily for ticket purchasing, once tickets for one section were sold out, visitors could start purchasing tickets for the next section until all tickets were sold out. I wondered under such ticketing policy how tourtists could ever get a chance to buy tickets as scalpers teamed up to plunder. I was frustrated about the situation and my last resort to get in the water cube was the large scale symphonic concert that integrates lighting, laser and waterscapes with world music. The show started at 19:30 in the price ranged from RMB200 to 800. I read the advertisement and went back to the east-north corner of the water cube to buy a ticket. Once again, the booth was closed and after the trip to Mutianyu I decided to call it a day.

Hutong and Night life
Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys formed by lines of siheyuan--the traditional courtyard residences. The most extensive and best preserved hutongs can be found around Jiaodaokou, Dongcheng district. Situated in the center of the hutong area, the Gǔlóu (Drum Tower) and Zhōnglóu (Bell Tower) were used to tell time and became watches for the officials and civilians. Although the towers have lost their function of telling time, they could be served as a landmark and starting point for tourists in a hutong tour. The NanLuGuXiang (NLGX) and Yandai Byway (click on the blue and purple lines on the map below for more information) are the two most tourists attracting hutongs in the area. Hutongs in modern era have become tourist attractions, a place where cultures and the living styles of ancient Beijing could be unveiled. However, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars came and stationed in with tourists, despite the effort of preserving the old hutong style, the atmosphere in NLGX and Yandai Byway was never the same as in the old time.

I rented a bicycle (RMB15/hour; RMB300 for deposit) to explore the area and saw a large construction in progress on the west side of Gulou Dajie. I worried such scale of construction would create more modern hutongs as tourist attractions instead of renovating the traditional courtyard residences as hutong cultures conservation. I saw the dilemma from the point of view as a foreigner and I was curious about what the residents have to say.

There are two bar areas in Beijing, the Sanlitun Entertainment Area and the Shichahai Bar Area. Shichahai consists of the following three lakes: the Xihai (west sea), Houhai (back sea) and the Qianhai (front sea). Bars are concentracted on Houhainanyan and Qianhaibeiyan (red line on the map) whereas restaurants are located on Qianhaisiyan, a pedestrian precinct(green line on the map). I was hoping to enjoy myself in a bar that has a live band performance but those who approached wanted to offer not only beers and live bands but also sex. I didn't know it was because I looked desperately horny or what, I couldn't lose those panders tailing me every corner I went. I fled the area like a chicken.

View Beijing Hutong in a larger map

Lama Temple
According to travel books, Yōnghégōng (Lama temple, 09:00~17:00, RMB25, Subeway line 2/5 Yonghegong Station) is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world; the building and the artworks of the temple combine Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. The Buddhism in China (as well as in Taiwan) is a combination of Mahayana and Taoism, I was curious to see what kind of fusion would be when the influence of Tibetan Buddhism was introduced.

The architecture looked like any buildings in the imperial palace, I couldn't tell the true identity of this court as a temple without censers and cushions in front of the buildings for worshipers. Most of deities worshipped here were commonly seen in Buddhist temples, it seemed the influence of Tibetan Buddhism was limited, I couldn't find a new style of Buddhism that combines Mahayana, Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism as expected. A huge statue of Maitreya (18 meters) was positioned in the Pavilion of Infinite Happiness, the last main hall, won a position in Guinness Book of World Records for being carved out out of a single piece of sandalwood.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beijing Tour I

Tiananmen Square
I was in junior-high when tanks ran over protesters at this very spot. I searched those faded images in my head and superimposed with my vision: tanks speeded up and transformed into vehicles flowing on the Chang An Avenue that seperates the gate and the square; armed soldiers marched to haul down the flag which ritually attracts crowds gathering where they evicted the protesters. I couldn't find any traces of the June 4th Incident there, just propoganda and annoying solicitors.

I paid 15RMB to go up to the Tiananmen (08:00~17:00). Before entering, I was asked to deposite my camera bag (RMB2/bag for 1 hour) and was frisked. Ribbons blocked tourists about 2 meters away from the marble railings obstructing the panoramic view of the square from the balcony. Some areas closed to the public made the Tiannamen one of the overpriced tourist attractions.

More info:
  1. Getting there: Subway line 1, Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West Station.
  2. Raising and lowering flag ritual: At sunrise and sunset respectively. Check Beijing Evening Newspaper or call 114 for the exact time.
  3. Audio guide: No

Forbidden City (National Palace Museum)
Standing over 500 years, the forbidden city was the imperial palace for Ming and Qing Dynasties. The vivid color of renovated buildings vs. patinas on censers; ancient furniture and setting vs. the modern heating/cooling system, the city is a place where time conflicts itself. My attempt to do justice to the magnificence of the Forbidden City was futile. In spite of the fact that most of the rooms were closed to public and most of the valuable art collections were taken to Taiwan when the Republic Of China retreated from the mainland, the forbidden city can offer not only the majestic Chinese ancient architecture but also its mysterious stories and history that have been told over 500 years.

More info:
  1. Opening time: 08:30-16:30, Oct. 15th-Mar. 31st, 15:30 stops selling tickets; 08:30-17:00, Apr. 1st-Oct. 14th, 16:00 stops selling tickets
  2. Price: Apr. 16-Oct.15, RMB60; Oct. 16-Apr. 15, RMB40
  3. Audio Guide: RMB100 deposite, RMB10 for Mandarin, RMB20 for English
  4. Transportation: as the Tiananmen square.
  5. Great info and 3D virtural tour:
Summer Palace (Yihe yuan)
This royal garden was designed in images of garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. The man made Kunming Lake was an imitation of West Lake in Hangzhou; view over Kunming Lake towards Yu Quan Hill with Yu Feng Pagoda was a design of "borrowing views" that incoporates elements from a distance far away from the garden. Artisans used different kinds of Chinese landscape garden designs such as imitation and borrowing views, etc. to harmonize the Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, the two basic frameworks of the garden, and won the garden a place on UNESCO's World Heritage List as a "masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design".

Covering an area of 2.97 square kilometers, the Summer Palace can be divided into 3 parts: Political area (Renshou Dian as the representive building), living quarters (Leshou Tang as the representive building) and recreation area (vast west part of the garden) based on the functions they served. After a few hours traveling in time through the palace with my audio guide, I was lost in legends. Willows swung in the breeze; autumn colored leaves shimmering in the afternoon sun, a walk to the west part of the garden was a good way to reconnect to the time continuance.

More Info:
  1. Transportation: Subway Line 10, Bagou station. A 5 min ride by taxi to Shinjiengon Men of Summer Palace (RMB10). No taxi at the Shimen (West exit); it takes about 30 min by bus to subway Bagou station.
  2. Summer Palace Official Website: Opeing time and pricing etc.
  3. Audio guide: Multi-languages to choose from
Temple of Heaven
The temple of heaven comprises three main groups of construction: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the representative construction of the complex and is easy to be confused to the place where the ceremonies of prayer to heaven took place.

The Chinese emperors were considered as the son of God and inherited divinity. An altar like this was a place where emperors were once human again: voices could only be heard by worshiping on the altar that was built to compliment God.

More Info:
  1. Temple of Heaven official Website
  2. Temple of Heaven on Wikipedia
  3. Transportation: Subway Line 5, Tiantandongmen station.
  4. Audio guide: Multi-languages to choose from

Saturday, December 06, 2008

2008/2009 Purple Crow Butterfly Watching Activity

The 2008/9 Purple Crow Butterfly Watching Activity will be held during the weekends between 6 Dec 2008 and 7 Mar 2009. Those interested can make reservations for a butterfly watching guided tour online (free gifts offered). At the special exhibition room in Maolin Tourist Center, Chen Wen-Long Specimen Painting Exhibition, Purple Crow Butterfly Instant Image Display, and The World’s Two Largest Over-wintering Butterfly Valleys Exhibition will be held. Moreover, with the local community participating, a weekend crafts market will also be launched to improve local economy. Ecological tour lovers are welcome to appreciate the beauty of butterflies at Maolin.

An opening hiking activity will be held at 0830am, 6 December. The route starts from the Administration of Maolin National Scenic Area to Maolin Ecological Park along the 132 Highway. All are welcome to participate. Reservation hotline: 07-3452942.
Started from Dec. 6th, 5 purple crow butterfly hiking tours will be held at 08:40, 09:10, 09:40, 10:10 and 10:40 on every Saturday and Sunday (not including Jan. 24th and 25th, 2009, the Chinese New Year period). Reservations will be closed before Friday for the up coming weekend tours, each section has a maximum 50 person restriction.

For more information, visit the Maolin National Scenic Area website


Monday, December 01, 2008

Beijing Dining

Dishes are served as appetizer while staples such as noodles are considered the ending of a meal. To show respect, make sure your cup/bottle is lower than the others when toasting . It is interesting to learn the dining/toasting custom in Beijing. I wonder when a bowl of tasteless steamed rice is served as the staple for a meal would the locals order more dishes to go with the rice? Would the locals ever lie on the ground in order to fight for a lower position in a toast?

Peking duck is one of the must eat delicacies in Beijing and the name "Quanjude" has become synonymous with peking roast duck. Founded by Yang Quanren in 1864, the quanjude restaurant (Hepingmen branch, subway line 2, Hepingmen station) developed the hung oven to roast ducks and has become the biggest franchise that serves peking ducks in China. We paid a fortune, 784RMB for a set meal for 4 which included a whole roasted duck and a few duck related dishes, to eat the number 115,747,001 duck served in Quanjude since 1864 and got a certificate (the photos). Frankly, Taiwan roast duck tastes as good as the authentic peking duck, even better, in a much cheaper price (50~70RMB for a whole duck). More info regarding the peking duck on Wikipedia.

The lamb hotpot is another must eat delicacy in Beijing. Donglaishun (the 5th floor of Shidongan market. 138 Wangfujing Daijie, Dongcheng District, subway line 1, Wangfujing station), founded in 1903 by a Muslim, has more than 130 branches all over China. The restaurant specialized in Muslim dining, the lamb hotpot served in a charcoal heated bronze pot is the recommended specialty of the restaurant. We ordered a combo lamb hotpot for 3 (400RMB) that included a bracket of vegetables, 3 BBQ lamb sticks, one dish of fish filet, a dish of sliced beef and 2 dishes of sliced lamb that contained different fat percentage giving the dishes different textures. There was no odor in the meat but small spiky bones in fish filets made the feast less enjoyable.

Wangfujing (23 Dong An Men Dajie, Dongcheng District, subway line 1, Wangfujing station) and Longfusi (1 Lingfusi Qianjie, Dongcheng District, sybway line 5, Dongsi station) are the two famous snack streets in Beijing. Flour pancakes cooked with egg, coriander, chilli and black onion seeds, pancakes stuffed with pork, eggs and vegetables, kabab, fruits coated with maltose, and the exotic fried scorpions, cicadas and sea horses etc.; a trip to the snack streets is definitely a feast and mind blowing. I had a little setback when ordering BBQ lamb in a Longfusi snack restaurant though. I ordered a BBQ lamb stick from a girl and she told me to come back later since the meat was not cooked. I went to a stall nearby to buy a pancake about 2 minutes later the BBQ girl announced that the BBQ was ready. I turned back for my order but she told me that I couldn't buy it because somebody had already paid for the sticks. I finished my pancake and the craving for BBQ lamb pushed me back to the BBQ girl: "one BBQ lamb stick please" I said. "The meat is not cooked yet, come back in 15 minutes" said the girl. Right there my appetite was lost.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beijing experiences II

It seemed to me that the Second Ditan International Conference on Infectious Diseases in Beijing was organized by Cosoman Limited in Hong Kong despite the fact that the official organizer was the Beijing Ditan Hospital. We didn't get any information about check-in nor could we find any information on the official website, all we knew was that the first scientific program was scheduled at 14:00. We went to the venue around 11:00 and tried to check-in, however they couldn't find our information and asked us to pay for participation. We explained to the staff our identities as oral presenting authors and we had registered and paid for the conference via internet. It took a senior staff to find our records. Figuring out what title they should put on our name tags took another senior staff to accomplish. We asked for invoices for reimbursement, apparently this was something that they weren't expecting. The official language of the conference was English thus I was bewildered that speeches before my section were given in mandarin. We found out later it was because there were no foreigners in that section and mandarin was chosen unanimously for the section. The setting of the venue was speaker unfriendly, I could hardly see my power point on the screen from the stage; moderators had to give up their table and sat with the audience to see slides; no laser pointer for the speakers nor timer for the moderators. This was one of the most chaotic conference organizations that I have ever seen.

There really is no good way to get around in Beijing city if you are in hurry to get somewhere. The subway system has a massive coverage rate in the city center, however, one might have to transfer a few lines before getting to one's destination. Taking a taxi maybe a better bet if you are not stuck in a traffic jam which seems inevitable taking place all the time in the city center. I couldn't help wondering why it seemed every mintue in the city center was a rush hour, both in subway and on roads. It is said that the number of vehicles increased exponentially during the SARS epidemic because everybody was afraid to go to any public spaces. To relieve the congestion, the policy of plate number of vehicles ending with certain digits are forbidden on certain days was implemented. Despite the convenient subway, good road system and policies implemented, it doesn't seem to make it any less congested. I have to say though, Beijing has the best taxi service as far as I know. Expect a cost of 20~40RMB for getting around the city, an receipt containing the taxi number and its relevant information such as the organization and phone number etc. is always provided.

If spitting was an Olympic sport, there is no doubt that China would win a gold medal. It takes years of practice to concentrate the watery saliva and fire it with accurate an angle and force so it can fly against strong winter wind without falling apart (I think phlegm also helps to stick it together) and utimately hit the target in a perfect parabola. I was amazed that I have never been hit by a stray bullet during my stay considering all walks of life practice this skill everywhere. It also would be interesting to conduct a survey regarding the impact of second hand smoke to the public health in Beijing. The result should be promising.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beijing experiences I

I have never been to Beijing before the Olympics so there is no reference for me to compare how much the capital city has changed. Post-Olympics era is a widely discussed topic in all walks of life, the financial analyst, the politicians and I am interested to see if the civilization has been up lifted along with the modern infrastructure.

The Beijing Capital International Airport is a huge monster. After the immigration check (T3E), passengers reclaim their luggage by a 5 minute ride on a shuttle train that takes passengers to the other side of the terminal (T3C). There are 3 terminals in the airport. Terminal 1 (T1) serves domestic flights of Hainan Airlines, and T2 and T3 serve airlines worldwide. It is advised to find out at which terminal your filght is via the airport website before departure. The airport express shuttles passengers to the Sanyuanqiao (line 10) and Dongzhimen (line 2) subway station, 25RMB; about a 20mins ride, where the passengers can transfer themselves around the city center by a mass subway network. Buses to Xidan, Beijing Railway Station, Gongzhufen, Fanzhuang, Zhongguancun and some other locations are also avaliable at a cost of 16RMB, operating time: 05:30 ~21:00, every 15 mins interval. We took a cab to the Xiqiao Novotel hotel, 85RMB+10RMB toll fee; 45 mins.

I checked into the 4 star Xiqiao Novotel Hotel around 17:30 and the reception gave me a card key that couldn't open my room. I dragged my luggage to the elevator trying to go back to change the key. An elevator door opened and a staff was in it, I was happy that I could ask him to take care of the key problem instead of going down by myself with all my luggage. I said to him "excuse me, ..." before I could finish my sentence he closed the door leaving me alone in the empty hallway, speechless. I got a new card for my room, this time it worked then I realized that the reception didn't give me back my reservation documents in which was contained my e-tickets for the flights and a hotel reservation in Macau while I was settling down. I called the reception and asked for the documents back, the guy who picked up the phone told me impatiently that he didn't know what I was talking about and seemed not intent in helping me to find the documents. I went down to the reception again and asked the staff to look for the documents, that's when they started to look for the paper. It 's perplexing to see a well equipped 4 star hotel have such lousy services. My friends were glad that none of these incidences happended to them but what they didn't know was something bigger coming when they were checking out. To secure potential expenses, the hotel asked for a 500RMB deposit on credit card. When checking out, they asked to cancel the deposit. The reception didn't return the credit card to my friends after checking out; a few hours later when my friends went back to the hotel to reclaim their luggage, the concierge failed to convey the message from the reception to my friends. It was not until they landed in Taiwan and realized the credit card was lost. She registered the loss of the card and text messaged me to go back to the hotel to find the card for her.

We had an appointment with my boss in his hotel lobby at 19:00. It took us more than one hour to go to the hotel. By the time we arrived, he was pissed. He yelled at us" it should be you guys waiting here for me not the other way around" Well, it's wrong being late but considering our arrival time and the time spent in metro, we didn't think we deserved that. After all, someone picked him up directly from the airport and helped him checking into the hotel, but we didn't have that kind of privilege.

The trip started all wrong in the first place, nobody was in the mood to go out and around after dinner. On our first night in Beijing we went to bed early.

Political Fanatics

We submitted three abstracts to the Second Ditan International Conference on Infectious Diseases in Beijing under the command of my boss. All abstracts were accepted for oral presentation and I was asked to be one of the presenting authors for the abstracts submitted. For my boss' political concerns, I was asked to use my own vacation time to participate in this conference while the others applied for a business trip. I was punished for being a hard worker who didn't spend the annual paid leave for travel.

The power point was another battlefield for Taiwan and China. My cover slide contained a presenting title, authors and organizations. By default setting, the size of the title is the biggest followed by authors then organizations which were categorized as sub-titles. My boss wasn't happy about the size of the organizations on the slide and yelled at me "if you're worried that the word Taiwan would cause you troubles, you might as well not go to the conference". I have no problem telling people where I am from and politics was not taken into account when I made the slides. I made the organizations line as big as my title was, even though it looked awkward, and added the organization logo in every slide. In my speech, I took the time to tell everyone in the room that I was from Taiwan, an act that my boss instructed me to avoid in the speech. After the section, two moderators came to shake my hand and thanked me for an excellent speech and commented that the Taiwan groups did a wonderful job.

Everybody seems crazy about cross-strait politics in Beijing, especially when taking a taxi. They are proud of how much the government has lifted the ban on politics and how many channels regarding politics are avaliable now. I heard the news in Beijing about Chen Shui Bien being held in custody and that he had embarked on a hunger strike. In the news, legislators of the KMT urged Chen Shui Bien to face the law even a legislator of the DPP, Kao Zhi Pong, condemned the act of a hunger strike as being heartless. Of course the speech of Kao Zhi Pong was edited. It's ironic that while people are celebrating the slack in media control, the propoganda is progressing via the media. Are you DPP or KMT? What do you think about DPP/KMT? Do you think Chen Shui Bien is guilty? Of all the questions, this one amused me a little: do you have a communist party? All I cared about was how I could get a set meal with two pieces of spicy chicken, french fries and a coke from the KFC. (Only chicken wings are spicy in KFC, Beijing)

Monday, October 20, 2008

2009 Calendar


It's a once in a blue moon opportunity that I can take a long vacation without worrying about being called back for a fuss yet I am stuck here dealing with annoying bureaucracies. Official letters are designed to torture, to slow down progresses of work. Somehow people just love it and can't work without it. Like all the worthy reading tales, the red tape system also involves a character whose job is to sabotage in order to create a twist to spice up the boring procedures.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Copyright permission request

Today I got an email entitled "Copyright permission request...". My first reaction was here comes another spam. After reading the email I decided to give them the permission to reproduce the photo requested. So you might be able to see my photo in the coursebook when teaching English next year.

Dear Hanjie,

I am writing to ask whether you would be able to grant us permission to reproduce a photo from your gallery at http://www.pbase.com/, details of which are listed below. The photo will be reproduced for educational purposes, in a secondary English coursebook series. It may also be reproduced in print and non-print formats, for example, photocopiable worksheets, electronic books, website, as additional teaching aids for teachers’ free use...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August breifing

Places visited and activities in August

Kaohsiung Caishan
Given the precipitous geography and the excellent panoramic view over the Taiwan strait, Caishan used to be bases of military barracks and a radar tower that was resticted to the public. A few local Taiwanese restaurants were the only treat for soldiers who were let out from bases for a half day and now this secret garden hosts restaurants and bars that serve exotic cuisine cooked by foreign chefs--onwers of the restaurants.

The specialty of the Ocean Side Café aka the big bowl café (Tue~Sun, 13:00~23:00) is its 1200ml Salvadoran coffee (NT200) served in a big bowl as the name indicates. "It's called big bowl café in Chinese but I prefer the name lover's café. The café is for lovers, families and for those who like to pass time alone liesurely" said the Salvadorian owner.

The escape 41, a restaurant and bar, is the place to go if you are craving some western delicacies. The menu covers burgers, lasagna, pizzas and quiche etc., making ordering a tough choice. Finding the exact location of the escape 41 is another challenge, the bar was built against the cliff with a wooden platform reaching out into the ocean. Escape, the name of the restaurant fits the amosphere of the restaurant perfectly. Cliffs, waves of the ocean and the golden hue of the sunset create the illusion of the twelve apostles in Australia, I wonder if that's the reason the Australian owner set foot in this very spot in the first place.

The Ocean Side Café:
Add: 31, CaiShan Rd, Gushan district, Kaohsiung City. (Lat: 22.644393, Lon: 120.254127)
Tel: 0928345607

The Escape 41:
Add: 41-2, Caishan rd, Gushan district, Kaohsiung City (Lat: 22.643667, Lon: 120.252472)
Tel: 07-5250058
Other info:
Open from 12 noon on weekends and 3:30pm on weekdays. Open until 11 pm or later and 12 pm or later on Friday and Saturday.
Minimum charge per person: NT$100+10%. /Please don't bring outside food or drinks Free wireless internet / 10% service charge.

It's not fair that so many resources are restricted to Taipei; the Broadway musical show Lion King in Taipei Arena, the mammoth exhibition in Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, and the only IMAX theater that plays Hollywood movies, etc are only in Taipei.

The Dark Knight is now playing in the Miramar Cinemas, even though the movie wasn't presented on the full screen of the 8 floor tall silver screen at all times, it didn't hurt the IMAX experience: crystal clear images and wraparound digital surround sound, an illusion of being there. Staff in the theater take orders before movies start and deliver popcorn and drinks to your seat without being noticed, another privilege in Taipei cinemas.

The mammoth exhibition (July 14~Nov 4; 09:00~18:00 daily, NT200) was mediocre. I followed the suggestion on their website: avoid 11:00~12:00 and 15:~16:00 for being crowded, and showed up around 10:00 yet I had to line up to get in already. I rented an audio guide (NT120) which turned out to be a waste because all information in the audio was displayed on posters(only in Chinese). In fact, the number of posters seemed larger than fossils displayed, the name "Mammoth Poster Exhibition" would be appropriate. I would rather stay in an air conditioned room surfing online for info regarding mammoths than fight my way in to glimpse at boxed fossils.

I have never spent NT5800 for a show before and my first time was given to the broadway musical show: The Lion King. Not because I love the show so much and am willing to spend that much for a ticket, tickets lower than NT3200 had all sold out and remaining seats in the rear of the so called nice areas were NT3800 to NT5200.

All the animals walked from the aisles to the stage to celebrate the birth of the baby lion as a joyful opening, a gazelle sang next to me making the seat worth the price; the naughty lion's advanture led to the death of the old lion king and exile; process of denail, acceptance and finally embracing his destiny as the lion king; restore the glory of the lion kingdom and celebrate a new life. The circle of life was told through piercing vocals, vivid masks and costumes, perfect stage settings and great music; I had goose bumps during the whole show. From a distance I was conviced of the authenticity of the gazelles, zebras and giraffes. Blending in local customs and language made the show one of a kind.

Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 Tainan International Chihsi Arts Festival

The 2008 Tainan International Chihsi Arts Festival: the coming-of-age (16) celebration will be held from the 1st to 7th of August in various locations in Tainan. Maybe because of budget cuts or the bad weather experience from last year, but the shows this year are cut down to 6 days.

Schedule and translation below:

1. Jin-Tai-Xun modern dancing group, Korea
2. Heaven and Earth drum sound, Japan
3. Folk dancing group, India
4. Blue Abo dancing group, Japan
5. Shang-He Taiwanese opera







Confucius Temple




Culture Center Holiday Square



FE21' Mega



Mitsukoshi (New life square)



Train Station


19:30~21:00Former Tainan Meeting Hall5(Tickets req.)


Confucius Temple




Luermen Sheng MuTemple



Culture Center Holiday Square



Mitsukoshi (Chungshan)



FE21' Mega



Train station



Confucius Temple




FE21' Mega



Mitsukoshi (Chungshan)



Confucius Temple




Culture Center Holiday Square



FE21' Mega



Mitsukoshi (New life square)



Confucius Temple




FE21' Mega



Mitsukoshi (New life square)



Confucius Temple


Adapted from the officail website
In case of rain locations change to JenShin Junior High or Tainan Culture Center

Monday, June 23, 2008

Erliao and Hill 308

Moon World is a classic example of a chalk badlands terrain. In geological terms it comprises highly saline limestone with a sandstone and shale structure, so that in an area of several hundred hectares no plants grow and the highly eroded ground is bare, creating a "lunar" landscape. The area is also interspersed with mudstone strata containing large amounts of natural gas that forces mud out of the ground in "mud volcanoes." In winter, moisture evaporating from the chalk leaves behind patches of powdery white salt crystals on the surface. Well known scenic spots in Moon World include Erliao Pavilion, Hill 308, Mt. Tsao Suspension Bridge, the Crocodile, and the Lion's Head. At Erliao Pavilion at dawn, when the first rays of sunshine fall upon the chalk, moisture starts to evaporate out of it to form mist which shrouds the hills, creating a scene like a Chinese ink-wash painting.

For this dreamy picture, I woke up at 3:00AM and drove about 16km on confusing foggy country roads to Erliao Pavilion where photographers have to bear the fierce mosquito attack and fight for a good spot among a bunch of tripods, and those aren't the only challenges for photoshooting in Erliao. The timing is the trickiest part, it is believed that 2-3 days after a pouring rain during May to September is the best time to make the trip: too much moisture evaporation veils the tiering hills leaving nothing but a white mist in sight; without mist shrouding the hills, the masterpiece of a Chinese ink-wash painting washes away into a barren land.

Hill 308, named after its height above sea level, is famous for its magnificent panorama over a huge area of barren, eroded soil--a Grand Canyon landscape that comprises countless gullies, ravines and peaks. The 308 meters in altitude doesn't diminish the majestic sea of clouds wafting up and down the peaks at dawn, nor make it more easily accessiable.

Sunrise in Erlaio is good practice for High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, whereas Hill 308 is best visited in late afternoon, when the sun brings out the red orange hue of the cliffs. Open Invitation to anyone interested, just send me an email or leave a comment with your contact information, and you can join me (free ride!) the next time I plan to go.

Routes to Erliao and Hill 308

View Erliao and Hill 308 in a larger map

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fun HCM City

Despite the fact that I was staying in HCM City only for 3 days, I still managed to try out two restaurants in town and watched a water puppet show in a brand new theatre.

Water puppet show
The origination of the water puppet show can be traced back to the Ly Dynasty, 1010-1225. Given the geographic advantages, the water puppetry set stages on natural lakes in northern Vietnam where audiences could sit around the stages to enjoy the shows and wonder how puppeteers could breath and control the puppets under water. This unique art form has become one of the cultural heritages of Vietnam and stages can now be found not only in northern Vietnam such as Hanoi but also in HCM City.

Located at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street District 1, the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre together with the Labor Cultural Palace form a complex recreation ground where not only water puppetry is performed; you can work out in the gym, play tennis and volleyball etc. in the backyard of the theatre. The theatre started its business in August 2007 with a seating capacity of 200. The show is played at 18:30 and 20:00 daily for a duration of 50 minutes with no intermission (VND$65,000, USD$4, 10% discount for groups). Daytime performances can be arranged by contacting the theatre at http://www.goldendragonwaterpuppet.com/

Staff wearing traditional costumes usher audiences to their seats and give them brochures in which programmes are printed in Vietnamese, English, French, Japanese, Korean and Simplified Chinese. Traditional Vietnamese living styles, customs and fairytales are told by 17 acts that begin with raising the festival flag then, Teu, dragon dance, on a buffalo with a flute, argriculture, catching frogs, rearing ducks and catching foxes, fishing, returning to the native land after winning the first place of nationwide exam, lion dance, king Le Loi on boat tour or the legend about "restored sword", children playing in water, boat racing, unicorns play with ball, fairy dance and dance of four holy animals. 3 folk music performers on each side of the stage dub for puppets in Vietnamese and with traditional instruments that accomodate the movements of puppets harmoniously.

I don't know how these puppeteers control puppets in open areas where the water level of lakes were high back in the Ly Dynasty. I do know that in this theatre puppeteers control puppets behind dark green colored curtains on the stage with cloudy water to disguise the movements of puppets by poles and strings under water.

The Vietnam House
Located on bustling Dong Khoi street with English speaking staff, English menus with photographs for each dish and live-music performences by girls wearing traditional costumes makes the Vietnam House one of the popular foreigner gathering restaurants for Vietnmese cuisine in HCM City. The restaurant is one block from my hotel and I was invited to a free dinner by Dr. Wang from the department of pediatrics NCKUH on my last day staying in town.

This restaurant is a 3 level restored French colonial house with large French windows that allow diners to watch the bustling street from the relaxed air-conditioned room. Photographs of George Bush Sr. and Former Philippine President Cory Aquino were hung on the wall of the staircase to the second floor where a stage for live traditional instruments performence is set.

Comparatively it’s more expensive than the average Vietnamese cuisine restaurant and the food was mediocre. I wonder whether the restaurant tried to westernize the flavor of these Vietnamese cuisine to fit foreigner's appetite. I had a delicious lotus root with shimp and pork salad in Mekong Delta once and the dish here was not comparable.

Address: 93-95 Dong Khoi street, District 1, HCMC.
Tel: 8291623

The Refinery
The area enclosed by Hai Ba Trung, Le Thanh Ton, Thi Sach and Nguyen Sieu was the legal opium manufactory in the early 20th century. The Refinery was one of the prestige opium manufacturers in Saigon and the sign of Manufacture d'Opium was hung on the entrance arch blatantly. It was until 1954 when the French military retreated from Vietnam that brought a closure to the factory and now the only hint that tells its secret past is the poppy symbol of the restaurant and the metal poppy ornament on the yellowish arch.

Over shadowed by the neighboring constructions and distractions, it takes courage to walk under the arch that seperates the bustling street from a quiet atrium that hosts 3 adjacent restaurants and the refinery is the middle one. I was disappointed with decoration in the restaurant--it looks no different from a cozy bistro in Paris. The poppy symbol on block prints, napkins and T-shirts of waiters is trying to unfold the history of this venue, however, without help from other accessories such as smoking pipes or opium refiners, the message vanished in the air leaving people to wonder why the restaurant would choose this unknown flower as its symbol.

English speaking staff, English menus and delicious European dishes, the refinery is the place to go when you are sick of eating Vietnmese cuisine all the time even though the price is relatively high. It's easy to spend a half day sitting on the terrace drinking beer while surfing online via wireless connection. I ordered a pudding with melted chocolate covering the plate and with a final touch of ice cream and roasted almonds on top, for dessert. I was hoping it would taste like the Fondue au Chocolate that I had before, but the overwhelming sweetness kills all the flavor and the unique texture of the pudding that is made of almond dregs.

Address: 74 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, HCMC (across from the Park Hyatt Hotel)
Tel: 8230509
Email: therefineraysaigon@gmail.com

Palace Hotel
The inflation rate in Vietnam is rampant (25% in May) that's what I've been told and the impact of inflation hit when I realized that the price of hotels in HCM City has risen almost double from last year. By screening from my hotel survey posted in Hotels in HCM City and Hotels in HCM City 2, the Palace Hotel is chosen for its location, amenities and of course price. Palace hotel is one of the various businesses owned by the Bong Sen Corporation. Built in 1968, the hotel has been under several times of renovation and the latest renovation was as the end of 2006 and still going.

I reserved a suite room via their website but I didn't get a confirmation a week after the reservation. I wrote an email to the hotel and got a reply telling me that the room has been reserved, however there is no wireless internet access in a suite room. I told them on their website the WiFi is listed in the amenities of suite rooms and would like to amend my booking to a cheaper superior room which also has no access to WiFi system. The staff gave me a prompt reply telling me that they would upgrade my room to a signature superior which has wireless in room with the same price as my original booking. It's strange that nowhere could I find an electric kettle or tea bags for tea making, yet 2 tea cup sets were placed nicely in the room. The air conditioning wasn't cool enough and I didn't bother to complain that there was no bathrobes in the room as listed in the amenities.

The room was spacious and comfy. A high tech magnetic card is the key to the room. Be aware of the demagnetization; don't put the card anywhere near your mobile phone or you might ended up being locked out of the room. An open-air bar with outdoor swiming pool and gym on the roof top provides a panoramic view of Saigon river and leisure ambience for guests. The opening hours of the pool are from 6:00 to 20:00 daily. I enjoyed the cool afternoon breeze in the pool all by myself after work during my stay.

View Fun HCMC in a larger map

Monday, June 09, 2008

Vietnam impression

I thought my last trip to HCM City in April 2007 would be the finale, so I was relaxed and enjoyed my luxury Japanese lunch box in the Vietnam project meeting that was held 2 weeks ago. Before I could swallow a mouth full of tempura and express myself, my boss had announced that I would be going to inspect the preparation of clinical specimens and ship them back in mid-June. The news spread and I was assigned to multiple tasks including property inspector, technical specialist and a postman.

Currently, two Vietnamese are taking technical training courses in Taiwan. I wrote an email telling them my schedule in HCM City and asked if there were something they would like me to bring back to Vietnam. The next day, I got an email from a doctor who is going back to Vietnam in 2 weeks asking me to bring a rice cooker that he brought with him one and a half months ago back to his mother. An emergency document, of course; a small gift to a loved one, maybe; a rice cooker that takes half the room of a suitcase? That was something I didn't expect. I couldn't figure out how would someone ask me to bring a rice cooker to Vietnam on a business trip especially that someone is going back in 2 weeks.

On my way back to Taiwan, my suitcase was filled with sweaters, cosmetics, mosquito incense, gifts for professors in Taiwan etc., and I didn't even have room for clinical documents that concerned the project. Among all items in my suitcase, the sweaters puzzled me the most-- the last technician leaves in Sept. and it's still hot like hell in Taiwan.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Happy Birthday

This is my third birthday post on the blog. Happy birthday to me and to all Taurus.

Birthday Daily Taurus April 20 - May 20
Today is a fine day . . . your work benefits from your total concentration. This may be a good thing as you will be able to forget about personal plans for a while and relax your expectations of the day. Surprises happen all day long and, you are able to finish what you start in the work world. The noon break is fun with co-worker friends and somewhere in the visit there is talk of metaphysics, horoscopes and telling fortunes. You are also interested in the subject of writers and teachers that talk about self-help techniques. You might spend time in a bookstore after work for a short while. Young people want some of your time this afternoon and you enjoy their company. Laterthis evening you will want to have a camera handy--HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Birthday Weekly Taurus April 20 - May 20
From Sunday, May 4 2008 - 12:00amTo Saturday, May 10 2008 - 11:59pm Everyday You should know there may be a few surprises this Sunday morning. The more you go with the flow, the more positive those surprises will become. You are inspired and amused and may be thinking about some travel money you could be earning. You will be very pleased at the response from your writing. This Monday is a fine day . . . your work benefits from your total concentration. You are patient and determined to finish what you start this Tuesday. Someone is happy to help and results become easier to find. On the way in to work this Wednesday morning the verdict may be with regard to your thoughts on the weather. Many times you feel that weather is manipulated and there are definite feelings that you are right. Advancement in the work place may be a bit slow but it is certainly well deserved. A massage during the noon break this Thursday would be nice. You are so busy most of the time that you often forget to stop and smell the roses. This Friday is a good day to stop and smell the roses, tell or listen to a joke, listen to the birds around your office and shop in a book store. Everyone has good wishes for you this Saturday evening--HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Snowing in May--Tung Blossom

"Tung trees come in full blossom in areas where most Hakkas populate. This beautiful coincidence tells the wondrous connection between Hakka towns and Tung trees." I don't know how the Hakkas and Tung trees got connected in the first place. I mean the fact is Tung trees were densely planted in north Taiwan and Hakkas who inhabit the south of Taiwan in places such as Meinong township, have never stood out and claimed this wondrous connection. Nevertheless, I think the Tung trees are a gift that is given to people who live in northern Taiwan and most of the trails for Tung blossom are spots for firefly sighting too.

The 2008 Hakka Tung Blossom Festival website has all kinds of information regarding this 'snowy' May season. They even have a map that gives percentages of Tung blossoms all over Taiwan. The only thing missing in the map is that the trails for Tung blossom sightings are only in Chinese on their website. So I put these recommended trails into the google maps below. Enjoy your snowing season in May.

Quote from their website
"Every year in April and May, when driving from Free way No.2 or Tai # 3 Route, Aleurites Montana gradually budding, blossoming in the woods and under the Tung Tree. You can see purely white flowers swinging with the winds and when wind suddenly blows harder, the beautiful scenery before you is like having snow in the summer, just like snow of May.
As expected by the Hakka people in Taiwan, The Council for Hakka Affairs, Executive Yuan, earnestly cooperated with 8 counties: Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Zhanghua, Yulin and Nantou, and lead 25 townships and 44 communities, together they organize more than hundred of art activities. Additionally, in order to enhance the development of Hakka industries in Taiwan, the Council associated with 92 companies that sell Tung's merchandises and sell more than 400 Tung's merchandises. The Council also cooperated with 78 Hakka restaurants and present some delicious Hakka dishes. With a handbook in hand and you can enjoy discounts on all these activities.
Hakka Tung Blossom Festival is a high-quality trip for everyone which enables everyone enjoys Hakka mountain city, culture and beauty of Tung. Besides, the Council specially associated with local traditional industries this year, and let everyone receives information on Tung viewing via 3G mobile phone and TV Channel. We welcome everyone accesses our website and establish their own Tung viewing blog, where everyone can share information related to Tung.
This season “Joyful spring with Tung; creative spirit in Hakka”, we welcome you to spend time in Hakka village; enjoy Hakka music, dishes and creative merchandise under Tung tree. You especially need to come down here and experience the beautiful scenery of Mother Nature!

Chairman of the Council for Hakka Affairs, Executive Yuan
Lee Yung-te"

Tung Blossom Trails(info from the 2008 Hakka Tung Blossom Festival website)

View Tung Blossom in a larger map

WuGongShan: Tung blossom biking trail in Kaohsiung County(made by Talent)

Friday, April 25, 2008

85 housing B&B

You don't have to pay NT$ 8500 for a night in the Splendor Hotel to share the same view of Kaohsiung harbor/city now. Located in the 85 tower building which is the tallest building in Kaohsiung, the 85 housing B&B provides a low profile luxury for less than NT$ 2000. The 85 housing B&B is a legal business suite rental agency. The owner, Mr. Hsu and his wife, started this business 2 years ago; 4 business suites overlooking Kaohsiung harbor and/or Kaohsiung city are located on the 31st floor (view of harbor, city (partial) and the heart of ocean park; NT1700~1900/night; check in 17:00, check out 13:00), 23rd (view of harbor; NT1500~1800/night; check in 17:00, check out 13:00) and on the 17th floor (one room has a view of the city; NT1400~1600/night, the other has a view of the south wing of the tower; NT1100~1300/night; check in 16:00, check out 12:00) of the north wing of the tower respectively. To offer the best quality of rooms for clients, a medical quality level air filter is provided and the couple clean every corner of the room with disinfectant after clients have checked out and I have to say they have the best toothbrush/paste set that I have ever used in accomodations.

All rooms are equipped with cabled TV, DVD studio, refregirator, hairdryer, electric teapot, coutch, NT100 coupon for breakfast in a cafeshop and parking included, which makes this is a good deal for anyone who wants to stay overnight in Kaohsiung.

For reservations call: 0927522331 for Miss Cho/ 0925362331 for Mr.Hsu or email: edwardloveemily@yahoo.com.tw

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Firefly Season

I was amazed by the number of fireflies flashing in the HuiSun Forest Station about 10 years ago. It was nothing like being occasionally visited by a lost lighting bug in a suburban area; hundreds of thousands of little fluorescent lights shimmering in bushes at the same time making the scene a festival like a Xmas lighting show. A few years ago, I visited the DongShi Forest Area and was touched by these fallen stars dancing around in the forest and the craving for a firefly trip tickles me whenever the temperature raises. Last week, I took a vacation and paid a visit to these long-lost friends in DongShi and HuiSun Forest Areas.

There is a good bargain to be had if you reserve a room on the DongShi Forest Area's website. A cabin with 2 king-sized beds, breakfast, entrence fee and parking, Spa, tour and coupons for a meal and tea are all included in the package of an overnight trip for only NT$2,999 for 2 persons (NT$3,999 for 4 persons). The firefly tour starts at 19:00 and 20:00 daily in front of the registration building. There are 4 trails for firefly seeing in DongShi Forest Area and are well indicated with direction signs. (Map of DongShi Forest Area)

There are two trails for firefly seeing in Huisun Forest station. With red LED lights along the trails, it's easy to find your way back without a guide. Group tour is given daily at 18:50 in the parking area across the shop. Light polution from cars driving by makes Huisun forest a less enjoyable venue for firefly seeing but the beautiful formosan blue magpie makes it worth it.

The Luciola cerata Olivier is the most common species that can be seen all over Taiwan from the begining of April to the middle of May. The peak of firefly courtship is from 19:00 to 21:00. I tried to catch these horny fairies with my camera by long time exposure, luckily the moon light helped to present the depth of view by lighting up the forest a bit. Here are some tips for firefly shooting: ISO 400 or above; aperture: as big as possible; exposure: 2mins to 10mins depending on ambient lighting and ISO/aperture combination; focal length in 35mm film: 50mm or above (fluorescent lights are indistinguishable from the background when the focal length is too short (example); too much zoom-in limits the number of fireflies on screen); focus: Manual (set to infinite); flash light: off.

Venues for firefly sighting in Taiwan

View Firefly Sighting in a larger map

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Sound of Ocean

There are many drumming teams in Taiwan but I have never seen a performance like The Sound of Ocean before. The Sound of Ocean is the masterpiece of the U-theatre which contains 5 parts: Collapse, Flowing Water, Breaks, Listening to the Ocean Heart and The Sound of Ocean. Each part was connected with sounds of drum, gong or singing and instruments for each part were placed in position during these interludes insensibly. Stories of rain drops gather into a stream , a river flowing to the ocean were told by sounds of drums whereas waves of the ocean were presented with the engulfing sounds of gongs. Performers integrate martial art into their performance as dance/movement and stillness of meditation, making The Sound of Ocean a feast of both sound and vision.

See for yourself: A clip posted on Youtube by slave2fashiondolls

Photos taken in Tainan on Apr. 22

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The U-Theatre itinerary 2008

The U-Theatre traveled on foot through 25 western Taiwan townships in 1996 and through 35 mountain districts in eastern Taiwan in 1997. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the U-Theatre is embarking on a round trip throughout Taiwan on foot this year to share its glories to people who live on the same land through the sound of their heavenly drums.

The trip is divided into 3 routes; starting at 6:00 every morning, 100 townships will be visited in 50 days. The first route started in Taipei on March 23rd, stopping by Yilan, Hualien, and will be ended in Taitung on April 13th. The journey continues on April 14th in Pingtung stopping by Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chiayi and stops in Yunlin on April 28th. The 3rd route starts in Changhua on April 29th, stopping by Nantou, Taichung, Miaoli, Hsinchu, Taoyuan and back to Taipei on May 11th. It is still possbile to join the 2nd and the 3th routes by registering before March 31 and April 15 respectively. Contact 02-2938-8188 for detail.

30 performances will be given for free in this 1200km journey except for shows performed on March 23 and May 1. Performances mostly start at 19:00 and locations are labeled on the google map below. The masterpiece, the sound of ocean, will be performed in Kaohsiung on April 19th.

U-Theatre’s performance of “The Sound of Ocean” earned the Best of Show award at the Festival d’Avignon in 1998 and, in 2000, U-Theatre accepted the “Audience Choice” award at the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon. Performances at the Berlin Art Festival Amphitheatre of “The Sound of Ocean” during August 2003 overwhelmed Berlin theatre-goers. One article proclaimed “The Sound of Ocean” the “preeminent performance of the week in Berlin theatre.”U-Theatre’s 2002 work, “Meeting with Vajrasattva,” earned first prize in the performing arts category in the first annual “Taishin Art Awards”. In naming U-Theatre as their top choice, the judges noted that the group, “beautifully expressed tranquility within movement and movement within tranquility in the confines of a performance stage.” U-Theatre has achieved a unique melding of visual, audio, and performance into one outstanding form of performance art.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Orange House

I got an email inviting me to exhibit my photos in a restaurant in Kaohsiung, so I stopped by the restaurant and talked to the owner, Marcus, about the exhibition.

According to Marcus, he started his first restaurant years ago in a basement of a hostel in Kaohsiung. The color of the walls were orange and why he named the restaurant the orange house. A few months ago, he relocated the restaurant to its current address, 121 Shihcyuan 2nd Rd, and painted the walls orange. Knowing his family originated from Holland, it makes perfect sense to me all the sudden that the appeal of orange to Marcus, even though he is a Canadian.

Not only a restaurant, the orange house is also an interesting combination of a hostel and a Dojo for Aikido, Yoga and Kung-Fu. The ambitious man blends his interest in Aikido into his businesses; a strategy of attracting people who have different interests to the same place.

The lighting and setting in the room makes the orange house a cozy restaurant. A fireplace DVD playing in one corner creates an illusion of warmth in the room. Black paper bands running across the center of the glass doors add a degree of mystery to the atmosphere by partially obstructing views; allowing those inside to be somewhat isolated from pedestrian distractions as only legs and feet are visible and conversly drawing the eye of passersby from the outside, a curiously inviting sense.

One thing I like the most about the restaurant is that the atmosphere changes everytime the theme of art exhibition changes. Currently, photos of my Mysterious and Mighty Street Dancer series are exhibited (photos below).

For more information, check on the restaurant website.

Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Lantern Festival

The 2008 Lantern Festival is held in Tainan County (Solar City, Southern Taiwan Science Park) from Feb. 21 to Mar. 2. To accommodate the enormous daily flood of visitors from all over Taiwan, the Taiwan Railways Administration even built a temporary station (NanKe station, located between the Shanhua and the SinShih stations) next to the venue. Passengers can buy tickets for any non-express trains to Shanhua (South bound) or Sinshih (North bound) and get out of the trains at the next stop.

The theme lantern of this year is "Good Fortune in the Year of the Mouse" and the secondary themes are Heavenly Descent of the Kylin, Striving Towards a Distant Goal, Nine Carps Forming a Dragon, and One Hundred Birds Attending the Phoenix. For more information, click on the following link: http://taiwan.net.tw/2008TaiwanLantern/abouten.html

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chi Wei Mountain

On sunny days, the white pavillion sitting at the very top of Chi Wei Mountain lures me every time I drive by, being the only man made structure on the mountain chain surrounding this valley, it sits like a crowning jewel, attrating all eyes to it, despite that, I've never had the courage to climb the mountain alone.

The pavillion looks like a miniature of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, A.K.A. the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, standing on top of the mountain overlooking the stretching mountains and towns of Chi-Shan and Meinong. On cloudy days, parts of the pavillion are veiled in mist of ever changing perspectives.

The first day of the 2008 lunar new year, I made my pilgrimage to the mountain from the west side entrance which takes about 40min to reach the pavillion. The track starts with an easy winding road that is paved with concrete. A gate that was installed to keep goats from messing up the mountain separates the concrete road designed for warming up for the challenge--941 steep steps that leads to the pavillion. Big gaps between the steps, tilted and crumbled, and a stiff wind coming from nowhere made the last 1/3 of the track the hardest part of the trek. Views from the pavillion were stupendous: a skyline of stretching mountains from the northeast; Meinong valley from the southeast and Chi Shan township from the northwest, provides a 360 degree panorama. Even the mighty wind couldn't be a match for the fortification and softened into a light breeze. That was the perfect start for the very first day of the 2008 lunar new year.

Chi Wei Mountain belongs to the Yushan mountain group. From a distance, the shape of the mountain looks like an ancient flag flying in the wind, so it was named “Flag Tip Mountain.”

Starting from either the east or the west side entrance, a visitor can walk up for about 40 minutes and reach the pavilion at the west end of the mountain. From there, one can embrace views of the Central Mountains all around you, and if the weather is good, the Taiwan Strait and an 85-floor skyscraper in Kaoshiung City may also be visible.

Two new entrances have been opened recently; they also lead to the pavilion and continue further to Lei Yin Temple. It takes about 3 hours to finish the trip.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Office Jungle

Based on the studies of animal behaviour, an article published in the New Scientist Carriers Guide, It's a jungle out there..., has concluded that the office and the jungle are suprisingly similar in certain ways: both are ruled by stringent hierarchies; they are grounded in the need for cooperation; and complicated by the drive to compete. Add in the risk of hostile takeovers, a marketplace of favours and favorites, branzen social opportunism and a long-held tradition of brown-nosing; the office is a brutal battlefield and in order to survive, one should adapt 6 rules from the wild.

Teamwork Pays
Altruistic behaviour can be used as an investment- It's a business strategy. However, there is a dilemma: you do want to be at the top of your corporation, but it has competitors. If you don't get your act together within the company, it's going to go under.

Be nice, and show it!
Being seen to be good at cooperation appears to be just as important as the act itself. So buying a round of drinks for your colleagues might be more important than you think: it shows you are willing to pitch in for the group. Still, you will be judged for your cooperation skills on the job though.

Sucking up can pay
Brown-nosing in the corperate world might seem despicable, but keeping yourself in good grace with the executive set can be useful -they are part of the team too.

Be a good boss
Never knowing when or why your boss is going to explode is a strong incentive to always stay in line. But though this behaviour might bring you supreme power, excessive boorishness carries its own problems. Being a good boss is a careful balancing act of control, leadership and motivation. Keep briefcase throwing to a minimun. Because unlike monkeys, workers can quit.

Kiss and make up
Conflict resolution is more likely to occur in close relationships, between highly cooperative relatives or members of coalitions. It is vital to repair critical working relationships. Studies on primates show reconciliation reduces stress and decresses the chances of subsequent flare-ups.

Play fair
Don't take undue credit for jobs done collectively, or people will likely stop wanting to work with you.

Despite the fact that the 6 rules mentioned in the article are cliche, the idea of learning from the jungle is quite interesting and maybe it's the first/only article that confers scientific basis on these rules. In reality, however, the office rule 101: Boss is always right, should be followed and practiced upon any other rules in most scenarios. An open letter from a boss to his employees published in a very famous business magazine in Taiwan mentioned that the boss isn't always right, and it's the employees' obligation to remind their boss before projects have been implemented and there're no turning back. It's a very straight forward idea yet it takes a CEO from the top 5 businesses in Taiwan to preach to his employees and got published in the business magazine. The truth is not every boss can stand correction and the risk is not something every employee is willing to take. It's a jungle out there, feast or be the feast.

Struggling, Taiwan managed to be one of the little 4 dragons in East Asia. We also created lots of spoiled bosses in the process. A common phenomenon in Taiwan is that most people can't(or won't) take all of his/her given vacation. An unspoken consensus in the office in Taiwan is that only dispensable people can leave their works for over a few weeks and are never short of supply as replacements. The idea has become rooted in the minds of both bosses and employees making vacation requests an art form.