Monday, November 19, 2012


Kenting is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Taiwan. I still remember the sore on my butt from sitting too long on a motorcycle from riding to the beaches years ago. It was the time when spring scream was just a few amateur bands improvising on one stage and I could pay NT$200 for a beer and a spot in a tent to crash overnight. I used to love the atmosphere of freedom and relaxation of white sandy beaches, blue ocean and sky; Kenting emitted this exotic illusion that lured me back every year. Like every tourist hot spot, Kenting became unbearably crowded on weekends and throughout the summer vacation, so I changed my visit to dreadful winter time when the sky is usually gray and the water too cold to jump in. The inspirational spring scream became the biggest music festival in southern Taiwan, and it was up to me to improvise, to be able to find a way in and find a place to stay overnight.  I'd forgotten how beautiful this place could be until my latest trip to Kenting in early October. The weather was great: the sunlight was sparkling on the white coral sand, compromising the cobalt blue sky and ocean. The wind wasn’t too strong to stand still, just enough to attract surfers. The temperature wasn’t melting hot as it was in summer nor too cold to get in the water and best of all was that the summer crowd was fading away so I could enjoy the beaches and streets at my leisure.

 I was planning to get up early and go to Jialeshuei for sunrise but the drizzle at night and my cozy room kept me in bed until the noise from a construction site nearby woke me up. Looking out from my balcony, the stunning blue sky and ocean made every penny I paid for the room worth it. Jialeshuei is famous for its various weird shaped rocks that were eroded by the sea. It puzzles me that administrations of these kinds of tourist attractions in Taiwan try so hard to visualize the rocks with some animals or even genital and preach to the tourists. I could correlate some of the rocks with the animals they said but sometimes I would have to pretend that I got the pictures so they would move on.

White sand beaches are jewels of Kenting, the sky and ocean wouldn’t be as blue if it wasn’t for the white sand. Except for naturists, everyone could probably find a beach that fits and spend a half day there. Nanwan (south bay beach) has the most water activities provided in the area; shiaowan (small bay) has a beach bar operated by the Caesar park hotel, providing luxurious indulgence; baisha bay (white sandy shore) is the top choice for campers, and Jialeshuei, supposedly, is good for surfing as it was the venue of the 2012 international surfing contest and I never knew there is a sandy beach in Jialeshuei until this trip. I spent a beautiful afternoon at Nanwan seeing people playing football, jumping in the water and enjoying it so much that it made me actually join in even though I can’t swim.

More info:
Kenting National Park: the official kenting national park website
UU Kenting: probably the most useful website for Kenting, Chinese only
If you have more time in Kenting, sign up a night in the aquarium, highly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival

The custom of Wang Yeh boat worshiping, is one of the most unique folk beliefs in southern China and Taiwan. It's a ritual for expelling plagues and death. Given the high humidity and temperatures, southern China used to be the epicenter of diseases and was regarded as a plague rampant region. Due to underdeveloped medical knowledge, people didn't know the cause or how to treat patients; fear toward unknown epidemics was then left for the spiritual realm to deal with by worship. After worshiping the spirits that spread plagues, the spirits were invited on board a boat made out of paper and sent out to sea which symbolizes sending the plague and evil away to bring health and peace back to the local residents. The wind and sea currents drifted the boats of 'evil' circulating around southern China, Taiwan and Penghu. Anywhere one of these boats might drift into , residents would have to pick up the boat and 'treat' the evil spirits before building a boat and sending them on their way.

Over time, with the improvement of sanitary conditions, the progress of medication and the development of civilization, plagues were no longer rampant in the area and the spirits of plagues were transformed into deities of plague, also known as Wang Yeh, who inspect the good and evil of people and punished the bad by spreading pestilence. These inspections are known as 'inspections on behalf of heaven' (代天巡狩 daitian xunshou) and the meaning of building a boat was changed from expelling plague and death to sending the deities back to heaven from their inspections on behalf of heaven, hopefully taking disease and calamity with them. The practice was evolved from "sending the boat to an open sea and drift it away" to "set fire to the boat and rise with ashes to heaven".

Monday, May 21, 2012


At first I wasn't sure about the trip to Sitges even though it was highly recommended by the locals I had met in Barcelona. On my way to Montblanc as the train was passing by Sitges, my interest for the town was aroused by the surrounding rocky mountains and the shimmering Baleanic sea. I bought the ticket and jumped on a train at Passeig de Gràcia, following the instructions of the lady who sold me the ticket. Soon, I was panicking as I realized that the destination of the train was St. Vincenç de Calders. I got off the train at the next station, Barcelona Sants, and looked for a platform that showed Sitges but I couldn't find any. The next train to St. Vincenç de Calders arrived, I asked an old lady boarding the train whether the train stopped at Sitges and she nodded bewilderingly so I got on the train skeptically. Thirty minutes later the train stopped at Sitges.

It was a sunny day, a perfect day out for beach activities but the water was too cold and that helped to keep people away from the gorgeous beaches and created a perfect bio-distance for me: not too crowded yet you could still see people sun bathing, surfing, playing volleyball, playing guitar, practicing macaco and sailing. The mild heat in the air radiating from the sun contrasted with the freezing cold from the sea, it was an interesting oxymoronic sensation. Sitges has no famous architecture like Sagrada Familia nor museums like Picasso or Milo in Barcelona but the atmosphere of the town was cozy and relaxing. The houses gave me deja vu feelings; whitewashed walls, blue windows and shimmering water in the distance at the foot of the hilly town, I wondered, does this mediterranean style truly have magic soothing power or have we just been brain washed by the images of Greece?

Useful website:
Everything you need to know about Sitges
Buses every 30 minutes from Sitges to the BCN airport terminal 1 for 5.60 Euro (3.6+2tax)
it takes about 25 minutes from Sitges to the airport. 
Official tourism info website (no English)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sant Jordi and Montblanc

Saint George's day (La Diada de Sant Jordi), also known as the day of the rose (El dia de la Rosa) or the day of the book (El dia del Llibre), is Catalunya valentine's day (El dia de los enamorados, the day of lovers) held on April 23rd. Legend has it that there was a dragon destroying crops and killing stocks and people in Montblanc. The villagers came out with a solution to get the temporary peace by sacrificing a girl everyday to the dragon. One day, the princess was sent to the sacrificial altar as scheduled and a knight, Sant Jordi, rescued her and slaughtered the dragon. The blood of the dragon became red roses and Sant Jordi presented the rose to the princess and they lived happily ever after. Sant Jordi was recognized as a patron saint in Catalunya and his death was memorized by the tradition that men give their lovers a red rose on his death anniversary. The romantic story passed on for centuries and April 23rd is the valentine's day celebrated in Catalunya instead of February 14th. April 23rd is also marked as the world book and copyright day by UNESCO in 1995, given the fact that it is William Shakespeare's death anniversary. A rose to the woman, a book to the man, streets filled with rose and book stalls on April 23rd (especially on La Rambla), and men give a red rose along with a wheat-ear (symbol of fertility) to their lovers and women give their men a book for return. You can feel the influence of Sant Jordi everywhere in Catalunya; Sant Jordi's cross on the flag of Barcelona, the badge of Barcelona football team, the sculpture on the facet of Palau de la Música Catalana and even on the roof of Casa Batllo, Gaudi depicted the story of Sant Jordi slaughtering the dragon.

Sant Jordi day is one of the most important holidays celebrated in Catalunya. On this day, Ayuntamiento de Barcelona and Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya on Placa Sant Jaume in Barcelona are opened to the public. One hundred kilometers away, a medieval festival is held in Montblanc where the legend of Sant Jordi took place. Setmana Medieval de Montblanc is a festival that devotes an entire week to celebrate a variety of events centered on life in medieval Catalunya and the figure of Sant Jordi. The whole town put on medieval costumes, they organized various events such as medieval market where you can see blacksmith forging swords in traditional way, medieval fight, open air performances, medieval parade, Catalan courts and the representation of the legend of Sant Jordi. You can even join the party representing some of the characters like noble, clergy, servant... if you can participate in the whole event and their rehearsals.

There are 5 trains going to Montblanc from Barcelona everyday, the journey takes about 2 hours. Schedule refers to:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I had seen Antonio Gaudi´s architecture; tasted tapas, paella and churros & chocolate; listened to Xavier Coll´s espanya guitar in Santa Maria de Pi; smelled the fragrance of roses on Sant Jordi day and orange blossoms at Hospital de Sant Pau; touched the freezing cold water in Sitges. With all 5 senses contented, I found myself falling in love with Catalunya so I started listening to Pablo Alborán's CD, following Spain related blogs, trying to replicate the taste of paella..., to slow down the feeling slipping away.

Before the trip, I heard my friends commenting on my trip with a tone of envy and jealousy: you must see Gaudi's architecture! I answered: 'of course, that's the highlight of Barcelona', but the truth was I thought Gaudi was a place or a style of architecture. My first Gaudi experience was Sagrada Familia, the one building that he spent most of his life working on as an architect and is still under construction after his death. "It can't be a basilica!" that was the first impression I had for Sagrada Familia, despite the fact that its exterior looks like one. The doors are not traditional wooden/bronze doors; they are more like doors you would see in some kind of contemporary art museum, emblazoned with 3 D bronze words with a few key words gilded. The interior is as solemn as all cathedrals, however, the bright ambient lighting and avant-garde sculptures distinct Sagrada Familia from other basilicas. Blazing colors cascade on pillars and the floor through stained glass, imagining the pillars as tree trunks branching out and up to the flowers on the ceiling, Gaudi transfigured a building into a forest that changes colors as the sun moves. "The straight line belongs to Man; the curved line belongs to God", given this idea of Gaudi, I wonder why the building dedicated to the Saint family feels less "curvy"  than his other works like Casa Batlló and  Casa Milà (La Pedrera). One thing for sure is that you will never find a basilica like Sagrada Familia anywhere else.

Casa Vicens, Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Calvet, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló are highlights of Gaudi's design in Barcelona. Casa Calvet is now a restaurant and Gaudi's first building, Case Vicens, is closed and entrusted to Altadicion for sale now. Except for Gaudi's architecture, Barcelona has much more to offer. The Palau de la Música Catalana hosts various concerts on a daily basis; Picasso and Milo museums exhibit the most complete collection of the two famous impressionists. The labyrinthine Gothic quarter is a great place to get lost while admiring Moorish architecture and various art performances in the streets. If you are visiting the Gothic quarter in Barcelona on April 23rd, Sant Jordi's day, do not miss Ayuntamiento de Barcelona and Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya located on the opposite side of Placa Sant Jaume that are only open to the public once a year. A visit to Anella Olímpica on Montjuic makes the decision of selecting Montjuic as the venue of 1992 Summer Olympic seem like a perfect choice. Standing in front of the Estadi Olímpic and looking down on the city below, I guess that's the scenario they portrayed about Greek Gods standing on Mount Olympus watching over mortals. There are 4 main beach areas spanning 4.2 km filled with people jogging, cycling, sun bathing, with restaurants and even a casino.

I stumbled across an open air concert held in the plaza next to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art on Sant Jordi's day. The stage was set and the host walked back and forth communicating with the crowds in the venue. Half hour passed, there was no sign indicating the concert would start any sooner, I asked a guy, Émile, who sat next to me what the event was about and that was my lucky day. Émile not only spoke English fluently but he also spoke Catalan! He kindly explained to me the conflict between Spain and Catalunya and the campaign was to defend Catalan culture. I took the video of balloons arranged in Catalan and released with wishes attached in the air.

Barcelona four days Itinerary
09:00 Sagrada Familia (2-3 hours)
Walk to Hospital de Sant Pau via Avenida Gaudi (10-15 min)

12:00 Hospital de Sant Pau Guided tour (1-2 hours)
Sant Pau-Dos de Maig station take L5 direction Cornella centre get off at Diagonal

14:00 Casa Mila (1-1.5 hour)
Walk down Passeig de Gracia

16:00 Fundació Antoni Tàpies (30 min)

16:30 Casa Batllo (2 hours)
Passeig de Gracia station take L4 direction La Pau, get off at Barceloneta

19:00 Barceloneta beach and Port Vell

09:00 Placa de Catalunya walk down Portal de l'Angel turn right on Carrer de Santa Anna and visit Esglesia Santa Ana

0930 Gothic Quarter (3-5 hour)
Visit :Arxiu Historic de La Ciutat -> Cathedral of Santa Eulalia -> Museu Frederic Marès -> Palace de Rei -> Palca Sant Jaume -> Ayuntamiento de Barcelona -> Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya -> Carrer del Bisbe -> Lunch at Bilbao Berria (Tapas pay by the sticks ranged from 1-3 EUR; add : 3 Placa Nova Barcelona, tel : 34933170124) -> Placa de Sant Felip Neri -> Placa de Sant Josep Oriol -> Placa Reial

15:30 La Rambla (1-2 hour)

17:00 Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona - CCCB (1 hour)

18:00 MACBA (1 hour)

09:00 Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (1 hour)
Walk down La Rambla

10:00 Palau Guell (1.5 hour)
Walk to Paral.Lel station take Funicular de Montjuic Direction Parc de Montjuic get off at Parc de Montjui

12:30 Anella Olímpica (1 hour)
13:30 Fundation Joan Miro (1.5 hour)

15:00 Botanical Garden of Barcelona (1 hour)

16:00 Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (1.5 hour)

17:30 Poble Espanyol (1.5 hour)

19:00 Mies van der Rohe Pavilion Barcelona

Magic Fountain (Check musical display schedules )

08:00 Passeig de Gracia take bus No. 24 to Carretera Carmel (Davant Parc Guell) (30 min)

08:30 Park Guell Gaudi + Casa Meseo Gaudi (2.5 hour)
Walk to Lesseps take L3 direction Zona Universitaria get off at Palau Reial walk to Monasterio de Pedralbes

12:00 Monasterio de Pedralbes (1 hour)
 Take bue No. 22 to Placa de Catalunya, walk to Palau de la Música Catalana

14:00 Palau de la Música Catalana (1 hour)

15:30 Museu Picasso (1.5 hour)

17:00 Carre de Montcada -> Santa Maria del Mar -> Born -> Ribera

18:00 Parc de la Ciutadella

19:00 Arco de Triunfo

Useful websites:
Tourist Information:
The official organization of tourist promotion of Barcelona; portal for purchasing Barcelona card, articket, concert tickets and more with discount prices.

Public Transportation in Barcelona

Friday, March 23, 2012


The impulse of visiting Nepal was aroused by a friend of mine years ago, yet whenever I made up my mind to pay a visit, something always got in the way and I ended up somewhere else. Changing the destination of a trip at the last minute seems to be a pattern. I planned a trip to islands in the Philippine for my last Xmas holiday but I ended up spending my Xmas eve in the Himalayas instead. Conquering Mount Everest wasn’t one of my many ambitions so I took time and visited three medieval Newar Kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, then to Nagarkot that is famous for a stunning view of snow capped mountains and finally the tourist hot spot, Pokhara.

I was wondering why December is a low season for tourism in Nepal; I mean it doesn’t matter when you visit the Himalayas, it is always frozen in the snow given the altitude. It became crystal clear to me when I experienced over 10 hours of power outage on a daily basis during my trip. Apparently the water that is used to generate power freezes in the winter, along with fast modernization in the cities and politics makes power restrictions necessary. I heard so many complaints from the shops in Thamel, the center of tourism, unless you have a generator, no one is going to spend money on handicrafts like Thankas when they can't see the beautiful details.

Before leaving Taiwan, I read  news about the safety of traveling in Nepal: "In recognition of improved conditions in Nepal, the US Department of State has canceled the travel warning that was most recently issued on January 12". The second day of my journey, I encountered a general strike that crippled normal life in Nepal. I had to walk across the city as the only cars that moved was the ambulance and truck loaded with armed soldiers. My lunch was an energy bar that I brought from Taiwan as the only store that opened was a pharmacy. Despite the fact that all streets were garrisoned by armed soldiers, the strike was largely peaceful as claimed by the party. Teenagers played football in the streets that are usually filled with traffic. Who would think  that a general strike in Nepal would be a perfect day to explore the city?

I stayed in a hotel in Boudha, located in one of the alleyways that lead to the biggest stupa in the world. At dawn, chanting from nearby monasteries woke me up, I walked to the stupa and joined in the flow of pilgrims who were circling. Under the all seeing eyes, the path was partly clouded by smoke from burning mixed herbs and mist in the morning lights, I circled the stupa once, twice and the third time...I was mesmerized in the atmosphere and kept circling compulsively. Eventually, the pungent scent of burning herbs wafting in the air broke the charm, I pulled myself out from the Zen and back to the reality. Pashupatinath Temple is another religion legend in Kathmandu. I was puzzled by the fact that I paid for the entrance fee yet wasn't allowed to get in to the temple that is listed in UNESCO world heritage list just because I am not a believer of Hinduism. I guess the live cremation next to the Bagmati river is the reason that Pashupatinath still attracts so many non-Hindu tourists. Sitting high up on the platform, overlooking the ritual on the other side of the river bank, it's like watching a soundless movie, it gets you thinking about the meaning of life.

Driving in Nepal was something, I had the feeling that Nepalis do not drive with their eyes but with their ears. Taxi, minibuses even buses can drive in an alleyway filled with pedestrians, dogs, cows and piles of garbage, safely and efficiently, simply by honking! Public transportation in Nepal was crazy and it worked well under the seamlessly cooperation of ticket collector and driver. The ticket collector climbs up and down in the overloaded bus to get the money and signals the driver to drive or stop. I sat on the roof of a local bus from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot and the bus broke down about 1km after departure!

I was warmed about the harassment from beggars and street vendors in Nepal but I found it wasn't so annoying, at least for most of the time. Most of the people would go away if you smiled and said no. I had a good laugh with two brothers who tried to sell me a sarangi in Pokhara, at the end I didn't buy the sarangi but we sang the most popular song Resham Firiri and drew attention of the crowd.

More information:
Walking tours in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur
Patan and Kathmandu Bus/minibus route map