Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jioufen, Taiwan

In all fairness, my visit to Jioufen was on the wrong day and and under the wrong circumstances. Jioufen is actually a very interesting town and loaded with character. I saw none of that. There were far too many people and my time there was strictly limited. I hope to go back one day when the streets are not so crowded and I am able to stay longer. According to what I have read, Jioufen was once a gold mining town, totally outrageous and excessive.... so much so that it was tagged, "Little Shanghai." The gold dried up within a decade or two and the town quieted down. In 1989, one of Taiwan's filmmakers, Hou Haiso-Hsien, filmed the movie, City of Sadness, in Jioufen. It was a movie about Taipei, but Jioufen was the stand-in for Taipei, because it was to depict Taipei in the 40's. the success of that movie brought artists to live and work in Jioufen. It also brought a throng of visitors. In a small way, the town suggested to me what a small, old Seattle might have looked like with the hills and mountains and layers of buildings at different heights with a large body of water close enough to feel in the air. There are stone steps and laddered streets. But for me and Myra (a foreign teacher friend in my county who makes a great travel partner), it was a flood of tourists and barely room enough to slither throu gh the crowds unscathed.

Taipei and real sidewalks

Ah, you smirk. Sidewalks! This woman has been in Taiwan too long if she gets excited by the sight of a wide, beautiful, smooth and CLEAN sidewalk! That's only because you haven't seen the typical Taiwan sidewalk. And why haven't you seen any photos here of the typical Taiwan sidewalk? The answer is simple.... because they are few and far between, generally hidden by a dozen scooters and several cars or trucks, a food stand and pots of tropical plants as well as miscellaneous dogs and bags of supplies or litter. Pedestrians have to take their chances walking in the streets--- which also have cars stopped or parked randomly. Taipei was an immediate delight simply because of the sidewalks. Now I should explain a little bit, as Taipei was a place I wasn't even sure I wanted to visit at all. It took me nearly six months to decide to make the three hour train trip to Taipei. My main interest in sight seeing Taiwan has been to see the more traditional and historic architecture and lifestyle. I wanted to see Taiwan through glimpses of what might have existed in the lives of the elders, traditions -- beliefs which stood the fickleness of time and generations of youth. But alas, how beautiful these sidewalks of Taipei! What a relief not to have to dodge scooters, step over sleeping dogs, walk dangerously in oncoming traffic to avoid cars parked in the streets, gingerly step over temporary covers to street construction! Hell with romance! These sidewalks make me smile! Seriously though, visiting Taipei, even for a very short time, opened my eyes a bit and brought in a sliver of understanding about Taiwan and it's people.... about myself as well and I have a touch of shame. All along I have wanted to experience the character of the historic Taiwan, being disappointed when what I saw was too Western, too modern and efficient. What was I thinking? That America should evolve while the rest of the world stood still? Oh, that American arrogance! It is as much a part of me as it is the other new foreigners here. I recognize this and am not proud of myself. I need to rejoice that the Taiwanese have made great strides in improving the quality of life here. They are a huge force in Asian economy. Much of the advancements are extremely efficient. The technology produced here is used throughout much of the world. They cherish the past, yet guard the future. There are so many examples I could give. So I continue my adventure, unwittingly picking up scraps of knowledge as I go. Knowing all too well that the "open mind" I thought I had is in fact a brittle shell of antiquated ideas pieced together through limited experience and stubborn notions. If I wanted to see and photograph Taiwan of 1970, then that's when I should have journeyed here.

Nanya area of Taiwan, January 27

Not sure if these photographs will show up well or not, but perhaps they will give an idea of what I saw when I briefly visited Nanya at the end of January. I've cropped most of them to make them easier to see on the blog. The day was overcast and the air was thick with humidity. The old abandoned buildings are an old petroleum processing plant. The little buildings on the side of the hill are monuments.... tombstones, actually. I am told that the wealthy people in Taiwan like to be buried overlooking the oceans and large bodies of water. Each tombstone/monument represents where one person is buried. I guess the poor people of Taiwan are generally cremated. The other photos are just the shoreline and rocks there.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Night Markets

So you wanted to know about night markets, eh? Maybe not. But, I'm going to post some photos of night markets anyway. I've only been to two of them, so I'm no expert, and I haven't yet bought anything at one, with the exception of a tea or other strange concoction. Basically, night markets are areas in a town where stalls are set up and people sell things, particularly food, but also many other things. Towns are known for their night markets and the specialties sold there. The photos here are from my city, Chiayi, and from Taichung. Night markets are probably also an excuse to socialize and even to go for a "date," or just to get out of the house and hang out somewhere. Because night markets are often large areas, none of these photographs capture "the whole" of a night market, but perhaps by looking at the expressions on the faces of the people attending, you will have some idea of what a night market is all about. They are important in Taiwan, and well attended by Taiwanese. At the night markets I went to, there were no foreigners except for me the people I was with, although I would imagine that some foreigners would find these gatherings much to their liking. Personally, I found them much more interesting for people watching than for the items being sold. Still, I doubt that I will attend many more night markets while I am in Taiwan.