Showing posts with label taiwan_travel_destinations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwan_travel_destinations. Show all posts

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I Went To Animatronic Hell

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You know which Hell is more fun than Christian Hell (which, let's be honest, was interesting when Dante covered it but otherwise just ain't all that)?

Taoist Hell!

Last week we went to Tainan to get some much-needed relaxation. I'd heard about a temple in Madou (麻豆) out in Tainan County that features a regular temple, a giant dragon, a fun sculpture garden, and an animatronic Heaven and Hell, which I suppose can be called family-friendly because parents do take their kids. The animatronic sets, fake blood, recorded screams etc. aren't that scary (to me), but there are repeated references to rape, murder and trafficking (that said, most of that part is in writing, which little kids typically can't read yet).

I wasn't quite sure how to get out there - there are buses from Tainan City, but though it's a half-hour drive, most take an hour or longer. The express buses only depart a few times a day. Even then, they go a bus depot on the edge of town, and of course the temple with animatronic Hell - 麻豆代天府 - is not only on the other side of town, but somewhat outside its compact downtown area. There are buses that stop within a 15-minute walk, but waiting for one stretches the trip into a 3-hour ordeal each way. There's a taxi rank at the bus station, but no clear way to get back unless you can get that same driver to agree to pick you up at a later time.

In any case, Madou is an interesting enough town that it's worth spending a little more time (half a day is about right), which is hard to do without private transport.

Lucky for us, one of our closest and oldest friends in Taiwan also lives down south (though not in Tainan) and was so excited to hear we were coming to her part of the country that she took off what is usually a work day running the family business, borrowed her dad's car and was quite happy to plan for our time together to include a trip out to Madou, as she hadn't been to anything like animatronic Hell since childhood.

Madou has been settled for a very long time - originally called Matau, it was one of the largest indigenous Siraya settlements in that part of Taiwan during Dutch rule, and the most 'troublesome' to the Dutch (though I find it likely that the Dutch were just as troublesome to them, if not more so, seeing as the Siraya got there first...by a good few thousand years). It continued to exist through the Japanese era and as such has a small collection of interesting architecture from that time, including the old sugar refinery and a big old theater (電姬戲院), now in ruins. The main street still has a few pretty Art Deco buildings at various intersections - though a few are obscured by ugly commercial signs - and a couple of old shophouses that have not been restored.

Madou is also famous for savory rice pudding (wan-gui or 碗粿 - I don't know the exact tones in Taiwanese), so that was our first stop. We went to the famous 碗粿王, but there are a million options and all of them are probably great. 


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You add sauce and garlic paste to your liking than cut the whole thing up with your spoon to eat it. The gloopy rice is reminiscent of Cream of Wheat, and a good bowl will always contain at minimum a mushroom and half a boiled egg. 


Then, straight to Hell - all 18 layers of it.

Daitian temple is interesting enough as a temple, though the main complex, built in the 1950s, is quite typical for Taiwan. The domed building off to the side is dedicated to Guanyin and is similarly nice, though not particularly unique.

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If you're wondering whether you get to go up inside that dragon - worry not. You do! That comes later, though.

The entrance to Hell is to the right of the temple proper, past a man-made creek decorated with plants and sculptures. It costs NT40 to enter and is presided over by a bluish demon with red LED eyes. Though there isn't much of a descent, it feels like you're heading down to a basement as the interior quickly grows dark.


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Once inside, you start your animatronic journey with the first court, where the recently deceased are judged for how they lived and sentenced to the appropriate level accordingly. After that, you twist and turn through the next 17 layers, each in its own LED-colored alcove which lights up at regular intervals (so if you arrive in the middle of a display, just hang around for a few minutes after it ends. It'll start up again.) Scary music - which isn't that scary - plays over the loudspeaker as the sets light up, and each one begins with the god who presides over that layer of Hell reading out the crimes of the person sent there, and what will happen to them, all in Taiwanese. I don't actually understand Taiwanese and the recordings are not particularly clear, but it's not hard to guess what's going on. What, did you expect that it would be in Mandarin, in this part of Taiwan? Haha, fool. Anyway, there are also placards above each set that explain in Mandarin and English what's going on.

Some of these are videos - what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't offer up videos of Animatronic Hell?

If they won't play, let me know. 



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For example, don't swindle the womenfolk. I don't know why that's a specific sin apart
from swindling menfolk, but ok


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Some of the layers made sense - murderers, rapists, con-artists etc. - whereas there was at least one which punished those who sought profit for themselves, or to enrich themselves. Which to me sounds like...almost everybody? Maybe that's the point - almost nobody goes straight to Heaven because we're all fundamentally selfish. That's not so different from Christianity, after all - harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven and all that.

A few others were specific to the Asian cultural sphere: levels of Hell for not being filial (or filial enough), for women who didn't listen to their husbands' parents directives and more. 



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I have to admit, I had a fantastic time. I turned to my friend and the other friend she'd brought along and asked why on Earth nobody had told me about this place before. It's great, I said. You know I'd love something like this!

"Because this kind of place was really scary to us when we were kids," my friend replied.

"Do you still think it's scary?"

"Not really," she said. "But...now I think I'd better listen to my parents more!" 



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Partway through our tour, we were walking alongside a family with an older and younger daughter, perhaps around ages 9 and 4, respectively. When my friend convinced this would have scared her as a child, I asked the older girl if she was afraid.

"Not really," she said.

"Kids these days are really different. This was definitely terrifying when I was young."

Then I asked the younger sister. She just looked at me and then quickly away. I joked that she was more afraid of a foreigner than all this Hell stuff (which seemed pretty true). Her parents laughed but said, in fact, the little one was scared, but probably wouldn't tell me, because she was in fact afraid of me too.

Later on we passed some teenage boys going through. They were laughing, joking and imitating the animatronic figures. In other words, acting like teenagers anywhere. Ever seen teens in a haunted house around Halloween in the US? Though they'd be more likely to bring their girlfriends and make out. Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens here, too. Plus, open containers are legal, the drinking age is 18 but nobody really cares, and beer is common at temple festivals. I can't imagine some teens have not passed through with Taiwan Beers in hand having a grand ol' time.

The main difference being, the people working at Madou Daitianfu probably didn't care much how teens acted in their animatronic Hell meant to scare kids into behaving, and while we didn't bring beer I got the general impression that it would have been fine if we had. Whereas you can bet some church lady or Aunt Doris in a religious theme park in the US would get all pearl-clutchy about it. Also, no beer. 


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I had thought when I came out here that there are so many religious crazies in the US, that there must be a Christian Hell-themed exhibit somewhere in the US meant to scare children into behaving, and that it wouldn't be that different in tenor or content (though quite different aesthetics) than this Hell. But the closest thing I can find is the Biblical experience park in Florida which includes a bloody crucifixion. Cool, but not the same as Hell. 


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Just great for kids. I read this and I think, definitely a place to bring your toddler. 


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So, you're probably wondering - which level of Hell was my favorite?

(Well, you're probably not wondering, but I'm going to tell you anyway.)

Definitely the 14th level, where "those who look for vulnerable women and take advantage of them" get their "faces skinned by metal blades and disfigured". You see, during this whole Hellacious journey, I was asking myself - sure, but where do the Chads go? You know, the scrubs? The fuckboys? What happens to those guys, because no way they're going to Heaven?
And I suppose this is it. So, gentlefolk, I present to you...fuckboy Hell: 



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Awesome.

At the end of Hell, you reach a final level which is described as more of a purgatory. If you have not sinned enough to go to Hell, or have atoned for your sins, you may be sent by the gods to Heaven instead. At that point, you head upstairs and have the option of exiting, or checking out Animatronic Taoist Heaven.

While less interesting than Hell (because duh), Heaven is worth a visit because the stairs you climb - no heaven for the disabled I guess - take you right up into that kick-ass dragon you saw coming in. Heaven snakes all through its neck and spits you out in his mouth. (Which isn't a great way to word that, but you know what I mean.)



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Here's the thing, though. The first animatronic sets you see in Heaven show either men drinking and talking at a fine carved table while the womenfolk sit at a lower, rougher, less fancy table...

...or they are playing various Chinese games and drinking while the women serve them.

Which, dude. Ew. So, in Hell your typical scrub gets his face skinned off, but in Heaven men are waited on by submissive women who always accept a smaller lot? Yuck. I'll take Hell, thanks. 



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Another family ascended to Heaven with us, the young boy visibly shaken by Hell. I pointed out how sexist Heaven was to them and the parents agreed. Traditional Taoist Heaven seems great for the guys but perhaps not so great for the ladies, and the part where they all sit around playing instruments and laughing is fine, but not nearly as interesting as Hell.

But at the top, you get a fine view through the dragon's jaws to the rest of the temple complex, and there's a picnic area where you can sit before descending. 




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After returning to Earth, we noticed that the temple festival that had just been getting started when we arrived was in full swing. At one point, the Eight Generals (八家將), a group of female dancers in skimpy costume cheongsam dancing a choreographed number with a 'matchmaker' auntie, a troupe of teenage cheerleader-gymnast-dance performers, some dancing princes (三太子), and several spirit mediums including a number of women (rare in northern Taiwan) were all going at once in what felt almost like a three-ring circus of things to see. I put much of this on Facebook as a livestream, so didn't get many photos, but here are a few:


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It was frankly a bit overwheming - temple festivals in Taipei are nothing like this, with one group coming in at a time. To have three, four or five different things going on at once was a very...southern experience.

We left the temple and hit up the sugar refinery, which has a lovely park but was too hot to really enjoy (the small art exhibit on a local artist was nice, and also air conditioned).

It's worth noting that Madou is also famous for pomelos, and if you want to try the local product without buying and eating an actual pomelo, there's a small, unassuming cafe at the sugar refinery where you can get a Madou pomelo slushie (麻豆柚子冰沙), which is perfect for the summer heat. 



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One more stop - the old theater - and it was time to say goodbye to Madou. The theater is worth a quick look but despite advice from a friend, I was not able to get inside. There are alleys around it and I took a walk down the one on the left, which lets out at some privately-owned traditional farmhouse, right in town. It's lovely, with a bright and flowering garden...and an unfriendly dog (the human who was there didn't seem to mind my presence but I didn't really want to hang out on his property like a weirdo, even though as a foreigner one can kind of get away with that. I don't like using my privilege that way.) Also, a big old wall between his house and the abandoned theater, with no clear way in.

Anyway, the weather was hot and bright, at least in the 90s and possibly topping 100. So here we are, a little sweaty and tired, and about to head out for famous gelato in Yujing, about a 20-minute drive away:



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If you put our shirts together, it comes out as something like "I support Taiwan independence, motherfucker!" in Taiwanese. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rambling around Ximen, afternoon tea, flowers: what I've been up to for Taiwan Scene

So, I've got a few things out at Taiwan Scene that I thought I'd share.

First, a guide to afternoon tea in unlikely places. I ventured beyond central Taipei (where you can get a decent afternoon tea at any number of establishments) to find places for a mid-afternoon repast where you wouldn't expect it. Say goodbye to 7-11 if you missed the lunch hours of regular restaurants!

Then there's "A Day In Historic Ximen" - yes, I reviewed a bunch of places, but I also added my knowledge of historical sights in the area. Some famous, some recently-restored, some a bit less well-known.

I also wrote a few pieces on flower season in Taipei - this one focuses on day routes where you can find different flowers, and another for Taiwan Scene on flower etiquette. It's probably too late to actually do any of the flower viewing routes, but keep them in mind for next year!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sorry Kaohsiung, but Barcelona you ain't

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The view from the British Consulate at Takao
You're a pretty city, Kaohsiung, and I enjoy visiting you, but you can't justify a tourism tax


So, Big Uncle Dirk Han Kuo-yu is talking about introducing a foreign tourism tax in Kaohsiung. As Taiwan News reported (yes, Taiwan News does report things), the tax would be aimed at foreign tourists, not domestic ones, charging (for example) NT$100/day, typically payable at hotels.

In this way, the plan is modeled on city taxes currently in place in several European cities which are also popular tourist destinations. This year alone, I paid tourism taxes in Lisbon, Porto, Rome and Siena (and may have paid one in Milan; I don't remember.) The taxes in Europe range from €1 (or less) to as much as €3 per day.

With that in mind, Kaohsiung's proposed tax would be at the high end even for major European destinations. Rome, for example, was €3/day. NT$100 is about US$3/day.

I have a few issues with this. I'm not against tourism taxes generally - the infrastructure of many major European cities has to support not only residents but visitors. Despite the adage that "if you want less of something, tax it; if you want more of something, subsidize it", the taxes are low enough that they are unlikely to deter tourists, especially those who've traveled a long way.

That said, such taxes are usually levied in places where tourism is already strong. Dirky-doo wants to 'prioritise tourism' which doesn't seem to be particularly strong in Kaohsiung (some discussion of numbers found below). The effect won't be brushed off as a minor fee, as it generally is in other places where tourism numbers are already massive. It will deter tourists, not promote them. How exactly are these two policies meant to align? Or, perhaps Big Uncle Dirk is full of crap and always has been, and it doesn't matter if his ideas make no sense jointly or severally?

It makes sense that, in addition to bolstering the economy through spending on their visit, that tourists should also contribute directly to the local government for the purpose of maintaining the infrastructure that they themselves strain. How much of this money actually goes to this, however, is not at all clear. For example, this explainer of where Penang's tourist taxes go doesn't look at all as though they do anything useful. I wouldn't want my money going to some committee organizing useless conferences and chartering flights from Wuhan. Some discussions of tourism tax have the revenue going into general government operational funds - also not a strong sell to tourists wondering why they're paying out.

But let's be honest here. It doesn't seem to me that Kaohsiung is a city whose infrastructure is unduly strained by the number of tourists who visit. If anything, tourism numbers there are...okay, but flagging, though the data is a bit outdated here. You can find some more numbers in the various tables here - they're national statistics, not Kaohsiung-specific, and relevant data is spread across several spreadsheets.

But these national numbers for Taiwan can be compared to, say, the number of tourists going to Barcelona, Spain alone (one city - not even all of Spain, let alone all of Europe). Barcelona is a good example as it's a city which is increasingly suffering from a glut of tourists it can't handle, and which locals increasingly don't want to handle. (Barcelona's tourism tax is variable based on the accommodation chosen).

I know you do get tourists, Kaohsiung. But I'm sorry, you are not Barcelona.

Kaohsiung, honey, you don't have massive infrastructure or overcrowding issues the way European cities do. Your public transit system is finally turning a profit (which I'm not even sure public transit needs to do, but isn't a bad thing.) There aren't hordes of foreigners crowding your streets or causing environmental damage. You don't need the money for the same reasons that European cities do.

What's more, I don't really think Kaohsiung has the draws that these other cities do. While its architectural heritage interests me, it's not exactly mind-blowing to your average international visitor. There's no Roman Forum, Sagrada Familia or even Jeronimos Monastery or Sao Jorge castle in Kaohsiung. The city has gotten brighter and lovelier over the years (so Big Uncle Dirk campaigning on it being a dingy old city run into the ground by the DPP is especially offensive to me in how deliberately wrong it is) but it just isn't the sort of wow-bang-sparkle destination that can justify something like a tourism tax.

In fact, it's a really quick way to convince tourists to go to other parts of Taiwan. Most international visitors to Taiwan are Asian, and they don't necessarily have the spending money that tourists to Europe do (the Asians with heaps of cash head west), or if they do, they'll save that for their trip to Rome, not their trip to Kaohsiung.

And, of course, it also leads to a few other questions.

First, how would visitors from China be treated? In the statistical links above, you can see that they are treated separately from other foreign arrivals. Yet they are the biggest group of non-domestic tourists by a very wide margin, so not taxing them would basically invalidate the whole point of the tourism tax to begin with. Dirk is an unabashed unificationist dressed in a populist's clothing and, although I'm speculating here, probably conflates "promoting tourism" with "promoting Chinese tourism", which is apparent given his desire to increase flight connections to China (ignore the dumb headline). I would not at all be surprised if he declared that visitors from China were "domestic" and therefore not subject to the fee.

Second, most other "foreign" visitors to Kaohsiung actually live in other cities in Taiwan, like me, and most visitors overall to the city are domestic (source: see Focus Taiwan link above). Although Big Uncle Dirk says domestic tourists wouldn't be included (which is not the norm in Europe, where all visitors pay as it's essentially a hotel occupancy tax). I have to wonder whether foreign residents, who are technically domestic tourists, would be similarly exempt. I know that if I found out I'd have to pay this tax because I don't look like a domestic tourist...well, see how fast I would not visit Kaohsiung, just on principle (or I'd stay with my friend in Dashe, even though that's a bit far from the city.)

Yes, tourism has a lot of indirect economic benefits; some will say that these are sufficient and it's unnecessary to add a tax on top of what tourists already spend to be in a city. However, these benefits are variable and often have deleterious costs associated with them (same link), are often not much at all if a large number of tourists are on a shoestring budget (say, gap year kids in Thailand or people on cut-rate Chinese group tours). There are also a number of disadvantages including exploitation of local labor and environmental effects, and most tourism dollars appear not to stay in the local economy (ignore the jingoistic headline). This makes sense; for example, in developing countries, labor costs are low relative to what major hotel chains charge for rooms. Most of that money likely goes to the international conglomeration that owns the hotel, not the local economy that the hotel is in, though there may be other economic benefits.

But I don't see how any of it matters for Kaohsiung, a city whose main economic driver is not tourism, and a city which doesn't experience the worst effects of tourism (aside from some slight overcrowding at Shizhiwan and Cijing Island). Why do they need a tourism tax which will drive tourists away, won't be charged to the bulk of tourists because they're domestic, may not be charged to Chinese tourists, and therefore just causes annoyance without much benefit, and arising from no great need?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Go see "Nude" in Kaohsiung - and Taiwan, promote your events better!

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Go see Nude!

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to go to Kaohsiung for a few days to take part in a tourism-related conference. That part was interesting, but not something I feel the need to blog about.

Being down there, however, gave me the chance to see one of my oldest and closest friends in Taiwan. Helping to run the family business mean she doesn't have a lot of time to come to Taipei, so we often see each other when I'm able to head down south. For those of you who think I'm a public transit snob who won't grace an old-school Taiwanese scooter with her precious princess bum, I actually had a blast riding around Kaohsiung county (technically 'city' but that was a stupid change and I won't dignify it) and downtown on the back of her scooter. I just won't drive one myself, because I value my life.


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Anyway, we decided to check out the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Art, which is currently hosting "Nude", an exhibit of works on loan from the Tate Modern in London.

The theme of the exhibit is nudity in modern art, and it discusses (with well-planned wall panels in English and Chinese) the evolution of nudity in art through the late 19th century to the modern era. It includes some stunning - and some head-scratching - cutting-edge modern work along side classics by Matisse, Rodin, Renoir and Picasso.

To be frank, it was just an amazing exhibit. It was fine art of a high calibre which is a real treat in Taiwan, with a smattering of well-known masters but not necessarily focusing only on the big names. It featured Rodin's Kiss, which is one of the great works of Western sculpture. The evening we went, a concert was being planned around it featuring modern works of classical music.

Photographs were not allowed, so you'll have to make do with a shot of the brochure and some postcards I purchased.



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A Matisse and a Nevinson



The exhibit runs through October 28 and costs NT$280 (with concessions including a student discount), so you still have time. Go see it!

I mean, I was just in London. I went to the Tate Modern. I didn't get to see stuff this great there!

Here's what keeps nagging me: I had heard that this was taking place through the local grapevine, though it wasn't promoted in any way that made a huge impact on me. I had forgotten that it was still running, and in fact though I wouldn't get to see it as I was away for most of the summer. My local friend had to remind me that it was still an option.

When I got back to my hotel, I searched a bit to see where news of the exhibit could be found by tourists (plenty if information is available in Chinese, and the exhibit seemed to be locally popular, with the museum staying open until 8:30pm that Friday). A few articles from over the summer mentioned it, including the Focus Taiwan one linked above. After that, nothing.

A visitor searching for events in Kaohsiung in September or October (perhaps even August) would have trouble finding out that this exhibit existed, especially if they were a foreign tourist searching in English. The information is there, but it's hard to find for travelers. About to attend a conference on tourism promotion in Taiwan, this struck me as especially strange.

As a traveler in Kaohsiung - although a domestic one, as Taipei is my home - I was keen to see the exhibit, and yet would likely not have thought to go if not for my friend. And I actually had known about it! Imagine a foreign tourist here who hadn't seen any of the local news items featuring it when it opened. They'd have no idea.

Here's an example of what I mean. If you search for events in Kaohsiung, you might come across this website by the Kaohsiung City Government. It's actually a pretty good website in a variety of languages, which is already exceptional for Taiwan (where websites in English are often so terribly-designed, unclear and devoid of real information that they are essentially unusable and, I have to assume, only exist for decorative purposes or so that someone could give their nominally-English-speaking nephew a website development contract).

But if you actually search for events, say, this weekend, this is what you get:



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Same thing for no keyword, "art", "museum" and "nude"


Nothing.

Put in some keywords (I tried "museum", "art", "nude" and "tate") - still nothing. A tourist using this site would never have found the sublime exhibit I was lucky to see.

It really seems as though events in Taiwan are either heavily publicized but terrible, or great but not promoted well or consistently.


So, hey, Taiwan. You can do better. You have interesting events that travelers will want to know about. Make sure they do!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Taichung: where transport cost more than my hotel

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Taichung is now the second-largest city in Taiwan


Quite some time ago, I took a quick weekend jaunt to Taichung, mostly to see friends, but also to give the city a fair chance.

I'll admit, I've never been the biggest fan of Taichung, and I don't really understand why so many foreign residents say it's the best city in Taiwan to live. Sure, the weather is better, but the pollution is unbearable, making it hard to enjoy. Being in central Taiwan, it's equidistant from the attractions of both the north and south, but it's not actually in either of those places (to be fair, the area around Taichung is lovely). It's more laid-back, true, and more affordable - but there's also not a lot to do. The city has tried to improve public transport, but I'd say that has spectacularly failed. It has arguably one of the best night markets in Taiwan, but it's not easy to get to if you don't drive.


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Miyahara, near Taichung Train Station


That said, I'd only stayed briefly in the past, usually on the way to somewhere else. So I felt I should at least spend a few days there before being so dismissive. It has also beaten out Kaohsiung to become the 2nd largest city in Taiwan, so it seemed like a good time to give it a chance.

The result? Mixed. Don't get me wrong, the cover photo on this is meant to be cheeky and fun, not a wholesale put-down of Taichung. I had a fun weekend - it's just that it cost me a hell of a lot of money to get around.


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From our nighttime walk through central Taichung city


I arrived on a Friday evening and immediately went to a friend's house, where a few other friends had gathered. I drank a bit too much whiskey, ate a few too many fried chicken anuses,  and let's just say I'm pretty sure my friend had to call an exorcist to banish the demons I expelled in his bathroom later on. That was probably my most authentic Taichung experience: whiskey, chicken ass, and horking up that chicken ass a few hours later because why the hell would anyone eat that much chicken ass?

The next morning, I wandered downstairs not feeling great at all, and found a local breakfast shop. This is a small pleasure of Taiwan - little shops that have all sorts of tasty, greasy fare and are open until nearly lunchtime. Most foreigners in Taiwan seem to go for dan bing (a savory pancake-like roll with egg and filling, which is often cheese or bacon), but my go-to breakfast is a hamburger and turnip cake. The food was good and cheap and the atmosphere local. Being an industrial area, most of the other customers were Southeast Asian - Taiwanese factories frequently employ labor from nearby countries. This is one facet of the real Taiwan: not a "pure Han Chinese" "island" which is "historically a part of China" with "Chinese culture" where foreigners are temporary guests used for convenience, but a multicultural nation with a unique identity and strong ties to its Southeast Asian and Austronesian neighbors, where many foreigners of various backgrounds build long-term or permanent lives.

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I'm a big fan of these flag guys - we have them in Taipei too

I have to say this for Taiwan: my friend lived in an industrial park. This is not what you'd imagine in the West: there is residential and commercial activity in such places in Taiwan. That said, in the US, in an "industrial" zone on the outskirts of town, I don't know if I'd have felt safe as a woman walking around alone. In my native land, such an area would probably have been a quiet, eerie place on a Saturday morning. Too deserted for a woman to feel comfortable.

In Taiwan, I knew I was perfectly safe.


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There's no Curry Orgasmo in Taipei


After saying goodbye to my friend (and reminding him that both of his bathrooms now contained horrors that needed a few power of Christ compels yous for them to be truly clean again, I mean spiritually clean, not just mopped down, and, oh, sorry about that), I came face to face with Taichung's biggest problem: just...not very good public transport at all. I'd stayed quite far from the city center, and faced a not-that-pleasant ten-minute walk to the nearest bus stop to get into town. No idea when the next bus would come - though to be fair that particular route was probably well-serviced - I took a taxi.

The cost of that taxi was about half of what I'd spent on the hotel. It's not that I didn't have the money, I just resented spending that much cash to get around. I like cities that facilitate rather than hinder transit. I can drive: I even hold an international driver's permit. I won't drive in cities, though, because I value my life and my sanity. I'm not a comfortable city driver by any means, although I'm quite happy to tool around the mountains in a rental car. For someone like me, who feels deeply uncomfortable with city driving, there is no easy way to get around Taichung.

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An evening walk in Taichung - if you have nothing else to do here, at least get yer teeth did at Hotshot Dental Center (if you are too snobbish for that, there's an Elitist Dentist in Taipei you can visit)

I waited for my husband to show up - he would meet me in Taichung after his Saturday morning private class, and we'd grab a late lunch before checking out Taichung's #1 tourist attraction: Miyahara.

I - and every other tourist in Taichung - enjoyed Miyahara, a gorgeous setting to have tea, coffee or ice cream. I almost feel obligated to write that, though. I'd write more, but Miyahara is well-covered elsewhere. We enjoyed the atmosphere enough that we ended up hanging out there until it was time to go to dinner. Even the view (of the abandoned Qianyue Building) felt very Taiwanese. As Stephanie Huffman noted in Formosa Moon, Taiwan does a good job of not hiding its scars.

Later that evening, it was also pleasant to walk from downtown - most affordable hotels are near the train station - to meet another friend in a restaurant near the Calligraphy Greenway. We avoided the massive Taiwan Boulevard, which didn't run particularly close to our destination, and took quiet backstreets. Again, in Taiwan we knew this was perfectly safe. I don't know that I would have done so after dark in many American cities.

Buses along Taiwan Boulevard were an option, but not particularly convenient to where we were going. Fortunately, we didn't mind the walk. Good thing too, as there was no alternative way to get there.

We met at Curry Orgasmo. If you're wondering whether I chose it for the name...I did. Also, it has perfectly acceptable (but not orgasmic) curries, and there isn't one in Taipei. This part of town is great for nighttime walking - there are parks, shops, restaurants, places to grab a drink. It's lively, without the unending crowds of Taipei. If I were planning to return to Taichung I'd look into staying in this neighborhood instead. The area around the train station is crowded and bustling, and the hotels are cheaper (some of them don't give you condoms and lube on the nightstand, even) but there's not quite as much to do.

After curry, beer and chat, we were meant to head out to meet yet another friend for drinks and dessert at Delys&Sens - a bar and cafe that had real French desserts and well-made drinks by an expert...what are the kids calling it these days, "mixologist"? Count me in!


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A drink from Delys&Sens


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Desserts at Delys&Sens

Inviting our dinner companion along, we realized that the walk from Curry Orgasmo to Delys&Sens would be just a bit too far, so we hopped in another taxi. Despite friends insisting that Taichung does have a working bus-based public transit network, there was no clear way to get between the two without a wait and walk that was long enough to not justify trying.

Delys&Sens was absolutely fantastic - I enjoyed hearing about how the bartender refused to work with Aperol but was willing to use Campari, despite being a fan of Aperol myself (too many grad school-based summers in Europe) - and the desserts, well, I wish I could easily find desserts that good in Taipei at reasonable prices. In Taipei, I feel like I usually end up with a $200NT slice of defrosted chocolate cake purchased from the same factory that every other cafe orders from.

This was a level above. Just good Western desserts. Just good. With good drinks. Just...good. I cannot recommend it highly enough. We were also able to sit on an outdoor terrace - a rare treat coming from Taipei, where there is hardly ever outdoor seating (it's not only too crowded, the weather just doesn't cooperate most of the time). It was one of those laid-back evenings in a different city with friends that you can enjoy when you actually live in a country, rather than trying to pack in must-see tourist destinations from dawn-till-bedtime.

No chicken asses to be found, but I'd had enough of those. This was another Taiwan urban experience.

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Scenes of Hell at the City God Temple

The next day, we started with coffee and a browse of the books for sale at Fleet Street. Then we set out to find some of Taichung's older points of interest - the City God Temple (城隍廟), which is to the south of Taichung train station and in the area where the Qing were building what was to be the capital of Taiwan ("Taiwan City"). Nothing remains: the temple is still there, but the rest was torn down by the Japanese. But, it's an interesting old part of the city to poke around in and get a cheap lunch.

The temple itself is also interesting, with - as City Gods aren't always the nicest or kindest dudes - lots of scenes of Hell, as in, that's where you'll go if the City God judges you at your death to deserve it.

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Fleet Street Cafe

Then we tried to take a look at the old Imperial Examination Hall - a wooden structure, one of the oldest and best-preserved Qing-era buildings in Taiwan - but it was closed for renovation. We tried to sneak in, but it just wasn't happening (and perhaps was not entirely safe).

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A peek through the bars at the Qing Imperial Examination Hall

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A zoomed-in look at the Examination Hall

As - again - there was no public transport between these two stops, we were downright flushed from walking given the heat of the day. We'd also stopped in a Filipino supermarket we'd passed to load up on things that can be hard to find in regular shops - beef bouillon, adobo seasoning, that sort of thing.

Fortunately, near the examination hall, one can find Taichung's old City Hall, a gorgeous Japanese-era building that is still in use as a government office. You're allowed to take a look as long as you sign in, at least on Sundays (I can't speak for whether that's possible on weekdays, as it seems to hold functioning office space). This sort of building just feels like Taiwan: Chinese on the signage, a Japanese colonial-style building, all bricks, concrete and plaster, colonnades. Balmy tropical heat, palm trees in the courtyard. Peeling paint. A laid-back, chilled-out vibe. A friendly security guard lounging out front, drinking from his glass thermos of Chinese-style tea, who doesn't mind if you walk around unsupervised. Staircases with worn-out red carpeting, the mechanical sound of a big metal fan churning the air. A few families with kids playing in the courtyard because why not?


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At the City God Temple


International tourists might not find these things of interest, but as a domestic tourist, to me it's quite heartening. Yup, this is Taiwan. This is my home.

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This is so Taiwan. I look at this scene and can only really think of this beautiful country. 

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Inside the Old City Hall

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Cat shaved ice

Feeling a bit too overheated to do much more, we took a brief walk - basically just across the street - to another old government building. To find it, just look for the other colonial-era structure near the old City Hall. With dinner plans looming, we didn't have a lot of time to walk around the building, but you can find vintage-vibe Cafe 1911 on the ground floor. We had some iced milk tea and a small shaved ice dessert decorated to look like an adorable little cat, and relaxed until it was time to pick up our bags from storage and head to the other side of town.

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This, too, is just so Taiwan

It should have been a 30-minute drive, but it took closer to an hour and cost about $400NT. There was no public transit option, and certainly no MRT to avoid the snarled traffic. We were late for the soft opening of Texas Roadhouse Taichung, where we'd been invited to join some other friends. The food was hearty, American and yes, good - I may travel the world but I'll tell you, American mid-range restaurant chains are very good at comfort food and I won't pretend a hipster distaste for them that I don't have - and the atmosphere reminded me of the country of my birth.

Certainly there was no more chicken ass.

From there, we had to taxi to the HSR station as well - again, no convenient public transport that could get us there in a reasonable time frame (I'm not sure there was any transit available at all in that part of town) - for another chunk of cash.


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Some of the books available (no real English selection) at Fleet Street

And that's the story of how I had a very enjoyable weekend in Taichung with friends, and spent more money on taxis than on a hotel, because if you don't drive, there is no reasonable, quick way to get around the city.

That's the only reason I hesitate to recommend it as a weekend for readers who live in Taiwan but don't drive. You can have a lot of fun, especially if you have friends there or like searching for old or vintage things. I could have spent more time there, heading up to Dakeng, wandering Taichung Park, or another evening in the neighborhood around Curry Orgasmo, trying a new restaurant. I would have loved to have taken Brendan to Fengchia Night Market, but it's a bit far out and the last time I went, I spent more on the taxi there and back than I spent in the market itself. Or I would happy wander in any of these areas.

Taichung isn't that pretty on a large scale - cities in Taiwan usually aren't - but you can find lots of pleasant little nooks and crannies, and unexpected things if you walk around, that might surprise and delight you. If you skirt all the construction, that is.


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Just a random old thing on the street in Taichung

But if you don't drive, it will be a more expensive weekend than you might like. Few things are near each other, taxis often need to be called, and while there is a bus network, it's just not that usable or convenient if you don't know your way around already (which I didn't).

By all means, visit. But budget accordingly, become comfortable with city driving (something I will never do), or stick only to activities along the major bus routes. As a city to spend a weekend in, Taichung gets an A- (it would get an A if not for the pollution). As a city I had to navigate without a car, it gets a D at best, and that's only because the desserts at Delys&Sens made me feel generous.


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Doughnut-like baked goods vendor on the way to the City God Temple (her products were delicious, and her dog adorably scruffy)