Taiwan – Heart of Asia
Venetia van Kuffeler on Taiwan’s Dragon Boat Festival, Buddhist retreats, Formosan black bears, lively night markets and much more.
In the country’s vibrant capital city, visitors find skyscrapers juxtaposed with traditional temples and sprawling night markets. Longshan Temple is the city’s oldest and most famous temple, and a fine example of classical Chinese architecture. Like most temples in Taiwan, it worships a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and folk deities such as Matsu, the indigenous goddess of the sea who is said to protect fishermen and sailors. Taipei’s leading attraction, however, is the majestic National Palace Museum, which houses over 650,000 Chinese artworks over an 8,000-year period, mainly collected by China’s ancient emperors. The National Palace Museum and the Palace Museum in Beijing share the same original roots, which was split in two as a result of the Chinese Civil War. Another popular attraction is the impressive monument to the late president, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, featuring a beautiful Ming-style arch at its main entrance, which is flanked by the National Theatre and Concert Hall.
Taipei 101 is a spectacular 101-floor postmodern landmark located in Taipei’s international business district, and the world’s second tallest building (after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). Architecturally created as a symbol of the evolution of technology and Asian tradition, Taipei 101 is an exceptional feat of engineering and design, especially since it is able to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. A multi-level shopping mall adjoining the tower houses hundreds of fashionable stores, restaurants and clubs. Well worth a visit to the viewing platform at the top!
Visitors should experience the tea ceremony at Wistaria Tea House. After the brutal crackdown of Taiwan’s rising democratic movement in 1979, Wistaria Tea House became the meeting place for political dissenters, critical scholars and a new generation of artists. Today, visitors are as likely to be in the company of Buddhist monks, as suited business men and government ministers. In the world of tea, things are not merely utensils, they are endowed with a certain spirituality, so the tea ceremony is quite an experience.
Central Taiwan offers the full range of Taiwan’s natural beauty. Highlights include the mystical Sun Moon Lake, part owned by local aboriginal tribes and located in the foothills of the central mountain range. There is plenty to do around here: tour boats, hiking trails, temples, and aboriginal tourist shows. The nearby resort at Mount Ali is a world-famous scenic area renowned for its view of the sunrise over a sea of clouds. To reach the peak you do not have to be an intrepid mountaineer: there is a steam-powered train that climbs from 30 to 2,216 metres above sea level, passing through a variety of habitats from sub-tropical forest to alpine woodland. Some 15 kilometres away is East Asia’s highest peak, Mount Jade, which, at 3,952 metres, is a popular destination for hiking.
Protected by national parks, and home to the Formosan black bear, wild salmon, rare birds and other wildlife, the mountains are arguably Taiwan’s most compelling attraction. Bird watching is particularly popular with British tourists.
Located in Kaohsiung county in rural Southern Taiwan, the Fo Guang Shan Monastery is the place to go for a relaxing holiday that will leave a lasting glow in the mind and body. Fo Guang Shan, or ‘Light of Buddha Mountain,’ is a large, well-kept complex of shrines and peaceful gardens all overlooked by a gargantuan golden statue of the Buddha. Life here follows a strict routine of vegetarian food, Chan meditation, mantra recitation and peaceful contemplation. The monastery is populated by about 3,000 monks, nuns, novices, and students attending the monastery’s various educational institutions.
Outside the historical city of Tainan, traditional Taiwanese drumming group Ten Drum Art Percussion Group has its cultural village with performance hall, art museum, drum factory and school. The group has performed all over the world including at the opening of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, and they hope to perform at the London 2012 Olympics. Their unique repertoires are composed with Taiwan folk culture, history and scenery and are pretty spectacular. Performances are twice a day.
Traditional Chinese Festivals
Traditional festivals are important events in the community and family life of the island. There are plenty to choose from the drums and brightly painted vessels of the Dragon Boat Festival, the firecrackers and calligraphy of Chinese New Year or the delicious moon cakes and family barbeques of the mid-autumn festival.
Taiwanese Snacks and Restaurants
Though well-known for its restaurants, many of Taiwan’s local delicacies are best discovered at the lively night markets around the island. Taipei’s Shihlin and Raohe markets, world-famous for their local cuisine, are definitely worth visiting for fried oysters and bubble tea. Voted one of the top ten restaurants in the world, by the New York Times, Din Tai Fung has been serving Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings) since 1974. Each dumpling is expertly folded 16 times by hand, and the restaurant has become a popular must-visit tourist destination, attracting attention from food critics all over the world. The best noodles in the city can be found at Du Hsiao Yueh.
Taiwan’s visitors are in for a unique cultural tour. The island’s fascinating culture, breath-taking scenery, delicious cuisine and friendly people make Taiwan an ideal destination for an adventure.
Flights: China Airlines now flies direct to Taipei from London Heathrow. Eva Air also flies to Taipei from London Heathrow, via Bangkok (with only an hour’s layover), and offers a Premium Economy cabin.
Venetia van Kuffeler meets with Deputy Director General of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, Wayne His-Lin Liu
Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau’s recent international advertising campaign has caused a vast increase in the number of international tourists visiting the island; last year, numbers reached 5.56 million. Deputy Director General Liu explains, ‘We hope that figure will reach 10 million in the next four or five years.’
Liu explains, ‘Tourism is focused on two areas: the Asian market which is more mature and easier to deal with as people are familiar with Taiwan, and the European and US markets.’ With the latter, the Tourism Bureau has been focusing on brand and image. Liu continues, ‘We want to make more US and European tourists aware of Taiwan and all it has to offer.’
The current tourism campaign has the slogan ‘Taiwan – The Heart of Asia.’ Liu explains, ‘Taiwan is the centre of Asia, not only for tourism, but also finance, business, industry and fine foods. It demonstrates that when people visit the island, they can see a little bit of lots of different aspects of both Asian and Chinese culture.’ He continues, ‘Due to its political situation, it has been difficult for Taiwan to present itself abroad and exchange information. But tourism promotion is free from political pressure and we really want to use tourism to let people know that Taiwan in an independent entity.’
Today, many people from the mainland (the People’s Republic of China) are choosing to travel to Taiwan: ‘Last year alone, we had 1.6 million tourists from the mainland, which is a great change, as Japanese tourists are usually the highest in numbers. But we also want to reach out to the whole world, rather than just focusing on Asia.’
CONTEMPORARY LEGEND THEATRE
Based in Taiwan, Contemporary Legend Theatre (CLT) is the avant-garde of traditional Peking Opera. Performing in venues around the world, the company integrates modern theatre into conventional performance style; a combination of music, song, mime, dance, impressive marshal arts and dazzling costumes. Repertoires have included innovative productions of traditional scripts such as Yin Yang River, new productions such as The Hidden Concubine, and adaptations of western classics, such as Shakespeare’s
The Tempest and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Diplomat caught up with the founder and current Artistic Director of the CLT, Wu Hsing-Kuo, to find out more about the acclaimed theatre.
Wu retells the origins of the CLT, founded in 1986, in the face of a decline in the opera’s popularity in the late 1980s. Believing that they needed ‘to do something radically new, or it was going to die out,’ Wu produced his first drama Kingdom of Desire, an adaptation of Macbeth. Despite the fact everyone worked unpaid, the first show was a complete sell-out, and the CLT has only grown in popularity and success since. He fondly recalls his first performance of Kingdom of Desire in the UK, for which he received rave reviews, returning recently to perform a rendition of King Lear as one of the headlining acts for the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival.
Today, Wu hopes to create a new generation of Peking Opera students to continue the customary art form that ‘requires a lifetime to learn.’ By integrating this art into modern theatre, (he is presently attempting to incorporate hip-hop into his work), he has created an exciting new spectacle that crosses cultural and generational boundaries. As The Guardian newspaper wrote, the CLT is ‘one of the best blends of Eastern and Western techniques.’ Believing ‘that drama helps its audience relate to the world around us’ the CLT is very much of its time, in this era of globalisation.
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