Lantern Festivals

Its lantern festival season in Taiwan. It seems most cities across the island have some sort of festivities. Jason got the chance to go to Pingxi last week to see the famous sky lantern festival. For my taste of the festivities I took an afternoon trip with Max to see what Taipei had on offer.

At Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall the city put on a large festival for over a week. It’s the Year of the Rabbit, which is painfully obvious since the entire site is basically a bunny explosion:

Make no mistake. Its the year of the Rabbit. If the hundreds of bunny’s littering the front lawn doesn’t do it, well than this giant rotating pink rabbit should:

I do find it interesting that the Taiwanese interpretation of the year of the Rabbit is more so the year of the cutesy smiley bunny.

Or so I thought. Until I saw the free mini lanterns being given away daily to kids:


Surveying the rest of the grounds the majority was dedicated to displaying lanterns built by various schools in the city. For me, say the word paper lantern and I conger up images of the typical ikea ball shaped paper lantern lamp. Imagine my surprise when I rock up to the festival to find these:

Lanterns it seems can be any paper shaped hallow object. Personally I love the ciber-bunny. And I appreciate that the students of Taipei strayed from the cute bunny image as well. Although dimsum bunny and banna/garlic bunny have vague resemblance to Bugs Bunny back in the racist years of cartoons.

Aside from lantern displays, there were DIY crafting tents for kids, a large stage for concerts, and an area for writing down wishes:

This is afterall a festival with religious roots.

So, by no means as cool as the Pingxi Festival that Jason went to, but still a very interesting sample of local culture.

It’s Shit Like This Taiwan …

One of our biggest problems with Taiwan – maybe our only big problem – is road safety. That doesn’t just go for seat belts (or lack thereof) in taxis and crazy scooters but also for pedestrians.

The other night was a typical example of that. We were on the sidewalk waiting to cross Renai Road (仁愛路) at Xinsheng South Road (新生南路) when suddenly we hear a horn behind us. What did we see? A taxi driver driving down the sidewalk and trying to get onto Xinsheng. After stepping out of the way (did I mention we were on the sidewalk?!) I snapped this photo:

A Taipei taxi driving down the sidewalk

Don’t mind me; just drivin’ on the sidewalk

A few seconds later, the taxi drove down the pedestrian zebra crossing in order to merge into traffic:

A Taipei taxi driving down the pedestrian crossing while trying to merge into traffic.

Pedestrian crossings: not just for pedestrians any more

Did I mention that this was directly in front of the police station?

Taipei must be one of the only cities in the world where you need to look behind you for cars when standing on the sidewalk (any crazier place, like Hanoi, wouldn’t have giant sidewalks). Taipei (and most of Taiwan) only has the illusion of having traffic laws: there are wide roads, clearly painted lines, plenty of traffic lights, and sidewalks big enough to drive a taxi down. And if you think the taxi drivers are bad, just wait until you see the bus drivers!

Costco Taipei

Last week I took a trip out to Costco here in Taipei. A bit of disclosure, I was never a Costco shopper in Canada – something about owning a SmartCar and buying giant vats of mayonnaise didn’t seem to mesh together. So, I suppose part of my amusement with my trip to Costco here in Taipei was Costco itself, and not so much the Asian experience. Although, i had high expectations as to what sort of amusing bulk items i would find.

Much to my sadness there really weren’t that many local offerings. No big barrels of soya sauce, no crates of wanton wrappers or barrels of kimchi. Instead, it was just local Taiwanese stocking up on things like bulk Vaseline, plasma tvs, and dinner rolls. Sure, there was meat offered thinly sliced perfect for hot pot, sold along side the kilos of ground beef and 24 pack steaks. But the beef was USA beef, and the buffalo mozzarella i bought was proudly made in Wisconsin. If anything this really ended up being a trip to America town:

Interestingly, I saw only two other westerners on my visit. I assumed this would be mecca for homesick Americans, perhaps they were all at TGIFriday’s enjoying chicken fingers no doubt sourced from Costco.

Yingge: Ceramics capital of Taiwan

With the weather finally warming up, we decided to take a day trip out of Taipei to the town of Yingge. Only 30 minutes outside of Taipei on a local train its an easy trip (with some careful navigation of the Main train station and the mostly Chinese ticket machines). This town has a 200+ year history in making pottery and ceramics and today it is basically fly paper for tourists.

The Yingge street is beautifully cobblestoned, packed with ceramics shops, and lined with lovely palm trees. Although as historic as it looks, it’s apparently a fairly new development designed to increase tourism.

And it works well. The town is packed, and we walked away with far more purchases than planned. I think we may have single handedly boosted the local economy. Tea pots, dinner plates, pots for plants, there is a lot on offer.

And of course, plenty of tea.

stuff on that scooter

We’re over 4 months into our stint here in Taiwan, so its about time I post a few pictures of the obvious annoyance to Westerners: Taiwanese scooters.  The city is full of them, yes.  This is Asia, its a common thing, the majority of commuters use scooters, I get it.  They weave in and out of traffic, have free reign over sidewalks as they beeline to a parking spot (which by the way seems to be any spare piece of cement not already occupied by a scooter).  They absolutely do not yield to pedestrians carrying small babies at intersections (this I can firmly atest to) and seem to have no environmental emmision laws since most of them sputter out grey puffs of pollution conveniently right at baby stroller level.   That’s all fine and dandy.  The real shocker to me is the bizarre things people transport on their scooters.  Within the first week here we already had the shock of seeing our garbage collection dude hauling our trash away on his scooter, but here is a collection of other bizarre sights I’ve seen:

Safety First!

And don’t think these guys go any slower than the rest. You’d think a 6ft mound of trash on your scooter would slow you down on those turns. Nope, they just make being a baby carrying pedestrian just that much more fun.

(next instalment, people and animals on scooters)

Seatbelts in Taipei Taxis – It’s About Time!

My #1 issue with Taipei – and the #1 thing that would keep me from returning – is road safety. The streets of Taipei are crazy. Yes, they’re a lot less crazy than they used to be, but there are still a lot of nutjobs. And it’s not just for drivers and passengers, but pedestrians too. Sylvia has been almost run down by drivers going the wrong way down one-way streets, driving down crosswalks (not through – down the crosswalk in the direction that pedestrians walk), and driving on sidewalks. And don’t even get me started on the scooters!

The Government of Canada’s Travel Advisory page for Taiwan puts it well:

Driving habits in Taiwan are often more erratic and reckless than in Canada. Driving or riding motorcycles is dangerous and should be avoided, even by experienced motorcyclists. Substandard road conditions and local disregard for traffic laws result in frequent accidents that cause serious and even fatal injuries to foreigners. Motorcycles and scooters weave in and out of traffic.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an end in site to the insanity on the roads, but as a regular taxi passenger it’s good to see that at least we’re going to get seatbelts in the back of taxi cabs, after Nora Sun (孫穗芬), a granddaughter of Republic of China (ROC) founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), was severely injured in a car accident on New Year’s Day.

This has been a major annoyance for me for years: taxi drivers in Taipei routinely remove, hide, or otherwise cripple the seatbelts in the back of their taxis. And if you do manage to find or repair the seatbelt and use it, the driver usually takes offence; I’ve heard it’s because you’re insinuating that he isn’t a good driver – and he probably isn’t – but it’s the other nutjobs on the road I’m more worried about.

Score one for road safety! Now, if only they could go about enforcing the other road safety laws they already have … and will Taipei County (sorry, “New Taipei City” now), where I work, follow suit?

Mayoral election mayhem

Oh man – why is this thing not over with?! We’ve been here for practically 3 months and the city has been bombarded with it the whole time. Flags covering the streets:

from wikipedia

You know what this road needs? More flags.

Volunteers thrusting leaflets and sponsored kleenex packets into your hand on the streets, little vans blasting candidate platforms through megaphones (this is particularly annoying):

I can't go 10 minutes outside without seeing one of these

Here’s some video to show just how annoying these “megaphone trucks” and other loud events can be:

… and now, at 8pm I can hear a drum parade outside our window. As I pray that it doesn’t wake our baby up, I also mentally count down to Saturday when this thing will finally be over.

Side note. the news today reported concern about potentially low voter turn out due to cold weather.

The forecast: low of 17C high of 21C. um…. really?


This came in the post the other day:

Looks like a Taiwanese Home Depot (BQ for the Brits). At first, all looked normal. But on closer inspection a few interesting differences. First, the ad for beer at the bottom. Maybe they do sell beer alongside lumber? Fair enough, probably very appropriate cross shopping.

Next, flipping though the pages, I find this:

seems normal

Here, a zoom in:

That is one happy looking man with a hoover!