Visiting Taiwan’s Lanyang Museum

Lanyang Museum, Yilan, Taiwan
When it comes to museums, Taiwan doesn’t seem to have any famous ones other than the National Palace Museum, which showcases imperial Chinese treasures brought across from China by Chiang Kai-shek in the mid-1940s. But in reality, Taiwan has several great museums that are impressive, beautiful, and feature fascinating exhibits. One of these is the Lanyang Museum, in Taiwan’s Yilan County, which I visited recently.

At first glance, from the side, Lanyang Museum resembles a large, sleek rock soaring out of the ground. Indeed, the museum was designed in the shape of a cuesta, a tilting stone escarpment that is common to Taiwan’s northeast coast. The museum is surrounded by a small lake with ducks and other birds.

Located on Taiwan’s northeast coast, Yilan County has an interesting geographical profile because it includes flat land sandwiched between mountains and the ocean. Yilan thus features abundant forestry, rice, and marine fisheries resources. The Lanyang Museum bears homage to this with separate levels devoted to Yilan’s mountains, ocean, and plains.
Lanyang Museum, Yilan, Taiwan

The museum features an attractive collection of dioramas, artifacts, and historical photos. Among the most interesting cultural exhibits is a model of a wooden platform which people compete to climb up in the Zhongyuan Qianggu festival, a late 18th century festival. There are many life-size displays of farmer and workmen mannequins engaged in irrigating or other kinds of work. It was interesting to see a yamu boat, used by farmers to harvest rice in their paddy fields.

Yilan also has a significant aboriginal presence, especially the Kavalan tribe (who the famous Taiwanese whisky brand is named after) who have lived in Yilan for 1,000 years and traditionally lived near rivers and streams. Han settlers came later in the 18th century and gradually pushed the aboriginals out of their lands.

There are an actual fishing boat, which you can climb into, and a traditional boat, as well as the skeleton of a Bryden’s whale which washed up dead ashore. The museum has an open, colorful and spacious layout that provides a nice ambiance to enjoy the exhibits.

How to get there: From Taipei, you can take the train to Yilan’s Wai’ao Station and walk to the museum, or take the long-distance Kuo-kuang 1877 bus at the Nangang Exhibition Center bus stop, which stops right at the museum.
Note: The museum is closed on Wednesdays. Continue reading “Visiting Taiwan’s Lanyang Museum”

Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail heralds a dubious era

A new era began in Hong Kong on the weekend as its high-speed train to Guangzhou began running on Sunday. Hong Kong is now connected to China’s high-speed network, which is the world’s largest. Yet this is far from a joyous occasion because not many Hong Kongers are rejoicing. The opening of the high-speed train also saw the imposition of mainland Chinese authority and law on Hong Kong soil. This is because the immigration area at the Hong Kong terminus is staffed by mainland officers and is under mainland Chinese law.

Why this is significant is that it goes against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, that was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047 under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement. This means while Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 by the United Kingdom, Hong Kong would be able to govern itself, and maintain its own courts and laws and police force. This is why Hong Kong can enjoy freedoms such as having proper rule of law, uncensored internet and a free press and civil society. All this has been coming under threat in recent years from China’s encroaching interference but the imposition of Chinese authority in the high-speed terminus formalizes this and sets a scary precedent.

The high-speed train didn’t come cheap at US$11 billion and neither was it necessary. There is already a direct train to Guangzhou that takes just two hours from Kowloon, and the East Rail (local train) runs to Shenzhen. In fact, there are already multiple ways to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The real goal of the high-speed train isn’t to benefit Hong Kong, but to benefit China by binding HK more closely and eroding the distinctions between China and HK.

Another major project is the Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong (ZMH) bridge which comes into operation later this year. Running from Zhuhai through Macau to HK, the bridge is the world’s longest sea bridge (part of it is underground) but again, there is little benefit to HK. Costing a whopping US$20 billion that is shared among the 3 cities, the bridge meets no real need and has caused delays, the deaths of workers, and a cost overrun of at least US$1.5 billion.

These white elephants cost a ton of money but the real intention is to integrate HK into the mainland. And China, or rather Xi Jinping, its leader and “emperor,” has come up with a grand plan called the “Greater Bay Area” (GBA) to facilitate this. The GBA is intended to “integrate” HK, Macau, and 9 major cities in China’s Guangdong Province to create the world’s biggest bay area that would also be a tech and financial powerhouse.

Similar to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which some of you may have seen mentioned in the news, the GBA is full of grand promises that is centered on massive infrastructural projects and economic development. I recently wrote about the GBA for Foreign Policy’s website. I have a very critical take on the GBA and its projects, the high-speed rail and the ZMH bridge, which I see as reflective of the GBA’s flaws. That its wasteful, of dubious value, and ultimately has a political goal of binding Hong Kong to China.

The weekend also saw another dubious distinction for Hong Kong as the city’s government banned a tiny political party, the Hong Kong Nationalist Party. It’s the first time this has happened, with the reason cited being “national security” since the HKNP advocates independence from China. This is a huge blow to Hong Kong’s free speech environment if one cannot openly talk about independence. As political dissent becomes a crime, this makes Hong Kong more like China, where people can be even arrested for criticizing Xi or the Communist Party online, not to mention in public. In Taiwan, for example, people can still openly wave China flags and call for unification with China even though China is hostile to Taiwan. And in the US, I’m sure people can openly call for secession from the union.

It’s a sad sign for Hong Kong that closer ties with China mean white elephant projects and threats to free speech and freedom of expression. I’m not optimistic about the near future for Hong Kong at all.

Random Taipei photo roundup

I was just doing a quick search through my posts and I realized I don’t often post about Taipei. This is even though it’s been my Asian home for a decade now and is one of my favorite cities in not just Asia, but the world. As most people already know, Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, and is Taiwan’s political, commercial and cultural center.

It is also one of East Asia’s major metropolises, though perhaps more laidback, less crowded, and smaller than Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul etc. For me, Taipei is ultra-convenient and safe, and most importantly, has the right balance of being modern and relatively cosmopolitan while not being too crowded (like Hong Kong), hectic (Tokyo) and overpriced (again, HK). There are always many events going on, but it is also easy to relax. There is a distinct local character that is both busy and pleasant. Besides all that, what I really like is that Taipei is surrounded by hills and mountain ranges, which means hikes are always nearby and easy to get to.

This bird, which I have no idea what type it is, puffed up its throat and didn’t care that it was in my way.

Beitou Library is a fantastic sleek, wooden building that is also “green.” It is powered by solar panels, uses rainwater for its toilets and taps, and is designed to maximize natural lighting and reduce heat.

Taipei Free Art show, which as its name says was a free showcase of local (and one Japanese) artists

Taiwan historical activist, (above) who had pamphlets and photos of Sun Yat-sen, and a map of China with Taiwanese names imposed on it, reversing the idea of Taiwan being China (below)

Continue reading “Random Taipei photo roundup”

Taipei hiking- taking in 101

Taipei’s skyline has long been dominated by one building, Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Nowadays, it still is but it’s got company in the form of the Nan Shan Plaza and at least another skyscraper is under construction in the area. The best way to get an up-close view of Taipei 101 and its surroundings is Xiangshan (Elephant Hill), a small nearby mountain. There is a popular spot consisting of several boulders that is ideal for selfies but there are more than one vantage point. Besides Taipei 101, you can get sweeping views of the city as well as the northern hills.

Hong Kong 2017 photo roundup

As 2017 comes to a close, I’m not too sad. It was a rough year both personally and broadly speaking, regarding what was happening in the world (which I will touch on in another post).
My time in Hong Kong finally came to an end a few months ago. While things were disappointing for me on the work front as I left my job (one which I really busted my ass at), my time in Hong Kong helped me learn some important lessons, renew old friendships, make a few new friends, and save up a bit. I also did some good hikes though not during the summer when it was terribly hot. If there is one aspect about HK I really like, it is the hiking, which is easily accessible whether you’re in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, or the New Territories; and which offers some fantastic views of the sea, greenery and urban scenery.

Looking out to the sea and the eastern fringes of Hong Kong island from Devil’s Peak in Kowloon

Dragon’s Back hike has been called the best in Asia and it’s not hard to see why. This was my last hike in Hong Kong, done during my second-to-last week there

Sometimes the older and somewhat rundown buildings are the ones with the most character in Hong Kong, like these in Sai Ying Pun.

I’m not exactly a fan of cosplay and anime but I still decided to attend the anime convention in the summer. It was kind of decent.

During my last days in HK, I moved out to this hotel near my apartment. Great views, terrible rooms.

The smoky interior of Man Mo Temple’s main hall, with its lanterns and coils of burning incense
Continue reading “Hong Kong 2017 photo roundup”

Hong Kong hiking- Devil’s Peak

In previous posts, I’ve pointed out that Hong Kong, despite being famous for its concrete jungle, is actually covered by a lot of mountains and nature parks. But besides that, Hong Kong is also a maritime city, surrounded by water and virtually next to the Pacific ocean. Well, specifically, it’s the East China Sea, but that leads to the Pacific. So Hong Kong is also full of coves, bays, and even beaches, as well as lots of small islands. While some of these places require a bit of hiking and/or a long transit to get to, others are a few subway stops and a short hike away.

One such place is Lei Yue Mun (Carp Channel) near Yau Tong, on the eastern edge of Kowloon. Between Yau Tong and Hong Kong island, there is a narrow gap that leads to the sea to the east, while to the west is Victoria Harbour. The two sides of the gap collectively are called Lei Yue Mun. In the old days, this was a vital strategic point that guarded the eastern side of Victoria Harbour from enemy ships. As a result, the British built forts and gun batteries in Lei Yue Mun. In Yau Tong, you can see the remnants of some of these battery walls, but not cannons, on Devil’s Peak, which is only a little over 200m high, but has some brilliant views of Junk Bay and the sea. You can also see Victoria Harbour as well though that is partly obscured. Despite its name, hiking Devil’s Peak isn’t that hard, but it does involve a long walk from Yau Tong subway station to the trailhead along a steep road (the Lion Rock hike is also the same – the walk to the trailhead from the subway is harder than the actual hike). Once you get onto the trail, it takes about 20 minutes or less to reach the summit and gun battery.

Just over the hill is the Lei Yue Mun gap

Looking to your right on Devil’s Peak lets you view Victoria Harbour, Wan Chai (left) and the rest of Kowloon (from the centre to the right)

Part of the gun battery 

The start of the trail

Junk Bay. Even such a secluded cove has a large residential complex 

Hong Kong kite, the local bird of prey