South to North up Taiwan’s West Coast with our 18 Friends from Latin America & the Caribbean!

Smiles all round in honour of Taiwan’s Double-Tenth National Day last Thursday, October 10 ~ and the start of a 4-day weekend for us all! And what a good opportunity it was to show our 18 international friends some of the great cultural sights of Taiwan. 😊 The group are now on the final stretch of their 3-month “2019 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Vocational Training Project: Electrical and Electronic Engineering 拉丁美洲及加勒比海地區友邦技職訓練計畫-電機工程實務技術英語班”, in association with ‘Taiwan ICDF‘, and hosted by St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei. In a few weeks time, they’ll all return to their home countries of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and we’ll miss them! Here they are celebrating Taiwan’s National Day …

Last week, the group were in south Taiwan for a 3-day Solar Energy Course at the National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology, where Dr. Herchang Ay, SJU President, is in charge of the Apollo Solar Car Team. The group traveled there on Monday morning by High-Speed Rail (see photo below), and the plan was that we would join them on Thursday morning to make the most of the 4-day weekend, traveling back to Taipei by coach, via all sorts of interesting places en route along the west coast.

Thus it was that we spent Thursday in Kaohsiung, Thursday night and Friday in Tainan, Friday night and Saturday morning in Chiayi, and from Saturday afternoon to Sunday lunchtime in Taichung, returning to St. John’s University along the west coast road on Sunday evening – trying to avoid the traffic on the final day of the long weekend. We saw a huge lot of really great places, so many in fact that there was hardly any time to rest on the coach in-between stops! Here’s the group posing at the first stop of the day…

There were 4 of us from SJU, A-Tu, me, Xiang-Yann from Malaysia and Jun-Hong. We also had a very good tour guide, Thomas, and a very patient driver, Mr. Chien. A-Tu and I went to Kaohsiung on Wednesday afternoon, stayed the night at St. Paul’s Church (thanks to Rev. C. C. Cheng and his wife!) and met up with our lovely group on Thursday morning at Weiwuying – my most favourite place in all of Kaohsiung – I just love all that wall art! It was good to hear our group’s reflections on their few days in south Taiwan – all positive, and they enthused about how friendly all the people were down south. It’s a fact – the further south you go in Taiwan the friendlier the people – and this was the experience of our group too. As we traveled around these past few days, many people would come over to meet us, some to enquire about the guys’ long hair or where they’re all from or to take a photo together, ah it was fun! Anyway, after the wall murals, we walked across the road to visit the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, which is a stunning building, but it was very hot and muggy, and the sky was hazy. It is ‘air-pollution season’ in Taiwan, and while the weather forecast may have shown days of yellow sunshine, in reality, it was mostly hazy and dull. And very very hot! 🥵🥵

Then we visited the Glory Pier and the Pier 2 area, plus Xiziwan. More hot, hot, hot! In fact, we had to cut short our afternoon sightseeing to save us all from getting heatstroke, and off we went to spend an hour enjoying the air-conditioned Dream Mall instead! As it was Taiwan’s National Day, so there were flags everywhere …

Day One over, and in the evening, we drove an hour north to Tainan, where we stayed overnight in the Sendale Tainan Science Park Hotel, in Sinshih (Xinshi), Tainan. The best thing about Sinshih is that when we got up early for exercise the next morning, we discovered the very delightful nearby Sinshih Elementary School, where everyone was busy doing exercise, the school open-air pool was full of people swimming, and best of all, the school walls were covered in mosaics and murals, all done by the children to show the history of the town – including the arrival of the early missionaries. I loved it!

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan, and the first capital city, so the first must-visit place was the National Museum of Taiwan History. This museum was a big surprise to me – not only had I never been there before, actually I had never even heard of it either! It was opened in 2011, and is located in what seems to be the middle of absolutely nowhere, somewhere on the coast ~ but the museum is a beautiful building and the displays are excellent. Thomas took this photo of us at the main entrance…

Y’know, it’s not easy for a government to construct a good museum telling its own history from an objective viewpoint – and as far as it goes, they’ve done a good job, and especially in presenting the history of Taiwanese customs and also the big section about the Japanese colonial era. There’s lots of interesting displays and everything is in English and Chinese. One day hopefully the museum will also extend the displays to include more about the indigenous people, Christian missionaries and churches, and what really happened during the White Terror era. Anyway it’s a highly recommended museum, and our group spent a long time looking at all the exhibits – and taking part, as appropriate!

Next stop, and we were off to Tainan City to see the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park ~ this is an old ‘dormitory village’ of houses originally built to provide accommodation for government workers and their families in days gone by, but now reinvented for visitors to come and see, and of course, to come and shop…

We also visited Snail Alley ~ I liked the old buildings – and, well, also the snails!

The best place of the whole afternoon was the Hayashi Department Store, which I loved, it has a really fascinating history, dating from the Japanese colonial era, and it was new to me. Their website says, “On December 5th, 1932, Hayashi Department Store opened and thus a modern age of Taiwanese culture began. The decade of 1930s was the start point of modern civilization in Taiwan. As the electric lamps, telephone, and water supply lines popularized, symbols of civilization such like the airplane and motor vehicles flooded into Taiwan. The cafés were becoming the fad of the day, as well as pop culture, movies, phonographs and jazz music. People´s mentality was opening up, and freewill dating was taking over arranged marriages, while dresses were replacing kimonos and Westernized education was popularizing. This was Taiwan in the 1930s”. On the top floor, there’s a very unusual Shinto shrine, there are also great views down to the road below, plus glass-covered walls that show where the building was damaged by air-raids during World War II. After the war, the building became mostly offices, but these days, it’s transformed once again into a shopping experience, though it has retained its original charm and elegance. I really liked it!

We didn’t visit the Confucius Temple, which is usually No. 1 on a historic tour of Tainan, but we did go to Anping Fort (aka Fort Zeelandia), built between 1624 to 1634 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After wandering around the fort, we stopped at the Old Street and also watched a folk tale performance in front of the temple. Our group had a go at the games, and Jun-Hong got himself a temporary tattoo of a tiger!

So that was Day Two, and after dinner, we set off for the hour-or-so drive north to Chiayi, where we stayed in the very stylish Kuan Hotel, on the outskirts of the city…

Day Three was Saturday, and we were all up bright and early for the world’s biggest breakfast in the hotel restaurant. All of our lunches and evening meals were in Chinese restaurants so this was a chance to have something a bit different – plus lots of coffee ready for the day ahead! Our first destination of the day was the very famous Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum; this was my second visit. My first visit was when Chiayi hosted the Lantern Festival in 2018 – with lots of people and a really festive atmosphere. This time it was far more relaxed and a chance to enjoy the lake and the architecture, there was also a special exhibit on Thailand – and large elephant inflatables in the main entrance! I really like this place, it’s spacious, well-designed and full of interesting things – but not too many – just the right size for a visit!

The most famous object in the museum is the stewed pork / meat-shaped stone: “The 5.73 cm tall Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) piece is made from banded jasper in the shape of braised pork belly”….

So that was Chiayi – and after lunch we drove north for 90 minutes to Taichung, our fourth destination of the trip. We visited Miyahara, “a red-brick architecture built by Miyahara Takeo, a Japanese ophthalmology doctor in 1927. It was the largest ophthalmology clinic in Taichung during the Japanese colonial period. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Miyahara became the Taichung Health Bureau”. After years of decay, it has now been reinvented as a restaurant and ice-cream shop, and designed like Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We also visited the Shenji New Village, but there were so many people, we didn’t stay long. Instead we decided to check into the hotel, then head to dinner and a quick visit to the Fengjia Night Market, most famous of all Taichung’s night markets – check out all those zillions of people!

Day Four arrived and there we were in the WeMeet Hotel in central Taichung. I lived in Taichung when I first arrived in Taiwan, from 1999-2006 and I kinda know my way around, so we were up very early to go and visit the nearby Taichung Park. The park is famous for the pavilion built in 1908 for the visit of the Japanese Emperor’s son to launch the railway – it’s the iconic symbol of Taichung, and looks good lit up in the darkness.

A-Tu and I wandered on and found Taichung’s oldest church, Liu-Yuan Presbyterian Church 柳原長老教會, built in 1915, which has a notice saying it is the only church in the world with dragon-shaped waterspouts… well, you learn something new every day!

And then we walked to the nearby site of the famous Yi-Zhong Night Market, which in the very early morning was distinctly less lively than it would have been some hours earlier. This is where I used to come for my language classes, and every day I would pass a church on the corner opposite the night market – an old wooden building, surrounded by a parking area. That church was originally a Japanese Anglican (NSKK) Church, but when the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, there being no Taiwan Anglican / Episcopal Church at that time, so it was handed over to another church group. The building was still there until about 15 years ago, when it was demolished and a large retail building put up, with the church relocated to the top floor. You can see it in this photo. The lower floors are obviously let to Adidas – aka the Adidas Church?

My favourite place in Taichung is the Rainbow Military Dependents Village, famously saved from demolition by 97-year-old Mr. Huang, who started to paint the walls in beautiful designs, and over some years succeeded in saving his village. It is now a major tourist attraction, which is why we were there, but Mr. Huang is still the main focus, and he was posing for photos and enjoying the well-deserved attention. The government has stepped in and restored some of the buildings, and it is looking even better than before, while still very much retaining its original character. There are huge construction projects going on nearby, so soon the village will be a little oasis in the middle of a high-rise community…

After Rainbow Village, we went to the new National Taichung Theater, designed by Japanese architect, Ito Toyo, with lots of curved walls, under-floor air-conditioning and all sorts of sound caves and air-holes. We had an excellent volunteer guide who was really passionate about showing us around and explaining the design; he also took us inside the actual grand theater. His enthusiasm was so wonderful, infectious even – a very highly recommended tour!

So that was Taichung. We had one more place to visit, and that was on the way home, when we took the coastal road north to escape the worst of the traffic and visited the Miaoli Wind Farm, which was just visible far off in the sea – Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm, and on track to begin commercial operations by the end of this year…

And so we arrived back at St. John’s University on Sunday evening soon after 7:00 pm, grateful that everything had gone smoothly, thankful for our guide and driver, for good food and drink, and for all the amazing places we’d visited. This was a tour focused on Taiwan’s cities and urban areas rather than scenic landscapes, but as one of the group said, “We have plenty of beautiful scenery back home, but we don’t have high-rise cities – so that’s what we want to see!” And we certainly did see many, also a lot of baroque architecture which was the architectural style chosen by the Japanese to build Taiwan’s cities during the colonial era, 1895-1945. Now it’s just nice to back in the big open space by the sea that is St. John’s University, with the mountains in the background, and where the air is relatively less-polluted and the temps are definitely cooler. Ah yes, being away on a bus for 4 days really helps you to appreciate being home!

Thanks to SJU for all the planning and organizing of the whole trip, thanks to everyone in the group for being so lovely, and thanks be to God that everything went so well! YES!

4 thoughts on “South to North up Taiwan’s West Coast with our 18 Friends from Latin America & the Caribbean!”

  1. Hi Catherine,

    Looks like you are having an amazing time. Your visitors will have lots of great memories to cherish. I just love all the wall art – Such happy colours helps brighten your day. I love the bookshelf! Amazed how real it looks – the 3d effect is amazing!!

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