The Art of Xiyadie

25 06 2017

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The gay-themed paper-cut work of a rural Chinese artist known as “the Siberian butterfly”, or Xiyadie, which is part of an exhibition titled “Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now” at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

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Taiwan: love wins

25 05 2017

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Taiwan becomes the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage.





Techno music

1 05 2017

 

As recommended by Massimiliano Pagliara, currently playing a rave in Taiwan’s beautiful Hualien district.





Taipei Diaries

27 04 2017

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From the photo-book “taipei Diaries’ by Peter Bialobrzeski.

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Taiwan’s new year for marriage equality

26 01 2017

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Taiwan’s Equal Love campaign has launched this ad for the Chinese New Year, featuring two members of a male couple (in matching sweaters) celebrating the occasion separately with their families and fielding the classic CNY question – double edged in this context – “When will you get married?”





Love doesn’t lie

12 12 2016

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A quarter of a million Taiwanese took to Taipei’s Ketagalan Boulevard this weekend in a massive show of support for the legalisation of gay marriage. The rally came in response to earlier Christian-led anti-gay protests which drew 80,000 protesters to oppose the changes, which have been proposed by President Tsai Ing-wen.

The issue had been given further impetus with the suicide of a French university lecturer on the island who had been kept away from his chronically ill long-term partner by that man’s family. After his Taiwanese boyfriend passed away, the French partner also killed himself.

But anti-gay rights campaigners have been opposing any changes.

“Every person has a right to love, but there is also a proper order to love: We do not use the same manner to love animals as people, and love for a husband and wife is different from how you love friends,” Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference secretary-general Otried Chan (陳科) said. Other protesters have made wild claims about the impact the bill would have on heterosexuals, inaccurately claiming for example that the changed marriage law would outlaw the terms “mother” and “father”.

Such statements have led to Taiwanese gay rights protesters adopting the catchphrase, “love doesn’t lie”.

The bill will receive its final test in parliament in the first quarter of next year.

 





Waa Wei

4 12 2016

 

Breathy Faye Wong-essque pop from Taiwanese star Waa Wei.





21 09 2016

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Taichung: the little city that could

21 09 2016

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For my birthday, my boyfriend had bought me a “mystery ticket”. We would be going away for the weekend…somewhere, but I didn’t know where. My first suspicions, for some reason, were Malaysia but one evening, tired after work and not thinking clearly, he let slip that it was to be Taiwan. So, Taipei I assumed, and started mentally planning. It was only when we arrived to check in for the flight that the smiling attendant took my passport and asked “So, for Taichung?”

Taichung. What did I know about Taichung? I frantically wracked my brain. Nothing. I drew a big blank.

My boyfriend later told me that when he had mentioned his plan to Taiwanese friends, they had also responded with “Taichung?”

Taiwan’s third biggest city, with a population of about one million, is not really a top tourist draw. It is not the kind of place many international tourists would pick as their top choice, lacking the big city buzz of Taipei or the lush scenery of the countryside. There is no beach. The mountains are about an hour away. Taichung is generally thought of – if people think of it at all – as a nice place to live, a spacious green city with a mild climate. So in other words, an Asian version of Brisbane. Or Adelaide, perhaps.

Once an industrial boomtown, the home of “Made in Taiwan” electronics, Taichung is now adjusting to a post-industrial future, its factories moved offshore. The new Taichung is trying on a fresh identity as a city of leisure and culture, art and cafes. But still, it retains an (endearing?) provincial twinge.

So, with modest expectations we set off for the weekend. Not expecting too much, we found ourselves surprised at almost every step. Taichung was relaxed and provincial – in the best possible way – but also more of a city than I had expected. The cafes were hipper, the sights more interesting, the art better, the architecture more arresting. And yet it still moved at a slower pace – and this was perhaps its greatest asset.

It was a city where friends could gather to barbecue squid and drink beers on the curb every evening outside their shops, and you could cycle through local neighbourhoods, but there was still more than enough to do. There was the  cheap denim and thumping pop music of the Fengjia night market with its typically Taiwanese array of snacks: pungent tofu and duck-shaped candy floss, hot-dogs-in-hot-dogs, bubble tea and beef noodles (as well as the local specialty, turkey rice). Neon signs glowed and garish octopuses and pigs were perched on top of restaurants hawking different kinds of meat.

There were quirky shops and restaurants with funny names: Think Think Human Culture, Pretty Wife Eats Cheese, (and for the gay visitor, bars like “My Sister’s Husband” and shopping centre “Taichung Top City.”) There was indeed a thriving cafe culture (with a current fondness for Cuban sandwiches, a surprisingly cosmopolitan touch)  and random, big malls spaced widely along long roads. A monorail was under construction, Uber had just arrived. Which is just as well, because Taichung sprawls. There is space, and sky. People are friendly. Families play in parks and people walk their dogs everywhere.

It seemed to have the best of both worlds. I returned to Hong Kong, with its harried impatient rat race and tiny apartments, daydreaming about a return to Taichung.

 

 





The sunset …

21 09 2016

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My boyfriend had been advised by somebody’s Taiwanese girlfriend in Hong Kong that while in Taichung we should go to the nearby Gaomei coastal wetlands to watch the sun go down. I was a bit skeptical, it sounded like the kind of thing you would do in a small town rather than a mid-sized city.Watching the sun go down in a swamp? O-K…. But then we had nothing else to do…

Approaching the wetlands – visible from far away because of the silhouettes of its huge, vaguely futuristic wind turbines – traffic slowed to a crawl. It seemed the whole town had turned out for the twilight show. Soon, we saw why.

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With masses of spectators standing on an artfully designed bridge, we watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I can remember break over the wind towers, while flocks of birds, little sparrows and larger waders, drifted over the mud flats.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.





… and the moon

21 09 2016

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Taichung quirky: Pop culture makes the world go round

21 09 2016

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Taichung’s very own Daft Punk impersonator at the stunning new Opera House. Below, a statue of World of Warcraft character Arthus, who at first glance I mistook for a Chinese deity, placed misleadingly outside a Confucian temple. Below, a fan-made Ghibli bus stop near the Feng jia night market.

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Taichung: three great buildings

21 09 2016

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Given Taichung’s reputation – or rather, its lack of – we were surprised to find some examples of stellar modern architecture in the city. Not that the general standard was particularly high, it has to said. There are plently of nondescript glass boxes and humdrum malls (although the city does do a nice line in ramshackle little alleyways with Japanese-style potplants and faux-art deco apartment complexes.) But in a few of its landmark buildings – several, interestingly, by Japanese architects – the city has outdone itself.

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The brand new National Theatre by Toyo Ito is Taichung’s new calling card, a gleaming showpiece project that frankly, wowed me, with its alien cuboid exterior, cavern-like foyers and charming rooftop garden, looking out over the city’s brand new gleaming centre. It has “icon” (or if you are cycnical, costly white elephant) stamped all over it. But I was persuaded. When we went at 10 o’clock at night it was crowded with couples and sightseers and its restaurants and hipster-tastic art book, bicycle and vinyl stores were busy. My boyfriend disliked this populist touch but I was all in favour: whatever pulls in the punters, after all. And the building itself is endlessly fascinating.

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Out of the city itself at Sun Moon Lake, the Shueishe Visitor Centre by Norihiko Dan also makes great use of curved concrete, but this time in a more sinuous form, creating a building-as-landscape artificial hillside traversed by canal-like channels, facing out to the lake itself. The building houses a cafe and gift store where we sheltered from the rain. The misty forests and lake view expanses brought out the beauty in the building perfectly, or perhaps even – and what could be a greater compliment – the reverse was true?

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Finally, the oldest of these modern landmarks is the chapel at Taichung’s Tunhai University chapel, designed by none other than the noted I.M. Pei.

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Downtown

21 09 2016

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I was quite unprepared for Taichung’s downtown area, a district not like any other I had encountered in a big Asian city before. It was perhaps a little bit like the similarly-declining Japanese resort town of Atami, or the grimy 1930s Chinatown of Manila, or even a little touch of Sao Paulo? Once the beating heart of this proud industrial centre, the old downtown had hollowed out after a series of disastrous fires and a demographic and economic shift towards the newly-developed “centre” around the National Theatre, further to the West. What was left were scarred derelict towers which loomed over still-busy but distinctly downmarket streets. The crowds on the pavement were, I was surprised to find, largely Southeast Asian in parts. Signs were in Thai and Vietnamese and Filipino. Indonesian pop music blared. There were also surprising numbers (for East Asia) of vagrants and obvious drug addicts, hanging around the busy central train station in its nineteenth century gingerbread station. The fact that I took all this in while buzzing on betel nut perhaps gave it even more of an edge.

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And yet there were signs of gentrification too – a new Meridien hotel on the way up, and “Eye Icecream”, an amazing, almost Willy Wonka-esque high concept ice-cream store in a refurbished 1927 Japanese colonial optometrist clinic. This now drew a tremendous line of instagram happy-snappers to its Hogwarts-like interior and ridiculous icecream confections.

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Here too were “Think Think Culture Space”, an arty and intellectual coffee shop heavy with the smell of weed and sporting leaflets for all manner of interesting local events (“Cycle for a free Tibet” anybody?) and the city’s dingy basement gay bar, named (screamingly) “My Sister’s Husband.”

It was a weird mishmash of characterful decrepitude, outright decay, immigrant energy and the tantalising possibility of a looming full-hipster turn around, a little bit edgy (although I never felt unsafe.)





Synapticism

21 09 2016

Outside the Zhongying Recreational Building in Taichung

Synapticism is an interesting urban exploration/haikyo blog I stumbled upon, seemingly based in Taichung. The site has lots of interesting information on the background behind the decay of Taichung’s old downtown area with its dilapidated Qianyue Department store, as well as links to other interesting “urbex” sites in the city like the abandoned Jukuiju mansion and the “shark graveyard” below.

A shark cemetery in Taichung Jukuiju, an abandoned mansion in Taichung

All pics here courtesy of the Synapticism blog.





Possibility of an island

21 09 2016

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Taiwan’s policy of decentralising cultural institutions means that Taichung, only its third largest centre, is home to both the National Theatre and the country’s Museum of Fine Arts. This is an impressive institution set in a verdant garden of modernist sculptures, a fifteen minute stroll South from the centre of town.

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The museum was hosting the Taiwan Biennale when we went, which this year responded to the theme “Possiblity of island,” a title borrowed from the French writer Michel Houellebecq. As so often happened in Taichung, we were pleasantly surprised. The exhibitions were of quite a high standard, ranging from a history of Taiwanese photography to the whimsical and dark paintings of Huang Hai-hsin (scroll down), neon art, some Jackson Pollock style abstract expressionism and most startlingly, an exhibition of male nudes by gay artists, each featuring a photo of the artist at work himself in the nude, and a brief blurb in shockingly blunt language about his sexual proclivities. One artist, we learned, liked to finger himself while he masturbated. I was caught quite offguard reading this in the National Fine Arts Museum!

 





Leopard tears

21 09 2016

 

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The Formosa cloud leopard is a sad case, officially declared extinct in 2003. It had once been the second-largest predator to stalk the Taiwan countryside, after the Formosan black bear which still haunts some of the island’s lonelier mountain stretches. The leopard however has been reduced to a single specimen, which sits stuffed, in Taipei’s Taiwan National museum.

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Above, a photograph taken in 1900 shows an indigenous Taiwanese person wearing a snow leopard pelt. Below, the stuffed specimen in Taiwan National Museum today.

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A wild sheep chase

21 09 2016

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Out of Taichung, we drove into the looming escarpment of mountains that runs through Taiwan, lush and wild and filled with cedar forests, subtropical ferns and palm plantations, plunging waterfalls and craggy valleys. We whizzed past on a new freeway, where Buddhas and Beggar Gods sat outsized on the hilltops, and into an enveloping mist. Vapour spread up in great plumes from the forested slopes, mingling with the clouds already swirling at the mountain tops. The road wound up the hillsides, through valleys of oddly sheer cliffs, like a geological cross section, across swiftly flowing rivers on bright red painted bridges and through covered passageways clinging to the cliff edges, protected from falling rocks from above.

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The first stop was a kind of local sheep farm theme park, apparently much loved by visiting Hong Kong tourists, where you can see shearing and equestrian shows and pat flocks of novel (for many Asian people) sheep. When we were there though the mist and the rain lent the whole enterprise a pleasantly melancholy air, with sheep appearing and vanishing again into a whiteness that covered everything like a woolen cloak.

Continuing along increasingly jaw-dropping roads, below which lakes glimmered in the valleys and waterfalls thundered down distant slopes, we reached Lushan, a little hot spring town. We got out to swim in a 1970s hot spring hotel (where the owner immediately assumed we were there to have sex and enthusiastically ushered us in), and crossed the town’s swinging suspension bridge for lunch of delicious locally-caught fish at a restaurant beside the raging mountain river.

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By the time we got to our intended destination, Sun Moon Lake, the rain that had been threatening all day was coming down in buckets, the famously beautiful lake was barely visible and we gave up all hope of the cycling trip we had been hoping for.

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Still, I had been satisfied with my wonderful day in the mountains.

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Taiwan blue magpie

21 09 2016

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21 09 2016

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The ‘Rainbow Village’ is one of Taichung’s few high-profile “sights” and probably the best known example of outsider art in Taiwan. The colourful, naive paintings are the work of one man, now 94, who drew them over the decades on the outer walls of a fairly grim public housing block for former Kuomintang war veterans. Once threatened with demolition, the block (not really a “village”) was saved by a public outcry and has now become an out-and-out tourist scrum, a jarring experience in otherwise-laidback Taichung. When I was there the site was so crowded with holiday makers armed with selfie sticks that I gave up trying to take a “clean shot” and just started taking pictures of the other tourists. “Papa Rainbow” was there too, manning the souvenir stall and looking mighty proud- as he should – of the colourful chaos he has created.

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Huang Hai-hsin

21 09 2016

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More Huang Hai-hsin after the jump

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