Caotun Cide Temple 草屯慈德宮

Frontal View of Caotun Cide Temple

Cide Temple 慈德宮 (also romanized as Tzude Temple) is an unusual manifestation of Taiwanese folk religion situated on a hillside overlooking the historic town of Caotun in northwestern Nantou, Taiwan. Constructed in 1984, it was inspired by the recurring dreams of a local fruit farmer, Zhang Wenqi (張文杞), and funded by generous donations from the community. The main hall of the temple takes the form of a bottle gourd (葫蘆) laying on its side, and the entrance is covered by a conical bamboo farmer’s hat (斗笠). These features give the temple its peculiar shape, but they were not chosen at random; the design is inspired by ancient Chinese mythology, albeit with an idiosyncratic twist.

Clean Your Head

Ear cleaning shop in Wanhua

Here’s something you might not have seen before: a professional ear cleaning service in Wanhua! When I shot this photo while riding around a couple of months ago I assumed it was a run-of-the-mill ear, nose, and throat doctor with a quirky sign out front. Turns out this is a famous shop by the name of Erqiang Qingli de Jia (耳腔清理的家, loosely: “Ear Canal Cleaning Home”) where you can have your ears cleaned by a “professional ear cleaning master” (zhuanye tao’er shi 專業掏耳師) for about 500 NT. Apparently Yao Bin (姚賓), the octogenarian proprietor, will be happy to show off jars filled with grotesque things he has unearthed over the course of five decades of aural spelunking.

A Gem of a Storefront

Xinfu Jewelry in Hsinchu

A classy storefront in Hsinchu not far from the train station.

This storefront immediately caught my eye when I arrived in Hsinchu 新竹 a few hours ago. Both the facade and the lettering are unusually classy, showing a vintage style of design not commonly seen here in Taiwan. This is a jewelry shop, as the clever use of characters would suggest, and its formal name is Xinfu Zhubao 鑫府珠寶. The first character, xin 鑫, is known as a sandiezi 三叠字, or triplet character, and is composed of three instances of jin 金, which means gold. Whoever designed the lettering obviously had some fun integrating a sparkling jewel into the two characters on either side of the shop’s name!…

Archaic Squid Soup

Cengji Squid Soup in Sanhe Night Market

I was wandering through Sanhe Night Market 三和夜市 on the first day of the new year when this small shop caught my eye. The formal name of the place is Cengji Huazhigeng 曾記花枝羹 and, as the last three characters would suggest, they specialize in squid thick soup, a popular Taiwanese snack. The highly stylized characters on the signboard look something like seal script 篆書 to my inexpert eyes—with the last character, “geng 羹”, swapped for the more traditional “焿”. Don’t ask me to make sense of that first character, mind you—it is enough to know that “hua 花” means flower.

Taiwanese Scooter Stickers 1

The friendly scooter on earth

Taiwan is absolutely mad for scooters, a consequence of high population density, tightly cramped streets, and the expense and inconvenience of driving a car. Everywhere you go you’ll find streets lined with parked scooters and filled with scooterists going about their business. In can all seem like absolute chaos to outsiders—but there is a method to the madness, and the convenience factor regularly seduces skeptics, particularly when living outside of Taipei or beyond the reach of public transportation.

How to Eat Like a Local in Tainan

Fresh noodles in Tainan city

Tainan is known throughout Taiwan for its food—but deciding where to eat can be somewhat daunting, especially for anyone who doesn’t very much Chinese. There are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from—in addition to the many night markets scattered around the city. Taiwan, like any highly digital and developed nation, has a vast number of restaurant reviews online, but it isn’t practical to sift through all those reviews without some degree of fluency (or a lot of patience with the shoddy state of machine translation). And, to be honest, I would much rather know how to find good food than read specific restaurant reviews. I didn’t know much about Tainan’s cuisine when I moved there for three months last spring—so with this post I mean to give you the benefit of my experience as a mostly illiterate foreigner attempting to hack the system and eat well in Taiwan’s historic old capital.

Xu Bing Retrospective in Taipei

A Book From The Sky 天書

In March of 2014 I went to see the Xu Bing (徐冰) retrospective at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館), easily my favourite gallery space in Taiwan. Xu Bing is a Chinese artist working mainly with representations of language, particularly in the context of interactions between East and West. I first discovered him through an article about character amnesia that discussed A Book From The Sky (天書), a work that continues to capture my imagination.

I should warn you: I’m not an art critic and these photos were shot on a cruddy smartphone. If you’d like to peruse something much more informed and professional about this exhibition I recommend perusing the curator’s statement, English language reviews here, here, and here, or this virtual tour. What follows are a few fleeting impressions of my own from a few hours in Xu Bing’s world.