People’s Park in the Sky

People’s Park In The Sky is a peculiar attraction located about 60 kilometers south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular leisure destination in the province of Cavite in the Philippines. Perched on top of Mount Sungay at an elevation of 709 meters, the highest point on the northern rim of the immense Taal Caldera, it was originally planned to be a palace suitable for state visits during the kleptocratic reign of Ferdinand Marcos. Construction began in 1979 with a drastic leveling of the mountaintop, which previously reached 759 meters, but ground to a halt with increasing civic unrest and the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s state visit in 1983. Following the People Power Revolution of 1986 the unfinished mansion was transformed into a public park and monument to the greed, corruption, and excess of the Marcos era.

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Tamsui Kuixing Temple 淡水魁星宮

Kuixing Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuixing 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wenchang 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in Taiwan venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god. For a time it was informally known as the Tamsui CKS Temple 淡水蔣中正廟.

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Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村

Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村 is one of more than 800 military dependents’ villages (Chinese: juancun 眷村) built in Taiwan in the late 1940s and 1950s to provide provisional housing for KMT soldiers and their families fleeing from the Chinese Civil War. Around two million people crossed the Taiwan Strait from China from 1945 to 1949, bolstering an existing population of approximately seven million. More than 600,000 of these Chinese immigrants ended up in military villages like this one in Zhōngzhèng District 中正區, Taipei 台北, which was forcibly abandoned only a couple of years ago as part of a wave of urban renewal projects sweeping the nation.

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The Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店

Yesterday’s impromptu ride around the riverside bikeway network delivered me to the palatial Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店 (pinyin: Yuanshan Dafandian), a famous landmark in Taipei 台北. Located on a hilltop overlooking a bend of the Keelung River 基隆河 in Zhōngshān District 中山區, it was established in 1952 at the behest of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 to provide the ruling elite with a luxurious place to host and entertain foreign dignitaries. The distinctive building seen in these photos was completed in 1973 and was the tallest building in the Free Area of the Republic of China until 1981.

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Tsai Ing-wen Old House 蔡英文古厝

One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cai Yingwen), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in Fāngshān 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fenggang 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文主席古厝!

When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation I could manage, not even knowing if my Mandarin was understood, and we all laughed about the absurdity of some random white guy on a bike riding over and taking an active interest in such an obscure place.

Anyhow, there you have it: the childhood home of the woman who might be the next president of Taiwan. And if that’s the case they’re going to have to get a new sign!

Update: Tsai is Taiwan’s president-elect and, just as I predicted, her childhood home is already in the news!

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Remember the Sunflowers

A year ago the Taiwanese people stood up to their elected government and halted the passage of a controversial free trade agreement by occupying the Legislative Yuan. This act of mass civil disobedience was soon christened the Sunflower Student Movement. I was living in Taipei 台北 when it all went down and visited the protest on several nights to watch history unfold. I am not a professional photographer, political observer, nor journalist, so please excuse the poor technical quality of the images and lack of elaboration in this gallery. It is my hope that these pictures capture something of the spirit of those wild, uncertain nights when anything seemed possible.

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Scenes From Everyday Life in Wenshan District

I lived in Wénshān District 文山區, Taipei 台北, from October 2013 until April 2014 when I moved south to Tainan 台南. In those six months I captured a great many photographs from in around the area, the finest of which were previously shared on this blog in a post about the urban landscape of Wenshan. It was my intention with that post to portray southern Taipei from the vantage point of mountaintops, hillsides, river banks, and pedestrian overpasses, with only a couple of shots from street level. This time around I would like to zoom in and share scenes from everyday life in Wenshan.

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The Seeds of Unrest

Last night I went to Dapu Village in Zhúnán 竹南, the northernmost township in Miáolì 苗栗, for a concert and movie screening commemorating the treacherous demolition of four homes last year. The event took place on the former site of Chang Pharmacy, whose owner, Chang Sen-wen 張森文, was later found dead in a drainage ditch in an apparent suicide. This occurred not long after the government razed his home and business to the ground with all his possessions still inside. In a cruel twist of fate the Chang family was served a bill for demolition equalling the financial compensation offered by the government—leaving them with absolutely nothing. Eminent domain may serve the public interest in special circumstances—but this was outright robbery by the state.

The Dapu incident1, in brief: Miáolì 苗栗 magistrate Liu Zhenghong 劉政鴻 (pictured above, at left) ordered the expropriation of 156 hectares of land in Dapu Village in 2009, ostensibly to build a new campus of the Hsinchu Science and Industrial Park 新竹科學工業園區. Only 28 hectares were to be used for the park itself—the rest of that land was intended for residential use. In other words, the government seized land from 9452 households primarily to construct hugely profitable residences next to their shiny new industrial development, an obvious case of profiteering referred to as zone expropriation. Put simply: people’s lives were torn apart to line the pockets of a bunch of greedy politicians and their construction industry cronies, all under the banner of “progress”.

The injustice visited upon the four holdouts spurned protests, violent confrontations with the police, and a massive outpouring of public sympathy all across Taiwan. While the protests were not enough to stop the government in Dapu (nor save Mr. Chang) they helped to plant the seeds of the Sunflower student movement that blossomed in March 2014 with the nearly monthlong occupation of the Legislative Yuan. In this respect the slogan “Today Dapu, tomorrow the government”「今天拆大埔,明天拆政府」 was remarkably prescient.

The mural in the photograph (above) was painted by Taiwanese artist Liu Tsung-jung 劉宗榮 on the bare wall where the Chang pharmacy used to stand. The figure on the left is Liu Zhenghong 劉政鴻, widely reviled as one of the most corrupt Taiwanese government officials and the arch-villain in the Dapu drama, with a shoe on his head—a reference to when future Sunflower student movement spokesperson Chen Wei-ting 陳為廷 struck Liu with a tossed shoe as he attempted to attend a memorial service for Mr. Chang. On the right you can see the extraordinarily unpopular President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 in his PRC finery, decked out with a fancy beaded headdress3 typically worn by gods and emperors in Chinese culture. The blood-red star overhead is the emblem of the ruling Kuomintang political party of which both are a part.

I am neither academic nor journalist so I can’t say too much more (better leave that to the real experts)… but I will say this: I am glad that the Taiwanese people haven risen up against injustice in Dapu and in other places around the nation… and I feel very privileged to have witnessed some of these actions during my time here.


  1. To catch up on the backstory I highly recommend a series of posts on Ketty Chen’s blog: here, here, here (immediately after the July 18th demolition), and here (the tragic, heart-wrenching outcome). 
  2. I sourced this number from a completely tone-deaf article in the China Post. 
  3. Possibly known a mianliu 冕旒. I say “possibly” because I’m no expert in this sort of thing. 
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Kampung Numbak

I discovered Kampung Numbak using Wikimapia, a mash up of Google Maps and Wikipedia, while staying at 1Borneo, a megamall on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. After finding it online I decided to pay Numbak a visit. There was something very strange about the juxtaposition of Borneo’s biggest mall and this impoverished village of 5,000 a stone’s throw away.

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