Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guards, Original Name Returns to CKS Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂)

Taiwan's Legislative Yuan voted to replace the name "National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall" in favor of returning to its former name, "Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall" (中正紀念堂). However, the four-character inscription at the entrance alluding to Chiang will remain "Liberty Square." Former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) caused a political uproar in 2007 when he formally changed the memorial's name and original four-character inscription at the entrance.

The name change is pure Taiwan politics, as members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (民主進步黨) view Chiang as a dictator while the current ruling Kuomintang (KMT) (中國國民黨) overlooks Chiang's harsh rule, arguing that he saved the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan from communism.

Hopefully the return of the Chiang monument "honor guards" will draw more tourists back to Taipei attractions and help spur the economy. The story was reported here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hello Kitty Hospital

I devote a section about Hello Kitty in my Taiwan travel book Taipei In A Day: Includes Taiwan From A To Z, First Edition, as there's a plethora (to put it mildly) of merchandise on Taiwan related to the famous Japanese cat with no mouth. To demonstrate how popular the famed feline is in East Asia, from Taiwan you could even fly on a plane devoted entirely to the cat and her friends to a popular Hello Kitty theme park in Japan.

Expecting moms on Taiwan who are Hello Kitty fans have a big reason to celebrate: Yunlin (雲林), Central Taiwan, known for its agriculture and fishing industries, as well as for livestock farming, now has a hospital devoted entirely to the iconic cat! Everything from the elevator doors to posters, blankets--and birth certificates--is adorned with cuddly images of the famous feline. People are even greeted at the lobby door by a giant "Hello Kitty doctor." A new father said he and his wife chose the hospital for the birth of their son because of the "warm and fuzzy" atmosphere. One has to wonder, however, how boys born there are going to feel looking back at their baby pictures... The story was reported here and here.

Taipei In A Day: Includes Taiwan From A To Z, First Edition is available here, Amazon.com and at Barnes andNoble.com. In Taipei the book is available at Cherry Valley Bookstore, Tienmu East Road, Lane 8, #99,Tienmu, Taipei (behind TAS)(台北市士林區天母東路8巷99號) (02) 2876-9293.

Thank you again for making Taipei In A Day the highest-rated Taiwan travel book on amazon.com! --Scott

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vouchers Distributed On Taiwan

In an effort to boost spending in a lagging economy, each of the 23 million citizens on Taiwan were eligible to receive a government voucher worth NT $3600 (US $108.00) (sorry expats, you have to be a citizen to receive one). Many headed straight to department stores, supermarkets and retail outlets to spend the "free" money, while others held onto it for rainier days that may lie ahead. To lure consumers, one town in Taichung County is even offering a raffle draw with a chance to win a luxury apartment or car if citizens spend their vouchers there.

Now who says it doesn't pay to be a Taiwanese? The story was reported here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cape No. 7 (海角七號)

Cape No. 7 (海角七號)
Light-hearted cultural fare or clarion call to preserve Taiwanese identity?
By Scott B. Freiberger

At its core, “Cape No. 7” (海角七號) is a dramatic love story laced with ample Taiwanese humor and a chart-topping Mandopop soundtrack. The plot weaves a modern bicultural relationship with events that transpired sixty years ago between a Japanese national forced to leave Taiwan at the end of the occupation (1895-1945) and the Taiwanese woman he had promised to spend eternity with. On the voyage home we hear “Teacher,” voiced by Kageyama Yukihiko (蔭山征彥), composing seven letters to his beloved “Kojima Tomoko,” played by Rachel Liang (梁文音 Liáng Wényīn). Teacher deeply laments his country’s loss, his personal cowardice and their star-crossed fate; he wishes her the best that life has to offer and pledges to always cherish the time that they had shared. After he passes away, his daughter mails a package containing these heart-rending letters, as well as a photo captured in her youth, to his long lost Taiwanese love. The address is marked, “Cape No. 7.”

While viewers learn more about these lovers from a bygone era, a modern romance develops between Taiwanese singer/guitarist A-Jia (Van Fan) (范逸臣 Fàn Yìchén) and Tomoko (田中千絵 Tanaka Chie), a Japanese manager at a talent agency. It’s clear that writer/director Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖) took painstaking effort to ensure that the two stories were dramatically interwoven so that the protagonists, A-Jia and Tomoko, would not fall pray to the same fate of the earlier couple, and that the audience would cheer on their budding romance. It’s also clear that, with his superb cast of both young and old and hit soundtrack that includes dulcet ballads, traditional Taiwanese folk songs, and melodic, fast-paced power pop rock, he intended to target audiences of all ages on Taiwan. The lovelorn letters, recited in Japanese throughout, also helps the film appeal to a broader audience.

From a socio-political perspective, Taiwanese strongly identify with the film because it embodies local characters of all ages that they could relate to. And unlike blockbuster Chinese movies filmed on the mainland by Taiwan native Ang Lee (李安), “Cape No. 7” was filmed entirely on the island; in addition, most dialogue in the film is the local dialect of Taiwanese (閩南語 milanyu), rather than Mandarin. The heart-rending historic love story and Japanese interspersed throughout also reminds Taiwanese people that their past, however painful, is theirs alone to reflect upon and learn from.

“Cape No. 7” opens with a Taipei alley shot of a frustrated A-Jia, on a dimly-lit street, boarding his motorcycle. After a decade of striving for rock stardom in Taipei, he packs up what’s left of his belongings and high-tails it out of the capital in the middle of the night, but not before smashing his electric guitar against a street pole. Director Wei does a wonderful job of capturing capital landmarks in these opening scenes. We view Taipei 101, currently the world’s tallest completed building, from a street in A-Jia’s Taipei neighborhood, and Shinkong Mitsukoshi Life Building, now the second-tallest building on Taiwan (across from Taipei Main Station), in A-Jia’s side-view mirror as he bitterly heads south and races away from his angst-ridden past.

The next few scenes, shot in Hengchun Peninsula, Pingtung County, introduce Tomoko, a talent agent/publicist representing her company on Taiwan. Her dissatisfaction is also immediately evident, as a former model she only reluctantly manages events for the company. The opening world-class cinematography briefly decreases a notch as viewers see a handful of foreign bikini-clad models tailed by a frustrated foreign photographer. A brief scene with Tomoko arguing with her boss would have sufficed to inform the audience of her profession and willful personality; instead, we view what appears to be a cheesy excuse to throw foreign faces into a local movie.

The van driver transporting the models, photographer and Tomoko becomes distracted by a foreign fanny and accidentally forces A-Jia’s grandfather, “Old Mao,” a motorcycle-riding postal delivery worker brilliantly portrayed by Johnny Lín Zōngrén (林宗仁), off the road. As a result, after arriving in Hengchun, A-Jia must assume the role of local postal delivery person. He fails to deliver a plethora of letters, including the mysterious coffee-colored, rope-tied package addressed to “Cape No. 7.” Curious, he opens the package, carefully examines the contents and comes to realize that it must be delivered to its rightful owner.

At the film’s outset we’re also introduced to A-Jia’s stepfather (馬如龍 Mǎ Rúlóng), a bellicose local Taiwanese politician, literally referred to as “Mr. Representative.” With his brash demeanor, quick wit and trailing cronies, Ma truly captures the essence and irony of local politics. A local hotel manager, played by Zhāng Kuí (張魁), devises a scheme to make Hengchun Peninsula more international by inviting Atari Kousuke (中孝介), a Japanese pop star, to perform. Wanting to stress the importance of Taiwan’s cultural heritage, the representative won’t allow the event to take place unless a Taiwanese band opens the show. The hotel manager agrees, Tomoko is assigned to manage the event and, after a humorous audition process, A-Jia reluctantly becomes the band’s lead singer and guitar player. Let the romance, and mayhem, begin!

Throughout the film, viewers are introduced to a distinctly motley ensemble. The lively Malusan (馬念先 Mǎ Niànxiān) is an avid plum wine salesman-turned-bassist, and Dada, played by Joanne Yang (楊蕎安 Yáng Qiáo'ān), is a timid ten-year old church pianist-turned-band keyboardist who heartily concludes each piece with “Amen.” Hoppy-go-lucky mechanic-turned-drummer Frog (應蔚民 Yīng Wèimín) secretly desires to be with his boss’ wife, and hot-headed aboriginal police-officer-turned-band guitarist Laoma (民雄 Mín Xióng) initially rages because his wife has recently left him.

Rebellious hotel housekeeper and seemingly hard-hearted single mother, Shino Lin (林曉培 Lin Xiao-pei), gives a credible performance in her debut film role as Dada’s mother and, ultimately, Kojima Tomoko’s granddaughter. Much of the film’s humor derives from Old Mao, from lecturing his grandson to involuntarily trading his traditional Chinese lute to learn how to play bass, which he admittedly can’t do after being selected to join the band. With his straight-talk and dead-pan humor, Mao clearly demonstrates impeccable delivery and timing. Add a splash of scenic southern beauty, a smattering of drama and a healthy dose of humor and Taiwan, you’ve stirred up a hit movie.

“Cape No. 7” has recently been released on DVD (just in time for Chinese Lunar New Year), the movie truly captures the song, spirit and colorful essence of Taiwan. The movie has also turned little-known actors into overnight celebrities, who are eagerly capitalizing on their newfound fame. Van Fan currently tops the Mandopop charts and can be seen performing in arenas while Japanese pop singer Atari Kousuke’s music could also be heard regularly at area KTV parlors and live at large venues. Tanaka Chie stars in a 7-Eleven® commercial and “representative” Ma Ru-lung recently appeared before the President of the Republic at a concert (his appearance was also broadcast on the news for the island’s 23 million residents to view). Audiences also went wild when Chie appeared beside Fan during a recent performance (also shown on the news). And “Old Mao” and “Malusan” now hawk everything on TV and billboards from telecommunications services to insurance.

Since A-Jia and his grandfather were both postal employees and a handful of scenes were shot at a local Hengchun Peninsula, Pingtung County post office, Chunghwa Post Co., Ltd. (中華郵政公司), the official post office on Taiwan, is also capitalizing on the film’s success with “Cape No. 7” stamps (NT $399) and commemorative postcards (NT $250). Chances are Shino Lin would also be appearing more in the spotlight if not for a fatal DUI crash she had caused on June 7, 2007.

“Cape No. 7” raked in over NT $400 million domestically, becoming the second-highest grossing movie in Taiwan’s history, second only to “Titanic,” and the highest-grossing Chinese-language film in Taiwan's box office history. Pride over the film reached such a fever-pitch that pirated copies open with a message imploring those watching to view the film in theaters. It was the first movie to roll at the 10th Taipei Film Festival, won NT $1 million and three awards at the event, the grand prize at the 2008 Asian Marine Film Festival and an award for Best Cinematography at the 2008 Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival. The film also took home the Best Narrative Film Award at the 2008 Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, as well as nine nominations and six awards at the 2008 Golden Horse Awards.

As a testament to his unrelenting belief in this picture, Director Wei mortgaged his home and ran up a personal debt of NT $30 million to cover the film’s NT $50 million budget. Since the movie had a limited budget and most actors had little formal training, the film’s success is evidence that dreams, however small, could become reality with timing, luck, and persistence.

The movie is slated to open in Mainland China on Valentine's Day.

Copyright © 2009 Scott B. Freiberger
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the written permission of the author and copyright owner.

Taiwan Allows Casinos

After 15 years of repeatedly banning casinos, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is set to allow casinos to be built on its outlying islands of Kinmen (金門), Matzu (馬祖) and Penghu (澎湖).

The change comes as Taiwan lawmakers look to boost its economy as exports and domestic consumption slows. Hopefully after the casinos are built, crime won't become a hotbed issue as is reported on Macau, which is an East Asian tourist destination known for gambling. (Singapore is also reportedly opening its first casino this year.) The story was reported here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Drift to Danshui (流浪到淡水)

Two blind performers, guitarist Jin Men-wang (金門王) and his accordion-playing musical cohort Li Bing-hui (李炳輝), left an indelible print on Taiwan.

Jin, whose real name was Wang Ying-tan (王英坦), lost his left hand and eyesight on the island of Kinmen at the age of fourteen when a package he found turned out to be an explosive device. Undeterred, he turned down government assistance and performed various jobs, including telephone operator, to support himself; due to his passion for music, he strapped iron sheets onto his left arm and taught himself how to play the guitar. Danshui native Li heard Jin crooning by the river and the two began performing together, rising to stardom with their unique brand of Taiwanese folk songs.

This dynamic duo is well-known on Taiwan for their Taiwanese karaoke super-hit, “Drift to Danshui” (流浪到淡水), ("You've come to dance, I've come to sing, whatever our fate may be, everyone come together and raise a glass, cheers!") Unfortunately, Jin passed away from a heart ailment at the age of 49 on May 5, 2002.

Li, who had once supported himself by giving massages, now runs a successful chain of local parlors. Many of his employees are also blind, as seeing-impaired masseuses are known for their preciseness. You could still hear their music and spot photos and other memorabilia of the two performers around Danshui.

Watch the video for “Drift to Danshui” (流浪到淡水) here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Taipei In A Day (台北一日遊) Showcased in Taiwan's Leading Bilingual Travel Magazine







The book is available here, Amazon.com and at Barnes andNoble.com.

In Taipei the book is available at Cherry Valley Bookstore, Tienmu East Road, Lane 8, #99,Tienmu, Taipei (behind TAS)(台北市士林區天母東路8巷99號) (02) 2876-9293.

Thank you again for making Taipei In A Day the highest-rated Taiwan travel book on amazon.com! --Scott

Republic of China (Taiwan) Passes Public Non-Smoking Law

Taiwan has passed legislation that will ban smoking in most public areas. The sweeping law takes effect at the stroke of midnight on Friday, January 11, 2009.

In the Republic of China, smokers will no longer be able to light up in offices (defined as workplaces having three or more people), in taxis and on all public transportation, which includes tour buses as well as in bus and train stations. Smoking will also not be permitted in entertainment venues including theaters (and movie theaters), KTV parlors, Internet cafés, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and retail outlets. Customers could receive a fine up to NT $10,000 (approximately US $300.00) while owners could fare substantially worse, with fines ranging from NT $10,000 to $50,000.

Non-smokers are rejoicing. However, before uncorking that bottle of champagne left over from New Year’s, consider this: while signs on buses forbid smoking, many bus and taxi drivers leave the driver's side front window open and smoke during their breaks in-between shifts (and fares) so passengers inhale second-hand smoke afterwards, and smoking on Taiwan will still be permitted outdoors.

That means after January 11, 2009, smoking will still be permissible in clubs and restaurants with outdoor seating or a patio, and it’s often difficult to escape the waft of second-hand smoke if one is even remotely nearly. If second-hand smoke irks you, forget about dining at choice mountain barbeque or hot pot restaurants, most seating is outdoors and patrons light up as if it were their last evening on earth.

However, one has to think that after January 11, 2009, the air on Taiwan will become a little more breathable. According to one recent survey, more than half of all companies started enforcing a non-smoking policy at the office in 2008 in anticipation of the upcoming law. Ads and billboards have also been springing up around the island from companies selling nicotine chewing gum and patches, and self-help groups and other types of organizations that charge for helping to break the nicotine habit are likely to follow.

More information about the non-smoking law is available (in Chinese) here.