Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The interview went pretty well. Terry graciously allowed me to plug my book and the associated blog. However, as soon as I left the studio, I began thinking how I could have given better answers to his questions. That's the problem with live radio - no going back and editing, then re-editing!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Taiwan's exports have found their way to every corner of the world. While this is something Taiwanese people are rightfully proud of, it does mean that visitors to the island sometimes struggle to find charming and distinctive mementos that they can take home and share with their friends and relatives.
Fortunately, in south Taiwan there are plenty of options if you're willing to strike out into the countryside. Meinong in Kaohsiung is synonymous with beautifully painted oil-paper umbrellas. The nearby aboriginal village of Sandimen has an extraordinary concentration of artists and craftspeople. Meanwhile in Mudan in Pingtung County, artisans hand-make soap from the town's hot springs...
This article appeared in the December issue of Verve, EVA Air's inflight magazine. The photo here shows Paiwan aboriginal women in Sandimen making glass beads.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Taroko National Park is a 20-minute drive from Hualien, a laid-back city that's just 40 minutes by plane from Taipei. There is no bad time of year to visit Taroko. During summer, the creeks and waterfalls are vigorous. Fall is often very lovely, and in winter there are many sunny days when the park's 144 bird species are active.
The Liwu River drains four fifths of the park's 920 square kilometers (355 square miles) and its watershed would be regarded as one of Taiwan's prettiest even without the 19 kilometer-long (11-mile)gorge that gives the park its name.
The gorge itself is best experienced at the poetically-named Swallow Grotto and Tunnel of Nine Turns, where the sky is little more than a strip of blue, hundreds of meters above visitors' heads.
Both spots have family-friendly paths and at both visitors can enjoy nature's palette: Creamy marble boulders as big as houses, crumbling piles of silver schist-and-gneiss cliffs streaked with browns and golds. Yet these colors seem muted alongside the gleaming blues and greens of the Liwu and its tributaries.
There's just one road through the gorge, the Central Cross-Island Highway. Building this route through Taiwan's Central Mountain Range was a triumph of 1950s engineering. “Some 5,000 to 6,000 men labored on this road," says Yu Teng-lang, director of the national park's headquarters, "and it took three years, nine months and 19 days to complete."
The highway is closed at one point of its western section because of earthquake and typhoon damage, but even so, the drive is thrilling. As Yu points out, in the space of three hours and 100km, one can drive from the dramatic Pacific coast to more than 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level. Along the way, the climate changes from subtropical to alpine.
Hard-core mountaineers have other reasons for heading to the park's interior. At 3,740 meters, Mount Nanhu is Taiwan's fifth-highest peak. Mount Qilai is slightly lower but extremely challenging. For both, permits must be obtained in advance.
Rather than rush from seashore to snow zone, spend the night at Buluowan, a terrace inhabited by members of the Austronesian Truku tribe until well into the 20th century. The hotel here serves hearty Truku fare, and in the service center Truku ladies can be seen weaving textiles in the traditional manner.
Taroko National Park features high mountains and sheer gorges, including the major one after which it is named. The Taroko Gorge Music Festival (October or November) and the Taroko Gorge Marathon (November) are established annual events. The latter follows what Yu calls, “the most scenic marathon route in the world.”
For fans of natural spas, the open-air Wenshan Hot Springs, closed some years ago after a series of rockfalls, are due to reopen to the public in the middle of next year.
No point on the main island of Taiwan is farther, as the crow flies, from Taroko than Kending. Because this region has good roads and excellent scenery but relatively little traffic, a growing number of people are cycling from Hualien to Taitung, or even all the way to Kending.
Whether one is exploring by car or bicycle, a side trip to Green Island, 33 kilometers out in the Pacific, is recommended. En route to this 17-square-kilometer outcrop of volcanic rock, you'll likely see flying fish and dolphins.
"The first time I visited Green Island I was amazed by the tallest bell corals I had ever seen,” says John Boo, a Kending-based scuba operator. Between January and March, he explains, the adventurous can join a dive that brings them up close to migrating hammerhead sharks. According to Boo, owner of U-Dive Scuba Taiwan Club, there are at least 50 dive sites in and around Kending National Park. “Kending's soft coral sites are among the best in the world, especially one at six to 10 meters depth called the Flower Garden,” he says.
Even though he spends much time underwater, Boo is the first to say the park offers much more than sandy beaches and other kinds of ocean-based fun.The hinterland has tropical forests, a superb marine museum and a historic walled town. Each October, birdwatchers can witness one of Asia's most impressive raptor migrations.
Kending's main resort boasts an outstanding range of accommodation and eating options, and English is widely spoken, and English is widely spoken. Visitors who are more into watching fireflies than sipping cocktails should find themselves a remote bed and breakfast. Even in this category there's no lack of choice - high adventure during the day does not mean having to rough it after dark.
This article appeared in the International Herald Tribune on November 26, as part of advertising supplement promoting Taiwan tourism.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Now that fall is turning to winter and the days are becoming shorter and colder, the people of Taiwan are putting aside their favorite summer snacks and turning their attention to a beloved winter dish, the hot pot.
Like any other meal, a hot pot is best enjoyed with good friends and relatives. For a typical hot pot meal, imagine six or seven people seated around a circular table, in the middle of which is a deep pot filled with a steaming broth.
In the past, a tall chimney would rise up from the middle of the pot, to let off smoke from the burning coals underneath. But now that most pots receive their heat from electricity, the chimneys are gone, and often the pots are nothing more than a huge saucepan...To read the whole article, go here.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
If you plan to visit Taiwan and want to know beforehand how things are done here and how to deal with the locals in the most appropriate and conflict-free way, Dos & Don'ts in Taiwan might be the helping hand you are looking for. Written by Steven Crook, a long-time resident of Taiwan with intimate knowledge of the goings-on within the local population, this guidebook can serve as your reliable navigator through the sea of possible misunderstandings, embarrassments, and frustrations in this often exotic and unfamiliar land.
Written with Westerners in mind, the book deals with all situations that might be thrown at you during your time in Taiwan, from the first hand-shakes at the airport to dining with new friends or business partners, from exploring the beauty of the island to taking part in the affairs of local families, and from the working world to, perhaps, even marriage. It might be debatable whether such a detailed guide is necessary for a country that is so well-developed and “Westernized” in so many ways. But despite it's modern face Taiwan can still feel different and puzzling for Western visitors, who ask "Why are they burning paper on the side of the street?” or “Why were they smiling even though they knew I would be unhappy about something?” or “How can I make myself understood in this strange, strange place?”
Find all the answers and much more in Dos & Don'ts in Taiwan!
Paperback, 200 pages. published 2010 by iGroup Press; ISBN 9789746521901
This review of my second book appears in the November/December 2010 issue of Travel In Taiwan magazine.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Now that most people in Taiwan understand the importance of not smoking in public places, it is time for the ROC government to move against another threat to public health and comfort: the age-old custom of burning joss paper in temples, on sidewalks and outside homes.
Joss paper, sometimes called “ghost money” or “spirit money,” is paper burned during religious rites to honor ancestors and venerate deities. Throughout the country, pious Taiwanese can be seen burning sheets of joss paper at the climax of religious rituals.
Estimates of the amount of joss paper burned each year range from 90,000 tons to 220,000 tons. Whatever the true figure, it is a major cause of air pollution in urban areas, especially during the seventh month of the lunar calendar—so-called “ghost month”—when vast offerings of food and joss paper are made to keep troublesome spirits at bay.
Many business owners also burn ghost money outside their premises on the first and 15th day of each lunar month. Their smoldering braziers are a nuisance for pedestrians. Oftentimes they are placed in the road, presenting a hazard to cyclists and motorcyclists.
Foreign visitors and residents comment frequently and unfavorably on the consequences of burning ghost money. In 2008, The New York Times noted: “During major festivals ... smoke from burning paper chokes Taiwan streets.”
While many Taiwanese people say they do not object to the smell of burning joss paper, there is no doubt that the smoke and particulates generated by the custom are unhealthy...
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
As anyone who has picked up a Taiwan history book knows, Anping was also a point of contact with the wider world as long ago as 1624, when the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) chose this spot to establish a mercantile colony.
The town has long since merged with Tainan, but its old character is still very evident. The most famous attraction is Fort Zeelandia, a bastion built by the Dutch in 1634 and named for the ship on which the first VOC governor arrived.
What visitors see, however, is very different to what existed during the Dutch era. Typhoons, earthquakes and the pilfering of building materials meant that by the beginning of the 20th century little was left of the Dutch structure. The superb on-site museum is a must-see for those intrigued in the fort's history and technical aspects of its construction, which entailed the shipping of bricks from the Dutch colony at Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia) and the mixing of cement using sugarcane syrup, clay and crushed oyster shells.
The largest surviving section of the original fortress is a massive brick-and-coral wall. It is battered yet looks ready to survive another few centuries. The watchtower is a crude late-20th century addition, but do climb the steps inside for worthwhile views over the nearby historic streets and the coast.
If you look to your right when leaving Fort Zeelandia, you may notice an elegant 1930s two-story house with octagonal windows and other Art Deco features. The salt merchant who commissioned this abode, Wang Ji-shi (1884-1948), perhaps wanted a house that would distract attention from his given name, which translates as ‘chicken feces.’
The fact his parents named him thus suggests he was a sickly baby; in the Taiwan of yore, grandiose names were believed to arouse the jealousy of disease-spreading spirits. In addition to being venerated by his descendants, Wang receives offerings at a temple less than 50m from his old home. In the Xilong Hall, he is represented by a doll-sized statue that holds a long Chinese-style pipe. The temple attendant adds a fresh cigarette to the pipe each morning, and locals claim Wang – now revered as the neighborhood's protective 'land god' – can smoke a cigarette in ten minutes.
The Dutch were expelled in 1662, but the man who evicted them, Ming Dynasty loyalist Koxinga, kept up trade links with Japan. From the 1860s onward, traders from Britain, Germany and other Western countries set up offices in Anping. The most interesting of Anping's 19th-century edifices is the Tait & Co building. The British businessmen who lived and worked in this whitewashed two-floor building dealt mainly in tea, but also provided banking and insurance services to fellow merchants.
Some of the bricks used to build the ruined warehouse behind the Tait office were purloined from Fort Zeelandia. That warehouse is now known as the Anping Tree House on account of the huge banyans that have grown through the roof. The way in which roots have climbed walls and grown across openings is almost surreal; make a point of exploring every corner of the building.
The forefathers of Anping's inhabitants crossed the sea from the Chinese mainland and the ocean continues to loom large in daily life. Throughout the old part of the town you'll see groups of middle-aged women shucking oysters, men preparing to go out on fishing boats, and seafood being cooked and eaten.
Anping is an excellent place to sample traditional delicacies such as oyster omelets (known as e-zi-jian in Mandarin, but the Taiwanese pronunciation of oe-a-jian is more common) and deep-fried shrimp rolls (xia juan). The latter, crispy concoctions of shrimp, green onion, celery and pork, go especially well with wasabi.
If your taste buds prefer sweet to savory, sample Anping's signature bean jelly (dou hua). Made from the same raw material as tofu, bean jelly is a healthy, refreshing alternative to ice cream. Various toppings are available, including azuki beans (hong dou).
The best way to work off calories is to wander randomly through the alleyways east and north of Fort Zeelandia. You'll stumble across discarded granite slabs which likely came from the Chinese mainland hundreds of years ago as ballast aboard cargo junks. Above the doorways of some of the oldest houses are sword-lion motifs believed to keep evil at bay. Sometimes blue-faced and green-whiskered, each lion grips a blade between its teeth while staring down the observer.
In the past two years, several of Anping's traditional single-story houses have been renovated by the city government. What were once atmospheric ruins now impress in the manner intended by those who built them. It's a change that underscores the town's appeal. As a tourist destination, Anping is timeless – yet dynamic.
Unity is the inflight magazine of UNI Air, a subsidiary of EVA Airlines. UNI flies mostly to Taiwan's outlying islands, the east coast and the Chinese mainland. The article isn't on the Internet, so I've posted the entire text.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
In addition to streets packed with people and vendors, there are quaint courtyard houses a stone’s throw from ultramodern skyscrapers, strange and wonderful foods, plus steep mountains wrapped in forests and wreathed in clouds.
Not much of this is obvious to first-time visitors leaving Taiwan’s main international airport and heading for downtown Taipei, however. Rich Matheson, a Canadian who specializes in cultural photography, admits to being visually underwhelmed when he first arrived in 1991. He says his initial impressions were of drab buildings, heavy traffic and small factories.
“But the longer you’re here, and the more you understand the culture, the better your pictures get,” he asserts...Go here to see the rest of the article. The photo here was taken by Rich Matheson.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
In the middle of August, the publishers of my second book sent complementary copies of the book to the chiefs of 36 trade and representative offices in Taipei, together with a covering letter. So far, just one of them has responded:
Dear Mr Crook
Thank you for sending us a complementary copy of your latest book "Dos & Dont's in Taiwan".
We shall not fail to recommend this book to Swiss community members in Taiwan and people interested in getting to know more about Taiwan's culture and customs. The practical and useful information can contribute greatly to the better understanding of the daily way of life in Taiwan.
Director, Trade Office of Swiss Industries (TOSI)
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
One such place is the Purple Butterfly Valley in Maolin, a district occupied largely by Taiwan's indigenous people...
This article appears in the September issue of Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine. Dragonair flies between Hong Kong and both Taoyuan International Airport and Kaohsiung. The other butterfly hot spot described in the article is Meinong's Yellow Butterfly Valley.The photo here shows a Lemon Pansy in Meinong.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Over the past two decades, Taiwan's road network has been massively expanded. New freeways and expressways have shortened journey times. In urban areas, dozens of roads have been widened and straightened.
Even though the number of cars on the roads has increased, driving from one part of Taiwan to the other is now much quicker than it used to be. Unfortunately, infrastructure enhancements have not been matched by any significant improvements in the standard of driving.
Most local drivers are extremely tolerant when faced with slow or indecisive road-users, yet foreign drivers using Taiwan's roads are more likely to comment on the recklessness and impatience they see every day.
The standard of driving in Taiwan is far from the worst in the world. But the behavior of ROC citizens on the road lags far behind the country's overall level of development.
Driving practices frequently seen outside Taipei include running red lights, failing to indicate when turning or changing lanes, tailgating, passing slower vehicles on the right, and parking illegally. Using a cellphone while driving is common, and more than a few drivers let passengers get away without wearing seat belts.
Western expatriates often ask: How can such courteous and friendly people as those in Taiwan behave so ruthlessly on the roads?
Driving standards are an issue that deserves greater government attention, and not just for the sake of expatriates...This opinion piece can be read in its entirety here.
Friday, August 20, 2010
This interview was published in the August issue of Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Research, Development & Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan has appointed me a member of the Advisory Committee for the 2010 English Services Emblem Project.
This project aims to boost the level of English in the retail, medical and other sectors of Taiwan's economy, and to help foreigners find businesses where English is understood and labeling and signs are bilingual. Stores, restaurants, hospitals etc that think they offer a decent bilingual service apply to the RDEC for an 'English Emblem.' Those which pass a preliminary test are then visited by teams of judges (I'm one) who inspect the labels and signs, ask the staff questions, browse the website, and give a score which may lead to the business getting a 'gold emblem' or a 'silver emblem'.
In 2009, the team of which I was a member visited hospitals, clinics and drugstores in Taipei, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Hualien. This year, I've been inspecting restaurants, drugstores and shops in the Kaohsiung area.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Asian Geographic Passport is a travel-oriented bimonthly published by the team behind the rather fine Asian Geographic magazine.The Central Park rapid-transit station, shown here, was designed by the Tokyo office of Lord Richard Rogers' architectural firm.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
In Taipei yesterday I met with the CEO and sales manager of iGroup Taiwan, the local branch of the company that published my second book. It was a successful meeting; they seem sincere about promoting the book and have set aside money to advertise it. (I'm flattered - I've written a book worth advertising!). Also, I was shown copies of the book which have been 'stickered' - that is to say, stickers have been added to the title page to hide the incorrect author's name and illustrator's name and display mine and Joshua's. Aesthetically the result is much better than I expected.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Landsborough was born in Changhua in central Taiwan in 1914, and spent much of his infancy and adolescence on the island, which was then a Japanese colony. He and his sister, initially the only western children in the region, grew up speaking both Taiwanese (a local language sometimes known as Minnanhua or Hokkien) and English.
In an interview at his home in England, Landsborough said: "I've had a really interesting life. My friendships with people in Taiwan and Quanzhou [the town in the mainland Chinese province of Fujian where he worked from 1940 to 1951] have been so valuable. They've been very kind to me."
"We made friends with Taiwanese children, playing games with them, wrestling, fishing, and visiting them in their homes," recalls the retired neurologist.
Landsborough's father - Scottish-born medical missionary Dr. David Landsborough III - arrived in Changhua in 1896. There, in connection with the Presbyterian Church, he established a small hospital. Changhua Christian Hospital now has more than 1,000 beds.
During the 1920s and 1930s the elder Landsborough and his English-born wife, Marjorie, employed a maid and a cook. Despite the absence of electricity and running water, the family lived comfortably in a spacious two-story redbrick house. It was in this house that David Landsborough IV was born (his sister was born in England), and it was here that he lived after he returned to Taiwan in 1952.
Despite growing up in Taiwan, the Landsborough children were raised on British-style food. There was one significant difference, however. "Irish potatoes were almost unknown," says Landsborough. Like their Taiwanese neighbors, the missionary family ate eat rice or sweet potatoes several times a week. The household baked its own bread, however, and enjoyed imported condensed milk and butter.
Changhua is now an important industrial center with more than 220,000 residents. In the 1920s, by contrast, it was a quiet market town. The only factories Landsborough remembers were pineapple canneries and a fireworks plant.
Traveling with his mother and sister - his father would usually remain at the hospital and attend to patients - the boy saw much of Taiwan. He has fond memories of taking the logging train to the mountain resort of Alishan, and visiting Sun Moon Lake, which at that time was not accessible by motor vehicle.
To get there from Changhua, the Landsboroughs would take first a conventional train, then ride a narrow-gauge railway, then transfer to Taiwan's now-defunct system of human-powered "push-cart" rail trolleys (pictured above). Each trolley seated two or three passengers plus their baggage. An attendant, who controlled the speed using a simple brake mechanism, pushed from behind, his efforts aided or hindered by gravity; there was no other propulsion. "On steep sections the passengers would get out and help push. But on downhill runs it would be like riding a toboggan!" Landsborough recalls.
The rail-trolley network did not quite reach the lake. Passengers got off about an hour's walk away, and completed the journey on foot.
To escape Taiwan's scorching summers, the Landsboroughs spent much of each July and August several hundred meters above sea level in a stone cottage near the peak of Datunshan, a mountain not far from Beitou, a popular hot springs resort in north. "It was cooler and the view from the mountain was breathtakingly beautiful."
Initially educated at home by his mother, David Landsborough IV went on to attend a British high school in Yantai, in the northern part of mainland China. He would return to Taiwan each December. "Coming from the cold winters of north China we reveled in the warmth and sunshine of Taiwan, the food, the plentiful fruit, the games of tennis and the opportunity of seeing our friends."
He then followed in his father's footsteps, journeying to London in 1931 to study medicine. In 1940 Dr. David Landsborough IV returned to the Far East, bound this time for mainland China. He began working as a medical missionary in Quanzhou, where Hokkien is spoken.
Many of Taiwan's people have ancestral links with that part of the mainland, and Landsborough comments, "Having seen where the Taiwanese came from, I can understand them better."
Conditions in Quanzhou were harsh. Tuberculosis, malaria and typhoid fever were widespread. The hospital handled dozens of cases of bubonic plague. Although the area was never occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army, whose forward positions were less than 100 kilometers away, Japanese aircraft sometimes bombed the city.
During a post-war furlough in England he married Jean, also a doctor. They served together on the Chinese mainland until January 1951, when political conditions made staying on impossible. "If it hadn't been for the Communist takeover, it's likely we would have continued in Quanzhou," says Landsborough.
After a brief period in England, during which the couple adopted twin baby boys, Dr. David Landsborough IV accepted an invitation to join the staff of Changhua Christian Hospital.
In 1955 he was appointed superintendent. "I had mixed feelings," admits Landsborough. "My father had a tremendous reputation... but I certainly felt a tremendous welcome." His father's legendary patience was an inspiration. "I never saw him angry, even at home."
While on furlough in the UK in 1957, the couple adopted a baby girl. The younger Landsboroughs sometimes took their children to Taiwan's southern tip, to the scenic coastline that now forms part of Kenting National Park. "We very much liked the far south. The beaches were very natural, very untouched," he says, lamenting the commercialization of the area in recent years.
Accompanied by some of the hospital's staff, the doctor and his wife scaled Yushan, Taiwan's highest mountain, and Snow Mountain, the island's second-highest peak.
Unlike his father, who suffered frequent attacks of malaria and dysentery, the younger Landsborough was able to preserve his health. "I never got malaria simply because I was very careful to always use a mosquito net."
David and Jean worked at Changhua Christian Hospital for 28 years, leaving the ROC in 1980 and retiring to Coulsdon, on the southern outskirts of London – not far from where his father lived between retiring from Taiwan in 1936 and his death in 1957
Despite the death of his wife in 1993, Dr. David Landsborough IV continues to travel widely. In 1991 he flew to California to accept the Taiwanese-American Society's Award for Social Service. At the presentation ceremony he described himself as "a Taiwanese person from Britain, who grew up in Changhua."
In 1996, Landsborough returned to the ROC to receive the Order of the Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon, presented to him by then President Lee Teng-hui. He points out that the award was primarily for the work his father did, and only secondarily was it for the family.
On his most recent trip to Taiwan, in 1999, he visited Master Cheng Yen, founder of the Buddhist Compassion Tzu Chi Relief Association, and toured a large hospital that organization operates in Hualien, eastern Taiwan.
He has returned to Quanzhou three times since 1986.
Landsborough's strong attachment to Taiwan is obvious from the mementos - calligraphy scrolls, photographs and knickknacks - which bedeck his house, and also from his visitors' book. In recent years dozens of doctors, pastors, diplomats and students from the ROC have called on this man, whose identification with the island and its people stems not only from his religious principles and medical career, but also from shared childhood experiences.
Dr Landsborough died on March 2, 2010, aged 96. This article was commissioned by the editor of the Government Information Office's Taiwan Journal just before he was reassigned to another post. The incoming editor didn't use, so it languished for a while before appearing on the local history website Takao Club.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Very few people in the UK follow baseball, so Wang Chien-ming, Ni Fu-te and Taiwan's other exports to Major League Baseball in the US are completely unknown to the British public.
Which Taiwanese person, then, is best known to the people of the UK? Oscar-winning movie director Ang Lee is one candidate; his films have been box-office hits there. Another is Ching-He Huang, a young woman whose cooking shows on British TV have brought her considerable international success.
Huang's most recent series, “Chinese Food in Minutes,” was broadcast by Five, a terrestrial TV channel, between February and May this year. According to statistics compiled by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, each of the 13 episodes was watched by an average of around one million people.
The series was based on Huang’s cookbook of the same title, published by HarperCollins last September. That collection was preceded by “Chinese Food Made Easy” (released in 2008 to accompany a TV series of the same name) and "China Modern" (2006).
Huang did not plan to work in television. After obtaining a degree in economics from the University of London, she ran a catering company for a decade.
“It was during those early years that I got my opportunity to do TV cooking,” she says. While promoting a cold-noodle dish, she explains, a friend suggested she try getting on a food show. “I went for a screen test and really enjoyed it. It was a bit of fun and glamour and so different from a hot kitchen...
The rest of this article can be read here.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
“Rather than compensate with money, we preserve the raw materials for the treatments and therapies that can restore a person's health,” says Tsai, who has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota in the United States.
Stem cells – from cord blood, cord tissue, dental pulp or, controversially, embryos – are having a revolutionary impact on medicine. “Ten years ago, I couldn't imagine that stem cells, gene therapy, genetic testing and gene modification could be so widely applied – to treat strokes, for cosmetic purposes, for hair growth and wound healing,” says Tsai, who in 2009 won a Benchmark Entrepreneur award from Ernst & Young.
Since it was founded in August 1999, Bionet has served more than 200,000 clients in Taiwan. About 60 units of stem cells have been retrieved so they could be used to treat the infants from which they came, close relatives or – in at least one case – a complete stranger.
Explaining what led him to found a biotechnology company, Tsai says: “When I was in college, one of my hobbies was analyzing technological and scientific trends.”
Tsai likens what he was doing to monitoring a tsunami as it forms in the middle of an ocean “and then trying to predict where the waves will hit.” Switching analogy, he notes that, “You have to jump on your surfboard just before the wave hits. If you do it too early, you just sit there. Too late and you miss the crest of the wave.”
Bionet now offers a prenatal test for Down syndrome that uses the mother's blood and which is both more accurate and less risky than amniocentesis, a procedure that removes fluid from the womb to check for abnormalities in a baby.
“We were the very first company in the world to introduce prenatal genetic testing for spinal muscular atrophy,” he says. “Until recently, muscular dystrophy was considered untreatable, but therapy using cord-tissue stem cells has shown promise.”
Tsai believes that, between them, cord blood, cord tissue and dental-pulp stem cells can deliver all the applications expected of embryonic stem cells.
This is the entire text of an interview that appeared in the June issue of Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Even those who have been in Taiwan just a short time will have noticed that the way cars are driven and motorcycles ridden here is not quite the same as in North America or Western Europe. If you can deal with local road behavior and accept slow-moving, dense traffic in urban areas, the ROC (the outlying islands as well as Taiwan proper) is an excellent country to explore in your own vehicle – and not only because magnificent scenery awaits those who leave the cities...This article (full text here), like the one posted immediately below, appears in Taiwan Business Topics' annual Travel & Leisure special issue. The photo was taken in Taroko Gorge and is courtesy of Barking Deer Adventures.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Much-visited yet unspoiled, the island of Little Liuqiu makes an excellent day trip if you are in the Kaohsiung area. As an overnight destination, this uplifted nub of coral surrounded by clean sea is a getaway in the truest sense of the world.
“Little Liuqiu reminds me of Eastern Taiwan, or Kenting as it used to be 15 or more years ago,” says Sam Webster, a Taichung-based American financial consultant who for the last several years has been taking his family to the island about once a month. “There are none of the tourist-oriented stores you see in Kenting. It has a much more laidback feel,” says Webster, for whom the atmosphere is as big an attraction as the sea.
Little Liuqiu's peaceful ambiance belies its blood-soaked history. Early Western sources referred to it as Lamay Island because its original inhabitants were the Lamayans, an Austronesian tribe. In 1621 and again in 1631, Lamayan tribesmen massacred Europeans who survived the sinking of their ships just offshore.
In 1636, a vengeful Dutch East India Company – which at that time controlled the Tainan area – attacked the tribe. Most of those fighting on the Dutch side were recruits from other Taiwanese tribes that despised the Lamayans. The climax was a siege at what is now one of the island's major tourist attractions, Black Ghost Cave. More than 300 Lamayans were massacred and the survivors were sold into slavery. After that, Little Liuqiu had no permanent human population until the ancestors of the current islanders arrived from Fujian in the late 18th century.
Liuqiu earned its name, which means “drifting ball,” because passing fishermen thought its shape resembled that of a ball bobbing in the waves. “Little” was added during Japan's 1895-1945 occupation of Taiwan to distinguish it from Japan's Ryukyu Islands (most of which now form part of Okinawa Prefecture), since “Ryukyu” is written using the same two Chinese characters as “Liuqiu.”Ferries leave Donggang in Pingtung County for Little Liuqiu eight times daily between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with additional service on weekends and national holidays, charging a round-trip fare of NT$410 for adults or NT$210 for children. The journey takes around 40 minutes...
The entire article can be read here, or in the May issue of Taiwan Business Topics.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Tourists wishing to explore Taiwan's Dutch heritage have a new, 271-page guidebook to assist and inform them during their travels. “The Real Taiwan and the Dutch” is a comprehensive resource featuring hundreds of color photos, addresses and phone numbers of places to stay and eat, plus global-positioning-system coordinates for dozens of hard-to-reach points of interest.
The book differs from other Taiwan travel guides in two important respects. Firstly, its main author, Menno Goedhart, is a full-time diplomat (the book's subtitle is “Traveling Notes from the Netherlands Representative”). He has led the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office—the agency in Taipei that handles relations between Taipei and the Hague in the absence of formal diplomatic ties—since 2002.
Goedhart says that before he was asked to head the NTIO, he was not aware of the depth and variety of Dutch influences on Taiwan.
“At school nobody spoke about the Dutch in Taiwan, but when preparing for my job here, I started to learn that the Dutch presence was not irrelevant, and was even of considerable importance for Taiwan,” he recalls.
“Even then, I could not imagine what I would find,” Goedhart continues. “There is much more Dutch heritage in Taiwan than I ever expected. And I did not find everything, for sure—that’s why I will stay in Taiwan after I retire..."
Thursday, May 27, 2010
A few days ago, when I announced the publication of my second book, I said that I was delighted with it in every respect bar one. This is the problem: My name doesn't appear anywhere in the book. In fact, on the title page they've put an entirely different name – 'Shane M. Powell'.
I noticed this when I received my author's copies. I turned on my computer right away, intending to email the editor, and found a message from him in my inbox.
"Hello Steven, I'm told that your name is not on the title page of D&D
Taiwan. There's another name there. I haven't a clue how this happened and
have informed the publisher. When I hear back from her I'll be in touch.
I'm very sorry about this."
The illustrator of my book, Joshua Warren, then told me that Shane M. Powell is actually the author of Dos and Don'ts in Laos. The person credited with the drawings in my book, Louis Cazalis, did the pictures for the Laos book. So it looks like the publisher used a previous title page as a template, changed 'Laos' to 'Taiwan', but didn't update the author/illustrator details.
When I told my wife all this, she asked if perhaps my name appears on the Laos book. That would be an irony; I've never been to Laos.
This is what I then said to the publishing company:
"My name is Steven Crook. I am the author of your newly published book, Dos and Don'ts in Taiwan. I congratulate you on having found an excellent illustrator and doing a superb job of designing the book. However, when I received my author's copies on May 8, I was dismayed to see another person's name (“Shane M. Powell”) on the title page
This mistake is personally damaging in two senses. Firstly, being able to present one's friends and relatives with copies of a new book bearing his or her name is a great pleasure for every author. Your mistake deprives me of this pleasure. Secondly, as a professional writer, being identified as the author of an attractive book is important because it leads to newspaper and magazine commissions.
My first book, even though it was not widely distributed, led to a large amount of work. Dos and Don'ts, I had hoped, would do the same. The potential losses are in the thousands of US dollars.
I do not seek financial compensation. Nor do I seek to have the entire print run destroyed and reprinted. Instead, this is what I would like to receive from you:
1. A small number of copies (say 100) with my name correctly included on the title page. These I can present to friends in Taiwan or sell here.
2. A letter making it clear that I am the author of the work, and that the name on many of the copies is wrong.
3. An undertaking that if the book is sold through any website, that I be identified as the author on those websites.
I look forward to your reply."
I'm still waiting for a response. The company's headquarters are in Bangkok and it's possible the riots there have disrupted business.
The whole affair is annoying and frustrating. However, I've been able to keep a lid on my outrage for three reasons:
Firstly and most importantly, it doesn't make much difference to my writing career. In the 20 months between finishing Dos and Don'ts in Taiwan and the book coming out I was commissioned by a more important publisher to write a guidebook about Taiwan (the associated blog is here). That's due to be published in the autumn and – because the cover is already on amazon.co.uk – I can relax knowing my name will be on it.
Secondly, I realise that a very attractive book featuring my work but published under the wrong name is preferable to a poorly-assembled volume on which my name is prominent.
Thirdly, much worse things happen around the world every day.
Monday, May 24, 2010
I'm not sure where it'll be available in Taiwan. If you want a copy, email me at sccrook [at] yahoo [dot] com, or post a comment below.
In general, I'm extremely pleased with the way the book has worked out. Save for one detail, which I'll write about when I have more time and some answers from the publisher. However, the editor did a good job polishing my text, and the illustrator and designer excelled themselves. It's a book I'm proud of.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Taiwan's best-known green building is the Beitou Branch of Taipei Public Library, designed by a team at Taipei's Bioarchitecture Formosana led by Kuo Ying-chao. The two-story, 1,990-square meter structure is mostly timber. This alone makes it remarkable...
This article appears in the May edition of Arbitare China, a bilingual English-Chinese magazine published in Beijing. Owned by an Italian company, it focuses on architecture and design. The photos accompanying the article (such as the one here, of Beitou Library) were taken by Richard Matheson.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Last year, Taiwan hosted the first large-scale, multi-sports events in its history. The Eighth Edition of the World Games, held in Kaohsiung from June 16 to June 26, was considered an unqualified success. Some 4,421 athletes, judges, and officials from 103 countries took part, and with the possible exception of a few female athletes from Brazil sunbathing topless on a city beach, local media could find no fault with the extravaganza.
Just 10 weeks after the World Games closed, the 21st Deaflympics opened in Taipei. The event certainly bolstered civic pride and raised awareness of deaf issues, but was marred by transportation grumbles and allegations that the needs and opinions of the hearing-impaired were sometimes ignored.
Given the time and resources poured into organizing these two major international events, government officials and members of the tourism industry undoubtedly hope that they represent just the beginning of a long string of such activities to be held in Taiwan. What can be learned from the World Games and Deaflympics experience to help smooth the way for similar future events?
Ron Froehlich, president of the International World Games Association, expresses both the uneasiness he felt in the run-up to the Kaohsiung event and his satisfaction at the Games' conclusion. “Prior to the games we of course weren't sure what to expect, as we were dealing with so many different stakeholders, from the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee to the Sports Affairs Council (SAC), the Ministry of Education, and Kaohsiung City Government. Being an unknown, this was indeed a weakness,” he said by email. But he quickly added that “there is very little that could have been done better and Mayor Chen Chu is to be complimented on the way the city participated and made it such a big event for the citizens of Kaohsiung.”
Froehlich especially praised the sports plaza, where athletes and spectators could try local foods and enjoy cultural performances, as an “enormous success, not only for all the visitors but also for the citizens of Kaohsiung.” He was also complimentary regarding the training and quantity of the volunteers, and noted that “transportation from the airport to the accreditation centers to the hotels to the meal centers as well as the venues was very well organized.”In the days before the Games began, slow ticket sales were a concern. Eventually 283,151 tickets (72.9% of those available for sports events and the opening and closing ceremonies) were sold, and of the 37 different sports, 29 sold out...
The complete article appears in the April issue of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei's monthly magazine, and is also on their website.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The two are Emile Sheng, minister of the Council of Cultural Affairs, and Chou Kung-shin, director of the National Palace Museum. Yes, that's right - the chief of Taiwan's most famous museum is a member of the Cabinet. I'm assuming this is because, back in the 1960s and 1970s, Chiang Kai-shek and his son regarded their possession of the collection as central to their claim that the ROC was the legitimate government of China.
I interviewed Dr. Sheng about his previous job, CEO of the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics Organizing Committee, for Taiwan Business Topics. The questions I sent to Dr. Chou are for an article about Asia's leading museums for Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine. The former is due out very soon; the latter will appear in June or July.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Sunday, March 7, 2010
The full article is in the March edition of Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine.
In the ROC, as in many other countries, reforming the rules that govern how foreigners can acquire nationality is not a priority for the citizenry. However, Taiwan’s government should consider dropping one of its naturalization requirements that requires applicants to renounce their original nationality.
This would encourage thousands of Antipodeans, Europeans and North Americans already settled in Taiwan to apply for ROC citizenship. Given the nation’s economic difficulties and rapidly aging population, this is something the government surely desires.
Most of these potential citizens, some of whom describe themselves as Taiwanese in their hearts, have called the island home for more than a decade. Many have local spouses and children; more than a few run businesses which employ Taiwanese people.
Not everyone in this category is interested in becoming an ROC citizen, but those who have looked into it describe most of the naturalization requirements as reasonable. Applicants must meet certain residential and financial criteria; there is a Chinese language test, a health examination and a background check. However, one complaint surfaces again and again: that candidates renounce their original nationality. This, they claim, is unfair, illogical and pointless.
It is unfair because the ROC allows those who are already citizens to hold dual nationality. There is no legal obstacle, from the ROC side at least, if a Taiwanese who has become a citizen of another country wishes to retain his or her ROC nationality and travel on an ROC passport. The U.K., U.S. and some other countries allow their citizens to hold two or more nationalities. South Korea and Japan are among those who expressly forbid it. Taiwan’s nationality law is almost unique in being asymmetrical.If the requirement that those seeking to be naturalized give up their old citizenship was designed to ensure the loyalty of new citizens to the ROC, it is illogical. Those who drafted the rule seem not to have considered that some people already have more than one nationality...
The complete article can be read here.Taiwan's peculiar naturalization rules have been discussed in many parts of the web, notably forumosa.com.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
This article appeared in the January issue of Silkroad, Dragonair's inflight magazine. It's not online. The link goes to an article written by a friend of mine, photojournalist Chris Stowers.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Then the strange silence. When the sedan chair was in position, a few meters in front of a paper-covered frame as big as a truck, the thousands-strong crowd fell silent. Once the technicians had torn off the squares of red paper we could see what lay inside: Row upon row of bottle rockets pointing not at the sky, but at the sedan chair and us in the crowd.
When the fuses were lit, people didn't have to be told to move back. Some tried to take cover behind streetlights; the short cowered behind the tall. The opening shots, however, were into the sky. There were, as you'd expect at a fireworks display, lots of pretty explosions high above the rooftops.
Then rockets came blasting out horizontally. At first they fizzed like tracer bullets over the heads of the audience, but within a second or two the angle of fire was much lower.
Instinctively I turned away from the frame and felt multiple impacts on my back. The physical feeling, I thought at the time, was somewhat like being chased by a stone-throwing mob...
If you go here, you can see the complete article and accompanying photos as they appear in the January-February issue of Travel in Taiwan. The pictures posted above are courtesy of Richard Matheson.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
News stories in 2009 about Taiwan's tourism industry focused on two trends: an ability to attract more overseas visitors than ever before, at a time when tourism around the world is still suffering the effects of 2008's financial crisis; and a growing dependence on the mainland Chinese market. Excluding visitors from Hong Kong and Macao, mainland Chinese tourists now account for about one in four of all arrivals.
Taiwan's Tourism Bureau ensured that the arrival Dec. 5 of the year's four-millionth foreign visitor—a 62-year-old Japanese woman called Suzuyo Goto—was a media event. Ever since mainland Chinese tourists started coming in large numbers in the summer of 2008, debate has been raging as to exactly how much benefit they bring to Taiwan's economy.
Another trend has received far less attention. According to statistics posted on the Tourism Bureau's Web site, one of the few markets apart from mainland China to send significantly more tourists to Taiwan in the first 11 months in 2009 than in the same period a year earlier was Europe.
Europe is currently a small market. In November 2009, the 18,165 residents of Europe who entered Taiwan accounted for 4.43 percent of all foreign and overseas Chinese arrivals.
Even though total visitor numbers—including those coming on business, to study or attend a conference, or to visit relatives—from Europe were flat for January to November 2009, tourist arrivals from the continent grew an impressive 18.3 percent year-on-year. It was the fifth consecutive year of growth.
According to the Tourism Bureau, visitors leaving Taiwan in November 2009 had spent an average 6.27 days in the country. Although the bureau does not compile statistics as to the average length of stay of each nationality, it is very likely that the majority of European visitors stayed significantly longer than that. Within the travel industry, it is an axiom that those who travel the furthest stay the longest. There is another reason why a tourist from Europe is likely to stay longer than one from North America or Asia: Europeans tend to have long vacations...The complete story is here.