Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Ten

Taipei is no Dubai.  But they sure try.  And in this tenth and last part to the Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan series, that’s where I make my send-off.

Having visited basically every other part of the country, I thought that this was a suited end to the all-nation trip I’d made overland and to the isles on both sides.

I’d hate to say that Taipei is just like any other city.  But I am not really a “city guy.”

Having said that, there’s still an interesting and recent history that I cover in this portion of the film.  And having studied it from the traveler’s perspective, it’s got a unique story indeed.

Coming from humble beginnings, and having not been the country’s original site for its chosen capital, Taipei has risen like a phoenix from its representative, communist ashes.  And it’s done so with gusto.

Having been ruled with the same iron fist of mainland china for so long, once freed, the Taiwanese people chose a different future for themselves.  And while this made China definitively covetous over their newfound kinship with freedom, they were steadfast and anything but reticent, maintaining their very public stance as the new world’s international posterchild for indignant, anti-communist ideology.

And it proved very fruitful, as the once- neglected town has become a gleaming city, far removed from the antiquated designs and attention of its fledgling self.

Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Nine

Likely making a visible scene from space, the Lantern Festival in the Changhua township takes up the 9th portion of the Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan series.

The entire town hosts lanterns from the small and lackluster, to the three-story, motorized, dragon-shaped behemoth adorned with synchronized lighting and a sound kit that would rival a Metallica concert.  There are snake-like lanterns spanning an entire city-block and fashioned with a million pin-wheels.  There are Spongebob Squarepants likenesses.  There are seated Buddhas.  And even hanging lanterns creating pulsing, writhing ceilings hanging over the roadways.

All of these lanterns have been imported from across the country.  And each one represents a family business, a school or a bank or corporate alliance.  And for one year, each team works painstakingly to outdo the next in this everyone-wins competition of showmanship and pride.

And this isn’t a small collection of a few interested parties who’ve come together in a yearly rivalry.  This takes up the entire expanse of the town that is chosen each year.  Forget Disneyland.  Epcot couldn’t, on its best day, compete with even one street corner here.  When I say they go all out, these people put Nasa to shame in their show of lights.

To say it’s epic, simply doesn’t do this event justice.  It’s an experience like no other.  And throughout the night, all one needs to do is walk, snack on the countless roadside vendor’s offerings and be amazed at the sheer size of this festival.

Originally starting in the mountains, this festival first resembled a few, scattered lanterns shooting skyward as the warning of an invasion was eminent.  Today, while China claims tenure over this event, Taiwan definitely takes the event to the next level and has a death-grip over this celebration like an angry dog defending a bone.

As far as I am concerned, a lantern festival that encompasses an entire city, draws in an entire country and represents a year of the nation’s focus simply has no rival.  It can get no bigger.  And it need not.  Because after something like this stretches beyond the city limits and contends internationally for the brightest light on the year’s darkest night, I’d imagine that the quaintness and personal touch would move from the impressive and awe-inspiring to be replaced by spite and shark-like antagonism.

Besides, by the look of things, they’d have to start hiring outside assistance to make this any grander.  And that would mean it’s no longer a native event.  The electric bill alone might require taking out a loan from China anyway!

Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Eight

In this eighth part of the Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan, I explore the grand and inescapably mystical village of Alishan, high above the cloudline of the Tainan region.

Alishan Village should be on your To-Do list if you come to Taiwan.  While I only had a limited time to enjoy the “sea of clouds” phenomenon that takes place high up in these mountains, I still came away with a great experience.  And there’s plenty more to do and see.

The food and locals are charming and warm.  The little restaurants aren’t so corporate that the personality has been stripped away.  And the old train that everyone embarks to in the wee hours of the morning is a neat little jaunt up the hill to the viewing spot.

In addition, there are trails to hike, nature to enjoy and pristine, crisp air to fill the nostrils with a continuum of reminders of where you are and just how nice it is to be there – or at least not back at your office.

And that’s just the top.  Getting there is just as much (if not more) fun.  Rent a bike at the train station, head up the mountain and make a wonderful day of the switchbacks and splendid views of the Taiwanese townships below.



Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Seven

Tainan’s temples are the focus of this seventh part of Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan series.  From the Buddhist- and Dao-inspired templage to the oldest, finest and most genuine, architecture to reveal itself to Far East Asia’s history, Tainan is definitely the premier spot to visit the world of old warriors and emperors.

Traditional temples here are based on the old world style of Asian templary.  They contribute to the larger assemblage of region.  And they never fail to amaze.  There are more temples in this area than most places on earth (of equivalent size).  And with the exception of the Penghu Islands that I just visited, I’ve certainly never seen a more condensed collection of them in my life at any other place in the world.

Walking through this area, one may as well don a suit of armor and wield a samurai sword.  You’d fit right in – if not become part of the ancient scenery.

Looking in all directions, my eyes kept searching for some semblance of recent times.  And I couldn’t figure it out at the time, but the confusion was actually normal.  There’s simply no sign that you’re in the 21st century.  It seems as though the grounds to many of these walled-off, palace-like places of worship (and residence) have been kept precisely as the original architects envisaged them at the drawing board.

The koi fish are likely not descendants of their ancient keepers, but they may as well have been transported right through the same time that these temples endured.  The electric fountains are probably far cries from their mechanical predecessors – hand-cranked by myriad servants.  And the shaped concrete walkways trailing throughout the gardens and over the watery moats most likely postdated a much more attractive and artful wooden assemblage of risers, pilings and intricately carved railings.

But as I’ve learned from the many wonderful experiences that I reluctantly behind: nothing lasts forever.  Some might even argue that nothings lasts for very long at all.

In any case, these stoic relics of a more ancient time are testing the limitations of that ideology.  And for now, they’re a treat to behold.




Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Six

Part Six of Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan, explores Tainan during the Fireworks Festival.  In this hand-to-hand fireworks combat, people actually soot each other with a barrage of pretty dangerous explosives — many of which are rocket propelled and uncontrollable.  But that doesn’t stop this crowd.

The entire town goes up in smoke, literally, all in the name of fun at the behest of the loudest, most dangerous means possible.

Explosions light up the sky from dusk until about 2am.  And all the while, people swing ropes of detonating M-80s,  live moon rockets and flaming Roman Candles.  Throwing caution (and may other dangerous things) to the wind, this festival is more akin to the dashing of the gods, the smothering of the weak-willed and the ultimate game of Smear the Queer with a high school dodgeball team mentality.

I witnessed several people on motorbikes making their way through entire, elbow-to-elbow crowds with two handfuls of shimmering rockets darting to-and-fro, sending people all a-scatter in a raucous rage in every direction.  It was a sight I never knew possible, to see crazed hoards bursting through a haze of sparks and smoke as jet-like, spiraling tracers with ember tails exploded in dangerous proximity to the onlookers.  Wails of chaotic fear pulsed through this mad scene like banshees letting loose their shrill cries.  And all the while, any shadows in the commotion were quickly created and destroyed by the strobing, shooting explosions flickering throughout the multitude.

And at any moment, you realize that the scene unfolding on the hapless saps just meters away could just as haplessly become your momentary reality.  In which case, you’d be the one ducking and covering, wincing in preemptive pain.  It’s a troubling thought.  There’s nothing quite like it, I’d say.

The week prior, trucks haul in tons of fireworks for the event.  Throughout the weekend (normally preceding Chinese New Year) they are set ablaze amid a curtain of rope lights, blinking Christmas lights and lit-up lanterns.

The day after the event, it’s like it never happened.  By noon, the townspeople will have taken to the streets with their brooms, buckets and bags.  And they sweep away all the ash, paper and still-smoldering leftovers.  I’m sure it’s like watching ants attack a pound cake from a bird’s eye view.  And when it’s all done, the sidewalks, alleys and streets are just as spiffy clean as if the city-wide conflagration had never taken place.

It’s quite a spectacle, indeed.  And I even after having been in Taiwan for six months, I’d never even heard about it until a couple of days prior.  But once I found out that there was a festival where people shoot fireworks at each other, a team of Clydesdales couldn’t have kept me away.  I knew that I had to go document this amazing scene and experience it firsthand.

When I arrived, however, I realized that I was a bit under dressed.  It seems that the players in this explosive game sort of cheat a little bit.  When I found out about the battle, no one ever told me that they dressed themselves in modern day armor for the event.

When I showed up (in shorts and a t-shirt), I looked around amazed to see people all over the place looking like spacemen who’d recently been left behind, abandoned by their evacuating ship.  They were covered head-to-toe in helmets, towels, several layers of clothing and what looked like work boots.  Every inch of skin had been covered.  They even duck-taped towels to their helmets to ensure that no ricochet or stray mini-bomb would find its way into their only patch of overlooked skin and detonate – taking with it that same overlooked patch of skin.

I was not so prepared, though I wish I’d used some foresight in the matter.

At one time in the ordeal, someone had taken it upon themselves to stack a giant column of rocket-propelled M-80s right in the middle of the street.  And without warning, my friends and I were stuck in the middle of what must have been the familiar feeling of close combat soldiers in Afghanistan.

There were explosions all around my head and face.  There was smoke everywhere.  All I could do was take refuge behind an adjacent column and hope that none of the screaming explosives made their way to any part of me that I couldn’t do without.  It was pretty frightening.  But, all told, I think I weathered it pretty well.  Because the friends that I met there were amazed that not only had I not worn any protective clothing, but also that I’d made it through unscathed – as far as I can tell.

A week later, I’d be hit by a car (that didn’t stop or even slow down at all during the entire process) and leave me with an inch-long scar on my left foot.  So I guess Taiwan still made a dent in the Travel Geek after all.

Latest Travel Geek Release from Documentary Taiwan: Part Five

The Penghu Islands are just epic.  I don’t know of any other way to say it.  In Taiwan, I have two favorite places (or, at least two top spots tied at first place); Taroko Gorge and the Penghu Islands.  And perhaps this is because I am a bit biased on the side of geological marvels.  But these places are just otherworldly.

For the common traveler, it gets no better than to rent a bike and be alone for a few days with no rules, no risk and no limitations.  Once on the back of a simple 50cc scooter, one is free to putt around, buzz through the back alleys and drive right over the grass to reach these amazing sights.  And in few places of the world are they more plentiful.  They simply cast a shadow over the nearest conglomeration of natural wonders.

And did I mention they’re cheap?  It costs around $30 to fly there from the mainland.  It takes 45 minutes to get there.  And once you’re there, pop a tent and spend your nights knowing that when you unzip your vestibule the next morning, you’ll be overlooking 500,000-year-old volcanic columns that were pushed up from the center of the earth… and a sunrise.

In addition to this portion of the film, I am also including one of my most recent uploads from the “Outtakes & Extras” section.  Of the many outtakes that I had to refrain from including in the feature length film, I regretted this one a lot.  It’s a nice, succinct introduction to the behemoth columnar basalt formations in the background and I wish it could have made it into the film.  But as it stands, I simply had to trim all the fat if I was going to keep the documentary under two hours.

But as far as the bulk of my amazing experience in Penghu, this portion of the documentary really says it all.  It’s got the best parts of the three-day trip that I took there.  And what I didn’t release with the feature length documentary, I published to the web on the Taiwan film page of my website.  So after you’ve watched this part, be sure to head over and check out those outtakes and extras.  And if you feel so inclined, make a donation and support future trips.