About Chris Banducci
Chris Banducci is a pastor and missionary in Taiwan. He has, at other times of his life, been a white-water rafter, rock climber and adventurer. He left the corporate world of Solid Waste Recycling in 1996 and went into full-time ministry, where he pioneered a church in Riverside, California for the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship and is now engaged in the same endeavor in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. He writes on the culture, religion, tradition, and day-to-day life in Taiwan. Twenty-six years of living with Muscular Dystrophy may have weakened his muscles but not his spirit.
Latest Posts by Chris Banducci
One glaring difference between California and Taiwan is seen the use of public transportation. In California, you see lots of empty buses, trains and rapid transit trains. The Amtrak commuter system is rarely used. Bus after bus passes by empty or with just a few seats being used. Californians rarely travel by train.
Of course, one reason that people rarely travel by train may be something like I experienced. I was traveling to Northern California from Riverside in Southern California. Because of the mountains near Bakersfield, there was a need to travel for a while by Amtrak bus.
So as I went to board the bus with my luggage the driver told me I wasn’t allowed to travel with luggage. Yeah that works, if you have to stay the night somewhere, or are planning a stay for a while, I guess you have to wear all the clothes you’re you might need.
In Taiwan however, buses are full to overflowing, the MRT stations are crowded, and the trains are a popular way to get around. It might be because the train system seamlessly connects with bus and MRT routes. There are two types of trains local and express. They’re inexpensive, clean and pretty comfortable. A trip from Taoyuan to Taipei takes approximately 30 minutes. There are bus stops and MRT connections (In the MRT Service area) at every train station.
Because the buses and MRT are so frequent there is rarely more than a ten-minute wait, except during peak commute hours where buses are full. In those cases you may have wait for a while to get on a bus.
The other nice thing about the system is that it can all be accessed with one card: The Easy Card. You can put an amount of money on the card at kiosks in the train station, 7-11 and other locations throughout the city. In fact, the easy card can be used at a variety of shops and places in addition to transportation system Here is a look at a small part of the system between Taoyuan City and Banciao.
Passengers waiting for the train at the Taoyuan City station. There are many users for the train. People commuting to work into Taipei, can make a trip to the main train station in Taipei in about thirty minutes.
All of the train stations have a safe “waiting zone for female passengers at night.” These are well-lighted areas with camera surveillance. The trains run until late at night and sitting in a poorly lit, nearly empty train station isn’t particularly comfortable. The waiting area adds safety and comfort for female passengers.
Crowded trains mean that many people have to ride the train standing up in the aisle, so handy grab rings hang from the ceiling.
Banciao Train Station. In addition, to transportation services, there are shops, and restaurants in many of the large train stations. There is an entire shopping mall underneath the Taipei Main Station.
The MRT station is also clean and well lighted. You can see the red lights in the platform at the center of the picture. When the train is approaching the station the lights flash off and on, then remain on as the train gets closer to warn passengers to stand clear of the oncoming train. Note the “rough tile” nest to the waiting line in the center of the photo. This is to notify blind people that they’re too close to the track.
People line up at Banciao train station to catch the bus where to where they need to go. Buses run from here to almost every point in the city of Taipei.
Every bus is equipped with an Easy card reader, which automatically deducts the NT$ 18 (US$ 0.57) fare.
This sign on the bus shows the different levels of accesibility available on the buses. All the trains station make some provision for access. There are elevators for going above or below the tracks to access different platforms. There are even people who will lift wheelchair bound people in and out of the train. One time a man wanted to carry me on his back out of the train, I declined however, for reasons of dignity.
The turnstiles at the Banciao MRT station are equipped for easy card access and you can see the turnstile at the far right accommodates wheelchairs. All MRT trains are designed to have the floors level with the platform for easy wheelchair access.
All Photos by Emily Banducci
The Confucius Temple in Taoyuan City, located at No 40 Gongyuan Lu is built on the outskirts of Hutou Shan park. The grounds are beautiful and have trail-heads for hiking in this “wilderness” area.
In the typical Taiwanese fashion the trails are beautifully kept and easy to walk on. However, for a disabled person these trails present a problem because they are made with stairs and so are inaccessible to wheelchairs.
It is worth a visit, especially if you’re into hiking and walking in a beautiful and tranquil environment. I would recommend that you do these walks on a weekday as the trail become very full on the weekends especially with the Winter turning into Spring.
One of the things I’ve done every year is list all of the Taiwanese holidays. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Most of Taiwan’s traditional holidays are marked through the use of the Lunar Calendar. Modern Holidays are marked through the Solar Calendar. Let’s take a look at the Taiwanese Holidays:
Chinese NewYear: 春節Lunar Date is January 1. (January 31, 2014) This is the most important holiday of the year. It is celebrated much the same way that Christmas is celebrated in the west. Families gather for 3-15 days. Traditional meals are served on Chinese New Year’s Eve. People are given gifts of “Hong Bao” 紅包 These are gifts of money in a red envelope that are a wish of prosperity for the recipient.
The LanternFestival: 元宵節 Lunar date is January 15. (February 14, 2014) This is the first day that a full moon can be seen in the New Year. People celebrate by lighting and launching sky lanterns. There are also huge venues where people go to see artistically made lanterns and watch them launched. People often write prayers and wishes on the side of the lanterns before they are released. The traditional food for the Lantern festival is the tangyuan 湯圓 (soup circle.) These are balls of gooey, sweet rice gluten.
Qingming Festival: 清明節 Solar Holiday: April 5, 2014. During the Qingming Festival families gather to sweep the tombs of departed ancestors. It is a day to honor the dead. Many people use this day to burn incense and worship their ancestors.
Dragon BoatFestival: 端午節 Lunar date is May 5. (June 2, 2014) This festival honors Chinese Poet Qu Yuan. It is celebrated with the racing of the dragon boats. People eat a special sticky rice pyramid called a zongzi.
Night of Sevens: 七夕 Lunar date is July 7. (August 2, 2014) This holiday celebrates the legendary love of Niulang and Zhinu. According to legend they are forever separated, but are allowed to unite on July 7. The Taiwanese view this as a romantic night celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the west. It is sometimes called Double Seven.
Ghost Festival: 中元節 Lunar date is July 15. (August 10, 2014) The festival honors the departed ancestors. People commemorate this day by placing offerings of incense, food and beverages outside their homes and the burning of spirit money for the family members who have departed the world. This is the most important date of Ghost Month (The whole month of July on the lunar calendar. July 27 – August 24, 2014)
Mid-Autumn Moon Festival: 中秋節 Lunar date is August 15. (September 8, 2014) This is the day when most people get together with friends and family and barbeque. Look for an in-depth post on the Moon Festival in September. A gift is given to friends and family of moon cakes. Circular cakes made with egg yolks and other things inside. The shape represents the moon and the cakes themselves are good wishes for the recipient.
Double Ninth Festival: 重陽節 Lunar Date is September 9. (October 2, 2014) People usually celebrate this holiday by climbing mountains or visiting flower shows.
Xia Yuan Festival: 下元節 Lunar date is October 15. (November 17, 2014) During this festival people pray to the water god for a peaceful year.
Winter Solstice: 冬至 Solar Holiday (December 21, 2014). This corresponds to the Winter Solstice in Western Countries. Families gather to celebrate on this day.
Kitchen God Festival: 謝灶Lunar date is December 23. (January 23, 2014) This is the day to thank the kitchen god. It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun’s yearly report.
One final note is that the Chinese Zodiac is broken down into 12 years. Each year corresponds to a particular animal. It is believed that people born in a particular year will share the traits of the animal mentioned. The following is a breakdown of the Zodiac and the corresponding years from 1924 through 2031. See if you can find yours.
Rat 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008 2020
Ox 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009 2021
Tiger 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010 2022
Rabbit 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011 2023
Dragon 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012 2024
Snake 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013 2025
Horse 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014 2026
Sheep 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015 2027
Monkey 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016 2028
Rooster 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017 2029
Dog 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018 2030
Boar 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019 2031
Photo Credit: http://www.chinesenewyearin.com/ wp-content/uploads/2013/02/yearOfTheHorse2.jpg
I’ve been reading about this giant rubber duck for a while, now ever since I first read about it when it was in Sydney, Australia in 2007. The duck, created by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman made it’s first appearance in 2007 in Sydney Harbor and its been in a number of places since. Recently, it was in Southern Taiwan in the city of Gaoxiong, but now it’s right here in Northern Taiwan in a little place called Xinwu. The duck will be there from October 26, 2013 until November 10, 2013.
According to things that I’ve read, the artist doesn’t send the duck but sends plans for the duck, which are then implemented in the host country. The duck in Taiwan was inflated in just seven minutes, thanks to technology developed here. When the duck was in Hong Kong harbor it took an hour to inflate. Can you imagine the volume of air that had to be moved to inflate a duck that’s 58ft by 58ft by 81ft that’s 272,484 cubic feet (83,841 cubic meters) in seven minutes? I’m guessing they didn’t just use the vacuum on blow.
We decided that we couldn’t let the duck be this close and not go see it. Even my teenage daughters were kind of excited about it. Of course, they have fond memories of their little rubber ducks. When they were babies I would play with the ducks with them while they soaked in the bathtub. In fact, their first word was duck. Most parents get “mama” or “dada,” we got duck.”
This duck is a bit bigger than they’re used to, though. The duck is 18 meters high, that’s 58 feet for you on the English measuring system, and 25 meters long (81 feet). That is one big duck, so you would need a big, big tub to play with it in.
We also got on the news as being the only foreigners in the place. There were probably 10,000 people who went to see the duck today, which is pretty surprising for a work/school day. The first day it was opened was a Saturday and 100,000 people passed by and gazed upon the duck in all its hugeness and glory. In fact, they opened the art festival an hour early, because by 8:00 am, they already had a line more than three kilometers long. They’re expecting 1.5 million visitors before the end of the run. Xinwu is a small rural community, especially by Asian standards; only 48,000 people live there.
There was a great carnival atmosphere, with food vendors and souvenir vendors and other artworks on display. People were happy and enjoying the autumn weather and of course, this is the absolute best time to be in Taiwan weather-wise. If you live in Northern Taiwan or are taking a trip there soon, take some time to visit Xinwu while the duck is there.
Admission to the Taoyuan Land Art Festival, that’s where the duck is, is free.
The word Wulong (Oolong; in Chinese) is literally translated as black dragon. So what we call Wulong tea means Black Dragon Tea. I’ve pondered this many times. Wulong tea is closer to a green tea type tea. It looks like a green tea when brewed as it has a beautiful clear golden yellow color. It also looks like a green tea in its prior to brewing. So why call it Black Dragon Tea?
Because the origin of Wulong tea is shrouded in the mists of antiquity there are three theories about how Wulong Tea came to have that name. But in my mind, one seems more likely from a historical perspective.
The first theory is that it was first cultivated in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province in China during the Ming Dynasty. Evidence comes in the form of two poems published during the Qing Dynasty which followed. The Qing Dynasty started in 1644 and ended with the Xin Hai revolution in 1912, when the empress dowager abdicated the throne on behalf of her son the emperor.
The first is called the Wuyi Tea Song by Yi Chaogun.
In the fifteenth century Tea fields were abandoned
As some of the rock tea starts to grow
The love it when the North wind
Starts to blow on a sunny day
But not the South wind or rain
The fragrance dissipates
The beautiful Plum and Orchid Aroma
Come from the final baking process
The second is called Tea Tale by Wang Chaotang.
Wuyi Tea is left to sun in a bamboo basket
Then roasted and baked
Longjing tea is pure because it is roasted but not withered
Only Wuyi tea is roasted and withered
Half green and half red
Roasted green and withered red
Left to wither then shaken
When the fragrance emerges; it is roasted
The timing has to be precious. This theory seems most plausible to me as these poems seem to chronicle the processing of Wulong Tea. The process for preparing Wulong Tea is still the same today:
- It’s picked by hand.
- Left in a basket in the sun to oxidize.
- It’s rolled into balls
- Baked in an oven
|Black Tea (front) is in leaf form, the Wulong Tea (rear) is rolled into balls.
It’s important to know that Green, Black and Wulong Tea come from the same plant. The differences are in the fermenting or oxidizing of the leaves. Green Tea is not oxidized, and black tea is fully oxidized. Wulong tea is partially oxidized.
So as the poem says it’s “half green and half red.” Black tea in Chinese is called Hong Cha Hong means red in Mandarin.
The second Theory is based on the Tribute Tea. This is tea that was grown and processed for emperors, and dates back to the Song Dynasty. The emperors of that time set up the Beiyun Tea Garden again in Fujian Province. The tea produced there was in the form of a hard cake called the Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake. But as the Song Dynasty became the Ming Dynasty this teacake fell out of favor. The Beiyun Gard changed its process to loose tea. The result was a glossy, dark loose-leaf tea. Called Bvlack Dragon Tea.
This version seems less likely to me as Wulong tea is not a dark colored tea leaf, the color is a green that turns to a yellow color as it brews.
The final theory is based on a legend as are a lot of Chinese Traditions. According to the legend a man named Long, who was particularly dark skinned and called WuLong (Black Dragon) was hunting. He was distracted by a deer and followed after it. By the time he had returned to the tea stored in his bag it was halfway oxidized. The tea became popular and was called Black Dragon Tea after this man. This legend while an interesting story seems the least likely explanation for the name. In any case I drink Wulong Tea far more often than any other kind.
Photo credit: http://www.tealula.com/blog/13/a-look-at-the-source:-wuyi-mountains
As in all urban areas there is graffiti. I worked in South Central Los Angeles as a young man. I was blown away by the amount of graffiti. The graffiti, which was
everywhere, was basically only two colors, Red (signifying the Bloods) and blue (the Crips). There were gang names or tags of color everywhere.
It wasn’t the kind of wall art that we’ve seen in movies and on the sides of subway trains. It was just messy, territory marking. As I worked, I would look at what color the graffiti was and choose a tie accordingly.
Taiwan, though, is interesting. I can’t remember a single instance of that type of graffiti here. I’m sure there must be some of this somewhere but I’ve never seen it. There is graffiti here, but it isn’t what I’m used to.
Public utilities in Taiwan, like public utilities everywhere have sidewalk boxes. For telephone companies these boxes are switching boxes. They’re the place where the phone installer ties the wires from your phone to the phone company equipment. In the case of electrical companies they have big sidewalk boxes, too. I have no idea what they’re for. Electricity as far as I can tell is magic, so I don’t know what is in those boxes. I’m sure it is some sorcerer’s tools or something.
You don’t see that in a blog very often: A writer actually highlighting his own ignorance. I just know that when I plug something into the socket electricity comes out. When I unplug it the electricity stays in, just the opposite of a champagne bottle.
So much for that, back to the sidewalk boxes. When the company installs them they are sort of a light gray, like they must have gotten some deal on that color. Then they take a stencil and stencil the power company or phone company logo and a number on it.
Because of the color and the flat sides they are just graffiti magnets. You see graffiti all over these things. The interesting part is no one ever complains. The utility companies don’t spend a cent on cleaning them and I have even seen people standing there admiring them. Here’s why:
L. A. Gang Graffiti: Streetgangs.com
All other photos Ken Jiang and Chris Banducci
Editor’s Note: Most of these boxes are found in Taipei, with the exception of the last photo. That box is in Taoyuan City.
The Game of Chess is very popular in Taiwan. However, it’s a different game than is played in other parts of the world. I have yet to master the skill required to play the game, which isn’t surprising because I’ve played the other chess game since high school and I’m a lousy player at that, too. I know what my problem is, it’s the same problem I had with games like Asteroids, but I don’t know how to correct it. I don’t seem to be able to focus on the whole board.
In Asteroids, for example, the asteroids are coming at the ship from all
directions. In order to successfully
evade all the asteroids, you have to be able to see the location and direction
of all the other asteroids coming at your ship, so you don’t
dodge one and crash into another. I was
never able to do that well.
|How the board is set up
In Chess, I have the same problem; I can form a strategy for several
moves ahead. “If I go here, he will go
there, then I can go up here, etc.” The
problem is that when I make the move I didn’t see the opposing bishop, all the way across
the board, that immediately swoops down and kills my piece.
In Chinese Chess or 象棋 (xiangqi) the board is set up differently. First, there is a river that cuts through the
center of the board dividing the armies. The river is important because there are certain pieces, which cannot
cross the line. The soldiers actually increase in power as they cross the river. There is also the “palace,” which is the square that’s made up of four squares,
with crossed diagonal lines located on each side of the board. The pieces line up on
the intersection of the squares not centered like in “international” chess. A piece is
captured when an opposing piece is placed on the same intersection.
Placement of pieces: The
soldiers line up on the front line on the designated intersections. The cannons are on the next line on the
designated intersections. Finally, the
power pieces are in the back, with the General in the center and his guards on
each side, within the “palace.”
Red moves first to start the game. As in “international” chess each piece or character has it’s own directional
moves. The pieces move like this:
The General: 將, or 帥: This piece may only move one square, right or left and forward or
backward. It may not leave the Palace. You will notice that the opposing generals
are opposite each other on the board.
They cannot be opposite without another piece between them. The player that causes them to “meet”
automatically loses the game. (“Meet”
means that they do NOT have a piece between them.)
|The way the horse can move
The Guards: The guards can only move
one space horizontally, but they cannot leave the palace.
The Chariots: The chariots can move
any number of spaces, either horizontally or vertically across the board. He may not move diagonally.
The Horses: The horses are equivalent
to the knight in international chess. They may move one space horizontally or vertically then diagonally
one space. However, the horse may not jump over a piece. If there is a piece on the next
intersection, either vertically or horizontally, then the horse may not move in
the direction of the blocking piece.
The Elephants: Elephants can move
two spaces horizontally, in either direction.
However, the elephant cannot move across the river. In addition, if there is a piece between the
starting point and ending point of the move, the elephant cannot jump that
piece, so it is prohibited from moving in that direction.
The Cannons: Cannons essentially
moves in the same ways as the chariot.
However, in order to capture an opposing piece the cannon must jump over
another piece. The piece that’s jumped
over can either be a friendly piece or an opposing piece. The chariot does not have to jump in order
|The cannon must jump a piece to capture
The Soldiers: Soldiers are only
allowed to move forward vertically one space until they cross the river. After crossing the river the soldier is
allowed to move both vertically and horizontally, but can only move one space
in either direction. The soldier cannot
move diagonally or backward vertically.
In Taiwan, it’s very common to see older men sitting at the park playing
chess throughout the day and into the night.
There are usually a number of others watching and “helping.” The game seems to be pretty loud, with
pieces slapped down and banging against the chessboard. You play, taking on new opponents until you
lose, then the winner takes on others.
The park across from my apartment is equipped with chessboards and
benches that can be utilized for the game.
I’ve seen men out there playing until very late at night. Someday I want to be good enough to
challenge and hold the board for awhile.
|Typhoon Soulik on a collision course with northern Taiwan
We have lived in Taiwan for roughly four years, and we have weathered a number of typhoons. But we have been surprised at how mild they were. A typhoon is the same as a hurricane but instead of being on the Atlantic Ocean, a typhoon takes place on the Pacific. Most of the typhoons begin around an island called Chuuk and beeline toward the China Sea.
Usually, the nations of South China, Viet Nam, The Philippines and, of course, Taiwan are the places where typhoons hit. The most recent typhoon to impact Taiwan was called Typhoon Soulik.
I always look forward to typhoons with a kind of excitement. We’re not used to extreme weather in Southern California. But mostly I’ve been disappointed by the actual blandness of the typhoons. Once, my daughter Emily and I took the car and went looking for the typhoon, but we were disappointed. We never even found evidence that much of anything had happened. In fact, we came across a bridge that was loaded with tourists at the very time the typhoon was supposed to be wreaking havoc on our lives.
So we were expecting more of the same with Typhoon Soulik; maybe a bit of rain, some scattered winds, hot humid air. That was our experience with a typhoon, but this one was different. This was the first time we’d experienced a “Typhoon Day.” That’s when the government closes down work and school and tells everyone to stay home. Of course, people leave work and drive immediately, uh to the mall where they hang out until the storm passes. They were expecting landfall about three o’clock actual landfall was closer to six pm. Then the winds started to strengthen and gust. It started to rain and the typhoon roared into town.
According to the Central Weather Bureau website, cwb.gov.tw, the winds were expected to reach speeds of 186 km/hr (114 mph) with gusts up to 226 km/hr (140 mph). In fact for a time the typhoon was classified as a “Super Typhoon.” I’m not sure what the actual wind speeds were because our power went down during the typhoon and stayed down for about seven hours.
The winds were so loud that it was unbelievable. It was like living at the airport as the winds gusted up and literally screamed past the window. My window was on the backside of our building, away from the wind. My daughters’ rooms were facing the storm and the winds actually drove water through the tiny spaces between the windows and the walls.
It was massive it even caused our apartment to rock, a bit. It was wild. My thoughts are okay, now I’ve experienced one. I can go back to bland weather. Yeah, right…I have to say, IT WAS COOL! Taiwanese people are pretty relaxed about typhoons. I heard scooters going by in the wildest moments of the typhoon. Amazing!
There was quite a bit of damage in our neighborhood from the typhoon. It was mostly broken trees or trees that were knocked down. There were a number of construction fences that were knocked down and just plain blown away The next day, though they were hard at work cleaning up the mess. They even mobilized the military to do cleanup work.
Photo Credit: Satellite Photo: cwb.gov.tw
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