December 15th, 2017

Rock Ramblings: Pre-Christmas holidaying on the beautiful island

By Medicine Hat News on December 7, 2017.

As our promo guru, Amber, wrote in this space last week about preparing for Christmas with her favourite holiday-themed movies; I had a very different pre-festive season experience. I was hearing “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” over the buffet speakers while eating breakfast dumplings and custard buns in Kaohsiung, Taiwan! Mind you, that was almost the extent of the holiday feel over there. While most kids in Taiwan know who Santa is, and there are Christmas trees in some lobbies and shopping centres — Christmas is not a national holiday in Taiwan.

Why was I a 15-hour time difference away in this country that’s not technically a country (it’s a political thing)? Visiting family. My brother has lived there on and off for over a decade and I used to reside there for a short time, teaching English. In fact, a good friend of mine owns a “cram school” or buxiban — where kids come to improve their English speaking skills. Last week, I returned “home” to Kaohsiung for the first time since 2004. Now I’m wondering why it took me so long.

The weather is tropical year-round, complete with palm trees everywhere you look. The beaches of Kenting on the southern tip of the island are reminiscent of those in Costa Rica or Mexico — but with a more subdued and unique Asian vibe. Think night markets with papaya milk and tofu on a stick instead of pumping reggaeton music. Back in the busy city of Kaohsiung (one of the world’s biggest ports), the streets are always alive. There are so many mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles here that they have their own lanes on the roadways — and everybody has one. Many stores stay open 24 hours and you can buy a beer and walk the streets at 5 a.m. if that strikes your fancy.

I could write a lot more about my experience but I’ve only got so much space here. Returning home, I was left wondering why southern Taiwan isn’t a more popular tourist destination. Maybe it’s because when people fly that far they choose the always-popular Thailand or somewhere else like it? But Taiwan deserves more tourism. It’s consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world with kind-hearted, friendly people and low exposure to crime. Kaohsiung has recently undergone a gentrification with the Pier 2 Arts District where we stayed, transforming an abandoned warehouse area into a thriving arts centre. We happened upon a massive anime festival when we arrived — and they’re just about to start a three month long Container Arts Festival — where they show off sea containers transformed into art, fittingly right off the harbour. The area boasts a population of almost 3 million inhabitants and is served by a new subway and even newer light rail system. If you love to travel and are looking for new locales to explore — the southern part of Taiwan (Ilha Formosa — literally “the beautiful island) might just be right for you!

Trapper John can be heard on 105.3 ROCK and http://www.rock1053.ca weekdays from 3-7 p.m. and Saturday afternoons. You can also find him on twitter @TrapperCR.

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