Hakka Tung Blossom Festival
As we speed through spring and into summer, things are warming up and things are blooming. From calla lilies to cherry blossom to tung blossoms, the hills are truly alive! The Hakka Tung Blossom Festival in particular is increasingly popular, although perhaps not as well known. Starting with the name; “Hakka” refers to the second largest ethnic group in Taiwan, accounting for around 20% of the entire population , and “Tung” refers to a deciduous tree with brilliant white flowers (the “Blossom”). Hakka culture is heavily promoted in Taiwan and there are numerous cultural centers throughout the island, although the majorityare focused around Miaoli and Hsinchu. If you listen to ICRT (the only English language radio station in Taiwan: http://icrt.com.tw), then you can learn some useful Hakka phrases and more about the culture and events. The website of the Hakka Affairs Council is another great resource. The tung tree is a deciduous tree that grows to around 15 m in height, with smooth bark, soft wood, and dark green heart-shaped leaves. Somewhat unusually, the tree flowers before it produces its leaves, and the blossoms are white with a red colored center It is this contrast of the brilliant white blossoms against the dark green leaves which draws the crowds and makes the festival so popular. For those of you with an interest in chemistry, the tung tree contains the coumarinolignoid aleuritin , and any tree containing a coumarinolignoid is alright with me! On a more serious note, the tung tree is poisonous (all bits of it and especially the seeds) so if you come with children make sure they don’t touch the leaves or pick up any seeds. The tung trees played an important role in the Hakka economy, where the wood was extensively used for consumer products such as furniture and matches, and the oil extracted from the seeds and used to treat bruises and as varnish. After the commercial viability of farming, the tung tree came to an end, the trees spread to the neighbouring areas resulting in the grand display we see today. Due to the close connection between the Hakka people and the tung tree, the festival has become firmly established. There are quite a few places you can visit to see the trees throughout the island, and an excellent resource is the tung blossom festival website of the Hakka Affairs Council (http://tung.hakka.gov.tw/default.aspx?lang=2). The site has up-to- date information of where the flowers are in bloom and detailed information on how to get there. Of note, both Pingxi (http://go2taiwan.net/blog_content.php?sqno=49) and Neiwan (http://go2taiwan.net/blog_content.php?sqno=50) are potential destinations, and they also offer other attractions as described in the previous posts. As always, if you make a visit please let me know, we always love to hear from you.
One of, if not the, most famous landmarks in Taiwan is Taipei 101. As you are very likely to see this building, even if only from a distance, I thought a post was overdue. The design is meant to look like a bamboo shoot, and it is indeed 101 floors high. It really is visible from many areas of Taipei, so if you see a gigantic bamboo shoot, that's Taipei 101. Despite being the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010, it oddly doesn't look that tall when you stand next to it. To get the full effect though, take the rocket like elevator to the indoor observatory on the 89th floor. There is an outdoor viewing platform on the 91st floor which you can reach by climbing a flight of stairs, but it is not open all the time. It's worth the NT$400, even if like me, you aren't that great with heights. Actually the large windows (which of course you want in an observation deck) do give great views over the surrounding area, but they were a bit much for me. I took a visiting friend up to have a look, but I had to be coaxed out of the elevator. Apart from the observation decks, for the visitor Taipei 101 is essentially an upscale mall. You'll find all the high end brands well represented from jewelry to bags and clothing. Probably not the place to buy souvenirs of Taiwan, but it is probably worth having a stroll through. There's a pretty extensive food court on B1 and if you haven't experienced a food court in Taiwan, you should give it a try. There is a large of fare to try, from Western fast food outlets to more local dishes. There's also a supermarket with many imported items, so if you have a sudden craving for something from home this is good place to try. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the best book shops in Taiwan (especially for English language books) called Page One is located on the fourth floor. On the same floor you'll find a variety of "open air" cafes, in the sense that the plan is open of course serving mostly Western style afternoon tea. There are also an array of fairly high end restaurants should you be looking for somewhere more relaxing to eat. In the same area as Taipei 101, called the Xinyi District (map), you can shop your heart out at one of the many malls (if Taipei 101 wasn't enough). There's a multiplex cinema, a couple of night clubs and an ever increasing number of restaurants. It's also a good place to come in the evenings (although the view from Taipei 101 will obviously be different), but the general area is quite pretty at night. While it is definitely a more Western experience, Taipei 101 and the surrounding area is worth visiting to gain an appreciation for how Taiwan is developing. Just remember to add some cultural bits to your itinerary as well.