by Rick Green
Leisurely pedalling through a verdant sea of tender rice shoots, I felt liberated from the confines of our car. Although the Mercedes offered air-conditioned comfort from the heavy atmosphere of Taiwan's East Rift Valley, on two wheels the peaceful postcard setting was mine to explore at will. Carefully nurtured fields painted the foreground emerald, enveloping the town's glaring white buildings standing huddled in the distance before a rumpled mountain range, its summits poking into a crown of whimsical white tropical clouds. I couldn't contain my urge to explore.
Chishang is a sparsely-populated township in Taitung County located in southeastern Taiwan. Not only is it at the opposite end of the island from Taipei, Chishang's rural tranquility offers a similar mental distance from the ambitious energy of the congested capital. Its main claim to fame is the high quality rice produced on the floodplain of the Huadong Valley, purported to be the best in Taiwan.
Anticipation of Taiwan's beach season steadily grows throughout the months of winter and spring as the heat and humidity of Taiwan's subtropical climate send temperatures through the roof. It's hard not to get excited about the beach when the thought of taking a dip in the Pacific Ocean can instantly banish the sticky heat that is so characteristic of Taiwan's climate.
by Rick Green
With Taiwan's growing prosperity and social liberalization, there has been an increasing interest in things Western as an expression of being modern. In terms of beverages, the rising popularity of wine and coffee are but two examples. Nevertheless, Taiwan remains firmly rooted in its traditions. The drink of choice for Taiwanese is still tea.
by Rick Green
It's something you'll probably notice on your first day in Taiwan. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the flashing blue and red lights indicate the police were responding to an incident. That was my first reaction en route to my hotel in Taichung. But as you get closer, you'll see no "black & white" or the boys in blue. Rather, they announce a glass-fronted booth or a small family shop selling betel nut.
Betel nut is a stimulant that is popular throughout tropical Asia. Taiwan's "betel quid" consists of a drupe from the areca palm (Areca catechu) wrapped with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) in a betel vine leaf (Piper betle). In other parts of Asia, flavourings, spices, and even tobacco may be added. The Formosan variant, however, has none of these. Consumers only have a choice between different-tasting red and white lime pastes or single- and duo-drupe quids.
Betel nut, or binlang in Mandarin, is a Taiwanese addiction. It is thought that 20 per cent of the country's 23 million inhabitants are consumers. It's the nation's second-largest cash crop after rice, the demand of which has even displaced land once devoted to the leading crop. Clever farmers, however, will find ways of producing more than one crop on their land. I met a coffee grower who provided his shrubs with their necessary shade from areca palms.
by Rick Green
Robert Duvall, when playing Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in the movie Apocalypse Now, famously said, "Charlie don't surf!" He was dismissing his men's concern over attacking a Vietnamese village at the mouth of the fictional Nung River because there were perfect surfing conditions just off the beach. A keen surfer, this was reason enough for him to order the village's capture from the Viet Cong.
With Hawai'i, California, and Australia being the world's most popular surfing locations, one could be excused for thinking that Asians don't surf. But here I was on Taiwan's Northeast Coast, standing on the beach at Wai'ao on a blustery day, clouds hanging overhead, grey with annoyance. Guishan (Turtle Mountain) Island sulked on the horizon, its crown shrouded by a wreath of white clouds. Waves impatiently crashed onto the shore, depositing detritus as they awaited an impending typhoon's fury. The black sand beach was practically deserted, except for two dozen or so surfers for whom the weather was a clarion call. I was the only non-Asian.
It was here that I met Mr. Ku, owner of the Be Cool Surf Shop. His deep tan, t-shirt, board shorts, laid back demeanor, and readily-proffered shaka marked him as part of the international surfer fraternity. Undoubtedly, some of the beach bums are just engaged in the scene trying to be cool, like the Caucasians in the States who dress in gangsta gear and listen to hip hop. But those like Mr. Ku are fully-committed to developing Taiwan's surf culture by operating small businesses that support its growth, teaching newcomers the skills, renting them equipment, selling the gear, staging competitions, and offering cheap beach accommodations.