October 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Posted in museums & galleries, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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On the recommendation of a couch-surfing guest, one rainy summer day we went to the Yingge Ceramics Museum.

There are displays on the history of ceramics in Taiwan and the local area, as well as contemporary ceramic art exhibits.

I especially liked the strange shapes and textures in the Barry You exhibition (inspired, in part, by the rocks at Yehliu).

The museum offers several different hands-on experiences, from hand-throwing to using a potter’s wheel or mould. We joined an ‘auspicious house’ workshop where we got to make a model house. They didn’t turn out very well, so we changed the concept and created monster houses instead. At the end you can pay extra to have your creation fired, but we thought a photo was enough to preserve the moment.

Entry to the museum is free and the workshop cost about 150NT per person. In Yingge town, there are plenty of shops which also offer DIY activities. You could easily spend a day there, getting crafty, shopping for new tableware or browsing expensive ceramic artworks.


Painting ducks

March 19, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Posted in heritage sites, museums & galleries, Taiwan | 1 Comment
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I’ve been to Sanyi four times. The first time I wandered about vaguely looking for the Wood Sculpture Museum but instead finding the Tiaotan Ancient Trail, once used by locals carrying coals to the railway station. The second time I made it to the museum, but arrived just too late for the last admission. The third trip was successful (because we took a taxi to the museum instead of getting lost) and it was certainly worth it as the museum displayed some really beautiful and interesting pieces of wood art.

The fourth time I visited the Sanyi Wooden Duck Factory. The ‘duck DIY’ they offer is certainly the most fun you could have in a place that formerly mass-produced duck decoys. In fact, I might go so far as to say it’s the most fun you could have in Sanyi (although that depends on your idea of fun – only one person in the pub the previous night took up my invitation to join us. But whilst the rest were nursing hangovers, we were out demonstrating our artistic skills and drawing quite a crowd of Taiwanese on-lookers asking if we were art students).

The process is relatively simple. Pick out the piece you’d like to paint (most are ducks or other birds, but there are also frogs, dogs, cats, cows, horses and rabbits).

Paint it.

Give your piece to the lacquering lady, then watch it go through the heater to fix the lacquer.

The paints are a really easy medium to use; they’re thick and glossy making it quick to apply; they dry fast (there are also hair-dryers to help you speed it up); and they can be painted over each other making touch-ups possible.

I didn’t have much of an idea when I started painting, but there were lots of pictures and examples for inspiration. If you have the time and the inclination, you could paint something really spectacular. I spent about three and a half hours painting and then decided I’d done enough (plus I was hungry, having only eaten breakfast). I now have a much better idea of what I would do next time (which includes bringing some very fine brushes to paint the details since the brushes they provided were too thick).

There’s also a shop on site, so if your duck doesn’t turn out too well you can buy one created by the professionals.

It was a really fun half-day out, but it was made even better by the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by an English-speaking employee who helped us through the whole process and gave us freshly-prepared green tea afterwards. He used to work exporting products from Sanyi all over the world, which is how he learned his excellent English. He also owns a wood-carving shop in Sanyi where his wife and son work at the weekends. Luckily for us, his wife was driving his son back to the train station so we were able to catch a ride.

As we rode the train home, we were already discussing the next time we would go and paint ducks.

‘…brilliantly intertwined in the space-time of history’

July 30, 2010 at 12:07 am | Posted in culture, heritage sites, museums & galleries, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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Tainan: former trading post with China and Japan; one-time Dutch colony; military base for Ming loyalists; birthplace of ‘Chinese’ Taiwan. Also home to the most poetic historical site interpretation board I’ve ever seen: “Loyal Emperors, devoting concubines and volunteering servants have all been brilliantly intertwined in the space-time of history. The longer it has lasted, the stronger it has become.”

This refers to the story surrounding the last supporter and possible heir to the Ming dynasty, Ning Jing. In 1683 he was living in Tainan when the Qing campaign advanced into Taiwan and Zheng Keshuang, the 14 year old king of the short-lived kingdom of Tungning (the first and last Ming settlement in Taiwan) surrendered to them. With no hope left for the restoration of his dynasty, Ning Jing honorably commited suicide. But not before burying his 5 concubines who had refused his advice of escaping to a nunnery and instead proved that a woman’s honour was as great as any man’s by hanging themselves from a beam in their palace.Though they are buried elsewhere, there is a small temple built to honour them. This however, is not the end of the story. Just next to the Temple of the Five Noble Ladies is an even smaller shrine, set up in honour of two eunuchs who, after tying up the loose ends after Ning Jing’s suicide, followed him into death in yet another act of self-sacrifice.

Rewind 20 years and the rulers of Tainan were again surrendering, but this time to the Ming supporter Koxinga, who sought a military base from which to help the floundering mainland kingdom. He set up the first Chinese kingdom in Taiwan and, although it was lost to Qing forces such a short time later, Koxinga is still hailed as a hero by both Taiwanese and mainlanders because he expelled the Dutch and brought Chinese culture to Taiwan. It’s for this reason that there’s a temple dedicated to him in Tainan.Prior to Koxinga’s victory over them, the Dutch had been in Tainan since 1624 and built two forts, Zeelandia and Provintia. The latter immediately surrendered to Koxinga’s forces and was later turned into government residences, renamed Chikhan Towers.The former, however, refused to surrender to Koxinga and so followed a 9 month siege. Today the remains have been largely reconstructed, but some old walls remain.A few hundred metres away, yet a couple of centuries distant, lies the Anping Treehouse. Operating in the second half of the 19th century, the Tait and Co Merchant House lost it’s business when the Japanese occupation restricted trade in Taiwan. Whilst the Merchant House is now a museum about historical Indigenous, Dutch and Chinese life, the warehouse out the back has been taken over by banyan trees and become a very marketable tourist attraction. Walkways have been constructed around the old shell of the building so you can get up close to both the teeming branches and hanging roots.Though it’s full of sight-seeing, photo-snapping hordes, it’s still a very enchanting place.

Tainan is exalted as Taiwan’s oldest city, but it’s history is one full of diversity, change and intermingling. Or perhaps that’s just any history after all, but one site here really illustrates this to the full….….Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral!

museum without walls

September 8, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Posted in heritage sites, museums & galleries, South Korea | Leave a comment
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Gyeongju; ancient capital of the Shilla dynasty, modern day capital of UNESCO world cultural heritage. It’s plethora of tombs, palace sites, temples and statuary are scattered about the area, furnishing the city with both its name, ‘museum without walls’, and a healthy dose of tourism.

My favourite place was the park of ancient burial mounds. With the shining sun and pristine upkeep, it looked like teletubbies’ land.P1090052P1090042P1090045However, when you see the tombs in the wider landscape they seem to fit so perfectly with the mountains, they could have grown from the earth by themselves.P1090067The Heavenly Horse Tomb is open to the public, where you can see a cross-section inside and a reconstruction of the burial. Although there are replicas on show, the real items are now in the National Museum in Seoul.P1090039Nearby Cheomseongdae, over 9m tall, is the oldest astrological observatory in Asia. P1090079Gyeongju National Museum is a short walk away through flowery fields.P1090091n12449726_50653925_557365


If you haven’t been to the National Museum in Seoul, then this is definitely a good alternative as it’s smaller and focuses on what was excavated in the local area. Despite all the glittering gold accessories, my favourites were the cartoon-like clay figurines.

P1090095P1090108Further out from the central area, are Buddhist relics galore. Bulguksa is famous for it’s Shilla architecture; poetically named Blue Cloud and White Cloud Bridges lead to the Mauve Mist Gate (background), along with Lotus Flower and Seven Treasures Bridges (foregound).P1090253P1090225P1090237P1090238There’s also a golden pig which brings good fortune if you rub it (which reminds me of the bronze boar in Florence which also gave good luck when you touched its nose).P1090249Beautiful rock carvings can be seen at Seokguram grotto, high in the mountains. You can also drink healing spring water, which had a surprisingly tasty mineral flavor.P1090211P1090194 No pictures were allowed inside (I suspect to encourage postcard buying) so here is one I nabbed from the net.mainOn a smaller scale, there are Buddhist carvings all over the mountains. Walking up Namsan you can easily spot them.5215_914375871385_12449726_50654060_6905629_nP1090272P1090261P1090265DSCN6244P1090258But the best thing I saw was neither Buddhist, nor indeed cultural heritage, but I deem them to be national treasures…a family of kitties (which is a rare sight in Korea)! There was shy kitty, who never came out from the hiding place…P1090132Sad kitty, who miaowed a lot…P1090157_2…but who also played a lot too…P1090147And brave kitty who liked using claws…P1090131_2P1090138P1090136Mama cat slept the whole time.P1090155Papa cat was prowling round under parked cars, but after dark he came to sit with the rest of the family as we headed back to the hotel.P1090180

An amusing day at the races

July 26, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Posted in culture, museums & galleries, South Korea | Leave a comment
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Located just south of Seoul, on Line 4 (light blue) subway, are both Seoul Racecourse and Seoul Grand Park; the former providing a legal outlet for gambling and the latter being something for the whole family incorporating zoo, amusement park and the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

Never having bet on a sporting event in my life, let alone been to a racecourse, I had little idea of what to expect. It was big, with a fair few crowds.

P1080635There’s a foreigner’s area with air-conditioned views of the track.


P1080645The track-side atmosphere was more exciting, but it was a pain in the arse to keep going up and down in the lifts to place bets upstairs.P1080642P1080638

Minimum bet is 100won. I tried to study the odds, but it was way too confusing so I ended up picking horses that were successful in most of their last races, or simply had cool names like ‘Aragorn’. I spent about 20,000won on 5 races and won 3,000won….so down by 17,000….yes, not very successful. Still less than I’d spend on a hat if I went to Ascot though.

More along the lines of my usual interests is the National Museum of Contemporary Art. It was an unplanned visit so we were pleasantly surprised to find entry was free as it was the last saturday of the month. And even more exciting was the special exhibition currently being held until 23rd August (see below).

As mentioned, the museum is in the grounds of Seoul Grand Park. A free shuttle bus takes you from the subway exit to the museum and in the humid weather this was the most comfortable way to make the journey. There’s a fairly average outdoor sculpture park, but the building itself is interesting to look at.P1080663P1080668P1080669P1080673P1080724The museum is big! We had time for only one exhibition, but boy was it a good one: 100 years of Korean Cartoon 1909-2009. It was all in Korean, but mostly self-explanatory following a chonological order. Here were my favorites, old to new.P1080678P1080679P1080682P1080686P1080693There were also some beautiful, funny and downright creepy pieces of art.P1080711P10807005455_897350764835_12449726_49956828_5359728_nn12449726_49956829_30084975455_897350660045_12449726_49956825_5498683_n5455_897350749865_12449726_49956826_5230401_nP1080709The whole exhibition space was well-laid out and colorful. I especially liked the montages made from different comic characters in one landscape.5455_897350939485_12449726_49956832_7955902_nP1080703P1080717P1080696An exhibition for all ages and nationalities!

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