Miniatures Museum of Taiwan

I could not resist visiting the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan during my trip to Taipei earlier this year. It is hidden away in the basement of a modern office building but contains a treasure trove of dolls-house-sized models of Dickensian London, early 20th Century America, mystical fantasy scenes, Edo-period Japan and much else, all in superb detail.

Since Christmas is fast approaching I have made my photos into a seasonal slide show video.

The Ins & Outs of Asian Beverages

I’ve been sampling a few strange drinks lately.

Whisbih Beer

In Taipei I spotted this Whisbih Beer which, according to the only English words on the can, appears to contain ‘beer plus whisky’. That is not a great combination in my view but I tried one for research purposes. The whisky content, if any, is not evident from the flavour although it has a little kick (5.2% alcohol). I don’t think I would make a habit of drinking this.

Much more healthy is white bitter gourd juice which seems to be a popular craze in Taiwan. The white gourd is much less bitter than the green variety and is said to have amazing health benefits. It tastes quite refreshing too. A spoonful of honey is usually added.

Non Alcoholic Guinness – It’s An Acquired Taste.

Yesterday in Palembang, Indonesia I found this can of Guinness Zero ABV, a non-alcoholic version of Guinness. The Indonesian government banned the sale of beer in convenience stores in April 2015 which made a big dent in the sales of Guinness and other brewers.In response, Guinness concocted this brew especially for the Indonesian market. It is made in Dublin and shipped half way round the world and still retails for just Rp. 8,700, or around 50 pence sterling.

The ingredients include sucrose, caramel, roasted malt, barley and roasted coffee by-products. It has a sweet, coffee, malty taste. I found it too sweet but it is actually not a bad soft drink as long as you not expecting anything like real Guinness.

I doubt if it will catch on in Ireland though.

Toilet Did Not Borrow.

All this drinking had its natural consequences. In Shifen, Taiwan I was unable to borrow the toilet.

No Thanks!

When I paid to use the gents in Palembang Square Shopping Mall I was given a ticket for their ‘Toilet Lucky Dip’. I declined their kind offer!

Taipei’s Japanese Era Buildings


Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945 and the capital area including Taipei was renamed Taihoku.

The fifty year colonial experience was a mere blip in Taiwan’s long history but long enough to leave a lasting influence on the island’s complex identity. The Japanese brought industrialisation and built many western style buildings in an attempt to impress their Taiwanese subjects with the modernity and superiority of Japanese rule.

Many of these Japanese-era buildings still survive and here are some that I spotted during my stay in Taipei.


Presidential Office Building

This grand red brick structure was completed in 1919 to house the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan. It suffered heavy damage during an Allied bombing raid in May 1945. After repair and restoration it became the Office of the President of the Republic of China in 1950. It still serves as the Presidential Office. Visitors can take a tour inside.


National Taiwan Museum

Construction of this museum was completed in 1915 when it was called the Taiwan Viceroy’s Office Museum. It was built in classical style with a Greek temple facade, Corinthian columns and an impressive coloured glass ceiling above the main entrance hall.


Land Bank Exhibition Hall

This building was originally the Taipei branch of Nippon Kangyo Bank which opened in 1923. It is now an annexe of the National Taiwan Museum which is located across the street. There are two main exhibitions going on inside. Firstly there is a bank history section inside the main vault with displays of cash, silver  ingots and gold bars (all fake), a reproduction of the original teller counters and even the Chief Manager’s actual coat and hat stand. The old banking hall is now a display space with an exhibition of dinosaurs and other creatures.


Taipei Guest House

Originally built in 1901, the Taipei Guest House suffered a major termite attack and had to be rebuilt and remodelled in 1912. This European style building was used as the Japanese Governor’s official residence but also used to receive important visitors and to host banquets. It continues to serve as the Taiwanese Government’s guest house for entertaining visiting dignitaries.


Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation Building

This building was constructed in 1913 by the Kobe Group to house the Monopoly Bureau of the Taiwan Governor’s Office during Japanese rule.


Nanmon-Cho 323

This Japanese tea-house with attractive Zen garden sits in a tranquil corner of the Taipei Botanical Garden. It was built in the 1930s and has served multiple purposes but was dilapidated for a long term until a recent restoration.


Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block

This busy commercial district dates back to the reign of Emperor Jiaqing but was remodelled during the Japanese era to include rows of shophouses similar to those found in Malaysia and Singapore. They even have the equivalent of the ‘five-foot-way’  – a covered walkway to protect pedestrians from the sun and rain.


Taiwan Railways Museum Exhibition Hall

This building was the former Railways Administration Headquarters, Transportation Bureau of Taiwan Viceroy’s Office. It was built in 1919 from red brick and hinoki and fir wood and is the largest Tudor-style building in Taiwan. A major restoration is nearing completion and it should open later this year as a major railways museum.


Taipei Post Office

Taiwan’s main post office building was completed in 1930. The top floor was added later. There used to be a colonnaded portico where the grey marble entrance now stands. It has been classified as a national historic site to protect it from further alterations or demolition.


Futai Street Mansion

This distinctive Mansard style house was built in 1910 by Japanese construction company Takaishi as their headquarters. In 1930 it became an office and shop for Okura, a saké company. It is now home to the Taipei Photography Centre.


Zhongshan Hall

To commemorate the ascension of Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1928 the Japanese commenced the Taipei Assembly Hall as a venue for cultural performances. It was completed in 1936. The notice outside says that the design features ‘Arabic arch windows and Taiwanese ceramic tiles reflecting the Japanese military government’s imperialist view of itself as leader of the Far East.’


The Red House

This historic market building dates from 1908.  Designed by Kindo Jyuro, it features a unique octagonal entrance and a cruciform shaped market. It has now been ‘gentrified’ and is used as a market for artists and designers, theatre and creative space.


Taiwan Cooperative Bank

This branch of the Taiwan Cooperative bank was built in 1927 for the Taipei Credit Union.


Bank of Taiwan

Formed in 1897, Bank of Taiwan served as the central bank during Japanese rule. This building dates from 1939.


National Taiwan University Hospital

This wing of the hospital was built in 1912.


Beitou Hot Spring Museum

When built in 1913, this was East Asia’s largest hot-spring public bath and intended to encourage people to bathe more. Now it is a museum for onsen related relics.


Taiwan Folk Arts Museum (Beitou Museum)

High on a hill overlooking the spa town of Beitou is this traditional Japanese wooden and black tile structure built in 1921. It was a Japanese officers’ club and during WWII it housed a squadron of kamikaze pilots. No doubt the club manager asked them to settle their mess bills in full before going on a mission! It now serves as a museum.

Tamsui’s Black Bearded Barbarian

Vintage postcard of Tamsui showing Mt. Guanyin on the opposite bank of the river.

Tamsui is a charming riverside town near the mouth of the Tamsui River about 25 km north of Taipei.

It was one of the four ports in Taiwan opened up to foreign trade by the Qing government in the 1860s and became home to a small but influential foreign community.

A statue of Reverend Dr. George Leslie Mackay in the centre of Tamsui town. The sculptor seems to have made Mackay more Chinese-looking than in real life.

One foreigner in particular played an important role in the town’s development and is still fondly remembered today by the local inhabitants. His name was George Leslie Mackay, a Canadian of Scottish ancestry, who arrived in Tamsui in 1872 as a missionary for the Canadian Presbyterian Church. Apart from two periods of home leave, he remained in Tamsui until his death 30 years later, while dedicating his life to building an indigenous church led by local preachers.

A statue at the waterfront marks the spot where Mackay is thought to have come ashore.

From the outset, he concentrated on learning Taiwanese Hokkien in order to be able to preach in the local language. He memorised 100 Chinese characters a day (that’s impressive – I struggled with 10 when I was studying Japanese kanji characters!).

Dr. Mackay posing with his wife, son and daughters. The son, George William Mackay, oversaw the construction of the Danshuei Church in 1932/33.

He remained aloof from the foreign community in town, seeing his mission as converting the ‘heathen natives’ rather than tending to the spiritual needs of his fellow westerners. They probably shunned him too, especially after he married a local girl, something which was not the done thing in those stuffy and discriminatory late-Victorian days.

The elder daughter was Ma-Lien (Mary) and the younger was I-Li (Bella).

His marriage to the seventeen year old Tiu Chhang Mia (or Minnie as she became known) not only provided him with a loving family with two daughters and a son, but also helped to spread his message to the local female community.

Mackay may have preferred the company of Taiwanese but he lived comfortably in a typical colonial bungalow of the era. The building on the left is the ‘Residence of Misses’ and was built after he died to accommodate unmarried female missionaries.

Still he found it hard going in the early days to make converts among the Taiwanese who nicknamed him the black bearded barbarian and regarded him with suspicion and his religion with hostility.

This was the first western style hospital in northern Taiwan (1879). and was designed by Mackay himself. It is now a mini museum and cafe.

Good results were finally achieved through his perseverance and tactic of providing free medical and dental treatment to the locals. His medical qualifications may have been limited but he could still do better than the local quacks.

Artwork on display in the Tamsui Customs Officer’s Residence (Little White House).

Education was his other entrée into the local community and he established the Tamsui Girls’ School and another school, ‘Oxford College’ made possible with contributions from the people of his hometown in Oxford County in Upper Canada.

Built in 1882, this school was pioneering in its comprehensive subjects and teaching method. Now part of Aletheia University, the building is a Mackay-related museum.

By means of this three-in-one evangelistic method: preaching, education and medical work, he successfully founded sixty churches with thousands of converts by the time of his death in 1901.

This cemetery is divided into four sections by an X-shaped path: the east end is for Protestants, the south end for Catholics. the west end for merchants and the north end for officials.

Even in death he remained segregated from the other foreigners in town by specifying in his will to be buried in land separated from the Tamsui Foreign Cemetery by a wall. Other family members and former students have since been buried next to him in what is now called the Mackay Family Cemetery.


Tamsui is easy to reach from Taipei being the final station on the red Tamsui-Xinyi MRT line and there is a lot more to see besides Mackay’s legacy.

Jiufen – Inspiration for Spirited Away?

A hike from Houtong to Jiufen via the Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath.

Houtong & Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath

After leaving Shifen (see previous post) I took the train to Houtong, another former coal mining settlement which now markets itself as Houtong Cat Village to draw in cat-loving tourists from around the world.

Shop at Houtong Cat Village

There were a number of cat-themed shops and cafes but I did not see many real cats. Perhaps, as it was a hot afternoon, they were all off somewhere having a shady siesta.

My main reason for coming here was because I had read that there is an ancient trail linking Houtong to Jiufen which was my ultimate destination for the day. What I didn’t realise is that there are a number of ancient trails traversing this hilly forested terrain and not all of them go where I wanted to go.

The trail goes to the top of this hill.

I finally came across a sign for Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath (also spelt Chintzupei) and luckily this trail took me in roughly the right direction.

It was a well made path with even stone steps and took me up to the top of the hill in about an hour or so.
According to a plaque, this poem was written by Liu Ming-teng, commander-in-chief of military forces in Taiwan while touring the area in 1867.

I was lucky with the weather, mild and sunny, and from the highest point of the trail I could just make out Taipei 101 (the world’s tallest building until overtaken by Burj Khalifa in Dubai) some 35 km away.

I could just make out Taipei 101 in the distance.

The trail then emerged onto a road which I walked along for a few more kilometres before reaching a point overlooking the town of Jiufen.


Follow this road for another hour or so to reach Jiufen.

Jiufen is down there.


Some years ago on this blog I wrote about the Japanese animated film, Spirited Away (see post here).

Apparently the film’s producer, Hayao Miyazaki, took inspiration from Jiufen when creating some of the scenes in his film. Amei’s teahouse in particular is considered to be similar to the bathhouse in Spirited Away (can’t see the resemblance myself). Others however doubt this claim and some say there is no evidence he even visited Jiufen.

Whatever the truth, the story has done wonders for the town’s tourist trade and the narrow lanes around Jiufen Old Street are heaving with visitors, including many from Japan.

Definitely worth a visit when you are next in Taiwan.

Shifen Station & Waterfall

Shifen is a small town in north east Taiwan, about an hour’s journey by train from Taipei. It was once a coal mining area but has in recent years transformed itself into a popular tourist attraction.

Pingxi Branch Line Train

The brightly painted trains of the Pingxi Railway chug their way along the Keelung Valley between Ruifang and Jingtong, stopping at various historical and scenic spots on the way, including Shifen.

When I went last week it was just an ordinary working Monday but still the train was jam packed with tourists, mostly local Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese, Japanese and Koreans (Asians make up 90% of all foreign tourists to Taiwan with China and Hong Kong residents totalling about 50%).

The railway line forms the main street at Shifen.

The town consists of a main street with the railway track running down the middle, and a few side streets. Shops either side sell touristy stuff, snacks and souvenirs.

Romantic couples like to release sky lanterns at Shifen.

Romantic couples like to write messages and wishes on sky lanterns, inspired by a famous film (not that I’ve seen it) called You Are the Apple of My Eye which was shot partly in this area. These lanterns are released into the sky, lifted by flaming burners which, I would have thought, must be responsible for a number of forest fires.

A pedestrian suspension bridge crosses the Keelung River at Shifen.

The main attraction in the area is the Shifen Waterfall which can be reached on foot in about 20 minutes.

Taiwan's largest cascade waterfall.

This is Taiwan’s largest cascade fall. A sign nearby describes it as the Nicaragua Waterfall of Taiwan, presumably a typo for Niagara, with a similar horseshoe shape. Here is a short video clip:

After enjoying Shifen town and waterfall, most visitors jump back on the train and visit another place along the line, which is what I did as I’ll share in my next post.

Post Card by Taiwan Railway Company.