Monthly Archives: September 2009

High Speed Rail

Last week I got to experience my first trip on the Taiwan High Speed Rail. It is designed similar to the futuristic bullet train system in Japan. This new transport offers a north/south route along the west coast of Taiwan from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Everything about the project which opened in January of 2007 is first class. The train stations are post modern structures, and the in train seating offers plenty of leg room.

While reaching speeds of 185mph, the ride is very smooth. It feels like you are floating on air. That is because you are floating on air. I am not much of a scientist but the premise is like this. The train is guided by overhead cables and then floats over the track when reaching high speeds, by using magnetic charges to stay online but not actually make contact with the rail.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Letisko Airport in Bratislava is very small. It has about three gates, and a mostly dirt parking lot that holds a just a few hundred cars. Trying to buy a bus ticket at 11:30PM from a ticket machine that was even confusing native Slovaks was not the easiest task. We finally got on the 61 bus to Hlavana Stanica. At the train station the 13 Metro was done for the night, so we had to drop 15 Euro on a taxi to the hostel but we were in a suspect part of town and the walk would have taken an hour, even if we knew the right way to go. When we got to the hostel we registered with the Slovak Police.

In Bratislava we saw the main city center. Old winding cobblestone streets, dotted with shops, restaurants, and pubs, give it a nice feel. The outskirts are all Soviet Bloc style apartments and factory type deals. Even the metro cars are old Soviet style. Outside the city center it feels like 1975. This was the primary reason I wanted to go to a place like this, was to feel old Europe behind the curtain, to see if capitalism is changing a place like Bratislava for the better?

In my opinion it is tough for capitalism to make quick changes in a place dominated by such a different style of government for so long. Yes, McDonalds will move in and billboards will flash the latest Levi’s jeans but society in general doesn’t really change. In fact it might hurt local morale when after a decade or two the locals don’t see the changes they thought would take place. Take for instance an old run down apartment. It is not feasible to tear it down and build a modern structure. What would happen to the tenants? Where would the money come from to build a new one? Life goes on and I can easily see how a society might want to just go back to the old way when they civilian population doesn’t see the changes they thought might materialize. These former Soviet satellite states still have a lot of work to do.

台北101

Taipei 101 is currently the tallest building in the world. That distinction will only be held until December 2009, when Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE, will take over the crown.  This is an unbelievable structure. The elevator to the top takes just a few seconds. When at the top, the observation deck is quite windy but offers some interesting views, as this structure just towers over the city. I was only up on the top during the day but I think night shots would be better, because the smog does not allow much depth to images taken in natural lighting.

The building was designed to withstand 135mph wind and almost any earthquake possible. To do this, the building can sway to prevent structural damage. It is truely an engineering marvel to put up a skyscraper like this in an environment like Taiwan which recieves typhoons and earthquakes on regular occasion.

National Theatre and Concert Hall

National Concert HallNational TheatreLiberty SquareRehersalCK-S MemorialSound Check

國家戲劇院 國家音樂廳 (National Theater and Concert Hall) are two of the nicest facilities in Asia. The National Symphony Orchestra, National Chorus, and also the National Chinese Orchestra hold administrative duties for the facilities.

Orchestras from around the globe have performed in front of large Taiwanese audiences here. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, are just two of many famous orchestras to have held concerts in the picturesque venue. Also, international figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Margret Thatcher have attended as guests.

Here are some photos that I took of the two epic structures. Originally, I took some day shots but went back the next weekend to change settings and try again at night. As cliche’ as it sounds, these images do not do justice to the size and beauty of these national monuments.

Hsinchu City

 

In 1626, after Spain occupied northern Taiwan, Spanish missionaries came southwest to where the native Taoka Taiwanese lived. This area eventually become known as Hsinchu, (sin-chu) or (shin-chu) I have heard it pronounced either way. Hsinchu has a population of around 200,000 but it is hard to tell where the actual boundaries are. If you take a bus from Taipei (about an hour) or Taoyuan International Airport (30 minutes) you will see large apartment buildings and industry the whole way. There is no break at all, it is similar to driving through suburbs in America but there are more high rise apartments.

Taiwan is currently around the second or third most populated country in the world per square mile, with approximately 23 million residents. Lying only 90 miles off the coast of China, this small island can be traveled from one end to the other by train in an hour and a half. The high speed bullet train the goes north and south uses similar technology to those in Japan, and some areas of Europe, reaching speeds of well over 100 mph.

Remembering the Bosnian Conflict

This video is filled with disturbing short clips and still photography from the Bosnian conflict which happened just over 10 years ago. This short documentary focuses specifically on the city of Sarajevo, which sits helplessly surrounded by mountains. (The song is titled “One of These Mornings” by Moby)

This summer I had the privilege to take a trip into Bosnia to learn more about the war and also see the cities of Mostar and Sarajevo first hand. I took the journey with travel mates Wes Fleming, a recent film grad from Hawaii, and Jack Taylor, a doctoral student at Michigan State.

The three of us were able to see the conflict from both sides of the former battlefield. First, by witnessing underground tunnels built to smuggle in supplies to Sarajevo while it was under relentless attack . Second, by walking around Serbian machine gun and mortar nests in the hills that surrounded the city, and finally, we talked with our gracious Bosnian host named Ahmed, who was involved in the conflict.

He welcomed us with open arms and a few cold Bosnian beers to counter the scorching mid day temperatures.  Amhed talked about ethnic and religious differences which caused the original divisions. It is hard to understand every variable in a situation such as this but seeing things first hand gives you a hunger to find out more stories to help educate others about what happened.

While the politics of this war and former breakup of Yugoslavia is somewhat complicated, it is a war that many in the West know little about.  I hope you will take a look at this clip and become intrigued to begin to research some introductory background information on this topic. Please pass along any interesting related info.


國立中正紀念堂

National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built for the former Chinese leader in Taipei. Two sets of 89 stairs, which represent Chiang’s age at the time of his death, lead to the main entrance of the memorial.  Written inside above a large statue of Chiang are the Chinese characters for Ethics, Democracy, and Science. Writing on the side walls read The purpose of life is to improve the general life of humanity.

Representatives of the military guard the main area of the monument. We saw the changing of the guards which takes place every hour or so.  This was an elaborate ceremony, that took about ten minutes, in temperatures reaching 100f.

The ground level houses a library and museum documenting Chiang Kai-shek’s life, as well as many exhibits related to Taiwan’s history.  It has pictures of CKS with U.S. leaders from FDR to Ronald Reagan and humanitarians such as Ghandi. Probably one of the most fascinating things (besides being air conditioned) in the museum are both of his massive bullet/bomb proof Cadillacs.