Travelling around Taiwan is pretty easy and helped greatly by the free public WiFi that is available almost everywhere. My next stop was Tainan.

For hundreds of years European colonialism was the curse of many civilisations the world over. Many colonies didn’t gain independence until after the second World War and even now some places are still suffering the after effects. Fortunately for Taiwan, the locals were able to push the European authorities out. In the 15th century, the Dutch East India Company controlled most of Southern Taiwan and what is now Tainan.

After many years of wars only the forts and cannons remain.

This fort is located right behind a cemetery where Chinese generals are buried.

Chinese cemetery with decorative tombs and grave stones.

Visiting Tainan Old Town is like stepping back in time by five centuries. The area used to be divided into different quarters and the city has retained its old system of planning, built in rings, as opposed to a grid system. Houses here are rarely built above seven storeys high and as a result sprawl across the city.

“Tall buildings” and train station in central tainan

I ended up in the centre of the Old Town, with its streets filled with food stands, just like the night markets. In the narrow alleyways we discovered some interesting western-style houses that were surrounded by smaller eastern-style houses.

1. Dutch colonial building with a typical cockerel weathervane. 2. Old Town yard.

The Old Town is stacked with arches and shrines, that sometimes reminded me of the gates at the night markets. The origins of Mazu culture in Taiwan date back to the 18th century, when large numbers of immigrants from Southern China came to Taiwan. The journey across the channel was dangerous and ships were often overloaded. The sailors, who earned money for transporting people, didn’t care much for the lives of those onboard and frequently let them disembark far from the shore, so that they drowned. This practice is also known as “feeding the fish”. Since the risk of death was so high, upon their arrival to the island, the migrants established temples to thank Mazu for their safe passage.

Entrance gate to the temple.
Entrance gate to the temple.
A simple lunch.

Taiwan is often stereotyped as a place that manufactures cheap goods, made by cheap labour and exports them around the world. Unfortunately for some this is all in the past. Taiwan is now proud of the goods it makes and the “Made in Taiwan” slogan is proudly displayed as a sign of good quality.

Made in Taiwan — sign of quality billboard.

The Taiwanese are, and always have been, extremely hardworking people. They proved to be exceptionally hardworking when producing great quantities of rice and sugar for sale to traders from China. While Taiwanese aborigines were excellent hunters, hunting for deer skin that was used for samurai armour, which saw the native deer species hunted to extinction. Today, for most Taiwanese, a 12-hour work day is the norm and no annual holiday. I’m not talking about cheap migrant labour here, but local Taiwanese workers. As the fifth largest economy in Asia, many argue that Taiwan has to work this hard to ensure it remains competitive.

1. Workers preparing oysters. 2. Workers in the field.

In response to hearing that I was travelling, my host in Tainan told me that he admired red-headed ghosts (the name the Taiwanese used to refer to the former Dutch occupiers of the island) getting pay rises and annual leave. That Europeans are lucky, they can simply leave their job whenever they like. Whereas the Taiwanese are more than lucky if they get several days of annual leave. If someone doesn’t like it, he will be easily replaced. Anyone who whines about how hard they have to work in their European office should perhaps consider this.

Taxi driver chilling and reading his newspaper.
Water station.
Water station.
Half an hour’s drive from the city, there is a sea with mile long tides and lines of fishing poles.
A salt flat and an abandoned house.

In the north of Tainan there is a very interesting, and rather rundown, tourist attraction – behold the Chigu Salt Mountain. The area has a long history of generating salt and currently produces over 60% of the nation’s salt, so it’s easy to see why the area is so renowned for this particular mineral substance.

What I imagined I would see.

What I actually saw was pretty far removed from being a naturally occurring phenomenon. Instead it was a pathetically small pile of salt, gathered from the nearby flats. With its supporting attractions, a museum and a theme park, this bizarre place may give you a little background into the salt industry, but doesn’t offer much more than that.

Disappointment in action.