Tue, Jun 28, 2016 - Page 12 News List

On politics and cat cafes

International reportage on Taiwan is finally evolving beyond cross-strait relations and toilet-themed restaurants. It should continue to do so

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Houtong Cat Village in New Taipei City – the media loves cats.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

A couple months ago, I met a political analyst from Belgium. I had to strain my ears in the crowded craft beer bar in Xinyi District (信義) to hear him.

My name sounded familiar. Did I write an article about surfing in Taiwan?

Why, yes. He says that’s why he remembered it.

“It was a story on Taiwan that wasn’t about politics,” he said.

In the article, I had traced the origins of Taiwan’s surf culture to the Martial Law era. Beaches were sealed off for military drills so people grew up fearing the ocean instead of playing in it. Surfing arose as a counter-cultural movement, partly driven by expats and partly by young Taiwanese seeking a more laidback, independent lifestyle.

Up until recently, the international media’s coverage on Taiwan has been either super serious (politics, cross-strait relations) or superficial (cat cafes, toilet-themed restaurants).

To a certain extent, this dichotomy still exists. Trending on my Facebook and Twitter feeds within the last month were articles speculating over how the new administration will approach relations with China and articles about pet groomers in Taiwan styling cats and dogs to look like teddy bears, dinosaurs and Hello Kitty. The latter topic was covered extensively by news sites such as Huffington Post, Mashable and Reuters.

I like to think that my friends in other countries do not envision my life to be taking my poodle to a pet salon to be groomed to look like Hello Kitty. Normally, daily life isn’t as exciting as pet-styling. I surf. I drink craft beer. I visit art galleries. Sometimes, I get invited to participate in sacred Aboriginal rituals. So naturally, that’s what I write about.


There’s been more of these stories on Taiwan in the international media in recent years — stories that look beyond sensationalism. In terms of travel, there’s the occasional New York Times story. “Taiwan, an island of green in Asia” (Dec. 3, 2014) talked about eco-tourism and referred to the Beitou Library (臺北市立圖書館北投分館) and Da-an Forest Park metro station (大安森林公園站) as must-see sites. A BBC article from March 4, 2013, titled “Hiking the landslide capital of the world,” shared a couple of good hiking spots. It also discussed the history of these various sites and included practical information for hikers.

Lately, there’s been more coverage of the food and beverage scene that isn’t your run-of-the-mill listicle on bizarre street foods. Freelance food writer Clarissa Wei from Los Angeles has written extensively about Taiwan’s food culture. Her Munchies piece on hunting for pigs in the Atayal village of Smangus in Hsinchu County delved into the history of the village and the relevance of ancient traditions to the community today (“Foraging and pig hunting still sustain one of Taiwan’s most remote Aboriginal villages,” May 12, 2016).

Last year, Munchies also ran a piece on the growth of Taiwan’s craft beer scene and how this is changing the local drinking culture (“This brewery wants to make Taiwan the craft beer capital of Asia,” Nov. 4, 2015).

I’ve seen more coverage of my favorite watering holes as well. Since making it to the “World’s 50 best bars” list earlier this year, R&D Cocktail Lab has been on the radar of foreign journalists passing through Taiwan. The latest was last week’s Huffington Post article, “Taiwan is the Hidden Gem of Asia” (Jun. 21, 2016), which isn’t too cringe-worthy if you can get past the trite headline.

This story has been viewed 5426 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top