For Richard Mathews, who has just stepped down as deputy representative of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei, nightlife in Taiwan’s bustling capital city is all about finding a clear patch of sky so he can gaze at the stars.
Mathews, who started his Taiwan stint three years ago, said he has been traveling around and outside the city to find places that are suitable for skywatching, a hobby he picked up at the age of 15.
“Light pollution in downtown Taipei is quite high,” he said in a recent interview. “To get a good observation site in Taiwan, you have to leave the city and go as far as you can.”
Mathews said his best skywatching experience in Taiwan was in Pingtung County when he attended an Aboriginal activity there last year.
“I remember seeing Orion dominating the sky,” reminding him when he was living in Canberra and he could see the Milky Way clearly almost every night.
“I would like to enjoy my hobby whenever I can,” he said.
From the time his father gave him a telescope when he was a teenager, Mathews, 55, has been an avid skywatcher.
He admitted that he was first drawn to the subject because it enabled him to show off in front of his parents.
He used to spend hours in the cold in his backyard, trying to figure out what was out there in the mysterious darkness, a pursuit that he said made him happy.
He later realized that it is “a natural part of our curiosity to want to know more,” he said.
Knowledge of the stars is practical as well, he said, adding that he can tell where north is simply by “looking up.”
“It does not work every time to prevent me from getting lost, but I can always tell the direction, even in foreign countries,” he said.
Mathews has extended his interest in astronomy beyond a personal level. Last year, his office invited two distinguished astronomers from Australia to give lectures at Taipei Astronomical Museum. One of them, Brian Schmidt, was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics last year. The other, David Malin, is a pioneer in the field of astrophotography.
“It shocked me when I saw about a hundred local fans packed into the museum, asking for their autographs,” Mathews said.
This March, Australian scientist Rachel Webster will visit Taiwan to promote astronomy as well as to celebrate International Women’s Day, which falls on the eighth day of the month, Mathews said.
Taiwan’s skywatching community is not only large, but also quite active, he said.
The government has made strong efforts to promote astronomy, he said, adding that there is a museum fully dedicated to the subject — something that Australia does not have.
Raising his tablet PC above head to find Saturn and Jupiter via the application Google Sky Map, Mathews said he would miss Taiwan after ending his service in the country.
“There are many resources for skywatching in Taiwan,” he said. “I am glad that I have seen the Big Dipper here because it’s too far north to see in Australia.”