Taiwan's most important holiday celebration is Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, as many know it. But for Taipei and the rest of the country they put on a pretty good show for Christmas, considering everyone works on the 25th.
Less than 5% of the population of Taiwan is Christian but many do recognize the Christmas season with a party, family dinner, or the occasional gift.
Retail certainly acknowledges the occasion, with decorations, holiday music, and any other device that helps to put one in the spirit of gift giving.
Gifts might be a tradition for some but a Christmas tree in the Taiwan home is not regularly seen like in most households in Western countries. Instead people enjoy going out with family and friends to see the many Christmas trees in shopping malls or outside hotels that are usually sponsored by a luxury brand, movie, or the hotel. Celebrating the spirit of the season with a picture in front of the tree is a common tradition.
In this podcast I visited a couple of the shopping areas of Taipei, New Taipei City, and Fu Jen Catholic University for a look at Taiwan's celebration of the Christmas season.
"Christmas On An Island" by junior85 (www.tonyhiggins.org)
"Carol of the Bells" by Live Action Fezz (http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Live_Action_Fezz/A_Very_Badgerland_Christmas_2011/Live_Action_Fezz_-_A_Very_Badgerland_Christmas_2011_-_15_Carol_of_the_Bells)
"We Three Kings" by R.Tists for Christmas (http://rtistsforchristmas.bandcamp.com/)
East Asia is such a super friendly place for foreigners with efficient subway or MRT lines throughout all major cities including Seoul, South Korea. All stations have English signs and all stops are announced in English.
Namsan mountain is the most well-known of the four guardian mountains of Seoul with the famous landmark, Seoul N Tower topping the 262m peak. It’s not a challenging or particularly strenuous hike but it’s a nice break from the chaotic megalopolis below. It’s also a great way to join locals in their everyday activities and experience the fitness and hiking culture of the city.
If you start your hike from the gondola station it’s extremely easy to find your way with signs in English everywhere. This is more like a vigorous walk in a park than a mountain hike. No rough trails to deal with. Stairs everywhere and there’s even rubberized sections of the trail to lessen the impact of hiking on a hard surface.
When it comes to activities like this Koreans really know how to makes things comfortable. This may look like a road but it’s pedestrian only!
On the way you’ll see sites you can check out like Waryongmyo, a Buddhist/Daoist/Shamanist Shrine dedicated to Zhuge Liang, a Chinese statesman and general who lived from 181-234 AD.
As you meander up the trail you’ll start to get views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains. It’s a wonderful way to appreciated the city where half the population of the country lives. It’s easy to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the walk up Namsan.
You’ll also have views of N Seoul Tower. The N stands for Namsan, nature and New look from a 2005 15 billion won remodelling project.
Namsan is a popular place for Seoulites to visit on the weekend with many spots available for picnics and other outdoor activities. Namsan is considered Seoul’s principal park. It averages 23,000 visits a day.
Every April a Cherry blossom festival takes place across Seoul with the longest avenue of Cherry trees anywhere in the city at Namsan mountain.
There was a haze and clouds over the surrounding mountains of Seoul on the day I visited Namsan. There are 37 mountains in the greater Seoul area, many easily accessed by subway or bus.
One of the most fascinating things I saw along the hike was Sukhojung, an archery field that dates back to 1630, still in operation today. Archery had played a prominent role in the defence of the country, particularly on Namsan mountain, one of the sites of The Fortress Wall of Seoul, the shield that protected the city from invaders.
This outdoor gym was a sign I was getting closer to the direct stairs to the top of the mountain.
As you get higher each step has a built in rubber cushion making it a little easier on the knees and joints. Koreans are real outdoor enthusiasts that also appreciate making the activity comfortable and convenient with covered rest areas, washrooms, and these wonderfully comfortable stairs.
As I was on final approach to the top, with the tower now in direct sight, the views opened up to show even though this is one of the most densely populated places in the world there are still large visible green spaces in greater Seoul.
Follow Namsan’s portion of the Fortress Wall of Seoul, first constructed in 1396, and you’ll understand the strategic importance of the four guardian mountains and this wall that protected the city during the Joeson Dynasty.
When I reached the top I was just in time for the patrolling and lighting ceremony reenactment of Namsan Bongsudae. There were 5 Bondsudae stations on Namsan during the Joeson Dynasty used to communicate political and military information to the king with beacons.
Bongsu is the combination of the words bong, meaning torchlight, and su, meaning smoke. At the peak of the Joeson Dynasty there were 673 beacons located throughout the Korean peninsula. This Bongsudae on Namsan was reconstructed in 1993.
I am really enjoying discovering the treasures of Kerala, one of five states that makes up the region of South India.
On my latest journey through the state I have been traveling down the coast visiting some of the beach resorts many adventurous travellers have been making sun-seeking winter pilgrimages to for some time now.
Kerala is famous for it's coastline and beautiful backwaters. So renowned for it's beauty that National Geographic Traveller included it on their list of top 10 paradises in the world.
My latest stop on this leg of my trip was Varkala Beach, or Papanasum Beach as most locals know it.
At first glance Varkala looks like your typical backpacker "hippy" destination with loads of yoga centers, shops selling beads and "hippy wear", think lots of baggy clothing, and cafes with the standard trance music soundtrack.
But make no mistake this is actually a true spiritual center with famous temples, Hindu priests that sit on the beach waiting to bless families that have recently lost loved ones and waters that are believed to have the power to wash away the sins of a lifetime with one dip.
Join me for an introduction to Varkala Beach, Kerala-South India, the latest On The Road with Far East Adventure Travel.