For first time visitors (and visitors to be) to Isla Formosa, a (hopefully growing) list of books, magazines, movies and other media resources designed to introduce the landscape, culture and history of Taiwan. Feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comment box.
Jerome Keating’s Taiwan: The Struggles of a Democracy is a compilation of essays on the political history of Taiwan ranging across 150+ years. https://www.amazon.com/Taiwan-Struggles-Democracy-Jerome-Keating/dp/9574137708
My own humble entry to the list, Vignettes of Taiwan (Things Asian Press) is a collection of short stories, essays and images from my first ten years in Taiwan. Until Formosa Moon comes out, Vignettes remains the Citizen Kane of short stories and essays about Taiwan. http://www.thingsasianpress.com/vignettes-of-taiwan/
Nick Kembel’s Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner presents an account of the author’s first two years in Taiwan and offers another overview with essays, photos and illustrations. http://www.nickkembel.com/my-work/my-book.html
Steven Crook’s first book, Keeping up with the War God, chronicles the author’s early years in Taiwan, while his more recent Dos & Don’ts of Taiwan is meant to demystify the various conundrums of life and culture on the island. You can check out both and more at Steven’s website, http://lifeoftaiwan.com/about-us/steven-crook/.
Shawna Yang Ryan’s 2016 Green Island would hardly be called a light read, but her sweeping, beautifully written historical novel is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the tumultuous history of Taiwan under martial law. https://www.amazon.com/Green-Island-Shawna-Yang-Ryan/dp/1522651284
Though I’ve not read it, people speak highly of Scott Ezell’s A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe (http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Far-Corner,675998.aspx), which chronicles the author’s life with members of the Amis tribe on Taiwan’s Pacific Coast.
Magazines & Websites
The Taiwanese government’s official English website http://www.taiwan.gov.tw/ offers a plethora of information, as does the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s website: http://www.taiwan.gov.tw/. The Tourism bureau also puts out a bimonthly magazine called Travel in Taiwan.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan publishes articles on business, culture and travel monthly in Topics Magazine (http://topics.amcham.com.tw/). I’ve been a contributor for years, but don’t hold that against them.
Ketagalan Media (http://www.ketagalanmedia.com/) : Named after the Ketagalan Austronesian aborigines originally living in the Taipei area, Ketagalan Media’s mission is to act as a gateway to inform, inspire, and facilitates the movement of ideas and trends between Taiwan, Asia and the rest of the world.
Some of the best, most passionate English language blogs are put out by expatriates living here. Michael Turton’s The View from Taiwan (http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/) mixes cycling, culture and politics.
When I wrote solely about Taiwan my own blog was called Stinky Tofu. But then I got to traveling and changed the name to Snarky Tofu. The rest is history. But if you enter “Taiwan” in the search box you’ll filter out most of the non-Taiwan posts and stick to those offering travel advice and cultural insights about Taiwan.
In a hurry? Taiwanese American Artist Victoria Linchong’s animated A Short History of Taiwan (https://vimeo.com/77502286) gives you five centuries in three minutes! Victoria is also working on a feature length documentary called Almost Home, which should be available for download in May, 2018. Click here for more details.
Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale is a 2011 film concerning a particularly fierce period of resistance to Japanese rule by Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.
Though not filmed in Taiwan, Formosa Betrayed offers a good and grim picture of the political struggles of Taiwan’s martial law era.
Though not about Taiwan at all, Martin Scorsese’s Silence was filmed here, and by all accounts shows off the landscape beautifully!
Luc Besson’s Lucy started well enough, showcasing Taipei in all its cosmopolitan glory. Then Lucy went and shot a taxi driver for no goddamn reason at all, and I lost all interest in her and her story, because Taipei’s taxi drivers are hands-down the kindest, hardest working cabbies in Asia. (Taiwanese people were none too happy with this film for that reason – can we have a do-over?)
Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman is a bit dated, but still a must-watch. Culturally speaking the film still offers a highly relevant insight into Taiwanese culture, but as the film was shot before Taipei’s MRT system was born, viewers will want to mentally replace scenes showing the chaotic oceans of scooter traffic with ones of reasonably well-ordered Taipei traffic featuring an equal mix of scooters, cars, pedestrians and orange bicycles.
On the subject of Ang Lee, his The Wedding Banquet was about a gay Taiwanese man living in San Francisco who marrying a local Chinese girl to keep his “Conservative Taiwanese” parents from discovering his sexual orientation. Though not filmed in Taiwan at all, it’s worth mentioning because were it to be filmed today Ang Lee would probably have to reverse the story – i.e., it’d be about a gay American living in liberal Taiwan having to find a local girl to marry him to fool his conservative parents. My, how things change.
Cape No. 7 is a romantic comedy musical drama, meaning it pretty much covers all the bases. It’s on my to-watch list.
Anything else to suggest? Looking for more advice on where to go in Taiwan? Drop me a line!