CultureCurious John

Curious John

English Service host John Van Trieste is curious. There’s nothing about Taiwan’s many cultures that he doesn’t want to know more about. Join him every week as he gets to the bottom of yet another question. What will he be curious about this time?

What's On

15 August, 2020
A volcano early-warning system

Taiwan sits along the Pacific Rim, and that means one thing—volcanoes. Taiwan counts two active volcanoes, neither of which has erupted in recorded history. But while the risks may be limited, the government is not taking any chances. This year, it’s working to set up a volcano alert system that will provide advance warning if either of them should begin to stir. One of the brains behind the project is Hsiao Nai-chi of the Central Weather Bureau’s Seismological Center. He joins us today for an overview of Taiwan’s volcanoes and a look at what the government has in mind.

08 August, 2020
“Once Upon a Time in the Frontier”

For several centuries, Taiwan was a frontier island, a place where indigenous, Austronesian peoples and their cultures met, faced off against, and cooperated with ethnic Chinese newcomers from the Asian mainland. There was a conceptual boundary marked on maps and a physical one as well, marked by boundary stones, watchtowers, and earthen barriers beyond which imperial Chinese subjects were not to settle. But in practice, like all frontiers, this was a porous boundary, and it was one that shifted over time with migration. Through a new exhibit called “Once Upon a Time in the Frontier”, the National Taiwan Museum is exploring what this frontier actually was, how it changed the peoples on both sides, and how it came to an end. Museum researcher Wu Bai-lu is with us today as a guide to Taiwan’s old frontier.

01 August, 2020
Debating “Modern”: The 1935 Taiwan Exposition

In 1935, Taiwan got a case of exhibition fever. This was an age when world's fairs and expositions were all the rage, and finally, Taiwan had a big one of its own. "Progress" and "modernity" were the watchwords of the day, and, to the event's organizers at least, Taiwan had plenty of both to show off. But were all who attended as thrilled with all of this "modernity" as officials expected them to be? That's the question the National Taiwan Museum is asking at an exhibit now open at its new Railway Department Park: "Debating "Modern": The 1935 Taiwan Exposition".

25 July, 2020
Taiwan's first hotel

It was a landmark- one of the poshest addresses in Taipei with all the latest amenities. Royalty and celebrities gathered in its luxurious halls or stayed in what, at the time, was the best accommodation that money could buy in Taiwan. Today, you can’t visit it for any amount of money, though- unless, that is, you can make it to the National Taiwan Museum’s newly-opened Railway Department Park. There, a bit of the turn-of-the-century glamor that made this place so special has been resurrected in a special exhibit called Taiwan Railway Hotel (1908-1945). Here, you can see what Taiwan’s first-ever hotel looked like, meet the famous figures who once graced its halls, and learn about the radically new concepts and contraptions it introduced to the island. Museum research assistant Feng Chia-fu has taken a few minutes out of his day to talk with us about a building that would have dazzled the first Taiwanese people to see it.

18 July, 2020
Cafe Astoria- A Taipei institution with a Russian twist

In the heart of Taipei there’s a piece of Old Russia that serves up cakes fit for a Czar, but with a twist Taiwanese enough to appeal to local tastes. This is Cafe Astoria, a sweet little cafe with roots in bitter exile. Last week, the cafe’s current owner, Karen Chien, told us about the cafe’s founding by a Russian exile who fled both the Bolshevik Revolution and the communist takeover of China. We also heard how Karen's father became involved with the cafe, eventually becoming the owner. This week, we'll hear about the cafe's glory days as a center of Taipei's cultural scene, about how the cafe was forced to close, and how it's since returned--a much of a Taipei institution as ever.

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