It is nearly a year since my last international trip to Taiwan and I can only say I am in awe and desperately jealous that Taiwan has kept the coronavirus situation under control. The country has exceeded 200 days (since April!) with no new coronavirus cases.
For this post, I will take you southward to Kaohsiung. While the port city has changed a lot during the past decade, resembling very little of what I remembered from childhood, it is younger, hipper, and trendier. Join me in tackling Kaohsiung in 48 hours by hitting all the IG-worthy destinations, public-transportation style.
Read related post “Dadaocheng: An afternoon stroll in ‘Old Taipei'”.
Some friendly FYIs:
- Public Transit: The Kaohsiung Rapid Transit System (高雄大眾捷運系統/KRTS) makes it easy for international travelers to navigate the city and hit all of the major destinations. The metro system here is not as daunting as Taipei’s because there are only three lines and a light rail. For each destination mentioned here, I will indicate the metro station stop and exit number. Here is KRTS’ English Metro Guide Map.
- Fantastic Weather: It is almost always summer in Kaohsiung so you can wear short sleeves and shorts even in the winter time. Bring a light jacket or windbreaker for nighttime and locations with AC. I made the mistake of packing only thick sweaters and knits (I was packing for a “January winter”) and ended up being sweaty and unstylish in a long-sleeve Breast Cancer Awareness shirt that was actually my PJ. Jess was wearing her bright yellow “Sister” shirt, force gifted upon her by our eldest sister, which ended up being a lifesaver as her only short-sleeve shirt. DO NOT JUDGE.
The Formosa Boulevard MRT Station (捷運美麗島站)
Transportation: Formosa Boulevard MRT Station. Follow the signs for The Dome of Light.
Taiwan is also known as Formosa, which is Portuguese for “beautiful.” The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Taiwan in 1544 and when they saw the island’s beautiful landscape from the sea, the uttered “Formosa!” And indeed Kaohsiung’s Formosa Boulevard MRT Station is the most beautiful metro station in Taiwan, just take a look at “The Dome of Light” (光之穹頂). Designed by Italian glass artist Narcissus Quagliata, the stunning creation—boasting of a diameter of 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) and an area of 660 square meters (approximately 7,104 square feet) that is comprised of 4,500 pieces of glass—stands as the largest illuminated glass ceiling in the world.
Quagliata’s work—which includes of two large columns in the middle (red represents yang 陽; blue represents yin 陰) and a panorama divided into four sections that represent water, earth, light and fire, which stands for birth, growth, glory, and destruction respectively—celebrates the pursuit of democracy and freedom through the message of rebirth and tolerance. The design is based on the Formosa Incident (美麗島事件), also known as the Kaohsiung Incident, which took place on December 10, 1979. Taiwan, at that time, was a single party state and 30 years into the martial law period. Taiwanese people were forbidden to speak ill of the government and all forms of free speech were prosecuted. The demonstration on December 10 that sparked the Formosa Incident started out as a planned rally for the International Human Rights Day and demonstrators were later cracked down by the police. The day marked the first planned civil movement in modern Taiwan history. It also initiated the movement for Taiwanese people to fight for the Taiwanese identity.
Takao Railway Museum (打狗鐵道故事館) & Pier 2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區) & KW2 (棧貳庫)
Transportation: Sizihwan MRT Station, Exit 2.
Outdoor art installation and sculptures? ✅
Yesteryear photo ops? ✅ ✅ ✅
This is IG heaven everyone.
(1) Takao Railway Museum
Exiting Sizihwan station, you will first be greeted by Taiwan’s first ever railway station: the defunct Kaohsiung Harbour Train Station (formerly Takao Station). The station closed in 2008 and the museum opened two years later. It retains the classic Japanese style of the original station’s facade when it was built in 1900 during the Japanese colonial era. Taiwan was under the Japanese rule from 1985 to 1945. Outside, you will find a field-full of various train models and public artworks.
I didn’t go to the museum because I went on a Monday when the museum is not open. I have read that the museum is fun so you still might want to check it out. From what I researched, the inside of the museum is like going back in time on a time machine. You can learn about Taiwan’s railway transportation story, look through train and train travel-related memorabilia, and dress up in railway station manager outfit for photos.
(2) Pier 2 & KW2
Pier 2 Art Center and KW2 are located next to the harbor, formerly a complex with warehouses used to store cane sugar. Now Pier 2 Art Center is repurposed into a public art and performance space while KW2 is a gallery-and-retail commercial space. The latter is also home to the famous all-white merry-go-round (or KW carousel), which makes a lust-worthy IG setting against a blue sky and ocean.
Like the train station, the creation of the warehouses was driven by the sugarcane economy. Taiwan started growing sugarcane back in the 17th century under Dutch rule. While sugarcane is a non-native crop, it adapted well to southern Taiwan’s climate and soil and brought much wealth to the island. During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, a dozen sugar companies were founded on the island. At its peak, Taiwan’s sugar production ranked fourth in quantity worldwide, after India, Cuba and Indonesia (specifically the island of Java).
I used to be a commercial real estate beat reporter when I lived in New York, and I can attest that Pier 2 & KW 2 sure make one sweet and successful repurposed space.
And a fun fact for you, KW2 is 「棧貳庫」in Chinese. The two or 「貳」 stands for Pier 2 and 「庫」, which translates to warehouse, is also a phonetic pun on 「酷」, or “cool”. Yup, be prepared for something really 「庫 ＝ 酷 = Cool」.
Continue reading Kaohsiung City Part II: Dadong Art Center, Weiwuying Street Art!