Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in Taiwan VI - Tamsui Customs Officer’s Residence

Danshui (or alternatively Tamsui or Danshuei) is just north of Taipei where the Danshui River empties into the Taiwan Strait. It was the former centre of shipping and commerce in northern Taiwan in the 19th century. Danshui was the largest port in Taiwan by the 19th century and became one of two treaty ports in Taiwan in 1858 (the other being the old capital of Tainan in the south of the island).

The Tamsui Customs Officer’s Residence was built between 1869 and 1876 and nicknamed the ‘Little White House’ because, eeerrr, it is white and a house. Though the Qing Dynasty first collected the customs taxes they handed over to the China Imperial Maritime Customs service and foreigners collected the taxes on behalf of the Qing under the organisation headed by the famous Inspector General Robert Hart. Herbert E. Hobson was Vice Chief of Tamsui Customs and lived in the house for a time. After the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 Taiwan was governed by the Japanese who occupied the property.

It’s well preserved and looked after and you can wander around the house and grounds for a NT$40 entrance fee. As you can probably see from the rather gloomy photos it was raining when I visited so the chalked colonial veranda architecture looks a little depressed due to the weather – but on a sunny day it would have been a marvellous view down to the Customs Jetty and pretty cool inside the airy, well ventilated rooms and wide verandas.

Up the road is the old Foreigners' Cemetery at Tamsui, which was unfortunately closed when I was there but appears well tended and looked after. Close by is the Fort San Domingo originally built by the Spanish and briefly the British Consulate before they built an impressive building next door…more on that tomorrow.


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