Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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The "Taipei Moon Bridge" viral photo demystified

10/14/2014 Taiwan Explorer
I want to highlight two phenomena today, that always occur when Taiwan tops some random list on an English language website. The first thing that usually happens is Taiwanese media picks it up, translates it into Chinese, and the stuff gets viral in Taiwan, usually on social media first, and later also on TV. Then Taiwanese netizens go to that site and start to comment, often also in Chinese. That's partly because Taiwanese are generally lacking recognition in the world due to the tricky international standing, and the obstructions by the neighboring bully China, so there is a yearning to be recognized and appreciated as a nation, especially with the younger generation. And the second thing I want to highlight is how often stuff about Taiwan gets viral, that may not accurately reflect the reality of the country, because people abroad simply don't know Taiwan that well, but they do have some wrong ideas. Usually it's some obscure random stuff with little substance labeled under "whacky East Asia", which leads to further cliches about Taiwan (and that's a topic for a completely new post).

Apple Daily usually starts it

Screen grab from Apple Daily. Their FB post generated over 16,000 likes by now.

So this is what happened today: Taiwan's number one tabloid Apple Daily reposted and translated parts of a user generated post on Bored Panda titled "20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World", because an image of an arch bridge in Taipei's Neihu District landed on the list. The linked post on their Facebook page reached a massive virality by now (over 16,000 likes, and over 800 reshares), which must have caused huge traffic spikes on Bored Panda. Taiwanese netizens have been upvoting this image for a while now, so it became "no 1 mystical bridge in the world" on that list (when I checked it earlier today, it was second). That's not really something to be proud of, to be honest.

Sorry, but the Taipei Moon Bridge is not mystical

The Taipei Moon Bridge (encircled in red) is by now the most popular mystical bridge on that list. See the image in full scale.

The funny thing is, that this seemingly mystical image already went viral 2 years ago, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail and some other European tabloids reposted some of these images (which were taken from a Taiwanese photographer's Flickr photo set), and wrote following fluff:

Morning mist hangs in the calm, still air adding to the dream-like magic of this tranquil setting in Taiwan. The crystal clear water allows for a perfect reflection of an upside down world, almost playing tricks on the mind. With scenery like this, it is no wonder that Taiwan was formerly known as the Beautiful Island - Ilha Formosa - to the West.

After I read this article two years ago, I decided to pay Neihu a visit with my DLSR, and see the Moon Bridge with my own eyes. While the bridge and the surrounding lake are quite pleasant, it doesn't feel as mystical as the images would let you believe. That's because they were photoshopped (the "playing tricks on the mind" part was correct). Those who live in Taiwan would know, that there is usually no morning mist in Taipei when the sun is up that high. It must have been at least 10-11 AM when the viral photo was taken, which means it can should've been really hot already, any kind of early morning mist would've evaporated long time ago. Don't misunderstand me, I love the image, and the Photoshop effect is awesome, but unfortunately people outside Taiwan believe this photo represents an authentic reality. It does not. Here's how the Moon Bridge looks like on my photos when I visited Neihu in May 2012:

A view from afar.

The Taipei Moon Bridge.

A side view.

The Taipei MRT brown line to Nangang is passing by here.

The bridge is not always easy to see. Can you spot it?

The Dahu Park is really nice, though.

This is a residential neighborhood behind the lake.

History of the Taipei Moon Bridge

Taipei's Moon Bridge, as it's named in English by the local government, is called 錦帶橋 in Chinese, which is actually the name of a famous wooden arch bridge in Iwakuni, Japan - the Kintai Bridge. That bridge dates back to 1673, and is considered one of Japan's national treasures (source). The design of the Taipei Moon Bridge however looks very similar to a lot of arch bridges (拱橋) found in China, most notably the Jade Belt Bridge 玉帶橋 at the Summer Palace in Beijing, that dates back to 1736 (source). The Dahu Park as it looks like today was built between 1979 and 1983, and was designed as a classical Chinese garden (source). So to sum everything up: The photoshopped Moon Bridge is actually not older than 25 years. It has the same name as a famous old bridge in Japan, and the same design as a famous old bridge in China. I think Sanxiantai would be a better choice for the list.

Kintai bridge.jpg
"Kintai bridge" by pastaitaken. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gaoliang Bridge.JPG
"Jade Belt Bridge". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A side shot of the Taipei Moon Bridge for comparison.