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A Hot New Number: the Taiwanese Two-Step!

Day trip to Tainan and lots more temples!

sunny 89 °F

The historic city of Tainan, and a perfect place to practice the Taiwanese Two-Step!

One of the reasons I chose to stay in Kaohsiung was that it is a regional transport hub. It would be easier to take day trips to a variety of destinations. When I travel, I don't like to spend just one night in each city. Packing up each morning, finding your next hotel, and then unpacking is such a pain...and a time waster. I feel you get a better experience if you can unpack and spend at least three nights in one spot. It is not as stressful and a place begins to actually feel like "home."

The top day trip I wanted to do out of Kaohsiung was to Tainan -- the island's former capital and a historic city. Trains left from Kaohsiung's main station -- a convenient 5 minute walk away from my hotel -- every half hour or so. The journey takes anywhere from 35-45 minutes, depending on how many stops the train makes. When I got off my train, I found the station's tourist information booth and got a better walking map than I had. They pointed me in the right direction to begin my WALK (no buses today!) to the sights I'd picked out. Actually, my library copy of Lonely Planet's "Taiwan" had a nice, step by step, city walk. So, I followed that, supplementing it with the new map to help with directions.

Early organic version of the Taiwanese scooter

An interesting thing about walking in Taiwan's cities is the sidewalks. You see a lot of people walking on the hot pavement in the streets, holding up an umbrella to ward off the sun beating down on them, instead of the shaded, much cooler sidewalks. The sidewalk floors are often tile, plus you get the occasional blast of air conditioning from doors opening to the fancier shops. So, why don't Taiwanese walk on their sidewalks? Because the danged scooters use them for parking, that's why! Or, shops encroach and set up their business on them! Often, there is just a narrow, one person wide path on the sidewalk because of the row of scooters parked there. And if the shop is a scooter repair one, he disassembles the bike he's working on right there where you need to walk. Also, you may have to dodge a scooter driving down that narrow little row to park! I christened the dance you have to do if you try to walk on the sidewalk the "Taiwan Two-Step." It is mainly because you have to take two steps for every one you want to go forward with all the weaving in and out of obstructions. No wonder the Taiwanese walk in the streets!

Tainan's much more simple Confucian Temple

The Confucius Temple was my first stop. It was the first one built in Taiwan, and is more provincial and less ornate than the one at Lotus Lake. Like that one, though, it wholeheartedly adopted Confucius' role as the great teacher and uses the temple as a museum to teach visitors about its rituals. I met a retired devotee in the Edification Hall who was eager to chat. He sells decorative sheets of Confucian sayings in Chinese calligraphy written on cloth paper. He asked me to pick one out and explained what it said and how that illustrated Confucian ideals. Then he gave it to me as a gift and said I should frame it in my home so I could pass on the teacher's wisdom. I think I'll go him one better and hang it up in my classroom!

The not so Great South Gate of Tainan's old city walls

After that, I walked to the Great South Gate, the remaining bit of the old city's defensive walls. It had a number of cannons (painted red?) on the walls and by the thick, double wooden doors. It would have been more atmospheric if the inside had not been converted into a cafe. They were blaring modern pop music, which for me made it kind of cheesy and ruined the experience. The two bored workers seemed to agree, judging by their expressions. I like old fortifications (I hear your sarcastic, "Really...?"), so was disappointed with this stop.

The pleasant little Wufei Temple belies its grisly back story

The next item up was the Wufei Temple, home to one of the grislier temple histories. When the last claimant to the Ming Dynasty finally surrendered to the conquest of the Manchus, he decided to commit suicide. He urged his concubines to flee and take up new lives. However, they decided the honorable thing to do would be to hang themselves from a beam in the palace. This tugged at the heart strings of the Taiwanese, and a temple was built to honor their example of right behavior. The temple itself is tiny, and is set amidst a well-tended garden.

Keeping an eye out -- all three of them -- for demonic intruders at the Fahua Temple, Tainan, Taiwan

Next stop was -- wait for it -- another temple! If the last one had a grisly story, this one had some disturbing statues. The Fahua Temple was originally built in 1684, but was reconstructed after being bombed in WW II. It was silent -- almost deathly so. For most of my visit, I was the only person there. The creepy statues are of the Four Heavenly Kings in full-on punishment mode, getting ready to slash, stab, or otherwise crush any demonic (thankfully not Demanic) intruders. One neat thing was the use of an occasional, tiny MP3 player to project Buddhist monastic chants. It really added to the atmosphere, and gave the emptiness the feeling that I'd visited while all the monks were out on lunch break or something. I took pictures of some of the decorations that caught my eye, then wandered out. I really need to remember to bring my iPhone for times like this, so I can use its voice memo function to record the sounds of my experiences.

I needed a break for the heat, so ducked into what I hoped would be an air conditioned restaurant for a cold drink. It wasn't, but the fans were blasting at full force, so it was pleasant to sit and look ahead at the rest of the walking tour. One of the workers has a sister who was an exchange student in Ohio. I seem to be running into Ohio connections left and right. On my Taroko Gorge tour, a woman said her husband graduated from OSU and remembered Columbus fondly.

Ming General Koxinga is now worshipped at his very own shrine in Tainan, Taiwan

Have you ever wanted to be worshipped as a god? Well, if you're Chinese, it is a possibility. You have to do something pretty amazing, of course. And there is a small catch: you have to be dead before they build the temple to you. Ming General Koxinga retreated with his army to Taiwan in 1661, planning to regroup and have another go at the Manchus who were taking over the Chinese mainland. While in Taiwan, he worked diligently to improve the lives of the islanders. He built infrastructure and improved the island's economy. He even chased out the Dutch, who had begun colonizing the island amidst 40 years before. The plan to retake China never went into action, though, but Koxinga was remembered as a great man. Two hundred years later, the Chinese emperor passed an edict dedicating a shrine to Koxinga. In front of the temple, an immense white stone statue portrays him heroically mounted on a horse. Inside the shrine, a life size statue shows him calmly seated amidst various Chinese deities. His shrine is located in a pleasant garden, with a meandering pool with a spouting fountain, various humongous goldfish begging for handouts (honestly, the see your shadow and cluster towards the surface), and well-tended shrubbery.

The lady shows some fire...that's the goddess Lady Linshui hurling a fireball and chasing off demons

If you duck out the back gate of the garden, you come to the temple of Lady Linshui, the goddess the locals sacrifice to for their children's protection. This is another elaborate, colorful temple bedecked in gold, statues, and rich in carvings. The lady was getting a makeover when I visited, with workers in one room repainting the ceiling. There are many depictions of her, seated reigning serenely, beckoning worshippers, and my favorite, hurling a fireball at four beast men with the heads of tigers, monkeys, and horses! That's one way to protect the city's children: rout demons with magic that Gandalf would be proud of...!

The God of War poses in front of a lit up row of tiny miniature versions of himself, proving an old god is perfectly willing to learn new tricks

I don't know if you, my reader, are suffering from temple burnout at this point. Much to my surprise, I was actually beginning to lose my enthusiasm. With the afternoon heat wearing on, I kind of breezed through the Dongyue Temple (the murals of Hell were overrated) and the Official God of War temple. I wondered if that temple was an early example of commercial sponsorship. You've heard, say, the Rose Bowl brought to you by Citi. Was this an attempt to copyright the war god's temple so they could sell official logo merchandise? Maybe the sponsors were responsible for the Taiwanese fighter planes whose flight path repeatedly passed right over the temple. Either way, it was very cool to be in the god of war's temple and watch flight after flight of F-16s scream overhead.

And here's a close up of that wall of miniatures behind the God of War

I ended the day with a change of pace -- the Chihkan Towers. This was originally a fort built by those Dutch colonists in the 1653. You have to squint to see the fort in it because it has changed hands and been renovated a number of times. The walls at the base of the two story buildings are brickwork -- a Dutch colonial trademark. Otherwise, it looks like a Chinese noble's house, with the classic flayed roof with dragons on the corners. If you pronounce "Chihkan" like it looks in English, you get "chicken." Or at least I do. So, it seemed appropriate to have a collection of statues to our good old deified friend General Koxinga receiving the surrender of the Dutch Governor-General. This was one of the first colonial outposts that the Ming general bagged from the chicken Dutch, which culminated in the surrender of Fort Zeelander in nearby Anping.

I know...the Chihkan Towers didn't look like a fort to me, either...

After trooping through Tainan's streets all day, I was ready to surrender at this point, too. Maybe the Dutch weren't beaten, after all. Perhaps they just wanted to give up on Taiwan's sticky summer heat and go back to Europe! That is what I did, in effect, hopping the train back to my air-conditioned hotel in Kaohsiung. It had been an interesting day, and I tried to focus on unique aspects of the places I visited rather than simply say, "Look at the cool temple!" I was glad to get back "home" to my hotel room, though, and unwind from a second day of temple gazing and encore performances of the Taiwanese Two-Step!

"Did somebody say 'Two-Step'?" A Chinese door god -- these fierce images were often painted on the doors of temples to guard them

Posted by world_wide_mike 03:41 Archived in Taiwan Tagged towers south great lady scooters gate taiwan confucius ming tainan wufei fahua koxinga linshui chihkan sidewalks

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