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A Hot New Number: the Taiwanese Two-Step!

Day trip to Tainan and lots more temples!

sunny 89 °F

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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"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 Comments (0)

Patience, Grasshopper...

An entertaining account of what happens when Worldwidemike "loses it"....

sunny 90 °F

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Looking across Anping Harbor towards Tainan, Taiwan

I wanted to start off this post talking about patience. Not preaching, just discussing. From time to time, I hear, "Oh, you teach middle school? You must have a lot of patience!" Yes and no. I feel I am pretty accepting of other viewpoints -- especially when it comes to travel or understanding other cultures. I also believe everyone has a right to their own views on religion, politics, and right and wrong. My patience wears thin when it confronts inefficiencies, though, and those who aren't putting forth much effort at their job, school, work, life -- you name it. So, what do I do when I lose my patience? How does worldwidemike blow his top? Well, today would be a great illustration!

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Anping Fort nowadays -- my main destination for today's travels

Remember what I said in the previous two entries about buses? Well, today, I was headed to the historical enclave of Anping. This is where the Dutch colonized Taiwan, and is not far (I thought) from yesterday's destination of Tainan. In fact, I retraced my footsteps, taking the train to Tainan and ducking into the Tourist Information office. They recommended I take the special tourist shuttle #99 from Tainan to Anping. I decided to make an exception to my bus bias and headed to the stop. I must have just missed it, as the attendant there recommended I get on bus #88 (which was also listed as a tourist shuttle on the map of Anping I'd been given). I hopped on, paid my 20 New Taiwan dollars (67 cents), and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Now, I normally have a good sense of direction. And it became clear to me pretty quick we were heading every point on the compass -- not just west to Anping. It honestly seemed to me we would head down one street, make two right turns, then head back up in the opposite direction. I began to pay attention to street signs and saw many familiar names from yesterday's walk in Tainan. It became clear we were just slowly looping back and forth. Any westwards movement to Anping was on a gradual basis. If we were in a race west with a glacier, we'd be falling behind. A half hour later, I looked at a temple we were passing that seemed familiar. It was Tainan's Confucian temple...where I'd STARTED my sightseeing yesterday. In 30 minutes on this bus, I had gone the distance it had taken me 15 minutes to walk yesterday. Plus, we made a turn and were headed back East towards the train station.

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Renaissance era Chinese cannons

It was then I blew my top. Now, I'm sure you're all dying to see what Mr. Patient World Traveler does when he blows his top. This is especially interesting in that a key concept of Chinese culture is "face." You lose face when you lose control of yourself in public. So, ranting and raving would be viewed extremely poorly. Plus, is it really the bus driver's fault his managers designed an idiotic route? If I lose my patience, I tend not to take it out on someone else. I decide on a course of action which punishes ME more than anyone else. Think of it as my monastic self-mortification -- the hidden medieval flagellant in me. Those of you who are one step ahead of me, here, have probably narrowed it down to three possible courses of action. All three involve getting off the bus, of course, which I did immediately. In order of sensible-ness, the choices would be:

take a taxi to Anping
Say "forget this!" and leave in a pouty rage
walk to Anping

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Banyan trees taking root on the almost 400 year old, crumbling, brick walls

Which did you choose? Well, remember the self-mortification part. Of course, I decided to walk to Anping. In the 90 degree heat. The only problem was I had a map of Tainan which didn't show Anping, and a map of Anping which didn't show Tainan. There was a common street, so I knew I could get there by heading west on Mincyuan Road. I just had no idea what the distance was between the two. I found out, though. One hour. Of course, considering the principle of the Taiwan Two-Step, the actual distance is probably less than my walking pace times one hour.

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The brick walls of Fort Zeelander -- today's Anping Fort

Okay, so here we are, five paragraphs later and I haven't described a thing...well, except for how much of an idiot I can be at times...! So, why was I going to Anping? I wanted to see Anping Fort, which when built in the early 1600s, was called Fort Zeelander by the Dutch. Eventually, I arrived there, drenched in sweat. I paid my admission and was given an English pamphlet. I found a shady spot with a nice breeze and took about 10 minutes to read through it, I also knew I needed to recover my calm, and find my patient middle school teacher self, again. Zen achieved, I jumped up and headed to the fort museum. It took only about 10 minutes to go through it. I then began to explore the fort grounds, taking pictures all along. The inner citadel is in fairly good shape, but the outer walls have deteriorated quite a bit. In fact, their ruination is somewhat colorful in parts where banyan trees are literally sprouting out of the walls, their roots crushing the bricks in an "Angkor Wat" type embrace.

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Dutch powder horn used to charge their matchlock muskets

A smattering of Renaissance era Chinese cannons that have been mounted here and there in the fort. The three-level, inner citadel is the most scenic part, and is accentuated by a modern watchtower, flowering bushes, topiary, and a statue of our old friend, the deified Ming General Koxinga, who defeated the Dutch in a three month siege here and chased them off of Taiwan. From a military historian's perspective, I wish there were more details on that siege. The fort museum has examples of Chinese and Dutch weaponry (as you can imagine, it was Dutch Renaissance era matchlocks vs. Medieval Chinese melee weapons and bows). Or at least that is how they portray it. They do say when the Dutch Governor-General returned home he was tried and court martialed for losing Taiwan. They don't really say how the Chinese won, though. My guess is that, with a three month siege, the Dutch were simply starved out and had no hope of relief. Koxinga was victorious, Taiwan returned to the Chinese, and the General was eventually made into a god, of sorts.

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Chinese tombs in the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Next, I walked through the neighboring Anping Matsu temple, one of the oldest in Taiwan. My heart wasn't really in it, though, as I'd had my fill of temples the last two days. I moved on to the nearby graveyard to check out the hundreds of ornate tombs in the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The graveyard itself was overgrown, but the tombs seemed fairly well kept up. Had it not been for modern photo-etching of the occupants on some of the tombs' stonework, I would have guessed they were all centuries old.

After the graveyard, I checked out the one of the ruined coastal artillery batteries, and one of the 18th century European merchant houses. It was getting late in the afternoon, though, so I decided to call it a day. I hailed a taxi and paid about $7 for a quick, 10-15 minute ride back to Tainan's train station. I didn't know whether to chuckle as I retraced this morning's footsteps (but in air conditioning), or feel ashamed of my pig-headedness. Did I learn a lesson, today? I guess I did. I learned that I lean towards a kind of masochistic, self-mortification when I get angry. The one who suffers when I get mad is usually myself. I'm not sure who I am "showing" by treating myself brutally. I guess it is better than taking it out on others, though. I mean...heck! Heaven forbid I lose face! Lose patience, sure, but face...?

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Anping Fort -- was it worth the grief? Sure....especially if you're a military history buff like myself!

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:16 Archived in Taiwan Tagged fort tombs taiwan tainan anping zeelander Comments (0)

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