I was very fortunate in that I met a lady from Taipei on my first day in Sydney, Australia on a tour of that city. While seeing the sites of Sydney, Mrs. Fan offered to be my free tour guide when I made it to Taipei. So, for 4 days I had the luxury of never needing to read a map, calculate drive times, or worry about when venues would be open or closed. I also was blessed to have someone as an interpreter and food recommender.
Our first stop was to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. The Memorial is an enormous complex with a massive entrance façade, then a huge and long open space to a large ornate building housing a giant Chiang Kai-shek statue seated like Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.
The most interesting thing about the Memorial had nothing to do with the founding father of modern Taiwan. Rather, it was a cheesy temporary exhibit dedicated to the brave Chinese man who stood up to the Communist Chinese Tanks in Tiananmen Square. Turns out I was at the Memorial on the 30-year anniversary of the occasion. The exhibit was a simple green air-filled plastic Chinese Tank with its plastic gun barrel pointed at a plastic blow up man in black slacks and white shirt. Very simple but powerful in its symbolism.
Our second stop was the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines. I was surprised to learn that the first people of Taiwan were not the Chinese but the Formosan Aborigines who are genetically the same people as the first peoples of Java, Fiji, New Zealand, and the Philippines. The first Chinese wave of immigrants did not arrive on the shores of Taiwan until 500 years ago and as we all know the last wave arrived with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949.
The original tribes of Aborigines included: Amis, Atayal, Bunan, Paiwan, Saisyat, Tsou and Rukai. Some of these tribes lived along the coast and depended on the sea for food, others lived on the coastal plains and uplands and were farm based structures and others yet lived in the mountains depending on hunting for their food.
The museum had exhibits showing where each tribe settled, the types of foods they grew or caught to survive, the types of houses they lived in, and local customs and dress. The museum is small but very well laid out and crammed full of interesting material for people like myself that get into how ancient people lived and developed.
Next stop was just a short walk to the National Palace Museum. This museum is incredible in that it holds all the national treasures Chiang Kai-shek looted from across China during his retreat across China with Mao Zedong’s troops nipping at his heels.
Somehow the Democratic forces collected, packed, and transported thousands of rare and priceless vases, statues, furniture, figurines and jewelry made from porcelain, gold, silver, jade, coral, wood, and clay. They left the mainland with thousands of rare tomes of literature, scientific research and ancient eastern medical manuals dating back to antiquity. And you can just bet that the People’s Republic of China would love to get these priceless treasures that they consider stolen back!
Day 2: Taipei Zoo & Hsing Tian Temple
Day 2 of my Taipei visit began with a trip to the zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos or caging animals but my guide Hermosa was very proud of their zoo. So, to the zoo we went. And we saw the standard zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, tigers, emus, flamingos, and hippos. I also saw my first panda. She had wanted to take the cable car to the top of the mountain but it was out of commission (thankfully).
Our next stop was the Xingtian Temple (Hsing Tian Kong). This is a relatively new temple built in 1967. The temple’s patron saint is Guan Gong, the patron god of businessmen and scholars, but you can also pray to him for physical health, peace and safety in your daily life, success on an exam, business or career.
Then came the Hsing Tian Kong temple popular because it is a place you can go for exorcisms, rituals, services of prayers for peace, songjing, and explaining divination results. Songjing is a ritual that helps a person whose soul has left their body to come back and re-enter the body.
I had an opportunity to watch both a songjing and a separate ritual to protect a person from unfriendly ghosts. I’m not quite sure how you lose your soul or how the ritual helps it to finds its way back to a specific body but it seems to work for the soulless. I’ve included several photos from the temple but the taking photos from inside a temple is bad form so they are all taken from outside the buildings. The photo of the priestess in blue captures her using an incense stick to shield the person from aggressive ghosts.
Day 3: Taipei Confusius Temple,Bao-An Temple, Longshan Temple & Shilin Market
Day 3 began with a visit to the Taipei Confucius Temple. I began my visit by passing thru the Wanren Gongqiang (Wall of Supreme Knowledge). The followers of Confucius believe the Wall of Supreme Knowledge is where you must begin your journey to wisdom thru the Taipei Temple. I entered thru the Lingxing Gate – in ancient times only the highest of scholars could enter thru this gate. Obviously, standards have been lowered since I was allowed thru.
Once inside the gate the first thing I saw was the beautiful Dacheng Hall. This Hall can be identified in my photos as the one with the dragons carved into the two center columns in front of the Hall. Photos of the ceremonial Bell and Drum as well as other buildings and shrines are attached.
Next stop after the Confucius Temple was to the Bao-An Temple in Da-Long-Dong. This temple is a National Historic Monument and during the Qing (Ching) dynasty was considered one of the three major temples of Taipei. Temple construction was begun in 1755 and completed in 1830.
The temple complex includes an entrance hall, main hall, back hall and guard rooms on the sides. You will find in my photos many shots of both temple buildings and shrines.
But the most interesting photos to me are the ones I took at the Longshan Temple of a male temple official or fortune teller (not sure of his exact position) surrounded by 5 women. The women were using divining blocks to ask God for a blessing. In this case, one of the women wanted to find a man and get married.
The way this works is there are two small blocks of wood carved in the shape of a crescent moon and flat on one side convex on the other. The woman making the request to God announced her full name, date of birth, and address then asked that her request be heard. She then threw the two blocks in the air. If one block landed on the flat side and the other the convex side God has agreed to her request. If both blocks landed with the flat side up called the “laughing blocks” either God has not decided or is unsure of her request and wanted clarification by asking again with more specificity.
If both blocks landed convex side up “Dark Blocks” the answer was hell no!
In the photo you will see one of the women tossing divining blocks. The women went away happy so I guess some unsuspecting man is about to be nailed by God as her new husband.
Longshan Temple is particularly interesting in that it combines the tenants of Buddhism with many elements of ancient local folk religions. The temple was originally built in 1738 and has been rebuilt and expanded through the years. The temple’s principal deity is Guanyin. But there are over 100 deities available to worship or ask favors of.
Visiting three temples in a day and watching souls returned to their owners, ghosts being scared away from the true believers and women trusting their matrimonial fate to tossed blocks of wood worked up quite an appetite so we went from the temples to the Shilin Market for street food and atmosphere.
I enjoyed the atmosphere much more than the food. I ordered fried shrimp with egg but for some reasons, the cook felt compelled to ruin a perfectly good dish by throwing up the contents of her dinner onto mine. At least I think that’s what that orange chunky crap was! Photos of the market are attached too.
Last Day: Ximending & Guandu Temple
On my final day, we visited one last Temple, had lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf and visited the ultra-modern shopping district of Ximending. The Guandu Temple also known as the Guardian Temple is built into and atop a small mountain. The temple began in 1661 though construction took off in 1712 when a Buddhist monk from China brought a golden statue of the goddess Matzu.
The temple is dedicated to multiple gods but the main shrine is dedicated to the goddess Matzu. The goddess Matzu is a folk-religion deity even though the temple was founded by a Buddhist monk. But the Buddhist are well represented with shrines to Guanyin, Ksitgarbha, and Shakyamuni. There is a beautiful park on the mountain above the temple providing great photo opportunities as well as a peaceful place to sit and just watch the world go by.
Another interesting aspect of this temple is the cave at the base of the mountain that has been transformed into an 80-meter tunnel from the parking lot on one side of the mountain to the temple complex on the other side. The tunnel is lined statues representing the 28 heavenly emperors. The tunnel ends at a small shrine room dedicated to the 1000 armed Guanyin.
I have included photos of the various temples, shrines, tunnel and park. But also included is a photo of a half dozen ladies in brown leaving one of the temples and a short video another group in gold singing. I’m unclear as to the titles of these women or what their role is but found their singing very calming