Thursday, September 13, 2007

Vivid Tainan

Wednesday I caught the train down to Tainan early to crawl over the city's more famous tourist spots with my close friend Jeff Miller. Click on read more...

Morning traffic inches along in the sunlight.

Like this woman, I waited at the train station for my friend to appear.

The statue in the center of the traffic circle is raised, so you can have a lot of fun sweeping the streets with your telephoto lens.

The police were out early picking up illegally parked motorcycles.

We stopped first at a small temple across from the Cheng Cheng-kung [Koxinga] Temple in Tainan. This Taoist temple was to a goddess, attended by 36 female attendants, who gave women the "belly change" -- changing the sex of a baby in the womb. Like many Taiwan temples, it is extremely ornate. Jeff explained that a guide in a Macau told him Taiwan temples run to the ornate because, as a frontier society, Taiwanese faced greater dangers than more settled Macau, and thus, gave more enthusiastically when the gods answered their prayers.

Outside the temple, a woman sold flowers to temple-goers.

The ghost money burner. Ghosts, like all officials, cause fewer problems when presented with offerings of money.

The front of the temple faces the Koxinga Temple. After visiting this temple, we bopped across the street to see the famous Koxinga Temple.

The grounds of the Koxinga Temple.

This gate...

...and this plaque both tell the story of how Koxinga has been refracted through the four colonialisms that have defined Taiwan: Dutch, Qing (Manchu), Japanese, and KMT. The temple began as a folk shrine to Koxinga in 1662, after Koxinga double-crossed the Dutch and invaded Taiwan, booting them out. In 1874, with Koxinga safely in his grave for more than two centuries, the Manchus decided to remake the temple in formal Chinese style, giving Koxinga the title "loyalty", since "Qing ass-kicker" probably wouldn't have sat too well with the descendants of the Emperors Koxinga held at bay for years. When the Japanese came in they redid the temple in the best Shinto style, restyling Koxinga as a Japanese hero (he was half-Japanese). Finally, when the KMT came in, they erased the Japanese presence, and rebuilt the temple in the so-called Northern Palace" style, claiming Koxinga for themselves (didn't he retreat to Taiwan to continue the fight to save the government from incoming usurpers?). All sides make use of the seminal figure of Koxinga (info from plaque in the museum).

If you look carefully at the gate in the pic above, the base is composed of two completely different parts, suggesting that the original gate has been removed, and replaced by a piece of Nationalist propaganda, complete with the KMT sunburst atop the gate. People accuse the DPP of "name rectification," forgetting that the KMT place its trademark on historic sites all over the island, erasing markers of other histories.

Inside the temple.

Red is the color of the trueblood's lair.

Some excellent historical information is given in the side galleries, along with a few artifacts.

Jeff stands beside plaques with prayers on them.

A close up.

The entrance.

Next to the temple is a small museum. If you pay the $100 NT to get into the site, the museum is included.

Inside the museum there are plenty of nice artifacts, but unfortunately very little information about them, except the reign. I'd give the place a pass unless you've plenty of time on your hands.

After the Koxinga Temple, Tainan's famous Confucius Temple was next on the list. This temple apparently is a popular outing for kindergartens.

It was crawling with kids.

The pleasant, tree-covered grounds made for a cool walk in the hot morning air.

The pleasant, tree covered.....

People doing Tai Chi are a common sight in every open space in Taiwan.

The old gate of the temple.

Next to the Confucius Shrine is this beautiful old library dating from the 1930s. It is now on the grounds of an elementary school. The old wooden interior fixtures are still there....

UPDATE: In comments below Jeanne noted: I don't think it's a library, it's a Kendo dojo built in the Japanese era. If you look at the roof there is a Japanese character for Kendo or sword. If you go there on a Sunday morning you can hear the 'kiai' from Kendo practice. When I was in Taiwan last winter I went there to see the dojo but it was under renovations...thank you for the pics.

..., as is the wooden floor and roof. It is now used as an auditorium for an elementary school. Jeff laughed, observing that we're so starved for old stuff in Taiwan that a building from the 1930s is interesting. To compare, the iconic Chrysler Building in New York was completed in 1930, the year before the Empire State Building, yet we never speak of either as an "old" building.

After lunch we stopped by the tiny Yunghwa Temple, a very typical small Tainan temple, with a big tree....

...and the old temple wall still exposed on one side.

Naturally, we had to stop by the Chih Kan Lou, the old Dutch Fort. I took a ton of pictures there on my last visit to Chih Kan Lou and Erkunshen Fort with Sebastian, so I went light today.

This set of steles is yet another in the information-free historical presentations in Taiwan. Only a minimal explanation, with no translation, is given. Unless you happen to know something about the rebellion whose defeat the inscriptions commemorate, the steles are a mystery.

Yes, that's right, it does look like an outdoor museum! So what! What is that information doing on this historical marker? It tells us nothing about the objects themselves! Aaargh!

Here are some of the stone weights referred to above.

The Chih Kan Lou is a popular site for friends to visit and photo....

...and be photo'd.

Upstairs the God of Literature reigns. His foot on the tortoise, along with the kick, signifies success in the exams. Why stepping on a tortoise should signify exam success is a mystery to me.

Clearly a very effective god, as these prayers expressing hope for success in exams left behind by temple-goers attest.

After that we drove out to Anping to visit the Erkunshen Fort, my favorite of Tainan's many historic sites. I've blogged on it extensively (my last visits with Michael K and with Sebastian), so I'm only offering a few pics today.

Cannon pointing backward in time.............

Everyone says that if you want a picture to get more views, put a chick in it. So here it is. What do you think?

As soon as I lifted the camera lens, these lovely young ladies swung into action.

We got out just as a horde of junior high kids appeared.

We stopped at the Anping Fort as well, but I have no great affection for the place, so didn't go in.

Four hundred years ago, Anping Fort stood on the sea. Today the sea has receded, leaving a vast expanse of utterly flat land along the coast that is used for fish farms and salt pans. Jeff took me up there to Chigu to see the Taiwan Salt Museum, as well as experience a totally different aspect of Taiwan.

Here a farmhouse looks over a pond.....

The Taiwan Salt Museum is right next to the famous Salt Mountain just outside of Chigu. The area was a key production area for sea salt, which was processed into industrial salt for use by industry -- in making products like PVC and caustic soda -- and salt for human consumption.

The museum has numerous dioramas and presentations, all professionally and enthusiastically done. Here is one I took in sepia, just for fun.

Plenty of artifacts from bygone days can be found.

Here a guide discusses an exhibit with Jeff.

Stuff. The exhibits were wonderful and the presentation informative. But you know the catch: no English. The dictum "think globally, act locally" in Taiwan means "fantasize about foreign tourist hordes, make sure everything is only in Chinese for the locals."

This model of old Chinese salt works was quite interesting.

After visiting the museum we headed to the famous Salt Mountain, a whole mountain of NaCl.

Watch out! The canted steps can be very disorienting.

The views were amazing, but the place couldn't have been more of a tourist trap if we had been forced to chew an arm off in order to escape.

On the whole, while it's not worth coming for the museum alone, as Jeff pointed out, the area is totally fascinating, completely different terrain than what most foreigners in Taiwan see, and well worth the trip.

We then zoomed back, Jeff dropping me off in Taichung so I could take a few night shots of the city.


Anonymous said...

Re:Old library in Tainan
I don't think it's a library, it's a Kendo dojo built in the Japanese era. If you look at the roof there is a Japanese character for Kendo or sword. If you go there on a Sunday morning you can hear the 'kiai' from Kendo practice. When I was in Taiwan last winter I went there to see the dojo but it was under renovations...thank you for the pics.


Anonymous said...

Heh, gorgeous photos. I love the way you make things look :D

Maybe next time you're around here, we can get together... ;)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful pictures, really enjoy browsing them. However, I did not realize that Koxinga was a member of KMT :) (referring to the picture titled "the gate").