Taiwan III - Central and Southern Taiwan

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This page is on all central and southern end of the island of Taiwan. Again I'll follow geographical order and start from the central. Central Taiwan is said to be the most livable area of the island. This is referring not only to its convenient central location, from which almost anywhere in the island is within driving distance; but also to the fact that central Taiwan is moderate and comfortable in almost every way. It's never as hasty as the North, but not as stagnant as the South either; it won't be as scorching hot as the South while it is somewhat warmer than the North; houses are reasonable priced; most importantly, the hurricane usually strike the island from the north or the south end, but rarely reach the central region. Remember Confucian's teaching: be moderate and search for the golden mean. And here in the central, they got it right.

The largest city in central Taiwan is Tai Chung, which literally means "central Taiwan." A modest, leisured city with population a little over one million. Like most other Taiwanese towns, it's surrounded by water fields of rice and lush hills of betel palms.

A few words on betel palm (Areca catechu); it's an important economic crop in Taiwan due to the high demand of betel nuts. Many Taiwanese like to chew young betel nuts as a stimulant. On the streets of central and southern Taiwan, you can often spot young girls dressed in overly exposed clothing, commonly known as the "Binglang girls," selling betel nuts in small glass panel booths decorated with neon lights. This is a unique scenery of Taiwan.

One of the most famous landmark of Tai Chung is this Luce Memorial Chapel in Tung Hai University. Finished in 1963, it's the magnum opus of the celebrated Chinese American architect I. M. Pei. Like many of Pei's works, the chapel is as much a piece of modern sculpture as a building.

Major attractions of Tai Chung include the National Museum of Natural Science. Opened in 1986, it's the most visited museum in Taiwan with over a million visitors annually. The landmark of the museum is this giant glass bowl, with a huge steel butterfly rest on its side. It is actually a green house that hosting some 400 types of tropical plants.

My favorite display, the scientific and engineering achievements of ancient Chinese. You see, Chinese invented the world's first seismograph in 132 AD (2nd pic); and they developed this sophisticated Equatorial Torquetum for astronomical observation in 1276 (3rd pic). In the last 2 pix is a typical ancient Chinese pharmacy, selling traditional medicine (mostly herbs and minerals).

Ah, another good exhibit on my favorite scientist, good old Charles Darwin. I always have the impression that the evolution theory is more widely accepted in Asia than the states. In Asia I have never heard of any debate on whether school should teach evolution or intelligent design in classes; and there is no Flying Sphaghetti Monster. Oh check out the ferocious Arcteryx model in the last pic, how imaginative! It's got to be my favorite fossil species.

Some random shots in Tai Chung. In the last 2 pix is an aboriginal group called the Atayal people. They've lived in central Taiwan for over 7,000 years now.

 

Pu Li is a small agricultural town that should've been called Tai Chung, because it's located at exactly the geographical center of the island of Taiwan. The town is surrounded by farm lands and mountains. On one of the mountain the Buddhists erected a 50-meter-tall, 300-ton, gilded Buddha, reportedly the largest in the world (last pic).

On another side, on a hill almost opposite to the gilded Buddha, is a splendid and elegant buddhist temple called Chung Tai Zen Temple, supposedly the headquarter of mainstream Zen Buddhism in Taiwan. Finished in 1994, the design of temple is rather refreshing and revolutionary. Unlike any tradition Chinese buddhist temple, the Chung Tai temple blends in exotic architectural elements of cathedral, mosque, Greek temples, and maybe even Egyptian pyramid. The mixture of styling is so shocking, so daring, yet so harmonious, it gives you a brand new perspective on Zen buddhism.

Inside the temple, the majestic hall resembles more of a museum than a temple. Glass, marble, and even spot lights are extensively used; no tiresome smoke curtains of incense polluting the air; no monotonic chanting; the statues of Buddha (3rd and 4th pix) and Bodhidharma (5th pic, founder of Chinese Zen Buddhism) are elegantly sculpted with plain marble .

More shots inside the temple. Notice only minor deities are colored; bigger bosses like our good old General Guan Yu (1st pic, a main character in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms), who's put in charge of money, military affairs and moral righteousness, is humbly in plain marble.

Another major attraction of Pu Li is its renown Shao Hsing Brewery, known for its aromatic, pure rice wine. The photos below are displays in the brewery showing the good old days, when wine were brew in thousands of ceramic pots, sealed with cooked rice, and transported in bamboo baskets... But of course nowadays wine is brewed in huge stainless steel containers and filled into delicate glass bottles.

Nice lunch I had in Pu Li, where I enjoyed some local treats: fresh bamboo shoots, young wild rice shoots, sugar cane bud, and deep fried fresh water shrimp and local fishes. The rest are some random shots I took in Pu Li.

 

The Sun Moon Lake is known as "the pearl of central Taiwan." It's the largest natural lake in Taiwan, with a surface area of about 7.9 sq. km. It was established as a National Scenic Area of Taiwan in 2000. The name "Sun Moon" come from the shape of the lake, which resembles the sun on the east side and a half moon on the west side. The beauty of the lake, I've long heard, lies in the quiet, misty and dreamy feeling of the water and layers by layers of surrounding mountains. The weather was just perfect the day I visited: cool, cloudy, and drizzling all the way. The lake, milky with a hint of cyan, was so peaceful in the haze.

The water source of the lake is mostly precipitations from nearby mountains. The inlet of lake can be seen from one of trail (Da Chu Hu Trail). Streams of water from high above the hill rush into the lake, reflected by the lake floor and form a muddy fountain. I was told in the wet season when the lake is full, the fountain can spout up to 10m (30 feet) into the air. Further away from the shore, there appears to be another stream of water reaching the lake but makes only a rim of ripple because the lake floor is deeper out there.

This trip is not complete without going down onto the water. I avoided all these large modern tour boats and picked this shabby little old wooden sanpan - it was reportedly the ride of choice of all Taiwanese presidents when they visited, from Chiang Kai-shek to today's Ma Ying-jeou. The owner even displayed a certificate of some sort to declare its significance. Well, I'm don't know for sure if this is good old Mr. Chiang's favorite ride, but the boat did seemed pretty darn beaten-up and crappy. But look, somehow it still worked. And I checked, there were lifejackets in the boat. So off the shore we went.

When we were in the middle of the lake, the rain started to pour. Wind blew harder. The water became rough and shaky. Even our captain seemed a bit nervous and stood up to steer; and we heard siren - the water police was sprinting toward us at full speed to rescue...

No it wasn't that dangerous actually. Our boat, old and squeaky as it was, calmly weathered through the pouring rain and the police just cruised by us.

In the center of the lake, between the Sun and Moon, there is a small island called the Lalu Island. It is the sacred ground of the local aboriginal tribe call the Thao people. The Thao people believe that the island the resting ground for the soul of their ancestors. During the great 912 earthquake (magnitude 7.7) in 1999, a good part of the island sunk under water; so the island today is actually much smaller than it used to be. Today the island is off limit to tourists to keep it as a sacred ground. It rained so hard when our boat got close to the island - maybe the island is not mean to be disturbed.

The Thao people is one of the smallest aboriginal Taiwanese group, with a population of 626 in 2008 (in 2000 there were only 281), mostly live around the Sun Moon Lake. Despite of their small number, they managed to retain their own culture, religion, and even a language. They actually haven't been living in the Sun Moon Lake area for that long - possibly a little over a century from official record. They were originally from the A Li Mountain of central Taiwan according to their own legend. In the following pix a group of the women were performing their traditional dance. In the last pic is one of their boat houses and fishing net - this is how they used to live on the lake. Today of course, most of them live on tourism.

Some random shots taken around the lake. In the 4th pic is a Formosan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea), the national bird of Taiwan.

Wen Wu Temple is the most famous temple in the Sun Moon Lake area. Finished in 1932, it serves deities that are in charge of civil (generally covers all academic and many social affairs) and military (in a broader sense covers business and career) affairs. The pair of guardian lions are reportedly the largest in Taiwan (last pic).

The Civil Deity is of course none other than the great Confucius (2nd pic). The military duty is shared by our acquainted general Guan Yu (the red face in the 4th pic) and another well respected general Yue Fei (the yellow face) of Song Dynasty, who is known for his courage, military tactics, and patriotism.

In the temple, paper money for the supernatural realm piled up for the dead. People used all kinds of strange tools for fortune telling (in the 2nd pic the woman was picking up some sort of wooden sacred lottery). Thousands of little golden lanterns, carrying thousands of prayers, were hanging all over the temple (3rd and 5th pix). You can spend all day reading what typical Taiwanese want for their lives: "Excel and get into the ideal school," "Get well and be healthy," "Have a happy and enduring marriage," "Have a long and peaceful life"... the most common of them all seemed to be "Make loads of money." Oh sure, who doesn't want that. Besides the civil and military deities, the temple also serves the local deity in charge of the living (Tu Di in the 4th pic) and the deity taking care of the dead (Cheng Huang, the black dude in the 6th pic).

Overlook the misty lake over the yellow roof of the temple, that's as good a view as it gets.

 

Southern Taiwan. Tai Nan, which means "south of Taiwan" in Chinese, is located near the south end of the island. Tainan used to be the capital city of Taiwan, after Koxinga (2nd pix) drove the Dutch colonists away in 1661. So we can find many historic landmarks here. The 3rd pic is not a historic landmark, but one of the funniest billboard I've seen. In the last 2 pix is the eatery that invented the well-known dim sum "Coffin Bread." It's basically a thick french toast, dipped in eggs, deep fried, cut hollow like a coffin, and then filled with juicy chicken and seafood.

The Chikan Tower was originally built in 1653 by the Dutch colonists, who called it Provintia. Then the pirate/warrior Koxinga drove the Dutch away and took the tower as his mansion. This made Koxinga a Chinese hero and we can find a bronze statue of Koxinga accepting the surrender of the Dutch in front of the Chikan Tower (1st pic). The Tower we see today was rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty.

A Similar building next the the Chikan Tower is the Wen Chang Pavilion, a shrine for When Chang, the God of Literature, the ferocious guy with the brush pen in the 3rd pic. The little blue building at one corner is part of Peng Hu School, a large school established in Qing Dynasty (1886). The last pix is the remaining of the Dutch Buttress.

The decoration of the towers show strong Southern China influence.

The Tianhou Temple is the oldest "official" temple that serves Matsu, a local Goddess of Sea. Nearby there's a Wu Temple that serves the Chinese Military God, Guan Gong.

How fortunate, Tianhou Temple was celebrating Matsu's birthday when I was there. Yeah, I know, no idea how how these mortals manage to peek at the goddess' birth certificate, but these guys did carry the ceremony religiously. Those dancing giants (3rd-5th pix) reminded me some scenes from the cartoon Ghost In A Shell II. In the last two pix, these guys are chanting and burning paper money for the afterworld.

 

Kao Hsiung. Second largest city in Taiwan (population 1.5 million), after Taipei. The following pix are taken at Lian Chi Tan (the Lotus Lake). In the last 2 pix the white lady is Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion.

This 72-meter tall statue of the God the the North is actually a temple. The steel sword in his hand measures 38.5 meters in length. The worship of the God of the North can be traced back to Koxinga's time in 1600s. During that time people believed Taiwan is ruled by the God of North from their Feng Sui theory.

The lake appears to be a local religious center. There're so many temples and shrines along the shore that I lost count.

The Confucius Temple of Kao hsiung is the largest of its kind in Taiwan.

 

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