Sunday, July 30, 2006


I arrived at Chiang Kai-shek airport Saturday afternoon. Rather then making the venture into Taipei, which is about an hour away, in the other direction, I headed straight down the coast. After a 5 hour bus journey, including a 10 minute connecting layover in Taichung, I arrived in Tainan. Tainan is the oldest city in the country and was the capital of Taiwan from the 17th - 19th centuries. The inter-city buses were quite easy to use, and very comfortable. The first bus, to Taichung, had seats which were super plush. There was one seat on each side of the aisle, with big cushy arm rests, TV screens, with a movie playing (I think it was the Journey to the Center of the Earth remake, or something along those lines), and speakers, playing the original English dialogue, in the head rest. The second bus, from Taichung to Tainan, was a little less cozy, but still quite nice. It has three seats per row, and arm rests that weren't quite as La-Z-Boyish. But still, it was far superior to anything Greyhound has to offer.

The main drawing points of Tainan are its old temples. Taiwan religion is a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and folk religion. While the strictly Confucius temples are sedate, and resemble Korean or Japanese temples, the Taoist and folk influenced temples are extremely garish. Dragons and charactures line the roof tops. Inside, there is ornamentation galore, and a wide variety of gods represented. The most popular seems to be Matsu, the sea goddess. Other popular gods include the war god, the earth god, the god of heavens, and the city god.

The layout of the temples differs from Japanese temples in other respects too. Japanese temples, and the few Korean temples that I've seen, usually have a multi-building layout, which is spread out over a small compound. There is an entry gate, a main hall, a lecture hall, a pagoda, a small pavilion for the bell, and an administration building. The Taiwanese temples, on the other hand, usually consist of one building, or a series of buildings all under one roof. There are successive altars along the central axis, with side chapels located in the passages between them. While some of the temples have open air courtyards, they are by and large an

There are a couple of other attractions in Tainan, such as a couple of old Dutch forts. They are interesting, but not overly impressive. With less oppressive heat, and a couple of cab rides, everything could be covered in one long day. My only recommendation is that if you go to the Eternal Golden Castle, stop by the little drink stand across the street. One of the daughters working there is studying at the local university. She can speak English (and Japanese and of course Chinese) and will provide you with a seat in the shade while you wait for the bus, which only comes once an hour.

Something else that stood out were the sidewalks. Most of the sidewalks in Taiwan (or at least in the cities I visited) are covered by the buildings that line the street. Given the intense sun beating down, this is a good thing. Not so good is all the stores that push there display racks and restaurant seating out onto said sidewalk. So while you don't have to dodge scooters driving on the sidewalk, like in Korea, you do have shoppers and dinners to dodge. And with parked scooters usually aligned between the sidewalk and road, it's almost like an obstacle course making your way through town.

One further note - be forewarned of the automatic doors. They usually don't open until you are face to face with the sensor. So make sure you pause before you walk into the door.

Some of the dragons that populate most of the Taiwanese temples

A closer look at some of the temple roof details

The inside ornamentation

This is where gifts of food are left.

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