A Travellerspoint blog

Taiwan

or Formosa or the Republic of China

rain 60 °F
View Bill and Hope 2019 on HopeEakins's travel map.

We have a sort of list in our heads, a list of places we have visited to which we’d like to return, cities or countries we’d like to know more of, see at a different season, spend longer getting to know. And then there is Taiwan. Formerly Formosa, now the Republic of China (vs. the Peoples Republic of China on the mainland.), Taiwan is the democratic holdout of the country led by Chiang Kai-Shek before its fall to Communism. Today, we are told, half the population wants to unite with mainland China because, after all, Taiwan IS the real China; the other half wants to declare itself independent so they can have the same political status as the other nations – and also have their name recognized and national anthem played at the Olympics. (Currently China refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes Taiwan.)

What Taiwan has going for it is this excitement about democracy, the enthusiastic people who yearn for visitors to love their country, its tidiness (no litter anywhere) and its advanced economy and educated populace. What we didn’t find was anything gracious or beautiful or fun or unusual. We were here for two days, first in Kaohsiung and then in Taipei and its port Keelun; on the second day it poured rain, which surely colored our impression. On both days we took tours with guides who shouted for hours. Either they think Westerners are deaf or the language is just pitched louder than anywhere else, but our ears are exhausted.

On Day One we visited Fo Guang Shan, “the largest monastery in the world.” It was built in 1981 and looks like a Buddha-land built by Walt Disney but never maintained. We were told we would see 1000 Buddhas and we did. Many were plastic and looked like Kewpie dolls; many were wire frames wrapped with colored muslin that had become moldy; many were poured concrete garden ornaments. The landscapes were well laid out and grand – and dotted with trees constructed of sticks wrapped with duct tape and covered with dusty plastic flowers and sparkly beads (look carefully at the photos!). We were told that here “the great is not necessarily great and the small is not necessarily small, the pure is not necessarily pure, and the impure not necessarily impure, the existent does not necessarily exist...etc.” The sound of one hand clapping suddenly seems comparatively simple.

We heard an explanation of the “Lenten festival” which had just passed and were quite confused until we were shown the Lentens – sorry, the lanterns which brightened up the day. The best moment was when a small boy knelt to pray before a giant Buddha. The city park had a lake with metal stanchions to provide waterskiing without a boat, and a pagoda. The pagoda had a lion door and a dragon door, and it was very important to go in one and out the other or otherwise it wouldn’t be auspicious. We have never heard the word “auspicious” said as many times a day as we did here. The best thing about the plastic pagoda was the tree next to it which looks like it is growing pickles.

The second day we visited a Confucian shrine and a Confucian temple. The shrine was like a museum which honored scholars and practitioners of the religion. At the temple, many different vendors sold offerings to the gods - food, flowers, and even fake money. These things were placed on altars designated for specific prayer requests, e.g. health, passing exams, finding a mate. Prayer papers were thrown into a furnace and wafted to heaven.

Then off to Taipei 101, the world’s tallest (101 floors) skyscraper from 2004 to 2010. 101 is a very auspicious building, that includes eight sections of eight floors each – because in Chinese, the word for 8 sounds like the word for prosperity. It was hard to see the top of 101 because of the rain.

Finally, a photo of beautiful bougainvillea and a tree with a fascinating root system.

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Posted by HopeEakins 02:37 Archived in Taiwan

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