Day 216: Tainan, Taiwan. We had an easy day today – no monster walks, hill climbing or exploration, just a gentle afternoon trot around a couple of temples in the town. Followed by a few local craft beers to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.
And due to a unfortunate hair colour mix-up, Lil is now a brunette instead of a red head.
Breakfast delivered another intense selection of country and western songs; someone must have an entire library of the stuff somewhere. Listening to 10 or more songs about people leaving their partners and dogs dying doesn’t deliver the best start to the day. Must remember to add that to our feedback form when we leave.
Early afternoon we set off to check out a couple of temples. Taiwan religion is fascinating – it’s highly diversified in terms of beliefs and practices. Of the 80% or so that follow a religion, the large majority practice a combination of Buddhism and Taoism. A small percentage are Christians, while others adhere to a number of different ‘folk religions’ (also known simply as Chinese religions), among them Yiguandao, Tiandism and Miledadao. It’s all pretty complicated.
In an effort to understand more about local practices and traditions, we’ve started to try to do a little research before visiting temples. Otherwise we just wander through them idly, oohing and aahing at the different craftsmanship and decorations, but with no real understanding of what we’re really looking at.
Our first visit today was to the City God Temple, a very elaborate Taoist temple dedicated to Cheng Huang, the god of justice.
Above the entrance way are two huge abacuses which are supposedly used to calculate whether people have done more bad than good in their lives.
Also above the entrance way is a plaque which carries what are said to be the most famous words ever featured on a temple plaque in Taiwan. They simply translate to “You are here at last”. Which, depending on what the abacuses say about the balance of your good and bad deeds in life, may either evoke feelings of happiness or terror.
On the first shrine was a bowl of Moon Blocks or Jiaobei – wooden crescent shaped blocks which are thrown in pairs, to get the answer to a question. Depending on how they fall, they depict a yes, no or maybe.
A girl was tossing the moon blocks while we were there. When she’d finished she got up and smiled a satisfied smile at her boyfriend who was standing nearby – clearly she’d got the answer she was after.
In the worship hall towards the back of the temple, there are lots of pink slips of paper near the altar. We’ve read that they’re from students asking for help with passing their exams – though as our Chinese is still almost non-existent, we couldn’t read any of them to be sure.
As we were leaving, one of the temple assistants came over and gave us two temple key rings, which was a really lovely gesture.
Next on our list was Dongyue Temple – this one is a bit edgy and just a little unsettling too. People visit the temple to communicate with the dead through spirit mediums. As we entered a girl was kneeling on a cushion at the front shrine, chattering away (presumably trying to connect with a passed loved one).
They say that you can hear the screams of tortured spirits at night. However despite our keenness to research temples, we won’t be visiting to validate that one.
The temple consists of a number of chambers, each with different gods and deities.
One lady with a lot of questions was tossing her moon blocks frantically and clearly unhappy with the answers she was getting. She sat clattering away for the whole time we were there, trying to get the replies she was after.
Late afternoon, when we’d finished our temple visits, we caught the bus across to Beer Bee, a sister craft beer bar to the one we visited in Kaohsiung. Our wedding anniversary was a good excuse to sample a few more local craft brews.
The place is small with a few tucked away rooms and a great atmosphere. We sat at the wooden bar and chatted to the manager, and also to a couple who were sitting next to us, who live in London. Kevin is from Malaysia, and David is originally from Devon in the UK. They met in London, are visiting Taiwan for a couple of weeks, and are getting married in March. They’re a really nice couple and we enjoyed exchanging travel experiences with them for an hour or so, before they headed off for dinner.
It was nearly 10pm when we caught the bus back to town; lots of eateries were closed but we walked past one that was selling trays of pork buns, dumplings and pancakes, and scoffed a hefty selection. Perhaps not the healthiest of late night dinners, but they were delicious and just what we needed.
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve – we’re not entirely sure what celebrations will be taking place in the town, but guess we’ll find out at some point. And the end of another year will no doubt provide another good reason to sample a few more local craft beers.