Day trip to Dajia in Taichung County

Wenchang Shrine in Dajia

I took the opportunity to do a bit of local tourism today heading out to Dajia (大甲) in Taichung County.  The first place I stopped was the Wenchang Shrine (文昌祠), a beautiful little temple with neatly kept grounds.

Worshipers in the temple

Next stop was the Dajia Matsu Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮). The temple is one of the busiest and most important religious centres in Taiwan. It is the starting point of the annual Matsu pilgrimage held in March or April. Continue reading

Travels in Central Taiwan

After the first day of the Lunar New Year passed uneventfully I joined the mass exodus from Taipei to places further south. I met a friend at Taipei Station a little before 9:00 am and we were able to purchase a ticket to Taichung on the High Speed train for 11:00 am that day. There were no tickets for unreserved carriages being sold during the holiday period. The journey was fast and smooth and the sun started shining about ten minutes before we reached Taichung HSR Station.

lugang-mazu-temple-crowd

The old street of Lugang was pulling in the crowds — it was busy but not overwhelmingly so. The town’s main Mazu Temple (天后宮) was also a busy place and you can see the crowds making their New Year wishes above.

lugang-wenwu-temple

The Wenwu Temple (文武廟) was relatively free of people. The open grounds of the temple made it very nice to walk around and its buildings have been carefully restored. Continue reading

Ling Jiou Mountain Monastery

Ling Jiou Mountain Monastery (靈鷲山) was established by Master Hsin Tao (心道法師) after he came to the mountain to practice meditation in 1983. It is located on the mountainside high above Fulong (福龍) on Taiwan's northeast coast. 

Buddha Eye Gate at Ling Jiou Mountain Monastery in Taiwan

Buddha Eye Gate (天眼門) welcomes visitors to the monastery. It is built in a Tibetan style and the pillars are adorned with a variety of religious symbols. 

Ling Jiou Mountain Monastery is built into the side of the mountain with stunning ocean views

Ling Jiou Mountain Monastery is built into the side of the mountain with stunning views along the northeast coast and out over the Pacific Ocean.   

view of fulong from ling jiou mountain monastery

The view of Fulong from the mountain is awesome. Continue reading

Hanging out in Hukou

MJ Klein playing his twelve string electric guitar

On Saturday afternoon I met up with Todd at Taipei Station and caught the train down to Hukou. From the train station we headed to the home of Michael J Klein and Hui-Chen for the grill party. Todd and I were the first to arrive. We headed up to the fourth floor of Michael's home where Todd and Michael compared their Nikon digital SLR cameras. A little later Michael Turton arrived along with Mark. Michael J Klein pulled out his twelve string guitar and played some tunes.

sign on Xiao Hui’s Thai Restaurant in HukouAs it got dark we headed over to Xiao Hui's Thai Restaurant. Michael and Hui-chen set up the grill and got the charcoal burning and not long afterwards a whole lot more guests arrived to get the party started. A lot of people who I was familiar with from their blogs, but had never met in person were at the party. It was great to meet Andres, Karen, Jerry, Becky, Carrie, John, David and Cathy. 

The evening progressed and everyone enjoyed some delicious grilled meat and Thai dishes. I am consistently disappointed by the Thai food in Taipei, however Xiao Hui's food is great and the prices very reasonable. If you want to experience some good Thai cuisine then it is well worth the trip to Hukou.

After everyone finished eating they moved inside to start singing some karaoke. You may not know it from reading their blogs, but there are a couple of Taiwan bloggers who are also great singers. I didn't take many photos of the food or the party, but I suggest you check out the New Hampshire Bushman's photo stream at flickr. 

gate of the Yimin Temple

The next day Michael and Hui-chen took me on a tour around Hukou and Zhubei. The first stop was the Xinpu Yimin Temple (新埔義民宮).

Xinpu Yimin Temple in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

This temple was established in 1789 to commemorate the victims of the Lin Shuang Wen and Dai Chao Chun uprisings. It is a very important centre of worship for the Hakka in Taiwan and the Yimin Festival is held here during the seventh lunar month. 

Hukou Old Street in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

Next stop on the tour was the Hukou Old Street. The architecture is very similar to the old streets in Daxi and Sanxia.We discovered the remnants of an old railway line in the area and a park called the Hukou Station Park (大湖口車站公園). A sign near the temple said the railway line and station were built there in 1886. However, according to several references I have construction of the Taipei to Keelung line didn't begin until 1887 and the Taipei to Hsinchu line opened in 1893. The date might be wrong, but I assume this place was the site of the original railway line and Hukou Station. The Hukou Station is now located some distance away.

The final stop of the tour was Ding Feng Yuan (鼎豐園) in Zhubei for some delicious xiao long bao (小籠包). Many thanks to Michael and Hui-chen for a great party!

EMU700 electric commuter train at Zhubei Station

This wasn't the train I caught home, but I snapped the EMU700 at Zhubei Station. More of my photos here.

Update: Michael Turton, Carrie, David in Taiwan, Todd, Andres, the NH Bushman and Mark (video) also have posts on the party.

Mazu Festival in Ximending

god dancing at the Mazu Festival in Ximending

The already lively and colorful streets of Ximending (西門町) had an extra flavor today with a Mazu Festival. Gods of all shapes and sizes paraded through the streets along with drumming and the sound of fireworks. 

2007 Northern Taiwan Mazu Festival sign on temple in Ximending

Sign for the 2007 Northern Taiwan Mazu Cultural Festival (2007年北台灣媽祖文化節) on the Mazu Temple (天后宮) in Ximending. 

Drummers at the Mazu Festival in Ximending

Drummers on the back of a truck during the parade.  

at the Mazu Festival in Ximending

Two young children who were dressed in dragon costumes take a break from the parade.  

More photos in the Mazu Festival in Ximending set at flickr.

Hiking the Yinhe Cave Trail

Although I have now been living in Xindian for a few months I have hardly explored any of the hiking trails in the nearby mountains. This morning I went out to hike the Yinhe Cave Hiking Trail (銀河洞越嶺步道).

Yinhe Dong Temple and waterfall in Xindian, Taipei County

The trail head is on a small road off Bei-Yi Road (北宜路),also known as Route 9 — the road to Pinglin. It is only a short, but steep, hike up to the Yinhe Cave and Waterfall. This is quite a spectacular location with the temple built into the cliff and a waterfall flowing down beside it.

sign pointing to Maokong on the Yinhe Dong Hiking Trail

After the waterfall he trail goes along a ridge through bamboo and tea gardens. It then reaches a point where it splits. One way leads to the Maokong Gondola Station. The other way goes to Dailaokeng Shan (待老坑山) and U-Theatre (優人禪鼓).  The signs in this area include coordinates making them easy to find with a GPS. I headed to Dailaokeng Shan. The summit of the mountain didn’t afford any special views though.

bird photographed while hiking the Yinhe Dong Trail in Xindian, Taipei

I captured this shot of a bird with the camera at full zoom (the photo has also been cropped). The bird is a Müller’s Barbet (Megalaima oorti; 五色鳥).  I also saw a raptor on the hike. There are still many more trails to explore in the Xindian and Muzha area. I hope to hike some more of them soon.

map of the Yinhe Dong Hiking Trail

INEB study tour: from north to south

Following the INEB conference, many of the participants joined a study tour. The bus departed from Hongshi College early in the morning of 3 September with the first destination being Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) in Jinshan. During the visit to Dharma Drum Mountain we had a tour of the facilities and short symposium followed by lunch.

Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa with Prof Cheng Chen Huang at Dharma Drum Mountain 3 Sep 2007

Soon after he arrived in Taiwan Ajarn Sulak asked me to contact his old friend Prof. Cheng Chen-huang (鄭振煌教授). They met each other during the visit to Dharma Drum Mountain. Prof. Cheng told Ajarn that he was working on a project about Ajarn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.

Ajarn Sulak and Ven Chao Hwei during the visit to Hsuan Chuang University 3 Sep 2007

Statue of Xuanzang at Hsuan Chuang University in Xinzhu, TaiwanAfter leaving Dharma Drum Mountain the bus headed south to Hsuan Chuang University (玄奘大學) in Hsinchu. Ven. Chao Hwei (昭慧法師) is a professor at the university and they were a sponsor of the conference. Ajarn Sulak noted that the first book he ever wrote was a translation from English to Thai about Xuanzang, after whom the university was named. We went on a tour of the campus and the library was most impressive.

Tea ceremony at Keng Tu Yuan in Taizhong 3 Sep 2007

The bus then travelled to Taichung were we went to a branch of the Keng Tu Yuan (耕讀園) for dinner. The owner of Keng Tu Yuan is a Buddhist and this has influenced the way he runs his business. In particular the choice to use organic food in the restaurant. After enjoying an organic vegetarian dinner we then had a tea ceremony. I was at a table with a group of monks and acted as the translator. The monks asked a lot of very interesting questions about tea.

Ven. Hueiguang welcomes the group from INEB to Bodhisattva Temple in Taizhong 4 Sep 2007

architectural design of Bodhisattva Temple in TaizhongThe next morning we visited the Bodhisattva Temple (菩薩寺) in Taichung. We were welcomed by the abbot Ven. Hueiguang (慧光法師). On entering this temple one is immediately impressed by its design. It was designed by an architect and includes a number of very interesting features. The bare concrete walls have a brushed appearance which makes them look like something more than just concrete. There is a large glass window behind the Buddha image in the main hall which has a big tree behind it.

At the temple we had a discussion and enjoyed tea and a delicious vegetarian lunch. The visit to this temple helped everyone better understand how small Buddhist organisations operate in the community. Most foreigners already know about large Buddhist organisations like Fo Guang Shan and Dharma Drum Mountain, but these only make up one part of Buddhism in Taiwan.

Ajarn Sulak and the abbot of Fo Guang Shan Master Xin Pei 4 Sep 2007

The final stop for the day was Fo Guang Shan (佛光山) near Kaohsiung. Fo Guang Shan is such a huge place that we didn’t really have time to see all of it. We split into groups and had a tour. In the evening there was symposium. The photo above shows Ajarn Sulak with Master Xin Pei (心培法師), the abbot of Fo Guang Shan, during the symposium.

The next day the bus returned to Taipei. A report on the final part of the study tour will follow soon.

Beipu to Nanzhuang: Through the mountains

Day 2: 29 May 2007 北埔 – 南庄

72 metre tall statue of Maitreya Buddha at Emei Lake in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

In the early morning I rode from Beipu to Emei Lake (娥眉湖) where there is a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha (彌勒佛). The statue was built by the Tian'en Buddhist Temple (天恩佛堂). While the statue is finished a temple of similarly grand proportions was being constructed next to it. 

Next I rode onto another Buddhist center — Lion's Head Mountain or Shitou Shan (獅頭山). The "tail" of the mountain is in Xinzhu County and has a number of Buddhist temples. The "head" is in Miaoli County and the temples there are the mixed Taoist and Buddhist variety so common in Taiwan. 

Qi Xing Sacred Tree on Lion's Head Mountain in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

There is a visitor's centre with maps and information at the "tail". I went on a hike that took me on a loop around the mountain. It was a little hot so I didn't go far enough to visit all the temples. I only passed one Buddhist temple which was closed. The other place of interest I passed was the Qi Xing Sacred Tree (七星神木).

Quanhua Temple at Lion's Head Mountain in Taiwan

I then rode around to the "head" of the mountain. I wanted to visit the Quanhua Temple (勸化堂 ) as I had stayed there when I visited the mountain seven years ago. I can't say I slept there because I was kept awake all night by fireworks!  

Meishan House near Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

Next I rode towards Nanzhuang and stopped at the Meishan House (眉山居) for lunch. The Meishan House is an old brick building and also a guesthouse and restaurant. The owner was very friendly. He even gave me a copy of a book he had written about his experiences at the guesthouse. The book was called Minsu Sanji (民宿散記). 

Old Post Office in Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

I was quite impressed when I rode into the town of Nanzhuang. It is only a small town, but it looked very neat and well cared for. The town obviously attracts plenty of tourists on the weekends and has a few minor tourist attractions. There is a restored 100 year old wooden post office, Laurel Lane (桂花巷) and the channel for washing the clothes (水汴頭).

Nanzhuang washing place in Miaoli County, Taiwan

The channel for washing clothes and dishes is still in regular use by the locals. 

Laurel Lane in Nanzhuang Miaoli County Taiwan

The narrow alley of Laurel Lane. Several shops here sell coffee and local snacks. I am sure that you could barely move here on a weekend.

Dong He Valley in Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

I then left the town behind to ride into the mountains. I rode up the Dong He (東河) valley which has a number of small aboriginal villages. Some belong to the Atayal tribe and others to the Saisiat (賽夏族; also spelt Saisiyat). Along the way I saw the biggest snake I had ever seen in Taiwan. It looked like some kind of python but it slithered away before I could get a really good look at it. 

Saisiat Museum in Xiang Tian Hu village in Miaoli County

The village of Xiang Tian Hu (向天湖) contains the world's only museum of the Saisiat tribe. The Saisiat are one of Taiwan's smaller aboriginal tribes. There are about 5,000 members and they live in a few places in the mountains of Xinzhu and Miaoli Counties. The museum is very informative with everything clearly labelled in English.

View of the mountains in the Saisiat village of Xiang Tian Hu, Miaoli County, Taiwan

The location of the village is quite spectacular beside a small lake surrounded by mountains. The village is at an altitude of 880 metres. The village also hosts the "pygmy dance" ( 矮靈祭) once every two years. The next dance will be next year (2008) on the 15-17th days of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.  

As it was getting late in the afternoon I headed down the mountain. A short distance south of Nanzhuang I saw a sign to a Youth Hostel. I headed up a small road to have a look. I found the LTC Holiday Pension (栗田莊度假莊園). It wasn't really a typical youth hostel; it was more like a small resort in the mountains. Still I could use my card there to get a discount and it was NT$1,200 to stay in a very nice room and included breakfast. (The normal price is more than double that).