Four Temples and a Consulate

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March 22nd 2011
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 22.63, 120.27

Lots of temples today, which varied from the beautiful to the very tacky. We began by driving to Lukang, a port city near the coast, famous for being the center of the venison/antler trade from the time of the Dutch. There, our first stop was Longshan Temple, one of more lovely … an old wooden temple, dating from the Qing Dynasty, with several quiet courtyards centered around two ancient fichus trees. The temple was crowded with worshipers, praying to the figure of the goddess of mercy, and the air was redolent with the smell of joss sticks and blossoms. The painted temple guardians were fabulous, though faded and difficult to see in the dim lighting. The roofline had the distinctive "swallow tail" ends, showing that the temple was built by a noble of high rank.

From the temple, we drove to the center of the old town. The most memorable thing about the drive was that rice is grown in every vacant lot, right up to the walls of buildings on either side, and somewhat littered with trash. Once in the old town, we walked through the old street, although the atmosphere was somewhat disturbed by the constant flow of scooters and the fact that the buildings had mostly been replaced without too much regard to recreating the original edifice. No matter. More interesting was the current main street, with small shops selling a variety of food and wares. At the end, we visited Matsu temple, which was more full of tourists than worshippers. Still, it was a lovely temple, with a small fishpond full of koi and turtles. It clearly had become a wishing pond, though that was something, according to our guide, which locals adopted from Europeans.

We lunched at a small restaurant just outside the temple, tried the local specialties of “monkey shrimp” and oyster omelet. The former was quite tasty but the latter was a bit too sweet (and fishy, an odd combination) for my liking.

The weather had turned rather cool and windy, so we actually pulled on our lightweight jackets.

We then had a long, boring drive through the haze and the endless towns, to Kaohsiung city, where we visited the natural-artificial lake (“Lotus Pond”😉, the shores of which are lined with temples. We visited four spots: a giant statue of Myoken, the personification of the north pole star; spring and autumn pavilions; with Confucian refuge; and the dragon and tiger pagodas of the Daoist temple. These shrines are reminded us of nothing so much as amusement park fun houses, or at least all of the giant statues of things that dot Queensland. The north pole star has a French manicure; on the inside, the shrine actually has some lovely murals on the ceiling, which are covered in the patina of smoke, and a surprisingly elegant architecture, with curving staircases leading up to a viewing balcony.

The most interesting thing about the Confucian pagoda was the bridge, lined with yellow lanterns, leading out to it, and the fact that this refuge of scholars had several kiddy-rides of the front-of-the-supermarket variety in it. We climbed up to the upper floor, to view the lake through the haze. Being a clearly artificial lake, it is not particularly lovely … but we able to just make out the giant pole-star guy, rumored to be the largest statue in Asia, just a few hundred metres away.

How to describe the experience of the dragon and tiger pagodas? After crossing the seven-turns bridge, you enter through the dragon's throat, much like entering a funhouse … there's a staircase that leads up and down through the throat, painted with brightly color morality tales. You can then climb, as we did, the six open stories of the seven-story pagoda and viewed the hazy world from above. Returning to the lake level, you then cross a bridge to the tiger pagoda and exit the complex by entering the tiger's butt and emerging from his mouth.

Our final stop of the day was the former British consulate, a lovely brick building on the hill behind Kaohsiung. The building itself on the interior was not much: there was a set up of a British official drinking tea with a Chinese official. We were told that they had to put a big metal fence around it because visitors from Mainland China are still resentful of the unfairness of the treaty, and so would break off the fingers of the British official. The remaining rooms held an exhibit of the “age of exploration”, which included some photos of old maps. More interesting was the view from the veranda, as well as the exterior of the building itself.

From there, we went to our hotel, which is reasonably nice. It sits a few blocks away from the Love River, but it wasn't a bad walk at all. We sat down for a few minutes then strolled out to the river. It was very pleasant sitting at the coffee house near the water, waving at the Chinese tourists on their river cruise.

After coffee, we strolled down the promenade, then across one bridge, back up the promenade, and across the next bridge. It was dark by this point, and the lights on the river were lovely. From the river, we walked down the main boulevard, to the “tourist” street market. Many things, including food, were for sale, but we weren't feeling like fried seafood or coagulated pig's blood, so we walked to a small café along the side street for dinner. Then back to the hotel to play a game of story cubes, and sleep.

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