(Photo of Pei Ling and of a farmer in his field along the highway).
I'ts been a month now since I returned to America. On the day I left Chiayi, the clouds were dark and heavy over the city. The school had paid for me to take a taxi from my apartment to the airport in Taoyuan, a three hour drive. Clark, my regular English speaking taxi driver was waiting in front of my apartment complex at a quarter till three in the afternoon. Pei Ling stopped by earlier to collect some belongings I couldn't take back with me to the States. We walked to the taxi and hugged goodbye. I can't remember any time in my life when someone has treated me as well or been as supportive of me as Pei Ling has been during my stay in Taiwan. What an incredible person she is. I will long remember her standing there in front of my apartment gates, tears streaming down her face, as my taxi pulled away from the curb. Almost immediately, it began to rain and continued to rain throughout Chiayi County. Almost in a parallel to my thoughts and my mission for the day, the rain cleared by the time we were in Yulin County and clouds mingled with glimpses of clear sky. By the time we were near Taichung, we stopped for a break and a last supper. Clark bought me a traditional Taiwanese dinner of fish balls and chia. Now where in America could I find a taxi driver who would treat his passenger to dinner? He even gave me a gift of dried plums to take back on the long trip home. Taiwanese are such kind and generous people. I will long miss the hospitality and friendship. There are so many stories to tell about the adventure and the people. I wonder if I will ever tell them, or if perhaps, the photographs will have to tell the stories. Tonight I sit here in my empty house in Mansfield, Ohio, getting ready to begin a new adventure in Oregon in a few weeks. Why Oregon, you ask. Why not?
Thursday, June 28, 2007
With the school year just ended and summer camp next week, I realize I am not going to have time to get caught up on the blog entries. Things are moving too quickly here. I am about 10 adventures behind and going off to the mountains tomorrow to avoid the heat and watch a sunrise above the clouds. So far I have 48 CD's of photographs I have taken this past year.... can I make it 50 before I am back in the US? I love a challenge! In the meantime, here are a few photos from a temple in Jiji that collapsed during an earthquake in 1999. I am not entirely sure why they left the temple on the ground like this. Perhaps it was seen as a way to bring tourists to Jiji and help build the economy after the earthquake destroyed so much of the town. If that was the intention, it seems to have been successful. The few photos I have chosen to post are to show an overall view of the temple, a close up view and then one that might be titled, "So much for steel reinforced concrete...."
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Now, here is where my journey to visit Wu Feng's place gets really strange. First, it would be of interest to say that when I had mentioned to the local teachers that I wanted to visit Wu Feng's memorial, they discouraged me, saying that it wasn't worth the hassle it would take to get there. If I took a bus it would take too long to get there and be difficult to get another bus back. They said 20 minutes tops and I would see everything there was to see and be bored. So..... I was totally delighted that there were in fact many things to see and the layout of the property was extensive. While I only posted a few of the photographs, I took many more and saw much more than what you see in the previous post. But that is just the beginning. It wasn't until I was leaving the residence that the taxi driver mentioned we still needed to go visit the Wu Feng temple which was down the road. Ah, cool! More to see. I was totally unprepared for what I saw next. Perhaps the teachers had discouraged me from going because they didn't want me to know about this part of Taiwan. I was delighted. It put a whole new twist on my adventure on this island, Formosa. It started out rather deceptively, as from the front, the temple area looked quite small. An unimpressive temple and a few building looking quite similar to what I saw at the residence. There was an "entry fee" which surprised me. It was a rather high entry fee (for Taiwan) and I paid for my admittance as well as that of the taxi driver because I wanted him to come along and translate for me. That was definitely a good move on my part as the place turned out to be huge and there was much to be translated or described in English. First, we entered a strange little room with Wasabi plants, charts about the growth of Wasabi, and even a few products for sale. Wasabi is grown in Alishan, as is oolong tea and many other products, so I wasn't particularly surprised to see a room of Wasabi here. As a matter of fact, I had been hoping to find some Wasabi coated peanuts and found them there. The building was not air conditioned and the temperature outside was most likely above 100 degrees F. Through a doorway was an incredible display of artifacts from China, Japan and early Taiwan. I even saw a few things that looked suspiciously like early American products. The taxi driver described what the items were and how they were used, although there were a few things he didn't really know. It was delightful despite the fact that my clothes were beginning to be soaked in sweat and a steady stream ran from my scalp through the frizz of my hair. It was hard to tear myself away from those historic relics, but I knew if I stayed in that heat much longer I would suffer. It's hard to describe the feeling of standing there, inches away from a diorama created hunderds of years ago in China, ancient puppets, and handmade musical instruments played by many generations of Taiwanese, shoes worn by women with bound feet, Chinese bridal beds and Japanese "safety deposit boxes" slept on at nights to keep them safe. It was incredible.
According to a controversial legend, Wu Feng became a hero on August 10, 1769 when he sacrificed himself to bring peace between the aborigines and the local Chinese. For over 40 years Wu Feng (pronounced Ew Fong) worked for the government as an interpreter and liaison to the tribes in Alishan. At the age of 24, when Wu Feng first befriended the aborigines, he was horrified at their practice of head hunting and diligently went about convincing them to abandon the ritual. It is said that he talked them into using heads which had been taken in earlier years and were stored in the villages. Each year for 40 years one of the heads was taken from storage and used in the ritual. When all of the heads had been "recycled," the tribe decided they needed to go out and gather new heads. At this time, Wu Feng came up with a plan to stop the headhunting. He told the tribe that if they were able to take the head of a man riding a horse and wearing a red cape and hood on a particular night at a particular time, this would satisfy their gods forever and no more heads would be needed. The aborigines agreed to this. On the night Wu Feng predicted, the hooded rider appeared and was killed and beheaded by the tribe. It turned out that the rider was Wu Feng. The tribe was shocked that they had killed Wu Feng and in their sorrow, gave up the practice of headhunting and convinced the other tribes to do the same. What a great story-- true or not -- I loved it. I was even more delighted with this tale when I learned that Wu Feng lived about 6 miles from where I live here in Chiayi City. He really did exist. I knew that this was one of the places I had to visit while in Taiwan. As the story continues, 15 or 20 years ago the local aborigines began a protest to dissolve the legend of Wu Feng because they believe it casts them in a savage and degrading manner. They want this legend removed from the history books and all of the statues of Wu Feng and the temple to be destroyed. They claim that the Japanese fabricated the tale during their reign in Taiwan. I have no way of knowing if the legend is true or make believe. I do know that the first temple or statue of Wu Feng was built within 30 years of his death. I do know that with the exception of one single tribe of the aborigines of Taiwan, headhunting was definitely something they practiced. It is very likely that the legend of Wu Feng will die away in time and eventually, few people in Taiwan will know of him. In the meantime, here are a few photo's of Wu Feng's place.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
One day in May, I called my English speaking taxi driver and said, "Hey," (I'm quite the eloquent conversationalist, if you don't already know that ;-)), "I'm leaving Taiwan in a little less than two months and I haven't been on enough adventures. Where can you take me and my camera so we might take home more memories?" He thought for a few moments, climbed in the back with me and pulled out some maps, rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow. And then he smiled and looked up at me. "Have you ever been to Wu Feng's place?" Well, no, I hadn't. But of course, I always wanted to go there with folk lore and legend being high on my list of .. "Oh, tell me about it!" I'll post more about Wu Feng later, but this particular post is about a temple the taxi driver took me to on the way to Wu Feng's. If you've read many of my posts in this blog you have seen many temples. If you continue to read, you'll see more. They fascinate me. If someone were to photograph and document the stories of the gods in these temples, it would take years and many volumes to even brush the surface of tales there are here. With this particular temple, the photos I have chosen to post give a sense of the temple atmosphere rather than show many of the features particular to the temple. You'll see a monk sitting on the concrete in front with the remnants of fireworks from the previous nights festivities, close up shots of dioramas, the burning of incense, gifts for the gods, and some of the scenes on the roof. There are thousands of things you won't see. If you have never seen a temple in Asia, it is hard to describe the intricate nature of what you will find there.... everywhere, nearly every inch of the space. I hope I have captured some of the atmosphere in the photographs I've chosen to post.
Monday, June 04, 2007
to May 12 and Lotus Lake. I am using the laptop tonight to post so this will likely be short.... the laptop has a tendency to suddenly erase a few paragraphs at a time. So far in this post I described a traffic accident at Lotus Lake and a ride to the train station I took with some local Taiwanese..... but.... the laptop decided I didn't need to elaborate, so that information won't make it to the blog. Instead, I will tell you about the strange sights at Lotus Lake. Ordinarily, this Lake has some unusual attractions that could almost pass as visuals at an amusement park. There is a huge dragon and an equally huge tiger at the entrance to some pagodas. Visitors walk into the mouth of one and through the rear of another if they want to see the pagodas and the art inside the pagodas. Strangely enough, I was really looking forward to that. But, during my visit, there was construction going on and I was unable to explore inside the pagodas or to even take any good photos of the attraction. Another large temple across the street was also under construction but I was able to photograph some of the architecture of the temple.... minus the paint cans and ladders and such. Although I was disappointed at the construction, I was still impressed with many of the other statues and pavilions out on the lake. It was very hot on the day I went to Lotus Lake and there was really no place for me to escape the direct sun.... so I didn't stay too long at the lake. Perhaps these photos will give you somewhat of an idea of what it was like at Lotus Lake. The bamboo you see along the dragon is scaffolding. That's the way it is done here....rather nice, don't you think?