Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Long Shan Temple 龙山寺

My initial itinerary did not include a visit to Lukang, as in all honesty, I have never heard of the place before this trip. But thanks to Judy, the person I was liaising this trip with from roundTAIWANround, I now not only have heard of Lukang, but also have been there! *Thank you, Judy!

The name Lukang (鹿港) literally means deer harbour and came about due to the trade of deerskins during the Dutch colonial period. In addition to local Taiwanese and Chinese architecture, no wonder I also noticed Dutch architecture (similar to the buildings in Malacca with small Dutch brickwork). This must have been quite a crowd-puller as in 2012, Lukang made it onto the Top 10 Small Tourist Towns list put together by the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan.

Judy suggested Lukang due to its historical architecture, as there are still many old temples preserved there, like this temple that we stopped at. This temple was just one of over 200 temples dedicated to a wide variety of folk deities that the town boasts. Despite undergoing some building conservation works due to the damage caused by the 921 Earthquake back in 1999, the temple was still in its grandeur.

This is the Lukang Long Shan Temple (龙山寺). A direct translation would be Dragon Mountain Temple. According to Allie (he's an awesome guide because he is like a walking encyclopaedia!), it used to be a small temple until the local residents rescaled it into a much bigger one.

As I entered the main entrance, I noticed how old the building was, as the paint and carvings on the wood have started to wear off. However, those are signs of how sturdy buildings built in the olden days were - entirely of wood without a single nail and still standing after thousands of years. The eight trigram or caisson found above the outdoor stage at the entrance was particularly mesmerising. How they built it without a single nail to improve the sound resonance of the stage is really beyond me. Technicalities aside, caissons in many Asian cultures are believed to suppress evil and promote peace.

This temple is classified a Class One historic site, as it is the oldest known Buddhist temple in Taiwan. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the resident deity is the Goddess of Mercy, like all Long Shan Temples in Taiwan. Also, a dragon temple would not be complete if there was no Dragon Deity, right? As such, the divine ruler of the ocean, the Dragon King has a shrine in the back worship hall.

As we also part respects to the Goddess of Mercy at home, we made a donation and paid our respects here, too.

We then heard some commotion happening in the front, where the stage area was. There were real canons and boy, were they loud! I was quite silly to be standing so near them. Dad, on the other hand, went to the other end of the stage. 

There were different groups performing different dances. Even Allie was unsure what the event was, as in his many trips to the temple, this was his first encounter.

This was no ordinary lion dance performance...

... I noticed that they were carrying something...

... as they made their way past me, I tried my best to take a close-up shot of what it was they were carrying...

Wow, it was the head of the Dragon King! Auspicious day for us, it was :)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum 三義木雕博物馆 and Lai Xin Kui 赖新魁面馆

From Nanzhuang, we made our way south towards Sanyi to visit the Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum. Still within the Miaoli County, this museum is the only museum based on wood sculpture in Taiwan. All along the way, it was easy to tell that the town is big on wood, as there were many shops selling wood sculptures and carvings.

We bought our tickets (I managed to get mine at student price - uni student from Australia still a student, right?) and had to keep my camera upon entry. No photography allowed, which is understandable. We were too awe-struck to take photographs, anyway.

There are five levels of several collections of wood sculptures of sorts - amazing! There are nine collections that are grouped according to themes that include The Introduction of Wood Sculpture, The Styles of Each Chinese Dynasty, Austronesian Tribe Wood Sculpture, The Origins of Sanyi Wood Sculpture, Temple Deities, Architecture and Furniture, as well as Mix Media. We were especially impressed by the sculptures that were prize winners - I kept going round looking for them.

There is also a room where that functions as some sort of an education space. There was a man there showing visitors the tools used for carving and the types of different wood.

Since we could not take any photographs inside, we took photographs outside - with the huge elephant wood sculpture under the trees that surround the museum carpark. 

Just as I was walking towards the car, I noticed my parents and Allie walking in a different direction. They crossed the road and started walking on a path that led into the foliage. It was not a short walk and I was wondering where we were going since it was not included in our itinerary. "Allie said there is a tea plantation here and I thought well, why not visit it since we are here?" said Dad. Right...

And there really was a tea plantation up the hill! Apparently, this plantation is managed by Tzu Chi. There were some volunteers in the distinguishable dark blue and white Tzu Chi uniform and we heard them converse in Hakka. We became really excited and spoke a few sentences to them in Hakka, too, to see if they could understand our Malaysian Hakka, and they did!

They offered us some refreshing tea and we were off in search of lunch. We tracked back northwards to a noodle restaurant called Lai Xin Kui (赖新魁面馆). Apparently, it has been around for 60 years and judging from the crowd, they would be around for the next 60 years, I'd reckon.

At the entrance, there was a counter with many plates with what we term "small eats" (小吃), also known as side dishes.

They were all traditional Hakka dishes, like this mouth-watering plate of braised mixed ingredients (卤味拼盘)...

... braised cheeks (嘴边肉)...

... eggplant (茄子)...

... and their signature dish of ban tiao (粄条). Like what we had in Nanzhuang, the ban tiao is actually a really fat version of our kuay teow, which made it chewier. We tried a dry version with added pork and an original soup version. Not sure if I am one who is easily satisfied but I was a happy person after this meal!

As we were leaving, Mum walked up to this little stall selling traditional sweet cakes or kuih. We bought 10 because it was buy 5 free 1 and Mum is a huge supporter of cottage industries. Some tasted familiar, some not so but they were good to have in the car for the long journey ahead in the next few days.

It felt good to know that Hakka people around the world were similar in many ways although different at the same time. The restaurant does not have a website but if you copy and paste its name, there are many results on Google, including their location on Google Maps.


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