Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Taiwan - Sandimen, Pingtung, Tainan and the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival

Keira along for the ride at The Indigenous Peoples Culture Park
Santa Clara - For this post we'll head back to Taiwan and the trip Suwei, Keira and I took this winter.  This set of photos comes from a few little day trips we took out of Kaohsiung.  Many of Suwei's family had the week off for Lunar New Year and were nice enough to drive us out of town.  However, most other Taiwanese folks were also off for New Year, so we didn't venture out too far in order to avoid potentially massive traffic jams.

Here is where we went:

The Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples Culture Park in Sandimen, Taiwan.

Sandimen is a small aboriginal community about 30 kms east of Pingtung.  The big draw here is the Indigenous Peoples Culture Park, located in a beautiful, steep, forested valley and offering interesting glimpses into the traditions and architecture of Taiwan's indigenous tribes.  This kind of place wouldn't usually be at the top of my list of "must sees," but I found it quite pleasant to wander through the wooded hillsides with family.
The traditional mushing of the goop.

There are about 14 recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan and each tribe was represented by a village in the park.  There were places where you could try on traditional costumes, mush traditional goop (see photo), watch traditional dances, listen to traditional music and ride around in traditional trams.  I think some of our family guides might have been a little bored with the park (most of them had been to the park quite a few times), but I think everyone enjoyed the walking in the nice weather (foggy and cool in the morning and a little toasty in the afternoon).

Traditional dance and costumes at the Naluwan Theater
The Indigenous Peoples Culture Park, Sandimen, Taiwan
Liudui Hakka Cultural Park, Pingtung, Taiwan 

After the Indigenous Peoples Culture Park we visited a very different type of "Culture Park", in Pingtung.  The Liudui Hakka Cultural Park was very modern and very, very new.  Actually this was the first time any of the family members had ever visited it as it had opened only 3 months earlier. 

Liudui roughly translates to "six camps" and is the collective name for the 12 townships in Pingtung County and Kaohsiung City that are inhabited mainly by people of Hakka ancestry.  The park does an interesting job of combining Hakka traditions, culture and architecture with the modern concept of environmental protection.  It's free to enter and there were tons of families wandering around checking it out.  I don't think I learned as much at this park, but it was a very fun atmosphere.  The flowers were amazing.

Liudui Hakka Cultural Park, Pingtung, Taiwan
The giant steel umbrellas seen in these pictures are actually modeled after traditional Hakka roadhouses and and fitted with solar panels that provide all the energy and lighting needs for the park.

The Liudui Hakka Cultural Park
The Taitian Temple of Nan Kun Shen in Beimen Township, Tainan County

On a different day trip up to Tainan we visited the Taitian Temple of Nan Kun Shen.  This was my first visit to a Taiwanese Temple and it did not disappoint.  First of all the place was absolutely packed for Lunar New Years.  Secondly it was the noisiest, most frantic temple I have ever been in.  When we arrived there was fire crackers being lit in the parking lot, music blaring, men shouting into loud speakers, car alarms beeping, and all matter of drums and percussion instruments being banged together.  Peaceful no, interesting yes.

The Taitian Temple of Nan Kun Shen
So, from what I understand, and please, correct me if I'm wrong... there are five deities (the great king, the second king, the third king, the fourth king and the fifth king respectively).  Anyway, back in the 17th century, five effigies of these five deities drifted ashore in an unmanned boat.  The local fishermen recognize them as Wang Ye spirits and began to worship them.  Well, these fisherman did alright for themselves and the shine grew in fame.  Now the temple is one of the largest and most lively in the country.

During the Lunar New Year people come from all over to receive blessings from these deities and to honor the spirits of their ancestors.   For a small donation you are sent to pass under the seat of the deity (a holy chair) and are given a stack of paper money or ghost money.  After that you can head to the incinerators to burn your ghost money, thus sending it to the spirit world and honoring your ancestors.  I think. Honestly, it was all very confusing.

Anyway, I loved it!  However, it didn't take too long until we needed to retreat to the peace and quiet of the gardens.  Here are some of the photos: 
Ghost Money
Tossing the Ghost Money into the Incinerator
Festive Atmosphere

Fire Crackers outside the Taitan Temple of Nan Kun Shen
Fire Crackers outside The Taitian Temple of Nan Kun Shen
Tainan City

Bbq Eel
Although we were only in Tainan City for a short time, I think I could have wandered around there all day.  The town center was busy, crowded and frantic.  We came to munch on the best BBQ eel in southern Taiwan, to visit a few of Suwei's father's old boarding school stomping grounds, and to see a little of the old town.

The eel was great! 

We also stopped in to visit Chihkan Tower, originally named Fort Provintia and also known as the "Tower of the Red-Haired Barbarians."  It was built in 1653 by Dutch colonizers, thus the alternative title, I guess.  If the place doesn't look very Dutch in style, it's because the only portion of the original fort remaining is in a pit behind the existing building.  The Chinese "renovated" the place in 1942. 

Wuchang Pavilion, part of Chihkan Tower, Tainan, Taiwan.
Tainan, Taiwan.

The Kaohsiung Lantern Festival
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival.  The year of the Dragon.
Lastly, we returned to Kaohsiung for the very first night of the Lantern Festival. The Lantern festival happens all over Taiwan, but the festivities in Kaohsiung are some of the largest and most popular in the country. Of course the main draw is the lanterns, but there are also fireworks (2 or 3 shows a night), street performances, music, food stalls, and a water and light show. It's a pretty big deal.

The lanterns line both sides of the Love River.  Most of them are constructed by students (or folks helping the students, as the elementary student's lanterns seemed to be amongst the best).  This being the first night, only a small portion of the lanterns were set up.  We went back a few nights later and there were a heck of a lot more of them (photos to be posted soon).

Post Fireworks Noodle Shop, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Here is a link to the first post from this trip:

Going to Taiwan - Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Kaohsiung

 Well that's it for this set.  Stay tuned for more photos from Taiwan, coming soon.  Here is a link to the slide show:
Taiwan Trip - Sandimen, Pingtung, Tainan and the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Photo of the Day - April Roundup

Santa Clara, CA -  In April Instagram finally came out with an Android version of there very popular photo app and Facebook bought the company for a billion dollars.  I figured I might as well check it out, those iPhone folks seem to like it.

Anyway, I liked it as well.  It was simple and easy to use and the instant vintage presets make even crappy low resolution photos look decent.  I was also intrigued by the square format.  Yes, you can crop, but the photo must remain a square. No zoom, no wide angle, the only way to change the composition is to move the camera.  In this age where really good camera equipment and photo processing tools are getting better and better and more accessible to normal, non-professional shleps like me, I kind of liked the challenge of taking a decent photo without all that help.

So, on April 9th, I decided to start taking and posting an Instagram photo once a day, every day.  The only rule I set, was that the photo had to be taken that day.  I think I actually missed the 10th, because I forgot.  But since then, I've been able to make it a habit.

For most of us, day to day life is not all that interesting.  We get up, do our thing, eat a bit here and there, and when we can't seem to get any more done, we go to bed.  It gets to be a bit of a grind.  I thought this would be a great way to practice looking at the world a different way.  Instead of just seeing the same ol', same ol', the mundane, I'm working at recognizing the interesting and the beautiful within the ordinary.  Some days are better than others.

Below are the photos I took each day in April.  If you're interested in the daily posts, I'm sending them to Facebook and Instagram.  If you'd like to see comments for the photos, go the slideshow by clicking the link at the bottom.

 Here is the slideshow:

Photo of the Day - April