Sunday, April 24, 2011

Banqiao's Lin Family Gardens

Ticked off another place I've wanted to visit for years: Lin Family Garden (林家花園, sometimes called the Lin Ben-yuan Garden) in Banqiao, a substantial but little-loved city just south of Taipei.

It's one of north Taiwan's best-known attractions, and now that admission is free it gets very crowded on weekends and holidays. Despite the crowds (and the noisy tour guides, and the photography-club members clustering around models hired for the day) it's well-worth visiting. No one building in the complex, nor any particular aspect of the gardens that surround them, is jaw-dropping. However, there is a great deal to see, and if I wasn't pressed for time I could easily have spent more than two hours here.

The Lin Family Mansion and Garden was built 1847-1853 by one of north Taiwan's richest and most influential families. In the late 19th century, the garden was surrounded by rice fields, and Guanyinshan was visible in the distance. Now, of course, it is surrounded by tall buildings. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful oasis of greenery and a good place to see Qing Dynasty architecture, stone sculpture, wood carvings and other decorative arts. The main residence, the Three-Courtyard House (pictured top right), has 52 rooms and more than 120 windows and doors. Other buildings within the Garden bear endearing names such as the Revere the Cosmos Pavilion and the Fragrant Jade Anteroom. Entrances and walls bear auspicious bat or butterfly motifs (pictured lower left).

The garden (open: 09.00-17.00 daily but closed first Mon of each month; admission: free) is about 15 minutes' walk from Banqiao's combined HSR/TRA/MRT station. Fuzhong MRT Station on the Blue Line is very slightly closer.

Fans of traditional mansions heading to south Taiwan should make time for the Hsiao Family Residence and the Gupoliao Zhuang Family Residence.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taiwan's Mazu pilgrimage

My friend Rich J. Matheson (who took the cover shot for the first edition of my guidebook) joined part of this year's Mazu pilgrimage. His website includes many photographs of traditional religious events.

The full pilgrimage lasts more than a week and winds through Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi. For an excellent first-hand account of the 2010 pilgrimage, read Noah Buchan's Taipei Times article.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Million-dollar bathrooms

Nantou's Zhinan Temple (指南宮) is tiny and visually unimpressive, but exceptionally popular. On the day we visited it was all but impossible to see the main altar because of the crush of people. The temple is clearly very wealthy; in 2007 it spent a breathtaking NT$38.8 million (US$1.34 million) on the bathrooms pictured above.

They are very nice, it has to be said. Not only clean, well lit and spacious, but also decorated with works of art and equipped with a nursing room and an observation deck. The shape is supposed to represent fresh bamboo growing up out of the ground - not, as you might think, turds.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book: Taipei Characters (aka Taipei People)

This slim volume (199 pages in this edition, published in 1982 by Indiana University Press; other editions carry different titles) contains 14 stories, all of which deal with the lives of mainland Chinese who relocated to Taiwan around 1949, the year the Republic of China's was defeated by Mao Zedong's Communists. Written in the 1960s by Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung (sometimes spelled Bai Xianyong 白先勇), the stories in Taipei People depict various types of people – former military officials and their widows, academics, courtesans and restaurant owners.

Pai's writing style is economical and beautiful; several of the stories are exquisite masterpieces. My favourites are Love's Lone Flower (in which the narrator recounts the life and demise of a Taiwanese bargirl/prostitute) and Winter Night. In the latter, two mainlander scholars meet up again after two decades apart; one spent those years in the USA, the other in Taiwan.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

White-clad cleric

Taoist clerics in Taiwan usually wear black robes, so this one's white, harlequin-like attire caught my eye. I spotted him coming out of Shoutian Temple (受天宮) in the hills above Ershui, Changhua County. The character on his hat (gold on a red background) means Buddha.

The temple itself has an impressive location, yet looks as though it might slide down the mountain when the next big typhoon hits.

The Ershui area is famous for macaques, and we saw several when hiking up to the temple.