Monday, November 26, 2012

Fresh Facts VI: Taiwan's first railway

The Sino-French War of 1884-85 underscored Taiwan's vulnerability to foreign invasion, and was a factor leading to the construction of the Keelung-Hsinchu railroad. Work on the railway started in 1886 but it wasn't until early 1892 that a short stretch (about 45km) was open for traffic. 

The project was delayed because Qing officials ignored or overruled the European engineers hired to supervise construction; requests to divert the line for reasons of fengshui had to be dealt with; and many of the pegs marking the proposed route were removed by locals who used them for firewood.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pan Li-shui's art

Taipei's Baoan Temple is one of my favorite places of worship because the interior artwork is superb. The 1995-2002 restoration of the shrine won an honourable mention in the 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Conservation.
Many of the paintings were executed by Pan Li-shui (潘麗水, 1914-1995), one of Taiwan's most famous temple artists. His fatherPan Chun-yuan (潘春源, died 1972) was also a noted painted. Pan Li-shui's son Pan Yue-xiong (潘岳雄, born 1943) assisted his father in the 1960s and 1970s and now works independently. During the Kominka Movement in the 1930s, when many temples were closed or demolished as part of the Japanese colonial authorities' efforts to make Taiwan culturally more Japanese, Pan Li-shui and his father survived by designing advertisements.
Works by Pan Li-shui can also be seen in Nankunshen Daitian Temple and Fahua Temple, both in Tainan, and - I just saw them last week - in Dajia's Jenn Lann Temple.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Fire Lion... and Falun Gong

A few weeks back we attended the final day of the 2012 Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival (高雄左營萬年季). When the article I wrote about this cultural event appears next year, I'll add a link. Until then, here's a summary: Several local temples cooperate to build a "fire lion" which is venerated, paraded through the streets of Zuoying, blasted with firecrackers (shown top) and then set afire to carry people's wishes and hopes up to heaven. Dozens of other events - culinary and artistic - have been tacked on to create the modern festival.
One of the wonderful things about religious events in Taiwan is that you never know what you might see. Over the past 20 years, I've been to or stumbled across hundreds of miao hui (會, 'temple gatherings') and da bai bai (大拜拜, 'big worship ceremonies') but I don't recall ever seen members of Falun Gong - a group regarded by some as a cult - taking part in one. There were almost 200 of them, outnumbering the lion dancers and other zhentou. The banner bearers (above) were quite striking, but it was the marching band (below) that I'll remember. Watching them, I couldn't but help thinking of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Points of the compass

A sidewalk decoration with the four points of the compass marked in Chinese in Kaohsiung City's Fengshan District (高雄市鳳山區). They are, going clockwise from top right, (nán, south), 西 (, west), (běi, north) and (dōng, east).