Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bamboo in jade

A detail from an immense piece of carved jade shows bamboo stems and leaves. Throughout Greater China, bamboo is regarded as symbolizing strength, an acceptance of the natural flow of events, and an openness to wisdom. Because it grows very well across much of mainland China and in every part of Taiwan, is has also been used for house construction as well as making furniture, toys and musical instruments. While some Taiwanese now regard the use of bamboo as quaint, some artists and scientists are drawn to the material because it's both cheap and eco-friendly.

The work shown above can be seen in Gongtian Temple (拱天宮) in the Miaoli County seaside village of Baishatun (白沙屯). It weighs 1.7 tonnes, measures 2.35m in length and was carved in Hualien County in 2002 out of Italian jade. 

The temple is best known for an annual pilgrimage that begins and ends here. Like the better-known festival that kicks off down the coast at Dajia’s Jenn Lann Temple, it expresses Taiwanese people’s adoration of Mazu, the sea goddess. In 2011, the pilgrimage was declared a national intangible cultural asset by Taiwan’s government.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Miaoli's Hakka Roundhouse

There aren’t many reasons to step inside the Hakka Roundhouse (客家圓樓) a stone’s throw from Miaoli High-Speed Railway Station, but the exterior and setting of this newish landmark make it worth a quick stop if you’re in the area. The picture above shows the roundhouse, the station to the right, and some of the many geese and ducks which inhabit the pond, and defecate all over nearby walkways!

Rather than being a proper replica of the famous Hakka tulou in China’s Fujian province, the architecture of the Roundhouse can be said to have been inspired by the distinctive shape of those UNESCO World Heritage structures. For a start, the windows of the edifice in Miaoli are much bigger than those on any of the originals. The walls are thinner, and rather than be open to the elements, the centre has been glassed over to create a pleasant atrium where there’s a small stage.

In the exhibition rooms on the second and third floors, displays illustrate Hakka agricultural practices and cuisine. If you can read Chinese, you can learn how to make fucai (福菜), the pickled mustard greens which are a distinctive feature of Hakka dishes in Taiwan. There are tools, cots and a mockup of an old-style kitchen/dining room.

The displays are in Chinese only, so the majority of tourists won’t learn anything. That said, the website does have some English information, and admission is cheap enough at NTD30 per adult. The building is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00-17:00. 

For me, much more enjoyable and relaxing is Qingshui Corridor (lower image), a 2.6km-long eco-engineered waterway which starts just the other side of the bullet-train railroad and wends its way seaward in the direction of Yingcai Academy (英才書院). The waterway is lined with willows and a reported 111 species of aquatic plants; when I walked along it on a very quiet weekday morning, I saw hundreds of fish and several sizable waterbirds. Miaoli County Government is notorious for splashing out money on infrastructure which hardly benefits residents, but I’d say this was a very worthwhile project. On sweltering summer afternoons, I’m sure the waterway is crowded with people cooling their feet in the water.