We opened the curtains this morning to catch our first sight of Taiwan. Peering around the side of our verandah, we saw a little more and the most lovely sunrise.
Time for breakfast.
Well, yes, we’ve eaten our breakfast within sight of the most beautiful of dockyards, amongst stacks of containers and towering cranes. The funny thing is, we love it! Coming into port and watching as this huge ship is turned on a sixpence and parked in exactly the right place is one of those things that never ceases to amuse and amaze us.
Of course, someone is holding onto that all-important piece of string (and very pleased we are, too!)
This morning, as we took photographs to add to my “tugs of the world” series, and enjoyed a croissant or two, the city of Keelung was waking up and going about its business as usual.
We were very much looking forward to setting foot in for the first time (ker-ching!) and to a full day of exploring the city of Taipei.
Hello! A charming and very colourful lion dance was there to greet us as we cleared the customs hall and headed to our tour bus.
We were very lucky to have the excellent Tina as our guide, who spoke fluent English and was keen to share plenty of information about life in on this beautiful island. She managed our day perfectly, ensuring that we got to see as much as possible in the limited time available and though she never nagged or chivvied, somehow she managed to get everyone back on board promptly and on to the next stop with the minimum of fuss. Not easy.
We were docked at Keelung and drove to Taipei along Motorway #1, which didn’t take long at all.
Our first stop was the CKS (Chiang Kai Shek) Memorial Hall. I won’t bore you with the history of Taipei and his role in it, but simply say that Tina explained it all with great clarity. The day was warm and hazy and we were pleased to have enough time to stroll around this collection of buildings and have a look at what was what.
There were three main buildings in this complex. The CKS Memorial Hall was at the head of the plaza and was, sadly, closed for renovation, though there was probably insufficient time to make a worthwhile visit, actually.
We enjoyed reading the translation of the notice on the barrier, and also the warning poster alongside.
On either side of the open space was a green and yellow building; a matching pair.
These were two National performing spaces – a theatre and a concert hall and each sat comfortably opposite the other, making a very attractive arrangement of structures.
Standing here, we could also catch a glimpse of Taipei 101, a tower slightly higher than the one we visited in Hong Kong, with an even faster elevator to whisk visitors to the top.
Whilst we strolled around the plaza and the gardens, the ladies were working hard to keep everything looking neat and tidy.
Back to our bus and it was time to move to the next stop. Driving through the city was interesting, and I find mundane things as traffic signs and roadside scenes so fascinating, I can’t take my eyes away from the goings on out there on the street.
The motorcycle sign here is so very detailed and I spot the red and green pedestrian crossing signs are quite fun too, so I try unsuccessfully right now, to catch one in my camera lens.
Then, suddenly, we turn a corner and look! Hundreds of yellow lanterns! They form the outside perimeter of a temple and best of all, we are going to stop and visit it. I had read about the lantern festival in Taipei and hoped that we’d see some of it. Well, my wish was about to come true.
Here in the temple, there was a variety of large and colourful lanterns, much like the figures we’d seen already in Macau and Hong Kong. A feature of the Lunar New Year celebrations these particular ones formed an archway, through which the devoted believer may pass and pray. This particular one had a long queue, as one by one temple visitors stood for a while underneath the large spherical lantern and prayed.
Traditional and symbolic, these colourful characters nevertheless seemed out of keeping with the elegance and dignity of the temple itself. But for the tourist photographer, they were a dream!
This was quite a large temple complex and there were a number of us visitors there at the time. It was almost impossible to blend in with the goings on, of course, but we did our best to behave sensitively and respect those people who were there for more fundamental business.
But of course, we were fascinated by the traditions and rituals. We loved the colour and the scents, the variety of offerings on the tables and the quiet manner in which everyone went about their devotions.
And of course, we loved the lanterns!
Amidst the smoky atmosphere, there was a kind of peace. Not really a physical silence, because this was a busy and bustling place, but a calmness and restrained pace to the process of lighting joss sticks, appealing to the deities and making a variety of offerings in return.
All around, there was an abundance of colour and riches. Tina explained to us that these pillars are covered in the names of those who, at the New Year, made a financial contribution to the temple in return for having a kind of presence within it for the next twelve months.
Of course, I was fascinated by the richness of colour and texture!
Before we left, Tina helped me seek some guidance for myself by appealing to the deity using this traditional method of tossing two wooden pieces taken from this container. Enclosing them between my two palms, I first had to tell the Deity my name and where I was from, before asking for advice about something in particular. Each piece of wood had a curved side and a flat side, and I had to toss the two pieces onto the ground and if they fell one up, one down, then I had to take a wooden stick from the container nearby. If they both fell the same way – either both curved or both flat – then I had to throw again, because the Deity hadn’t quite heard my question.
Each stick had a Chinese number carved into it and having pulled one number out, the wooden blocks needed to be thrown again, to check the answer. If they fell one up one down, then the Deity was confirming the outcome. If they fell the same way, then it was back to the beginning and start all over, because the Deity wasn’t so sure.
After three throws, I had number 45 and the Deity was sure that this was the correct outcome. I took a slip of paper from the drawer marked 45 (all in Chinese of course) and Tina pointed out the book of English translations.
Looked a pretty good answer to me and worthy of a quiet “thank you” to whoever was listening. Because, though the question was asked, we never really identified which particular Deity it was who was delivering these answers.
So much to see, so many things learned and enjoyed and it wasn’t even lunchtime. Meet me in the next post and see what happened next.