Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts on Temples

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of temples, temple festivals and temple history in Taiwan, even if I don't believe in the gods themselves. I've heard more than one person - local and foreigner alike - say things along the lines of "yes, they're cool, but they all look the same: if you've seen one you've seen them all". Kinda like a typical strip of chain stores in a commercial area. You know, the one that has a Yoshinoya, an eyeglasses shop, a Starbucks, a Family Mart, a women's clothing boutique, a Body Shop, a Cafe 85 and a Come Buy all in a row.

Except, like that "typical strip of chain stores", they're not all the same. Sure, many of them seem indistinguishable at first, but like that strip of chain stores - which might include such gems as a pharmacy with a talking bird, a wine bar, Big Fat Chen's Fried Chicken, an Everything Store that sells just the dingbat or widget you need, or an independent cafe that has excellent siphon coffee, or an old guy selling carved things or a stamp-maker with a huge signboard with examples of all the stamps he can make for never know when you'll come across a surprise or a bit of interesting architecture.

Some of these are famous: Xingtian Temple's austere architecture, Bao'an's UNESCO-protected heritage status, Tainan's Confucius Temple. Others are not so well-known:

At the (Buddhist) Yuantong Temple in the hills of Zhonghe

The turn-of-the-century baroque architecture of the Japanese colonial period gave rise to this temple on Lion's Head Mountain. Lion's Head also has a temple on the Miaoli side that, while more traditional in its architecture, is worth seeing.

The well-known Zhinan Temple on Maokong - not a great photo but the beauty here really is in the view rather than the temple itself

The well-known temple on the Miaoli side of Lion's Head Mountain

The Shell Temple outside Sanzhi on the northeast coast

Zhaoming lover's temple up by Wellington Heights between Shipai and Beitou
Xingtian Temple - known (aesthetically at least) for being far less ornate than most

Tainan's Dizang Wang temple has murals of the tortures of hell

Tainan's City God Temple is actually not that "special" when it comes to architecture, but it is very old and I just love this photo

Donggang's Donglong Temple is not as well-known as I feel it should be, for this gate alone

Caotun's temple...that looks like a medicine gourd with a hat. I only know one other person who's been there (another blogger)
Keelung's Fairy Cave temple

And so many more - from the "special because it has cats" temple in Houtong (which I haven't been to yet) to the Southeast Asian-style shrines that you occasionally find (I plan to photograph one in Zhonghe this weekend) to the shophouse temple on Chongqing South Road (I still haven't gotten a good photograph of that one), there are a lot of reasons not to write off the temples of Taiwan as "seen one, seen 'em all".

Because you haven't.

1 comment:

John Scott said...

I don't recall ever hearing about the Shophouse Temple, but I am looking forward to your photos.

I have also found that if you look carefully, you will find something unique in many temples around Taiwan. And the older (or less-renovated) they are, the more unique they are.

The guy at the photolab where I used to get my film developed in Tainan often laughed and said something like, "Oh, more photos of temples, I see!"

temple scenes (photo set on flickr):