Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Taiwan Coastal Loop I (Tainan)

We rang in the New Year 2009 with a five-day trip around Taiwan by high speed rail, regular rail and bus. Starting in Taipei, we took the HSR to Tainan and enjoyed two days there (this was my third trip to Tainan, as well as Brendan's; a second trip for Emily and my sister's first).

Of course, before that, we went to SYS Memorial Hall to watch the 101 fireworks, like the rest of the city. My sister had never seen them before and was dying to go, so I figured a third New Year's Eve doing just that was no big deal (I didn't care either way, as I've seen it so many times.)

Then we headed to On Tap somewhere near Anhe Road for drinks - I don't recommend it. The fries and buffalo wings are good, but the "nachos" are not nachos at all and the bartender gave us a hard time about providing a pitcher of Guinness (we don't like any of the lighter options normally sold in pitchers) and then when they did agree, brought us a pitcher full of head. We let it settle only to find that we barely had 3/4 of a pitcher of actual beer. Then they were difficult about pouring a pitcher of Snakebite...and this is a British pub? Pfft.

Also, all the big old dudes dancing with young local girls - I've got nothing against chubby folks (I am so myself) and nothing against older guys, but come on. The 'old chubby sweater guy with the young bikini top wearing local in a glittery cowboy hat' is not only lame, it's old.

We all slept very well on the HSR, regardless.

Fortunately us Tainan veterans got to see a lot of things that are not on the main tourist loop; we did see the usual sights (Chihkan Towers, the God of War Temple, the area around Anping) but we enjoyed heading out of the way a bit to take in quieter pleasures such as the Wind God Temple, Medicine God Temple, Five Canals area and some of the less-explored backstreets of Anping. We saw lots of domestic tourists but no foreigners at the Julius Mannich house and Eternal Golden Castle fort (not so much a fort as a pleasant 'this used to be a fort' area) and had a long, pleasant stroll around the harbor area of Anping, where hundreds of locals were out with their myriad dogs, flying kites, or both.

Some photos from Tainan:

I believe this guy is in one of the back rooms of the lesser-visited temples; either the Haian Temple across the street from the Wind God Temple, or behind Kaiji Guangong Temple.

We saw this kind of flag outside all temples in Tainan; either something I haven't noticed before, or placed there for a specific reason at this time. I remember seeing them last during a zhentou (god processional) near Shuanglian in Taipei, they were wielded by a group of people offering money to ghosts and demons. Note the black and white color and the bent, knotted staff. Some of these flags were in very poor condition - faded and tattered. I tried asking a few locals about them but nobody wanted to tell me, or they lacked the language to tell me at my level of Chinese, or they just didn't really know.

Any ideas? I'm mighty curious. One guy said that the staff was bent because of "the wind" (yeah right) and that the flags were tattered "from overuse" (maybe). The fact that I've only seen these flags in ghost offering ceremonies or outside temples in Tainan on the day we were there makes me wonder. Anyone who knows, please do comment.

The 'lion of Anping' which can be seen on doors, walls and on tchotckes in souvenir shops all over the district. This was on a backstreet off of Zhongxin Road.

The famous Chihkan Towers. Definitely worth a stop, but I advise going in the late afternoon as the light turns orange, then lavender, and the sun finally sets. It's much more atmospheric than going during the day with all the tour groups.

Doorway down a historic street in the Five Canals area, near the Water Fairy Market (which is really just a typical market with a lovely little temple inside).

Interesting wall near the Five Canals area. Note the spray painted bugs near the bottom. We're pretty sure this used to be a pet store that specialized in exotic insects.

I realize you can see sugar cane guys everywhere, but I liked this photo, so thought I'd share. I think it's well composed, and I love the slicing action it captures.

Something I love about Tainan is how the outside is bright and sunny - we got sunburns in December! - but venture inside any of the historic sights and you are confronted with cooler air, dark wood and old veneers. The light and mood of the place immediately changes.

You can also see it here:

The old gate and entrance to the Wind God Temple.

The Mazu statue (I believe it's Mazu) looking out over Anping harbor as kites fly in the background. I like how she came out peach colored (the setting sun was behind me as I took this photo) with the blue sky background, which you can see fading to dusk at the edges.

Brendan and Becca at Anping Harbor. Very Beatles album cover-y, methinks.
Some recommendations for Tainan:

Hud La Voos
Tainan City, Zhongshan Rd. Lane 82 #6

Aboriginal bar owned and operated by Bunun people. Very friendly, usually not crowded, with big comfy couches upstairs and interesting decorations - wall paintings in what I presume are Bunun designs, photos, fabrics and a skull (monkey?) which is probably real as the bathroom faucet. They have a full menu of generally good food, including Chinese staples (kung pao chicken, ma po doufu, dumplings), aboriginal dishes (the usual mountain pig, freshwater prawns and dried squid, as well as fried baby hornets, cricket stew and mountain rat. They also have a full drinks menu including their own concoctions with millet wine as a mixed drink ingredient. I recommend the "Spirit People".

Chikan Danzi Mian
Tainan City Minzu Road Section 2 #180 (just east of Chihkan Towers)

It's much more than the usual Danzimian (or rather, ganzai mian) - set in three old shophouses that have been remodeled as one unit, they have a menu of local specialties including fish belly, shrimp rolls, bamboo cup rice and, of course, danzi mian. They also have an extensive buffet of lu wei, which is expertly cooked. The tea is ultra-sweet and the desserts are not as good as the food (for good dou hua, go to the touristy-type place on Anping Road with the old-fashioned decor, and skip the creme brulee thing completely.)

Slack Season Danzi Mian
Tainan City #16 Zhongzheng Road

Really famous place and also easy to find in the Rough Guide, so I'll just plug it here and say that it's good.

That Touristy Restaurant on Anping Road
I have no idea what the address of this place is, or even what it's called, but it's on the left as you enter Anping Road from Fort Zeelandia and looks all old-style, with a terra cotta lion over a brick edifice and lanterns.

The food is OK - standard xiao chi - and the decor is great. The reason to come here, though, is for the dou hua. Truly the best dou hua I've ever had - the tofu was so silken, it was like pudding. I don't think I've ever had creamy tofu before this!

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