Monday, March 9, 2009

The Temple of Chiang Kai-Shek (and Xinzhu food)

Lots of Chiang

We tried (and failed) to escape the unceasing rain yesterday by heading south . We went to Beipu and Xinzhu. More on Beipu later - I'm going to start by talking about the few wet hours we spent in Xinzhu, exploring the old street, the night market, the old city gate and - the most fascinating by far - the temple dedicated to the worship of the Taiwanese "deity", Chiang Kai-Shek.

(If Qingshan Wang, Grandfather Seven and Grandfather Eight, Lin Mo - that's Matsu to you - and Baosheng Dadi were all real people, and most believe that they were - then I see nothing wrong with worshipping someone whom we know to have been a real person. I wouldn't pray to him myself, mind you.)

Beam Me Up, Dr. Sun

We didn't linger long in the temple, partly because we aren't big Chiang fans, and partly because the temple isn't very big. It's more of a shrine room, filled with statues and pictures of Chiang Kai-Shek, another general whose name escapes me, and (apparently) Sun Yat-sen. I didn't see anything for Sun, though the guidebook says he's there.

Apparently, this little temple in Xinzhu, not far from the Qinghua University campus and night market, collects a lot of the old decommissioned busts and statues of Chiang and uses them in this temple as god-idols. Other ones seem to end up at a spot along the North Cross-Island Highway.

There are other gods and figures present, mostly in the form of woodcarving - the kind you can see in many temples across Taiwan.

These guys are big Ma fans, as we could see from the Ma bobbleheads decorating the temple. The toy cranes are there because the man we spoke with also runs his own construction company and he really likes cranes.

We only spoke with one person, but it was clear that the people tending the temple are mostly from the Mainland. The guy we talked to was born near Shanghai and came over with his family when he was 16 (which would make him about 75 years old). Although he still remembers how to speak Shanghainese, he's picked up a Taiwanese accent in his Mandarin and can speak Taiwanese as well.

Nice older gentleman from Shanghai. Note all the different flags surrounding the main shrine area.

As we didn't tell them where our true political beliefs lie, they were extremely friendly and happy that we'd stopped by. As important as it is (for me, at least) to own one's own beliefs and moral code and not shrink from admitting them, maybe standing in the temple of Chiang Kai-shek is not the best place to tell people around you that you think he was a murderer and a traitor to Taiwan, especially when those around you are genuinely friendly people.

We were given some fruit and made our way, drippingly, to the night market where we had lumpia - those crepe-rolled burrito-lookin' things with meat and vegetables inside which are a specialty in Xinzhu, and mba wan. The lumpia were better than anything I've tried in Taipei, where they skimp on the meat and savory flavors and add lots of veggies or worse, rou song (which I can't stand). We loved the many-textured innards of these lumpia, replete with lots of richly marinated meat, peanuts, bean sprouts, greens, carrot shavings and other tasty bits and pieces.

The mba wan were very different from Taipei - they're on menus as "Xinzhu Rou Yuan" and are fried rather than steamed, and filled not with regular ground pork but with purple chunks - real chewy chunks - of marinated pork and cubes of young bamboo served in a spicy, flavorful pink sauce that I normally see on vegetarian sticky rice. The bamboo reminded me of Yuanlin Rouyuan at the Heping-Fuxing intersection in Taipei, where they serve it in brown gravy with cubed bamboo and mushrooms.

Sesame noodles (not the cold kind) and Xinzhu fried mba wan

Then we headed into the city god temple - the most important one of these in Taiwan - where tall god costumes we haven't seen in Taipei were on display.

We've never seen this god before, and don't know who he is.

For anyone in or planning to be in Xinzhu on Friday, the Xinzhu city god's birthday is this coming Friday (3/13/09). If you want to see a cool procession, head over to the temple and inquire about the time (they usually start at 1:30 in my experience).

The most interesting of these tall god costumes - called big dolls in Taiwanese but the actual words escape me - is the god of yin and yang, to whom you should pray so that you "always do the right thing" and have a proper balance of, well, yin and yang.

The God of Yin-Yang

We also saw all the pinata-like decorations from Chinese New Year - identifiable because most of them involved depictions of cows - hanging from the ceiling of the temple. It was quite a sight; there were hundreds of them.

One of Hundreds of Hanging Cows

Candle in the City God Temple

We then took a quick venture through the old street - which has a few old buildings but not many, but at least one interesting place to have some tea or coffee and one good mashed-taro dessert joint, a pass by the old city gate and a stop at the old moat to feed the fish (but actually ended up feeding the geese). We passed one of the two Matsu temples along the way.

No photos of this part because it was dark - my camera is not up to taking good night shots.


Andrew said...


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B.BarNavi said...

Thank God I'm a monotheist. The idea of deifying ANYONE, but especially a character such as Chiang, is offensive to my very being.

Jenna said...

Fair enough.

I just don't like Chiang.

I love the Dao temple parades where various deities come out as idols or 'big doll' costumes, with face-painted martial defenders, dragon and lion dancers, self-injuring diviners...but Chiang? Ugh.

That said, I respect all religions and if those guys believe that Chiang became a god after he died and want to worship him, well, I don't agree with them but I'm not going to make a big fuss over it. If I were "tai ke" I'd feel differently.

I'm not religious at all, but if I were religious I think I'd be polytheistic for no good reasons that I can explain.