Monday, December 28, 2020

Taiwan needs to change its abortion laws, but will it?


As usual I don't have a great header image, but I thought a memorial temple to five women who were screwed over by the patriarchy in Taiwan's distant history was fitting enough (from Tainan's Five Concubines Temple)

News broke early in December that Taiwan's the Health Promotion Administration is planning to propose changes to Taiwan's abortion laws. Specifically, they hope to eliminate the requirement that married women seeking an abortion require the consent of their spouse, as this infringes on a woman's bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, is discriminatory towards women. The proposal also includes changing the title and some of the language in the law (problematically called the "Genetic Health Act", yikes) for being discriminatory.

I didn’t write about this when it happened partly because I was simply too busy, but also partly because I wasn’t sure I had much to say about it. Of course the law should be changed; that's obvious. But it rattled around in my head long enough to come out in written form, so here we are. 

I think it's a good entry point to revisit the debate over liberalism and conservatism in Taiwanese society, which I will do in a subsequent post, but it deserves its own investigation first.

To my mind, the double standard that unmarried women can exercise reproductive rights fairly easily (anyone can claim that carrying a pregnancy to term would harm their 'mental health' or 'family life') but married ones are subject to the approval of a spouse seems to be built on several assumptions. First, that a husband -- this law was enacted when same-sex marriage and trans rights were not even under consideration -- has the right to make decisions about his wife's body without her agreement. Second, that a woman needs to give a 'reason' for terminating a pregnancy. Third, that a single woman has rights which they lose when they get married,  meaning that married women are still seen in a sense as property. Finally, that children in households with married spouses were usually desirable to society but unmarried pregnant women were not. In fact, if you read the law carefully, the "[if the pregnancy will] affect family life" provision makes it fairly easy for a married man's affair partner to get an abortion, but not his wife.

Read between the lines: it was never about giving single women a way out while respecting the "partnership" of marriage, and those who say it is are full of crap. It was always about protecting men who got women pregnant out of wedlock, but valuing a married woman's children and her male partner's right to them over the woman herself. While some architects of the law might have hoped it would ultimately improve women's rights, it was never fully about that: it was always about which pregnancies were desirable -- to society, not the women carrying them -- and which weren't. There's a reason why some people translate the Genetic Health Act as the "Eugenics Act". That's basically what it is. Just look at one of the very first phrases in the act, which references the "upgrade" of "population quality". 

It's worth discussing abuse of the law's marital status loophole by some clinics: I've heard stories from multiple sources -- which I'm keeping confidential for obvious reasons -- that there are clinics that ask for "the father's" approval to those seeking an abortion, even if the patient is not married. I have mostly heard of this happening to foreign women who may not know the law, but also of Taiwanese women being treated this way. (I don't know whether it actually happens less often to them as they're more likely to know the law, or being a foreigner here, I hear fewer of those stories).

Focus Taiwan points out that the past 20 years were marked with attempts to change the language, in 2006 and again in 2013. That places the initial attempt to amend the law near the end of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency. The 2012-2013 attempt (when the Executive Yuan ordered the HPA to amend the law, which never happened) would have been just before the Ma Ying-jeou presidency caved in on itself. The legislative change that allowed abortions was promulgated under KMT dictatorship, but had also been illegal under that same dictatorship for decades as they promoted traditional gender roles. This means that such initiatives could be proposed and pass or fail regardless of the party in power.  

I'm not sure that will hold up, however. The KMT seems to be swinging toward social conservatism and appears to be unable to attract young supporters despite some members' warnings. The DPP seems to be swinging away from it, with the future of the party looking to new generations as older members, well, storm off in huffs that few pay attention to. 

Will the law ultimately be amended? I think so; though some are trying to bring the Culture Wars to Taiwan and the KMT appears to be receptive, they haven't been quite as successful as their counterparts in the US or elsewhere. The government that passed same-sex marriage and appointed the first openly trans woman to a highly public position is likely to also welcome changes that broaden access to reproductive rights. The court that made same-sex marriage an issue of immediate legislative importance and ended the criminalization of adultery is fairly likely to keep up the trend, if it goes to the courts. Public opinion doesn't seem to favor these changes, but neither do people seem eager to re-hash previous battles. Changes happen, culture adapts, and society moves on.

However, opposition to improving access to abortion rights is likely to ramp up in coming months, led by the same people who screeched about marriage equality. As these groups not only appear to study US Republican strategies for inducing outrage but in some cases work openly with the American right wing, you'll probably hear a lot of the same facetious arguments you hear in the US. 

There will surely be some who scream that it's not in Taiwanese (or Chinese) traditional 'culture' to allow this, because of a cultural emphasis on 'family values'. Of course, name one culture whose 'traditions' are not said to 'emphasize family', and I will buy you a beer. 

This argument will conveniently forget that most laws propagated in Taiwan until the 1990s were created under foreign dictatorship, so it's not clear how Taiwanese laws actually relate to Taiwanese culture. If you want to make the "Chinese culture" argument, please go talk to the People's Republic of China where abortion has been easily accessible for quite some time, and in many cases was actually forced on pregnant people

This is all likely to come to a screaming, frothing head, with the KMT most likely playing a role. There will be protests, those who already hate President Tsai are going to use this as another reason to attack her (even though it's not directly her doing, I would imagine she supports it), and public opinion polls will once again show that Taiwan is in many ways a more conservative society than some factors indicate, but also more liberal than the world often believes. Then it will pass, and things will go quiet-ish until the next round of battles.

All of that leads us to the ultimate question: given Taiwan's recent achievements and changes to abortion access likely, is Taiwan a 'liberal' or 'conservative' society?

Of course, as with any debate that attempts to posit a clear dichotomy, the answer is 'both' and 'neither' -- a discussion for the near future.

Edit: here it is!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Taiwan is -- and should be -- angry about its first local coronavirus transmission since April


This was the look on my face when I heard the news. Yeesh.

Just a few quick thoughts on today's news of the first domestic transmission in over 200 days.

First, I never thought I'd see the day when Taiwanese were royally pissed at Kiwis, but here we are. Or at least, they're pissed at one selfish prat from New Zealand who didn't want to wear a mask or cooperate fully with contact tracers. There are rumors about why he was "not truthful", but nothing confirmed. At least, EVA is mulling firing the man. Good. If he had acted in good faith, told the contact tracers all the details he certainly did remember and worn a mask, that would be one thing. But he didn't; he's endangered lives and the company image. I'd say it's fair to let him go.

Second, anyone thinking the previous streak was "too good to be true" and thought the government was probably lying about something are proven wrong. The second a local transmission was confirmed, they announced it. They have been wonderfully transparent and there's no reason to doubt that.

One commentator said there was "introspection" in Taiwan today, but why should there be? Taiwanese did everything right. It was this one selfish git who isn't Taiwanese and as far as I'm aware doesn't live in Taiwan, though I suppose he probably visits (well, visited) often as part of his job. I think anger or at least frustration is the most justified response and wouldn't judge anyone for feeling that way.

What we can expect now: more enforced mask-wearing rules, people staying home more, a bit more worry and a bit less of the "eh, they say we have to wear a mask but I can lower it because we all know there's no COVID in Taiwan" that I've noticed since the new mask rules went into effect at the beginning of December. On one hand, that everyone's frustrated at one local case shows just how well Taiwan has done. As Brendan said, "I heard the US had at least one new case today. I think the UK did too!" We can get through this, we just need to redouble our efforts for a bit. On the other hand, I will admit to being slightly worried about anti-foreigner discrimination rising again. After an initial spate of hotels, restaurants and nightlife spots implementing policies deeply unfair to foreign residents earlier this year, things calmed down after Taiwan's Hardworking Dad Chen Shih-chung asked everyone, in his very Dad-like way, to quit it because this issue affects us all (there's more to the story of why he said that when he did than I am letting on, but suffice it to say he said it; that's what matters.) Now that it's clear that foreigners with permission to be out and about in Taiwan might be a possible vector, we're going to have to wait and see if we'll start being turned away from restaurants and hotels again. We'll also have to keep an eye on whether calls to stop the entry of newly-recruited foreign blue-collar workers re-commences (honestly, they've been ongoing for awhile now but fortunately mostly ineffective). I hope not: I travel frequently for work now and it would be a real problem if I couldn't book hotels with every confidence that I'd actually be allowed to stay there. With at least one case of a hotel calling someone while en route to check in to say that they were not welcome, this could severely impact my work if it becomes a trend again.

There's really only one thing left to say: masks up, readers.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Pound for pound of what, exactly?

I don’t have a good cover photo so enjoy these amateur door gods. 

I admit I haven’t been blogging as much lately, partly because I’m busy with work, and partly because spending a lot of time with a research topic has made me less inclined to opine on issues I don’t know as well. I’ve been asking myself what value the opinionations of outsiders and non-experts really has, at least after a certain point. (That’s not to say I think there is none; it’s just not where I’ve found the most meaning in my life and Taiwan advocacy recently.) I’ve found more meaning in using all this training and experience I’ve been accruing in the past decades to figure out how to help voices more worth listening to than mine get where they want and need to be to express their ideas in a foreign language. 

With that said, please allow me to opinionate on Ruchir Sharma’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. For a Business Guy, focused entirely on business rather than matters of justice and right and wrong, it was pretty good. That is, if you ignore some of the more questionable assertions about Taiwan lifting itself out of poverty post-WWII. For example, conveniently forgetting that pre-WWII it was one of the most prosperous places in Asia due to a “competent government” (lol) that focused on “small business” (sure, after the US forced them to and then kept Taiwan afloat with aid while the KMT spent almost all the government revenue on the military). And calling Taiwan a “small” island of “just” 24 million— would Sharma call Australia small? Probably not? Well, their populations are similar.

In any case, focusing on how Taiwan — often shunted aside as less important in the face of China’s massive market — is actually far more important due to the vital industries it houses is one way to make the case for caring about this country, in a way that some people will hear. He speaks their language, and that’s great. Those of us who care about Taiwan simply because it’s the right thing to do, don’t speak that language very well, and that case needs to be made to anyone who’ll hear it, in any form they’re likely to buy it. 

But something else was missing from Sharma’s essay that has been nagging at me — what it actually took to get Taiwan to where it is. First and foremost, it’s important to discuss the way foreign workers, who do most of the fab-and-factory-floor level grind work, are treated. Taiwan’s economic miracle is in fact ongoing, although it may not seem that way. Certainly growth seems, and is, slower than those heady days of repressive “competent” leadership. It has grown, however, even in the face of a bully neighbor who has tried to throttle its progress. Not even coronavirus has been able to stop Taiwan. 

But the gains it has made even in the years I’ve lived here have been largely due to a supply of foreign labor that is underpaid, overworked and treated abhorrently. (I’m not the first person to point this out, either.) 

At the other end, while Taiwan does have some very well-paid (and also overworked) engineers and experts, it’s worth pointing out that the majority of Taiwanese workers are underpaid and overworked, though not to the same degree as the foreign blue-collar workers. They also tend to face stifling, bureaucratic work environments, which I can speak to anecdotally after years of focusing on business English.

All that “value” Sharma speaks of has been made possible by these two groups. Profit margins either remain razor thin or don’t trickle down to worker salaries and benefits (such as, say, hiring enough people so that no single worker is doing a job 2-3 people should be doing, and taking real vacations is possible.) If I were into toxic positivity, I’d call them superheroes. 

So while I’m grateful for this Business Guy making the Business Guy case for Taiwan to other Business Guys — a case I cannot personally make — I do feel like the tone of the op-ed places profits above working conditions and human costs. 

In other words, sure, pound for pound Taiwan is the most important place on earth. But pounds of what? Because hearing about factory dorm fires and coronavirus cases and seeing my students looking constantly exhausted, rarely taking vacations and — before the CCP virus — eyeing better-paid jobs abroad with better benefits, I’m starting to think he means pounds of flesh.

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Tiny Ceramic Flag and the Sweet Southern Wind: Day Tripping to Xigang and Xuejia


Years ago, a fellow foreign teacher I befriended in China made an offhand comment that he'd thought I'd run out of things to do in Taiwan after I'd already lived here for far longer than I'd ever lived in China. He didn't explain his reasoning, and the comment was not meant to be mean-spirited. He'd visited Taiwan before, so he was aware that the country lacks the big-ticket tourist spots that China boasts -- which I mean in both senses of the term. 

I don't remember my exact response, but it was along the lines of "there's a lot more to do here than people realize." 

Of course, I did not mean that there were undiscovered 'big ticket tourist spots' that the rest of the world was unaware of. I meant that years of living in Taiwan have given me a deeper appreciation for the intimate and local. Culture, history and the ins and outs of daily life here hold my interest more because I actually like living here, which I could never say about China. Not only do I not need a Great Wall or Forbidden City, but smaller-scale things like a tiny ceramic flag on a small-town temple arguably hold my interest just as much.



With that said, I come down to Tainan fairly often these days, a combination of business and personal travel. Usually, a very close friend drives up from Kaohsiung and we pick a destination or two outside the city to visit -- places you have to drive to get to (of course I make up for not driving by paying for lunch and other random costs). 

We started in Xigang, at the village of Liucuo (劉厝) -- literally "Liu House" because a branch of the Liu family  once settled there. I had also been mapping out all of the traditional mansions (古厝) I could find in the Tainan area with the intention of visiting any given one that might be on the way to something else, and the Liu Family Mansion (劉氏古厝) happened to be on the road to Xuejia. 

What we found was a quiet, friendly village in an agricultural area, with an absolutely stunning traditional three-sided house. In addition to being very well-maintained -- swept and gleaming with sparkling white paint and blue trim and new window and door frames -- the Liu mansion features a set of windows out front with a stylized "long life" (壽) pattern in faux brick. If you look carefully, you'll see that they're painted to look like bricks but are actually solid. The front gate says Xun Nan Feng Lai (薰南風來) -- Sweet Wind from the South (or Fragrant Southern Wind), which is just lovely.


Very often in these places, if you just turn up and ask if you can take a walk around the grounds (I never go inside unless specifically invited), people are quite happy to have you around. 

As the gate was closed and nobody appeared to be home, we asked around at the community center that looks like a temple next door, where a friendly auntie went over to an ancient neighbor's house, as she knows everyone. Grandma says that visitors usually call in advance but anyway, we could just step over the low brick wall surrounding the compound. 




"Are you sure?"

"Yes!" she said, as she put on some flipflops and hopped easily over, despite having obvious back issues and looking to be about 100 years old. My friend and the two women -- likely Liu family members but I never did ask -- chatted as I wandered around and took pictures. I was pleased to see them growing hibiscus in the back the way my family used to have a berry brambles; a tray of drying hibiscus flowers sat on the low brick wall just as a bowl of fresh berries might be found in our fridge growing up. I'm a big fan of hibiscus tea -- really just brewing the dried flowers -- for its flavor and blood-pressure lowering qualities. 

The Liu mansion was built in 1864, and is said to be the oldest house in the Xigang (西港) area (Liucuo is in Xigang). It was built by a descendant of Liu Xi (劉喜), who himself was a descendant of Liu Dengkui (劉登魁), one of the original Liu family immigrants to Taiwan from China. Liu Dengkui was born around 1640 and died around 1722 -- I looked it up from this post but I can't promise that my double-check of which calendar year corresponds to which emperor's fancy-name year is perfect. Liu Xi settled the area now known as Liucuo around 1710. The Liu family were both in the military and known for cultivating farmland in the area, and this branch is quite populous in Taiwan now. 

Behind this mansion was another old farmhouse, less immediately appealing but with some charming details. Grandma easily pushed the heavy gate open, swatting away my hand when I tried to help and let us in. The owner, who was outside watering his plants and wearing a baseball cap for the local temple, didn't mind. The paintings around the doors on this house are very well-preserved and well worth a look if you can find someone to show you back there. 



Both houses are decorated with Majolica tiles along the roof beams which are also worth a look, although they're a bit hard to see. 





Auntie recommended that while we were in the area, we also check out nearby Bafen (八分), where two more mansions could be found; one was well-maintained and seems to house some sort of employment or community center. Behind it was another one that had burned down some time ago and was slowly being taken over by tropical plants. 

They can be a little hard to find as they're not visible from the main road, but a friendly local who himself has a very nice courtyard house pointed out the way to us. The whole area smells like a pigsty -- an honest, agricultural smell -- but it's absolutely worth it, if you're into old houses. The well-preserved house in front has some gorgeous Majolica tilework to admire, and the one behind it is a picturesque ruin.  






I just want to take this opportunity to tell you where my interest in random old houses comes from. I grew up in one, built in the 1850s (making it older than the Liu mansion). As a kid I hated it. Drafty and creaky and far from everything, with everything in a constant state of needing renovation, and we didn't even have a decent television because my parents didn't think it was important. I don't even believe in ghosts but if they do exist, that house was definitely haunted (my mom, sister and I often thought one of the others was calling us, usually around 8-9pm, when none of us were. I'm not joking). I spent a lot of time outside and a lot of time reading until my friends were old enough to drive. I complained constantly, but it's given me an affinity for life in an old house. Now, I'd consider buying one if I had enough money to renovate it to my standards. 

While driving through the pig-scented countryside, my friend told me about 草地郎 (cao deh lang), or 'good country folk', which everyone we met had been. A good English translation would be 'salt of the earth'. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself that, but despite some cultural differences, my rural childhood wasn't entirely different, growing up in an old house in the middle of nowhere, supplementing our food with things that grew in our backyard. I didn't have a baseball cap from the local temple, but I did have to go to church every Sunday.





In Bafen there is a very old temple once known for producing a particular kind of special incense that was used in many temples across Taiwan. It's been renovated and doesn't look particularly special, but if you're in the area a quick stop is worth it; the interior has a few vintage features including a very pretty mid-century floor with a lotus design near the altar and a lovely banyan tree out front. 

Apparently this temple, the 八分開基姑媽宮 (Bafen Kaiji Aunt Temple is the best translation I can offer) was founded in the late 1500s and honors the four goddesses of Yin, He, Li and Ji (鄞, 何,李,紀). Apparently there's a couplet in the temple that references Koxinga, but I didn't see it.

The 16th century seems early, but there were a few Chinese fishing and trading outposts in this part of Taiwan then, before serious migration began in the late 17th century. It looks newer because it was rebuilt several times since the 1700s, most recently in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Several stele have been gifted to the temple over the centuries, some of which have been lost, while other ones can still be seen.

Another story about this temple is that those resisting Japanese colonial rule could pray here to find out where the Japanese army would be, so they could head in teh opposite direction.

There is more to this temple, so it's worth reading their Wikipedia page, linked above (Mandarin only). 

From there, we drove on to Xuejia (學甲), famous for milkfish, first stopping for a delicious milkfish congee. My friend thought it was a bit sweet; I just thought it tasted like Tainan food. 


Xuejia's famous Ciji Temple (慈濟宮) is where we finally meet our tiny flag. 

When you first approach the temple, look up at the three roof gods (known as the “three stars” or 三星). They appear on most Taiwanese Taoist temples. If you didn’t already know, these are 福祿壽 (Fu, Lu and Shou) and represent fortune, prosperity/happiness and longevity: the three things essential to a good life. Each is associated with a star in Chinese astronomy. In Western astronomy these are Jupiter, Ursa Major and Canopus, respectively. Each generally carries a specific item: Fu carries a baby and a scroll, Lu carries a footrest (though I’ve seen him with gold ingots too) and Shou carries a longevity peach.

What’s interesting about Ciji Temple is that, while Fu’s child typically holds a toy, this particular child is holding an ROC flag. 

Grateful to be rambling the countryside with a friend fluent in Taiwanese, we asked about the reason for this. Apparently, when the Japanese took over Taiwan, they razed several temples and replaced them with Shinto shrines. We appreciate the shrines which remain and want to preserve them as part of Taiwan’s heritage, but the fact is that at the time they were a colonizing force, just like the Chinese architecture and administration that replaced the Dutch, after the Dutch sought to replace the social and religious systems of the Indigenous tribes. After the Japanese, the ROC again razed as much of the previous colonizer’s architectural mark as they could and re-built either in mid-century concrete, northern Chinese-or “Eurasian” style which has nothing to do with Taiwanese culture or history. 

So, to protect their temple from Japanese administrators who would have happily demolished it, they gave the child on the roof a small Japanese flag to demonstrate their “loyalty” ("loyalty" meaning "please don’t tear down our temple"). It worked, and the temple was left alone. You can see a reprinted picture of the temple with the original Japanese flag in the exhibition hall. When the temple was renovated in the mid-20th century to protect the remaining priceless ceramic work, the Japanese flag was covered with an ROC flag to demonstrate the change in government. You can still see a photo of the original flag in the exhibition hall that contains the old ceramics, which is well worth a visit.

I can think of no better metaphor for Taiwanese history than two temples, a short drive from one another, one of which has records dating to before the Dutch or Koxinga and which helped people avoid the Japanese, and the other of which features art by a 19th century master -- more on that below -- where a tiny ceramic Japanese flag still flies, albeit covered with a Republic of China flag.

Ciji Temple, which is dedicated to Baosheng Dadi (the same god as Bao'an Temple in Taipei) once contained a great deal of 19th-century Koji ceramic work (交趾陶), which on temples usually involved painstakingly sculpted, glazed and fired figures and backgrounds arranged into elaborate story scenes.

This particular Koji ceramic work was done by the famed Yeh Wang (葉王, born Ye Lin-jhih 葉麟趾, a 19th century Taiwanese artisan and Chiayi native, the son of another pottery maker. He was -- and is -- famed for his mind-blowing attention to detail who is considered one of the 'creators' of this art form. He’s also responsible for some of the finest examples of this art form across central Taiwan, including several temples in Chiayi. He was invited to work on Ciji Temple after an earthquake in 1853 caused a great deal of damage that required restoration which happened in the 1860s.

To put it another way, he's famous enough in Taiwan that you can buy a children's book about him.

By the 1960s, Yeh Wang’s work on Ciji Temple was becoming a bit weatherbeaten, so the temple was renovated using modern glazing techniques. The new work was done by more contemporary masters in ceramics and glazing.

Fortunately, much of the original work is preserved in the exhibition hall next to the temple. Even better, the entire exhibition is bilingual, although not all of the story scenes are fully explained (there is a rather long and awkward passage about a rich guy who “loved ducks” -- geese in Chinese -- however.) 

Look at the fingernails he created in his Drunken Li Bai 李白: 



Li Bai was quite the alcoholic, saying that sober men never go down in history, only drunkards get famous.

And the furrowed brow on this fellow: 

...and recall that these figures were often places on roofs or under awnings, where such details might not even be seen by visitors.

At the entrance to the temple, there are two people riding lions who have distinctly non-Chinese features, one more obviously than the other. On one side, a man with dark auburn hair, a Caucasian nose and a square jaw is holding an urn and a lotus stalk. On the other, his friend with big round eyes is holding another urn, and a banana leaf (the original ceramic banana leaf is lost). The man who told us about the flag said that they were Dutch (胡人 or "Hu People", which my friend translated as Dutch), and carried gifts because they ‘brought good things’ (tributes and gifts, I suppose) to Chinese leaders. The exhibition hall confirms they are Hu, but describes them as being nnorthern Chinese Hu (a nomadic group from the steppes) offering tribute. In any case, the items they carry said together are "甕甕蓮蕉" (urn urn lotus banana), which sounds like 旺旺連招 in Taiwanese. This is a spoken expression in Taiwanese which means something like 'good things come at the end' or 'the outcome is good fortune' (or something along those lines; I am not as proficient in Taiwanese as I'd like to be).

The current ones can be seen on the temple roof: 

And the Yeh Wang originals are preserved in the exhibition hall:

While Yeh Wang's lions are highly stylized in the traditional way and thus aren't meant to look exactly like real lions, I am quite certain he never saw a real tiger in his life:

Not his fault, of course. In the 1800s one was probably better off not coming across tigers.

There are some other interesting things to see in the exhibition hall: the top floor boasts some ancient archeological finds from Indigenous settlements and the old temple doors with door gods painted by yet another master artist. This area offers no bilingual signage, however.

In short, if you are interested in Taiwanese temples, history or art, Ciji Temple and the exhibition hall are absolutely worth your time. 


From here, we drove out to the Laotang Lake Art Village (老塘湖藝術村), a piece of architectural art composed of old, weatherbeaten building bits and pieces put together by The Mad Painter (or Hyper Painter), an artist from Kaohsiung. It costs NT100 to enter if you're not from Xuejia.

Instead of trying to explain it, here's a picture of the explanation for this place:


The artist is also known for his quick-painted depictions of famous people, and a few re-paintings of famous works (there's a quick-painted Mona Lisa, for example). There's a small exhibition near the entrance. 

This place is truly out in the middle of nowhere; you have to drive past rows of fishponds to get there. Apparently, the Mad Painter created it to evoke the backdrops of old martial arts films, which are meant to be dilapidated and weatherbeaten. The entire area surrounds a small lake (Laotang Lake, I suppose) with an island at the center, and it seems as though a few shops are open on busy days. We were there towards the end of a quiet day, so very little was open, but it was peaceful and lovely at sunset. 



There is one issue, however: the whole area smells of some combination of sewage and garbage. As my friend pointed out, there is a cafe and it would be a great place to stop for a drink, if it didn’t smell so bad. 

I’m not quite sure what to make of it otherwise. It’s not a tourist trap; it’s not well-known enough for that. Xuejia residents get free entry and it seems as though several older people take advantage of this. A few cosplayers were photographing themselves in the picturesque scenery, too. The area is home to several animals who look clean, fed and cared for, and are friendly to visitors. 




Xuejia is not far from Madou 麻豆, which not only has the Animatronic Hell Temple (Madou Daitian Temple, if you want to be formal about it) but also a famous savory rice pudding bowl (碗粿 -- I don't really know how to translate that but it's a typical Tainan breakfast food) restaurant called 麻豆碗粿蘭 right on the traffic circle heading into town. The restaurant remains open and serves the dish well into dinnertime, and I can honestly say it's one of the best I've had.