Showing posts with label donggang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label donggang. Show all posts

Friday, October 12, 2018

Gods Rush In Again: My Latest for Taiwan Scene

You might remember that I had a short non-fiction story published in an anthology of stories by expat women in Asia, all the way back in 2014.

Well, with the King Boat Festival coming once again - it kicks off on October 28 this year and ends one week later - Taiwan Scene has excerpted my original story and published it here:

Gods Rush In at the King Boat Festival

Although a few sections are lost - an exploration of the cultural issues surrounding being a female spirit medium, a longer discussion of my own (continued) atheism despite the peculiar and perhaps somewhat chimerical events I experienced on the beach that day in 2012, the fact that my own wishing plaque on the King Boat was for Taiwanese independence - I'm excited that the story might now reach a wider audience.

Until now, it was impossible to read unless you bought the whole anthology (which you can still absolutely do, and which I recommend, but may be difficult for someone without a Kindle device or app in Taiwan), so having a section of it available to all Taiwanese readers is great news!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Firewalking For Beginners: my latest for Taiwan Scene

I'm back as a guest contributor to Taiwan Scene, this time writing about firewalking in Donggang...but not the way you think. It's actually about being a female traveler faced with sexist (yes, sexist) religious traditions, and having entirely the wrong response to them - something I can only admit now.

In any case, enjoy. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Taiwan is more than Taipei

"Wang Ye" in full makeup at the opening of the Donggang King Boat Festival
Like some other bloggers I know, I am getting tired of stories about Taiwan or Taiwan travel listicles that were written by someone who either flew in, spent three days in Taipei and had a Sun Moon Lake overnight, or who lives in Taipei but doesn't care that much about the rest of Taiwan. (I once read an blog post by, I dunno, somebody, saying that Taipei expats never seem to leave Taipei. I was annoyed by that - I leave Taipei all the time! - but I can see where one might get the impression that the Taipei expat community isn't interested in exploring the rest of the country).

Anyway, why does it always have to be hot springs, a few Taipei hot spots, maybe Sun Moon Lake and Taroko if you're lucky, and "theme restaurants"? Maybe these days Kenting will figure in on these "itineraries". I'm sick of it too. While I could recommend a few great hot springs and I've even been to that toilet restaurant (verdict: mediocre. Were you surprised?), I feel like one could do a much better job talking about great places in Taiwan than "Taipei 101 and this lake I hear about in the mountains". Not Taipei, Taiwan. 

So, in no particular order and with no particular rhyme or reason, here are some of my favorite places in Taiwan. With links, mostly to my blog, because I'm nothing if not self-promoting.

Southeast Pingdong County and East of Kending

This has to have been one of my favorite trips in Taiwan that was not an outlying island. The area around Gangzai and south toward the east end of Kending is gorgeous. There are people who go to Gangzai, a little strip of a town along the thin road down the coast that peters out a few kilometers to the south, just to enjoy a Taiwan without convenience stores. I actually like convenience stores, but I also appreciate the quiet rural peace of towns like this.

From here, if you have a car, you can drive around sand dunes (or just walk on the beach), drive up to some grasslands with great views of the mountains and sea, listen to waves make rain sounds on a pebble beach to the north, hike to the ruins of an aboriginal village, hike along the coast to a shipweck and be within a short drive of some of Kending's best coastal scenery and beaches. Plus, it means you can see the beauty of Kending without ever going to Kending town. Win-win, because Kending town sucks butt. Loud, crowded, dirty tourist trap with a crappy crowded beach and literally nothing to recommend it.

As a confirmed driving-hater, I can say that the driving isn't even that hard, I was okay with it.

Downtown Tainan
I'll wait on a link in the heading until I blog my latest Tainan adventures,  as recently I managed to visit Tainan not once, but twice in the span of a few months. However, I'd been there several times before, though not with as good photographic results.

Tainan is the city of my heart. It's where Brendan and I decided to start dating and was one of my first (successful) forays outside of Taipei when I was still fresh off the plane in 2006-2007. If I could do my job there - I can't - and it had better public transportation, or really any public transportation, I would move there.

I love it not only for the huge variety of temples of all sizes, backgrounds and ages, but also for it's laid-back urban vibe. It's a city, but not a frenetic one (I'd say "like Taipei" but I actually think Taipei is pretty laid-back too). I love it for the many varieties of ice cream and shaved ice available to cool yourself in the tropical heat, I love its "we're as hip as Taipei, or maybe even hipper" cafes and its nascent young, artsy vibe. I love eating fresh fruit ice cream in a melon at Taicheng Fruit Store and drinking coffee at Narrow Door and Taikoo. I love Tainan shrimp roll rice. I love Tainan's pro-independence politics.

I could chill in Tainan forever. 

Yunlin County

I don't have links yet as I haven't blogged our Yunlin trip, so here are some from my friend over at Synapticism. You won't find a more traditional-yet-almost-completely-uncommercialized place than Yunlin County and its assorted towns. If you want to see where your Taiwanese friends' grandparents all come from, check it out.

Yunlin is another good place to chill, without any major must-sees except, perhaps, Beigang's Chaotian temple. I liked the old-school flavor of Beigang, enjoyed the unique "old street" buildings in Xiluo, whose old street hasn't become too commercialized yet, and finding (more than one!) funky cafe in Douliu as well as a temple to both a Daoist god (I think Guan Di) and Confucius and a truly uncommercialized old street. We didn't get to stay in Huwei but I would be interested to go back - the downtown area looks bustling, with some interesting old architecture, and there's a puppet museum. You could spend about half a day in any given town - more if you are content to explore for half a day and spend the rest of it in a cafe chilling out until dinner, which I generally am - and although there may be a long wait for a bus, transit between the towns is otherwise fairly quick and easy. Downtowns are pretty compact, you only need independent transport if you want to get way out into the countryside, which is a plus.

Anyway, watch this space - I'll be doing a longer post on this very soon.

The abandoned church in Lishan
This is one of my favorite places in Taiwan. There is not that much to do in Lishan itself - though exploring the abandoned church and the old Lishan Hotel (which I understand may have been finally renovated and reopened?) will give you a reason to get out and just enjoy the views. Or, you could just walk around and enjoy the views! This is a trip you will want a car for, or some way of obtaining independent transportation. With it, you can visit Fushoushan and Wuling farms during the day, and then drink tea outside back in Lishan town as the sun sets (if you get a good honestay or hotel, that is). If you can score a ride to Fushoushan, after exploring up there it's not hard to hike back down to town and, again, the views are breathtaking. It's a fantastic place to go to just relax, with clean air and some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the country. If you're thinking "I want to hang out in the mountains, but still be able to walk to a few restaurants and places to buy essentials", Lishan is for you.

The drive to Lishan from Hehuan Mountain

In fact, the North Cross-Island is pretty rad, too

I don't have a lot of photos from the first trip, as I was more concerned with making sure Emily (who was driving) knew where she was going. So, most of those pics are from our drive the next day down the east coast. My second trip concentrated on Lalashan and Shangbaling, not the whole highway. But, the drive is lovely and in many places, wild. You end up in the same place that the Central Cross-Island drops you off if you take the Yilan route (there is also a Hualien route, which I have not done). Some of the driving, along one-car-at-a-time roads clinging to mountainsides, can be a bit intense, but it's absolutely worth it. Daxi, Fuxing and Xiao Wulai, with its lovely little waterfall and - more interestingly, hike to the lovely little waterfall - are also good places to stop. Yes, I've been to Cihu - I took my in-laws there, which I think my history buff father-in-law enjoyed - but never blogged about it.

The point? Between Daxi, Cihu, Fuxing, Xiao Wulai, Shangbaling and, at the other end, Mingchih Forest Recreation Area, you'll be pleasantly surprised by all there is to see and do along the highway. Or, just drive along and enjoy the mountain views.


Poor Puli. First the earthquake, and now it just doesn't get that much love from international tourists. If people go there at all it's to catch a bus to Sun Moon Lake. But Puli saved my butt during a particularly horrid Chinese New Year camping trip: see link above, also, don't try to camp in the mountains of Taiwan on Chinese New Year. You can thank me later for that bit of advice. For that, I will always be grateful. The Shaoxing wine brewery is interesting enough, I liked making a little paper fan at the paper factory, I still have the tray I bought at the lacquer makers', and if you're not into that sort of tourist-trail 'handicrafts and local goods' stuff, rent a bike, get out of town and enjoy the views as the Central Mountain Range rises from the plain. Also, within a short drive is the "where is that?" town of Caotun. I can't say there's that much to do in Caotun, but there is one very cool temple that looks like a medicine gourd (慈德宫) perched on a hill out of town. It's way more interesting than the - in my opinion - creepy-seeming Zhongtai monastery. 
The medicine gourd temple in Caotun (草屯慈德宫)

The drive from Chihshang (East Rift Valley) to Taidong (the east coast)

This is actually an expat favorite, but still never makes it into those "Top Ten Things In Taipei That I Am Going To Pretend Are Representative of Taiwan" lists. Chihshang itself is lovely, if a bit full of local tourists because some famous commercials and movies were shot there. Nevermind, it's beautiful and worth a stop. It's in the heart of the East Rift Valley - which, gorgeous! - with views of bright green rice fields giving way to dark green mountains on both sides. Check it out, have a coffee at Lavazza - interesting, seeing as the town is famous for Lavazza competitor Mr. Brown's commercials, talk about a missed marketing opportunity - and head up over the eastern mountains to the coast.

After a soporific drive through bucolic tropical beauty, with a stop to see some Formosan macaques which may or may not take over your car, you'll be greeted with Hawaii-like views of the sea as you hit the coast at Donghe. Stop for a break at the cafe above Jinzun beach (and absolutely do take the stairs down to the near-deserted beach, though I'm not sure I'd recommend swimming) but otherwise enjoy the Hawaii-Five-O drive down to Taidong. There are a few other places you can stop at on the way, including the expat enclave of Dulan. We didn't stay long, but we did pick up some locally-brewed beer for later.

Hsinchu County

Children at Pasta'ai in Hsinchu county

I have a lot of links for Hsinchu, so have a look:

Pasta'ai in 2008 and 2010 (including a visit to the house of Zhang Xue-liang 張學良)

Beipu has become something of a tourist stop, but Pasta'ai, if you can finagle the dates for the biennial Saisiyat aboriginal harvest festival, is still a very local thing. As long as you are respectful and friendly and willing to drink a crapton of millet wine, foreign guests are welcome. That said, it's not nearly as commercialized (or really commercialized at all) as its sister festival in Nanzhuang. Don't forget Zhang Xueliang's house and a worthwhile hike over Lion's Head Mountain. The temple on the Miaoli end gets all the press, but I actually liked the old Japanese baroque temple on the mountain itself.

Hukou is, well, an old street. But it's a quiet one, without the same-old-same-old souvenir shops that plague Sanxia, Jinshan, Shenkeng and Daxi. It's pretty far out of town and bus service is sporadic, so you will want to either drive or arrange taxis. Being folks who dislike driving, we did the latter. 
A Japanese-era temple on a creepy, foggy day on Lion's Head Mountain in Hsinchu
Hsinchu city is also worth your time, with some interesting historical sites, good food, a city god temple and the absolutely amazing - not really in a good way - temple to late mass murderer, brutal dictator and all around asshat Chiang Kai-shek, which has got to be one of the most mind-blowing historical things I've seen in Taiwan. Not because the temple itself is particularly special, but for what it represents.

Long and short of it? There's a lot to do in Hsinchu. 

Brendan lookin' sexxxxxxy in the Batman room of a love hotel in Kaohsiung

The Dome of Light at Formosa Boulevard station
I cannot believe I've been to Kaohsiung city at least three times and yet never really blogged much about the city itself. (Edit: here you go!)

That said, enjoy this post about the Batman room at the Eden Exotic Love Hotel in Kaohsiung.

Anyway, I was there for a weekend last month so I'll be fixing that soon. Yes, there are all the things you've heard about: Pier 2, wandering around Hamasen, the British Consulate at Takao (I like to go for the views, that's about it really), Cijin Island, Chaishan and its monkeys, Lotus Lake, Love River, the sugar refinery (which is now a family-friendly tourist spot), Liuhe Night Market. With the exception of the night market, all of this stuff is fine - well, the sugar refinery was a bit bland - and I enjoy it too. By all means, go. Especially Cijin Island, which has great seafood and a fun ferry ride to get you there. I am also a fan of the Dome of Light in Formosa Boulevard station, and in a hallway just off of it, a man who makes sterling silver flower pendants, rings and other charms.

But I like Kaohsiung for its great coffee and food scene, including some fantastic hangouts like Beast (try the sweet potato and cheese quesadillas and Cambridge Cucumber 'mojito'), Reve Coffee and Sojourner Cafe, great burgers at Zzyzx, Takao Beer, a particular cafe on Chaishan that I enjoy, and tons of great local food. I like that it has an MRT so I don't have to taxi everywhere, as I won't rent a car in such a large city. I like Ruifeng Night Market, crowded with locals but almost unknown to tourists. I like hanging out with my friend Sasha in Dashe and eating a whole chicken, gorgeously cooked before walking up Guanyin Mountain.

I'm including Donggang in here because it's a perfect day trip from Kaohsiung. I haven't been to the nearby aquarium, but I can heartily recommend dinner at the harbor (best seafood in Taiwan without going to the outlying islands), Donglong Temple and its magnificent golden gate, a quick walk down the old street, and - again if you can figure out the dates - its King Boat Festival, held every three years, which is worth visiting both at the beginning and the end. Quite possibly the best cultural festival in Taiwan. I wrote my first ever published nonfiction story about it, and you should definitely buy the anthology in which it appears.

Another good choice near Kaohsiung? Meinong. Pretty on-the-tourist-trail, but nice.

The burning of the King Boat in Donggang

Spirit Mediums in Donggang

The Taoyuan Grasslands above the Yilan coastline
...including Yuemeikeng in Jiaoxi (I couldn't make this a favorite considering what happened the second time we went).

There are several hiking trails up here - Yuemeikeng, Caoling Old Trail, Wankengtou and the Taoyuan grasslands (accessible from Caoling Old Trail), and Paoma (Running Horse) Old Trail to name a few. The views? Spectacular. Ever wondered what it was like to walk along a ridge of seaside cliffs with rolling hills to one side and a sheer drop to the waves below at the other? Well, this is it. Probably my biggest "don't miss" set of hiking trails in the entire country.

Yuemeikeng waterfall in Yilan - tragically beautiful


No, really, I love hanging out in Keelung. From Heping Island to Miaokou Night Market to the Fairy Cave Temple to Ghost Month, I always enjoy a reason to pass through this - to be honest - kinda grotty town. It's still got the old red light district "welcome sailors!" feeling, it's a bit rough around the edges (okay, at times very rough around the edges) and packed with pachinko parlors, but that's what makes it interesting.

Also, a great stopping-off point from trips to Jiufen and Jinguashi (which are nice, but packed with tourists - for good reason) and my favorite hot springs in Jinshan (in the old Japanese governor-general's hot spring getaway on the coast). Also, a good place to eat after a half day hike up Xiaotzukeng to Jiufen. 

Goats on Orchid Island

A traditional boat on Orchid Island
I don't think I have to sell you on Orchid Island (Lanyu) but I'll try anyway. Lanyu is unlike anywhere else in Taiwan. The locals don't put much stock in a cash economy - in that I saw locals freely using the services of their neighbors' businesses without paying because it all comes back eventually - though as an outsider you'll have to pay. Where kids run around and are supervised by whomever happens to be nearby, including when they run into the ocean. Where people paint traditional fishing boats by the side of the road. The language sounds more like an offshoot of Tagalog than anything you'll hear on Taiwan's mainland. It's one of the few places in Taiwan where you can speak Chinese to locals, but it will feel most definitely like two non-native speakers communicating. It's a place where you can completely and utterly chill out, a tiny (but sadly beachless) Hawaii with good snorkeling and out-of-this-world seafood (try the flying fish barbecue with a pitcher of ice cold Taiwan Beer). It's easy to drive or scooter around as there is one road (two if you count the one that runs up the middle of the island and connects at two different ends of the circle road).

I don't mean to exoticize it that much, I just want to make really clear that Orchid Island is not only nothing like anything you'll find elsewhere, it's also nothing like you'll find in Taiwan proper. It is unique. Don't miss it. 

Qinbi, an old stone village, now a nexus of homestay's, on Matsu's northern island of Beigan
Being hard to get to due to near-constant fog that tends to ground flights, and its relative distance from Taiwan, most tourists give Matsu a miss. This is a mistake. I don't know what I was doing with my life before I discovered lao jiu mian (thin noodles with seafood cooked in a broth flavored with aged local wine). "Juguang Hamburgers", a sort of sesame-covered bread filled with a seafood filling that appears to be mainly chopped oyster remains one of my favorite foods. The old stone villages and winding paths through granite cliffs and dry, but humid coastlines evokes the Greek Isles or Turkey (in fact the houses reminded me very strongly of older settlements in Turkey). We stayed in Taiwan and yet felt like we'd taken a foreign vacation. 

One of my fondest memories of traveling in Taiwan with Brendan was taking off in a car one morning from our homestay on the outskirts of Jincheng with a map that showed the location of every known Wind Lion God statue in Kinmen, and simply driving around to find them (while stopping to enjoy interesting sites we found on the way, which were numerous). Jincheng itself is a wonderful city to wander around, but you don't really get to know Kinmen until you hop in a car and explore its smaller towns, and get a sense of its history - as well as how the major events of history in Asia have shaped it. All the way from the ruined farmhouses, old towns and "foreign mansions" (洋樓) to the Battle of Guningtou to a sad statue of Chiang Kai-shek in a town traffic circle flanked on each side by election posters, at least one for the major opposition party. Mass Murderer, Late Dictator and All-Around Asshat Chiang would be rolling in his grave, and I am happy to know that.

I know I've listed three sets of outlying islands now, and I'd actually like to list Penghu too, but I went in my first year in Taiwan, didn't know much about traveling in Taiwan, and don't remember much either. I'll have to go back, see if I can do a better job of it, and perhaps add it to this list later.

And I know it's a tourist favorite, but I've gotta say I love Lugang. I really do

I love the old Ding family home (丁家老宅) with its coffee shop in a side hall. I love the old buildings on Zhongshan Road. I love the old street and its cafes in restored houses. I love the festivals at the Matsu temple. I love the old Longshan Temple at the other end of town. I love fried oysters. Hate me if you must, but I love Lugang and I am not afraid to admit it. 
A woman becomes a spirit medium in Lugang

At a cafe in Lugang

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Expat women! In Asia! In an anthology! With dragonfruit! And me!

   You totally want to read about this guy.

I've mentioned a few times before on this blog that one of my stories - based on this blog post - is going to be published in an upcoming anthology of stories by expat women in Asia (woohoo!). That was all very informal, but now things are being finalized and I'm proud to announce that the book - titled How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia - will be on the market this June!


You can, and should, follow the Facebook page here. A list of contributors and more information can be found on the editor's blog here. And I am going to be totally shameless in saying that you should buy a copy (don't worry, Moms & Dads, you're getting free copies. But the rest of you should buy it). You'll (hopefully) see a few reviews on some Taiwan-centric blogs, including mine, because duh.

It's pretty rare that a story from Taiwan makes it into these travel writing anthologies, and rarer still that that story is written by a female expat. I can really only think of one other that I've read - and I buy these sorts of books all the time, so I would know. They're great to bring on vacation because you can read them one story at a time. In the story I try to address the female expat experience and progressive women's issues in Taiwan, along with thoughts on being an atheist in a country that mostly practices folk religion, and what happens when those three things collide at a temple festival in Donggang.

Seriously, you should read it. I think I did pretty good. At least I tried my best to capture the atmosphere of one of these festivals outside Taipei. I haven't read the anthology yet - eventually I'll get a copy - but I'm sure the other writers wrote brilliantly as well.

Anyway, so yeah. Buy the book that has my story in June. :-P

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Boat. The Boat. The Boat is ON FIRE

I apologize for not having written my boat burning post sooner. That day of staying up all night segued into a high-powered presentation seminar, and I didn't really have a chance to recover until late last week. Then I got sick - I'm still fighting it, so here's hoping I'm fine by tomorrow. Just a bad cold/mild flu, you know, the usual "I feel like crap" crap.

I also started on Christmas gifts - handmade, this year, mostly - and applied for my open work permit with my shiny new APRC, so I've been busy.

I've actually got to head to class now, so here are the photos, and I'll fill it in with text and put them in order later tonight, so stop back in!


Sorry I took so long to update this post - that "mild flu" I had earlier in the week, while it didn't get worse, per se, also didn't get better and knocked me out for the better part of the week, even though my courseload was relatively light. I just didn't have the energy to jump back in and finish this post.

I still feel like crap but have decided I'm just going to go ahead and get it done already. So, here's everything you ever wanted to know about the grand BURN-TACULAR finale of King Boat.

First, this whole shebang is not just for one god - although there is one major/most important deity (well, more of a spirit than a deity, he's not a 神(god), he's a 王爺 (god-like spirit people pray to for protection, generally much more fickle than gods, often can even be downright bad guys, generally based on real people who died, and whose ghosts, when prayed to, have seemed to provide good fortune). His name is Qian Sui Ye (千歲爺) or Thousand Years Grandfather, and he died, so it's told, on a boat that caught fire out to sea.

The King Boat is built mostly for him, but his ship had a crew, and when the spirit mediums converge on the beach at Donggang to bring him in from the sea, they're also bringing in the other crew members along with plenty of other local spirits, gods and ghosts. The whole lot of 'em then tour the Donggang countryside for a week, bringing their blessing for a prosperous three years to come. People set off fireworks as they go by - as people are wont to do in Taiwan. People also buy ghost money - both gold for gods and silver for ghosts, and make wishes on wooden plaques:

I blurred out my address and birthday - but there's one small mistake in my Chinese that wasn't due to purposely blurring. Can you find it?

These plaques are for personal wishes - most are for marriage, passing tests, good jobs, children, health, nice houses and cars and general happiness. Mine was a little more political, but few in Donggang would mind such a sentiment. Qian Sui Ye was a Fujianese figure, not a Taiwanese one, as far as I can tell (correct me if I'm wrong, oh experts), so I am not sure he'll be so sympathetic to my plea. Hence the "thank you". Even pirates - Qian Sui Ye was a pirate - probably appreciate a little courtesy.

However, the general wish of the populace for the festival as a whole is prosperity for the town and its rural outlying areas: specifically in the fishing trade. Specifically, the endangered, overfished local delicacy - bluefin tuna. That golden gate didn't build itself: tuna money built it.

People make donations and add ghost money to the King Boat pile on their own, before it gets stacked around the boat - this is how the temple and the hosting family recoup their costs (also, at the parade, lots of donation baskets). The NT$100 for each wish plaque doesn't hurt either.

The King Boat is built over the course of several months leading up to the festival, and housed in a building in front of the temple (to the left as you enter through the golden gate). There need to be "guards" to protect it, who wear traditional hats: these guards have drums (one was photographed above) and they cannot be women - because Chinese culture is totally sexist in many ways.

A lot of things down here are more traditional than up north. Every temple in the visiting parade has a spirit medium to represent their god, not just an idol, and every temple visited has one, too. The two mediums, while possessed, communicate as the two deities or spirits. The temple folks wear traditional hat and costume far more often. The dance-like steps at the parades are more elaborate. The whole thing is imbued with traditions mostly ignored in the Taipei area.

The day before the boat burns, they take it out of it's storage facility and put it on display in Donglong Temple's grand courtyard. You can see how crowded it gets, and beyond that you can see the golden gate of Donglong Temple.

In the same spot the week before was the firewalking ceremony - three years ago women were allowed to participate. This year they were not. No reason: it's true that often public/group firewalking is restricted to men, but that's mostly changed. The difference this year was that the host family was the Geng family (耿), who are apparently far more traditional than last year's hosting family.

You can tell who hosts by the little circular plaque on the boat - it's hard to see in this image, but if you look at that circle closely, it bears the Geng family name. 

The families chosen are large, important local families with ties to the temple (as is true with the hosting families of all major festivals: Keelung's Ghost Month festivities have a similar family lot-drawing process). The family pays for everything while the temple helps coordinate and organize, and together they put the whole thing on. The family that will host the 2015 King Boat was decided right after this King Boat finished. I don't know who it'll be, but whoever it is, they already know.

One student told me that to find out the details of these festivals, the county or town government can help but will more often than not give you the temple's phone number (which is what Donggang did to me). The temple will probably know, but if they don't, they will send you along to the patriarch (possibly matriarch) of the hosting family - so you could find yourself calling to ask about a local festival and talking to Old Mr. Chen, some random local guy who happens to represent that year's hosting family.

I think that's kinda cool - I don't see it going down that way in the USA. At least not where I'm from. "Cantine Field administrative office speaking. Mmm hmm. Yeah, we don't know what time the fireworks will start, why don't you call Linda Smith, her family donated the money for most of the fireworks, her number is..." - not likely.

Then, at midnight on the designated day, they start to throw fortune blocks to ask the god when the boat can be transported to the beach. The day chosen for this is theoretically based on the lunar calendar, but this is such a big deal for Donggang that they tend to massage it a bit so it always happens on a weekend night. It's their big night for tourism after all. 

In theory it could take forever to get the boat down there, or it could happen immediately. In practice, the boat usually starts making its way down between 1 and 2am - in 2009 it was on the late side, in 2012 it was on the early side. It crosses the bridge on the main road to the beach at about 2am, generally. Grab a seat - a small foldable camping chair is a GREAT idea and you should definitely bring one - and wait for the boat to come by. A small parade of dragon dancers, lion dancers and a performer in full makeup in a sedan chair representing the god generally precede it.

Then, make your way to the beach. It's worth it to get as close to the boat as possible - if you can't, though, don't fret (and if you just can't handle the crowd and want to go off somewhere to rest, you'll be able to get back to the boat, don't worry - it just won't be immediately). Hanging around by the front or back of the piles of ghost money is your best bet. Once they start piling those around the boat more room opens up and you can worm your way closer. DO NOT climb or sit on the ghost money - locals will do it, but it is considered extremely rude.

If you are going with friends, HOLD HANDS until you are on the beach. The crowd is massive and there's a bottleneck - you WILL get separated otherwise. We did.

Don't fret that masses of people made it there before you - this thing burns big, and you'll get a good view. Trust me.

Idols in LED-covered sedan chairs then tend to block the entrance to the beach. You can get around them, but it's best to just stay on the beach. Try not to have to go to the bathroom. If you do, try asking around on the road to the beach for a toilet. Go before you hit the beach - trust me.

What happens then is that some temple officials bring some possessed rods (they are possessed, as are the rods, from what I understood) to the boat - I couldn't figure out what they were for, but there's a lot of grunting and screaming as they're hauled, arms shaking as though they're trying to hold it with an angry spirit inside - up to the boat. I suspect they are the rods that hold the three masts in place, but am not sure.

Then, when the fortune blocks give the go-ahead, ghost money is piled around the boat in a wave formation - this is done by passing bags and piles of it to the boat to be set up by temple officials. 

Although women are generally allowed to touch ghost money, they're not supposed to if they're menstruating (ah, sexism in traditional cultures). The Geng family decided no women should touch the money at all, as they'd have no way of knowing who was menstruating and who wasn't. I don't recall this being a rule last time, or maybe I just didn't pick up on it.

The gods gave them very little time to get the money in place, so all the men on the beach were asked to help (NO DIRTY WOMENZ!) For anyone who thinks Taiwanese men are weaklings (racism - sigh), they hauled huge garbage bags of paper and wood and giant stacks of money to the boat for at least a few hours, with little to no break. I wouldn't say that's the sign of a weakling. 

In the rush, lots of it was dropped - here you can see the men then picking it up to send over to the boat.

During and after that, they announce how much was given to the gods (it's always a "GREAT YEAR!" but apparently this year really was great - what with the economy and overfishing of bluefin tuna, I guess the people of Donggang needed all the help they could get. The announcements are all in Taiwanese - they don't deign to change to Mandarin for foreigners (which includes people from Taipei)  but are general welcome messages, accounts of how much was donated, that sort of thing.

Then, the god gives the go-ahead at about 4:30 in the morning, maybe 5, and there's a ceremony on the boat. A suona (that reedy oboe-like instrument that large groups of old people play during temple parades) is played and the life-size anchors on either end of the boat are lifted, to represent Qian Sui Ye and the other gods returning to the sea - but this time with their bounty of ghost money to ensure that they'll be good to the locals for the next three years.

A little while after that, fireworks are draped all around the money (not on the boat itself as far as I could tell) and lit with blowtorches.

Three years ago temple guys kept us well away from the popping firecrackers - the Geng family didn't. Super-traditional - our only defense was our own sense of caution. This proved to be enough - nobody wants to be too close to thousands of firecrackers going off and setting a ten-foot-high mount of money and offerings aflame.

In theory this could start anytime - in practice, it always happens between 5 and 5:30am, and the main part of the burning happens just at sunrise. It's quite poetic, really, the boat going up in flames as the sun tilts its head above the horizon, as Qian Sui Ye symbolically sails back out to sea on his burning vessel.

Most people leave not long after - I try to stay until all three masts have fallen. This year it took longer and we stayed until about 7am, when all but one mast had collapsed. The crowd thins as the skies get lighter, generally.

I took tons of photos with different filters:

It really is something of a transformative experience - you get super tired, jostled by people, sweaty and sandy, totally ready to collapse, and then as morning comes you're blinded by a great ball of fire, representing the amalgamated folk beliefs of an entire region, all their hopes, all their worries for the coming year, sent off on a fiery sea - it's like a kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve, with the promise of new chances and new discoveries. It's something right in front of your face that is connected, cycle after cycle, through the depths of history.

And some other poetic crap.

It's more fun to watch things burn, so let's do that:

The boat itself is a real boat, as in, I do believe it could set sail (it's obviously not a modern design, however). It's built out of a fragrant wood - the whole beach smells of sweet, smoky wood as it burns - but I don't know which kind.

Generally speaking, it continues all through the day and well into the next night, if not the second day after that.

This is the "I Love Taiwan" guy. You know who I mean.

Afterwards, we stumbled back to our hotel, took showers and slept until about 2pm. Then we got up, washed up again briefly, and went out to eat (there was an excellent Vietnamese place near our hotel with nourishing food). We felt almost jetlagged, and very lazily wandered Donggang until the sun set again.

I have said before and maintain my belief: Taiwan may have many ugly buildings, but Taiwan is not ugly. Plenty of its architecture is interesting, lovely, quirky, attractive, worth a second look. Donggang, being a fairly wealthy little town with a compact town center (be prepared to walk a lot, but things aren't that far apart), has a fair number of these interesting little gems:

And a large-breasted cow:

She's advertising milk powder.

We returned to Donglong Temple at dusk:

It was still active - we were tired, so we rested a bit, didn't really exert ourselves too much.

At Donglong Temple, we picked up some lucky rice - limit of 6 per person. You actually empty these into your regular rice, cook them and eat them with dinner to ingest the good luck.

They're emblazoned with good luck sayings and the name of Qian Sui Ye.

We also saw this fat dog.

Anyone who says Taiwa is straight-up ugly hasn't looked closely enough.

Then we headed back to the beach to see the fire blaze on.

We ran into a spirit medium for Ji Gong (濟公) who was not possessed: he was taking photos of the blaze, in fact.

He took a liking to us, and let us wear his costume!


I make a better Ji Gong than Brendan. I think. I've got the eccentricity and gregariousness to pull it off.

Then we walked slowly to Donutes, Donggang's only Taipei-style coffeeshop (it's like an Ikari mixed with a Cafe 85 plus gelato). They're all over Taiwan, just not Taipei, and offer an indoor seating space - the only coffee/cake shop in Donggang to do that.

Some helpful info:

Transport: Kaohsiung Bus Company (高雄客運) from Kaohsiung Main Station (from the only MRT exit, turn left and it's down the side road on the left. Buses every 20 minutes, takes about 1 hour. Last bus at 10:30pm or so.

Bus drops you off near Guangfu Road in Donggang - get off the bus, walk straight ahead until the Cafe 85 and then turn right. That's Zhongshan, the main thoroughfare of Donggang. If you hadn't turned you'd eventually have come upon Donglong Temple on your left.

Many hotels partner with a van service that can pick you up at the door of your hotel once an hour (when in that hour depends on the hotel) to head back to Kaohsiung - inquire about this and you won't have to walk to the bus stop (where you got dropped off, across the street by the 7-11).

A taxi from Kaohsiung Airport will cost about NT$700. The buses do stop at the airport.

Hotels: Always book in advance because you're not going to get a room that night if you show up without a reservation.

Donggang doesn't have many downtown hotels - we stayed at the Dai Que Hotel (代卻大旅社) which is serviceable and clean, but very, very basic. NT$700/night for a double, $1200-$1500 for a 4-person room (2 double beds). TV, air conditioning, drinking water, toiletries, private bathroom included but it's NOT fancy. Bring your own towel. Trust me. Run by a gaggle of obasans - one will break your knuckles, one has teeth destroyed by betel nut and one dresses like a hooker despite being in her 60s and will talk your ear off in Taiwanese (she's my favorite). It's central - close to the beach, harbor and temple.

Dapeng Bay Hotel (大鵬灣大飯店) - nicer, but far more expensive option on Zhongshan Road.

Near Dai Que Hotel in the lanes around Bo'ai street we came across a few more homestays that I can't find information for.

Food and Coffee: You can eat at the night-market like area around the temple or the beach, but my recommendation if you are not a vegetarian is to go to Huaqiao Harbor, which will be in all the guidebooks. My top pick restaurant is Yu Nong (魚農), the first restaurant on the right after the bathrooms once past the main harbor gate. The "you buy we cook" places before the gate are also good.  Try the fried tuna belly, the fish balls, the other local specialty - cherry blossom shrimp rice (櫻花炒飯). Or keep going past the first clutch of restaurants to the BBQ guy with a truck - get the oysters (NT$100 a portion), the handmade tempura sticks, or the snails.

Donutes, Donggang's only real coffeeshop, is at the far end of Zhongshan Road, just south of Bo'ai Street (about as far from the bus stop/Donglong Temple as you can get, but in Donggang that's not very far), near the bridge at the other end of town. 24-hours a day and has all the caffeine options a hardened Taipei'ite will need to weather a few days outside the city. It's very close to Dai Que Hotel, another bonus.

What to bring:

- insect repellent
- money (plenty of ATMs in Donggang, none by the beach)
- a small folding chair that you can easily carry
- a small towel to wipe off sweat
- water - try to drink it slowly so you never have to pee, because, uh, good luck with that if you do
- wet wipes (trust me - you'll feel so grungy, these will be so welcome)
- either some alcohol if you want to daze around pleasantly buzzed, or some Red Bull if you want to stay awake
- extra camera batteries
- Panadol/ibuprofen/Tiger Balm (the crowd gives some people headaches or you might get stuck next to Mr. Stinky)
- a few snacks
- sandals you can stand in for awhile (you won't want to get sand in trainers or boots)
- good walking shoes (Donggang doesn't have buses, but it's very compact. You'll walk a lot).