Showing posts with label qingshan_wang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label qingshan_wang. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Emotional Geography of an Accidental State

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That tiny gray plaque in front of the Men's Tailor on the right marks the place where the 228 Incident began. Across the lane on the left, the colonial-era black buildings are the site of the Tianma teahouse, where the vendor who was beaten was "illegally" selling cigarettes. On the far left at the top you can see the sign for Tianma Teahouse (it's the white rectangle above the windows if you can't read the Chinese). 

Last summer, a student of mine asked me if, instead of regular class, we could walk around Dadaocheng as she'd never actually been. She's aware I go there often and know the area well. I met her at the Jiancheng traffic circle - this was before that glass circle building was torn down - and was genuinely surprised to learn that she didn't know three things:

- That the area was a swamp until Qing times
- That the circle itself had been a pond/reservoir as well as a bomb shelter, with the water from the pond used to put out fires from air raids, and after that was a popular culinary destination for local street food
- That the 228 Massacre began nearby, just to the west as one approaches the Nanjing-Yanping intersection.

After a quick backgrounder on Jiancheng Circle - which, again, I was truly surprised to be giving - we spent quite a bit of time ruminating at the plaque that marked where 228 began. It felt weird and slightly inappropriate to be a foreigner giving this information to a local, but here we were.

"Of course I know 228," she said. "But I didn't know where it happened. I guess I never thought about exactly where in the city it started."

We fell quiet.

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See that barely-noticeable granite plaque on the left? You'd miss it if you weren't looking for it.

"I already know this history," she repeated. "But maybe now I feel more connection to it, because I actually went to the spot."

This is not to say she does not know her own country's history. By her own words, she does - quite probably as well as I know my American history. This will not be a hectoring "Taiwanese don't know their history!" post. I will never write such a post. If I ever approach that topic, it will be in a more realistic and nuanced way.

However, as we wandered around various other Dadaocheng landmarks - the old riverside mansions of major trading families, the municipal brothel, the old Yongle Market, Wang's Tea and more - she kept commenting, and I could feel, a deeper connection to her city being formed. We finished the day with her exclaiming again that she was genuinely surprised and regretful that she'd never taken the time to explore that neighborhood before. She seemed the most affected by the simple 228 commemorative plaque on that unexceptional stretch of sidewalk on Nanjing West Road.

I've come back to this story because, as 228 approaches and as I plan to visit Nylon Cheng's office (the Cheng Nan-jung Liberty Museum) on that day (some people who want to go in our group are not free on the more appropriate date of April 7th), I have found it helpful to reflect on the importance of attaching knowledge of historical events to the more visceral feeling of visiting the places where they happened. Knowing the historical and emotional geography of your city, and even your country. Taiwan is an accidental state (as the shiny-brand-new book of the same name points out), and also accidentally in its current state. Knowing not just the facts and dates but also visiting the places where these things happened imparts an emotional connection to that history that reading a book or memorizing a list of dates can never do.

It is more fruitful, then, to reflect on how the 228 Massacre continues to affect Taiwan by connecting it to a real geographical point, a historical locus from which to better understand the city and country. This, not "history", is the connection I have noticed some acquaintances of mine lack. It's a problem not limited to Taiwan, but feels especially jarring here, where the Taiwanese identity movement is so closely tied to associations with history - many social activists think of themselves as carrying the torch of civil society from their predecessors - and the land itself. Cycling around Taiwan and climbing Jade Mountain are seen, if subconsciously, as activities that bring one closer to the land and identification with it, so it is confounding that so many loci of political and social history are unknown or forgotten. How many other Taipei residents know about 228 but haven't a clue where it happened?

Again, this is not to say nobody knows. I know many socially and politically active people who can and do visit these places regularly. I'm describing a trend I see among some friends and students; it is not meant to be an indictment of an entire society.

Of course, 228 is not the only site of historical interest that make up Taiwan's emotional geography. I could do a sweeping survey of the country and list many - from the (likely) beach in Manzhou where the events of the Mudan Incident began to the Wushe battlefield to Baguashan in Changhua to Guningtou Beach in Kinmen. Instead I'll just name a few that resonate with me in Taipei:

Qingshan Temple, which has an interesting backstory that very weirdly mirrors some of the stories told about shrines in In An Antique Land about an entirely different part of the world and, while not a great historical turning point, is a story that brings to life the temple culture of the waves of Hoklo immigration from China.

Students and friends: "Where is Qingshan Temple? I didn't know that story about Qingshan Wang!"

Machangding Memorial Park, which gives me the heebiejeebies at night (though I wrote this post awhile ago, when I wasn't the writer or Taiwanophile that I am now, so please don't judge me too harshly for it)

Students and friends: "I've never been there - was it really an execution ground?" (Yes.)

Dihua Street - the old commercial center of Dadaocheng and subject of a well-known painting. Not for any major historical event but just the general sense of history (I'm particularly a fan of Xiahai temple and one house in particular, the one with the decorative ginseng around a high circular window. See if you can find it).

Students and friends: "What is there to do on Dihua Street?"

Ogon Shrine in Jinguashi (close enough to Taipei!) - simply because it's one of the easiest and only Japanese shrines that still has some existing structure that's within striking distance of Taipei. There is a much better-preserved temple in Taoyuan but the setting is not quite so evocative.

Students (not so much friends): There's a Japanese shrine ruin up there?

Yes, there is. 

The Chung Nan-jung Liberty Museum, which I will admit I have not yet been to, mostly because that sort of thing tends to make me emotional, and I think deep down I've been avoiding it. However, it is crucial to understanding Taipei's emotional geography to know where Nylon Cheng immolated himself in his burning office and why, and to see the spot for yourself.

Students and friends: That's downtown? It's right near the MRT? I had no idea it was so close!

Chen Tian-lai's mansion - there is quite a bit of history here that you can read about in the link, but honestly, I've been known to head down there and just look at the facade. I'm a huge fan of 1920s colonial architecture. Very close to Dihua Street (I also like the Koo Mansion a bit to the north, down a lane you would never think to walk down, occupied currently by a kindergarten).

Students (but not friends, most of whom know this place): There's a mansion here?

The Wen-meng municipal brothel - no survey of women's history sites in Taiwan is complete without a stop here, although chances are all you'll get to see is the exterior.

Students and friends: Prostitution used to be legal? There was a government-run brothel? What?

Qingdao and Jinan Roads around the Legislative Yuan - frankly, if you weren't down here some evenings during the Sunflower occupation, you missed a seminal moment in Taiwanese history. I spent quite a bit of time here around this time three years ago, and the two streets are now synonymous in my visual memory with social movements in Taiwan.

Wistaria Tea House - first the home of the Japanese governor-general, the setting of Eat Drink Man Woman, and also a gathering place for political dissidents in the Dangwai era. Also, great tea.

OK, everyone knows this.

These are just a few of the many possible choices, and I narrowed it down by choosing those that matter to me - the ones that have made the history of Taipei and of Taiwan come alive for me (and in one case, really come alive, as I was there in the crowd when things went down).

In any case, I encourage you to leave your homes this long weekend commemorating one of Taiwan's greatest tragedies and saddest cultural touchstones and go out and see some things for yourself. I promise, you'll connect with the city on a more physical level. Go!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taipei Love: Guiyang Street

The weather yesterday was beautiful - one nice day out of 11 days (for me) off - so before some friends came over, we went to the Longshan Temple area to wander and take some photos on and around Guiyang Street.

Guiyang Street is one of my favorite overlooked streets in old Taipei - it's not as fancy or lengthy as Dihua Street nor as renovated and promoted as Bopiliao, but also usually not as crowded. It really only gets going once a year for 青山王's birthday festival  and otherwise a quiet, lovely place to take a quick stroll, see some old architecture, eat a few snacks, visit two historic temples and have a cup of coffee. The shophouses here aren't as "wealthy" as Dihua's, but that almost makes them more charming in their slightly decrepit way. My not-so-secret: deep down I was hoping I would have the chance to live in this area, and rent a renovated apartment in an old shophouse. That didn't happen - I ended up on the other side of the spectrum completely - but it really would be my Taipei dream come true.

Crab for sale!
First we wandered up Guangzhou Street, which is the non-touristy branch of the popular Huaxi Night Market (this part is often called Guangzhou St. Night market). At one end is Longshan Temple. Midway through you reach Huaxi Street, and if you keep going you'll hit Naruwan Indigenous People's Market and Xuehai Academy (also mentioned in the previous link). You'll also pass Mangka Gate  - worthy of a quick bite of history and also shown in a scene in the Taiwanese movie Monga. We had some food, did some people watching and walked north a bit.

I prefer the Guangzhou Street part of this market to Huaxi - the dingy, mostly-for-the-tourists sex shops (although the area does contain brothels) and mediocre food in the covered market keep me away, but Guangzhou Street is packed with good food, people to watch and interesting stuff to buy.

For Chinese New Year, the entire street was open during the day as it would be at night on other days -  rather like the area around Anping Fort outside Tainan. In fact the entire neighborhood was one big outdoor market that has been running for most of the week.

Shredded savory pancakes on Guangzhou Street
 Then, if you take Xiyuan Road north, up the left side of Longshan Temple (if coming from the MRT station), you'll pass lots of stores selling idols. Some are Buddhist, some are Dao/folk religion, some are for home shrines, other supplies are for actual temples. There's usually a bit of decent people-watching - and dog-watching - to do up this way as well.

I particularly like this one

One thing I really love about this neighborhood isn't just the old shophouses - it's the mid-century architecture of note (some of the stuff from that era is godawful - some is charming, though, and some give Taipei a special "look" that I really haven't seen in other Asian cities.

Other than living in a well-renovated shophouse, which is next to impossible (if not actually impossible) to pull off, though, living options in this colorful neighborhood tend to be run-down and cramped, and probably very much roach-infested (because the whole city is, and this area is a lot older and in many ways not well maintained). For example, I wouldn't want to live here and hang my clothes out to dry directly over a busy street, to pick up all sorts of grime and exhaust fumes:

 But then you make it up to Guiyang Street and more charming buildings come into view. I love this one and hope it can be more fully restored - the outside looks fine, but it seems to be unused, and possibly uninhabitable. I'd love to see that change - I've never seen any sign of life on the upper story, although there is some use made of the first floor.

Turn left and you reach Qingshan Temple - it is said that it was built here when settlers from Fujian carried Qingshan's idol up what is now Guiyang Street (it's that old, yo) and the idol suddenly grew heavy and immovable on that site. The carriers knew this was a sign that the Lord of Green Mountain wanted his temple placed there, so there they built it (interestingly, this story of idols becoming too heavy to move when they don't wish to be moved is not limited to China and Taiwan - Amitav Ghosh mentions similar stories in North Africa, the Middle East and India in his book, In An Antique Land, which I highly recommend).

I tell the story of Qingshan in the link to his birthday festival above.

Of course, these days kids just check their cell phones outside.

One thing I really love about this neighborhood is that it's not all shiny and perfect - that you get lovely little details such as these roof decorations on temples, right next to apartment buildings, many of which are older and downright ugly. There's a strangely pleasing contrast in that.

 Much of the ceiling work in this temple was put in without nails, by the way. Some master craftsmanship, that.

Some more photos of Qingshan Temple:

We didn't visit Qingshui Temple on this walk, because I actually sprained my ankle slightly at Qingshan, and we had to get back to Da'an to greet guests who were coming over (and who showed up five minutes early - a first for people I invite over). It's at the other end of this section of Guiyang Street and well worth a visit (photos in the link above, with some background and photos of Guiyang Street during festivals).

Guiyang Street is quite charming
Other than shophouse architecture and old temples, Guiyang Street is also home to an old incense shop, at least one Pu'er tea shop and a jade store. Many of the shops on this street are also historic, some dating back at least a century.

This is basically my dream apartment - maybe with nicer windows with wooden Chinese screens. It's hard to find something like this, though, to rent in Taipei.

Next door is a coffeeshop, kind of decrepit and ancient with an old cat (who may or may not still be alive) - tables for that shop and the street stand shown are positioned to take advantage of the pleasant street atmosphere. The coffee's dark and bitter, but the neighborhood makes up for it.

Walking back towards Longshan Temple MRT via Kangding Street, you pass a lot of this:

I feel like this is 50 years' worth of hardware, machinery and junk buildup. I have to wonder how long it would take to create something this dense and chaotic. It's almost like a modern art installation exploring neglect, hoarding, decrepitude, industrialism and chaos in the modern world.

Walking back this way you pass Bopiliao and, around New Year, a whole market full of stuff to eat and buy - something worth doing if you're in Taipei over Chinese New Year and want to get out and be around people.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tsai Ying-wen Campaigns in Wanhua

Yeah, big surprise there, I know.

My friend Joseph, the man behind Taishun Street, shook her hand this week while he was there for the Qingshan Wang temple festival. He's got some pictures and commentary here.

Qingshan Wang 2011

Every year around this time - based on the lunar calendar - 青山宮 (Qingshan Temple) on Guiyang Street holds its annual celebration. Other temples from around the area come to pay homage to Qingshan Wang (The Lord of Green Mountain), and Qingshan Wang himself makes a circuit of the other nearby temples. The festival usually spans three days, with the biggest processional taking place on the night of the final day. It typically ends between 11pm and 1am.

It's a favorite among campaigning politicians as many of Wanhua's residents turn out to see the festivities.

We try to go every year, which has not gone unnoticed. The day before yesterday our friend Joseph was there and managed to shake hands with a campaigning Tsai Ying-wen (蔡英文). I'm looking forward to his blog post with pictures on that. Some campaign assistant asked him "is this your first time to this festival?" and some local shot back "no, that guy comes every year". To be fair, Joseph kind of sticks out. The year previously, I was jockeying for a good position from which to see the parade and a guy stood in front of me. I complained and he said "we see you every few months at these temple parades. You always get the chance to take pictures, so I don't feel bad for you!"

This year was my favorite so far - we left at about midnight, and it was still going. The highlight of the night was the delegation from the Tiger Temple (虎爺宮) in Xinzhuang (新莊), which I now feel I must visit. People involved with the temple, male and female, wore tiger-striped jackets and yellow headbands, came in shouting "TIGER GRANDFATHER!" (虎爺), "ho ya" in Taiwanese. Apparently this deified tiger has the ability to control ghosts, demons and other celestial bad boys. They piled up firecrackers to about knee height, positioned the idol's palanquin over them and set off the pile. The palanquin looked quite worse for wear. So did the guys.

There were also techno-dancing "god children" (san tai zi), lion dancers, dragon dancers, idols, Eight Generals and the usual contingent of tall gods and short dancing gods (七爺八爺) who have their own story (they were two real-life generals from history who were such good friends that they were like brothers, so when they were trapped under a bridge during a flood, they stayed and drowned together rather than be separated).

I told the story of Qingshan Wang here, back in 2008, and have more posts on this particular festival here, here, and about Hao Lung-bin's appearance at the festival here.

Updated with photos!

Monday, December 7, 2009

It Takes ****s

Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin makes a "please vote for me next election, pretty pretty please" appearance at the commencement of this year's Qingshan Wang (青山王) festival, pulling none other than Qingshan himself.

Yeah, that's my photo. Because I'm hardcore like that and I managed to slither and elbow my way through the crowd to the front. It takes serious ****s to pull that kind of stunt in Wanhua. I managed to say "台灣加油!" in Taiwanese ("daiwan ga yu") to his face. Go me.

Anyway, so Qingshan's birthday - celebrated with three days of crazy, traffic-horror inducing parades, began today. Wander around the Wanhua area (Longshan Temple, Huanhe S. Road, Guiyang Street etc.) after about 3pm tomorrow or Monday if you are interested in some good festival photo ops.

A few photos from today:

The yin-yang god, I believe, with sacred bread. This year's sacred bread was better than last year's. I think they screwed up last year's batch.

Me and deer penis. Like I said, it takes ****s. Wanhua is a crazy neighborhood, so if you've got a hankering for some deer-penis-and-winter-bug alcohol, or some turtle-arm-deer-ear soup, this is the place for you.

Today's festivities were really good for dragon dancing photos. I was especially impressed with the light up dragon. Good work. They even got two dragons to dance facing each other with a ball in the middle, like in the temple paintings and sculptures.

I just think this is cool. If you hadn't known before, this is how they get the tall god costumes down the street.

Below: storing the firecrackers until it's time to make everyone deaf.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wanhua Wand'rings

But first, my awesome, kick-butt, really cool (and within our budget) engagement ring:

It's got a dragon. I bet your engagement ring doesn't have a dragon. As one friend so rightly said:

"Check out my diamond" - boring. "Check out my kick-ass dragon" - AWESOME!

I've recently made a few other jewelry purchases - things I'm planning to wear when we get married but didn't buy specifically for that purpose. First, a pair of antique jade and gold-dipped earrings, which used to be ornaments on a Qing-era headdress (or so the dealer said, and I don't think he was lying):

And second, a hand-carved hair pick of fragrant wood, which I found at an artisan's stall at the craft market outside of Red House Theater:

And now, I present photos from some of our wanderings around the more historic parts of Wanhua District, my favorite district in Taipei (I'd totally live in an old shophouse if it were easy to rent out the top floor of one.)

The best walks begin at Longshan Temple MRT Station. There is a lot to see in this area - the Guangzhou Street Market connecting Guangzhou Street (duh) and an old Mackay medical clinic, now a restored building with free exhibits and fantastic architecture, and Longshan Temple Park, the park itself full of old folks enjoying themselves:

...Longshan Temple, which is always worth a stop, Mangka Gate and further along, the Naruwan Indigenous People's Market and the old Xuehai Academy, now a family shrine.

In the other direction, you can head up to Guiyang Street. On the way you'll pass lots of shops specializing in temple stuff - embroideries, idols, costumes, tall god costumes etc.. Lined with historic shops in turn-of-the century buildings (many of which have been continuously in business), you can turn one way and go to Qingshan Temple, where the God of Green Mountain resides - it's said that when immigrants from Fujian brought over his image, as they carried it down what is now Guiyang Street, it became too heavy to carry and then they knew that that was where the god wanted his temple to be. (Stories about idols and other sacred objects becoming too heavy to lift as a sign of that god's will is quite common around the world - read In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh for a few examples of this).

More information on the God of Green Mountain can be found in Private Prayers and Public Parades - a book available in Page One that every Taipei expat should own.

Guiyang Street during a festival.

Tall God Costume being prepared outside of Qingshan Wang's temple.

Ba Jia Jiang during the festival of Qingshan Wang's birthday on Guiyang Street.

In the other direction are several shops and old shophouses. One of them is a coffeeshop that doesn't get a lot of business, but is run by a friendly old family who is quite hospitable to guests (the coffee is pretty good, too, and they have food).

I call this "Welcome to Taipei" - old shophouse arcades, scooters, a brightly lit fruit stand and a dude with no shirt on. Ahhhh, yes. That says it all really.

Old Shophouses - some neglected, others not - line Guiyang Street.

Walking farther, you'll reach Qingshui Temple, set up by immigrants from Anzhou in Fujian. The gold work inside is quite amazing, as is the stone carving and painting. It's been rebuilt since burning down in the 19th century but is no less gorgeous:

The path to Qingshui Temple is lined with small eateries and locals hanging out.

Above and below: just some of the lovely artwork inside.

Sun sets as we leave Qingshui Temple headed towards Ximending.

Along the way we passed some more rows of old buildings, mostly in disrepair. The area also has a branch of NTU hospital and one fairly nice hotel (which seems to be just above an underground love hotel). There are several ways to walk from this area to Ximending, and the whole area is worth exploring.

Once in Ximending, you can enter via Chengdu Road - along the way you'll pass Calcutta Indian food, which has some great curries, a shopfront-sized temple that is gorgeous (and a bit smelly) inside that I believe is dedicated to Matsu, goddess of the sea, and Fong Da, a fun and retro vintage coffeeshop with Formica tables, strong coffee and big ol' diner-style sundaes. It's famous, and yet you can almost always get a seat.

You can also enter via Neijiang Street, which will bring you right to the main intersection of the pedestrian shopping area, which is of no interest to most people over the age of 20. It's called "Little Shibuya" by some, for its resemblance to the massive commercial center in Tokyo. There are some small hidden treasures in here, though, and even the Starbucks is in a historic building.

Head in the other direction, and you'll come to several crumbling temples far from the lights and activity of the main shopping area. Their locations are outlined in Rough Guide Taiwan and they're well worth a brief stop. A few are not in the guidebook at all but are easy enough to find with a little wandering.

Across the street from the huge intersection above is my personal favorite spot in Taipei, Red House Theater:

With theater and music performances upstairs, exhibits and a fancy coffeeshop (they have alcohol, too) downstairs and a funky independent artist's market outside and in the long adjacent building, there is no excuse not to pay a visit. Behind the theater is a newly-built but thriving outdoor bar strip that's quite popular in the gay&lesbian community. It's probably the best place in Taipei to grab a drink and sit outside on a pleasant evening.

At the moment, there's an exhibit going on inside on Taiwanese puppetry, focusing on the weirder styles of modern puppets. Most puppets (bu dai xi) look like this:

But these terrifying objets d'art look like, well, this:


(My next post will feature some more puppets from that particular exhibit. They're One dude has a foot on his head.)

From Red House you can walk up Hengyang Rd. or over to Wuchang Street, passing Zhongshan Hall - built by the Japanese, and a fine place to catch a concert if you're into the fine arts (we've seen two there, it's always a pleasure and we prefer it to the gaudy Look At Us We're Rich Mainland-style architecture of the National Concert Hall).

Along Wuchang Street in one direction is a covered market with all sorts of fun stuff, including traditional Chinese clothes and funky jewelry and handbags. In the other is Taipei Snow King, with its hundreds of flavors of ice cream ranging from basil to sugar apple to pig knuckle to honey to Gaoliang rice wine to Taiwan Beer to kiwi. It's locally owned and makes its own ice cream as it has for decades. (Even further along is an area packed with movie theaters).

If you turn toward Taipei Main Station along Zhonghua Road from there, you'll pass the old post office, the North Gate (my favorite of the still-standing city gates, it wasn't 'redecorated' during the KMT martial law period), a block of shops specializing in cameras and another in stamps, and yet another in luggage. Keep heading north on Yanping and you'll come to Dadaocheng and the Dihua Street area, which is worth an entirely new post, so I won't cover it here.

Happy walking!