Showing posts with label taiwan_travel_destinations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwan_travel_destinations. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Hipster Cafes of Miaoli (and other things to do)

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The counter at Reinstatement, in Houlong, Miaoli


Because I really don't feel like writing about the election, let me tell you about the trip I took last weekend to visit friends in Miaoli County.

When I moved to Taiwan 14 years ago (!!!), there were plenty of cafes in the cities here, although cafe culture hadn't quite taken off. Even in Taipei you were more likely to find your only choices to be a Starbucks or a Dante rather than an atmospheric place to relax, and outside Taipei and the other cities, Cafe 85 - which lacks charm and doesn't even have good coffee - might have been your only choice.

That's all changed. Now even smaller towns like Miaoli, Luodong and Douliu (to name a few) have more aesthetically pleasing places to relax, with better coffee - and sometimes good beer and sweets - too. That's not all we did in Miaoli, but it was interesting to realize that I could have spent the whole weekend swanning about in cafes and never be lacking in choices (assuming I had a car).

What's even more encouraging is that these hipster-friendly spots aren't just copying Western cafe or restaurant culture; they're reinterpreting it for a Taiwanese setting, not only incorporating local ingredients into their menus but also aesthetic choices that draw on Taiwan's visual and spacial history into their design. Most of them seem to be operated by young people, which isn't surprising - I've heard more than one younger person sick of Taipei hustle express a wish to return to their hometown, but not necessarily work for a family company or a small-town boss. Of course, some of these people will make good on their desires, and open their own businesses.

I arrived in Miaoli late in the evening on Friday. After checking into my homestay which was a little far from the city center, the friends I'd come to meet picked me up. I took the HSR as I had to leave Taipei later than I'd otherwise prefer. There are bus and train connections to Miaoli City, but a taxi was only NT$200.

We went out to one of the only restaurants in the city open that late, Good Food Good Times, a Taiwan-style 燒烤 - barbecued stuff on sticks - and beer joint in downtown Miaoli. 

Good Food Good Times (好食好時台式居酒屋)
Zhongzheng Road #673, Miaoli City
360苗栗縣苗栗市中正路673號


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Good Food Good Times is the place to go for late night snacks - they're open until 2am - and Taiwan 18-Day "Fresh" beer on tap (Taiwan Gold Label beer and Heineken are also available). The space is decorated with old-style Taiwanese restaurant tables and chairs and old-school speckled floor, with upcycled old window frames and Japanese elements such as door curtains, rectangular flat plates and a Japanese-style dining bar up front. Frankly, it feels like the entire population of Miaoli under age 40 (so, like, 20 people) hangs out here regularly.

Also, the food is great. You choose what you want from the refrigerator case out front, using tongs to put your selections into a basket - just like a night market stall. There are non-BBQ dishes available too, including pork oil rice with egg yolk and shallot (a very Taiwanese, and in fact Hakka, dish that is simple and delicious). Best of all, it's not particularly expensive. 


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The next morning, we slept in a bit - we were up pretty late at the BBQ place, and waited for our friends at the homestay, which was comfortable and very Taiwanese. Basically if you're married into a local family it probably looks like your in-laws' house. 


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Not many people come to Miaoli as tourists, and to be honest, there's not much to do in the city itself. If you come without a car, you might be able to amuse yourself for a day in the city center for a day. There's the Weixin Hakka Artifacts Museum (維新客家文物館), with what I am assured by Hakka friends is an entirely fake, purpose-built Hakka roundhouse. We didn't go. There's also the Wenchang Temple (to the literature and scholarship god - 苗栗文昌祠), which is genuinely old and atmospheric, though not otherwise of particular note. The downtown area has a few older buildings worth strolling past, and some good restaurants.

There are also a few cafes in town that we didn't make it to, including Old House (老家生活苗栗店), which is in an authentic old house and I am told has good coffee, and The Spot (新興大旅社) near Miaoli Station. I have no idea how good it is, but it looks atmospheric. 

I'll write more about Miaoli city restaurants later - for now, let's focus on what we did during the day.

Instead of sticking around Miaoli, we hopped in the car and went to Houlong (後龍), a laid-back little town that's pretty to walk through, and offers scattered sights, though again there's not much to keep you there for more than a day.

On the way, we stopped off at the Tang Family Ancestral Shrine (湯氏宗祠) outside of Miaoli city. Sadly, the shrine is only open during the week, so this is as close as we could get. It's quite pretty though, even with that KMT sun symbol gate. If you were ambitious you could probably walk here from downtown, though it's better to drive.

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The shrine is near a temple - fairly new and not that interesting - but the parking lot nearby has lovely views of the rice fields leading to the mountains not far away.
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Houlong has a train station that will deposit you near the downtown area, but again, it's better to drive as most of the interesting things to do are not remotely within any sort of walking distance.

First, however, coffee. We had excellent coffee and lovely sweets - including a pecan toffee tart and a deliciously moist brownie, at Daddy&Mommy, a cafe run by a couple with (at least) one child, with a child-friendly play space downstairs and open kitchen-restaurant upstairs. They also have good burgers and meals.

Daddy&Mommy
356苗栗縣後龍鎮中龍里市興8號
#8, intersection of Zhongzheng and Zhongshi Roads, Houlong
(the town is not big, it's easy to find)

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Yes, you ring a temple demon bell to call the boss!

We really liked this place for the way they used simple design to preserve the original character of the building, but modernize it to create a clean and inviting atmosphere, using wood, whitewash and the original speckled flooring.

If you choose to wander around Houlong afterwards, you'll be rewarded with a few old buildings, a very weird/cool vintage clothing shop (closed when we visited), and at least one large temple, Ciyun Gong (慈雲宮). 

Across from Ciyun Gong is an opera stage, around which there are several food stalls. If you want to eat locally, the o-len (黑輪伯)in the clutch of stalls across from temple - tasty boiled things in a peppery, seafoody soup, you've definitely seen it before - is good, though it won't blow your socks off.



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Outside of town, one of the few old Chinese-style graves with carved animals can be found near the intersection of Highways 1 and 6, across the CPC gas station. This is the grave of Zheng Chonghe (國定古蹟-鄭崇和墓 - that's how you'll find it on Google Maps), who died in the 19th century. Some of the original carvings, and all of the original animal sculptures, can be seen. It's visible from the road and there is a path leading to it. Just park on the side of the highway.

There are bus stations out here, so theoretically one can get here by public transport, but I wouldn't recommend trying it. Do you want to take a bus to the side of a random highway in Miaoli County and count on there being a bus to take you somewhere else in a timely fashion? Yeah, didn't think so. 

That said, there's at least one restaurant and a 7-11 nearby, so you could do worse in terms of being stranded on a highway.

One of the interesting things about the grave is how some of the animal sculptures actually look like the animals they depict, such as the goat, and others really do not - for example, the tiger.

I guess we can surmise that the carver had seen plenty of goats but not one tiger. Why he thought they had creepy frog faces with human noses, I'll never know. Perhaps he was carving a tiger from a painting of a tiger by a guy who'd only seen another painting of a tiger. 



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From Zheng Chonghe's grave, we made three more stops in the Houlong area, not necessarily in this order. 

First, there's the "Cape of Good Hope" (好望角), which is in the area famous for having an extensive wind farm.

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How windy was it?

That windy.

It was near this stretch of coast that people protested the building of wind turbines, though these particular turbines are not close to inhabited structures (further down the coast you can see areas where they are closer). 

To be honest, the noise was noticeable, and I don't know that I'd want to live really close to one simply due to the audible sound, but I find the claims of other health problems resulting from proximity to turbines to be questionable, and I'd rather have sound pollution than air pollution. I didn't oppose the protests, however - I too would want the turbines built away from where people live.



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I will admit they are a little terrifying to walk under, though not actually dangerous. And they're only a bit creepy if you are directly underneath them. There's an area up here that's popular with tourists with nice views, and it's quite windy (which is, of course, why one might want to build turbines here). I didn't think they detracted from the coastal views - there's no beach to speak of - and although the sound was noticeable, one could talk above it even when standing almost directly under the turbines.

There's also an old railway tunnel here, further down near the actual coast. My friends and husband went, but suffering from a knee injury, I didn't want to risk a walk down and up a hill. There's a parking space down there, but everyone else said it wasn't really that special. 



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Another stop was a short "old street" in Houlong, more locally called Tongxing Old Street (同興老街). While not far from Longgang (龍港) train station, and with an old bus stop signpost nearby, and therefore theoretically reachable by public transit, this is another place you're better off driving to.

The street is not long and it's right off a highway, but well-preserved buildings (well, some are falling apart) and the simple and quiet atmosphere make this a lovely short stop on a longer drive. You won't really find souvenir shops or anything like that here, though at least one building is some sort of museum (closed when we visited).

The still-standing houses appear to be currently lived in, and some even have the old style wooden beams across the front, which I associate (possibly wrongly?) with pre-Japanese, Qing-era houses. 


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At the top of the street - which continues, but the houses end - there's a little shop called the Cat Organic Bookstore (貓裏有機書店). The friendly, quirky owners sell used books in Chinese (not many, though) and a few traditional-style Taiwanese toys. There's a pretty good Western-style bathroom you can use, too. The house the shop is in is worth a look, too.

By this time we were a bit tired and decided to hang out at a "hidden cafe" above a small countryside grocery store next to the Houlong Bao'an temple (苗栗後龍保安宮). The shop on the ground floor sells household staples on one side - soy sauce, oil, vinegar, dry goods, and sweets on the other - the old-school kind that Taiwanese kids used to eat, and sometimes still do. We're talking dried plums (both powdered and sticky), dried kumquats, those little choco-balls wrapped in sports-ball patterned foil, pixie sticks, various hard candies, chocolate goo in a tube...basically stuff that will make all your Taiwanese friends nostalgic for their childhoods. We bought a few - I can't resist sticky dried plums (I don't care for the powdered kind, which taste like weird medicine) and dried kumquats, and they sell my favorite herbal chews as well. They're even displayed in the old-school plastic containers with red lids.

None of this nostalgia trip is accidental. Above the grocery there's an extremely hip cafe, called 重成商號 (Reinstatement) which is known across the region - we suspect daytrippers from larger towns like Zhunan come by here as well, as it's too remote to stay in business on a purely local clientele. 


Reinstatement (重成商號)
56-1號, 中山高速公路後龍鎮苗栗縣356
#56-1, Sun Yat-sen Freeway, Houlong, Miaoli County



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The cafe is spread across several rooms decorated with old-school tiles and other bits of Taiwanese nostalgiana, and is especially known for high-quality desserts made with local flavors and ingredients. I especially recommend the chocolate mousse pyramid, with a surprise of sweet pomelo compote in the center. The purple sweet potato mousse is also intriguing, with a light flavor and attractive color and presentation.

There is a bus stop nearby so you could potentially come out here without your own transport...in theory anyway. 

Yes, it is worth the trip. 





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By that time, the sun was going down and we were about ready for dinner, so wet set off to return to Miaoli City. In the daytime, one corner of the downtown area looks like this - in fact, rather attractive as smaller towns in Taiwan go. 



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For dinner, we went to Jiang Ji Original Wonton Restaurant (江技舊記餛飩店), known locally as Jiang Ji (江技), a well-regarded wonton restaurant run by - you guessed it - the Chiang (Jiang 江) family. They make their own chili sauce here, which is fantastic on the dry wontons, and they make their own pork fat with fried shallots for pork oil rice. The Taiwanese meatballs (肉圓) and pork liver (豬肝) are also well-known. I also really liked the oily tofu (油豆腐). The whole restaurant is pleasantly decorated, with slate floors, polished wood tables and wood carvings on the walls, including an impressive round one bearing the name of the restaurant.

Why there? Well, first it's probably the best restaurant in town. Second, one of the family members is a friend of mine.

Jiang Ji (江技舊記餛飩店)
360苗栗縣苗栗市新苗街88號
#88 Xinmiao Street, Miaoli City
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Finally, in keeping with our penchant for hipster cafes, we sought out a place to have a few beers and just chill. Another friend had just put his daughter to bed and was also keen to meet up.

We ended up just around the corner at Donghai (Eastern Sea) Coffee, which has a fantastic selection of beer from around the world, and a comfortable upstairs sitting area.

Donghai Coffee (東海咖啡)
360苗栗縣苗栗市日新街1號
#1 Ri Hsin Street, Miaoli


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Donghai is filled with eclectic collectibles and vintage and antique bric-a-brac, keeping the character of the old building it's located in, but in a very different way to the other two cafes we visited that day. In this one, design lines weren't as clean, but the vintage charm of the place kept the space interesting.

Considering that there were "Vote Taiwan 2020" stickers downstairs, we think the old ROC memorabilia is just that - memorabilia and not a political statement. 



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We had an early morning the next day, as we planned to drive up to Xueba National Park (雪霸國家公園), specifically to hike in the Xuejian (雪見) area.

But first, breakfast. We went to People on the Water (水上人家), a famous little restaurant - as in, people in Taipei have heard of it - so named because it is (or rather, was) on the old water canal. The noodles are especially famous and well worth getting up early for. They open at 6:30 and close at 1, so it's not a place you can go for dinner. 

People on the Water (水上人家)
360苗栗縣苗栗市天雲街3號
#3 Tianyun Street, Miaoli

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The drive to Xuejian was long and winding on narrow mountain roads, or at least I'm told it was as I drifted in and out of a Dramamine-induced stupor in the back seat. There's a tourist information center (雪見遊憩區) up here where you can get food, coffee and tea, which has parking and Western-style restrooms.

We chose this hike - more of a forest walk really - because it affords lovely views of Snow Mountain (雪山), which was a big draw as there's currently snow on the peak. In addition, given my injured knee, was a hike I could do. Being a forestry trail, it's mostly flat with a few uphill stretches, and has no stairs. The elevation is high, so you might feel winded on even slight inclines. Fortunately, there aren't many and none of them are onerous.

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From here you can just see the peak of Snow Mountain behind those two ridges: 


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And it comes more into view the more you hike:
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You can also see Dabajian and Xiaobajian peaks, with a little snow between them. Yes, that's snow, not a cloud.
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In some places the view of Snow Mountain's peak is absolutely spectacular, even more so as it was capped in white:


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The trail itself is also lovely, and in the crisp winter air it had the distinct smell of Christmas trees. There are a few Port-a-potties (surprisingly clean - and there's no other good hiding place to take a whiz so they're quite welcome) and benches scattered along the way so you can take it easy.

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The whole trail is 6km long and not circular, but given the state of my knee and our desire to be off the mountain by sunset, we only hiked perhaps half of it. Or rather, pleasantly walked - this is not a challenging hike. 

On the way back, we took a different route to get to our dinner destination and ended up slightly lost, asking for directions in the charming mountain town of Da'an, which is an Indigenous village. With the election season in full swing, banners for local politicians, mostly Indigenous (and almost entirely pan-blue) were up.


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This is a poster for May Chin (Ciwas Ali or 高金素梅), a famous former actress known for her role in Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, now a unificationist Japan-hater from a small deep pan-blue party, the Non-Partisan (lol) Solidarity Union (she's the only legislator in office from that party) from Da'an village.


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There are other things to do in that area - Dahu is famous for strawberries and you can pick them yourself on dedicated farms, an activity I've done but I don't think I ever blogged about. There's a hot spring nearby (a public one, not a naked one), and Sanyi, famous for woodcarving, is not far from here, though its chief commodity, woodcarving, is environmentally problematic and the "famous tourist village" nearby is mostly inauthentic. The old Japanese bridge is nice, though.

To finish off our lovely weekend, we had dinner at Mengdingxuan (夢鼎軒精緻小吃), which doesn't have an English name I know. Mengdingxuan was our authentic Hakka restaurant for the trip, and is in a charming old building in Gongguan (公館) township outside Miaoli City.

Also they have two adorable poodles, one chocolate and one black.

Hakka dishes, while delicious, don't photograph well so you're only getting one photo of Hakka Stir Fry (which was actually a bit light on flavor, but heavy on the tasty pork fat). The sour ginger intestine was also sublime, in fact, the whole meal was fantastic and very local. 

Mengdingxuan (夢鼎軒精緻小吃)
363苗栗縣公館鄉華東街11號
#11 Huadong Street, Gongguan, Miaoli County
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It was a bit of a sad farewell afterwards (and after a few more beers at Donghai), as our friends are moving to the US soon - as in, in just a few days.

On Monday morning we checked out of our homestay and tried to catch the bus to the HSR (the bus also goes up to Xueba National Park, though I'm not sure where it stops exactly so I don't know how useful it is). It stops in downtown Miaoli as well as out by the arena (yes, Miaoli has an arena).

But, the bus took too long and we wanted to grab coffee before hopping on the HSR back - we wanted to get back to Taipei quickly - so we grabbed another taxi. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I Went To Animatronic Hell

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You know which Hell is more fun than Christian Hell (which, let's be honest, was interesting when Dante covered it but otherwise just ain't all that)?

Taoist Hell!

Last week we went to Tainan to get some much-needed relaxation. I'd heard about a temple in Madou (麻豆) out in Tainan County that features a regular temple, a giant dragon, a fun sculpture garden, and an animatronic Heaven and Hell, which I suppose can be called family-friendly because parents do take their kids. The animatronic sets, fake blood, recorded screams etc. aren't that scary (to me), but there are repeated references to rape, murder and trafficking (that said, most of that part is in writing, which little kids typically can't read yet).

I wasn't quite sure how to get out there - there are buses from Tainan City, but though it's a half-hour drive, most take an hour or longer. The express buses only depart a few times a day. Even then, they go a bus depot on the edge of town, and of course the temple with animatronic Hell - 麻豆代天府 - is not only on the other side of town, but somewhat outside its compact downtown area. There are buses that stop within a 15-minute walk, but waiting for one stretches the trip into a 3-hour ordeal each way. There's a taxi rank at the bus station, but no clear way to get back unless you can get that same driver to agree to pick you up at a later time.

In any case, Madou is an interesting enough town that it's worth spending a little more time (half a day is about right), which is hard to do without private transport.

Lucky for us, one of our closest and oldest friends in Taiwan also lives down south (though not in Tainan) and was so excited to hear we were coming to her part of the country that she took off what is usually a work day running the family business, borrowed her dad's car and was quite happy to plan for our time together to include a trip out to Madou, as she hadn't been to anything like animatronic Hell since childhood.

Madou has been settled for a very long time - originally called Matau, it was one of the largest indigenous Siraya settlements in that part of Taiwan during Dutch rule, and the most 'troublesome' to the Dutch (though I find it likely that the Dutch were just as troublesome to them, if not more so, seeing as the Siraya got there first...by a good few thousand years). It continued to exist through the Japanese era and as such has a small collection of interesting architecture from that time, including the old sugar refinery and a big old theater (電姬戲院), now in ruins. The main street still has a few pretty Art Deco buildings at various intersections - though a few are obscured by ugly commercial signs - and a couple of old shophouses that have not been restored.

Madou is also famous for savory rice pudding (wan-gui or 碗粿 - I don't know the exact tones in Taiwanese), so that was our first stop. We went to the famous 碗粿王, but there are a million options and all of them are probably great. 


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You add sauce and garlic paste to your liking than cut the whole thing up with your spoon to eat it. The gloopy rice is reminiscent of Cream of Wheat, and a good bowl will always contain at minimum a mushroom and half a boiled egg. 


Then, straight to Hell - all 18 layers of it.

Daitian temple is interesting enough as a temple, though the main complex, built in the 1950s, is quite typical for Taiwan. The domed building off to the side is dedicated to Guanyin and is similarly nice, though not particularly unique.

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If you're wondering whether you get to go up inside that dragon - worry not. You do! That comes later, though.

The entrance to Hell is to the right of the temple proper, past a man-made creek decorated with plants and sculptures. It costs NT40 to enter and is presided over by a bluish demon with red LED eyes. Though there isn't much of a descent, it feels like you're heading down to a basement as the interior quickly grows dark.


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Once inside, you start your animatronic journey with the first court, where the recently deceased are judged for how they lived and sentenced to the appropriate level accordingly. After that, you twist and turn through the next 17 layers, each in its own LED-colored alcove which lights up at regular intervals (so if you arrive in the middle of a display, just hang around for a few minutes after it ends. It'll start up again.) Scary music - which isn't that scary - plays over the loudspeaker as the sets light up, and each one begins with the god who presides over that layer of Hell reading out the crimes of the person sent there, and what will happen to them, all in Taiwanese. I don't actually understand Taiwanese and the recordings are not particularly clear, but it's not hard to guess what's going on. What, did you expect that it would be in Mandarin, in this part of Taiwan? Haha, fool. Anyway, there are also placards above each set that explain in Mandarin and English what's going on.

Some of these are videos - what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't offer up videos of Animatronic Hell?

If they won't play, let me know. 



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For example, don't swindle the womenfolk. I don't know why that's a specific sin apart
from swindling menfolk, but ok


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Some of the layers made sense - murderers, rapists, con-artists etc. - whereas there was at least one which punished those who sought profit for themselves, or to enrich themselves. Which to me sounds like...almost everybody? Maybe that's the point - almost nobody goes straight to Heaven because we're all fundamentally selfish. That's not so different from Christianity, after all - harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven and all that.

A few others were specific to the Asian cultural sphere: levels of Hell for not being filial (or filial enough), for women who didn't listen to their husbands' parents directives and more. 



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I have to admit, I had a fantastic time. I turned to my friend and the other friend she'd brought along and asked why on Earth nobody had told me about this place before. It's great, I said. You know I'd love something like this!

"Because this kind of place was really scary to us when we were kids," my friend replied.

"Do you still think it's scary?"

"Not really," she said. "But...now I think I'd better listen to my parents more!" 



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Partway through our tour, we were walking alongside a family with an older and younger daughter, perhaps around ages 9 and 4, respectively. When my friend convinced this would have scared her as a child, I asked the older girl if she was afraid.

"Not really," she said.

"Kids these days are really different. This was definitely terrifying when I was young."

Then I asked the younger sister. She just looked at me and then quickly away. I joked that she was more afraid of a foreigner than all this Hell stuff (which seemed pretty true). Her parents laughed but said, in fact, the little one was scared, but probably wouldn't tell me, because she was in fact afraid of me too.

Later on we passed some teenage boys going through. They were laughing, joking and imitating the animatronic figures. In other words, acting like teenagers anywhere. Ever seen teens in a haunted house around Halloween in the US? Though they'd be more likely to bring their girlfriends and make out. Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens here, too. Plus, open containers are legal, the drinking age is 18 but nobody really cares, and beer is common at temple festivals. I can't imagine some teens have not passed through with Taiwan Beers in hand having a grand ol' time.

The main difference being, the people working at Madou Daitianfu probably didn't care much how teens acted in their animatronic Hell meant to scare kids into behaving, and while we didn't bring beer I got the general impression that it would have been fine if we had. Whereas you can bet some church lady or Aunt Doris in a religious theme park in the US would get all pearl-clutchy about it. Also, no beer. 


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I had thought when I came out here that there are so many religious crazies in the US, that there must be a Christian Hell-themed exhibit somewhere in the US meant to scare children into behaving, and that it wouldn't be that different in tenor or content (though quite different aesthetics) than this Hell. But the closest thing I can find is the Biblical experience park in Florida which includes a bloody crucifixion. Cool, but not the same as Hell. 


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Just great for kids. I read this and I think, definitely a place to bring your toddler. 


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So, you're probably wondering - which level of Hell was my favorite?

(Well, you're probably not wondering, but I'm going to tell you anyway.)

Definitely the 14th level, where "those who look for vulnerable women and take advantage of them" get their "faces skinned by metal blades and disfigured". You see, during this whole Hellacious journey, I was asking myself - sure, but where do the Chads go? You know, the scrubs? The fuckboys? What happens to those guys, because no way they're going to Heaven?
And I suppose this is it. So, gentlefolk, I present to you...fuckboy Hell: 



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Awesome.

At the end of Hell, you reach a final level which is described as more of a purgatory. If you have not sinned enough to go to Hell, or have atoned for your sins, you may be sent by the gods to Heaven instead. At that point, you head upstairs and have the option of exiting, or checking out Animatronic Taoist Heaven.

While less interesting than Hell (because duh), Heaven is worth a visit because the stairs you climb - no heaven for the disabled I guess - take you right up into that kick-ass dragon you saw coming in. Heaven snakes all through its neck and spits you out in his mouth. (Which isn't a great way to word that, but you know what I mean.)



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Here's the thing, though. The first animatronic sets you see in Heaven show either men drinking and talking at a fine carved table while the womenfolk sit at a lower, rougher, less fancy table...

...or they are playing various Chinese games and drinking while the women serve them.

Which, dude. Ew. So, in Hell your typical scrub gets his face skinned off, but in Heaven men are waited on by submissive women who always accept a smaller lot? Yuck. I'll take Hell, thanks. 



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Another family ascended to Heaven with us, the young boy visibly shaken by Hell. I pointed out how sexist Heaven was to them and the parents agreed. Traditional Taoist Heaven seems great for the guys but perhaps not so great for the ladies, and the part where they all sit around playing instruments and laughing is fine, but not nearly as interesting as Hell.

But at the top, you get a fine view through the dragon's jaws to the rest of the temple complex, and there's a picnic area where you can sit before descending. 




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After returning to Earth, we noticed that the temple festival that had just been getting started when we arrived was in full swing. At one point, the Eight Generals (八家將), a group of female dancers in skimpy costume cheongsam dancing a choreographed number with a 'matchmaker' auntie, a troupe of teenage cheerleader-gymnast-dance performers, some dancing princes (三太子), and several spirit mediums including a number of women (rare in northern Taiwan) were all going at once in what felt almost like a three-ring circus of things to see. I put much of this on Facebook as a livestream, so didn't get many photos, but here are a few:


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It was frankly a bit overwheming - temple festivals in Taipei are nothing like this, with one group coming in at a time. To have three, four or five different things going on at once was a very...southern experience.

We left the temple and hit up the sugar refinery, which has a lovely park but was too hot to really enjoy (the small art exhibit on a local artist was nice, and also air conditioned).

It's worth noting that Madou is also famous for pomelos, and if you want to try the local product without buying and eating an actual pomelo, there's a small, unassuming cafe at the sugar refinery where you can get a Madou pomelo slushie (麻豆柚子冰沙), which is perfect for the summer heat. 



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One more stop - the old theater - and it was time to say goodbye to Madou. The theater is worth a quick look but despite advice from a friend, I was not able to get inside. There are alleys around it and I took a walk down the one on the left, which lets out at some privately-owned traditional farmhouse, right in town. It's lovely, with a bright and flowering garden...and an unfriendly dog (the human who was there didn't seem to mind my presence but I didn't really want to hang out on his property like a weirdo, even though as a foreigner one can kind of get away with that. I don't like using my privilege that way.) Also, a big old wall between his house and the abandoned theater, with no clear way in.

Anyway, the weather was hot and bright, at least in the 90s and possibly topping 100. So here we are, a little sweaty and tired, and about to head out for famous gelato in Yujing, about a 20-minute drive away:



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If you put our shirts together, it comes out as something like "I support Taiwan independence, motherfucker!" in Taiwanese.