Time flies… and life on Canadian soil is engaging in quieter ways these days. Looking through photos in preparation for this post brought on a pang of longing to be back in the “oh so” colourful, lively and noisy streets of Tainan, the ancient capital of Taiwan. Or on a hike in the green and tropical mountains in milder temperatures. Oh well… sigh.
I spent four days in Tainan and yet it seems I barely had time and presence to take in the many attractions. Because it was in Tainan that the decision to return to Canada made itself and thus much time was absorbed by travel research and decision making and thoughts circling endlessly – should I, shouldn’t I?! See my post “Sometimes things happen quickly…” to get the story of my rather sudden return to Canada.
None of this has to do with the city itself, of course. Tainan is the birthplace of Taiwan (as far as the Chinese Taiwanese go) and the oldest city on the island. A little history: In 1661, the Ming loyalist Cheng Chengkung drove the Dutch from Taiwan and established his administration in Tainan. At the time, mainland Chinese immigrants were coming to Taiwan in droves, helping the young city to grow. And so it continued until the Qing pacification of Taiwan in 1683, when the Taiwan Prefectural Capital was established. Many years later, in 1885, Taiwan became a province of China and Tainan’s position changed to “Tainan Prefectural Capital.” The city remained the political, economic and cultural centre of Taiwan up to the late nineteenth century. Now Taipei has this role, but many Taiwanese have a soft spot for Tainan.
Walking the streets and historical districts of Tainan, I found myself enchanted by the maze of alleys and tiny lanes, old buildings and shacks merging with trees; and also confused by some of the multi street intersections, the kind that isn’t really a traffic circle, has five or six streets intersecting and traffic rules aren’t immediately apparent… is this light for me, can I cross? Oh no, it’s for the other one… Anyways, I didn’t get run over and I also decided against scooter rental. 🙂
The Taiwan tourism web site recommends many attractions in and around Tainan (some I can’t speak to) – it is known for its cuisine; the Anping neighbourhood and old street; a thousand temples; the Tree house; the Taiwan International Orchid Show; the Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month; firefly watching in Meiling; lotus watching in Baihe; and activities at Qigu Mangrove Tourist Park; and the Guanziling mud springs.
I shall let the photos of my few outings speak for themselves. Tainan is definitely worth visiting. Just strolling around my neighbourhood offered so many surprising views and discoveries. And walking the city was a great way of discovering what’s not in the tourist brochures. 🙂 During the Lunar New Years celebrations, many areas are alight with lanterns and special displays – such a delight!
I stumbled upon Koxinga Shrine and Museum in my neighbourhood and loved the architecture, colours and designs. It’s a family shrine complex dating back to 1663 and features traditional architecture. Oh, the colours… just love it 🙂
Next door is Lady Linshui’s Temple which was built in 1736. It enshrines Lady Linshui, Chen Jing-gu. Here is her story: It is said that she was extremely clever and had psychic powers as a child. When a serious drought struck Fujian Province in China, despite being several months pregnant, Chen set up an altar and prayed for rain. The rain came, but during her efforts she suffered a miscarriage and died. In her last words she swore: “I will be the midwifery goddess after death, helping women who suffer difficult labor.” Linshui Temple is Taiwan’s oldest temple where people pray for smooth childbirth.
Shennong Street is colourful, quirky, full of history, super charming – loved it! Shennong Street was the entrance to the Tainan Five Channels area, an important river port. Merchants at the time would enter Tainan through this street, making it the busiest district. However, the wheels of time have transformed the original river port into a city road, and it’s now a mecca for young art enthusiasts in Tainan. As I am visiting during the Lunar New Year, the hand painted lanterns add beauty and playful appeal.
Anping District – so much more to experience here than I was able to take on and in. Anping was known as “Dayuan,” the origin of the name “Taiwan.” The markets and old street are fun, lots of food to try. I stumbled upon the Haishan Hall, enjoyed local street art, temple entrances, Banyen trees; a quick look at the Fort.
In Anping I also went for a long walk through the wetlands to reach the ocean (a rather disappointing experience after Kenting beaches – no beaches here), though a good walk along a dike, great to stretch your legs, and you can also visit the Salt Museum (which I didn’t). I wanted to sit by the ocean again… here is what the ocean looked like…
On the way back, I passed by the old Tree House and can’t believe now that I didn’t go in – but I just didn’t have the energy… I’ve seen photos and it’s a fabulous place 🙂
Another night, I went to the Blueprint Culture and Creative Park which was fun! It is a popular spot, at times packed with young people and families who enjoy the 3D blueprint nighttime art installation and unique little stores. I loved all the murals as well.
Known as the city of temples, Tainan boasts more than a thousand temples (they say). In fact, every time I turn a corner, I spot one! (I stopped taking photos 🙂
The oldest and apparently most revered temple in Tainan is the Tainan Confucius Temple. It dates back to 1666, and offers a glimpse into the past where education originated in Taiwan. Unfortunately, the original (1666) building within the complex was under restoration. But here are a few images of the complex.
Look at the Confucius Temple and you’ll find no deities, no frill, just simplicity, structure, discipline, and teaching tablets and related items. Then have a look at the Tiangong Temple, also called Tiantan Temple, the oldest Taoist temple serving the Jade Emperor deity in Tainan. Tiantan is translated as the Altar of Heaven to the god that rules over all the mortal realms – the Jade Emperor, one of the most important deities in the Taoist faith. He is part of the creation myth of this world, and in some accounts created the first humans from clay. He is also central to the origin myth of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. As a central deity in Chinese fatalism, many people bring straw dolls to his temple hoping that they can transfer their bad luck to the doll. Prayers for good fortune or a divine fate are also common. The Jade Emperor is especially worshipped during Chinese New Year, and the temple was certainly busy when I visited.
By the way, Tiantan temple is hidden down a small lane, I literally just stumbled upon it. What fun to discover that it is the spiritual centre of Tainan. With its abundance of deities and celebrations, it’s easy to see why the altar is considered a direct link to heaven. Hey, if anyone gives you the evil eye, this is the place to have a hex removed. 🙂
I’ll dive a little deeper into the world of temples and celebrations in Taipei in my next post… Glad to have you along!