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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More sightseeing in Taichū 台中の見物

Despite the glorious sunny weather, I opted to spend the early afternoon today doing a little of that ol' tourist thang in downtown T'aichung (next Tuesday I plan on hitting the trails in Tak'eng). I began by visiting the city's Confucius Temple 孔子廟, located on the corner of Shuangshih and Lihsing Roads.
What it lacks in history (it was only finished in 1976), Taiwan's second-largest house of Confucian worship makes up for in appearance. The architecture is impressive without being overwhelming, and the grounds offer a quiet respite from the noise and commotion of central T'aichung (my wife and I even had some of our wedding photographs taken there). The complex is comprised of two large buildings. First up is the Tach'eng Hall 大成門, which houses the Confucius tablet. Unlike Buddhist and Taoist temples with their numerous god statues, there are no representations of the great sage in Confucius shrines - idolatry is verboten:
The other notable building is in the back, the Ch'ungsheng Hall 崇聖祠, which commemorates Confucius' ancestors in the form of more tablets:
Every September 28 a ceremony is held at the shrine to honor Confucius' birthday. I've never attended because it takes place before six o'clock in the morning! Besides, I don't think Confucius himself would've approved of such things. It says something about the human condition that a figure noted for his common sense adages ends up becoming the object of quasi-religious/superstitious rites and rituals.

Next door to the Confucius Temple is T'aichung's Martyrs' Shrine 忠烈祠, formerly a shrine to Japanese soldiers and now a memorial for those who died fighting under the flag of the Republic of China 中華民国. The main hall is only open on Sundays and national holidays, and usually the rest of the grounds is closed as well, but today, for reasons unknown, it was possible to walk inside, through the main gate and up to the front hall:

From the Martyrs' Shrine, I walked north, and after paying a visit to a Catholic church (I'm an equal-opportunity tourist when it comes to visiting religious establishments), soon came to Paochueh Temple 宝覚寺, home to the 27 meter (89-foot)-high gold-painted statue of Milefo or Putai (Hotei) 布袋, the Laughing Buddha.

This was one of the first places I ever visited in Taiwan, and I was impressed at the time. With each successive visit, the feeling diminishes, and not because I'm familiar with the statue. When I first came here in 1998, Milefo stood alone, and his impressive bulk could be seen from far down the street as you approached the temple, looking out over the walls. Over the years, however, Paochueh Temple has apparently adopted the theory that bigger is better. The statue now sits in the shadows of a larger hall built next door, and Milefo can't be seen until you are almost at the temple itself. But even worse, the pleasant main hall, dating from 1928, which also used to stand alone, is now in the finishing touches of being swallowed up by a mammoth "outer shell". Whereas the Confucius Temple preserves a fine sense of aesthetics, Paochueh Temple seemingly wants to destroy what made it so unique in the first place:
Paochueh Temple is on the itinerary of virtually every Japanese tour group that visits T'aichung (though I didn't see any while I was there this afternoon), and not just for the obvious reason. To the left as you enter the temple through the main gate, next to the remembrance hall, is a small pavilion dedicated to those Taiwanese who died during the Second World War while fighting for the Japanese. There is also a stele 石碑 nearby that, according to my Rough Guide to Taiwan, has an epitaph written on it by none other than Lee Tung-hui (Ri Tōki) 李登輝, a former president of the ROC. Lee's brother was killed during the war while serving in the Imperial Japanese Navy 大日本帝国海軍:
There are a couple of other war-related memorials on the temple grounds, which serve to highlight the differences between Taiwanese and Koreans over their feelings towards their former colonial masters - it's unlikely you would find anything like these in South Korea!

Should you find yourself with a few hours to spare in central T'aichung, you ought to pay a visit to the Confucius Temple, the Martyrs' Shrine (if it's open!) and Paochueh Temple. There are plenty of photo opportunities, and if you go to these places on a weekday, you'll probably have them all to yourself. 楽しみになるだろう。

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