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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Moon Festival

We're in the midst of a three-day weekend, thanks to the lunar Moon Festival holiday 中秋節 falling on a Monday this year, and the Kaminoge family returned home several hours ago from an overnight trip up north. We left early in the afternoon on Saturday, and eventually made our way to Nanliao (Nánliáo) 南寮. With the exception of Kaohsiung (Gāoxióng) 高雄, all the major and minor cities on Taiwan's west coast are well inland, away from the ocean. The city of Hsinchu (Xīnzhú) 新竹 is no exception. Though a part of the city, Nanliao seems like a distant world from the hustle and bustle of downtown Hsinchu. The city's tourism officials have only recently woken up to the possibilities lying along the shore just a short drive from the city center, with a 17-kilometer (10.6 miles) long cycling course having been laid out along the coast. Our first stop was at a beach not far from the Nanliao port:


Things were a little bit windy...


...but the water was warm:


After looking for shells and harassing crabs, we drove to Nanliao port, where many kites were being flown in the late afternoon sky:


Amber commandeered the camera, and took several pictures...


...including some self-portraits:


My daughter is turning into quite the confident photog. You can see several more of her pictures on her photo blog: http://princessnami.livejournal.com/.

Being at a fishing port, dinner was inevitably seafood. Here is Amber pointing to some future dishes inside the market building:


By the time we were finished with dinner, the sun had gone down, and darkness had descended upon the area. Our plan was to stay the night nearby, though we didn't have any reservations with any hotels. Not a problem, however, as we drove into the center of Hsinchu. It wasn't too long before my wife started following a sign for the Wego Motel, located just off of Chungcheng Road (Zhōngzhèng lù) 中正路. Pulling up to the office, we were taken aback to discover that the cost for a night there was NT4000 ($140/¥10,650). The Wego is what is known as a "boutique motel". These are basically upmarket versions of the Japanese love hotel ラブホテル (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_hotel), and have taken off in popularity in recent years. Pamela has always wanted to stay in one, and seeing her chance, decided to damn the torpedoes price-wise, and go full speed ahead. I've been to love hotels in Japan and motels in Taiwan (high five!), but the Wego was the first multi-story kind for me - eight floors in total. Like a parking garage, we drove in ascending circles to our room on the third floor, where we parked the car in the garage there, and checked out our room and bath:





Admittedly, it wasn't exactly the kind of family motel I was used to back in the States, but Amber was thankfully too young to feel anything but excitement at the springy bed and large bath. And she must have been excited, because in the early morning hours she kicked me in her sleep and pushed out of the bed and onto the floor.

In the morning, we took the elevator to the top floor, and had breakfast with the fornicators, plus a family of four. Afterward, seeing as we didn't have to checkout until 11am, Pamela decided she wanted to get her NT4000-worth, so she and Amber took a bubble bath together. I used to opportunity to go for a walk in central Hsinchu. It didn't take long to find Peimen Street (Běimén jiē) 北門街, one of Hsinchu's first commercial streets, lined with buildings dating from the Japanese period 台灣日治時期『日本統治時代』. Most of the shops were still closed, or just getting ready to open, as I walked down the street. Among the ones that I stopped to check out were this puppet shop...


and this establishment dealing in traditional Chinese medicine (Zhōngyào) 中藥:


Near the end of the road was Ch'anghe Temple (Zhǎnghé gōng) 長和宮, dating from 1742:


I went inside, and checked out the main hall...


...and a side shrine called Shuihsien Temple (Shuǐxiān gōng) 水仙宮:


Back on Peimen Street, I followed the road to almost the end of the street, where several old homes were still standing, though some just barely. This house is called the Cheng Family Shrine (Zhèngshì jiāmiào) 鄭氏家廟:


Returning the way I came on Peimen Street, I paid a brief call on Hsinchu's most famous temple, Ch'enghuang Temple (Chénghuáng miào) 城隍廟, barely visible behind a ring of food stalls:


Another temple, another main hall:




Eventually, I made it back to the Wego Motel, where Amber and Pamela had finished their morning bubble bath. After checking out, we drove out of Hsinchu and traveled southeast, eventually reaching the "old town" of Peip'u (Běipù) 北埔. Taiwan is full of such historic places. Unfortunately, much of the history has been squeezed out in the name of tourism, leaving behind only an outer shell of restaurants and souvenir stores. Peimen Street in Hsinchu is still a living, breathing commercial road. Peip'u, unfortunately, has been reconfigured to fit the needs of the tourist hordes. Still, when in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese, so we took a stroll through the older section of the town:



Lunch was at a restaurant serving Hakka cuisine (Kèjiā cài) 客家菜 such as pant'iao fried noodles. This place wasn't my first choice - that had been reserved for the establishment next door which, according to my Bradt Taiwan guidebook, served "local beer". I took this to mean some kind of microbrew/craft beer, but to my disappointment, "local" meant Taiwan Beer (Táiwān píjiǔ) 台灣啤酒. Taiwan's equivalent of Budweiser or Miller isn't worth waiting in line for, which is why we headed to this place:


Somewhat artificial it may be, there are still some interesting buildings in Peip'u that were worth checking out, such as Tz'ut'ien Temple (Cítiān gōng) 慈天宮, a Hakka house of worship that was established in 1830:


The main hall of the temple:


In the streets surrounding the temple, there were old buildings that had been turned into teahouses:


This building is an old meeting hall built around the same time as Tz'ut'ien Temple, called Chinkuangfu (Jīnguǎngfú) 金廣福:


Peip'u's most impressive structure is, ironically, a Japanese-style Western-influenced building. Here is Amber posing with her newly-purchased dolphin balloon in front of the 1940's A-Hsin Chiang Residence (Jiāng āxīn zhái) 姜阿新宅:


A typical weekend scene in one of Taiwan's "atmospheric" streets of yore:


We soon bade the hordes of architectural enthusiasts farewell, and began the long, leisurely drive Highway 3 台3線 to home. We made one stop along the way, at Emei Lake (Éméi hú) 峨眉湖. The lake itself is nothing special to look at, but overlooking the water was this statue of the Maitreya Buddha (Mílè dàfú) 彌勒大佛:


At 72 meters (236 feet), this statue, along with the colossal Maitreya Monastery (Shèngdì jiànzhú) 聖地建築, were impossible to miss, despite being closed off to public access.

Tomorrow being a public holiday, I have one more day to sleep in (Daddy says "please", Amber) before returning to work on Tuesday. I haven't decided what to do yet, but whatever it turns out to be, I hope it will be relaxing.


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