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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lugangstas

Many localities in Taiwan are famous for their eats, and people will travel long distances for the sole purpose of feasting on snacks in the places for which they are noted, even if they can find the same foods in their local neighborhoods or night markets. Pictured above is an oyster omelet 蚵仔煎, one of several dishes that brings the hordes to the small town of Lukang (Lù​gǎng) 鹿港. It was also my lunch this afternoon, which we spent in...Lugang. 

Around the corner from the restaurant was the T'ienhou Temple (Tiānhòu gōng) 天后宮, one of the oldest and most famous temples in Taiwan. In celebration of Matsu's (Mā​zǔ) 媽祖 birthday, a large image of the goddess, along with a couple of her attendants, had been erected outside the temple:

Pictured below is the Main Hall. Tianhou Temple was an oasis of calm in a hectic world, a chance to quietly contemplate the meaning of it all in an atmosphere of serenity and...oh, who am I kidding? The temple was a non-stop cacophonous assault on the eardrums, inside and outside, with the sounds of exploding firecrackers going off every few minutes:

Mazu not only brings in the crowds, she attracts the dollars as well. Tianhou Temple had its own onsite gift shop, with T-shirts, baseball caps, amulets and charms, CD's and cute figurines helping to fill up the temple's coffers, and all of it tax-free, of course. Which didn't stop us from buying some stuff:

Chungshan Road (Zhōng​shān lù) 中山路, the main road leading to Tianhou Temple. On weekends and holidays, it's a charming pedestrian-only street lined with quaint little shops and...OK, I'll stop it. Zhongshan Road was, as usual, a teeming mass of humanity. I'd be willing to wager that for most of the folks pictured below, this wasn't their first time to Lugang. It's an indication of the limited number of places to go and things to do in Taiwan. Lugang does attract a lot of foreign visitors, but they make up only a small percentage of the crowd that descends on this little town virtually every non-working day. People visit the same tourist spots again and again and again, to see the sights and to snack, of course:

One thing especially annoying about the crowd scene above was the presence of scooter riders. Despite the densely packed street, idiots on their bikes still insisted on riding through the hordes, beeping their horns in irritation at anyone they deemed slowing them down too much. It's an unfortunate scene repeated up and down Taiwan - the failure of those in charge to create, and enforce, pedestrian-only zones on holidays and weekends. While the folks around me were presumably enjoying their foods, I was fantasizing about how satisfying it would feel to swing a baseball bat around and knock some of those 屁眼's off of their machines.

Back in reality, we continued walking around the streets of Lugang. Below can be seen Nanching Temple (Nán​jīng gōng) ​南京宮, built in 1784, and the Lukang Assembly Hall 鹿港公會堂, dating from 1928 and now serving as an art and culture center. And in the middle is a vendor demonstrating one of the boomerangs he had for sale:

A cake shop called the Zhèng​ Yù Zhēn Cake Store 鄭玉珍餅舖, now under its fourth generation of ownership by the Zheng family. Its significance to our family was that the owners let Amber use the bathroom in the back, saving us the hassle of having to fight through the crowds on the street outside to reach the public toilet. For their kindness, we bought a couple of packages of sweets. Pamela was surprised to find that behind the traditional-looking showroom and kitchen was a modern house. Business, apparently, has been very good for the Zhengs:

Mother and daughter pose on Yáolín Street 瑤林街, part of the Old Market Street 古市街 area of Lugang:

Father and daughter pose by the Half-Sided Well 半邊井, built by a wealthy family so that the serfs and proles could also use the spring water that used to be underground there. Although it only took a few seconds for my wife to take the shot, crouching like that was murder on my おばさん-like knees:
Lugang may be noted for its old buildings, but looking out over the rooftops revealed it to be an ordinary Taiwanese town in most respects:
Along Zhongshan Road are several shops where the craftsmen residing within have been recognized by the government as "Living Heritage" artists. The Wú Dūn-hòu Lantern Shop 吳敦厚燈舖  is one such establishment. The old gentlemen painting some characters on a lantern as we passed by was presumably Mr. Wu himself. In many travel articles that I've read, the writer will stop to talk with such skilled craftspeople, learn about the history of their business and take a photo or two of the artisan in action. I'm too shy to do that. Instead, I crossed Zhongshan Road in order to take this picture:

I guess I've been here too long, but tourist spots such as Lugang have changed greatly in recent years. Eons ago when I first came to Taiwan (circa 1999), Lugang and its ilk were much more atmospheric...as in run down, borderline derelict. Sure, the crowds were there, but not in the numbers you see today. When Taiwan switched to the five-day work week sometime around 2002, it sparked a leisure boom, and the Lugangs of Taiwan have been given a facelift in the years since. Things are better organized, with more signs pointing the way, and building facades and streets have been spruced up. The range of souvenirs and foods on sale have expanded as well, with lots more cutesy souvenirs and crafts on display, and more ethnic-type snacks to munch on. While the cash registers are no doubt ringing up a happy jingle these days, something has been lost in the rush to cash in. In Lugang's case, the best example was probably the Osmanthus Alley Artists Village 桂花巷藝術村. Once a street of decaying Japanese-era dormitories, the wooden buildings were torn down and replaced with...ersatz Japanese-style "bungalows", all housing the kinds of 很可愛-type handicrafts that appeal to a certain young female demographic. Welcome to the 21st-century version of Lugang, sanitized for your protection:

Temple, old brick house and oddly-shaped "modern" residence:

At my insistence, we eschewed the freeway and instead headed for home along west-central Taiwan's less-than-idyllic coast. Having to wait for 90 seconds at a red light proved to be too long for one scooter rider:

The way that we took was a grim one - elevated expressways, factories, flat terrain, power lines and wind turbines lined virtually the entire route. The sunset deserved better surroundings than it was given here:
En route we stopped off at an all-you-can-eat hotpot 火鍋 restaurant in Wuch'i (Wú​qī) 梧棲. Sitting in a decaying concrete building situated along a busy highway in a gloomy industrial district, with the locals unsure how to react to the presence of a barbarian in their midst, while dining on food of questionable freshness - this place was definitely not the kind of establishment enthusiastic Western bloggers living happy, public transportation-dependent lives in Taiwan's capital metropolis will ever probably set foot in. Welcome to the Taiwan that I know all too well:

2 comments:

  1. Nicely done. I love the jaded, yet enthusiastic tone. Lugang looks a lot cleaner than when I last went there (like 18 years ago), but a little less charming. Amazing that Mr. Wu is still sitting there brushing big characters onto lamps. Thanks for the update!

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  2. Thanks. "...jaded, yet enthusiastic..." is an apt description - I hope you don't mind if I utilize it? :-)

    Mr. Wu seemed like a nice man. He smiled at my daughter when she stopped to see what he was doing. I just don't have that travel writer confidence.

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