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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everything but the Buddha

Instead of hiking this Tuesday afternoon, I rode the train to the nearby city of Changhua 彰化 to do a bit of sightseeing. Good thing, too, for it rained all day long, and being in the mountains would no doubt have been a less-than-pleasurable experience. Changhua is noted in Taiwan for its Great Buddha Statue, but having visited it several times already (the last occasion being a few weeks ago when I walked along some rural roads for two hours and eight kilometers/five miles in order to reach it), I decided to give Sakyamuni a pass. Besides, being only a couple of years older than myself and made of concrete, Changhua's Buddha can hardly compare to the Kamakura Daibutsu 鎌倉大仏 in Japan, not to mention many similar historical examples in China. So today I went to have a look at some of the other attractions the city of 230,000 people has to offer.

Changhua isn't far from Fengyuan 豐原 by train. Going there, the Tzuch'iang limited express took roughly 25 minutes, while even the local train got me back in just over half an hour. Exiting Changhua Station 彰化車站, I walked over to narrow Ch'enling Road, and begin checking things out. First up was Cat Mouse Noodles 猫鼠麺, an establishment in these here parts for noodles that having nothing to do with felines or mice (the name apparently comes from a Taiwanese-Mandarin pun). An intrepid travel writer would have naturally stopped here to see what all the fuss is about, but I was quite content to have eaten at the Fengyuan MOS Burger モスバーガー branch before catching the train.

Further along Ch'enling Road, where it meets Minsheng Road, was what should have been my next destination, the Yuanch'ing Temple. However, the front area of the temple was in the midst of some large-scale digging project, and as a result, only one wing was open to the public. Fortunately, the nearby Confucius Temple 孔子廟 wasn't being disturbed by any construction or road-work, so I quickly headed there. Dating from 1726, Changhua's Confucius Temple is one of the nicest in all of Taiwan, and is worth a look if you're walking from the train station up to Pakuashan to see the big-ass Buddha. Like all Confucius temples, the interior is devoid of any representation of the venerable master, just admiring plaques with inscriptions from Chinese emperors.

From the temple, it was a short walk along K'ungmen Road to Chungshan Road, and the route leading up to the top of Bakuashan and the Buddha. Instead of walking up, however, I went inside the new Museum of the War of 1895. Set up in a converted bomb shelter, the museum details the resistance to the Japanese takeover of Taiwan following the end of the First Sino-Japanese War 日清戦争 and the Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関条約 in 1895. Though free to enter, the displays lack any English explanations. In fact, other than a pamphlet giving a rough outline of the museum, the only English inside consisted of the words "Republic of Fomosa" (sic) projected onto a wall and a copy of the proclamation made by the Japanese governor-general of Taiwan 台湾総督府, Kabayama Sukenori 樺山資紀, on the takeover of the island.

Close to the 1895 Museum is the Changhua Arts Museum, located in the former Changhua Convention Hall, an attractive Japanese-era building dating from 1933. Also free of charge (Changhua is a bargain to visit!), the exhibition on the first-floor consisted mainly of watercolors of idyllic rural Taiwanese scenes. I was more interested in the map of Changhua dating from 1935, on the second floor. The old Shōka Shrine 彰化神社 could be clearly seen, along with the commemorative tablet that the Japanese erected on the site of the present Great Buddha. Kudos once again to those who preserve these fine old buildings, and put them to good use.

Just behind the art museum was the last of Changhua's non-Buddha sights, a 300-year-old well built by the Dutch. It was hardly worth seeing, as it has been cemented over, with an Earth God Shrine erected behind it for good measure. My Lonely Planet guidebook says the well still pumps out drinkable water, but I didn't give it a try.

And so ends the story of what to do when in Changhua on a rainy afternoon, and you don't feel like visiting the Great Buddha Statue. The middle of the town where the sights are located is easy to get around, and it only took me a couple of hours to see everything at a leisurely pace.

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