Saturday, December 25, 2010

Taipei Temple Tour (Twenty-Ten)

'Buddhists believe that the body is a temple. They are wrong, of course. The temple is a part of the body. On the side of the head. It's an easy mistake to make, but one you'd think that one of the world's millions of Buddhists would have spotted by now.'

- Stewart Lee, Fist of Fun

With my tatty notebook, dodgy Egyptian camera and MRT map dropped into my unrealistically deep pockets along with the rest of the essentials, I was ready to embark on a breakneck tour of all the major temples in Taipei City today - until it was pointed out to me just how tedious this would be.

But that's okay, because I'm an ignorant Westerner visiting China (not actually China, but what do I know?) So when I say 'temple' I don't actually mean a sacred building where the public go to worship the Jade Emperor and co. and light joss paper. Nah, I mean any Oriental-looking building, preferably red, with paintings on the outside and those funny sloping roofs. That's temple enough for me. Even if it isn't temple at all.

According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia: '[sweeping roofs] are usually reserved for temples and palaces although it may also be found in the homes of the wealthy.' Well that's an understatement - even my bus stop has one. You can imagine my touristic delight at this.

Bus stop with delusions of grandeur

I considered just spending all day at the bus stop, but that would be a bit of a busman's holiday. Instead, I came up with a new, improved and almost entirely lying Taipei Temple Tour (Twenty-Ten) consisting of one temple (to save face), two memorial halls, associated gardens and all the attractive flowers I can eat. Join me!


Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

'Her grandpa fought old Chiang Kai-shek
That no-good, low-down, dirty rat
Who used to order his troops
To fire on the women and children
Imagine that.'

- Roger Waters, 'Watching TV'

I'm always wary about opening my ill-educated mouth in foreign countries where I'm not fully aware of the political situation (that would be all countries then, foreign or otherwise - not that anyone would understand me here anyway). So I was a bit ashamed that the only thing I knew about this influential and widely revered former president of the Republic was a received opinion, courtesy of a clumsy Roger Waters lyric from his Amused to Death album.

The fact that elsewhere in the song, the megalomaniacal ex-Pink Floyd songwriter refers to Taiwan as 'a shoe factory' and repeatedly mentions a murdered girl's 'perfect breasts,' 'yellow thighs' and father's engineering background - as if these things make her death more of a waste than if she'd just been some dumpy bint whose dad worked in Wumart - was at least a clue that further reading was needed before I could decry President Chiang as an outright 畜生.

I dunno, this kid seems to like him

As it turned out, further reading and an open mind pointed to this still largely being the case, but CKS at least did some positive things - like defending China and Taiwan from Japan. Some of the time. That at least makes the concept of walking around a memorial hall and massive square built in his honour less weird than it would be to gaze up at Mao's portrait in Tiananmen Square, or to have your lunch on the steps of the colossal Skeletor statue I'm building outside my flat in honour of the evil intergalactic warlord. Imagine that.

Dave W tries to look appropriately sombre at CKS Memorial Hall.
The turquoise umbrella was arguably a mistake

Changing of the guard.
The guy on the right is twice as close as the guy on the left, ruining the symmetry.
Where did that
饭桶 train???

Liberty Square in the rain

National Concert Hall.
It's got red on it and has a sloping roof: it'll do

Main gate. It looks better in the dark. Just like you!

CKSMH at night

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

Here's a guy who's much easier to admire, and for whom an ostentatious gold-roofed hall and elaborate gardens seem more fitting. Even SYS' moustache was more sensible than CKS'.

I am in this picture somewhere, honestly

Sounds like the sort of technobabble I pretend to understand for work

If some nefarious fiend turned me into a statue, that's the chair I'd want to sit in too

Zhongshan Park (Sun Yat-sen's back garden).
Is that some red and a sloping roof I see? Ker-ching, another temple in the bank

Xingtian Temple

Xingtian seemed like the best option for compulsory temple photos, and it was actually pretty interesting. And not only for being dedicated to Guan Gong - the Skeletor of Chinese folk mythology. Okay, maybe a bit because of that.

After having the local religions shoved down my ear-holes five times a day in Egypt and Israel, it's refreshing to see beliefs being carried out in respectful silence and in a purpose-built venue, where they don't wake innocent atheists up at 4.30am.

To list all the reasons I can currently think of why Taiwanese culture is more respectful than Egypt's would make this post even more unnecessarily long than it already is, so let's just get through these last few photos instead. There's a cool one with gods and a glowing-eyed dragon at the end: consider it your reward.

Dave W sneaks into shot.
Don't like photos of yourself my arse, you vain 装屄

Lady lights incense.
I said 'incense'

Guan Gong and the gang get ready for another crazy caper.
It's like a Nativity scene on acid


  1. I had something to say at some point of reading this but I've forgotten it now. Bear with me while I scroll up and try to remember... was probably just to make some sort of comparison to the statue bloke in the chair and the ace statue of Sandy at the Water of Leith. Sandy's way better.

    Or maybe I was going to compliment you on your fine choice of umbrella.

    Have you watched Firefly/Serenity? I ask because (a) they're ace and (b) they swear in Chinese which your posts sometimes remind me of.

    Pile of goshu.

  2. Didn't see (yet). Assuming the writers use Chinese to get past the censors, my reason is pretty much the same. For some insane reason I sent my mother a link to this blog a while ago, so this way at least she won't tut quite so much.