After eating hotpot out of a toilet bowl, I decided to spend my first night of the new year in Taipei stopping by the local temples and shrines like the natives do. In Japan there is the tradition of hatsumode (初詣), which is the first trip to a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on January 1st. I asked my Japanese friends what they normally wish for, and they said they usually wish for necessary things like good health, success in their career, and happiness in life. I am fortunate to have all of these things, so I usually wish for more adventures and exciting encounters. Essentially, I wish to never grow bored or complacent in life. I want to keep exploring the world and advancing at a steady place. Though I will admit, a little love would be nice too!
The majority of Taiwan residents observe the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the month (this year it starts on January 5th, 2020). However, I noticed there were a lot of people here that still visited to the shrines in order to pay their respects. I have mentioned before here that I am not particularly a religious person; I believe we are all our own gods and what we perceive the world as is our customs or religion. Despite this, I enjoy visiting temples and shrines all over Asia. You get a sense of peace and clarity from being outside a temple versus crammed in a western church. I enjoy seeing the intricate architecture and learning about the culture as well. That is why you will see me at a lot of shrines despite me being an atheist–I enjoy immersing myself in culture as much as possible. And in order to fully grasp a culture, you must start at its origin.
Songshan Ciyou Temple
Songshan Ciyou Temple was by far my favorite temple in central Taipei. I loved how the lighting captured the beautiful illustrations on the temple walls at night, and there were multiple floors that you could climb and see different deities. The temple is dedicated to Mazu who is the goddess of the sea despite it being located near the heart of the city. Many people pray for her divine protection and it is a great place to witness Taiwanese tradition:
I loved the unique carvings of the pillars and the beautiful gold statues inside. I was really overcome with awe since this was my first time ever exploring a temple in Taiwan. The temple even had a tiny mascot! It felt a lot like exploring a temple in Japan, but it had a slightly different atmosphere. I spent quite a long time here soaking in the culture and trying to read what I could about its history. It really is an amazing place to see!
Conveniently located next to this temple is the Raohe Street Market. This is a great first street market experience as well because it is one of the biggest in Taipei! I found a lot of interesting foods there like stinky tofu fries, dinosaur hamburgers, fried squid with mayonnaise… the list goes on and on. I have been to a number of night markets in Asia already, but I like seeing the unique foods and characteristics each one has!
Confucius Temple was the 2nd temple I visited during my stay in Taipei. I came here during the morning of January 2nd and was surprised to see people dancing and doing yoga here! It reminded me a lot of what I had seen in Vietnam actually. This temple had a more open feel than others that I have been to in Asia and is really worth visiting.
As many people know, Confucius was one of the most influential teachers in Chinese philosophy. I took a number of Asian studies classes in university and actually agree with some of his theories; such as we should make education widely available and cultivate ourselves. The quote: “If you want to change the world, first change yourself” is a good example of Confucian theory. I try to practice this when I travel abroad so I can improve my life and [ideally] the lives of others. I believe that change is something that usually comes with dedication and time much like the ancient sage does.
The most interesting part of this temple is there is actual a chariot driving simulation game you can play in one of the chambers! This is the first time I had ever seen anything like this at a religious ground, and I fully support the use of interactive technology:
Dalongdong Baoan Temple
Right next to the Confucius Temple is the Taiwanese folk religion temple Dalongdong Baoan. It is dedicated to the Taoist saint Baosheng Dadi who sadly I do not know much about. However, I loved the aesthetic of the temple. It had an outdoor garden and a beautiful dragon statue that spits water into a pond full of koi fish:
Right around the corner is street lined with palm trees, lanterns, and tiny shops. Even in January this town had an extremely tropical vibe to it that made me happy to be here! I will be writing more about Taiwanese culture in my future posts. Please look forward to reading them.