Taiwan photos

Before the onslaught of field photos, the pictures from Taiwan I never got around to posting.

This is our patron saint of scholarship. My Rough Guide says:

Like many Chinese deities, he’s supposed to have been a real person, and is said to have failed the examination three times simply because the emperor was repulsed by his hideous looks. The poor scholar committed suicide and has been venerated ever since.

I have a scene in my head where the patron saint assigners are wrapping up a late-night conference call in ancient China. Upon seeing this nomination, they die laughing, approve it, and open another bottle of rice wine.

Southern Taiwan’s 350-year-old City God temple, devoted to the local gatekeeper of the underworld.

Side note: For some reason, a lot of temples feature “barbarians” (non-Han Chinese) holding up the corners. Some had aborigines. Here’s one with black people. Discrimination sucks.

The first thing you see when you step to the City God Temple is an enormous sign, reminding us of our mortality, that reads “Here You Come.” At least, that’s the translation in my Rough Guide. The one that came to my mind was “You’re here!!”

Turn around and there’s an enormous abacus staring you in the face, more galvanizing perhaps than an Excel spreadsheet.

Various sooty officials, imbued with supernatural powers and fire-and-brimstone notions of justice.

If you feared the temple designers were putting too fine a touch on things, hanging from the pillar are assorted torture instruments, gentle reminders that every lie is another brick in the pathway to hell.

Back in northern Taiwan, it’s time to get our fortunes told at my favorite temple. Materials needed: Prayer blocks, prayer sticks and prayer cabinet (in subsequent photo).

Methods: Draw a random prayer stick. Take two prayer blocks from the basket. Holding them together, say your prayer and drop them on the ground. If they land round side up, the gods say you need to draw a different stick. If they land flat side up, the gods are laughing and want you to roll again. If one lands round and one lands flat side up, the gods approve. Roll until you get three approvals.

Three nods for this stick. Each one has a special code corresponding to a specific drawer in the prayer cabinet. We will go there now, and smile at the curious groundskeepers looking up from their card game.

Find the correct drawer on the revolving cabinet (mine is on the top right).

Voilà, the fortune! My hard work has earned me a kick-ass harvest, and when I come home to tell my family about it, we’re all going to celebrate with joyful music and dance. (This was really nice to receive in Taiwan.) Also, it’s a great time to buy a manservant, and the rains will come at the end of the month. I can breathe again.

Moving on from the temple, I went to a bookstore looking for a translation of “Origin of Species” and spotted these instead. The translation of “Catching Fire” comes from an expression that means “a single spark can ignite a huge blaze,” and “Mockingjay” is translated as “Visions of Freedom.”

Look who’s featured in the business section. The man himself would love that he’s beneath a banner promoting “Disobedient Leadership” and diagonal from “Butt Management: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit.”

At the market with my aunt, we saw a tub of chicken feet, euphemistically called “phoenix claws,” for seven cents each. And look, they’re anisodactyl! They have three toes forward and one toe back, which is the most common arrangement of digits in birds.

Family photo shot after an amazing lunch. My cousin (in plaid) and his wife (seated) had a beautiful baby boy around Valentine’s Day.

I scored two free massages in Taipei when I accompanied my grandmother to her weekly appointment. It is hard to relax when you’re alternately suppressing shrieks (when they hit a knot) and giggles (when it tickles). But oh my god, what I wouldn’t give to have another session.

This photo of my mother’s parents has been in the same room for decades. My grandmother still lives independently an hour out from Taipei, in a community surrounded by mountains and rice fields.

My grandfather died in 1993. Parts of his life (tofu peddler to succesful entrepreneur) have acquired legendary status. I wish I had known the real person.

Mushed-together photos of my paternal grandparents, who for many reasons never had a happy marriage. I spent a lot of time this trip learning about my loud, brash, clever grandfather, who died when I was two. My grandmother, who matched him in stubbornness and outlived him by two decades, figures prominently in my memories up to high school. Everyone says Stan looks like our mom’s side of the family, while I take after my dad’s.

A small plot of land in northern Taiwan has been owned by the Liu family ever since the Liu family emigrated to Taiwan 100+ years ago. As Stan writes in a beautiful entry, the banyan tree was planted in 1919 to separate the factory from the house. It is the birthplace of my father, as well as the home of so many relatives I have never known.

My paternal uncle (right) brought me here to see the house and meet two of my father’s cousins. The city where they live is known for its ceramics, and the uncle in the middle is developing a light recycled ceramic as a brick alternative. I mostly listened and watched, memorizing noses and eyes and smiles. They liked that I was there to 尋根 (search for my roots) and told me I was welcome any time.

Then home, and back to life in the States.

2 responses to “Taiwan photos

  1. I ❤ travel photos that also involve biology detours (anisodactyl!) and Excel references. Field blog back for the win!

  2. Thanks, Jess!! This was a lot of fun to write. Every time I go back, I see so many things I want to share. Hurray travel!

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