Bells and smells

Back in Taipei for Thursday 29th, with the whole day available after a second night in the amazing hot springs supplied hotel. We gave Jimmy a morning off while we explored, on our own, the geothermal wonders around the hotel, in the Xinbeitou part of the city. We mentioned some of this a couple of days ago (see Enter Tourist_mode). This is a photo of the public hot spring baths complex that Martin enjoyed then:

Open-air public hot spring baths, Xinbeitou

By the way, have you discovered snippets of extra information when you hover over the pictures? If you want to see more detail, double-click on the picture. You will get a little +-sign cursor: click that where you want enlargement. Sliders are there to move around the picture. Use the browser’s back button to get back to the blog.

This morning we looked at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, housed in the former public bathhouse built by the Japanese in 1916. Before then the indigenous people kept away from the sulphur springs, naming the area the haunt of witches (hence the current name of Beitou). The bathhouse was only recently restored and opened as a museum. We had to remove our shoes and wear regulation slippers. There was a typically Japanese meeting/relaxing room upstairs, with rush matting on the floor and paper-screened sliding doors all round. We even had to remove the slippers for this. Downstairs there were some private bath rooms and communal baths, one medium sized for women and one large one for men, definitely reminiscent of Roman baths:

Japanese public hot spring bath

It is situated in Beitou Park, a pleasant strip of green lawns interspersed with jungle-like vegetation alongside a tepid and slightly steaming stream, with yellow sulphur deposits accumulated where the water flows. The park is planted with many unfamiliar trees. We’re contemplating a separate post about Taiwanese vegetation, but here are a couple of trees that you might be able to identify:

Unusual tree no.1

Unusual tree no. 2

Most people in Taiwan live in rented apartments, all with balconies and pot plants. We have not discovered why many of the balconies are enclosed with often elaborately decorative grilles. These ones overlook the park are typical:

Apartment houses alongside the stream, Xinbeitou

Continuing the water theme into the contemporary, at one end of the park is a “Jumping Fountain” display, which runs for 18 minutes every hour. At night the jets are coloured. We caught a moment with short bursts hanging in the air:

"Jumping Waters" fountain in Beitou Park

We met up with Jimmy and Corinne for lunch and the afternoon’s sightseeing. Corinne has been our main professional contact and is the organiser of the events in which we are participating. Here we all are in front of a floral display in some famous gardens:

Jimmy, Martin, Frances, Corinne

We spent the afternoon looking at two nearby temples. Firstly the Confucius Temple, which is now a museum of Confucianism, telling of his life about 2,500 years ago and his teachings, which are still covered in Taiwanese schools. There are ‘education rooms’ devoted to things like mathematics, and music; it’s only used as a temple once a year for an elaborate ceremony to celebrate Confucius’s birthday.

Dacheng Hall, Confucius Temple

As with all temples, you enter on the right hand side which is the Path of Righteousness, and leave from the left hand side, which is the Tiger’s Mouth (viz., leaving danger behind). We were particularly struck by the musical instruments, some of which were familiar (such as the qin zither, the temple bells and the sheng mouth organ). There was a huge bell at the entrance:

Temple Bell, Confucius Temple

Typical Confucian story, musicians please note:

An example of the wisdom of Confucius

In contrast, the second temple we visited, just along the street, the Baoan Temple, is very much in constant use. In the entrance are stalls selling things to use for prayer routines and as offerings, like joss sticks, candles, fresh flowers, fruit, and wooden prayer boards. There was the gentle smell of joss sticks everywhere, and prayer messages hanging up from students praying for good grades, etc. In each one of the many rooms around the courtyard was a statue of a different god, one for farmers, one for those wishing for babies or indeed to avoid babies, and many others. Each room was heavily adorned and had a special and highly ornate altar upon which were flowers, plates of fruit, candles and other offerings.

Many people were praying, to the accompaniment of bowing with joss sticks, chanting and rhythmic ringing of little bells. It was very moving. Obviously it was inappropriate to take photos here, so this is one we took yesterday, where there was no-one around, in a little settlement in the Rift Valley:

Inside a small village temple

Then it was time to catch the High Speed Train back to Taichung, and return to our hotel there. Feels like ‘home’ now, we’re greeted in a most friendly way again by the reception staff and reunited with our instruments. In the evening, even the waiter in the teahouse we have frequented welcomed us as regular customers.

Categories: Geography, People | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Bells and smells

  1. simon

    Amazing. What a trip!

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