Things I did in Lukang:
* I met the two young and talented co-owners of Tai17 backpacker hostel. They had just saved a street puppy outside a local 7/11 (and thus the dog was named ‘seven’).
* I met someone named ‘Hyfasity.’ He assures me he’s the only one in the world.
* I found my new favorite temple in Taiwan: Longshan Temple (Lukang edition). It’s a dignified and peaceful spot, and it has no quips about showing its age in a field dominated by the newly-renovated. The lines of red lanterns strung up overhead also help to establish a nostalgic mood. I asked an elderly lady outside the temple if she knew whether the lanterns were lit at night. She said yes, and then proceeded to try and sell the spirit money she was folding. Our conversation went something like this:
Woman: Look at how special this is, only 100 NTD ($4 CDN)
Me: It’s very beautiful, but this isn’t my religion (pointing at temple).
Woman (looks confused): anyone can pray.
Me: But I don’t believe in…
Woman: anyone can pray.
…and then I bought it (it really was a thing of beauty).
But I didn’t really know what to do other than burn it, so I walked to another nearby temple where a group of old men were sitting around and chatting. I asked them how to burn it and they pointed to the furnace. One said “Wow! you speak very good Mandarin, where are you from?” And then his friend scolded: ”leave the guy alone, he just wants to pray!”
I went over to the furnace and meekly stuck my hand inside. It wasn’t hot. I went back to the group and told them it wasn’t turned on, at which they had a good laugh and told me I had to light it myself with a lighter. I went back and found the lighters and had a go. It wouldn’t catch because of that trademark Lukang wind, and it took about 3 minutes of closely-observed prayer fail before the thing of beauty finally went up in flames.
As I was leaving someone in the same group beckoned me to come and sit down next to him. It quickly became apparent that he was either drunk or very excitable. Our conversation went something like this:
Man: You speak Mandarin, that’s great. But can you speak Taiwanese?? (says something in Taiwanese)
Me: Nope, maybe someday. Taiwanese is too difficult; four tones is enough.
Man: Wow, look at you… You’re so handsome. (turns to his friends) Look at how handsome this guy is!
Me: Thanks! Do you guys come here every day??
Man: You know what – you really should study Taiwanese.
And thus our conversation got stuck in a handsome-Taiwanese loop that ran its course about 4 times before I had to excuse myself and move on.
* I ate four meat buns in less than four minutes (and suffered).
* I biked to a nearby industrial park in search of a glass Mazu temple. There I encountered a group of about six people who were windsurfing in a tiny, closed-off lake;you know, exactly what you expect to find in an industrial park. I introduce myself to one and comment that they are very dedicated to be out there in this kind of frigid bluster. He replies: “Whenever there’s wind, we’re here.”
* After getting lost in the industrial park, I find the glass Mazu temple. The grounds are a little underwhelming in the light of day, but the temple manager is kind enough to explain some of the temple’s background (six years in the making, over 72,000 pieces of glass, and most importantly President Ma Ying-Jeou came to pray there in 2010). After it gets dark the temple starts to make a bigger impression with its indiscriminate and colorful blasts of LED light.
* I saw this:
* While navigating the alleys of Lukang (which I must say is a paradise for back-alley wanderers), I happened to take my favorite picture yet of Taiwan:
* I found “breast-touching lane”
Things that might interest you about Lukang:
The city’s name translates into “deer harbor,” but the eponymous deer are long extinct, and the coast has shifted outward taking with it any possibility of maritime commerce. Still, Lukang played a major role in Taiwan’s historical development. It was a key port through the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was the largest city in central Taiwan until the 20th century when silt blockage caused the Japanese authorities to bar passage for large ships.
The city maintains a discernible sense of its original planning, with its winding narrow alleyways and cluster of T-shaped laneways at “nine-turns bend,” which was designed to minimize blowing wind and sand.