March 29, 2017
This is our first time in Taiwan and we chose to do a 7 1/2 hour highlights of Kaohsiung tour. Taiwan is interesting in that it considers itself a country (Republic of China), but Mainland China’s position on Taiwan is that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China; the People’s Republic of China is awaiting reunification of the island and mainland. However, Taiwan still claims independence as a distinct State. China insists that countries cannot have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and it is not listed at the UN as a country. However, in spite of not having an embassy here, the US is an important diplomatic partner for Taiwan.
This is an old city, occupied by Japan for 50 years until 1945. The city is slowly being revitalized but the streets and shops mostly look like they did during the old days. Taiwan was originally named Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. It is the second largest city in Taiwan after Taipei, the capital.
Our guide today was Ben and he was accompanied by 3 interns, Daniel, Vicky and Emma, the latter two are university students. I sat on the bus with Vicky who was mostly curious about the ship and what was inside!
Before we left the port area, our driver was given a breathalizer test! That is something I have never seen before and Ben called our attention to it and showed us the measurement device!
Ben is an engineer and worked in Silicon Valley for 10 years. His two children are still in the US but he came back to take care of his mother who is sick. Family is very important in all of the Asian countries and children always take care of their parents, the concept of nursing homes is largely unknown here.
The air is quite polluted, not as bad as in China, but the winds this time of year come from the west, so China’s pollution affects Taiwan.
Our tour began with a drive through the countryside to Fokuanghan, a famed center of Buddhism. It was founded in 1967 by Buddhist master Hsing Yun and is built into the mountainside overlooking the Kaoping River. Fokuanghan means Light of Buddha and this place features an array of temples, meditation halls, gardens and exhibition halls. 14,800 lanterns rest in openings in the walls of the four shrines. The mission here is to make Buddhism relevant in modern life, often through charitable work. We could not take pictures inside the main shrine but we could get some from the entrance.
There are thousands of wonderful statues everywhere and there is a giant standing Buddha at the top of the mountain. The gardens are also spectacular. Many steps to walk up to see everything and it was worth every step! Most of the 200 residents here are nuns, not monks. They also have a place for visitors to stay.
Our next stop was the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. This is a place to “enjoy slow living”. The whole compound consists of a main hall with the Four Noble Truths Stupas, eight Chinese Style Pagodas and the largest sitting Buddha. There is also a Buddha tooth relic displayed in the museum. We had time to walk around, take pictures, shop in the main hall (they have a Starbucks.. never say they don’t know how to make money!) In fact, I bought a beautiful Taiwan Dark Jade bracelet – this is only found here in Taiwan and enriched with active magnet.
We then headed back to Kaohsiung to the Confucius Temple, situated on the serene Lotus Pond which was of course named for the many lotus flowers growing in the water. This temple was completed in 1976 and is Taiwan’s largest Confucian temple. It expresses a deep reverence for Confucious. It is situated on a body of water ringed by more than 20 historic temples and pagodas. There are portions of an old city wall from the early 1800s as well as the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas which are built on piers that extend out into the lake. There is also an 80 foot high statue of the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven.
Last, we visited a Taoist temple, Chiming Tang, which was constructed in the 1970’s. Several different gods are worshipped here, including humanized gods of influential figures such as Confucius and the Marshall god with the red face, repreenting business.
This tour was fascinating – giving us, all is one day, a comparison of the different beliefs here. In the Confucian temple, there was a wall where you could write out a wish or prayer and then put the card up with all of the others. Lots were in Chinese writing, but there were wishes for a change in American politics – I won’t post them here but these wishes seem to follow us all over the world.