Next stop: The Grand Hotel. Built years ago and once the most opulent hotel in the city, it is now a very reasonably priced hotel (according to Jan) and has recently undergone a makeover to bring it up to date. Jan said he stayed here 23 years ago when first arriving in Taipei for work and his most vivid memory was of the rock hard Chinese mattresses curtesy of the current regime.
Next stop: changing of the guards. Much like the changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, this was formal, included a lot of redundant marching and ridiculously formal, bordering on silly, uniforms (here they have the clunkiest black laced boots that look cartoon-like, and shiny silver helmets that seem completely inappropriate for a guard or anything related to the military given that they would announce ones presence from miles away) and attracted throngs of tourists (mostly Chinese ‘mainlanders as Christine and Jan disparagingly referred to them). It was fun and a good picture op, but we were just as happy to leave and check out the next attraction.
Next stop: A Confucian temple. Interesting to learn about the Confucian way of life. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we zipped around the three layers of buildings as Christine explained the six tenants of the philosophy and Jan piped in with an outsiders perspective and a hint of cynicism:)
Three things stuck with me. The first was the amount of people on a Friday morning that came to pray, including a woman with her young son, to whom she was teaching the proper process of praying to the various deities with long wands of incense.
The second was Christine’s description of some of the practices involved in praying and seeking direction in life. She said the Taiwanese don’t believe in psychologists, so instead will come to the temple to pray.
Next to a large table where people can bring offerings to the various deities there is a large cylinder on the ground holding dozens of long dark sticks. If you are looking for direction in life, you choose a stick and on it you will find a carved number. On the opposite wall you will find a board holding small pieces of paper and writing on them. You find the stack of papers with the corresponding number as you found on the stick, and that paper will provide your direction, very much like a horoscope.
Similarly, if you have a question you need answered, you phrase the question in a yes or no style and with that question in mind, find two half-moon shaped pieces of wood and drop them on the ground from waist height. Depending on how they land means you receive an answer of ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’. People can do this up to three times if they aren’t satisfied with the original answer. Sounds like a sanctioned version of a crazy eight ball, but interesting nonetheless.
The third thing I found fascinating was the furnace found outside the temple across the street. This was an open oven with a fire inside. Here people would write down what they yearned for on pieces of paper and then burn it in the fire. This ritual did speak to me, as if you are putting your desire out into the universe and then letting go of attachment to it. This I might actually try at home:)
By this point we were hungry and getting cold (it was drizzling off and on that morning and we were still jet lagged from the 14 hour flight from Vancouver). We headed to one museum of a previous leader (honestly I caught some of it but mostly I was dreaming of the dumpling snack to come). After cruising through the museum we headed to a nearby dumpling house recommended by Christine. There we revived our energy with warm tea, shrimp and pork dumplings, this wonderful pumpkin barely-sweet tart, and the infamous stinky tofu (left). It was stinky. Like grassy manure. Yet it tasted like spicy chili on tofu. I ate a full serving, and although wouldn’t likely order it again, would highly recommend it as a ‘must-try’ in Taipei.
Off to the airport with little time to spare and onto Palau!