Sunday, April 1, 2007

Bells and Buddhas in Keelung, Taiwan

I was intrigued to go into Keelung not just because I saw the Starbucks from deck 7 as we endured a crew drill, but because we’d heard about the Hot Springs in nearby (well, 40 minute train journey) Taipei.
Alas, a rehearsal until noon put paid to our Taipei idea, but Eric went out to investigate while I rehearsed for a reblock (poor Wolfie has injured his neck.)

First off was the Miaokou food market, it comes alive at night, apparently, but is also very much alive in my opinion in the day. This place was amazing, full of all those exotic and strange food smells, and signs with great, no nonsense English translations above regular pitches (like little canteens) such as “Oily rice with Pork thick Soup” and “Pork Large Intestine Rings”.

I tried a papaya juice, and had a stick of poached quail eggs from the stand you can see in the picture. I also got some small sausages (pork intestine?) from the stall that also had squid on sticks. They were gorgeous. I bought a Tupperware of glutenous white stuff in chunks to try, thinking it was sweet, but the bag of sauce inside turned out to be sweet and sour, and the food itself bland and slightly fishy. I have no idea what it was! Eric had a barbequed corn on the cob, but our choices were tame considering what the place had on offer. It was overstuffed with wonderful food, most of which we couldn’t order due to bashfulness and touristic stupidity. We just didn’t know. The people, however, were very friendly apart from one woman who ignored us when we tried to order sushi. Can’t win ‘em all!

In the middle of the food market was Tien-Chi temple. Familiar with the drill by now, I walked in and placed 100 note (there’s 32 to the US dollar, although I don’t know exactly WHAT the name of the currency is!) in the donations box and waited for my joss-sticks and paper offerings from the people at the desk. For just over $3, I was given a big packet of incense, tons of paper and even a packet of biscuits to offer. The lady even showed me where to place my offerings, and a nice man took us to the furnace, where you see Paul is busy burning paper.

Paul left us due to a manicure appointment soon after, and Eric and I set off for Jhongjheng Park atop the hill, the conspicuous icon of Keelung with it’s huge white Guanyhin statue.
There were many temples and steps up the hill, MANY steps. At various intervals there were open-air karaoke stops, which were bizarre yet touching. In one, you can see in the picture, a couple was even dancing a slow waltz to the rendition of a Taiwanese hit from long ago. There was also another pebble bare-foot reflexology walk at some point half way up. My calves were aching.

Finally at the park, it was a weird mix of tradition and commerce, a funfair/amusement park alongside a temple, a Buddhist library and a huge bell. In the temple, women knelt while occasionally throwing two small stones, clasped between their palms, on the floor. It was fascinating.

Outside, for a small donation, we pulled the chord attached to a huge horizontal log suspended alongside the bell, to make it ring.
Around us, kids and adults rode these mechanical animals. They were exactly like huge versions of the toys I used to love when I was little, the little yapper-type dogs that would walk for three, yap for three, except that you could feed them with coins and ride them!

We got a taxi ride back due to my calf issue. At sail-away, we turned around in what was probably the tightest gap I’ve ever seen, look how close we were to another boat! However, the captain, vice captain and pilot seemed happy, as you can see.

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