Tainan, Taiwan: Happy birthday, God of War

After spending most of my first five days at amusement parks, I finally came to my first full day of Taiwan's culture. I couldn't have picked a better city to start in!

Tainan is Taiwan's first capital, and I believe it's first real settlement. I'd verify this but I don't have Internet while I'm writing this post. A lot of historical locations have been preserved in some manner or another and as such it's a great look back into old Taiwan.

Funny thing is, most of the heritage places are related to the Dutch.

I started in Anping, at an old Dutch warehouse that has been invaded by trees. It's a great site of ruins and is preserved well. There are some catwalks so you can also see the trees from their growth points where the roof used to be. The roots then tangle through the brick and reach to the ground.

Next door is a merchant house with some historic exhibits, with a lot of focus on the influence of the Dutch. And just beyond that is a memorial hall, but everything there is in Chinese.

A short walk away is Anping Fort. The key structure here is the lookout tower, which you can ascend and see most of Tainan. In the area, I picked up a shrimp roll, which is a local food item. It's basically shrimp inside some shrimp paste or something, and breaded and lightly fried. It's really good! I only had one stick (two shrimp) because there was much more food to explore.

But first, it was time to make the long trek across the canal to the Eternal Golden Castle. In the high heat of midday, this is a walk that nobody else was making. I could have waited for the convenient tourist bus, but decided to make the journey myself. I somehow survived and saw yet another Dutch ruin. The Castle is really the remains of a Dutch fortification. It's nice to see but there isn't much to do other than stroll around the perimeter. So I was soon on my way back to downtown Tainan.

I wasn't done, however. My next stop was a pair of temples (there are about 300 in Tainan) and a pair of towers. I first took a quick look at Matsu Temple. I'm not sure why I thought I wanted to see this temple, and I probably missed what I was looking for.

Just around the corner was the temple of Sidianwu, the God of War. There was a lot of stuff going on and several tents and such set up, plus lively music an a puppet show. While I was taking some pictures a local informed me that today was Sidianwu's birthday!

Everybody was there to pray to him in hopes of something. I'm not sure what benefits the Martial God can bring your family (again, no Internet right now - maybe justice or peace to your family, or victory against those who try to wrong you?). I took a while exploring the temple's grounds. There were several buildings besides the main temple hall, and they were all full of incense sticks from worshippers (and the workers at the temple worked very quickly to remove them - maybe once every five to ten minutes so there was more room for the others behind them). Plus, lots of other offerings were made, including lots of fruit baskets and whole pineapples.

I wonder what happens to all that food. I know it's wrong to take it, but do the priests/monks/etc use that as their food, or is it donated to needy families, etc? Or is it just thrown away?

Anyway, it was pretty cool to get to see an event like this, even if I only saw a small part of it. My eyes still hurt from all the incense smoke!

Just across the street from this temple was Chikhan Towers, a pair of buildings that look similar to shrines in Japan. In fact, one of them seemed to have a small shrine upstairs. It turns out these were Dutch buildings too at some point, I think. It used to be called Fort Provintia. I believe the fort was torn down and the towers and a small school were built in it's place. A pretty nice little stop.

It was 5pm and time for some grub, so I took the advice of people at my hostel and tried two more Tainan specialties. First, a bowl of rice pudding - it's actually a meal with meat and vegetables (I think) beneath the rice pudding layer. There's nothing sweet about it but it was delicious.

Two doors down was a place that made coffin cake, yet another specialty that sounds sweet but is actually a meal. Take a piece of bread, carve out most of the inside so you have something like a coffin, then fill it was vegetables, meat (oysters and chicken if I know my seafood), and some sauce (kind of like a white gravy). The bread is lightly fried, by the way. What's with all the frying? But again, it was another delicious item and made me quite full for a while.

Again it was time for a long walk to the city's Confucius Temple. The first Confucius Temple in Taiwan was built in Tainan, though it was closed when I arrived. I could wander the external grounds and see a little of the temple through the gates. My view is seen in one of the pictures below.

Finally, I took a leisurely stroll (well, not that slow) walk back to the train station. Along the way I saw a store that seemed like it would be worth browsing, and luck was with me (maybe from all that temple visiting) as I finally found a few Taiwanese baseball cards. They're a team issue for the Elephants apparently sold through Family Mart. I bought a couple packs and was on my way.

I forgot that Tainan's high speed rail station is so far from Tainan's regular station, and I ended up missing my planned connection. I'm on the high speed train now as I write (I'll post once I get settled at the hostel) but I'll be about 30 minutes late again. Ugh, I hate when that happens!

But tomorrow is another day of Taiwan exploring, as I'll spend Sunday exploring Taipei, including 101. Hopefully the weather cooperates in the morning so I can get some nice pictures! Until then...

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