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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sigang Abductee

Spelled Sigang, Xigang, but sounds like Sheegang, it means the west harbor 西. Once the ocean came came all the way over here. Tony and his wife Shu-Min had invited us over for the day and packed me, Z and their three boys into their car for some sightseeing. What a treat to see a different slice of Tainan only 30 minutes away.
It was a beautiful spring day. The day before was freezing so I had overdressed Z and I and had to de-layer at their house before we took off. They took us first to some nearby pony stables used in  the township's temples festivities. The ponies were sweet and soft. There were also some deer and the kids enjoyed playing with a pitchfork and feeding the ponies. Zen is always telling me she wants to be a farmer and I do too (I worked on an organic farm in Germany and Ireland), so I have to give that one some more thought....
Then we went to see a 300 year old grave from the Chinese governor during the Qing dynasty. It was found when builder were digging up the ground. The tomb is facing China and his wife's is down the road.

Shu-Min giving thanks for our visit
Lao Tze
After that we went to a quiet temple, totally empty of people or noise, that reminded Tony of Japanese style temples. simple, without flourishes. Shumin said this temple was built in the Northern Chinese style, unlike most of the temples of Taiwan that are Southern Chinese style. The gate had a Chinese sundial at the entrance, smaller shrines leading to the bigger temple that housed the Taiwanese trinity of a Lao Tze, the Taoist philosopher worshipped as a god, Buddha and Confucius, also worshipped as a god.
The kids were getting restless so they took them to a fantastic private kindergarten. The grounds were massive, more like a farm, with goats, a bowling alley, extensive playground, boat on wheels, climbing ropes and a labyrinth. Tony was talking me into working there, as Z would love to be outdoors and could come there after elementary school, free accommodation for teachers, ARC. Only it was 30 minutes from Tainan, and I know I would feel totally devoid of a social life, also no gym.

Lunch was their treat at the local morning market. Between 10:30-12:30 people lined up around the corner to the street for some seriously, infamous pork stew. We stood in line for a good 30 minutes which seems longer with hungry kids until we got to the front and the lady told us, "if you eat here you didn't have to wait." Oh well. Waiting seemed part of the experience and also wettened our appetite. I got my lunch box and by all appearances it looked just like any other, a sticky foundation of starchy white rice, a side of greasy stir fried, cabbage, some pickled greens, several fat pieces of pork, that was stewed, and deep fried, battered shrimp. The pork was so tender, it melted in my mouth. The pig farm is just down the road. They stew it all morning in magic, secret ingredients. The cabbage and shrimp tasted so fresh, I was full. Great stew, Z couldn't finish her pork so, like the glutton I can be, I had an extra piece. It was probably the best pork I ever ate.

Cing-an Temple in the center of Sigang.
The boat to be burned in May 2012
After lunch they took us to the big temple in the center of town. Cing-an temple is notorious for its very lively worship as well as its boat burning ceremony that happens every three years. The Lonely Planet has the boat burning info for Pingdong but nothing on Sigang's. The next boat burning is this year, next month, the first weekend in May. It officially begins on Thursday, but Tony and Shumin said we could come down Friday after work and stay the weekend. We would have to bring chairs to stand on so we could see. Thousands of devotees from around Taiwan gather as well as international anthropologists.
When we were there, Shumin gave me the grand tour, introduced every idol, showed me the gold doors, the boat that had just been finished being built and painted that will be burnt. Showed me how they worship, I felt like an anthropologist (when I was a kid I wanted to be one or an archaeologist.) She ended her tour by showing me the extensive base relief walls depicting the 18 floors of hell and the different tortures for different sins. Very gruesome and scary. As we were leaving some gods from other temples came to visit.  They are carried on small sedan chairs and poles by men, lots of drumming, trumpeting. A shaman had some sawed off sailfish saw, from a real fish and was beating his forehead with it, doing a kind of kung fu dance until blood was trickling down his forehead. It was getting a little too close and crowded, Z was scared from the loud firecrackers and went with Tony and the boys across the street for red bean cakes.

Unfortunately as much as I'd like to see the burning boats, Z is very sensitive to temple activity, she is scared of the firecrackers (not like the 4th of July, staged from a safe distance kind), which sound and feel like you're in the middle of  a live gun battle, war zone (although Taiwanese kids are used to it). It is one thing she has not been able to get used 4 years living here. Thats ok

Doors of real gold
It was nice to hang with Tony and his family in their neighborhood and for Shu-Min to explain all the intricacies of the temple, that I would not have known. I appreciated her pointing out her relatives houses here and there and girlhood memories of the temple during the yearly festivals. I was also stunned by the blood letting Shaman, and the excellent pork stew. A different kind of Sunday.

Hell is gruesome
Shu-Min showing the ghost money folded into lotus flowers, back of Cing-An temple

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