Thursday, September 20, 2012

[LUKANG] Taiwan's Second Oldest Town

Once again, change of plans. Taichung was just supposed to be a stopover where I would establish my base to go to Nantou. What I wanted to happen was take the high speed rail to Taichung, check in at the guest house, and then go directly to Nantou for one day to the Sun and Moon Lake. For the next day, I would be checking out and bringing my stuff to Formosan Aboriginal Park, which is also within the Sun and Moon Lake area, and then head back to Taipei from there for my red eye flight from Taoyuan. And then I woke up at around 8 AM.

Sorry, okay. Thor was showing at HBO last night, and then The Social Network followed. Damn television. In fairness to me, 9 AM is early, like, seriously. When I'm out of the country I usually catch up on sleep debt and don't get up until past 12 to have lunch, after which I  just begin sightseeing at around 2 PM and get back late. That's just how I am, and so when I actually leave at around 9 AM, that sure is some progress in itself! The idea was to take the regular three hour train to Taichung, but since I already considered myself to be pressed for time, I opted for the 45-minute trip via bullet train. I know, right, from three hours to 45 minutes. How wicked is that? The price is also a bit wicked but that's reasonable enough. Even if you get a plane ticket for the same amount, the hassles of getting to the airport and checking in all your stuff are just not worth it compared to a 45-minute trip where you start and end downtown and not in some far away area where landing a plane is cheap. Low-cost carriers.

And so I had to develop another plan, which was eagerly supplied by the guest house owner. He is very hands-on, and I am very grateful because he was such a big help. He suggested that I go to Lukang because there is an old temple there about a few hundred years old. Okay. Temple. Taichung is the kind of city which has Taipei’s convenience but not so much of its crowd, and with its location at the heart of Taiwan, you can get anywhere pretty fast. So yes, Taichung is a good city to be a resident of, but as a tourist and cultural hotspot, it pales in comparison to Taipei. I didn't know where this Lukang place was but I thought it was part of Taichung. It turns out that it belongs to a neighboring county called Changhua, and boasts to be the second oldest town on the whole island.

You ride a white Zhonglu van to get there from Taichung. The trip lasts almost an hour. We passed by a grand temple on the way and I think it might have been the temple in question, except that I did not really hop off the van until we got to the terminus, which was some sort of huge government office with a deer monument in front. I went in to ask questions, but the tourism section seemed a bit busy, and so I just decided to get lost, literally.

The good thing about getting lost is discovering things along the way and finding some tourist group to stalk. A tourist map at a park gave me a good vantage point to plot my short itinerary, which was composed mainly of walking. It's a good thing that the weather was cooperating. I found the old mansion tourist attraction on that map. As for the rest, the tour group led me to them, without them knowing. I only went my own way when they decided to stop for snacks.

There are preserved areas of the town that date back to God knows when. The history is mostly from the early 1900’s, I guess, given how the importance of industry was stressed. Even the popular personalities that figure in the stories are mostly educated men with progressive mindsets, as opposed to the typical heroes of old towns everywhere else in Northeast Asia who tend to wear weird wigs and costumes. So I guess Lukang is not that old, and by ‘old’ we mean medieval or feudal. Perhaps I just didn't understand. Anyway, let's move on to the temples.

I never reached the old temple suggested by the guest house owner, but I was already happy with the few I encountered along the way, which were just as interesting. I think they were mostly dedicated to Taoist deities, given the absence of a Buddha statue. Nevertheless, the intricacy in their architecture is already sufficient for admiration’s sake. I did not loiter that much after taking photos because there were some people doing their religious routines, and it would be a shame to disturb them so I just let them be.

The most interesting place in this town is the souvenir shop that sells anime and comic book inspired toys as well as cute figurines of old Chinese personalities, all of which were just so cute that I wanted to collect them, but their aggregate weight would probably be not enough for Cebu Pacific’s baggage weight restrictions. The owner was kind and complimented my Mandarin, which I know was just a marketing strategy but hey, I was flattered, okay, because my Mandarin is really bad. And I needed the ego boost for motivation.

I only stayed for around four hours. Just check the budget and itinerary post for exact figures. There is enough to see in this old town for a day tour. As for other activities aside from shopping and worship (if you subscribe to the temples’ spiritual affiliations), there are none. If you count stopping at 7 Eleven for a hotdog sandwich and cola as a fun activity, then I also did that. As for Changhua County, the Wikitravel entry is a bit empty and the one for Lukang seems to be the most detailed, so perhaps you are better off visiting another county of choice after your day tour.

[LUKANG] Taiwan's Second Oldest Town

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