Shuishe, Puli, Longshan: "Moon Lake"
November 6, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Shuishe Village hugs the shore of Sun Moon Lake, the largest body of fresh water in Taiwan. The brochure reads, "A magical crystal lake . . . dialogue between sun and moon, link between mountains and water." My stroll along the waterfront, the boat excursion and the short climb to hillside temple all confirm that this is "one of Taiwan's most spectacular natural landscapes." * The indigenous Thao tribe sells food and handicrafts at the tourist-filled market.
North of the lake and just north of the city of Puli is the massive Chung Tai Chan Temple, an international center of Buddhist academic research and the arts. The temple is 150m tall (490 ft) and sits on a 60 acre lotus hill. The words in the guide book provide the introduction: "grand . . . appeal to the modern eye as well as the soul . . . jade . . . marble . . . teak . . . folk-art colors . . . modern technology . . . numerous awards." *
The Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings features the Four Heavenly Kings, each one 12 meters (39 ft) high. Each King's head has the faces of all four kings.
The Great Majestic Hall features inlaid marble floors, sculpted ceilings and the red granite sculpture of Shakyamuni Buddha, "the transformation Buddha," the historical Buddha known by ordinary people.
Closed to the public, I missed The Great Magnificence Hall with a golden Buddha and a hand painted ceiling, The Great Enlightenment Hall with a four story high pure white Buddha, The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and the Golden Dome.
The grand Chung Tai Chan Temple is meant to instill awe and inspiration. I will be happy to return.
"Let's take a drive" has one important advantage over "Leave the driving to us." If I see something interesting, I just stop.
Up in the green hills near Puli I spot a huge golden Buddha peering down into the valley. There are no signs that I can read but my confidence level has risen since my successful alpine adventure. So I follow my nose up the hills to another splendid site. At the base of the statue, I must crane my neck to see the face of the Buddha.In this area of Taiwan, the emphasis is on "big."
Serious reverence is the atmosphere inside Matsu Temple in Longshan. It's Sunday and crowds of visitors pay their respect to Matsu and other deities. Outside the temple and along the crowded pedestrian-only streets, vendors and stores sell a variety of traditional snacks, sweets and drinks to hundreds of children and families and assorted happy holiday groups.
On this chilly afternoon I order my own traditional hot coffee but a few friendly folks offer me samples of traditional Chinese sweets. One "sweet' is a hot bowl of oatmeal, except it's a thick wheat-meal. I take the opportunity to explain the appropriate expression, "It sticks to your ribs." We all watch a noisy parade with drums and horns and costumed marchers. It's a reverent and festive and authentic day.
The Expressway drive from Longshan to Taipei is long and uneventful. I am right at home now among the trucks and buses as we power north through Taiwan's industrial and commercial counties.
Except for the noisy swarms of motor scooters, the traffic in Taipei is far less intimidating for me after ten days on the road. Even so, the downtown streets are a puzzle. I hail a taxi, give the driver the business card of my hotel, suggest he start his meter and I follow him to my final destination. Nobody's perfect.
Why did I choose Taipei and Taiwan as a travel destination? I opened my map of the world. I stuck my finger on Bangkok and drew a small circle. Where have I never been? I considered The Philippines and I will surely take the short flight there when I need to relax. But after a little research, I decided that the pictures and descriptions of the temples and the scenery in Taiwan were more compelling.
I am happy with my decision. The temples and the scenery live up to the previews. But the hospitality and general atmosphere of this island nation went far beyond my expectations. As I wrote recently to a fellow Asia-phile, "Asia and Asians just make me smile."
* "Taiwan." Lonely Planet. 2004.
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