Tainan and Lugang are often described as Taiwan’s foremost ‘bastions of tradition’, and both are well worth visiting. However, if work or family commitments keep you close to Taipei during the spring, it’s still possible to immerse yourself in the customs and rites that dominated this society before its recent industrialisation.
The best place to go is Dalongdong Baoan Temple (lower picture) in the capital’s northwest. The house of worship as it now stands was built 1805-30 but the principal icon of Baosheng Dadi, a god of medicine, was brought here by settlers from the Chinese province of Fujian about sixty years earlier. Like many gods and goddesses of Chinese origin, Wu Tao — as he was known in the 10th century — was once a mortal human. He worked as a physician, winning fame when he succeeded in bringing a skeleton back to life. After his death he gained a reputation for interceding in hopeless cases, gradually attracting a strong following expressed in shrines in Taiwan, southeastern China and cities in southeast Asia where ethnic Chinese have established themselves.
One might think, given Taiwan’s excellent health-care system and long life expectancy, that nowadays few people feel they have any need for Baosheng Dadi’s blessings. Yet his temple remains one of the city’s liveliest, in part because it contains some important works of art and was renovated so exquisitely it won plaudits from UNESCO.
This year, if you’re around between April 1 and May 27, spend a day (or more) attending the annual Baosheng Cultural Festival. A series of events which has come to symbolize the open-minded diversity of religion in Taiwan, the festival includes performances of music, dance and fireworks, lectures on health and culture, and a thrilling firewalking ritual.
If this sounds like too much noise and movement — you’re on holiday after all — or you simply prefer the beach to the city, head out to Fulong. Located by a small town of the same name about an hour’s drive from Taipei, Fulong Beach will be the venue of the 2017 Fulong Sand Sculpting Art Festival (top picture).
Running from March 6 to July 9, the festival brings together both Taiwanese artists and professionals from overseas who draw inspiration from every facet of human existence and nature. The 3-km-long beach has soft quartz sand that sticks together very well when wet. Conditions are therefore perfect for creating masterpieces, some of which are bigger than a beach hut. Expect to see recreations of scenes from history and movies, replicas of famous landmarks, as well as some downright surreal shapes.
For a better idea of what those artists can achieve, enjoy these superb images from the 2015 event by Taiwan-based professional photographer Josh Ellis, who also took both of the pictures on this page.