Intramuros (literally “within the walls”) is the former center of Spanish colonial power and the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Located in the heart of old Manila, this fortified district has a long and complicated history stretching back more than four centuries, but little of what remains is original and untouched. Intramuros was heavily damaged during the Japanese invasion in 1941 and almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. Almost everything seen in my photos was reconstructed beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the present day.
Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuíxīng 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wénchāng 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in Taiwan 台灣 venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.
Gathered here are around forty of my better photographs from a five day stay in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2016. All of these images were captured while idly wandering around the famous Old Quarter and its environs. I was not particularly adventurous on this trip but I still managed to find plenty to feast my eyes upon—and the food and coffee certainly lived up to expectations! I also found it interesting to apply some of my growing knowledge of East Asian culture gleaned from these years of living in Taiwan 台灣. Each photo is annotated with onward links to more information should anything pique your interest.
One of the more interesting temples I stepped inside on a recent visit to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is the recently renovated Đình Đông Thành 亭東城 (loosely: “East City Pavilion”). Having explored many temples in Taiwan over the years I was familiar with some of what I found there—but much of it was completely foreign to me. Looking up information after the fact hasn’t been educational; there are no English language resources about this temple and I haven’t got the same knack for finding information in Vietnamese as I have with Chinese language resources about Taiwan 台灣. So, if you’ll pardon my lack of local expertise, I’m going to share a few photos from this obscure temple and attempt to puzzle through some of what caught my eye.
I chanced upon Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂 while out for a bicycle ride around Taoyuan 桃園 in late October 2015. That morning I set out from my place in Zhongli 中壢 to see more of the countryside and eventually pay a visit to Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 in western Yangmei 楊梅. Along the way I made a brief diversion into Xinwu 新屋 to see whatever might be found there—and this cluster of historic Hakka homes were my reward.
Héngwén Temple 衡文宮 is located on the south side of Yuanlin 員林, a mid-sized city in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣. Completed in 1976, this temple is mainly notable for its 72 foot-tall statue of Xuán Wǔ 玄武, literally “Dark Warrior”, alternately known as Xuán Dì 玄帝 (“Dark Deity”) or Xuántiān Shàngdì 玄天上帝 (“Dark Heavenly Deity”) among many other names. The statue itself is a hollow structure containing several additional floors filled with murals depicting the origins of Xuan Wu as well as various small shrines. A similarly oversized statue of Xuan Wu can be seen on the famous Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 in Zuoying 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, and there’s probably several more scattered around Taiwan 台灣, but this one is apparently the largest of its kind. Such claims are often difficult to verify as pretty much any temple with a big statue is likely to say the same thing.
Pictured here are two young Mormon missionaries pushing their weird religion on someone stuck at an intersection in Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中. This is not accidental—missionaries actively target people at long lights, endangering themselves and everyone else on the road in the process. Taiwanese people are generally too polite and conflict-averse to tell these delusional clowns where to go—but I’m not, on the odd occasion they dare to make a play for my immortal soul. Sorry, it’s already taken…
Manzhou 滿州 in southeastern Pingtung 屏東 is home to the most remote and unspoiled stretch of coastal Taiwan 台灣. The highway system that rings the island is broken at only two points, this being one of them. A rugged trail connects the tiny settlement of Nánrén Village 南仁村 to Jiālèshuǐ 佳樂水 by way of Chūfēngbí 出風鼻, a rocky headland that loosely translates to “Windy Nose”. A little north of the village one will find another headland with a similar theme: Yùbí 鬱鼻 (“Melancholic Nose”), which forms the southern extent of Bāyáowān 八瑤灣, or Padriyiur Bay, where 54 shipwrecked Ryūkyūan sailors were massacred in 1871 in an event now known as the Mudan Incident. Here, while exploring the area on a bicycle tour in 2015, I found these prayer flags, or jīngfān 經幡, fluttering in the assertive winds coming off the vast Pacific Ocean. This is somewhat unusual in that prayer flags are more of a Tibetan custom than a Taiwanese one—but they certainly add something to the already gorgeous landscape. Is this an informal memorial to all those who perished as a result of what happened here more than a century ago? I have no answers.
Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan 台灣. In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gōngchéngyòng jiǎrén), warning dummies 警示假人 (jǐngshì jiǎrén), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diàndòng qíshǒu). According to law these robotic figures must be setup at all roadside construction sites to provide some measure of protection for workers as well as warn passing motorists and pedestrians of potential hazards. When hooked up to a car battery their stubby arms pump up and down, waving flags and other objects to direct traffic. Construction companies typically decorate these dummies with safety vests and hardhats, though it is not common for workers to express some creativity and personalize their dummies. Some of them even have individual names and histories! The rest of this post features photographs of some of the many road safety dummies I have encountered over the years.
Pictured here is the rooftop of Qīnghé Temple 清和宮 in central Alian 阿蓮, Kaohsiung 高雄, which supposedly dates back to 1665, though a major reconstruction took place in 1982. I shot this photograph while riding back from the badlands of southern Taiwan years ago but only recently learned the meaning of these ubiquitous figurines. These are the Three Stars 三星 of Chinese folk religion, commonly known by their combined name Fúlùshòu 福祿壽, and they appear here in the traditional right-to-left orientation. Fú 福, holding a child on the right, is the avatar of Jupiter and the personification of good fortune. Lù 祿星, commonly depicted as a mandarin, represents imperial rank or status, and appears in the night sky as the star Mizar in the Big Dipper. Finally, Shòu 壽 is the god of longevity, easily recognized by his high, domed forehead, friendly demeanor, elderly appearance, and (in this case) gnarled walking stick. Also known as the Old Man of the South Pole, his is the southern star, Canopus. Together these deities represent the culturally Chinese conception of the good life: prosperous, high-ranking, and long-lived. Once you go looking for them you’ll find them all over the place in Taiwan 台灣.