Category Archives: culture

Churches in Hsinchu

These HDRs are two churches I saw right before  our visit to the zoo yesterday.

While Christians make up a small part of the population, they are visible in most cities.  Some other groups do include Mormons (with the infamous name tags and black ties – both Taiwanese and American), Catholics, and offshoots of Taoism and Buddhism such as I-Kuan Tao and the Red Swastika Society (the swastika here is used as its original intent – a symbol of good will from the Hindu and Buddhist lines of faith) – though these other groups often melt into the larger Taoist and Buddhist sects.

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Filed under culture, HDR, religion, taiwan2010

Watching the Sea

This weekend became a time of remembering Hurricane Ike, which came through my community in Texas about two years ago and devastated much of the surroundings – and in addition gave us all two weeks of unneeded “vacation” as students and teachers.

Oddly enough, I had another storm come in right about the same point that I was previously at in the school year.  This time, a typhoon – called Fanapi, which is a Micronesian name for “sandy islands” was scheduled to hit in north-central Taiwan over the weekend.

It’s interesting to see how Taiwanese react to these storms.  They’re a normal part of life, and if this one hadn’t been so strong, I doubt many people would’ve reacted seriously to it at all.  Thankfully for my area, it mostly went south – we got very little rain but certainly did get some heavy winds.

Yuling, my girlfriend, had me join her family for a Moon Festival barbeque today.  As a result of the storm, we were treated to some amazing skies – half blue and half a slightly spinning gray.  One of the areas I checked out in her grandparents’ rural community of Sinwu was a statue and temple dedicated to Mazu, Chinese goddess of the sea.  Photos follow.

The sheer size of this statue made it hard to capture.  For this reason, I did not get a good HDR of the entire ~50ft. bronze behemoth.  What you see is the goddess looking toward the sea (west – away from where the typhoon was coming) with two spirits near the bottom acting almost as assistants.  You can see one of them pointing to his eyes and the other to his ears.  They have these odd headdresses that look like horns…

The following is an HDR of the top part.  I had to use the 70-300mm for this because of the size of this thing!

Above is the altar – which you can’t see in the first picture.  It is situated at the base of the main statue and gives a place for people to offer prayers and incense to the sea goddess.

Above we have the main temple building in HDR.  The temples in this rural area are very ornate – and numerous.

The temple interior had a lot of these lanterns hanging in an area that was naturally lit.  You’d think I’d get sick of photographing these by now, but I was really impressed by the amount and played around a little bit with the depth of field.  Check the Flickr by clicking on the photo to see the other shots of these I took.

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Filed under culture, photos, taiwan2010, temples

Morning Traditional Market, Jhubei

Today, Yuling and I went into the older part of Jhubei to visit the traditional market – an experience that predates how people got food prior to Carrefour or 7-11.  While I did not buy anything (Yuling did get a rice cake), it was full of great subject material – a frustrating fact since there was very little room to stop and take a picture.


Filed under culture, food, jhubei, taiwan2010

Working Hard

With the school week half-over, I haven’t been out with my camera for a while.  I’ve missed some great sunsets, so that sure is a shame.  The good news is that I plan to go camping this weekend and I think I’ll get plenty of use out of this Nikon.

I’m posting something I went back to retouch before I made the decision to post.  I loved this picture – but was never happy with the fact that this lady’s face isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be.  I think part of the reason stems from the fact that a 300mm lens with a hood on is hard to ignore – and I just didn’t feel like holding it up all day.

Anyway, here’s the photo.  I decided to desaturate some colors and leave others in… in addition, I increased some details through sharpening and a few minor contrast tweaks.  The thing that really makes the photo, however, is the slight smirk on her face, I think.

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Ghost Festival (Part 2)

Yuling and I arrived to the Yimin Temple celebration of the Ghost Festival on Friday anticipating some pork.  Well, at least what will become pork.

At the temple, a pig (yes, a whole pig) is offered to the ghosts and gods in order to bless the town and appease the ancestors.  While this food source is NOT wasted (Chinese food rarely is!), its head is put on display for a time.  We missed this event as we were too early, but managed to capture some temple music meant to entertain the spirits that walk the earth during ghost month.

The first thing I noticed was a stage to the side with a Chinese Opera performance.  This is pretty common during ghost month as it is believed to “entertain” the ancestors.

The performance, I later learned, represents a distinct brand of Chinese opera here in Taiwan.  Taiwanese opera has its own style – and is much different than the varieties you’ll see in Hong Kong, Shanghai, or (especially) Beijing – where it is known as “Peking” opera… by the former Westernization of the capital’s name.

The above jar of sticks are 求籤, or (Cantonese) Kau Cim.  I’m not sure what the Mandarin translation is, but I remember seeing them at Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin temple.

The above photos show some temple musicians playing a call for the gods to join the ceremony at the temple.  I was joined as a photographer by a large cadre of locals with DSLR cameras – I’m guessing they were covering the temple’s preparations for the event.

The instrument in the first photo is a Suona, as covered in one of my earlier posts.  You can listen to the unmistakable sound it makes it at the Youtube video I posted there.

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Filed under china, culture, photos, religion, temples

Ghost Festival (Post 1)

I know I’ve been posting a lot (you definitely know if you subscribe!) – but I wanted to get these photos up before the ghost festival starts again this weekend.  The festival comes to a climax – first with Tuesday’s display of food and other offerings as well as the burning of “ghost money” and setting off of firecrackers.  The ghost money mentioned involves these Taoist prayer sheets… meant to bring protection and good luck.  This protection and good luck is implied because you are in a way giving money to the ancestors – as well as providing them with food and drink.  Many of these tables – as you’ll see below – had food, beer, incense, and other items… sometimes a whole chicken with a head on – common in Chinese rituals.


Filed under culture, jhubei, religion, taiwan2010

More Hong Kong Photos (HK Post 4)

Getting into the fourth of five Hong Kong posts here – even though I have had a chance to check out some more of Jhubei as we went to a night market last night and I got some good sunset and train shots at a nearby park last night.  They’ll be coming soon.

The first today is a shot of some lion statues at Wong Tai Sin temple.  This Hong Kong temple was packed with people practicing 求籤, or (Catontonese) Kau Cim.  This, as the Wikipedia article mentions, involves getting a number from a small cup of sticks.  You then take the number to exchange it for a piece of paper which is interpreted by a temple fortune teller.  I’m not sure how useful this is for the money you pay, but it was interesting to see… the temples in Hong Kong definitely seemed to be more money-oriented than Taiwanese temples.

The next set of photos shows some Falun Gong protests.  This group seemed to have a heavier presence in Taiwan, especially at spots where Chinese tourists would visit.  In addition, they definitely had English-language literature on-hand, as I noticed when a woman shoved some brochures into my face.

I’ve found it important to keep people – whether they be onlookers or protesters – outside of these shots.  While even I might see this “new religious movement” as something hard to understand, I hardly think it requires persecution or banning by the government.  This has been one of many issues that does not make me eager to visit the mainland any time soon.

And to finish the post off, some photos of daily life in the (very nice, but slightly confusing) subway:


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Only in Taiwan…

Last night, I was having dinner with my girlfriend’s family in the older section of Jhubei.

As I mentioned before, many of these Taiwanese cities tend to have “older” and “newer” sections – for a quick comparison, you’ll find most temples and “older” markets on their side of town… the type of market, that is, where your chicken is still alive when you arrive and definitely not when you leave.  The newer section of Jhubei on the other hand boasts some very nice restaurants, grocery stores, and mostly everything else to keep you from having to go across the river to Hsinchu too much.

Many young people and to be honest, foreigners (like me) live in the new sections of these cities.  We have our conveniences which, while not absent from the other side of town, are a bit easier to adjust to when moving from a foreign country.  There still might be some aspects of culture over here which are impossible to ignore – for example, the firecrackers I’ve heard going off as one of the many new buildings was opening near my apartment complex – but it is much different than just a few kilometers away (yes, I’m trying to convert myself to the metric system at least while I’m here…)

The old section on the other hand, has character.  I’ll get to that later… back to the dinner.

So there we were, eating the whole chicken her mom just got, along with the other piles of delicious food in which we were indulging.  I find my communication with the family has improved, in spite of not speaking much Chinese – though the first thing I had to etch into my brain was “Hao bao! Hao bao!” – which translates to saying that I am too full to eat any more… along with “Hao shih” – meaning that the food is very delicious.  Don’t want to offend.

Partway through my third bowl of food – this time, noodles with some soybean curd – we hear the sound of suonas coming from down the street.  If you haven’t heard these instruments before, I’ll ask you to go ahead and give this Youtube video a try:

Partway through, she uses a reed in her teeth to make the sound sans instrument – I don’t think this happened – but at least his clip gives you an idea of the unmistakable sound they make.  Check this Wikipedia article for more background information…

So I hear these instruments coming from down the street, and all playing traditional temple music.  Along with them, comes this brightly-lit… thing… seen through the blinding on the house’s large sliding doors.  I could only hear the increasing volume of the music and see this large bright thing move slowly through the street.

Yuling’s mom says that this could be a funeral procession – keep the doors closed!  Evil spirits might come through.

Of course, her curious nature just kind of did away with that – she opens the door five haunting minutes later and we see that it’s not a funeral, but something put on by the local temple… the suonas and drums and gongs and cymbals are deafening by this point, so I have to say I was sort of feeling uneasy until she actually opened the door and gave the “all clear.”

The procession stopped nearby because there is a small local altar – which is dwarfed by any other Chinese temple.  It’s set up to provide security for the neighborhood and the locals take care of it just as it’s an extension of their own property.  This procession, which included mobile altars and even some walking effigies of gods being marched through the streets, was greeting the local god on the way to the final destination.

The festival itself ended up at the local main temple.  Yuling and I hopped on a scooter as she went through some back alleys to beat the procession (and the traffic it caused as no streets were closed – it just kind of meandered through multitudes of scooters and cars…) to the temple itself where we were able to see a fireworks/firecracker/dancing spectacle.  Fascinating stuff, indeed.

This probably relates in some way to ghost month – which comes up next week.  Last night, the gods were allowed to wander through the streets that night and they were asked to return “home” to the local main temple.  During ghost month, it is believed that the spirits will be wandering the streets as they are let out of heaven and hell – so it is imperative for people to be careful as not to join them upon their return…

There are bad times to forget your camera.

This would be one of them – something that a Westerner probably wouldn’t experience even IF he/she was living in Taiwan.  The good news is that I did have the camera… I took about 450 photos, of which I used about 50 of them due to softness and low light issues… still not bad at all.  See below for some, and be sure to click on the Flickr site to see the rest of the set.

The above photo is a Chinese god who I currently forget the name of – he was on a mobile altar of sorts.  Right underneath him and blocking out the people carrying the altar is a moving car.  Interestingly, this parade went through some pretty busy streets that were never closed off.  They just kind of meandered through traffic.

Yuling was awesome enough to get me to the temple far in advance of the traveling festival so I could get more shots.  While waiting, I noticed some photographers with DSLRs going in and joined them in getting some shots of the complex.

Divination stones – blocks of wood meant to give the worshiper a way to ask the gods questions and get a response.  If the stones are thrown in a certain way and end up facing in one direction, it could mean that the prayer has been answered.  These were already lined up to take this shot – so convenient!

This is the “big multicolored thing” that I had seen moving by the house.  It was quite impending and lit up much of the room I was in as the music zoned out everything else.  This is a special altar for some sort of special god with which I am not familiar…

A man prepares firecrackers at the temple.  I had first seen firecrackers like this on public display at a Houston, TX Chinese New Year festival.  The fire warden was there.  No fire warden – or safety officers – or yellow things to tell you to stay away here… needless to say, I was extra careful.

This fire was probably being kept up by some sort of Taoist prayer sheets – and played an important role in the ceremony at the temple gate.  The gods would walk over it as part of the ceremony… and I kept a serious eye on it with all of the fireworks nearby… to make matters worse, the night grew windier as the procession came to the temple.

At first I thought this truck was out-of-place, sitting in front of the temple… it was carrying musicians, I soon realized.

These gods are actually around to represent evil, interestingly enough.  They are to be respected and reverred – but not necessarily worshiped…

…and the suonas!  They were definitely heard…

I was told that this dancer represented a man who was being attacked by an evil spirit – as he swayed to and fro, you could see this in his steps.  Apparently, the person being attacked was still protected by the gods… it would be interesting to learn more about what this represents.

Aftermath: the firecracker litter and ash created a really… colorful… area.  I was careful when taking this as to make sure the firecrackers had all been expended first… thankfully they had.


Filed under culture, photos, religion, taiwan2010, temples

Sights of ShiDa Night Market (師大路夜市) (Taipei Post 3)

During my trip to Taipei, Yuling and I visited Shida Night Market, a famous example of the many night markets in Taiwan.  These events, which might occur weekly or every evening, are a way for the locals to spend time (and money) shopping and eating through all hours of the night.  It makes a lot of sense that in the case of Shida, a college is nearby and there are plenty of expat and local music venues throughout.

Something I had to get used to was the fact that people go to Shida to just walk around.  Crowds of untold magnitudes of people converge in one tiny spot and really don’t mind the human traffic jam they get themselves into – it’s not uncommon or extremely impolite to bottleneck a passage – the 100 people behind you will almost expect it to happen.

I’ll link to the Taipei Times here – they offer a great description.  As usual, photos and descriptions follow and each is a link to the (BETTER) real version on Flickr!

Hopefully the above photo gives you an idea of how crowded this was…

…while this gives you an idea of the food.  These balls were made of fish, octopus, and wasabi – then served with some kind of dried vegetable on top… very tasty, but too hot to eat at first.


Filed under culture, nightmarkets, taipei, taiwan2010

More from Pien Hou (Houston)

Still in Houston – leaving the country in about 2 weeks and leaving the state in 2 days!  These were taken during my last trip to Pien Hou Temple south of Downtown Houston – I just now had the chance to post-process them and upload.  Check out the Flickr set for more from that trip.

First is HDR – second is regular.


Filed under culture, HDR, hdr-houston, religion, temples