just another day in taiwan

Temple Dance

April 2010, Sanjhih, Taiwan

Sh**. As I ran, purse bouncing on my thigh, shoelaces untied, down the brick walkway toward the front gate, I could already see the Pony* pulling out of the apartment driveway. Damn. I stopped in my tracks and put my hands on my hips, exasperated. Grrrr! I was already late, and now I would have to walk the mile into town and catch a bus to Danshui from there. Dammit!

I considered turning around and going back to my apartment. I could text Lara and tell her I was sick and spend the rest of my Saturday evening alone, as usual. That would be easier. But somehow, I couldn’t make myself do it. I’d spent almost all of my Saturday nights alone recently. I knew I needed to get out.

After I’d caught my breath, I stooped to tie my shoelaces, straightened my shirt and purse, and walked on. Evening was coming and the gray sky would soon be growing dark. A wind was picking up. There was no time to lose. I walked through the gate, nodding to the guard (who knew me but no English) as I did, and on down the hill, past the sheet metal home with the crippled dog, over the bridge by the river and waterwheel, past the shop homes with glass fronts and bright lights, through the mewing street cats and street dogs, by Wellcome and the butcher’s shop, and . . .

But, what on earth was that raucousness?
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View of Sanjhih and the ocean from the top of my apartment complex

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Children playing instruments

The local school band . . .

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As I rounded the corner toward the town temple and, beyond it, the bus stop, I saw fireworks and heard loud Taiwanese music. There was a fire in the middle of the street and two men — one sitting on the other’s shoulders — in a multi-colored religious costume, dancing. Across the street, children were playing tambourines and drums and other strident instruments on a makeshift platform with metal railing, and in front of the temple a small crowd had gathered to watch a group of men carry a wooden alter inside. The belly of the temple was glowing.
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Carrying the alter

Carrying the alter into the temple

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I was agog. I’d been in Taiwan for four months and was used to fireworks (an almost everyday occurrence) and street parades by now. But, this?

Part of me was tempted to do a one-eighty and hightail it to the bus stop another way. I was one of about eight foreigners living in Sanjhih at the time (my American coworkers and an immense German man who owned the local German restaurant made up the other seven), and the closer I got to the scene, the more conspicuous I felt. Everyone was staring at the white girl with blonde hair. I was certainly a distraction from the ceremony. But . . . My curiosity got the better of me and tempted my timid feet onward. How could I turn my back on this? I pulled my camera out of my purse and began snapping pictures . . .

Suddenly, I remembered my earlier curse words. Maybe it wasn’t so bad I’d missed the Pony, after all. I looked heavenward and mumbled an apology. “Never again!” I said aloud.

And I haven’t . . . Ha!
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Below is a video I took with my camera that night. It’s really short but will give you an idea of the “loveliness” I’d stumbled into!

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The temple dance photo again — bigger — for Kevin :)

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*The Pony — or Pink Pony — was the free minibus (which was, in fact, pink) that ran between my apartment complex and the Danshui MRT station at set times every day. It was the easiest and cheapest way to get to and from town.

Note: My Friday travel post is a day late this week. That is bound to happen from time to time. I told you I’m not good at sticking to schedules!
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Images: Mine! All rights reserved.

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25 thoughts

  1. Are you still going to Taiwan? You can buy a used car at a low price just in case you miss the bus, which you can sell upon your return to the U.S. Either a bike or a scooter will serve well for short distance commuting. However, if you are not used to Taiwanese’ driving habits, it’s better to get a bigger used car. Safety first!

    • I don’t know where I’ll go next. I had only been in Taiwan a short time when this story happened. If I go back, I may get a scooter. We’ll see. And I *have* driven in Taiwan — a big van that my coworkers and I drove for work purposes. I will probably write about that in the future.

      And I’m not sure what you meant by the second part of your comment and your additional comment, but, no, of course I don’t want to hurt you — or anyone. That should be obvious from the things that I write.

      • It’s just that when I see preventable miseries, I think about how to prevent them next time for you. But, I suppose you have figured out everything past the second month of stay in Taiwan.

        I didn’t mean insults. If I have offended you in any way, I offer my apologies here.

      • I was not insulted, but really, while it is sweet of you to care about my previous miseries, I am not seeking sympathy or advice through these posts. The longer I lived in Taiwan, the smarter I got. I adapted. The purpose of these posts is to share my experiences and how I grew in perspective and as a person as I went along.

      • Well, I read again your post. You had been in Taiwan for 4 months back then. Anyways, car accidents are very common in Taiwan. I don’t know if you witnessed many, but safety is always important when one is traveling and living abroad.

  2. Nice to hear that you stumbled into a mini-adventure after missing the bus. Sometimes, it’s funny how surprising and intriguing things happen when we take another route. Maybe the locals stared at you because you looked lost.

    On another note altogether, the phrase ‘tempted my timid feet onward’ jumped out at me :)

    • I’m glad you liked that phrase, Mabel! I did, too. But about the locals, no, they definitely weren’t staring at me because I looked lost. I wasn’t lost at all — I knew exactly where I was going… These people were staring at me because they weren’t used to seeing foreigners in their town!

      Anyway, hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! :) :) :)

  3. Reading this, I can relate to being in Brazil. I am fairly dark but I find it to be odd that the local folks have me pegged as a tourist; even if I am wearing their clothing brands. I guess the dumbfounded look is a dead give away!

    I wish the video was longer. Pretty cool to see how they celebrate!

    • Yeah, somehow we tourists always get nabbed for being different. I’ve felt that way in Europe, too, even though I blend in much more easily there.

      I know! I wish the video were longer, too. I was using a small Canon Powershot camera and didn’t even think to try to videotape it until the ceremony was essentially over. I guess a few seconds of video is better than none, though…

      Hope you’re having a great weekend! :)

  4. Hey, you hid my comments this time!

    It’s an old way of looking at this world. There are book-smarts and street-smarts. Some are neither and some both. It’s not an either-or case.

    Unfortunately, you wanted to go to Taiwan to test your street-smart though you are really a book-smart.

    How sad! Is it worth it? Probably, because now you know who you are and how the world is different from what you expected. Why do you want to go again? I don’t really get it. If it’s just a money issue, you should be teaching at community colleges making about $35,000 to $50,000 a year. I am being a bit conservative here. Grade schools are not worth it, but if you love kids, it’s better than going to Taiwan to teach English as a second language, too.

    At the end of the day, you want to reserve enough time for writing. It’s either a community college or something else. Never compromise.

    You can still come to Canada. Maybe you have other hidden gifts! You never know.

    • I think so, too! It turned out really well, though at the time I was frustrated because it was blurry!

      Hope you’re having a great day, Lucas. Thank you as always for stopping by my humble blog…

  5. Great post and a great metaphor for life… Once you screw up (missing the bus) it just allows for a great experience or opportunity to come by and sweep you up. I kind of like thriving on such situations :-)

    Love the photos, and agree with Kevin ~ the motion & color is very special. Also, your view from your apt is/was fantastic. Cheers.

    • Thank you! In a foreign country especially you just have to learn to go with the flow… You never know what’s around the corner, and there are wonderful experiences and insights to be gained everywhere!

      Glad you liked the dance photo. I lucked out! Hope you have a great weekend. :)

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