[Photo Gallery:] Yuantong Temple hike, Taipei, Taiwan

We finally left the traffic behind for a quiet walk in some of the wooded hills just outside the city. A short MRT/bus ride took us to a calm but hot and humid hike that winds past and through some temple complexes. We started just after lunch and were surprised to find very few people on the trails (turns out most people go before breakfast when it’s not hot… smart!). Normally we don’t get this closed to people’s religious business with our camera, but there was hardly anyone around, and some that were around were snoozing or playing Chinese chess or pausing from their offerings to talk on their cell-phones. The lower part of the path was sprinkled with a few karaoke bars/shacks, neighbouring ones competing for noise pollution points. There were three main temple buildings we hiked around – I don’t know which ones are part of the same complex and which are separate temples. One was Buddhist, another Daoist, and apparently that distinction doesn’t mean very much to a lot of people who frequent them, at least when it comes to actual religious practices. One whole family was offering mountains of spirit money to one deity… their clothes and vehicle suggested they were upperclass. I have no idea how much that much spirit money costs, but it was by far the biggest single offering we’ve seen yet. Reflections from Joel on what we saw are here. Jessica’s reflections will be here when she gets around to posting them.

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[Photo Gallery:] Traditions & Worldview in Yonghe, Taipei, Taiwan

Lots of stuff should go in this gallery that isn’t here, like the tai-chi or the exercising or the plague of puppies, because tons of stuff (almost everything) expresses aspects typical of an Asian worldview that are easy to see if you know how to look. But to avoid having 90% of our photos in one category accompanied by really long explanations, we’ll just put the most explicit stuff here.

Sidewalks aren’t lined with offerings to the gods/ancestors every day, but it’s not uncommon to see them since there are plenty of auspicious days in the lunar calendar. And this is not just a case of poor, uneducated peasants clinging to comfortable traditions; these are business owners – including (especially) the upscale businesses – that make a point to appease/appeal to the perceived personal and impersonal spiritual forces around them (and/or appeal to their customers). Incense, food and paper goods (money, cell phones, cars, etc.) are often burned so that the ancestors will have what they need in the afterlife (and thus be happy and therefore kind to their still-living descendants). On the certain days the smoke and incense wafts into our classrooms and we breathe it for hours.

For now, here’s some pictures from recurring offerings on our street, and a local god’s recent birthday party. I left some files large if they had interesting details, like the temple photos. We’ll be continually updating this gallery.

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Update on the block party w/video

We showed our boss the video we took (he doesn’t live in the neighbourhood) and got his take on it. He’s not all that respectful of the local temples, as he sees them primarily as ‘religious businesses’ that seek profit from a market niche just like any other business. To him this whole thing was just as much fundraiser as it was religious event, though he also conceded that these people were serious.

Anyway, apparently some local deity was having a birthday party in the street the night before our term papers were due, complete with live Chinese horn/gong ensemble, possessed costumed dancers, and a self-lacerating swordsman (who was also supposed to be possessed). There were at least two tour buses parked near the temple; many of the faithful had apparently traveled some distance for the event. Now that my grad schoolwork is done until June, I might actually get back to my cultural research and get a clue or two for stuff like this.

Our video is mediocre; we were on the periphery of the crowd at the back on narrow side streets and didn’t get the most colourful stuff on camera. But you’ll still get an eyeful (and an earfull).

If I ever get these edited and spliced (with three other clips) into something more manageable, I’ll stick it up on the video page, but consider these files temporarily-available windows into our cultural adventures… for a limited time only!

Taiwanese Block Party?

We were innocently minding our own business, typing our papers this evening, when all of a sudden the sound of hundreds of bottle-rocket-type firecrackers, which soon became thousands, started going off down the street. Then there was all this gong-banging and loud tradional music played by a crowd of uniformed musicians (we could see them in the intersection through the window. So we abondoned the still-nameless kitten and ran down with the camera to see what was going on. There was a big crowd, most people had handfuls of incense and were following a procession that included two large altars, or shrines, or something on poles, lit with all kinds of flashing neon lights and trailed by a generator on wheels to power them… plus the things in the picture below (you can decide how best to describe that yourselves). There were two guys in thes big elaborate costumes dancing around, and one shirtless guy dancing with a sword who looked like he may have nicked himself a few times: there appeared to be blood running down his back. We took some video, which I haven’t seen yet but will probably post a little bit tomorrow. We don’t have good pictures because by the time we got there the crowds were too thick to get close, and the procession was winding down narrow side streets. Plus we had no idea what it was all about and didn’t want to go intruding when we weren’t sure what we were intruding on. The photo below is the end of the procession… not where all the action was, except that tall cylindrical thing was spinning. I got a few sideways glances for using the flash, but it was a big crowd with lots of random spectators… maybe they didn’t notice it was me… the 6-foot-4 white guy.

Sorry we don’t have info on this – we’ll find out in the morning at work – but it’s not like anyone clued us in before they started holding up traffic with bricks of fireworks. I suppose if we weren’t spending so much spare time writing papers about our attachment disorders we’d have more of a cultural clue, but we’ll get the scoop at work. It’s after 2am our time, so I’m going to bed!

Tomb Sweeping Day

This weekend is a holiday weekend for many families in Taiwan because this Wednesday (I think) is Tomb Sweeping Day, which has become a family trip to the ancestor’s graves to tidy them up, burn offerings to the ancestor’s spirits, and perform other animistic rituals… generally similar to what Mulan does in the Disney movie.

This Sunday morning’s service had over an hour dedicated to a memorial of all the deceased members from the last several years. The talk was about how, “God loves memorials” and wants us to honour the memory of our ancestors. There was nice music, and a woman talked about each person’s life as pictures from their life were shown on the screen. The choir led some special songs. Many people, old and young, were crying throughout the pews. Mingdaw’s father was among those remembered. I was looking forward to seeing how the community handled this particular holiday, since fundamental aspects of Tomb Sweeping Day directly clash with their convictions.


the belief that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and, consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power.


are “feared, respected, and venerated because they are specifically remembered and are part of the extended family. Ghosts, on the other hand, are those spirits of the dead who are disappearing into the past and are no longer individually remembered by their families.” [Ancestors are called] “the living dead” and ghosts “the dead dead.”

“Tomb Sweeping Day”:

The Chinese respect for filial piety and careful attention to funeral rites is visibly manifested in the custom of ancestor worship. Since ancient times, a day has been designated for sweeping the tomb and honoring one’s ancestors. …

Tomb Sweeping Day … has retained its deep meaning in modern Chinese society, as the numerous families carrying out cleaning and worship rites at cemeteries during this time will testify. The [Taiwan] Central Government Prayer Service is also held on this day, amply evidencing the deep respect with which the Chinese view their roots.

Since most cemeteries are located on hillsides in the countryside or outskirts of town, upon completing the Tomb Sweeping Day rites, many families will take advantage of the fine spring weather by going on a family outing. These trips have become an important part of Tomb Sweeping Day as a time for families to enjoy time together.

The foods offered on Tomb Sweeping Day vary by region. In Taiwan, the most common dishes are the distinctive ” grave cakes” and jun ping.

Tomb Sweeping Day combines the people’s reverence for their ancestors and for nature and is a reaffirmation of the Chinese ethic of filial piety. Today, Tomb Sweeping Day is a time not only for worship and maintaining the tombs of ancestors, but also a tangible expression of filial respect for the teachings and virtues of forebears.

For more about Tomb Sweeping Festival, including photos and more info, browse the Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节) category, or see: