Taiwan: Temples, Trains and Toilets

Taiwan is an intriguing mix of the old and the very new – Taipei 101, shaped like a piece of bamboo, was the tallest building in the world until 2004 –

– and it’s considered cool to have your picture taken perched precariously on a wet and slippery rock halfway up the mountain behind the tower.

But there are also thousands (more than 12,000 currently) of Buddhist and Taoist temples-

where people  still come to ask for favours, give thanks and burn paper gifts for their ancestors.

These are the traditional papers to burn –

But, as our guide is showing us here, these days you can get all different types of currency to burn, such as US dollars if you think your ancestors would prefer them –

The locals use moonblocks to get advice from the gods on thorny issues, and I was shown how to use them.

You throw the two blocks on the ground and ask your question, which must be very specific, nothing wishy-washy.  If the blocks both land flat side down, the answer is no, and if they both land flat side up, the answer is maybe.  But one up and one down means yes.

Once you’ve got your answer from the moonblocks, it’s time to move on to the finer points of your answer, via the sticks.

You lift the bundle of sticks and drop them back into the holder, and whichever one is sticking up highest is your answer.  My stick was number 75, so I had to go to the correct drawer and find my answer –

Luckily for me, in this temple there was an English translation of each answer –

It would appear that I’m looking for an intelligent zoologist.  I wonder if David Attenborough is too old for a spot of tiger carrying?

There are gods to cover all needs – love, travel, medicine, exam results and so on.

This is the lonely hearts shrine –

with a few success stories on the other side –

And these are all pleas for good exam results –

As a teacher, I would have told these students to spend their time revising, rather than praying for good results.

And they do start them off very young –

I do hope he’s praying for sweets and toys, and not for excellent exam grades.

I took my first ever bullet train to visit the south of Taiwan –

and we sped through the countryside at 299 kmh.  For some reason, the sunset looks really pretty at that speed –

I was very excited to discover that my hotel in Taipei had a heated loo seat.  I’ve since discovered that all hotels in Taiwan have them, but I’d never tried one before, so I kept sitting on it, just to enjoy the experience.

I then noticed that it had other interesting functions –

and decided to try those out too.  I was slightly hesitant, because the diagram looks as though the force of the water lifts you off the seat, but I went for the girlie pink button, rather than the manly blue one.  The jet of warm water – I’m talking hose rather than water cannon – was quite pleasant, and I sat there waiting for it to stop, like a loo flush … only it didn’t.

I looked at the panel again – but there was no obvious stop button.  Then I looked at the more detailed instructions on the lid –

There were a few worrying exclamation marks, but I still had no idea how to turn it off.  I knew that if I stood up, water was going to start squirting all over the floor, so I stayed firmly seated and fell back on my usual strategy of pressing every single button randomly until the flow finally stopped.

I then said a quick thank you to the god of unfortunate events, that I hadn’t had to use the emergency phone to call reception and explain what my problem was.





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