Monday, 21 March 2016

A Non-Reservoir Sunday Trip: The Giant Dragon Of Madou District (麻豆區) & The Giant Marsh Of "Holland Village" In Liouying District ( 柳營區)

The weather forecast for the weekend just gone was not good. Specifically, my usual destination in the far reaches of Nantou County was forecast for electrical storms. For this reason I stayed in Tainan with the intention of writing. But I didn't want to sit in the house all day, so on Sunday afternoon, I took the red motorbike out and drove off north to a district of Tainan I had never actually been to before: Madou district.

The weather was poor; overcast, grey and dull but not especially cold. This was ideal because I wanted to see a couple of things that had nothing to do with my reservoir project, and there is no way I would waste a good-weather day on something like this. The first thing I wanted to see was something I had been made aware of only two weeks previously; there is a large temple complex in Madou (麻豆代天府) which houses a model dragon so large that people can walk through it. The second thing I wanted to see was a long-standing curiosity of mine; a large wetlands area in Liouying district well to the west of Wushantou reservoir and my usual road the 165. It is referred to as "Holland Village" (德元埤荷蘭村) and has a series of windmills alongside a flat, marshland area. I had often pondered it on the maps, but had never gotten around to visiting it.

I left sometime before 2 p.m. after I had taken care of the dogs and charged my phone. To get there I drove through Xinshih on provincial highway 19 "jia" into Sanhua, which is a route I hadn't taken in a very, very long time. It took me past the building which formerly served as the immigration office for the now defunct Tainan County government. I remembered it well, but not with any fondness. From Sanhua, there is a bit of twisty trickery and then the 19 continues north, crosses the Tseng-wen river, and brings you into Madou township. I drove through north and to the east, and switched from the 19 to the 176 rounding a bend.

As I did so, there was a tall man in a black coat waving me down and pointing to something by the side of the road. Confused, I pulled over, got off the bike and walked back to him. He was asking for help with an old man who had fallen into a deep ditch by the side of the road. He had been driving one of those electric bicycles and presumably had swerved to avoid the other guy (driving on the wrong side of the road?) and fallen into this ditch. The back wheel of his bicycle was up in the air, with the front wheel submerged in the dirty water. The old man was in a standing position, but with his left leg trapped behind him between the bike and the ditch wall. He had managed to get both hands free and was holding on to either side of the ditch. He had numerous cuts all over his face and his glasses had fallen off and were now broken. As soon as I approached the first man also flagged down a van full of young Taiwanese who also got out to help. I told them to call an ambulance.

I could have left, but as I was looking at the old man, he kept trying to move to get himself out and I could see what was going to happen. For one thing he was not strong enough, but also his position and balance were precarious; if he struggled too much, there was a strong possibility he would fall face-first into the dirty water at the bottom of the ditch and drown. At first, the others advised me against pulling him out and instead to wait for the ambulance to arrive, but the old man kept struggling and I told them what I was worried about. So I straddled the ditch and lifted him out from under his armpits; another guy helped to free his left leg. We got him out of the ditch and laid him on the side of the road, telling him not to move until the ambulance arrived. He kept thanking me and apologizing and I kept telling him it didn't matter. The ambulance arrived, and I got back on my motorbike. The dragon temple was just around the corner...

From the main temple gate to the east, there is a large courtyard with a conical tower to the left with what resembles a coolie hat on top of it. It is painted sky blue with three circular series of what look like deities of one sort of another, all of them numbered. The obvious time and attention it demanded put me off going inside, as I didn't want to spend too long here. 
In the center on the other side of the courtyard there is a low pavilion which prefaces what seems to be a fairly run of the mill Taoist temple. 
To the right of the courtyard there was this five-story building (and another behind it and another similar one on the left side behind the conical tower); the ground floor seemed to contain shops selling Taoism paraphernalia (incense, character posters and the like). I have no idea what was on the higher floors and didn't spend the time to find out.
But this was what I had come to see; a giant dragon sculpture well over 100 feet tall. Two weeks ago, somebody at the factory I visit on Tuesdays had mentioned it. I've seen plenty of dragon sculptures in Taiwan, but never this large. Yet it isn't that unusual when you consider that there are other gigantic sculptures elsewhere in Taiwan such as the giant, golden Buddhas in Yunlin and Hsinchu counties.
Father and daughter wait at the turnstile entrance to the dragon's tongue-ladder. 
The dragon in context; I climbed a spiral stairwell on the six story building opposite in order to get this shot. In my reservoir work I generally find that you can't really capture the scale of a large dam in pictures without an elevated position to shoot from, and this is also true here. As massive as the main sculpture is, you can't capture the scale of it whilst looking up from the ground. Note the two dragon heads emerging from the water...
Now apparently disused and closed to the public, they have staircases inside them leading downwards.
You can see the downward sloping handrail in this dragon's mouth.
This dumpy, green figurine represents the Pomelo fruit (citrus maximus), which is grown in Madou and sold all across Taiwan. It's my favourite Taiwanese fruit with the possible exception of the golden mango.
Looking northward across the lower temples to the other six-story building identical to the one on which I was perched.
North-east view across the temples to the courtyard.
Looking eastward across to the courtyard.
Details: some sort of goddess or deity. I haven't got a clue.

Old geezer with a dirty mop flying on an eagle.
Old wifey similarly sat on the back of an eagle, looking down on that Toyota in the background.
Three dodgy old codgers. I have no idea what any of this is about.
Dragon turning northward to face the freeway off in the distance.
It may be that there is an interesting book to be written about temples in Taiwan, but I'm skeptical that it could be researched and written well enough to be interesting to a general audience. There seems to be so many different old men, tigers, dragons, old women on the backs of eagles and the like that the probable effect of description would be information overload. I certainly don't think I could write such a book, but I do think it would have to be written from a detached point of view, which is a more polite way of naming the prejudice that it's all based on a load of bollocks. Having that as the starting point means that there can be no attempt to persuade or to take the religion seriously, which in turn means the focus has to be anthropological. That's probably the only way to try to write an interesting account of temple architecture and history. Somebody ought to do it, and it isn't going to be me.

Having satisfied my (mild) curiosity to see this giant dragon, I left and headed west through Xiaying and Lioujua districts into Liouying to see the second thing I had come for: the great marsh at "Holland Village". I approached the marsh from the north, and pulled up at the end of a farmer's road to have a look along the shoreline.

Looking northwest over a typical Taiwanese pontoon raft.
Looking southwest toward a small wharf. The blue buildings in the background are most likely poultry farms of which there are a lot in these central-north areas of Tainan.
Panorama across one small section of the marsh. The windmills were well to the south of my position and I wasn't inclined to visit them with the afternoon drawing to a close and the light being so dull.
Overall it wasn't a greatly interesting trip, but at least I've struck a couple of more things off my to-see list. The dragon temple is not really my cup of tea, but I think someone could make a decent attempt to describe and explain it. The marsh may warrant a return trip at some point as there are several interesting questions that occur to me.

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