Traditional temple

Highways and roads: Singang: the temple city of Chiayi

Explore the outskirts of the city beyond its famous Fengtian Temple

  • By Steven Crook / Contributing Journalist

It’s easy to forget Singang (新港) in Chiayi County, even though it plays a key role in one of the world’s largest annual religious events.

Since 1988, the multi-day parade celebrating the birthday of the sea goddess Matsu (媽祖) has stopped at the Fengtian Temple in Singang (奉天 宮). Every spring, hardened pilgrims depart from Dajia Jenn Lann Temple (大甲 鎮 瀾 宮) in Taichung. They march south to Singang, then begin the return from their epic journey.

A few years ago, I visited Fengtian Temple a few times and explored the streets near this shrine a bit. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I was scanning a map, looking for places that were easily accessible by public transport, that Singang came to my senses.

Photo: Steven Crook

Once I confirmed that the buses left Chiayi every hour, my decision was made. The weather has something to do with it. In this season, walking in the countryside can be pleasant. I wanted to visit a few places on the outskirts of town, and a good pair of shoes would make up for not having a vehicle of my own.

RURAL ARTIFACTS AND INCENSE

Three days later, I was in a bus n ° 7325 bound for Beigang (北港). I did not move from my seat as he walked through the built-up part of Singang. Just west of the high-speed railroad, I got off the bus and took a side road to find the Dingcaiyuan Cultural Artifact Hall (頂 菜園 農村 博物館).

Photo: Steven Crook

The name in Chinese of this open-air museum is more precise than the English version.

It preserves a strange but photogenic collection of rural paraphernalia, ranging from farm implements to the kind of motorcycles driven by farmers and letter carriers. As admission costs only NT $ 50, I figured there was nothing to lose.

Aside from a group of seniors learning how to turn sweet potatoes into a delicacy, it seemed like I was the only visitor that morning. The owner of the room, Mr. Chen (陳), invited me to watch a short video about the place and the demonstrations of traditional farming methods that he organizes from time to time.

Photo: Steven Crook

I asked him how he acquired the exhibits. Some he bought, he said, but many were donated by people who had no use for them. Others have been collected from rubbish.

In addition to old signs and furniture, there are Bakelite telephones, sewing machines, irons, hairdryers and old-fashioned portable scales. There is even a cinema projector.

The site is a graveyard of vehicles, including Vespas and a police motorcycle. Murals were painted on the sides of a few buses and old rolling stock from the sugar industry, but otherwise these vehicles deteriorated. At least the resident animals – a few goats and a few water buffaloes – look well cared for.

Photo: Steven Crook

The Dingcaiyuan Cultural Artifact Hall would benefit from a little more labeling, but if you’re into vintage artifacts, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Coming back to the city center, it took me less than 20 minutes to reach the Daching Incense Factory (大慶 製 香 廠), which is on the north side of Route 159, a short distance to inland from the high-speed rail line.

Generally, I like to travel mid-week to avoid crowds. That said, it is best to visit the Daching Incense Factory on a weekend in good weather, when visitors can tour the workshop and take photos of thousands of gloriously colored incense sticks arranged under the sun.

Photo courtesy of Daching Incense Factory

When I passed the production area was closed to non-personnel and the incense sticks drying outside were a boring brown shade. Still, I learned a few things from one of the employees. The raw materials from which this century-old company makes incense are mostly imported from Australia, Indonesia or Vietnam. The incense sticks they make usually cost from under NT $ 1,000 per 600g packet to over NT $ 3,000. But, the employee told me, sometimes they get orders to make incense that cost more than NT $ 30,000 per taijin (600g).

The Daching boutique is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Parking nearby shouldn’t be difficult.

CELEBRATE MATSU

Choosing to eat before going to Singang’s most famous place of worship, I walked to what is possibly the most well-known food company in town. Singang Duck Thick Soup (新港 鴨 肉羹), located 170m south of the temple on Jhongshan Road (中 山路), specializes in the dish that gave it its name.

For NT $ 40, you get a medium sized bowl of flavorful soup with a reasonably generous amount of meat. The popularity of duck in Singang is not surprising; the neighboring township of Minsyong (民 雄) is synonymous with breeding ducks and geese.

As you would expect from a shrine involved in the Dajia pilgrimage, the Fengtian temple is dedicated to Matsu. But like most Taiwanese temples, it houses a mini pantheon. Chinese war and martial arts deity Guan Gong (關 公) is here, as is Wenchang Dijun (文昌 帝君), a deity often prayed by Taiwanese in hopes of passing major exams.

Much more unusual is the prominence given to the Tiger Lord (虎爺), sometimes referred to as Tiger General (虎爺 將軍).

In other temples which house a statue of General Tigre, it is almost always hidden at ground level, under the bridge which contains human effigies. But here he has his own room and altar in the west wing of the temple. If you are facing the main altar, exit through the left door and you will see the sign in Chinese (虎爺 殿, Hu Ye Dian).

Because the altar chamber was filled with people offering incense and incense paper to General Tigre, I had to wait a bit before I could go in and take a look.

In addition to the many and varied effigies of tigers, I noticed boxes of eggs (left by devotees who know they are the deity’s favorite food) and a ceramic basin with water and coins. of 1 NT $. If you donate, you must remove two of the coins and place them in a sealable plastic bag with a little water. If you keep this at home for three days and then sprinkle the water on, it is said that General Tiger’s blessings will help the money get into your home.

According to a 2015 blog post by Jacob Tischer, who is currently studying for a doctorate in anthropology at Boston University, the worship of General Tiger at the Fengtian Temple is an expression of “community pride, a sense of attachment and d ‘local identity’.

Traditionally viewed as a protector of children, the image of General Tigre began to change, writes Tischer, as “efforts to create a more generally attractive representation of the deity opened up and popularized its meaning as an agent. generator of wealth similar to other gods.

Like Matsu’s birthday (celebrated on the 23rd day of the third lunar month), the Tiger General’s birthday (on the sixth day of the sixth lunar month) is a great opportunity to see the rites and spectacle troupes that give religion popular local character.

If you can tolerate crowds and noise, you are sure to enjoy them. Whatever your beliefs.

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture and business in Taiwan since 1996. He is author of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide and co-author of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai.

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