Baoan Temple (保安宮) will hold birthday celebrations for the God of Agriculture (神農大帝) on Saturday as part of its 2011 Asia-Pacific Baosheng Cultural Festival (2011亞太保生文化節).
Festivities begin at 8am with a ritual for the deity, followed by several performances in front of the temple from 9am to noon, and continue at 1pm when a statue of the deity will be placed on a palanquin and escorted on an “inspection tour” (繞境) through Dalongdong District (大龍峒).
For those who can’t make it to the celebrations, Baoan Temple also arranges free tours in Japanese and English (or both) that last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
Baoan Temple and Taipei Confucius Temple (台北市孔廟), which is located across the street, have clued up to the fact that local culture, particularly temples and the communities that build up around them, rank among Taiwan’s most popular cultural assets. Read on for a description of the tours.
Joey Ho (何良正), a retired dentist, began giving tours 15 years ago in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese).
“Then I switched to Mandarin and then to English, which I learned myself,” he said, adding that he’s been giving English-language tours for a decade. In response to my surprise that he learned English for the purposes of giving the tours, Ho said he did the same with Japanese.
Why expend so much effort on becoming a volunteer tour guide?
“In the past we didn’t learn about Taiwan’s history, geography or local culture because we were ruled by foreign regimes. When the Japanese came, they gave us a Japanese education. When the Chinese came, they gave us a Chinese education. Nothing about Taiwan,” he said.
This was a theme that Ho, who said his ancestors moved to Taiwan from Guangzhou, China, 220 years ago, returned to throughout the two-hour tour — though spoken without a hint of animosity toward the “foreign regimes.”
What: Birthday celebration for the God of Agriculture
When: Saturday from 8am to 4pm
Where: Baoan Temple (保安宮), 61 Hami St, Taipei City (台北市哈密街61號)
On the Net: www.baoan.org.tw
Baoan Temple’s presiding deity, Baoshengdadi (保生大帝, also known as the God of Medicine), is the stuff of legend. Originally a Chinese doctor, scholar and exorcist surnamed Wu (吳), he was deified after his death because of his celebrated powers of healing. His resume includes curing a dragon’s eye and removing a hairpin from a tiger’s throat.
But Wu also provided earthly assistance as well. “The God of Medicine protects our life … and protects against diseases such as cholera, malaria and bubonic plague,” Ho said.
According to an abbreviated temple history, “a rather shabby wooden structure” was initially erected in 1742 by immigrants from Tongan (同安) in China’s Fujian Province. It was made more permanent in 1760 when a larger, more substantial temple was built.
At the same time, a small community — today known as the 44 shops (四 十 四坎) — sprang up around the temple in what is today called Dalongdong. Believing the God of Medicine to be auspicious, merchants as well as others from the surrounding area pooled their money and expanded the temple between 1805 and 1830. Ho showed me two 200-year-old stone lions, one female and one male, guarding the temple’s main gate, in front of which are two stone-carved dragon pillars.
“The female dragon has its mouth closed because in the old days women weren’t allowed to open their mouths,” Ho quipped.
(The lioness’ mouth was kept open, a taboo that, according to Ho, resulted in a cut in pay for the craftsman who carved it.)