Wed, Oct 28, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Dreamers in the land of the Wind God

The revitalization of the Fengshen Temple adds to an extensive creative and cultural movement taking place in Tainan’s historic Wutiaogang district

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Tainan’s Fengshen Temple Market, which was held last weekend, was put together by locals.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

As Typhoon Soudelor approached Taiwan in August, Hsieh Ming-feng, director of Tainan’s Fengshen Temple (風神廟), asked the temple’s Wind God (風神爺) if he should cancel an event to be held as the storm was about to make landfall.

The deity told him there wouldn’t be a problem, but the event, a creative market, was cancelled anyway.

“It didn’t even drizzle,” Hsieh says.

The original market was moved to last weekend, and, despite the threat of rain, it was all clear skies. The Wind God was watching.

Starting from his grandfather, Hsieh’s family has run the near 300-year-old temple — unique in Taiwan that the Wind God is its main deity — for the past 150 years. In the old days, the wind god protected seafarers crossing the Taiwan Strait — then known as the perilous “black ditch” (黑水溝). The temple also houses water, fire, thunder and lightning deities.

Hsieh says that his temple worships “nature deities” instead of those based on a certain historic or mythical figures. But as transportation became less reliant on natural forces and with the modernization of society, his temple was slowly forgotten.

Fengshen Temple is part of a district now known as Wutiaogang Cultural Park (五條港文化園區), has experienced a revival with many young entrepreneurs moving into the historic residences, opening up innovative businesses and remodeling them in a way that preserves the ancient atmosphere with flourishes of modern chic.

A quick walk through the district’s winding paved alleys yields various creative studios, a menu-less restaurant in a 139-year-old residence, classical musicians rehearsing for a free afternoon concert, a “life swap shop” where people can trade anything (including money) for workshops and goods … and the list goes on.

These new businesses coexist with the old, with numerous temples and traditional establishments such as barbershops. Culture is everywhere, and even at the Matsu Tower (媽祖樓) there’s a painting-on-roof tiles contest.

Many who grew up in Wutiaogang are also following suit, combining modern ideas with local history and tradition.

Tsai Tsung-sheng (蔡宗昇) runs a hostel out of his childhood home, which he named Sai Kau Kin Old House (屎溝墘客廳). Sai Kau means “feces ditch” in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) referring to the channel underneath the house that was used to transport manure.

Tsai has a new idea he wants to play on his establishment’s location between the Matsu Tower and a temple worshipping the Emperor of the Mysterious Heavens (玄天上帝).

“I want to open a store with no storekeeper,” he says. “I’ll just put goods there and let people put money into a box. After all, there are two gods watching what people do in there.”

There’s something interesting at every twist and turn. Hsinyi Street (信義街) is known for its cafes and restaurants, including Bookeater (烹書) which serves food based on literature, while Shennong Street (神農街) contains many cozy bars.

The buildings all follow a similar format — they look small from the front, but seem to expand forever with endless nooks and crannies to explore. Most renovations either retain the original wood-and-brick decor, or find materials that evoke a similar antique feel.

Some businesses are simply “spaces,” such as Flying Fish Memory Museum (飛魚美術館), which contains a wedding dress and photography studio, a gallery and performance space, a kitchen, a reading room and guestrooms. Anything is possible, locals say.

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