Fri, Mar 15, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Exploring Kuantien’s gas fields

In addition to a number of gas wells, this area in central Tainan also has an ecological park and a district known for its good fengshui

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Around the edges of the water-chestnut ponds for which Kuantien is famous, I saw clusters of tiny pink eggs. Rice fields left fallow and drained were littered with hundreds of snail shells. Once the golden apple snail (known in Mandarin as fushouluo, 福壽螺) establishes itself, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. Baby snails usually feed on young rice plants, while adult gastropods are notorious for chewing ready-to-harvest taros.

These snails aren’t native to Taiwan. More than 30 years ago, they were intentionally introduced from Latin America by entrepreneurs who hoped to develop an export trade. Unfortunately, their meat, while nutritious, is far from delicious. Even those Taiwanese who collect and eat wild snails leave golden apple snails alone.

My next stop was a place in neighboring Liujia District (六甲區) that, thanks to a confluence of water and topography, is believed to have excellent fengshui. Surrounded on three sides by a pond, Chishan Longhuyan Temple (赤山龍湖巖) is said to have been founded by Chen Yung-hua (陳永華), a key figure in the 17th century Ming-Koxinga, also known as Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功), period, just prior to the Ching Empire’s annexation of Taiwan.

According to one legend, in 1665 Chen was encamped at this spot with some soldiers. When he awoke, he heard drums and bells, and thought there must be a temple nearby. But there wasn’t — and he interpreted his auditory hallucination as a sign he should dedicate this place to Buddhism.

The shrine has been rebuilt and expanded several times over the centuries, but if you go through the front building you’ll come to one part that obviously hasn’t been renovated for a very long time. In Taiwan, where a great many places of worship have been made over so thoroughly they’ve lost a good part of their charm and individuality — the “no two are different” phenomenon — it’s startling to see a roof which has lost so much of its ceramic applique (剪黏) decoration.

The sculptures retain their shapes, but are largely bereft of the tiny shards of porcelain that give temple roofs their colorful intricacy. The effect is almost monochromatic, a little drab, and yet still appealing. The dragons and qilins made me think of stray dogs which have lost their fur.

There are artisans in Taiwan who specialize in ceramic applique, so perhaps the issue is money. You can be sure, however, that if it had turned out that this part of Taiwan is floating on natural gas, the roof would’ve been repaired by now.

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

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