Fri, Apr 26, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Beidou: the town of Matsu and meatballs

Come for temple dedicated to the sea goddess, stay for the eats

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The Red-Brick Market Building is one of Beidou’s Japanese colonial period relics.

Photo: Steven Crook

It’s not often I experience the kind of anticipation I felt as I approached Beidou Township (北斗) in Changhua County. Quite literally, I knew nothing about the place. I wasn’t even sure where it was until I scanned my map, by which time I was already on my bicycle, about to set out from Yuanlin City.

I could see Beidou was fairly near Changhua High-Speed Railway Station, but I didn’t recognize the names of any of the “attractions” shown on the map. As it lay between my starting point and where I hoped to end up that day, I decided I’d take a look.

Containing my excitement wasn’t difficult. I’ve been in Taiwan for the better part of three decades, and writing about interesting places throughout the country for most of that time. It’s fair to say that, if I don’t know anything about a particular district or town, probably there’s nothing worth seeing there.

Soon enough I was on the outskirts of Beidou. It’s not a large town (the population is just over 33,000) and I quickly found Dianan Temple (奠安宮), which seemed like a good place to lock up my bike.

The information panel outside the shrine told me it’s one of Changhua County’s “three great Matsu temples” (彰化三大媽祖廟), the others being Tianhou Temple (天后宮) in Lukang Township (鹿港) and Nanyao Temple (南瑤宮) in Changhua City. Matsu (媽祖), originally a sea goddess, has in recent centuries emerged as Taiwan’s most popular generalist deity.

According to the shrine’s Web site, the predecessor of Dianan Temple was located in Sijhou Township (溪州), a few kilometers to the southwest. After devastating floods in 1806, the community relocated to what’s now central Beidou. In the process, their hall of worship gained its current name.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

>> Bus 6709 runs about every two hours and connects Beidou with Tianjhong (田中), while the 6707 is a more frequent service to Yuanlin. Both Tianjhong and Yuanlin are on the main TRA north-south railway and served by express trains.


FRAUGHT HISTORY

Since 1962, Dianan Temple has been a stop on the famous Matsu pilgrimage that connects Taichung’s Dajia (大甲) with Singang (新港) in Chiayi County. But relations with certain other Matsu shrines have been fraught. Because of a history of conflict between Taiwanese who trace their ancestry to different parts of China’s Fujian province, Dianan Temple did not communicate with or receive official visits from Nanyao Temple until 2014. The former place of worship has traditionally been aligned with Quanzhou (泉州) folk, while the latter was long dominated by descendants of settlers from Zhangzhou (漳州).

Despite its importance as a Matsu shrine, the two impressions I came away with had nothing to do with the sea goddess. The large statue of Guanyin (觀音), the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, was shockingly caked with soot. And at the cubby-hole dedicated to the Old Man Under the Moon (月下老人), a god to whom lonelyhearts often pray, I saw not one Polaroid of a happy couple. Typically, shrines to this Cupid-type figure are surrounded by photos of those who sought his help with the partners they subsequently found.

The temple is located at 120 Douyuan Road Section 1 (斗苑路一段120號). From there, I walked south into the morning market. I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary, but almost immediately I stumbled across the Red-Brick Market Building (紅磚市場) at 40 Sinshi Street (新市街, “New Market Street”).

Built in the 1930s and renovated after a fire in 2003, it’s a low-rise, less ornate version of Ximending Red House (西門紅樓). I thought it under-utilized — but compared to the next Japanese-era building I came across, it was positively abuzz.

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