The Museums of National Taiwan University (臺大博物館群)

This month, National Taiwan University is welcoming visitors to enjoy its main campus at its most vibrant and beautiful. The 2017 Azalea Festival (台大杜鵑花節) is on until the end of this month, and no doubt, everyone visiting will want to take a couple of photos with these flowers in full bloom.

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While I’m very partial to azaleas, the university holds a few more secret gems that delight in different ways! On the same university grounds lie a number of museums practically unheard of. Housed in some of the university’s oldest historical buildings, they’re open to the public, and free!

During my year of study at NTU, these museums and galleries made intriguing places to relax in after class and I would recommend it to anyone who could spare even ten minutes. While everything is happening at NTU, don’t just walk down Royal Palm Boulevard and take selfies with the pretty azaleas. Take a gander in the following museums, and make your visit to Taiwan’s oldest and largest university even more worthwhile!


NTU History Gallery (校史館)

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A university that was established in 1928 is bound to have a wonderful collection of historical artefacts! What began with only two faculties and a combined total of fifty nine students, is now recognised as Taiwan’s top university, globally reputable for outstanding academia. Furniture, teaching manuals, and student records are here on display along with information about NTU’s chosen symbols (where you can learn of its patron flower, the azalea). The Gallery also depicts NTU’s most turbulent past, such as the student protests while Taiwan was under marshall law.

NTU Museum of Anthropology (人類學博物館)

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Small yet detailed, the museum allows you to see the lives of those who have called Taiwan home through the ages. Much of the collection is sourced from the era of Taihoku Imperial University which preceded NTU under Japanese rule. From clothing, hand tools, and wooden artefacts, to films, photos, and written accounts; the museum provides a thorough understanding of indigenous communities who existed long before the Han Chinese arrived. The Museum is right next to NTU History Gallery in the same building so team up the two in one visit.

NTU Agricultural Exhibition Hall (農業陳列館)

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credit of Wikipedia

NTU has its own farms and makes its own food. On the main campus you can wander over to the Experimental Farm and admire its crops and gardens. The university therefore takes Taiwan’s agriculture pretty seriously. The Exhibition Hall takes you through the best of the industry, new and eco-friendly technologies, and promotes more love for Taiwan’s green and natural. At the Agricultural Product Sales Centre, you could also purchase NTU food stuffs as well as the famous NTU milk. Lines are always out the door.

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NTU Museum of Zoology (動物博物館)

Extend your walk to Zhoushan Road (舟山路) and you might catch a whiff of something that smells vaguely like an animal farm. Follow your nose to the Life Sciences building (生命科學院) and you’ll find the Museum of Zoology. Despite the modern exterior, the museum’s foundations could be traced back to 1928 when the university first opened. Over 20,000 fossils and animal specimens from Taiwan and surrounding islands have been documented – most of which are on display here, including a baleen whale!

NTU Geo-Specimen Cottage (地質標本館)

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At first look, it’s easy to mistaken the Geo Specimen Cottage or Geological Herbarium as a house for the groundskeeper. Though well-preserved, the cottage was used only as a warehouse until the museum’s conception in 2003. Inside holds a modest collection of 3500 specimens of rock, minerals and fossils of significant geological value from Taiwan. You can look at these specimens under a light microscope, then take a stroll in its garden to see larger rock formations typical of the Taiwanese scenery.

Herbarium of NTU (植物標本館)

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This is one of my favourite places to walk around in on a nice day.  The Herbarium was one of the earliest that were established, and its focus was to collect and document Taiwan’s flora, which eventually reached an incredible 250,000 or so specimens. About 60,000 of these are indigenous to Taiwan and it was here that some of these newly-discovered species were named. There’s also an exhibition room archiving seeds and other dried plant specimens, but do not miss the outdoor areas, including the fern greenhouse.

NTU Heritage Hall of Physics (物理文物廳)

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Somewhere in NTU’s original nuclear physics lab lies Asia’s very first Cockcroft-Walton linear accelerator. Built by a professor and his young team of students during the Taihoku Imperial University era, the achievement sent shockwaves through academic circles in Japan and the rest was history. The Hall has been reconstructed to commemorate their achievements, and to house not only the main portions of the accelerator, but also a number of other impressive scientific resources from back in the day – including glassware hand-blown by previous physicists, and Hokutolite, a radioactive mineral originally sourced only in Taiwan.


Getting There: Here’s a map to help you find all these knowledgeable worlds with ease. The NTU Museum of Medical Humanities (醫學人文博物館), NTU Archives (檔案館), and the NTU Insect Museum (昆蟲標本館) are outside the main campus, but are also included for you to enjoy!

Opening Hours: Most of these museums are open 6 days a week, closed either Mondays or Tuesdays, and on public holidays. Hours of operation are usually 10am to 4pm with a one hour lunch break from 12 to 1pm. For accurate opening hours, view in Google Maps.

*unless stated otherwise, photos credit of NTU
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Taiwan’s Abandoned: The Thirteen Levels

It’s impossible to keep abandoned places a secret when the structure itself is akin to an archaic fortress, sits precariously on a mountain face that overlooks the ocean, and also happens to be in close proximity to a number of major tourist attractions. I came across it almost like everyone else did; by accident, while on the way to other destinations, and because it really is that glaringly obvious.

So I won’t bore previous explorers with too much detail, but for the visiting folks who don’t know better, there once existed a massive metal refinery and smelter in Jinguashi (金瓜石), a region that was exploited for its mineral riches and became a major mining hub under Japanese colonial rule. The Shuinandong Smelter (水湳洞精鍊廠) was built in 1933 but after Japan’s surrender, the state-run Taiwan Metal Mining Company took over. Around 1973 though, the gold and copper in these hills eventually ran out, and the Company went out of business. Along with Jinguashi’s mining industry, the smelter, now affectionately coined The Remains of the Thirteen Levels (十三層遺址), also ceased to exist. Why it was given this name though, no-one knows for sure. Because there is apparently 18 levels.

Whether the progressing structures following the face of the mountain was just too expensive to destruct, or plans for repurposing fell through, the entire complex was simply left to ruins. There’s now a somewhat dystopian beauty to it all, and despite attempts to gate it off, exploring The Thirteen Levels seems to be a growing trend.

In broad daylight, my partners in crime and I crept through a hole in the fence, thanks to a previously curious someone who had made good use of a wire cutter. In spite of its popularity, Thirteen Levels is huge and glorious… leaving room for three curious intruders to lurch around dark places and discover more than what first meets the eye…

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An eerie message that reads “I’m always here”. Right outside, local artist Mr OGay makes his mark.

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Thanks to fellow explorer Guang-Hui Chuan for this shot.

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Copper-contaminated water turns the river golden. Photo by Guang-Hui Chuan.

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Visit  my fellow partners in crime websites for more photos and their own story:

GsquaredTravel

The Rootless


A Friendly Word of Advice to Subsequent Explorers

Exploring the Thirteen Levels is indeed alot of fun, and some of you after reading my post may want to go see it for yourself. By all means try, but please be mindful of your safety! Many areas of this ruin is in fact quite dangerous – you’ve seen the collapsed roof, broken glass shards everywhere, vats of poison and fallen rusty iron poles etc, not to mention pitch-black stairwells and weakened, uneven floors. I only recommend that you enter if you’re confident, wearing the right gear and exercising extra precaution. Intrusion has been so common that authorities are getting serious with prohibiting access. I’ve been told there is now a new gate intact and security guards standing watch. I don’t blame them…exploring abandoned places is dangerous and you’re doing it at your own risk, so please be careful!

100 Anecdotes: Things Weren’t Always Wonderful Here

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…When the KMT moved to Taiwan, they made it much harder for the locals here. They didn’t care for us. Their eyes were on China. They forced us to stop speaking Taiwanese, and they were prejudiced because we were educated under the Japanese system.

Though eyes bleary with age, he was sharp-minded and his hands didn’t shake as he unfolded the silk flag he had just purchased from his friend. It seemed fitting to give a foreigner the truthful rundown of Taiwan’s history as he presented the vintage piece.

Taiwan’s journey for democracy was turbulent, even amongst its own.

 

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Mazu Mania – Taiwan’s Not so Average Religious Festival

http://www.ancient-origins.net/

Who is Mazu?

Mazu, Goddess of the Sea and protector of fishermen and seafarers is not your average folk legend. Arguably the most worshipped deity with 1500 temples and over 100 million devotees, Mazu’s legend is almost as varied as the 26 countries she is reported to be worshipped in. Taiwan’s widespread belief however, entails of a young girl from a fishing village who possessed other-worldly powers to help fishermen stay safe when out at sea. The most well-known account was when her father and brother were caught in a storm and went overboard. Mazu was at home when she went into a trance and transported herself to go save them. She was able to rescue her brother but her mother obviously worried at her state, woke her from her trance and her father unfortunately drowned. Due to her personal loss, her soul remained at sea, continuing to roam the seas to save as many people in trouble as she could.

Don’t downplay the hearsay. Such stories of heroism led to her deification in both Buddhist and Taoist traditions. Then, sometime in the Qing dynasty, after being conferred a number of official titles by emperors themselves, local Taiwanese grew to venerate Mazu not only as the Goddess of the Sea, but as the patron guardian for the island as a whole; making her the most alluring heavyweight of cultural and religious significance for Taiwan.

The Holy Pilgrimage

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People really go manic for Mazu here, and few holy pilgrimages across the globe can measure up to that of Mazu’s in volume, distance, and sheer noise. Over 9 days, some 5 million people participate in the annual event which is a giant early birthday bonanza for Mazu (her birthday is on the twenty third day of the third lunar month which usually falls in late April or early May). Sitting in a tiny palanquin, the statue of Mazu will be carried on-foot from Jenn Lann Temple, her home temple in the small township of Dajia (大甲鎮瀾宮), followed by a giant swarm of devotees walking continuously for 8 days and 7 nights through the counties of Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi before returning to Dajia. Celebrations though is not limited to traditional rituals. A part from having some of the most impressive fire power to be witnessed, Mazu mania involves light shows, parades, talent competitions, night markets and more. Not too shabby of a birthday celebration for someone believed to be born in 960 AD.

Wanting to see just how big a party Taiwan can throw for Mazu, I went to catch up on the action from day 8 of the Pilgrimage as she was heading back through Qingshui township towards her home temple.

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Nothing prepared me for the crowds.The number of people and fire power for Mazu’s festivities made me wide-eyed and frankly, slightly nervous.
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Pop up food stalls were dotted along the road to welcome both tired participants of the pilgrimage and hungry spectators. Cooked by volunteers and free-of-charge to eat.
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I was jostled around like a pingpong ball. As the fireworks got closer and fiercer, it was proving difficult to find places to stand with even the scarcest of possessions (my cameras) and a small backpack. 
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There is nothing more terrifying than seeing boxes upon boxes of firecrackers ready to be set alight on a single street and the masses of people stampeding away from the fiery haze that was drawing closer and closer
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The sheer amount of fire crackers being set off in close proximity created a mid-air fireball mere metres from the crowd. It’s fascinating that none of the locals backed away. Not one flinched while they had their cameras poised. I was ready to bolt.
A devotee who have joined the pilgrimage maintained his good spirits while the blisters on his feet were being heat-treated. As chaotic as this pilgrimage can be, there are healthcare services en-route, open late into the night to tend to those who need it. When the smoke got to choking levels, I also grabbed a free face mask.
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Arriving twilight of Day 9, Jenn Lann Temple was still rather quiet and peaceful with only a few visitors here and there. The ambiance would be sure to change in a a few hours when Mazu is expected to arrive.

“Miss, if you’re tired, you can head downstairs to rest. There are many others who are staying, waiting for Mazu.”

A volunteer of the temple directs me to a place to rest my tired legs. Obviously experienced with overnighters before, the Temple had a pile of flattened cardboard boxes to be used as mattresses. Thankful just to not be sleeping outside on concrete, I grabbed a few and set myself up in a small alcove amongst piles of incense paper, ready to be burnt in prayer rituals for Mazu.

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Drawing close to Mazu’s arrival, the crowd gathers in front of the temple to observe traditional religious customs
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Several depictions of Taoist gods and deities line up to dance in front of the temple.
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Taoist gods and immortals are usually depicted with black faces. The reason for this, I’ve yet to discover.
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A palanquin bearer wipes sweat from his eyes after finishing a ritual. He, amongst eight other bearers rushed back and forth with the palanquin in front of the temple entrance, and yelled at the top of their lungs as they did so.
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Cheerleaders dance for Mazu. No form of celebration is excluded.. Fashion shows, parading bands and martial arts performers all lined up to honour Mazu.
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The more colourful and boisterous, the better. Performers release even more firecrackers and streamers to start the celebrations in anticipation of receiving Mazu back to her home temple.
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Loud clanging and ear-piercing tunes from traditional trumpets and reed pipes are customary for Taoist events, and Taiwan’s patron deity deserves frequent and the noisiest of music. Tied in with exploding firecrackers and the high-pitched squeals of fireworks, it makes the festive atmosphere even more riveting.
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The very last picture I took before heading back to Taipei. Jenn Lann Temple is located at opposite ends to the Dajia Train Station on the same street. On this day, the usual 3 minute walk took me 10 minutes to dart around the crowd and continuing parades.

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Hitchhiking Across Taiwan to See a Burning Boat – Part II

Part II – The Burning of the Boat

Following my previous hitchhiking adventures to Kaohsiung, I spent a day gallivanting around the city before I eventually made it to the site where The King Boat Festival (迎王平安祭) was held.

Once every three years, the little fishing town of Donggang of Pingtung County (東港, 屏東縣) is abuzz with unusual liveliness for about a week. The King Boat Festival is a spectacular event featuring the burning of a large boat on Donggang’s beach at dawn. A long-standing tradition that dates back to the 1700s, the festival honours Wen Fu Wang Ye (溫府王爺) who lived as Wen Hong (溫鴻) and served under Emperor Taizhong of the Tang Dynasty (唐太宗: 626-649 AD). As a loyal subject, he had accumulated much credit for the emperor, and legend has it that he had even saved the emperor’s life. Unfortunately while on a mission, he along with 35 other ambassadors died at sea when a great storm struck. To show his gratitude, Emperor Taizhong honoured him and the other ambassadors as celestial emissaries (Dai Tian Xun Shou 代天巡狩). That is, representing the emperor to patrol the country and report back to the heavens.  It is believed that by burning the King Boat and sending Wen Fu Wang Ye back to the heavens will also eliminate disease and pestilence from the earth, as well as protect devout followers from ill luck.

Each King Boat is created well in advance by volunteer craftsmen and painters who build and adorn the boat into a masterpiece.
Each King Boat is created well in advance by volunteer craftsmen and painters who build and adorn the boat into a masterpiece.

This uncommon festival holds plenty to see and discover. Taiwanese locals and foreigners alike all crowd into this place, wishing to take part in it. With this year’s festival coinciding with my first year of living in Taiwan, it was something I could not miss.

Upon arriving at the town’s outskirts close to midnight, it was rather easy to spot where I needed to be. If it weren’t for the red lanterns lining the streets, then it was certainly the crowds of people making their way to Dong Long Gong (東隆宮), the temple in which the first part of the main event would be held. It was as though I had arrived at the site just as they were getting started, instead of late into the night. Like what you will find at most temple entrances, food vendors, drink stands and small stalls selling all sorts of knick knacks line the streets leading to the temple. There were game stalls as well as a Chinese Opera stage. It was like a giant night market on a weekend, only with much more to take in.

In with the masses. Nothing quite like a hot night with little personal space. But the atmosphere like I said, was absolutely hypnotic.
In with the masses. Nothing quite like a hot night with little personal space. But the atmosphere like I said, was absolutely hypnotic.

After walking the streets, I thought it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Everyone had a similar rhythm to each other as we headed to the centre of Dong Long Gong. Here, people had the chance to admire the boat up close before it is later set alight. Vibrant, gold and amassed with offerings and incense, I found myself wandering into the temple to observe devout locals pray for their fortune.

Though honouring Wang Ye was originally associated with warding off disease and illness, it is now a common belief that he would also generally bring good fortune.
Though honouring Wang Ye was originally associated with warding off disease and illness, it is now a common belief that he would also generally bring good fortune.

Traditional pipes and drums were played alongside chants as smaller offerings were made throughout the night. Finally around 1.30 am, a solemn hustle began as eager spectators, silent by the obvious change of pace, vie each other for the best spot to watch the boat move through the temple’s golden gates on its way to the beach. After the big ceremony at Dong Long Gong, I was one of the thousands who made our way to the beach for the final send-off. We left the temple earlier than I expected. At 2.30 am we reached the dark waters and stood there waiting for dawn to see the fiery finale. The atmosphere was riveting!

Somehow I managed to push my way through the crowds to the front for the best view of the boat. Being well prepared, I have brought with me a picnic mat. After standing for an hour or so, my legs gave way to the weight I was carrying and I was ready to make some little space to sit down. For your future reference, don’t carry a bulky back pack if you could help it! I was being knocked around like a pinata making my way through crowds with my cargo. Thankfully, my picnic mat proved more useful than I had imagined. I shared as much of it with the people around me…and made more new friends.

There's always a place and time to create new friendships. Even if that place is at 3 am on a seashore and in almost complete darkness.
There’s always a place and time to create new friendships. Even if that place is at 3 am on a seashore and in almost complete darkness.

At long last just before dawn broke, the boat was finally set to burn. The calm that came with the blaze as the sun rose was somewhat humbling, as though a new beginning is in the midst. As you could probably pick up from my voice, I had no energy left to stay longer, but I have been told the boat continued to burn up till midday.

At 6.30am, I slowly made my way back to the temple with my new friends who were happy to give me a lift back to Kaohsiung. Too tired to lift my thumb again for another 8-9 hour hitchhike, I finally slumped on a bus and slept the entire way back to Taipei.

Exhausted as I was, it was truly eye-opening to take part in such a spectacular festival. Thanks to Taiwan’s religious freedom and nurturing of local customs, I was able to learn about this age-old tradition and see how relevant it still remains in their lives today. I had hitchhiked a total of 4 cars, rode 2 buses, stayed awake throughout 14 hours to witness this event. But it was worth every joule of energy.

As the fire got bigger the smoke became too much for my lungs to handle. I went and found myself a little piece of paradise instead.
As the fire got bigger the smoke became too much for my lungs to handle. I went and found myself a little piece of paradise instead.
Once the festival was over, Donggang returned to the sleepy fishing village it was before.
Once the festival was over, Donggang returned to the sleepy fishing village it was before.