1/17/09 My friend P and I decided to drive to some scenic towns in Taipei County for the day. P picked me up at the MRT station nearest to southern Taipei County, which is at the end of the blue line, and a good 50 minutes ride from my home. However the Taipei MRT is a kick to be on, and with my newly loaded iPod, the ride was more than enjoyable.
P was there to pick me up at the MRT station, as planned. We hopped into his car and the road trip was off to a good start.
We decided to go to the town of San-Shia first, which is on the very southern end of the Taipei County. I've been to San-Shia only once about 20 years ago (!!) with a highschool girlfriend who is from there. The last visit left a rather faint impression, so I'm glad to be visiting again. San-Shia is known for its historical old-town area, and the national historical heritage site of the "Zu-Shi-Yeh" Temple, boasting exquisite carvings and sculptures througout the entire building. The town is also the birthplace of one of Taiwan's premier artist Li Mei-Shu. There was much to see and enjoy in just a few hours.
We first went to the downtown area for lunch. The narrow and winding streets were extremely congested and no one was going anywhere. There were also police everywhere. Soon we figured out the reason. On top of the weekend tourist crowd, the Taiwanese President Ma was visiting the town for the day. In fact his cars passed right before us. We were lucky to have found an excellent parking spot, which was directly opposite from the restaurant where the President was having lunch that day. Everyone around was excited. Commotion everywhere. We decided to go further away from the crowd to have a simple lunch. P took charge of ordering and I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed yet another simple but delicious Taiwanese fare. We had some rice with soy pork toppings, some regional specialty fish dumpling soup, marinated bamboo shoots, and stir-fried vegetables. Especially, there's a soupy Milk Fish dish cooked in broth with herbs--mmm~mmm~good. We sectioned off the fish and dipped it in wasabi and soy sauce. My gosh. Fish here is so incredibly fresh and delicious, it makes all these years of eating frozen seafood in the States a rather terrible tragedy!!
After lunch we walked to the Zu-Shi-Yeh Temple which was only a bit further up the road. The temple was stunningly beautiful. The temple was first built in 1769 and has gone through continuous renovation and supposedly it is still not completed to this day--one of those stories that parallels that of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The most recent round of renaissance renovation was as an effort of Li Mei-shu (1902 - 1983,) a famous and pioneering Taiwanese artist from San-Shia. Li spent much of his life raising funds and working with the artisans who turned this temple into the masterpiece that it is. His family continued the effort after he's gone.
We strolled along the walkways in the temple, then went up to the second floor where we looked down at the people worshipping quietly and devoutly at the main offering table. The atmosphere inside the temple is one that is peaceful and serene. while we enjoyed a quiet moment, the ornate marbled and gold-leafed architecture and carvings glisten in the sun, making my eyes quite busy at the same time. It was a very interesting spiritual experience all in itself.