Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 11 2008

A day in Central Taiwan

Last weekend the Muddy Basin Ramblers played at the opening of the new Mary Jane Pizza in Gongguan. It was a good time, though I didn’t get to eat as much pizza as I would have liked. Afterwords we went over to the NTU campus track stands to jam and chat until the wee hours of the morning. It was after 2am before I got to bed.

A mere three hours later I got up in order to catch the first subway train to Taipei Main Station, where I caught the first bullet train to Taichung at 6:30am. I was so sleep-addled that I forgot my change from the ticket vending machine. Hopefully some desperate individual got the extra NT$300 they needed for some reason. The ride was silky smooth as usual, but I didn’t dare nod off on the train for fear of ending up in Kaohsiung.

In Taichung I had some breakfast at the sleek, modern station’s Starbucks and then caught a free bus to the front gate of Tunghai University, where I met some friends. We then took a cab north along the ridge of the hills, which are covered with old military bunkers and tunnels, past the park and a couple of desolate military bases. Our objective was the Chio-tian Folk Drums & Arts Troupe headquarters, which turned out to be comprised of a small temple adorned with the trappings of a crude campus in the middle of a large, empty field. The students’ dormitories, cargo containers with windows carved in them, surround the small structure.

The head of the troupe, director Hsu Cheng-rong, started taking in children from underprivileged and troubled households in 1995, training them in various temple ceremonial rites and roles and giving them an outlet for their energies. He does all of this out of his own pocket.

We talked with Hsu and met some of the students, who go through rigorous training. Hsu said that if a student screws up, they have a choice: either leave the troupe forever or accept punishment, which is a “spanking,” but after Hsu had one of this students lie down in front of the temple alter to demonstrate, it looked more like preparations for a real beating. “That’s for serious mistakes,” he said, “Like stealing or fighting.”

Hsu thinks that the transition of temple-related activities to more mainstream entertainment venues is gradually gaining acceptance within society. “The Japanese didn’t like them because they were channels for civic unrest,” he said. “The old KMT didn’t like them for the same reason. But now things are looking up. People are becoming more confident in their culture, and they can appreciate the art within it.” The focus of the activities does seem to be moving in that direction. The group sees more shows for entertainment than actual temple ceremonies these days.

thingsThe most senior disciple there, a man of 30 with long, faintly reddish hair, painted our faces and dressed us up in various Eight Generals “Ba Jia Jiang” regalia, then taught us some of the moves, dances and poses, as well as some of the weapons the students have to wield. It’s much harder than it looks, I have to say. The regalia is heavy and thick, and the movements require a certain degree of agility and stamina. I was so impressed with the job the student had done on painting my face, I left it on after we left the center that afternoon.

Our next stop was the Taiwan Folk Village in Zhanghua, which was downright depressing after the hopeful nature of the dance troupe. The amusement park has gone the furthest it can towards closing down without actually closing down: Half of the attractions are closed, the buildings falling apart and covered in weeds. The once-impressive water park, featuring a water slide and a pirate ship affixed to the side of the building, is clogged with algae and overgrown. The only things left in operation are a few old-style structures selling trinkets and the second-rate theater where a magician saws women in half and allegedly Outer Mongolian wrestlers throw heavy objects at each other in front of a crowd of a dozen or so people. Apparently the park started making its money more from film crews than actual visitors at one point, and things just went downhill from there.

Since we were in Zhanghua, we stopped by the famous giant Buddha there for some pictures as dusk deepened, and then back to Taichung for dinner at a restaurant made to look like a kind of grotto. The sinks and urinals in the bathroom were so similar that men were using them interchangeably, I noticed as I finally removed the multicolored paint from my face before dinner. The kitchen was working fine, however; the food was excellent.

I was bushed, though, and caught a cab back out to the HSR station, where I took a direct train which saw me back in Taipei in less than an hour.It was an interesting day; it’s good to get out of town for a bit.

posted by Poagao at 6:06 am  


  1. I would have thought Mary Jane Pizza would want the Mary Jane Girls to perform their 1985 hit “In My House”.

    Comment by The Taipei Kid — October 14, 2008 @ 12:22 am

  2. I regularly cycle up the hill past the Taiwan Folk Village, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been inside and even then, things were looking a little neglected. I had been thinking about going back there sometime soon, but perhaps I’ll just keep riding past.

    Comment by cfimages — October 15, 2008 @ 3:02 am

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