Sunday, 16 December 2012

Trip to Tainan

Tainan Train Station
Last weekend I made a one day trip to the Southern Taiwanese city of Tainan (Chinese: 臺南, pinyin: Táinán), the former capital and one of the most important centres of culture, history and architecture of the island.

This blog post is also intended as a special thanks to Grace, a Taiwanese friend who was so kind to show me around, and very patient, too. Since Tainan doesn't have an extensive public transport net, Grace picked me up at the train station with her motorcycle, a vehicle that, along with cars, is regarded by locals as indispensable for living comfortably in Tainan. To my great embarrassment, though, I had to admit that I cannot ride a motorcycle. That's why we had to take buses to move around. It was the first time she ever took a bus in Tainan. And now I know why: buses come more or less every half an hour, and service stops early in the evening. No wonder Tainanese snob public transport. Grace had no idea about the routes and about where the bus stop was. We went to the visitors information centre right inside the train station. Anyway, I liked the fact that she also became a tourist like me. 

From Taipei to Tainan


Street in Tainan
There are many trains and buses that go from Taipei to Tainan, but the fastest way to get there - around 2 hours - is the 高鐵, the High Speed Rail (HSR). A single ticket costs 2300 Taiwan Dollars (around 62 Euros). Quite expensive, given that you travel only for about one hour and forty five minutes and the train itself is not as comfortable as, for example, German ICEs.

One curious thing about the HSR to Tainan is that Tainan Main Station and the HSR Station are not located in the same place, and not even close to each other. When I arrived and got out of the station, all around me there was a huge green area, trees and a highway, but nothing that resembled a city. I wondered if that could possibly be Tainan, because it rather looked like countryside. Then my friend called me and I found out that I had to take another train to go to Tainan proper. A very nice guy from the tourist information centre took the trouble to accompany me to Shalun Station (Chinese: 沙崙車站; pinyin: Shālún chēzhàn), which is right in front of the High Speed Rail Station. He also helped me buy the ticket and we had a short talk. In case he ever stumbles upon this blog, I'd like to thank him for his kindness. And for the nice talk in Mandarin, which is always a great thing.

It took me less than two hours to get to Tainan HSR Station from Taipei, but almost one hour to go from Shalun to Tainan Train Station. The distance itself is not big (see map below), but I had to wait for about 25 minutes before the train left. The journey became therefore considerably longer than I had thought. 




Tainan Train Station is a very nice Japanese colonial building. A station had already been built in 1900, but in the following years it proved insufficient. It was eventually demolished and in the 1930's the current building was constructed. From the station we took a bus to the oldest part of Tainan, Anping District (Chinese: 安平區; pinyin: Ānpíng Qū) . 

Anping and Fort Zeelandia


There are two main bus lines that go through the historic centre of Tainan: number 88, which is red, and number 99, which is blue (see map). We took the blue one, which goes directly from the train station to Anping.

Originally an island separated from Tainan mainland, in the 17th century Anping was chosen by the Dutch East Indian Company as a strategic location for the construction of a fortress, known as Fort Zeelandia in English and Anping Castle (安平古堡) in Chinese. Taiwan was particularly important for the Dutch due to its favourable position. It served as a base for trade between the headquarters of the Dutch maritime empire in the East Indies (Indonesia), South China and Japan. The Dutch soon discovered that Taiwan also had an immense agricultural potential, which they readily exploited. Though Dutch rule in Taiwan lasted only from 1624 to 1634, it had a huge economic impact on the island. 

When the Manchu Qing conquerors overthrew the Ming Dynasty in mainland China, a Fujianese general named Zheng Chenggong, a Ming loyalist, retreated to Taiwan in the hope of reorganizing his forces and reconquering the mainland (an interesting historic parallel to Chiang Kai-shek). The last Ming Emperor had bestowed upon him the title 國姓爺 (Guóxìng Yé: Lord of the Imperial Surname). It is from the erroneous European pronunciation of this title that Westerners derived the name Koxinga, under which Zheng Chenggong is known in Western historiography. 

Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga)

Museum opposite the fort
In 1661 he attacked the Dutch possessions, and after a siege that lasted several months, on February 1662 the Dutch surrendered, giving up their short-lived colonial rule. Zheng Chenggong and his son Zheng Jing kept Taiwan as a Ming stronghold and governed it independently from mainland China. Until the Qing invaded the island in 1681 and retook it in 1684. 

The Fort Zeelandia we see nowadays doesn't have much in common with the fortress one would have seen four hundred years ago. During the Qing reign, the whole complex was abandoned and the only original part which has survived until now is the southern wall. The rest was rebuilt by the Japanese after they conquered Taiwan in 1895. First they built a Japanese-style custom house, then tore it down and built another one in Western style. [note] There are two museums about the history of the fort, with a lot of 18th century maps, artefacts and reconstructions of the original buildings.  


A typical alley close to Fort Zeelandia

Old Western-style house
Fort Zeelandia Tower
A house. Not in a very good shape



All around Fort Zeelandia there are old streets full of food stands, just like in night markets. In the narrow alleys we discovered some interesting Western-style houses (though I think they were built under the Japanese). There are also several temples, the biggest and most famous of which is the Mazu temple. Mazu (Chinese: 媽祖; pinyin: Māzǔ) is a Sea Goddess that began to be worshipped during the Ming Dynasty. [note] The origin of the strong Mazu cult in Taiwan dates back to the 18th century, when large numbers of immigrants from Southern China came to Taiwan. The journey across the strait was perilous, the ships often overloaded, pilots and sailors who earnt money through the transport of people didn't care much for the lives of their passengers and frequently let them disembark in areas that were too far away from the shore so that they drowned (a practice known as "feeding the fish"). [Davison Chapter 4]. Since the risk of death was so high, upon their arrival on the island the migrants established temples to thank Mazu's for the safe journey.


Mazu Temple Gate. Unfortunately, there was a huge tent right in front of the Temple
so I couldn't take a picture of the facade.

Main altar of the temple


After visiting Anping we took the bus and went to Shennong Street. It is an old narrow alley, one of the best preserved and most traditional in Tainan. There are some workshops, cafe's and restaurants. After a few minutes' walk you reach  a temple, called Yuwang, which marks the end of the street. One of the things I've always found interesting in Taiwan is that some ground floor flats are separated from the street only by a grating or a big window, so that it's possible to look inside. It's almost as if people lived on the street. This lack of privacy doesn't seem to bother them, and it is useful to foreign visitors like me, because I can peep inside and see how such flats look like. In this way I found out that many people set up gigantic Buddhist shrines in the living rooms of their homes, occupying much of the already scarce space. Somehow creepy. In Shennong Street there were some of the biggest "home shrines" I've ever seen. 



Shennong Street


Koxinga Shrine


Koxinga Shrine
As I mentioned before, Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) defeated the Dutch in 1662 and became the ruler of Taiwan. His reign was very short, though, for he died only fourteen months after seizing power. In 1663 his son and successor, Zheng Jing, had a shrine built for his father, who immediately after his death became a folk hero and a mythological figure (read my previous post about temples and religion in Taiwan). The shrine underwent many changes that reflect the history of the island. Under the Japanese it was loosely incorporated into the Shinto-cult, Japan's imperial religion. The Guomindang (KMT) also sought to use the shrine to promote their own political agenda. They renovated it after 1945 and transformed it into a symbol of Chinese national heroism. When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, the parallel between him and Koxinga became evident. In the early 1959's, a plaque was fixed over the main altar, with a slogan written by Chiang Kai-shek himself: 振興中華 (pinyin Zhènxīng Zhōnghuá: Revitalize China), on a plaque that was fixed over the main altar. The KMT used the shrine to suggest to the Taiwanese people that their island had already served as a national hero's base from which to reunite China. In this respect, the historical parallel proved to be more accurate than the KMT may have wished, for Chiang Kai-shek also failed to regain the mainland. 

Delay


Since it was already quite late and we were afraid of missing the last bus, I suggested to go back to Tainan Station and have dinner at a department store nearby. We went to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越). Our dinner was nice, but we had to eat quickly, so we couldn't really enjoy it that much. 
When we arrived at the station, I said good-bye to Grace and went to the platform. The departure of the train to Shalun was scheduled for 21:45 and that of the High Speed Train to Taipei for 22:25. A little bit tight, but it would be enough. However, after a quarter to nine for some reason the train to Shalun was still not moving, and I became increasingly nervous. I started thinking about what I could do if I missed that train, which was the last one I could take. We arrived at 22:15, I ran to the High Speed Rail Station and fortunately I made it. But I still don't see the point of having two different stations for high speed and normal trains. 


Sources: 

-Gary Marvin Davison: A Short History of Taiwan: The Case for Independence

-Mark Harrison: Legitimacy, Meaning and Knowledge in the Making of Taiwanese Identity


-Lonely Planet Taiwan Travel Guide (Country Travel Guide)




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4 comments:

  1. I guess the reason there are two different stations for HSR and TRA is that the budget would be much higher and the project would be more difficult to build the HSR station with TRA in downtoen Tainan. That's what I guess, but I do not know if it's the real reason.

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  2. @Shan-Hua

    thanks for your comment. Yes, I guess this might be a reason. Considering that Tainan Station is very old it would probably require a high budget to build a HSR extension. I was simply writing as a foreign tourist, and as a tourist I found it a little bit uncomfortable. But I'm not a city planner, so I don't know how they could have solved the problem.

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  3. Also may I recommend the next time you just take the free shuttle bus at the HSR station. They come every 15 minutes and take you to multiple stops in downtown Tainan.

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  4. HSR was built based on economic consideration mostly. The authority intended to set HSR stations at countryside in order to balance the development of cities. The fact is that the stations are designed to get profit, speculated in land, but providing convenient service for passengers. We, Taiwanese, still have been complaining a lot for their services, financial and environmental problems since the day which HSR ran.

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