Archives for category: god and goddesses

On the east coast of Taiwan, Dad and I visited Ba Xian Dong or Eight Immortals Cave–Taiwan’s best-known Paleolithic site–which was created before agriculture.

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Standing at the edge of the biggest cave: you can see the characters for Lingwa Cave to the right.

These mysterious caves in sea cliffs echo the booming of the Pacific ocean. More than 30,000 years ago the waves pounded into crevices of the cliffs, opening up caves that ancient hunter-gatherers made into temporary homes.

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Home to Taiwan’s first human inhabitants more than 20,000 years ago.

As I held a pebble chopper that was last used more than 1,000 generations ago, I felt time moving through me as I moved through time…

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Paleolithic chopping tool created by skillfully removing just a few flakes from an ocean-rounded beach pebble.

The Eight Immortals are sacred to Taoist religion and also worshipped by Buddhists. In 2014, Ba Xian Dong was a bustling series of temples built right on top of the archaeological sites. Last year the temples were closed down by the Taiwanese government to protect the sites from further damage. Although the scientist in me is glad the site is being protected, the echoing emptiness of Lingwa Cave during a winter rainstorm is haunting…the Eight Immortals watching us…

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Three years ago the thriving temple…

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The same view today. Bare concrete, wires, and haunting bits of paint are the only testament to the old temple. The latest layer of archaeology added to 20,000 years of Taiwan’s human story.

For Reba: Lights near the Ximen District (old western gate of the Qing Dynasty walled city).

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Beautiful lights gleam in the twilight streets during Lantern Festival.

View of temple of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, during Lantern Festival. I didn’t photograph the huge golden goddess who is seated inside, with curling incense smoke and worshippers in front of her feet.

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View of temple of Mazu, Taiwan’s Sea Goddess who protects fisherfolk, during Lantern Festival. I didn’t photograph the huge golden goddess who is seated inside, with curling incense smoke and worshippers in front of her feet.

Today at lunchtime I foraged in the maze of lanes just north of National Taiwan University. A humble Buddhist vegetarian buffet beckoned; unlike American buffets, Taiwan’s are generally very fresh and very cheap.

This little restaurant, staffed by serene women in eyeglasses and aprons, featured meatless Buddhist dishes. Long before tofurkey, rich and savory flavors and textures in Asian vegetarian cooking have used a wide variety of fungi (lovely mushrooms of every shape and color and those crunchy black delights termed ‘mu er’ or ‘tree ears’), tofu in every form imaginable and some never imagined (silky, crunchy, in noodly ribbons), and an ingenious selection of wheat gluten nuggets in sauces sweet, salty, and spicy.

Rubbing shoulders with students and monks, I loaded my plate with delicious food for the US equivalent of $3. Nirvana.

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Vegetarian Buddhist buffet. A happy sight for hungry eyes!

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No one can prepare cabbage like the Chinese. When it’s fresh and cooked just enough, it retains a hint of sweetness.

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Chinese stewed boiled eggs: salty, savory, satisfying.

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Lotus root with red chiles; a lovely delicate flavor with slightly nutty overtones.

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Crunchy ‘tree ear’ fungus with red chiles.

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At least four different kinds of mushrooms evoke flavors of secret forests in Taiwan’s mountain heart.

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Stir fried tofu chunks in a sweet and sour sauce.

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Carrots, edamame, and tofu shreds in a light gravy.

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Mysterious sheets of tofu, just a bit chewy with nice star anise flavors.

The patron goddess of Taiwan is Mazu, 媽祖, who watches over all those who are imperiled by the sea but especially fisherfolk. The Taiwanese have a vivid and loving relationship with the food of the sea, as shown by these lovely shots at the fish market just west of Taichung.

One of my earliest memories is of Dad and Mom feeding me octopus tentacles with chopsticks. We lived with my infant sister in Columbus, where Dad had a teaching job at Ohio State University. To my child’s mind and palate, octopus tentacles and stinky tofu (of which more later) were in the same league as hot dogs; salty, savory, satisfying.

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Fried crabs in the shell, left; tentacles of large squid. They may be the ferocious Humboldt squid, caught by Taiwanese fishermen off the Peruvian coast far away.

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Much tinier squid on a plate in a humble eatery near the fish market. They are served plain, a rarity in Taiwanese cuisine.