Of all the places I visited in Taiwan, Lü Gang (translated to ‘Deer Port’, as it was centuries ago) is my favorite. Lü Gang is probably filled with more temples per square inch than any other part of the island so, naturally, I loved it there.
Shops line the main streets in town, goods overflowing into walkways, with owners who peddle their wares faithfully, though not aggressively, to passersby. I was particularly drawn to one side-street outpost occupied by brightly-colored little gems of birds in cages lining the ceiling and walls and their owner: an old man fast asleep at a table laid with tea and newspapers in the front of the shop.
Wandering through the streets and sweating buckets in the summer heat, my friend (acting as my tour guide) and I stopped to ask this little ayi (Auntie) for directions. She kindly answered our questions and even went so far as to show us some historical sites off the beaten path, then invited us into her home where she gave us tea and showed us the unique roofline on her house, which I believe she said was one of the oldest buildings in Lü Gang. In my best high school-level mandarin, I asked if I could photograph her in front of the altar in the main room of her house. Miraculously, she got the gist of what I was saying and said she would happily oblige.
Maybe it it was the inescapable sound of crickets’s chirping, or the cars and trains whizzing through the city, but to me, Taiwan has a perceptible rhythm. Perhaps it’s the island’s diverse history, or maybe it’s the deeply rooted desire in so many Taiwanese people to distinguish themselves from their mainland neighbors’ purged and revised view of history, but the resulting vitality and rich culture in Taiwan are enchanting. Whatever the source, it feels like a dance between ancient and modern ways: constantly progressing but never fully transcending the traditions of the past.