A work colleague of Helene’s knew someone who lived in Taichung. This colleague connected her Taiwanese friend and me on the off chance that I’d go to Taichung and we’d both be free to meet. Well, here I was in Taichung, a place I’d not heard off that long ago!
The person who lived in Taichung, Jianyuan, and I had chatted on WhatsApp occasionally. Jianyuan messaged me when I arrived in Taichung and said he’d be free the following day to drive me around Taichung! This was incredibly generous. I couldn’t believe my luck.
We started in the 921 Earthquake Museum. Set in the site of a school destroyed by the 21 September 1999 earthquake, the museum tells the story of the aftermath of the 7.3 Richter scale earthquake in which 2,415 people died. It was the worst earthquake in Taiwan in a hundred years. Jianyuan witnessed the earthquake himself since, at the time, he was growing up in Nantou, one of the regions in central Taiwan struck by the earthquake.
After the earthquake, the government instigated various preventative measures to guard against future earthquakes. The school, the uplifted riverbed, and athletic field were preserved as a testament to the damage a seismic event can cause. The museum provides education material, such as how buildings are engineered to counteract earthquakes. During our visit, school children were visiting, which deprived us of the chance to go in the earthquake simulator, in which you get the chance to experience what it feels like during an earthquake.
We next drove to the home of the Wufeng Lin family. In the 19th century, a member of the family started building the first house in the Fujian-style in Taiwan. (Fujian is a province in SE China.) This construction continued through later generations of the family until eventually the mansions and gardens were the largest and most complete traditional residential compound in Taiwan. Its perimeter was 1km.
The leaflet given to us said that they had once been wealthy and influential in central Taiwan. Pioneers from the beginning, the Lins of Wufeng risked the trip across the Taiwan Strait in the 18th century. Their story is the story of Taiwan in miniature. They were mavericks: unconventional, daring, wise and achieved high office in civil society and the military, helping to defend Taiwan against local and foreign aggressors and teaching the Taiwanese people to stand up for themselves under Japanese rule.
Not content with all that, they founded literary societies. In traditional China, poetry was a form of cultivation; studying poetry helped you learn the Confucian way. The Wufeng Lins promoted education and built a middle school and a commerce academy in Taichung.
The earthquake that damaged the school also damaged the Wufeng Lins’ mansions and gardens. They have now been restored and reflect a bit of Taiwan’s history.
Finally, we went to a modern Buddhist temple, which was surprisingly peaceful and calming despite its concrete construction.
I had struggled in Taipei to find restaurants. I’m not sure why. But Jianyuan took me to a couple of restaurants, for lunch and dinner. I realised that eating vegetarian/vegan was easier than I had thought. Apparently, Taiwan, as a percentage of the population, is second to India in the number of vegetarians in the world.