Southern Seasides and Ceremonial Surprises

The threat of a typhoon has been hanging over the northeast coast of Taiwan all week. It dwindled out before the worst of it would have made landfall, luckily, but not before leaving us with several days of sticky, sweltering weather. We had been hoping to spend our last weekend before the festival doing plenty of exploring, but at 93 degrees Fahrenheit and about 80% humidity, it’s tough to do much more than sit in front of a fan all day! So, we beat the heat the best way we knew how: a trip to the beach.

By now, we’ve been to Wai’ao enough times to know it like the back of our hand, so we decided to try a different seaside spot this time. South of Daxi (which you may remember for its delicious fish market), past the harbors and jumbles of wave breakers, there’s a little stretch of beach called Honeymoon Bay. We spotted it from the train station during our first trip to Daxi, but from a distance the cove looked small and isolated, not exciting enough to justify the extra 20 minutes of walking. Since then, we’ve heard lots about the little bay and decided to make it our next destination.

In addition to being a popular spot for surfers all around the country, Honeymoon Bay is quite a hotspot among locals. You’d never know it just from reading the tourist websites, but the people of Daxi have essentially made their own hybrid public park/resort right by the water!

Along the path from the train station to the sand, there’s a sprawling elementary school perched right between the main road and the water. While the campus was empty for the summer, dozens of people had pitched tents, set up blankets and chairs and umbrellas to spend time together while cooling off in the ocean breeze. Kids skateboarded on the basketball court, moms snapped pictures from the fences, and grandpas snoozed in the shade outside classrooms. It seemed like the perfect place to drink in the sights and sounds of the beach, without dealing with sand and seaweed. Maybe next time we head to Daxi we’ll stop and lounge a while, but by then we were itching to get our feet into the waves.

The beach was mostly empty while the sun was high, but as soon as it set over the mountains behind us and the temperature started to drop, families started to trickle down from the school toward the water. We perched on some rocks as little kids started scraping up sandcastles all around us. The ocean is like bathwater all along the east coast of Taiwan—cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that we could have stayed there for hours. For a while, we could almost forget the intense heat waiting for us at the edges of the sea breeze.

The next day was even hotter somehow, and even a trip to the beach felt out of the question. Of course, even our quiet day managed to pack in a few new experiences—during our shorts trip out of the house of meals and drinks, we stumbled right into not one, but two celebrations at local temples!

Right around the corner from our house, there’s a huge temple that Ryan has been dying to get some shots of with his new camera. When we got there though, a dozen or so volunteers and employees of the temple were sitting around just outside the entrance, sharing food and chatting. We tried to sneak back out, not wanting to interrupt their festivities, but they quickly waved us over and insisted we take some homemade sorbet while we checked out the temple!

Later that day, we stopped by another temple in town on our way to dinner. The temple right behind Goldfish House isn’t quite as grand at the first one we visited, but it happens to be the oldest temple in Yilan County, so it holds a special place in the town’s history and heart. We’ve passed by it just about every day without thinking much of it, but today people were absolutely jammed into the courtyard, drums booming, bells ringing, giant puppets dancing—we stopped in our tracks, trying to figure out what we were seeing.

We asked Yulun and Ren-Hong about it later, and they explained that since this temple is so well respected, gods from other temples will sometimes come to visit the god at this temple. That’s what was being taken inside in the video above—a physical representation of the goddess Mazu.

We’ve lived here for nearly a month now and Toucheng is still full of so many surprises! During our work helping translate festival promo materials and arranging things for the exhibits, we’ve come to expect a lot more surprises too. The festival is going to be full of history and art and culture, taught by people who have spent years experiencing and cultivating these gems of local culture that seem to be waiting around every corner. We can’t wait to see what it has in store!

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