Amongst the mishmash of urbanization along Taiwan’s west coast, a small town keeps traditions alive and has become a fascinating little travel destination. One year ago this month, I was first introduced to Taiwan with a tour of the Lukang Township, located about a 2-hour drive south of Tapei. To commemorate my GSE Trip with the Rotary Club, it’s time to share a little bit more of Taiwan with you. So, join me for a leisurely stroll through Lukang, Taiwan!
A Little Town with a Long History
Just outside the gorgeous Lukang Folk Arts Museum, a placard gives us some historical context:
Lukang is located in the northern part of the Changhua plain. The name Lukang was adopted in the early 17th century; it means “Deer Harbor” in Mandarin. At one point, Lukang became the second largest city on the island of Taiwan due to mass immigration from the Chinese mainland. It was the hub of commerce, culture and communications for the area. Historians describe the fourth phase of Taiwanese culture (1684-1842 AD) as the “Lukang Period” because of its historical significance in the development of Taiwan.
Founded in 1973, the Lukang Folk Arts Museum was created “to preserve and display the rich cultural heritage of Lukang.” A former mansion constructed in the Fukien style of the late 18th century, the museum offers visitors intriguing insights into the past – such as the tiny shoes on display, the outcome of “foot binding,” a frequent practice among the wealthy, as small feet were a desired trait of beauty.
The museum and its pleasant gardens stand in major contrast to the modern face of Taiwan. One of the most illustrious contemporary characters of Taiwan is the motor scooter. They are the vehicles of choice for most Taiwanese people, and they take over the streets, which don’t exactly have sidewalks… or enough parking spots sometimes.
Yet, the Lukang Township is quite unique. Even in the midst of modernization, the town has maintained many of its old, narrow streets that are an absolute delight to explore. The Old Town has a winding path of pedestrian streets where vendors sell cheap gimmicks and treasured crafts side by side. Within this little town, visitors can really see glimpses of the past and projections for the future.
Preserving Culture and Art
Lukang has a high concentration of artists who keep regional traditions alive. Thanks to our awesome Rotarian hosts, my team met Li Bing Gui, a talented artist who makes outstanding wooden statues and detailed panel carvings. Li invited us into his workshop and art gallery, and after some Chinese tea and awkward pleasantries, he offered to write our names in Chinese calligraphy.
The Kwe-hua Seon (“Sweet Olive Alley”) is an artisan mock-village full of workshops and galleries. There we visited the workshop of Shi Jung Shong, a Chinese mask maker, who gave us a personal demonstration of how the large lion masks are used during festival processions.
With their hanging red lanterns and rippling rooftops guarded by dragons, the Buddhist and Taoist temples of Lukang attract both the devout and the curious. I had a look inside the Lukang Tianhou Temple, first built in 1785 and last renovated in 1936.
Lukang is home to the famous Mazu Temple situated next to the Taiwan Glass Gallery. Mazu is the goddess of the sea – an important figure for a city that owes its prosperous past to sea trade and the ocean’s bounty.
The Taiwan Glass Gallery is part museum, retail venue, religious site and entertainment center. I really enjoyed our guided tour of the glass temple and the museum. The glasswork is absolutely stunning, and a few exhibits, like the mirror maze and face kaleidoscope, brought out some big smiles.
The Flavors of Taiwan
As I shared in A Tale of Two Chopsticks, Taiwan has an insane food culture. Lukang was a great place to break in my chopsticks, as the town has a longstanding culinary heritage and street food galore.
The food stalls and powerful scents wafting through the streets may have caught my attention, but my favorite food experience in Lukang was meeting Rotarian Baker and his daughter Claire. Baker is the 8th generation owner of A-Zhen Dumpling, which makes the best dumplings (Boazi) in Changhua County, as well as bread and other baked goods. Next door, Claire opened a French coffee shop called Bonjour Paris, as a way to bring a piece of her European experiences back to Asia. They are the sweetest family and they run two great eateries in Lukang!
When the Portuguese first sailed by Taiwan in the 16th century, they named the island “Formosa” for its lush beauty. Yet, the island has so much more than gorgeous scenery; the people of Taiwan are extremely friendly and inviting. I am eternally grateful to the Rotary Club, my Taiwanese hosts and their Floridian counterparts, who gave me the opportunity to visit Taiwan. A year later, I’m still marveling at all the many wonders of Taiwan! And I’m so glad my journey began in Lukang!
Da jia hao! What do you think about Lukang? Do you know how to write your name in Chinese characters? Do you want to know more about Rotary International?
My recounting of the informational placard at the Folk Arts Museum in not verbatum. I edited it to keep content relevant to this post. Also, if you’d like to know more about my time in Taiwan, visit the Reporting for Rotary blog to get a full account of my GSE Experience. For more information about Lukang, visit the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan website and the Travel in Changhua County webpages.