Ximen Ding and the Lin Family Mansion and Gardens

Last Wednesday, Ruby and I went to the Red House in Ximen Ding(at the next stop from Taipei on the blue line), home of the first and largest art market in Taipei, open every Saturday and Sunday as well as holidays. A website wanted to interview her about her handmade clothing brand, M+T Design (check out her Facebook page here) and we took the opportunity to have a snack and walk around the Ximen xī mén 西門(literally "West gate") area.

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(With my parents the last time they came to visit me in Taiwan)

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(This restaurant is really famous for their dà cháng miàn xiàn大腸麵線)

I really like this part of Taipei, and with all the bright lights and trendy fashion outlets, the street performers(I've seen tons of musicians, break dancers and even fire eaters here) and tons of nice restaurants, department stores and movie theaters, I always describe it to my friends and family as the Times Square of Taipei. Located in the Wenhua District, the area is filled with historic sites and lots of beautiful temples, notably Long Shan Temple lóng shān sì 龍山寺. It's well worth a visit, and I'll be blogging about lots of these places in the future.

After we finished up in Ximen, we headed back to the MRT and rode the next train to Fuzhong Station in Banqiao city. We took exit 3 and followed the signs to the Lin Family Mansion and Gardens lín jiā huā yuán 林家花園, which was only about a ten minute walk from the MRT station.

This place is huge and really beautiful. There is a plaque out front with some historical information about the Lin family and the building of their home, which cost more than the construction of early Taipei City! Make sure you have a few hours of free time on your hands when you go, as there is a lot to see and explore here.

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(Just follow the signs)

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(The gate to the family residence, the doors are painted red, as red is a lucky color that is associated with prosperity and wealth in Chinese culture, and the handles are made to depict the bā guà 八卦, an ancient Chinese divination tool)

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(The path to the garden and a shot of the Lin family's sān hé yuàn 三合院, traditional three-house courtyard)

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(Just a few of the pictures I took around the estates…this place is massive and I took hundreds of photos, so it was really hard to choose!)


(This is a really old tree. If you look closely, you can see that it grew-up around another tree) 

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(This is a jìng zì tíng 敬字亭, a kind of monument to words, and they often have special meanings written on them along with poetry)

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(They also have a pretty cool gift shop, it's free admittance so they have to bring in some money somehow, right? So what are you waiting for? See you there!)

On the way back, you can check out a local traditional market, and there is also a rather larger temple dedicated to mā zŭ 媽祖, the goddess of the ocean, right across from the MRT station which is worth a visit.


(The local traditional market)


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(At the temple dedicated to 媽祖)

To end the day, we did something decidedly un-Chinese…we had McDonald's! But it was good!




How To Get There:

Ximen Ding-Take the MRT to the next stop from Taipei on the blue line, called Ximen 西門.
Lin Family Mansion and Gardens- Take the MRT from Ximen to Fuzhong 府中, take exit three and follow the signs. The temple and traditional market are across from the MRT, nearby the McDonald's.


Chinese phrases of the day:

西門= literally "west-gate" a trendy shopping area in Taipei

大腸麵線= pig-intestine noodles

龍山寺= Longshan Temple, the name literally translates as "Dragon Mountain Temple"

林家花園= Lin Family Garden

八卦= an ancient Chinese divination tool

三合院= traditional three-house courtyard

敬字亭= a monument to the respect of words

媽祖= Goddess of the ocean


拜拜! Zhen Qing Temple

Today I went with my fiance's family to a temple in Bali on guī mă shān 龜馬山(Turtle-Horse Mountain) called zhēn qìng gōng 真慶宮. My fiancé's brother will be joining the military for his obligatory  year at the end of the month, so the family went to the temple to bài bài 拜拜, or pray. It is not uncommon for people to go to temples seeking guidance or to ask for help with their business or to look after their wellbeing.Taiwan is a peaceful country, and generally serving in the military is not very dangerous, but with political tension between Taiwan and the mainland being what it is, you never know what could happen, so we asked for her brother's year in the service to pass safely.

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(Outside the temple from the bottom of the mountain, and up close and personal views)

This temple has been in construction for a long time, and besides the giant plot of land it is on, many Taiwanese families have donated millions of dollars in local currency to see it completed. It is also the largest temple in Taiwan to the God xuán tiān shàng dì 玄天上帝.


(The money for each of these pillars was donated by devout families…they weren't cheap either!)

The first thing we did upon arriving was to place incense sticks into the three giant incense holders. There are three at this particular temple. At each incense holder, we say a silent prayer, bow three times and place the incense stick with the others already burning to ashes. This is called shāo xiāng 燒香, burn incense, in Mandarin Chinese.
When you enter the shén diàn 神殿, the innermost portion of the temple, it is customary to use a branch with leaves to sprinkle blessed water on your head and two shoulders to keep you safe and protect you from bad spirits. The reason you put water on these three points, is because in Chinese Taoism/Buddhism these three points are believed to hold fires on them that protect you from evil.
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(Me cleansing myself to enter the inner temple)
In the inner sanctum of the temple, which is decorated heavily in gold ornamentation (gold is a lucky color in Chinese culture) lies a large table in front of giant statues depicting various Gods. here you can donate money and take a píng ān fú 平安符, an amulet, for luck and protection. The 平安符 are separated by color and animal of the 12 year cycle. I was born in the year of the rat.
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(We all got a new 平安符. Take a closer look at mine.)
After taking an amulet, you can make wishes or ask questions to the Gods with the jiăo bēi筊杯. Kneel on the knee-rest, hold the two wooden halves together in your hands, tell the Gods your name and address (so they can find you) and make your request. Then bow three times and throw the two halves to the ground. If the two pieces are showing opposite sides, then the answer is yes, if they are the same, it is no, so ask again!
Before going, we revisited one of the incense pots and "super-charged" our 平安符. It is customary to hold your amulet and circle it clock-wise three times over the incense smoke, and then to cup your hands and place the smoke over your head (again, because of the protective fires).
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(Bathing my 平安符 in the incense smoke, and a little on myself for good measure)             
I love the feeling inside temples here in Taiwan. The smell of the incense and being surrounded by the beautiful carvings and architecture fill me with a sense of peace and contentment. I can't wait to see what this place looks like when it's finished!
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(Some cool carvings from the temple walls, and an image of what the temple will eventually look like when it is finished)
How To Get There:
The temple is located near Dansui in Bali. If you don't have a car, the best way to get there would be by bus or taxi. You can take the MRT to Luzhou station on the orange line and then either find a taxi to take you there or you could take bus number 928. Here is the address in Chinese, so you can just show a cab driver, as well as the contact information. The temple is open from 6am-9pm.
Address: 新北市八里區中華路二段165巷33號

Phone: 02 2610 4373


Chinese phrases of the day:

拜拜= pray

燒香= burn incense

神殿= the inner sanctum of a temple

平安符= a safety talisman

筊杯(pronounced ba-bwei in Taiwanese, and this is how it is usually called in Taiwan)= a pair of crescent shaped wooden tools, rounded on one side and flat on the other which are used for divination



5 Reasons for you to spend a year (or more) abroad in Taiwan.

1. Mandarin is THE language to learn, and with over a billion people in the world who speak it, learning even just basic Mandarin will open up a lot of doors for you, especially with Mainland China's economic growth in recent years.


2. Taiwan is a safe place to live with a rich cultural heritage. On top of that, the locals are very friendly, and welcoming of Westerners. The people will take care of you and help you out however they can. Whether you are having trouble ordering food at a restaurant, or finding your way around, the majority or Taiwanese are very approachable and willing to help you out. Many Taiwanese are also very interested in learning English and about Western culture, so don't be surprised if random people approach and befriend you. This makes Taiwan an ideal place to pick-up a second language and to learn about a fascinating culture that has been around for thousands of years.
3. Convenience is paramount in Taiwan, and public transportation is excellent. Taxis are cheap, buses run late and to practically any destination you could possibly have in mind, and the MRT system makes getting around Taipei(and now Kaohsiung) very easy. And there are plans to further expand the MRT system, which will eventually run all the way from Taoyuan international airport to Taipei city. Usually in North America, when we say a place is nearby, we mean 5-10 minutes by car. In Taiwan, distances are usually measured by foot(except in the county, where having a set of wheels becomes more necessary). When I get hungry, I just walk downstairs and have a ton of options in the neighborhood, not to mention 7-11 around the corner and the night market just a little further down the road. More on night markets in a future post.
4. Taiwan is a great place for nature lovers. Whether you feel at home surfing or just chilling at the beach, or if a hike through majestic mountains is more your thing, rest assured, there're plenty of amazing places for you to explore. I'll expand on this topic in a future post, but I'll leave you with a few pics of some of my favorite destinations: Penghu and Hualien.
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5. It's a fruit lover's paradise. Taiwan has a ton of unique fruits which are either uncommon or unheard of in the USA. A few of my favorites are bājiāo(八蕉), a type of short, sweet banana, huǒlóngguǒ(火龍果) or dragon fruit, and shìzi(柿子) or persimmons, but this topic really deserves a future post of its own. Easy access to a variety of fruits and fresh juice stands makes it easy to get a healthy snack on the run!


Chinese phrases of the day:

bājiāo(八蕉)= a type of short, sweet banana

huǒlóngguǒ(火龍果)=dragon fruit

shìzi(柿子)= persimmons