The Lin Family Mansion and Gardens was high on my list of spots to visit. I had seen a few pictures of the gardens in my guidebook and it absolutely enchanted me. Nestled in the Banqiao District, it is tucked away past some winding streets lined with vendors selling jewelry and fruits. People on scooters are constantly parting the crowd and sometimes driving on the sidewalk.
There seems to be an "anything goes" mentality about traffic, especially the scooters. I got used to it after a while and simply made sure I gave them a wide berth. Stilll, it set my nerves on edge a little just because I didn't want to end up under someone's wheel. This brings me to another point. I love the MRT system in Taipei. I don't have to drive anymore and I only spend a few USD to travel from one end of the city to the other. It's incredibly efficient, cheap, and simple to use.
Anyway, after walking past the busy streets in Bianqiao, I arrived at the gateway to the mansion and spectacular gardens.
I have a hard time fathoming that such beauty exists in the world but the Lin Gardens are surely a testament to it. I marveled at the traditional Chinese architecture, exotic fauna, courtyards, and ancient trees. I rested for a while by Banyan Shade Pond before I took some pictures near the artificial mountains. There were many pavilions scattered throughout the mansion to provide shade and a comfortable view. Portions of the Lin Mansion were undergoing renovations or repairs, so I'm not sure if I explored everything there is to see. Nonetheless, it met and exceeded every expectation.
I can only imagine what it would have been like to live here in such gorgeous surroundings. It's one thing to see Chinese architecture and gardens in old films but it is an enlightening experience to witness them in person. To stand before trees you would never see in your hometown, watch the sun shimmer on courtyard ponds, and reflect on my journey in Ding-Jing Hall is like nothing I can describe in words. It is deeply spiritual for me to step into another's culture. I have always been endeared to Asian culture, art, music, and history, so perhaps I am affected more than others. It feels like a sort of homecoming for me. I would recommend the Lin Family Mansion and Gardens to anyone who wishes to explore Taipei.
After wandering the gardens for another hour, I scheduled a short trip to the Taipei Zoo (described in my previous blog entry). The evening took me to Longshan Temple. One of my friends warned me that there are many beggars near the temple and they will ask me for money. It is fairly common in Taipei, I've noticed. On the night I arrived and was searching for my hostel around midnight, someone approached me and wanted money.
It was a bit surreal walking through the dark to Longshan Temple and seeing a dozen or more homeless men seeking shelter under pavilions. I felt sorry for them. Rain drizzled around me as I walked toward the Buddhist temple with artificial waterfalls outside.
I was instantly drawn to the impressive dragon carvings on the roof. I come from a city in Michigan where buildings are bland, gray, or falling apart due to economic strife, so I couldn't believe my eyes. Even the buildings in Taipei are masterpieces. Longshan is easily the largest temple I've explored in Taiwan. It contains something akin to a courtyard inside. There is no shortage of altars and offerings, glowing candles, and idols representing deities.
When I entered the temple, there appeared to be a tour going on and groups of people praying in reverence. I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to take photos inside the temple, but no one asked me to stop. Plus, I tried not to interfere with anyone's worship or be a distraction. As you can see in one of the photos, people would leave items on the altar, including flowers, fruit, money, and drinks. At one temple I think I saw someone leave bubble tea on an altar. And no temple would be complete without pillars carved in the likeness of dragons.
I concluded my tour with a stop at the temple souvenir shop, where I bought an ornament sculpted in the shape of Taiwan. I enjoyed visiting Longshan at night and taking in the sacred atmosphere. But the next time I'll bring a better camera with me!