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June 27, 2017

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En route to Mazu procession

Every spring, Dajia (大甲) in Taichung County (台中縣) becomes a center of religious and tourist activity in celebration of the birthday of Mazu (媽祖), also spelled Matsu, the deity that is said to watch over sailors and fishermen.

On April 16, Mazu will set off on an eight-day pilgrimage from the Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Dajia at 11 p.m., with a parade of over 100,000 well-wishers, floats and shooting fireworks. Mazu and a throng of followers will travel some 330 kilometers to sister Mazu temples to the south before returning to Dajia, offering local and foreign camera-wielding tourists an insight on Taiwanese various cultures and landscapes.

Da Jia Jenn Lann Temple

Jenn Lann Temple, or Jhenlan Temple, was built in 1770, or the 35th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆) of Qing Dynasty (清朝), according to traditional Chinese design, with beams and columns showcasing the mastery of craftsmen centuries ago. Twenty years later, local merchants pooled together money and resources and expanded the temple into a shrine for worshiping Mazu.

Every year, worshipers carry out the statue of Mazu out of Jenn Lann Temple and parade it throughout southern Taiwan. It is customary for worshipers to bow down and touch the palanquin in which the statue stays while on the tour. Now the parade of Mazu is considered one of the major religious activities in the Asian region and is ranked by Discovery Channel as one of the three biggest religious festivals in the world.

The Mazu tour takes place during the third month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, with the exact date being determined by a lot-drawing on the Lantern Festival (元宵節), the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. On the first day of the tour, as many as 100,000 worshipers gather to see Mazu embark on the eight-day trip throughout southern Taiwan that includes passing by 80 temples in 21 townships in the four sea-bordering counties of Taichung (台中縣), Changhua (彰化縣), Yunlin (雲林縣) and Chiayi (嘉義縣). The total distance traveled is about 330 kilometers.

The trip typically begins at midnight. The pilgrimage reaches the Mazu Temple in Changhua City (彰化市天后宮) on the first night and then moves to Fuhsing Temple in Hsiluo (西螺福興宮), Yunlin, on the next day.

On the third and fourth days, the pilgrims stay at Fengtian Temple in Hsingang (新港奉天宮) and return to Fuhsing Temple on the fifth day. On the sixth day, Mazu stays at Tianan Temple (奠安宮) and then goes to Mazu Temple in Changhua City on the seventh day before returning to Jenn Lann Temple.

Huwei Sugar Refinery

The Huwei Sugar Refinery (虎尾糖廠), built in 1907 on a delta in the Choshui River (濁水溪), was the biggest sugar-exporting refinery in Taiwan at the time. The Huwei Sugar Refinery stands as a testament to Taiwan's past as a hub of the world's sugar-manufacturing industry and a living landmark in Yunlin County.

At the Huwei Sugar Refinery, tourists can see rows of old Japanese-styled flat houses. These were originally used as dormitories by the Japanese employees working at the sugar plant. Although these century-old houses still retain a sense of nostalgia, most are abandoned now and in dire need of repair.

Another attraction travelers shouldn't forget to see is the old steel bridge that stands over the Huwei River (虎尾河). Designed by the British Westwood Company and built by a Japanese construction firm, the bridge with the seemingly unstable and uneven design played a significant role in the transportation of sugarcane to the refinery.

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