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May 28, 2017

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Beigang's two momentums — Lively traditions and religion

Beigang (北港) Town, located in Yunlin (雲林), central Taiwan, is one of the most famous religious towns in Taiwan. It is the home of Taiwan's oldest Matsu (媽祖) temple, also called Chaotien Temple (朝天宮).

Chaotien Temple was originally named the Heavenly Goddess Temple. It was renamed to commemorate Matsu's origin from Chaotien Pavilion in Meizhou of mainland China.

Completed in 1694, it is now the most popular Matsu temple in Taiwan and has the most divided divinities. A big fire in October 1894 burned down many houses in Beigang, but spared most of the temple, so the story of a miracle started circulating. Architectural feats, such as dragon columns, dragon king carvings, decorated eaves and colorful murals, can be seen in every corner of the temple.

I visited the temple last week. Unfortunately, Chaotien Temple is undergoing reconstruction, so I was unable to see what the temple really looks like. However, many pilgrims still visit the temple.

As a matter of fact, March 19, according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, is a big day for Chaotien Temple every year. A two-day event is held in the temple to bless pilgrims. Sounds of roaring firecrackers fill the air until dawn. Tens of thousands of pilgrims come to participate in the celebration of traditional Taiwanese folk arts. Today, Chaotien Temple's event is not only a major religious occasion in Taiwan, but also an important tourism activity.

Beigang preserves many traditional businesses. The Chungshan Road in front of Chaotien Temple, which is about 1000m long, has many traditional stores. Most of these stores have been open for over 50 years — some of them are even 100 years old. The stores do business by following traditional ways. Their specialties are as follows:

Beigang Cakes

Details about the origin of Beigang Cakes vary from person to person, but everyone knows they are used to celebrate educational achievements or weddings. Local bakers increased the original palm-sized pastry to 1.8kg, with fillings such as egg yolk, stewed meat, shredded meat, and red bean paste. Today, these traditional wedding cakes are the most famous Beigang specialty.

Beigang Peanuts and Broad Beans

Peanuts and broad beans are popular snacks in Taiwan. On the other side of the Beigang River is a vast sandy area suitable for growing peanuts. Since broad beans must be deep fried, Beigang's existing oil industry provides a competitive advantage.

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