Saturday, February 18, 2013 – Day 18
I can’t believe that it took me three weeks to finally venture out on my own while in Taiwan. Taiwan is a very safe place to travel for either gender. The public transportation system is very easy to follow and taxi fares are fair. My first solo visit was to Lotus Pond in Zuoying District, Kaohsiung.
How to Get to Lotus Pond Using the MRT
There are several ways to get to get to Lotus Pond. To get to Lotus Pond using the MRT, get off in R15 Ecological District (red line) and follow Exit 2. The MRT fare may vary depending on where you are coming from, but it’s very cheap regardless.
Once you are out of the MRT station, walk toward the bus stop on your right-hand side. You can either take bus 51 (the one I took) or bus 35. Bus fare is only $12 NTD, or $0.50 USD. The bus ride takes about 15 minutes and you will see the Lotus Pond from the bus. As soon as you get off the bus, you will see the Shoushan National Nature Park sign.
To get back to the MRT station, walk back to the beginning of your tour where the Shoushan National Nature Park sign. Head over to the bus stop right across the street in front of the Shoushan National Nature Park sign. Take bus 35 and get off in front of the MRT Ecological District station. Bus fare is again, only $12 NTD, or $0.50 USD, and ride is about 15 minutes.
Before You Go to Lotus Pond
Have your camera battery fully charged and wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking involved. I got there at 12 pm and left at 5:30 pm. I think I only saw half of Lotus Pond. So make sure you arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to see all of the beautiful places to visit at Lotus Pond. I would say, if you take your sweet time, then it would take 8-10 hours to see it all.
Wear sunblock, light clothing because it’s HOT, and carry a light jacket or long sleeve for when the sun sets. Also, if you are really concerned about sun spots and wrinkles, consider bringing an umbrella. There is no shame in protecting your skin from UV rays, even if that means carrying an umbrella.
And just for safety, carry directions or a map or your address. Taiwanese people are so nice and helpful. The only obstacle is the language barrier, so carrying your address and intersection streets in Chinese would be useful when asking for directions, in case you get lost.
General Background of Lotus Pond
Lotus Pond is located in the Zuoying District in Kaoshiung. It is a popular scenic spot for visitors and locals. I think Lotus Pond is so popular because of the several photogenic pagodas and temples surrounding this man-made lake. You are probably wondering what is a pagoda? A pagoda is a tiered temple or sacred building, generally with an odd number of tiers. You could even say that Taipei 101 resembles the shape of a pagoda.
Keep in mind that Lotus Pond opened in 1952, so it is a fairly modern place to visit. Some even say that it’s “too” touristy and gimmicky and not “historic” enough, but who cares? If it’s a place worth visiting, it doesn’t matter whether it’s crowded with tourists. As long as you are interested in exploring it, that’s all it matters.
During the 5.5 hours I was at Lotus Pond, I visited the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, Ciji Palace, Spring and Autumn Pavilions, Wuli Pavilion (which is connected to the Spring and Autumn Pavilions), Chi Minh Palace, and Pei Chi Pavilion. I highly recommend planning on staying until sunset. The colors were even more vibrant and the reflection of the pagodas on the lake was so beautiful!
I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to visit the largest Confucious Temple in Taiwan and the historic Fengshan County walls and gates nearby. But if you are reading this before you visit Lotus Pond, then make sure you stop by those two places!
Stop #1: Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas were built as an extension to the Ciji Palace, located right in front of the pagodas. These pagodas are connected and both have seven floors and are 36 feet tall, or 11 meters. You can walk inside both pagodas and explore up the stairs, except you can’t access the top floor because it’s closed to the public. Each pagoda has a shrine on the very top floors, which might be the reason for being unavailable to the public.
First thing you will notice is the zigzag entrance to the mouths of the dragon and tiger. You should know there are nine bends to enter the pagoda but all I could find online is that odd numbers are considered to be a good number and since 9 is the highest odd number there is, it is of significant importance commonly found in temples and palaces. Also, the seven levels at each pagoda might have to do with the Seven Factors of Enlightenment: Mindfulness, Investigation, Energy, Joy, Tranquility, Concentration, and Equanimity. Seems like everything in a pagoda, or temple, or palace, has some sort of obscure or obvious symbolism.
When visiting the pagodas, start at the Dragon Pagoda and exit through the Tiger Pagoda for good luck. If you enter through the tiger’s mouth first, your good luck will be taken away from you.
Inside the Dragon Pagoda, there are paintings of 24 examples of the filial and the guilty judged by the 10 Kings of Hell. Inside the Tiger Pagoda, there are paintings of the 72 Virtuous Men and 36 officers of the Jade Emperor of the Heaven. The paintings in the pagodas encourage people to perform good deeds during their lifetime and avoid retribution for wrongdoing.
Stop #2: Ciji Palace or Bao Sheng Da Di Temple
Interestingly the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are related to the Ciji Palace. The Ciji Palace or Bao Sheng Da Di Temple is a temple to worship the Life-Protecting Emperor or also known as, The God of Medicine. Bao Sheng Da Di was a revered medical doctor who saved many lives. The saying or folktale goes something along the lines of the emperor “cures the eyes for the dragon, rids of the throat problems of the tiger.” Thus, you enter first through the dragon and exit through the tiger.
Stop #3: Spring and Autumn Pavilions AND Wuli Pavilion
These pavilions are dedicated to the God of War, Kuan Kong, and the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, whose statue stands on top of a dragon. The walkway inside the dragon has paintings depicting the story of Guan Yin. Towards the end of the walkway, there is the Wuli Pavilion.
Background on Guan Yin
Guanyin is a beautiful woman wearing white robes as a symbol of purity. She holds the Sacred Vase containing pure water with her left hand, which is a symbol of good fortune. She holds a willow branch with her right hand to bless people with physical and spiritual peace. She represents compassion and kindness, a mother-goddess and patron of mothers and seamen.
Guan Yin is often depicted either alone, standing atop a dragon, accompanied by a bird, flanked by two children, or flanked by two warriors. The dragon symbolizes high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation.
As you exit and stop by the half-moon pond in front of the Guan Yin statue, you will notice dozens of turtles. Why are the turtles there? I think it’s connected with the folktale of the God of War. See more on that folktale in the Pei Chi Pavilion section below.
At the Spring and Autumn Pavilion, they had this fortune teller little machine. So cute! I haven’t opened my little fortune scroll because I need a translator LOL
Stop #4: Chi Ming Palace or Temple of Enlightenment
Directly facing the Spring and Autumn Pavilion, there is the Chi Ming Palace, or the Temple of Enlightenment. It was decorated with red lanterns and lots of red ribbons for Chinese New Year. And I was lucky enough to arrive on a day where an orchestra was playing right in front of the temple. The orchestra was playing non-stop for the entire 5.5 hours I was there!
I can’t upload the short video clip I recorded. But I’ll upload it in another post! Along with the picture of the $3.50 “Prada” purse!
Stop #5: Pei Chi Pavilion
There is no way of missing this ginormous 74 feet, or 24 meter, statue of Xuantian Shan Di, the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, or the God of War. Xuantian Shan Di is one of the higher-ranking Taoist deities. He is revered as a powerful god, able to control the elements and capable of great magic.
Background on Xuantian Shan Di
Xuantian Shan Di was a butcher who killed animals without any remorse. As time passed by, he felt remorse for butchering animals and repented. He gave up butchery and retired to a remote mountain. One day, while washing blood-stained clothes along a river after assisting a woman in labor, he had a vision. The woman in labor was a manifestation of the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin. To redeem his sins, he cut his own stomach and intestines and washed it in the river. At first, the river turned into dark and murky water. After a while, the river water turned into pure water.
The Jade Emperor was moved by his sincerity and determination to clear his sins and made Xuantian Shan Di immortal. After absorbing the essences of the earth, his stomach and intestines transformed into an evil turtle and snake, consequently harming people. No one could subdue the turtle and snake. Xuantian Shan Di returned to earth to subdue them and ended up using them as his means for transportation. Thus, he is usually seated on a throne stepping on the turtle and snake. He also holds The Seven Star sword with his right hand, known as the first sword in the world.
There was also a little, tiny, island full of chickens at the base of the Pavilion. I think the chickens are some sort symbol for Xuantian Shan Di’s past butcherings. Kind of as a peace offering to the butchered animals. Also, worth noting, Guan Yi, is associated with vegetarianism, which might be have a connection with Xuantian Shan Di, the butcherer.
So What Do You Think of Lotus Pond?
I really enjoyed strolling around the Lotus Pond. Everything is somehow connected and it’s so interesting to know the background stories behind each pagoda and temple. I think it is definitely worth a visit to unwind and relax. It’s too bad I got there until noon because I wanted to keep going around the entire lake. Maybe I’ll have time to come back before I leave Taiwan…
PS: I didn’t get a chance to see this big temple from across the lake. I don’t know what it’s called…
PPS: Later that day, I met a new cousin and her family.