Taitung Times 08.2022
Pray Together with Taitung
Taitung was making headlines in mid-September: “Taitung Prays and Goes Vegetarian for Three Days!” Why? Simple. The Daoist Jiao Celebration, no less.

To surmise the Chinese Rite of Cosmic Renewal into the confines of a single online news article, yet alone a single paragraph, would be an impossible feat. The Jiao (also romanlized as Chiao), is not very understood even by the few laymen who bear witness to it. The ritual is extremely esoteric, making a deep-dive into its semantics exclusive to only the most privileged Daoist priests.

What is generally understood, however, is the Jiao rite has been performed in Taitung for 130 years, predating the founding of Taiwan. The Taitung Jiao, specifically, is performed once every 12 years. Temporary altars, usually made from bamboo, plywood and/or metal rods, are built in a general area with somewhat proximity to each other. Altogether, 7 temples were built within Taitung City’s administrative area. 

The grander, the more embellished the altar is, reflects the overall scale of the Jiao celebration. This year’s largest alter was situated at Tianhougong, known in English as The Temple of Mazu, The Sea Goddess. This particular altar has statues of Gods, and manikins littered throughout its several stories demonstrating the magnitude and scale of this year’s Jiao and its spirituality—everyone is praying a COVID-less tomorrow. 

Traditionally the rite would span over the course of a week filled with fasting and abstaining from participation in numerous activities, namely slaughtering of animals, to purify one’s mind and body. Since then, however, it has been reduced to three days to accommodate modern eating and drinking habits. 

Abstinence of meat is at the heart of the rite for the public. The ritual includes praying for local harmony and peace, gratitude to the deities for their kindness and giving offerings to pay respects; a ceremony of thanks to the ethereal, as means to cleanse one’s soul. Eating meat is in blatant objection to cleansing of the soul during the Jiao, as the Taoist believe.

Despite the rite’s esoteric nature, locals, for the most part, abided by the abstinence and other beliefs as to not interfere with the cleansing of the soul. It should be noted here that it was not mandated to abide by the Taoist guidelines; yet, many restaurants, night market stalls, even the tourist-favorite fried chicken joint, Blue Dragonfly, closed up shop for three days out of respect for this once-per-decade ritual. Butchers did one better and closed shop for an entire week before the rite began. September 22 to September 24, for three days it was a common sight to see a notice plastered on the front doors of many food operators citing the ceremony as reason to temporarily suspend business operations.

What then for Taitung’s carnivores? Thanks to the selfless actions of several local temples, businesses and associations with their volunteers, several vegetarian friendly pop-up stall locations were made available over the weekend serving vegetable curry noodles to fried rice. The lines created were so long that Taiwanese media was quick to cover it. Such long lines in Taitung are unprecedented and unexpected, especially for those who were visiting out-of-town. Restaurants and convenience stores were also reported to have temporarily changed their menu to compensate for temporary city-wide meat abstinence.

Leading up to the ceremony, Taitung was hit by two consecutive days of catastrophic earthquakes on September 18 and 19. One of which, 7.2 in magnitude, was the biggest earthquake to hit Taitung in the last 60 years—and this is just happening right as a 3-year global pandemic starts to wind down. Fortunately, there was no massive casualties, but we cannot let our guard down. Events like these soften people's hearts and give them the strength to move forward into the future in a more positive way. Now, let's pray for peace and stability in Taitung and around the world—pray to the Gods together. 

—Quench Your Curiosity in Taitung

The Taitung County Government has been preparing for this moment! October 13! The day when the borders of Taiwan finally open without the need to quarantine. 

As the world continues to lax travel restrictions, an influx of international visitors is anticipated. The County Government has been tenaciously teaching Taitung residents English as means to expand its in-depth tourism market audience to not just include Chinese-speakers.

This training, officially coined The Cross-Generational Bilingual Training Program in Taitung, provides an opportunity to experience not only the genuine Taiwanese indigenous tribal communities’ culture and authentic cuisine, public parks but also anything uniquely Taitung. The County Government believes travelers should be able to go to any nook and cranny of Taitung where one’s native language shouldn’t be a hindrance to their curiosity and exploration. 

In mid-late September, the County Government put on their second of three training workshops for the Cross-Generational Bilingual Training Program. This 4-day workshop created an opportunity for communities and shops undergoing bilingual training to use only English as means to engage with native speakers. The results were nothing short of impressive. 

Myself, along with two other Americans, were taken on an amazing 4-day itinerary spanning from the Rukai, Amis and Bunun indigenous communities with a multitude of activities and guided experiences in Yanping, Taitung City, Daren, Chenggong, and Beinan townships, with plans to visit Guanshan and Chishang, but was canceled out of safety concerns of the then-recent earth shattering 7.2 earthquake.

Guided experiences and activities ranged from Amis’ ceramics and tribal traditional wooden percussion wood and wind ensemble, Rukai on-the-hunt flora crash course and historic storytelling of the tribe, to Bunun hunting practices and BBQ. 

As a hobbyist Marimbist, my favorite activity was the wooden percussion ensemble. After the Amis Kakeng Musical Group show, our group was given an opportunity to play the instruments. I immediately jolted toward the Amis-style xylophone. Our guide, Nikar, then briefly taught each person playing one of the 5 instruments a simple rhythm—mine was simple: quarter note on G followed by two eighth notes on A on indefinite repeat. When all the instruments played their rhythms together, you might want to call us the Waiguo Pengyou Extraordinaires—we were just that good! 

You might be thinking my favorite part was being able to play music, but surprisingly, in retrospect, it was when I was given the opportunity to ask the guide any and all questions to satiate my curiosity. Taitung’s tribal culture is like an ancient Chinese-secret, exceedingly elusive in cyberspace; an enigma, if you will. It was a kind of thrill of uncovering hidden knowledge and intellect when I discovered Amis’ music uses a pentatonic scale rather than the much more common heptatonic scale. Big words, I know! Simply put, Amis’ music uses only 5 notes (think of white keys on a piano) per octave rather than the normal 7. 

It was only through this experience, was I even made aware of the Amis wooden percussion repertoire. That’s the whole beauty of this entire program. What was once restricted to the tribes themselves, then expanded for Chinese-speakers through travel itineraries; and now to us, English native-speakers. For those who have an insatiable curiosity like myself, leaving no rock unturned, then I can guarantee—no promise you—you’ll have an excellent time in Taitung.  

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Taitung Welcomes New Member to the Family—MUJI
Our lovely home over the years has garnered a reputation for being a subtropical nature-filled paradise far away from the concrete city. Its land is expansive, people are actually able to stand shoulder-width apart and best of all, ocean views all around; and that’s just mother nature.

Taitung—the people, the community, our Magistrate, April Yao—all have a certain electricity about them, encompassing our county's passion, demeanor and determination for the good of Taitung. It was this inner fire caught the eyes of Executive Officer and Head of MUJI’s Taiwan Business, Akihiro Yoshida

On July 27, 2022, right after the grand-opening of MUJI’s new store, The Taitung County Government was the first-and-only county government to sign a MOU with MUJI. The partnership has completely shattered expectations. Both Yao and Mr. Yoshida have held public promotion discussions, partnered with a local brewery to sell MUJI branded Taitung beer, and had sent a MUJI-branded truck to 12 of the 16 townships—and all of this predated the signing!

The agreement was signed on the basis of carrying out and increasing county-wide cooperation. The MOU reads specifically joint efforts in local market activation, allocation of local resources, promoting local industries, welfare programs especially aimed at parenting and elderly-care as well as conducting public programs.

The Japanese retailer knew they wanted to enter Taitung with a bang; guarantee their entrance would not be forgotten; a first-impression that would substantiate them more than just an international conglomerate here to conduct business: introduce the MUJI Mobile.

The MUJI Mobile is more than a food-truck equivalent of selling stationary, clothing and snacks. On surface level, it acts merely as a bridge; an extension of MUJI’s reach to customers in remote locations. Soon, however, it will also be a mobile children library, equipped with picture books accompanied by story time for children. The truck in tandem with the reading space with over 300 picture books in their Taitung store is making reading more accessible for Taitung youth all over the county.

Yoshidia has also gone ahead and partnered with beer manufacturer, LE BLE D’OR, and several Taitung local food operators to make limited-edition flavors. MUJI has made some incredible Taitung-branded flavored brews using Valencia oranges from Donghe, and Taitung’s famous pink flowers, roselles, from the South Link.  

With the support, knowledge, and resources of an international company, coupled with MUJI’s determination and commitment to giving back to Taitung, as well as many soon-to-be-revealed collaboration efforts, the overall quality of Taitung inhabitants is surely to become elevated: whether it having more access to story time, a Taitung beer in hand or a MUJI woven basket while shopping; MUJI is like a long last family member of the Taitung Fam—welcome home MUJI! 

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Upcoming Events

  • Taitung Super 3 Triathlon
  • 2022 Taitung Light Festival
  • The 5th Annual PASIWALI Music Festival
  • 2022 Taitung Slow Food Festival at Fantasy Tiehua
  • 2022 Chishang Autumn Harvest Festival
©Taitung County Government 2022