Ren-Hai Temple and Stuff (仁海宮)

I haven't posted a blog for a few days and I'm all Lunar New Year'd out at this point, so its time to move on. This is just going to be a short blog which will be split up - I'm going to talk about some things that are happening and some plans I have as well as give a brief introduction to the Ren-Hai Temple here in Zhongli. More of a life update with some educational info at the end to keep you from falling asleep.

I'll start out by talking a little about what's been going on - Lunar New Year was busy, and it should have been busier. I had big plans for the Lunar New Year holidays. I was going to do some cultural stuff around here which included the traditional dinner with friends and then the temple visits on the first day that I posted about. Then I was going to go down south to Chiayi (嘉義) and Yunlin (雲林) counties to visit a couple of huge temples that would have had throngs of people and would have been great for photography. I was also going to climb a mountain in the Shei-Pa National Park (雪霸國家公園) which would only have been a day-hike but would have been amazing with 360 degree panoramic views at the top. Alas, my trips down south weren't to be as I had a major allergic reaction to dairy and was bed/toilet-ridden for the last three days of the holiday putting a major damper on things I wanted to do. 

Eventually I recovered and I got to cover the Taipei Lantern Festival, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival and the Taoyuan Lantern Festival during the last week of the fifteen day holiday. 

The weather here in Taiwan has been terrible the last couple of days and that is actually a great thing considering the country has been having a major issue with a lack of rain over the normal rainy season. The local reservoir is currently at the second lowest level ever and we've started having to ration water. While the rain is great, its has unfortunately been mixed in with a lot of humidity and low temperatures. The down-time has given me some time to think about some future projects and also catch up on lots of post-processing work as well as blogging, which I have to admit has actually been a little difficult for me and has been the biggest learning curve of this whole 'having a website' experience. 

As of now I'm working on a few different things, the first of which is introducing some of the "Old Streets" in northern Taiwan including Sanxia (三峽老街), Daxi (大溪老街), Neiwan (內灣老街), Beipu (北埔老街) and Nanzhuang (南莊老街) that will cover New Taipei City to Miaoli County. I already have a couple of the blogs ready, so I'm going to wait a bit longer to get a couple more done so I can release in succession. Some of the old streets have been widely covered by bloggers before but some of them don't have much English information at all, so I hope they can be a resource to people who would like to visit - the point though is about the photography and thats what I have to remember when it comes to blogging - less information - photos tell a thousand words

Another thing I've been working on is my street photography skills. Street has become a passion of mine over the past year despite a clear lack of skills and the bravado needed to be good at it. There are quite a few people I look up to in street photography, and I've probably learned the most from my friend Michael Steverson who lives in China and is a street master through a Facebook group that he is an admin of and through his photography which is amazing and highly recommended. 

As a way to improve, I've more or less gone out to places where street photography is likely the easiest in Taiwan which are the night markets. I've been preparing a few posts of street portraits which will introduce some of the vendors at local night market and some others in other cities as well. Some of the portraits I'm pretty happy with so far so I hope to have that up soon! 

In the meantime, I'm going to be posting about a few other places and topics as I'm a bit backed up with photos and blogs to write at the moment! There are also a lot of things happening in the next few months, so I'll be busy! 

Anyway, time to talk about the temple! 

Ren-Hai Temple (仁海宮) is more or less the largest place of Daoist Worship in the downtown core of Zhongli (中壢) the city I live in. It is primarily a temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu (媽祖) and is partnered with the much bigger "Chao-Tian Temple" (北港朝天宮) in Beigang. The temple is also known by locals as the "Hsin-Jie Temple" (新街廟) or the "Zhongli Mazu Temple" (中壢媽祖廟) 

It was originally built in 1826 but had to be rebuilt again in 1870 as some of the new immigrants to Taiwan, like myself were not prepared for the humidity and the constant rain, typhoons and earthquakes that are an aspect of living on this beautiful island. The original temple was much smaller than what we have today and it ultimately expanded from being a single floor building to a three storey building with multiple shrine rooms and offices. There are several shrine rooms inside with the main shrine being dedicated to the goddess Mazu (媽祖) who is a Chinese patron deity of seafarers, fisherman and sailors and has traditionally been a very important religious figure in Taiwanese society. 

One of the things I like most about Ren-Hai temple is that the majority of the Daoist gods that are enshrined inside are female deities and on the rainy day I visited, it just so happened that all the people I saw there were female. I might have been reading too much into the situation on the day I was there, but it is a great thing that female deities take the lead in an important place of worship - Although that might just be me as a male-feminist weighing in on the crappy situation women have to deal with when it comes to the Abrahamic religions in the west. 

Mazu Shrine at Ren-Hai Temple

March 23rd of the Lunar Calendar (which is my birthday on the normal people calendar) is the most important day of the year for the temple when it shuts down the main road that brings traffic into the city to celebrate the birthday of the goddess Mazu. The celebration is quite large and extremely loud as there are fireworks and firecrackers being lit all over the place which drown out the sound of all the horns and the traditional Chinese music. The celebration includes a parade around the city and is always one of the most important cultural events of the calendar in Zhongli. Its hard for me to remember holidays on the western calendar let alone adding in the confusion of the Lunar Calendar as well, so I hope that I'll remember this year to pay a visit to the temple to take part in the celebrations and photograph it as well. 

The surprising thing about this temple, despite it actually being quite large is that most foreigners will just drive past it and not really pay attention to it. Its hard to tell from the road that this temple is actually as big as it is, so it seems like it is an easy one to pass-by. I passed by hundreds of times before actually going in, but I think if you go in you'll learn a lot about the history of Zhongli through the pictures they have on display, which I think is a cool enough reason to visit itself.

For more information about the temple visit the website: Ren-Hai Temple 

This post turned out to be a lot longer than originally planned, I apologize for that.