Jewish Sightseeing HomePage Jewish Sightseeing
Jewish Taiwan
Harrison Weblog

2005 blog


Jewish 'eyes' follow 

you throughout Taiwan

San Diego Jewish Times, April 19, 2005

By Donald H. Harrison

TAIPEI -- A mural gracing the lobby of the National Concert Hall in Taipei includes a gong-ringing woman, whose eyes are said to follow you wherever in the large assembly area you go.

I recently came to feel that the eyes of Jewish culture similarly were upon me wherever Nancy and I toured Taiwan in the company of our machatunim, Chang Wen-Shion, president of Lunghwa University of Science and Technology, and his wife Ming-Huy.

Elsewhere in the capital city of Taipei, for example, the National Palace Museum's many exhibits include one in which I was delighted to learn that counterweights that easily could pass for days-old bagels were hung in ancient times on hooks for measuring foodstuffs or valuables.

Mural at National Concert Hall-Taipei                       Ancient weights-National Palace Museum, Taipei

In Fenglin township, where the aboriginal Amis people host a stone-carving workshop for people with disabilities, one of the hollowed-out designs in a hunk of sandstone resembles a Star of David.  Yes, I know that the design also is used as a Chinese checkerboard, but in the artist's eye the six pointed symbol comprised neither a national symbol nor housing for an amusement.  The design was a place where a delicate little garden of micro-shrubs might be planted.

In Taiwan's magnificent Taroko Gorge, a sheer wall of white marble, having been washed by rushing blue river waters, now resembles a long row of white and blue Jewish prayer shawls. I could not help but feel that I was standing before a magnificent wall of tallisim fashioned by God Himself.


Rev. Hsu Chien-cheng and Magen David (at left) and  the tallisim effect on marble cliffs of Taroko Gorge

In Shuili, one can visit a "snake kiln" stretching perhaps 30 meters down a hill.  Pottery from this village has been fired in this long sinuous kiln for many years. When the kiln is not in use, one may step inside the chambers where the pottery is baked. Doing so, I imagined myself being like Jonah alive and well inside the belly of a remarkable creature.

In Jiji, one can find the Wuchang Buddhist Temple that was destroyed in the earthquake of Sept. 21, 1999. The earthquake struck at night, so luckily no one was inside the house of worship when it collapsed. Standing before it, I envisioned the biblical story in which Samson wreaked similar devastation on a Philistine temple.


Dr. Lien Wan-Fu  of the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology stands inside the snake kiln (left) and a family views the crushed temple in Jiji. The two sites  invoke memories of Jonah and Samson

  In Hualien, we visited another Buddhist site--the headquarters, school and hospital of the Tzu Chi movement, which engages in humanitarian work around the world.  A bone marrow bank is one of its projects--and according to a display, at least one successful match was found for a patient in Israel.

Emblazoned atop the Tzu Chi Foundation Building is what appears startlingly to Jewish eyes to be a swastika.  In fact, it is not the hated nazi symbol at all, but is the Buddhist sign representing reincarnation. The arms of the symbol are in the reverse direction of the swastika, with the top-most branch going to the left, and not to the right. "It is not the German sign of death," said a guide.  "It means just the opposite."

 "You see this symbol everywhere," Ruth Kahanoff, representative of Israel's Economic and Cultural Office, said back in Taipei. "You get used to it after awhile."

Kahanoff, formerly Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, noted that because Israel has recognized the rival People's Republic of China since 1950, it does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.  Its bilateral relationship with Taiwan, like those of many other countries, are conducted under the auspices of an office whose chief focus is business promotion.

Tzu Chi building with Buddhist reincarnation symbol (left); Representative Ruth Kahanoff of Israel

Cooperation in the fields of high technology is of particular interest, said Kahanoff, who cited sister university agreements between two universities in Taiwan with the Technion in Haifa.  Besides promoting Israel-Taiwan trade, Kahanoff's office also wants to acquaint the Taiwanese people with Jewish culture.  An exhibition on Jewish life around the world--culled from the exhibits of Israel's famed Jewish Museum--is planned next year in Taiwan.

There is a tiny Jewish community in Taipei, comprised mainly of expatriate business people, who maintain a hotel-based Jewish community center and who can help arrange a kosher/Shabbat meal for travelers, Kahanoff said.

The consulate itself is located at the World Trade Center adjacent to Taipei's 101-story building which, because of higher floor to ceiling measurements than elsewhere in the world, is claimed as the highest skyscraper on the globe.


Israel flag (12 o'clock) at Taipei World Trade Center; Taipei 101 skyscraper

We traveled non-stop from Los Angeles to Taipei aboard a Malaysian Airlines flight that left about 1 a.m. Los Angeles time--an hour after schedule-- and arrived about 7:30 a.m. at Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek international airport.  Most of the time the passengers slept, but when they were awake they were treated to smooth and efficient meal service by winsome flight attendants.  Screens in the chair back facing you permitted individualized selection of movies.  The return flight also left in the evening, arriving in Los Angeles about 6:30 p.m.  Because we crossed the international date line, technically we arrived in Los Angeles before we left Taipei.

While in Taipei, we stayed at the colossal Grand Hotel, a high-rise palace of red lacquered wood and old-style Chinese grace that is favored by the world's diplomats. During our visit, the Grand exhibited the flags of Taiwan and El Salvador in recognition of a visit by the vice president of that Central American country.

Courteous Malaysia flight attendants at end of flight; author and Dr. Chang Wen-Shion at Grand Hotel