I’ve lived in Zhongli for about eight years in total, and while I’d be the first to admit that this isn’t a cultural hotspot, the nightlife is routine, and you have to search for trees and grass, I’d also have to say that it’s gotten way more convenient and comfortable to live here since I first arrived in 2004. It isn’t quite the wasteland you’d assume it was by its omission from all the guide books.
You do need a scooter and possibly a sense of adventure, though. Being able to speak some Chinese helps, and making friends with locals and with foreigners who have been here for a while will also increase your chances of having a good time.
The trip out to Sanmin Tuba Church and the Sanmin Bat Cave is an easy forty-five minute scooter ride out of Zhongli. The drive up to Fuxing is always a pleasure as you watch the buildings turn to trees as the roads get narrower, curvier, and steeper. Riding my scooter through the mountains is one of my favorite things to do: concentrating on the road makes me forget about whatever else is stressing me out, and the fresh, fast-moving air is an excellent cure for a mild hangover.
The Tuba Church is named after the tribe of the people who worshiped there. (Sorry if you were looking forward to a marching band.)
It’s small and humble, but if you’ve gotten used to seeing elaborate red temples and shrines on every block, this little stone church with the cross on its steeple will seem like a refreshing incongruity. The fact is, a lot of the Taiwanese aboriginal people were pretty well-proselytized back in the day and many communities still maintain some forms of beliefs and practices derived from Christian ones.
This was the Sanmin Village Tuba tribe’s church for thirty years until 1992, when it became too small to hold all the community’s worshipers. Then they built a newer, bigger church that you can also see (it’s to the right of the gate in the picture below).
This is an interesting historical site, and when the weather is nice, it’s a great place to take some pictures.
If you cruise a little further down the road, you can visit the Sanmin Bat Cave. I think that sounds very badass and full of danger, but actually it’s a very pretty spot. And the cave is not so much like a series of tunnels leading you deeper into the belly of the earth as a giant lip of rock overhanging a picturesque scene with a little waterfall and lots of green ferns. The bats are sleeping–you won’t even know they’re there. But if you use your imagination just a little, you can picture dinosaurs grazing and drinking from the cool stream.
(Maybe that’s just me. I like to imagine dinosaurs roaming where we now walk.)
It’s interesting, too, because the stones used to build the Tuba Church came from the Sanmin Bat Cave. When I read that, I was about to commence with my marveling about the ingenuity of ancient peoples, but then I remembered the church was built in the early 1960s…
Go check it out!
- An introduction to Sanmin Village and the heritage of the people who live there, written in English.
- A 2007 Taipei Times article about how different groups of Taiwanese aboriginals have integrated Christianity with their traditional beliefs
- Sexy photographer Josh Ellis’s very nice photos of the Tuba Church.