Tainan, a city on Taiwan’s southwest coast, was the island’s capital from 1683-1887 under the Qing dynasty. Today it’s known for its centuries-old fortresses and temples. We knew nothing about this magical city until we met a fellow traveler in a shopping mall in Yokohama, Japan. It was our conversation with Greg, a computer systems technician for a large Japanese company, that convinced us to tour the south of Taiwan. He had explained that Tainan was an amazing cultural center and that the weather was beautiful. Laurie and I were so done with being cold that we switched our plans and we are so glad we did.
I was hoping to find a couch surfing host for our stay in Tainan. Searching the couchsurfing.com site I came across a listing that really intrigued me. The listing is for a gentleman in Tainan by the name of Tony Coolidge. In his listing Tony talks about his experience with Landmark Education and the possibilities he created for himself and his family out of doing the Landmark Forum. I looked Tony up on FaceBook and that led me to an article written about him and a documentary made about his life.
After seeing this I really hoped Tony would agree to my couch surfing request. Yes or no, I really wanted to meet him. Although Tony was really busy he invited Laurie and I to come to Tainan and stay the night.
Tony Coolidge (fifth from right) after a guest lecture at National Dong Hwa University. Photo Credit: Tony Coolidge
Tony picked us up at the Tainan High Speed Rail Station and we immediately set off on a drive for the hills. He handed us each a rice ball filled with some pickled vegetables, a local favorite breakfast, and a bottle of water. Driving towards the hills we had time to get acquainted. High in the hills the sky was a beautiful blue looking down on the grey smoggy haze covering Tainan. Tony explained that one of his favorite things to do is to drive up high above the smog and drink a cup of his local favorite coffee. Conveniently, that is one of my favorite things to do as well! Starting off on a hike through the hillside we came across some magnificent panoramic views. We also came across more butterflies than I have ever seen in the wild before.
Down the hill a bit we came to a local Taoist temple.
After exploring this temple for a while we headed further down hill for coffee at one of Tony’s favorite spots. The beans for my cup of coffee were actually grown by the nice people that own this little coffee spot! They are quite proud to serve 100% Taiwanese coffee.
Then we set off to find some monkeys!
We were told that spotting the monkeys is very hit or miss. We got very lucky!!!
After feeding the monkeys, the building caretaker served us some herbal tea. I am not sure what we were drinking but it sure tasted healthy and we enjoyed our time sipping tea with Tony.
We bid a final goodbye to our monkey friends and headed off to our next destination, the Karma Kagyu Temple in Zho Chen, a suburb of Tainan. This relative new and beautiful temple was setup in 1986 and is the largest Karma Kagyu temple in Taiwan. Karma Kagyu is one of 4 major Tibetan Buddhist sects. The temple grounds are big and the main prayer hall has a 16-meter tall Buddha statue. The grounds and buildings are very impressive and very quiet! This is off the tourist circuit so there was really no-one there. This is a very holy and sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists and even though we are not Buddhist it really felt like we were in a sacred space.
Leaving Karma Kagyu we headed towards town for a late afternoon lunch. On the way we stopped to meet a friend of Tony’s who has built a solar powered, organic, pig and fish farm. The farm is about to bring in its first harvest of one-thousand pigs while selling clean energy back to the city of Tainan.
Next, Tony wanted to introduce us to some Taiwanese deer.
Finally, it was time for lunch. We had delicious dumplings at Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumplings. This is a big chain of little dumpling restaurants. They are fresh, delicious, and so cheap!!! The shrimp dumplings and curry pot stickers were my favorite.
After lunch we were introduced to Tony’s family; His wife Shu-Min and his boys Johan 14, Xander 10, and Jaiden 7. Tony left us in the care of his family while he went off to teach an evening english class. We were in need of some medical care so Shu-Min was nice enough to take us to her brother who is a Chinese medicine doctor in town. Laurie had a cupping treatment, acupuncture, and massage for her back while I received some Chinese herbs for a cough. Two hours later we went back to Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumplings for dinner.
We really enjoyed our dinner with the Coolidge family. Dinner was followed by a walking tour of their neighborhood. Shu-Min treated us to one of her favorite after dinner treats; cold black tea poured over Taiwanese ice-cream. Delicious!
There are structures outside of Taoist temples that have what appear to be little ovens. We had questions about this and Shu-Min took us to a Ghost Money store for answers.
We continued walking through her neighborhood and came upon the central Taoist temple. Shu-Min walked us through the entire temple explaining all the rituals and the various gods. This was our first time and it was so fascinating!
We arrived at the Coolidge home well past bedtime for the boys. We were so grateful for the boy’s patience as their mom, Shu-Min gave us such a great tour.
After a good nights rest I was able to join Tony at the local elementary school where he teaches English to third graders. He introduced to the class as “Grandpa Tracy”.
Following breakfast at a local street market Tony drove us back to the high speed rail station for our trip back to Kaohsiung. We really enjoyed our political conversations with Tony as we discussed the presidential contest in general and candidates Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders specifically! We left Tainan, Taiwan having made some very good friends!