Folk art of Taiwan

 

 

Generally, the Taiwanese are a delightful and simple people, who love simple things, which is obvious in the everyday picture through the rich and flourishing folk art, which adorns house gables, embankments along roads, and innumerable other places.

Artwork, created by the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, is shown on a separate page, Culture: Tribal art of Taiwan.

Other examples of Taiwanese folk art may be seen in the ubiquitous Daoist temples, which are adorned with countless sculptures, carvings, reliefs, wall paintings, and paper lanterns, depicting Chinese mythology, gods, dragons, Feng-Huang (often erroneously called ‘Chinese Phoenix’), tigers, lions etc. This artwork can be studied on the pages Religion: Daoism in Taiwan, and Culture: Lamps and lights.

 

 

 

Aogu is a marvelous wetland north of the town of Dongshih, south-western Taiwan. In this area, various artwork has been exhibited. – Incidentally, many birds from this wetland are presented on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.

 

 

This mosaic, made on a concrete wall beneath a bridge, depicts birdlife in the Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Mural in the village in the Aogu Wetlands, depicting a number of subjects, including an owl, saying “Who?” – The Chinese text means something like ‘Hello, little black beauty!’ Maybe it refers to the walking ants beneath, which are carrying a fish on a spear. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Exhibition ‘hall’ in Aogu Village, made from split bamboo stems, which have been adorned with oyster shells and some kind of bird. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Another owl, made from old flip-flops, tennis balls, and rope. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bird, made from bits of wood. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Oyster shells, glued onto a wall to form a heron. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

During the Taiwanese Lantern Festival, which is celebrated during the Chinese New Year, elaborate lanterns are produced in the thousands. These pictures from Tainan were taken during Chinese New Year 2005 (Year of the Rooster).

 

 

Naturally, a large number of lanterns at this festival depicted roosters, as it was celebrating the start of the Year of the Rooster. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
This lantern depicts a tiger. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lantern, depicting a weight-lifting hippo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

These lanterns depict penguins. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
“Old MacDonald had a farm!” – Lanterns, showing a farmer with a buffalo cart, geese, and a goat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lanterns, depicting two cats, which resemble Disney’s Aristocats. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

In Greek mythology, Leda was a beautiful Aetolian princess, who was desired by Zeus. Assuming the shape of a swan, which was fleeing from a pursuing eagle, Zeus fell into Leda’s arms for protection, whereupon he had intercourse with her.

How many women did he desire, that lecher!

 

 

Tawdry wall painting, depicting Leda and the swan. You would hardly expect this painting to adorn the façade of a shoe shop, but this is in fact the case! – Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The grey wolf (Canis lupus), or simply wolf, is widespread in Europe, Arabia, the Middle East, and northern parts of Asia, as well as in North America. About 37 subspecies are recognized, some of which may merit specific status. The total number of wolves is estimated at 300,000.

 

 

Kitschy sculptures, depicting wolves, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

As bamboo is an extremely common plant in Taiwan, it is only natural that bamboo items often occur in local folk art.

 

 

Lobster (top) and beetle, made from bamboo branches, Dongshih, near Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), also called Japanese or Manchurian crane, breeds in large reedbeds in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and south-eastern Siberia, and a small population is also found on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Despite the fact that this crane is a very rare visitor to Taiwan, it is commonly depicted as ornamentation in Daoist temples.

 

 

Red-crowned crane, made from bamboo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

This painting on a wall around a park in Neimen, southern Taiwan, depicts a dog, balancing a mango fruit on its snout. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The mikado pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado), which is endemic to Taiwan, is restricted to the highest mountain areas of the island.

 

 

This sculpture, depicting a male mikado pheasant, acts as an eye-catcher for a hotel near Dasyueshan National Forest, where this bird is present. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

This tile in a park near the Lanyan River, north-eastern Taiwan, depicts bamboo with a resting cattle egret (Bubulcus coromandus). This bird is described on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The ducks in the pictures below, constructed of cement, function as eye catchers at the ‘Duck Café’, near Guoxing.

 

 

(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

This sculpture in Taichung, resembling a Christmas tree, consists of an iron scaffold, ‘adorned’ with old safety helmets, golf balls, wires with gleaming bulbs, etc. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Painted sculptures, depicting cyclists, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

In Taiwan, electricity meter boxes are often decorated with paintings, most of which are rather kitschy.

 

 

Taiwan 2015
This picture from Taichung shows a painting of coconut palms, which must be an unknown hybrid, as the nuts are clustered on the trunk, and not, as is usually the case, just below the fronds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2016
A perfect, cone-shaped volcano and a fancy flower park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Another painting from Taichung, depicting a perfectly shaped mountain, with a gorgeous tree in front of it. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
This picture shows meter boxes in the city of Huwei, Yunlin Province, adorned with tigers, painted by children. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. You may read about its important role in Daoism on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.

 

 

Taiwan 2010
Dragon, made from metal wires and woven grass. – Read about the important role of the dragon in Daoism elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2016
This hedge near Sanyi is trimmed to form a dragon’s head. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Erosion from sea and wind has shaped the soft Daliao Sandstone rocks in Yeliou Geopark, northern Taiwan, creating fantastic formations, including gigantic ‘mushrooms’. Many of these rocks may be studied on the page Nature: Nature’s artwork.

 

 

This kitschy puppet, exhibited in Yeliou Geopark, depicts a ‘mushroom’ rock. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Sculpture, made from old cameras etc., Xingang. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Each spring, thousands of butterflies migrate from their wintering quarters in southern Taiwan towards northern parts of the island. During this period, large nets are erected along many highways to reduce the number of butterflies killed by cars. When the butterflies hit the net, most of them will fly upwards and pass the highway at a safe altitude.

 

 

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Artwork on a river levee at Linbei Chukou, near Linnei, depicting the butterfly migration, and also local village life. Nets have been erected along the highway in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Strolling through a suburban neighbourhood in the city of Taichung, I came across a delightful selection of kitschy murals, four of which are shown below.

A huge one, occupying an entire house end, depicts a waterfall, a Taiwan blue magpie, and an Asian black bear, holding on to a number of strings, which are attached to ‘balloons’, saying “Welcome to Yung-an District”.

The Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus, previously called Selenarctos thibetanus) is also known by two other names, moon bear and white-chested bear, both alluding to the crescent-shaped white patch on the chest. In former times, this bear was widely distributed in Asia, found from south-eastern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, eastwards along the Himalaya to Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and south-eastern Russia (Ussuriland).

However, due to illegal hunting to supply the insatiable Chinese market with parts for traditional medicine, and for bear paw soup, this bear has disappeared, or become very rare, in many areas. In South Korea, for instance, only around ten of these bears live in the wild, whereas no less than c. 1600 are kept in captivity, often under horrible conditions. These captive bears are often killed in the most cruel and horrendous ways, and that this practice is illegal does not seem to deter consumers.

Previously, the Asian black bear was a totem animal to various indigenous tribes in Taiwan, and it was a sign of courage to kill one. Today, the bear is extremely rare in the island. It is strictly protected, but is only very slowly recovering, presumably due to being vulnerable to diseases, caused by inbreeding.

The Taiwan blue magpie (Urocissa caerulea) is described elsewhere on this page.

 

 

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(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This mural depicts shops, a farm, and men, performing tai chi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Boy, herding Beijing ducks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Farmer with a water buffalo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Three examples of kindergarten children’s artwork, Taichung.

 

 

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Smiling cat, wearing a cap. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Chicken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Kingfisher. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

This dead tree in the village of Chingliao, near Chiayi, has been ‘adorned’ with rusted metal parts. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Qingshui, known locally as Zushi-Gong, is the principal god worshipped at the Daoist Zushi Temple (in Chinese Qingshui Zushi Miao), situated in the town of Sanxia, northern Taiwan. This temple is popularly known as the ‘Bird Temple’, due to the numerous depictions of birds on walls and columns. No less than 106 different bird species have been identified here, including six endemics.

 

 

Column in the Zushi Temple with carvings, depicting red-crowned cranes (Grus japonicus) and lotus flowers (Nelumbo nucifera). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This carving undoubtedly depicts a species of scops owl (Otus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Carving, depicting a Taiwan blue magpie (Urocissa caerula). This bird is described elsewhere on this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2014b
Decorated wall, Wushe Fishing Harbour. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

These figures, made from joined pieces of wood, were exhibited near the town of Shenghsing.

 

 

Taiwan 2009
Taiwan 2009
Musicians. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2009
Spiderman. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2009
Gigantic bee. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2009
Water buffalo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Crash barriers along Taiwanese roads are often adorned with children’s art. The following 14 pictures show examples of this art.

 

 

Taiwan 2017a
Taiwan 2017a
These two paintings in the city of Taichung were made to promote traffic safety. The text in the upper picture says: “Fasten your seat-belt”, while the one in the lower picture says: “Don’t cross, when there is a red light, so that you can get home safely.” (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018a
Long-necked giraffe with a monkey, a teddy bear, a cat, and birds, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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A very feminine unicorn, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
School bus with happy passengers, near the town of Rueilli. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Longish lion, wearing a red cloth, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
Smiling cat and dragonfly, near Rueilli. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This woman is busy planting vegetables in her garden. The birds to the left are little egrets (Egretta garzetta). This bird is presented on the page In praise of the colour yellow. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Fairies, living in mushrooms, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018a
Rabbit, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
Sad dragon, emitting smoke from its nostrils, near Rueilli. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Artsy cat, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
This monster on a wall in Jhuolan resembles a cross between a shark and a whale. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018a
Marine life: Octopus, whale, dolphin, fish, and starfish, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Children, performing a lion dance, Taichung. During Daoist festivals, this dance is a common feature at Taiwanese temples. A picture, depicting this dance, is shown on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

During the Daoist festival Tzuoh Jiaw, held in the village of Dalinpo near Kaohshiung, local gods are worshipped to prevent bad events. Other events, including pranks, also take place during this festival. – You may read about other Daoist festivals on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
During Tzuoh Jiaw, four men are performing a ‘bullfight’, while two other men simulate a fight. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The gorgeous Taiwan blue magpie (Urocissa caerulea) was first collected by British biologist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877) who, in 1860, became the first European consular representative to Taiwan. He discovered many new species, and four mammals and 15 birds are named after him. He called the Taiwan blue magpie long-tailed mountain nymph, from its old Chinese name 長尾山娘 (‘long-tailed mountain lady’). This bird is endemic to Taiwan, living in broad-leaved forests at medium elevations, between 300 and 1,200 m.

Naturally, this iconic bird is also represented in Taiwanese folk art. One example is shown below, and others may be seen on the page Culture: Tribal art of Taiwan.

 

 

Mural in the village of Chingliao, near Chiayi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2016a
Sculpture outside an elementary school in Taichung, depicting a cat with a Taiwan barbet (Psilopogon nuchalis) on its head. This bird is described on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2018
Taiwan 2018
This iron fence, surrounding a park in Taichung, is adorned with images of a frog (top) and an eagle. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwanese marionette puppet show is a type of opera, in which the performance is done through cloth puppets. These puppets originated in the 17th Century in the Chinese Fujian Province. From this province, many people emigrated to Taiwan, where marionette puppet show soon became a popular art form.

Head, hands, and feet are made of carved wood, while the body and limbs consist of cloth. During the performance, a person makes the puppet move, using his gloved hand inside the puppet. In the old days, the puppets resembled sacks, hence the name 布袋戲 (bu dai xi), which literally means ‘cloth bag opera’. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glove_puppetry)

 

 

During the Hsin Shing-Kuo Puppet Show, a marionette performance, which took place in the town of Huwei, western Taiwan, Judy’s niece Guo-chin and I won these fine puppets in a lottery. In the lower picture, we are posing together with the 86-year-old grandson of the founder of this troupe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The Pilgrimage to the West is a mythological novel by Wu Cheng-en (1500-1582), in which a monk, Xuan-zang, travels to western China with his three disciples, Sun Wu-kong (‘Monkey’), who is armed with a magic stick, Zhu Ba-jie (‘Pig’), who is armed with a rake-like weapon, and Sha Wu-jing, who is responsible for the luggage, transported on a horse.

 

 

This scene from the Hsin Shing-Kuo Puppet Show relates an episode from The Pilgrimage to the West, in which Monkey, with the help of a Heavenly Goddess, kills a demon, who has abducted the monk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
Taiwan 2017b
From a distance, this painting in Sanyi gives the impression of being a huge wall painting, but on closer inspection it turns out to be a decorated staircase. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Stone benches with sculptures, depicting rabbits (top) and an owl, near Puli. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

In a suburban area in Taichung, a retired soldier has adorned an entire neighbourhood – walls, streets, doors – with colourful paintings. For this reason, the area has been dubbed Tsai Hung Tsun (‘Rainbow Village’). The pictures below show examples of his art.

 

 

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The artist in front of one of his paintings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Taiwan 2013
Water buffalo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2013
Astronaut (?). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2013
Dressed up for a carnival (?). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2013
Monkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
Wall painting, depicting a giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), resting on a bench, Sanyi. You may read about this species on the page Sleep. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2008
Artsy food: Dog made from sticky rice, Puli. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Five tiles in a city park in Taichung, made by school children.

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Happy horse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Frog on a waterlily leaf. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
It seems that this man is eager to have a boxing match with a creature, which resembles a guinea pig, but maybe it is a black-and-white cow? (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Hen on eggs. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Smiling rabbits. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The fly amanita (Amanita muscaria) is a most striking mushroom, displaying a bright red cap with numerous white ‘spots’, which are in fact are remnants of a membrane that encloses the mushroom in its young stage. This species is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, but has been introduced to many places in the Southern Hemisphere. It has hallucinogenic properties and was formerly used as an intoxicant by indigenous peoples of Siberia and Lapland. You may read more about this subject on the page Books: Seed of Knowledge, Stones of Plenty, Chapter 3.

 

 

Sculptures, depicting fly amanita, Nanhua Ecological Park, southern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2018b
Painting in an underground walkway, depicting a clown and a monkey, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2016a
”Marry me!” – This rather dilapidated ‘wedding coach’ in Taichung has been reduced to storage place for firewood and a homemade ladder. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

The threatened black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor) breeds on islets off the west coast of Korea, on offshore islets in Liaoning Province in China, and since 2006 also a few pairs in the Tumen Estuary in Russia. (Source: Birdlife International)

From an estimated number as high as 10,000, the population plummeted to a low of 288 individuals in 1988. Since then, conservation efforts have caused the population to increase to c. 4,000 individuals in 2017. With a total of c. 2,500 birds, southern Taiwan is the most important wintering area for this species.

Naturally, this iconic bird is lavishly represented in Taiwanese folk art. Some examples are shown below.

 

 

During the Tainan Lantern Festival in 2005 (described elsewhere on this page), this lantern depicts a black-faced spoonbill.

 

 

Taiwan 2017
Wall painting, Cigu Wetlands, near Tainan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2016
Sculpture, Aogu Wetlands, near Dongshih, south-western Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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This drawing was made by a school child. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
A tiny garden, established around a tree at the edge of a city street in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Kitschy sculpture, depicting a whale, Longdong, north-eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2017a
Drawing on a road, depicting a dolphin, Bagua Shan, near Changhua. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2014b
Mosaic in a wall, consisting of broken tile stumps, depicting fireflies, crabs, and other creatures, Yuantan Natural Ecological Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Pork is a very popular food item in Taiwan, so, naturally, pigs abound in Taiwanese folk art. Three examples are shown below.

 

 

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Pigs, made from a tree trunk and branches, Puli. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Happy pig, made of clay. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2016
Pig’s face, made from concrete, pebbles, and a small flower pot, near Sanyi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Taiwan 2016a
This roller shutter in a kindergarten in Taichung is decorated with a painting of Snow White and the seven dwarves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

In Taiwan, the sika deer (Cervus nippon) was almost exterminated due to excessive hunting, but has now been re-introduced in several places. Occasionally, this deer is presented in Taiwanese folk art.

 

 

Taiwan 2014b
This signpost in Sheding Nature Park, Kenting National Park, is shaped as a sika deer. The text says: “Keep walking! Approaching to exit!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

This kitschy metal sculpture, depicting a sika deer, acts as an eye-catcher for a hotel in Sheding Nature Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Daoist grave, adorned with a relief, depicting a sika deer, near Chunri, southern Taiwan. Many other pictures, depicting Daoist graves, may be seen on the page Culture: Graves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Wax apple (Syzygium samarangense), also called Java apple or Semarang rose-apple, is a tropical tree of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae), which may reach a height of 12 m. Its place of origin is probably the Malay Peninsula and the Greater Sunda Islands, but it was introduced at an early stage to many other Asian countries, and today it is widely cultivated in the tropics for its delicious fruits.

 

 

Huge sculpture in the town of Fangliao, depicting a wax apple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

(Uploaded February 2018)

 

(Latest update February 2020)