Lotus Lake
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Lotus Lake, Taiwan

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Lotus Lake is a spectacular cultural destination in the midst of a modern city. Taiwan is a delightful mixture of old and new, and Lotus Lake certainly fits that description. This man-made lake is within the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city. Originally it appears that Lotus Lake was an irrigation pond in the Zuoying District before the city grew to envelop it. Now a city of nearly three million people, Kaohsiung is a leader in manufacturing, refining, shipbuilding, and other light and heavy industries. Taiwan's largest and busiest harbor, the Port of Kaohsiung, lies immediately to the west of the city on the Taiwan Strait. Lotus Lake, with its brightly-lit ring of pagodas and palaces, lends a sense of history and enduring culture to this industrial center of China.

Rimmed by vibrant pink lotus blossoms, Lotus Lake becomes the stage upon which several Taoist monuments bare the dramatic focal points. The Spring and Autumn Pavilions form a temple complex, while the Ciji Temple holds court nearby. At the north end of the lake, the Confucius Temple (Taiwan's largest) welcomes respectful visitors. The southwestern tip of the lake holds the Dragon-Tiger Pagodas, a major tourism attraction. The twin seven-story pagodas form a complex over the lake that allow for excellent views of the surrounding city. The entrances are a dragon and a tiger. According to the ancient rules of Feng Shui, visitors must enter through the left entrance, in this case, the dragon's mouth. The symbolic dragon imparts good luck. Visitors enter through a tunnel brightly painted with the images of gods and containing religious tracts for their edification. Visitors are then free to climb to the top of the pagodas and look out over the lake and the city. When leaving, visitors should exit through the tiger's mouth as the tiger symbolizes bad luck, and one wants to be departing bad luck whenever possible. Just in case visitors need more information about their futures, the approach to the complex holds a mechanical fortune-telling machine; visitors can ask a question in any of several different categories, and a mechanical woman comes out and drops a scroll containing the answer into a chute for retrieval. Those with repeat experience with the mechanical oracle state the fortune is always a good one.

There are no swimming or fishing facilities at Lotus Lake, although some tour boats are available. Apparently locals do some fishing in the lake, but this isn't considered a tourist attraction. Those who have visited suggest a walking tour as the best way to experience the sights of Lotus Lake. The shoreline is over two miles, so good walking shoes are suggested. Other temples are spread throughout the district but away from the lakeshore. Bicycles are a suggested means of travel and can be rented in many places in the area. At night, the temples and the wooden walkways over the water leading to them are ablaze with brightly-colored paper lanterns, and the beautifully lit scenes are a favorite of photographers. One of the walkways has nine corners to be turned before the passage becomes direct. This is in keeping with the traditional belief that evil cannot negotiate the particular pattern of turns required, thus protecting those who pass through them.

Lotus Lake was the site of several events in the 2009 World Games which were held in Kaohsiung, including water skiing, canoe polo and dragon boat racing. Many of the facilities were upgraded for the event. Scientific studies of the watershed state that the Lotus Lake irrigation pond existed by 1704, when it was dredged, enlarged and improved. These same studies show the lake being connected to the Tsao-Gung Canal which gained water from the Kaoping River in 1837 during the Qing Dynasty. A dredging and improvement project took place in 1951. Since that time, efforts at improving opportunities for natural habitat and recreation have resulted in the creation of the Zhouzi Wetland Park near the eastern shore and a bicycling park at the south end of the lake. Only a mile or so from Lotus Lake, Shou Shan Nature Park is a natural area containing what the Dutch originally called Ape Hill, a refuge for Formosan rock monkeys.

Because Kaohsiung is a major manufacturing and trade center, there are many business travelers here. Near Lotus Lake the Kaohsiung American School teaches grades K-12 an International Baccalaureate degree program in English, so many in the area speak English. Travel to Taipei via high-speed rail is easily accomplished from the Kaohsiung Terminal, and a subway system facilitates getting around this sprawling city. The Formosa Boulevard station displays a 'dome of light' ceiling light sculpture in the station that is worth visiting even if not taking the rail. The city holds several museums that are worth an afternoon's perusal: the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is a part of the Neiweipi Cultural Park, and the Kaohsiung Astronomical Museum holds an 18-foot diameter sky screen, an astronomical science exhibition hall, the largest constellation map ever created in the Mandarin language, and the Temma Mewlon 300mm reflector telescope, largest in Taiwan outside of research facilities. And no visit would be complete without taking the ferry to Qijin Island to enjoy a day of cycling, carnival-style booths, street food, games and diversions and the landmarks, Cihou Fort and Cihou Lighthouse. Windmill Park on QiJin has an interesting collection of wind machines working to garner electricity from off-shore breezes.

There are multiple types of lodgings available for Kaohsiung visitors. Besides elegant hotels and spas, many guest apartments and bed-and-breakfast style guest stays exist in the city. A well-recommended home-stay can be just the solution for travelers who are unsure of where to go and what to see; many proprietors are willing to direct their guests to the best eating establishments and even go with them to evening entertainment venues to smooth language barriers. They also know the best shopping hotspots and can facilitate transfers from city to city. So, come enjoy this very modern city with a very old culture. Lotus Lake is lovely, and the temples and pagodas are mysterious and picture-worthy.

*Size of the lake is only a rough estimate.

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