November 30, 2008
National Center of Traditional Arts (NCTA)
The Arts Center is about 20 minutes outside Ilan City. Originally conceived in 1996, the center was finally finished in 2002. Covering 24 hectares, the primary objectives of the NCTA are to "plan, research and support traditional arts for their surveys, preservations, educations, performances and promotions".
Whether they actually achieve these goals, I am not sure, but the Center actually is very clean and well put together. We found the buildings surprisingly attractive, the gardens well looked after and the waterways alongside the Dongshan River clean. Information is readily available in English, including an audio guide.
One of the great things about the Center, and the thing that hits you straight away is the space. As I have mentioned before, wide open undeveloped yet cared for spaces are not that common in Taiwan, although they are appearing more often to be fair. So the Center should be on your itinerary for the east coast, especially if you have children that need a good run around.
The square with the pavilion and temple are a good place to start your tour after entering, just pass the kiln and information center. If you want the English audio guide, you can pick it up from the information center.
From the square you can get a coffee at the Starbucks or grab a bite to eat at the restaurant. There is also a 7-11 and of course small stores selling dried fruit (and cow's tongue biscuits if you haven't got them yet!)
From there you will see the street of two story buildings, or the "Folk Art Boulevard". There are various small stores here selling local folk art and other arts and crafts. From there you will come to the exhibition hall and another square. This is a good place to sit and rest. There is usually a breeze across the square, but you should bring sunscreen, as there isn't that much cover away from the buildings.
The buildings are actually built in the style of early 20th century Taiwanese houses, and there are still some samples left even in Taipei (and especially in places like Sanhsia). Still, this reproduction is done very well and provides great photo opportunities as well as a place to do some shopping and relax.
On the other side of this square are various workshops and the base where the artists reside. This is the research part of the Center where one hopes the traditions of Taiwanese arts is being preserved.
If you walk away from the temple down some steps, you come to both the former residence of Scholar Huang and the inner pier. Boat trips are available from this pier, either up the Dongshan River to Chingshui or a shorter trip to the Dongshan River. It's a good idea to check and make sure the boats are running, as met with some confusion. The views from the river are worthwhile if you make it out however. In fact Dragon Boat races used to be held on this part of the river, although as of 2008, the local residents didn't seem certain as to whether they would be held in the future.
The former residence of Scholar Huang is a traditional courtyard style building, originating from over 130 years ago, but since restored to its former glory. If you picked up the English audio guide, it will explain the different aspects of the house. Interesting snippets include the fact that everything comes in odd numbers. Count the pillars in the windows and the steps and you'll not find an even number anywhere. This is because odd numbers are seen as good luck for the living where even numbers are used for houses of the dead.
These kinds of houses were once the predominant style throughout Taiwan, with whole families living in a single complex. As with the shopping street mentioned above, this restoration gives an excellent insight into how people used to live in Taiwan. There are now very few examples left around the island, alas, so most likely this is as close as you will get.
Entrance to the center costs NT$150 for adults and is well worth it in our opinion. You will need to sort out transport as it is out by the highway. There are numerous shuttle buses, which can be arranged form hotels in Ilan. If you are driving, the address is below. Look out for four metal "windmills" or multi-colored circular shapes attached to a pole.
Alternatively there is accommodation available in the Center itself, check the website for details.
Address: ?201, Wubin Road Sec. 2, Wujie Township, Ilan County
Tel: ?(03) 970-5815
Hours: ?Every day 9:00am - 6:00pm (last admission 5pm).
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