The Tainan City Government’s Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL) and the Bureau of Civil Affairs teamed up last year (2017) to launch the “English-friendly temple” pilot program. Together, they helped nine Tainan temples to produce English versions of their profiles, lottery poetry procedures, and jiaobei instructions. One of the temples, Tiantan Tiangong Temple, took it one step further by offering the lottery poetry service in three languages – Chinese, English, and Japanese. The trilingual service received wide public acclaim and amazed foreign tourists. This enthusiastic reception from both temples and tourists prompted the OEASOL to up the ante this year. It invited foreign professionals to compose audio guides of temples from the perspective of foreigners to further upgrade the bilingual services offered by temples. It hopes foreign visitors will use this service as the first step in exploring the wonders of the city’s temple culture.
Tainan City Government Deputy Secretary-General and OEASOL Director Lee Hsien-wei said the results of the English-friendly temple pilot program “greatly exceeded expectations.” The program was widely praised by visiting foreign diplomatic envoys. For example, during last year’s Tainan City International Dragon Boat Championships, the foreign ambassadors received by the Tainan City Government were extremely impressed by the bilingual lottery poetry service and eager to try it out. However, those wishing to delve deeper into temple culture need more than just English-language profiles, and would benefit greatly from English audio guides. The OEASOL therefore invited foreign writers to come and live in Tainan for one week and create audio guide content on the architectural features and deities of nine temples. Foreigners then recorded the audio tours in English. Starting in July, visitors will be able to scan QR codes inside temples to get immediate access to the 30-minute English audio guides.
Temples said they previously encountered many challenges in trying to recruit English-speaking volunteers. There were a limited number of speakers, and volunteers were not necessarily able to conform to the schedules of visitors. Temples are therefore “happy and excited” to be able to offer online English audio guides.
The OEASOL said the five foreign professionals invited to collaborate on this project included Lonely Planet writers and an Australian blogger. They all stayed in Tainan for seven days and were paired up with an English-speaking cultural and historical guide who accompanied them during the entire process. When asked why it invited foreign professionals to write the content for the audio tours, the OEASOL responded that it was used to “starting out from our own perspectives” to provide “information that we think is important” to foreigners. However, the cultural context element was frequently overlooked, so oftentimes the foreign tourists could not make sense of the information. This time, it decided to “start out from the perspective of foreigners” by asking foreign writers to compose the content for the temple audio tours. The office hopes the content will be “more in touch with people’s needs” and offer an interesting entry point as well as highlight the fascinating aspects of Tainan’s temple culture.
Lonely Planet guidebook author Piera Chen said foreigners are quite curious about temples, but may not be able to understand their historical context and symbolism due to the language barrier. She was surprised and honored to receive this invitation from the city government, because she wasn’t aware of the importance Tainan had attached to creating an overall English-friendly environment and its considerate contemplation of the requirements of visitors. The depth of the content of these guided tours is at a level that foreigners can understand, and focuses on the aesthetics and culture of Tainan’s temples. The tours allow foreigners to explore the beauty of Tainan’s temples from a different perspective.
The temples participating in the project are Tiantan Tiangong Temple, Tainan Grand Matsu Temple, Beiji Temple, Anping Kaitai Mazu Temple, Taiwan Prefecture City God Temple, Guan Gong Temple, Luerhmen Tianhou Temple, Grand Guanyin Pavilion & Official Xing-ji Temple, and Orthodox Luerhmen Sheng Mu Temple. The writers are Lonely Planet guidebook authors Piera Chen and Joshua Samuel; Australian blogger Monica Mizzi; ICRT journalist Robert Dawson; and foreign teacher Andrew Jackson. The local English-speaking cultural and historical guides are Lin Yi-hua, Wu Xin, Yang Jia-min, Liu Ji-xiong, and Xie Wen-feng.