I resided in Zhongli 中壢, Taoyuan 桃園, for two months at the very end of 2015 for reasons outlined in my first dispatch. In short: I wanted to try out living in another city in Taiwan 台灣 and had a few good friends in the area, one of whom is fellow Canadian blogger Josh Ellis. In my time in Zhongli I captured numerous scenes from everyday life in this burgeoning conurbation of half a million. This post is meant to convey a sense of what it was like to live there for a while—just as I previously did for my time in Wenshan District, Taipei 台北. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide or a review; think of this as a loose collection of snapshots and impressions of a middling Taiwanese city not commonly documented in English.
I briefly visited Meinong 美濃 in July of 2014 while cycling around southern Taiwan 台灣. I hadn’t done any planning prior to arrival and knew nothing of what I was getting myself into nor what sights I should have made an effort to see. I was navigating almost exclusively by instinct, riding in whatever direction seemed interesting, simply to see what was there. Gathered here are several of my photos from a few uninformed hours in this bucolic rural township in Kaohsiung 高雄.
Jinguashi 金瓜石 is a historic mining town on the far side of Jiufen 九份 from Taipei 台北. Unlike Jiufen—which has become insanely popular and rather overdeveloped in recent years—Jinguashi maintains a small town charm that belies an unusual concentration of historic sights, rewarding hikes, and offbeat attractions. One great example is the funky restaurant perched on the hillside to the right of Cyuanji Temple 勸濟堂 (pinyin: Quànjìtáng), easily identified by the huge gold statue of Guān Gōng 關公 perched on the rooftop. The restaurant, as I have learned, is simply named for their signature dish: báidàiyú mǐfěntāng 白帶魚米粉湯, a kind of fish and rice noodle soup.
I was wandering through Sānhé Night Market 三和夜市 on the first day of the new year when this small shop caught my eye. The formal name of the place is Céngjì Huāzhīgēng 曾記花枝羹 and, as the last three characters would suggest, they specialize in squid thick soup, a popular Taiwanese snack. The highly stylized characters on the signboard look something like seal script 篆書 to my inexpert eyes—with the last character, “gēng 羹”, swapped for the more traditional “焿”. Don’t ask me to make sense of that first character, mind you—it is enough to know that “huā 花” means flower.
Of course, this famous eatery in Sanchong 三重 has been written up countless times by Taiwanese bloggers, for example here, here, here, and here. Although my understanding of Chinese is still rudimentary at best I did not notice anyone taking any particular interest in the creative use of characters on the sign. I might be the only person to blog about this shop with far more interest in its typography than its taste!
Tonight I went for a leisurely bicycle ride to Xindian 新店 and back along the riverside bikeway. Just before crossing back into Taipei 台北 proper I stopped for dinner at a sushi restaurant that I have been meaning to check out at the foot of Zhongzheng Bridge 中正橋 in Yonghe 永和. Not feeling all that decisive I opted for the assorted sushi platter (not an exact translation of zònghé shòusī 綜合壽司 but it will do). Hilariously, when the platter arrived it was fully stacked with a bunch of things I dislike or never order: ika (squid) and crab stick nigiri, some kind of giant prawn nigiri I have never seen before, a salmon roe “ship roll”, a peculiar slab of tamago (egg), and something I have always been interested in trying: uni うに, better known in English as sea urchin (and in Chinese as hǎidǎn 海膽). But that’s not the meat or the eggs of the urchin you see in the photograph—those pasty ochre blobs are the the gonads of the organism.
Last week I moved from Taipei 台北 to Zhongli 中壢, a mid-sized city of approximately half a million1 about 45 minutes down the Western Line 西部幹線 in the heart of Taoyuan 桃園. I have been all around the island but haven’t explored much of what you might call the “middle north”, the strongly Hakka-influenced area stretching from the rugged borders of Xinbei (New Taipei) 新北 south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan 桃園, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli 苗栗. Perhaps by staying here awhile I will find opportunities to explore more of this part of Taiwan 台灣 and fill in some blank spots on my personal map.
Some time ago I was amused to find that a photograph of mine was featured in the Wikipedia entry for Hinava, a kind of indigenous Sabahan ceviche consisting of fresh fish cured in citrus juice. This particular example features swordfish and was captured at Tip Top Restaurant, named for its close proximity to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, the northernmost tip of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, while staying at the nearby eco-resort Tampat do Aman in Kudat. As for the dish? Delicious.
Saturday night in Taipei 台北. I take to the streets and leave the haters behind. Hours of riding bring me back here, to 永和家鄉豆漿 (or 世新大學永和豆漿), a doujiang just around the corner from my old place in Wenshan, where I lived through historic times, when sunflowers sprouted in the halls of power. How nice to arrive to a flash of recognition, 好久不見, long time no see, itself one of the few phrases in English likely borrowed from Chinese. So many nights at the doujiang, always to return, another cycle, another spin around the city, around the sun.
I was drawn to the twin night markets of Kaisyuan Night Market 凱旋觀光夜市 and Jinzuan Night Market 金鑽觀光夜市 in Kaohsiung 高雄 based on their reputation as the largest in Taiwan 台灣. Supposedly they are both approximately 30,000 square meters in size and feature 500 to 1,000 stalls—but these figures may represent the sum of both night markets. At any rate, I was very surprised to discover how poorly attended both night markets were on a Sunday night, particularly as I had just arrived from a brief tour of the busy Ruìfēng Night Market 瑞豐夜市 in Zuoying 左營, which showed far more life and activity than these more “famous” night markets.
A couple of months ago I randomly took the train to Douliu 斗六, the capital of Yunlin 雲林, the least developed county on the western plains of Taiwan 台灣. Douliu is regularly the subject of jokes in Taiwan (when people aren’t trashing Taoyuan 桃園, that is) so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: an old street lined with Japanese colonial buildings, several old Japanese era dormitories and historical landmarks, the quirky Hungry Ghost covered market, the temple of fried chicken, and an abandoned entertainment complex to explore (all things I’ll try to post about at some point). Even more surprising was the size of the Saturday night Renwen Park Night Market 人文公園夜市 located in the southwest corner of town. I have become something of a night market connoisseur since living in central and southern Taiwan and wouldn’t hesitate to declare this night market one of the biggest and best on the island.