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Bantiao in Zhongli

Hakka 客家人

Hakka 客家人 (Mandarin pinyin: Kejia) are a Han Chinese people who traditionally originate in southeastern China. Centuries of emigration have seen significant communities of Hakka form all around the world with an estimated total population of around 80 million. In Taiwan 台灣 they are the largest minority group, totaling about 15–20% of the population.

A Short Ride Around Western Taoyuan

A river running through Xinwu
A river running through the Taoyuan countryside somewhere on the outskirts of Xinwu.

Last October, while living in Zhongli, I ventured out into the countryside for a random bicycle ride on Halloween. Like most of my rides I didn’t have a route planned or anything, only a general intention of checking out the obscure Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 about 15 kilometers west of the city. Along the way I followed my intuition (with a little help from Google Maps) and captured photographs of anything interesting and unusual I came across. Featured here are more than two dozens pictures from this ride through parts of Zhongli 中壢, Xinwu 新屋, Yangmei 楊梅, and Pingzhen in western Taoyuan.

Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂

Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂
In front of the main building at Fanjiang Ancestral Hall.

I chanced upon Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂 while out for a bicycle ride around Taoyuan in late October 2015. That morning I set out from my place in Zhongli 中壢 to see more of the countryside and eventually pay a visit to Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 in western Yangmei 楊梅. Along the way I made a brief diversion into Xinwu 新屋 to see whatever might be found there—and this cluster of historic Hakka homes were my reward.

Shuidui Settlement 水碓聚落

Still here after all these years
Still here after all these years: the remains of a traditional courtyard house in the rural margins of Taichung.

Taichung 台中 is undergoing a massive transformation as vast tracts of rural-industrial sprawl are cleared to make way for new developments around the high-speed rail station 高鐵台中站 and the future Taichung Metro system, particularly in Beitun 北屯, Nantun 南屯, and Wuri 烏日. Google’s satellite maps are out of sync with the streets, many of which are so new that they appear only as ghostly lines coursing through the former rice paddies. With large parts of the urban periphery slated for wholesale demolition and renewal many grassroots organizations have formed to preserve cultural assets found in these doomed territories—as was the case with the Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓. Today I chanced upon another example: Shuǐduì Jùluò 水碓聚落, a rare 17th century Hakka settlement in Nantun 南屯 with an ambiguous future.

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao

Tudigong statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City
A Tudigong 土地公 statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City 屏東市.

After spending a day riding around Pingtung City I was ready to hit the road again. With no specific destination in mind—only an intention to head in the direction of Hengchun 恆春, far to the south—I checked out of the vintage homestay I lodged at the previous night, stopped at Eske Place Coffee House for a delicious and healthy vegetarian breakfast, changed into cycling wear, and exited the city to the east. I knew almost nothing about where I was headed or what I might see on the third day of my south Taiwan ride in 2015. I only had one stop planned in advance: a hospital in Chaozhou 潮州 rumoured to be abandoned. I didn’t know it at the time but I would spend almost the entire day riding through the historic Hakka belt of Pingtung 屏東.

Scenes From Everyday Life: Zhongli

Zhongli Station sign I
On the platform at Zhongli Station.

I resided in Zhongli 中壢, Taoyuan, 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.

Postcards From Meinong 美濃明信片

On the road somewhere between Qishan and Meinong.
On the road somewhere between Qishan and Meinong.

I briefly visited Meinong 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.

Fugang Old Street 富岡老街

Fugang Old Street 富岡老街
The heart of Fugang Old Street on a gloomy day.

Fùgāng Old Street 富岡老街 is an obscure anachronism in the western part of Taoyuan, Taiwan 台灣. It extends from a railway station that opened during the Japanese colonial era in 1929 through the heart of this small Hakka town. The coming of the railroad brought prosperity to the area and several ornate shophouses were built around the station in a mishmash of architectural styles common at the time. Nowadays it is just another street in rural Taiwan, albeit one with a little more history than most, possibly because it is too unimportant a place for modernization to have swept away these vestiges of the past.

First Dispatch From Zhongli

The grand entrance to Renhai Temple 仁海宮
The grand entrance to Renhai Temple in Zhongli.

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. 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 south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli. 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.