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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

Jiǔfèn 九份 (literally "nine pieces") is a fascinating mountainside town about an hour outside of Taipei 台北 in Ruifang. It is famous for having inspired the village in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and remains one of northern Taiwan's top tourist attractions. Go for the old street, the ambiance, and the history, but beware of the crowds on weekends and holidays! If you take the bus to Jiufen you may have to contend with insane line-ups on the way back. Here's a little trick: just walk up the hill from the crowds to the next stop. Be sure to check out neighbouring Jīnguāshí 金瓜石 as well!

An Overnight Trip to Keelung via Jinguashi and Jiufen

Jinguashi from the Ogon Shrine in January
Jinguashi from the Ogon Shrine.

Last weekend I enjoyed a couple of days outside of Taipei 台北 in the northern part of Taiwan 台灣. I went there with friends, ostensibly to show them around Jīnguāshí 金瓜石 and Jiǔfèn 九份, the town that famously inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and ended up staying in Keelung for the night on a whim. Having recently purchased a great new phone I bombarded Instagram with numerous pictures and plenty of commentary as the trip progressed. This quick and dirty post is a collection of some of my better smartphone snapshots as well as an experiment in blogging with broader brushstrokes. Perhaps you will get a sense of how I travel: spontaneously, intuitively, and with a keen eye for details.

The Famous Teahouses of Jiufen

The teahouses of Jiufen at sunset
The teahouses of Jiufen in the golden light of late afternoon.

The tiny mountain town of Jiǔfèn 九份 is one of Taiwan’s most iconic attractions. It prospered under Japanese colonial rule but slipped into steep decline after the closure of the nearby gold mine in the 1970s. In 1989 it was featured in A City of Sadness, the first Taiwanese film to openly address 228 Incident, which prompted a modest reversal in fortunes as it became a local tourist destination. The trickle of visitors became a flood in the 2000s with the release of Studio Ghibli’s beloved Spirited Away, an animated film featuring a supernatural town inspired by Jiufen’s unique history and appearance.

A Peanut Brittle and Ice Cream Roll in Jiufen

Peanut brittle and taro ice cream treat
Peanut brittle and taro ice cream treat.

Pictured here is one of my favourite Taiwanese snacks, an ice cream and peanut brittle spring roll, commonly known as huāshēng juǎn bīngqílín 花生捲冰淇淋 (literally “peanut roll ice cream”). Apparently it originated in Yilan but you can now find these treats served at night markets and street vendors all around Taiwan 台灣. Each roll consists of freshly shaved peanut brittle, two or three scoops of various flavours of ice cream, and a bunch of chopped cilantro in a thin popiah skin 薄餅皮.

Jiufen, City of Sadness

Jiufen in the mist
Jiufen in the mist and the rain.

Jiǔfèn 九份 is one of the most nostalgic of the old towns in Taiwan 台灣. Although I enjoy the hustle and bustle of Jiufen Old Street 九份老街 I like to break away from the endless busloads of tourists and lose myself in the labyrinthine laneways that line the mountainside. The rest of the town usually feels empty and almost lifeless, as if it were frozen in time.