Postcards From Meinong 美濃明信片

The countryside between Qishan and Meinong
On the road somewhere between Qíshān 旗山 and Měinóng 美濃.

I briefly visited Měinóng 美濃 in July of 2014 while cycling around southern Taiwan. 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.

An old style sanheyuan on the outskirts of Meinong
A suspicious dog crosses the courtyard of a traditional home in Meinong.

Meinong is famous for Hakka culture, beautiful natural surroundings, and a variety of industries and products, most prominently oil paper umbrellas and tobacco. I only really picked up on the first two, for the landscape is indeed quite scenic, and I was knowledgeable enough to recognize the ubiquity of Hakka-style sanheyuan, even if I was ignorant of exactly what I was looking at.

A double decker sanheyuan
A two-storey courtyard home in the countryside.
Meinong’s famous lake
Meinong’s famous Zhongzheng Lake in the midst of a drought.

One look at the parched fields and low water levels in ponds and lakes would be enough to inform you that there was a drought at the time I visited. I cruised by Meinong Lake 美濃湖 (formerly Zhōngzhèng Lake 中正湖 or Zhongzheng Reservoir 中正湖水庫 from 1956 until sometime in recent decades and still widely known by this name) without seeing much in the way of activity. Pavilions ordinarily immersed in water stood tall over muddy banks overgrown with weeds. Hardly anything moved in the stagnant midday heat and humidity of early summer.

An old house in Meinong
Another beautiful old house in Meinong. The style of bricks is common in Hakka areas.
Monkey bridge in Meinong
A monkey sculpture on an old bridge in town.

After meandering around the countryside I cruised into town in search of traces of history. I had visited Qíshān 旗山 earlier that day and had been impressed with its colonial architecture and old shophouses and was seeking for more of the same—but all I found was Meinong Old Bridge 美濃舊橋, which really wasn’t much to look at despite having been built in 1930.

Meinong main street
Main street in Meinong. It wasn’t at all like I expected. The town didn’t seem to have much of a center.
Hakka restaurant in Meinong
A Hakka restaurant in Meinong. I chose it at random but it turned out to be rather famous (and quite good).
Rice noodles in Meinong
A Hakka rice noodle dish. Plain but surprisingly delicious.
Hakka dish
Hakka stir fry in Meinong. It has a little bit of everything.

Stopping for lunch was one of the more serendipitous experiences I had in Meinong. There weren’t many people around the day I went so I chose a place more or less at random—and lucked out with Lin Family Bantiao Shop 林家粄條店, one of the more well-known Hakka restaurants in town. Not only that, but the boss spoke a little English so I was able to order two signature dishes: rice noodles (presumably bǎntiáo 板條, though they look a lot thinner than the ones I’ve had up north) and a stir fry full of all sorts of stuff (tofu, squid, and little bits of octopus). It was all very good! (But don’t take my word for it, check out this more informed post about Hakka cuisine in Meinong.)

Tororo in tile
Totoro in tile. Not exactly the most authentic representation of local culture but hey, whatever. Totoro!
Meinong high school bags
Meinong high school student bags in a 7-Eleven. I had to make frequent stops in the summer heat.

On my way out of town I made a point of visiting the historic East Gate Tower 東門樓, originally built in 1755. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovation when I cycled by so I didn’t end up seeing much of anything. I did find it quaint that they had gone to the trouble of printing giant images of the gate on the tarp covering it up.

The old eastern gate of Meinong
The historic old eastern gate was under renovation when I passed by. Very disappointing.
A strange horse by the roadside south of Meinong
This weird horse at the roadside caught my eye on my way out of Meinong.

Overall I wasn’t hugely impressed with my brief spin through Meinong, unlike my time in Qíshān 旗山, which was really cool. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like I missed very much aside from the Meinong Folk Village 美濃客家村 (see here for an English language blog about it) and whatever remains of the old tobacco industry. Then again, I declined to head into the hills, which would have made for a far more scenic ride, as you can see from bicycle blogs by Michael Turton, Taiwan In Cycles, and Travels With Kylie.

Meinong drought
Parched agricultural fields just south of the center of Meinong.

If you’re curious about Měinóng 美濃 more general information can be found on English In Taiwan, White Goldfish, and Time For Taiwan.