Photoessay: A Taste of Taiwanese Hospitality

By Lim Yixuan, Yale-NUS ’17

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”- Daisy from The Great Gatsby

Ironic, but true. In Taiwan, the Large Party is the Countryside and the Small Party is the City. You would think you would get more interaction in the cramped setting of a city but actually the inverse is true. The wide countryside, with its rolling hills and farms growing spring onions, was where we found the most genuine of human interaction. Perhaps we just get sick of people in a small city where we are holed up and forced to be with each other.  Maybe that’s where the antipathy and xenophobia set in. In the country, there is the luxury of personal space, and that makes people more personable.

In Taiwan, we spent the first two days in Yilan. We arrived early in the morning but would only check in much later in the afternoon. After making sour plums at a sour plum factory, we found ourselves dragging our luggage to the baumkuchen showroom, as the sour plum factory was quite ulu (isolated) and far from the main road.

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Our legs were complaining so much we had to go into a store and drink sweet tea.

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After we purchased our spoils we went outside to wait for a cab, but we saw not even the shadow of a cab for a good many minutes.  When we simply could not bear it any longer, we decided to seek the help of the security guard. But surprise, surprise, he said the manager of the store was going to give us a lift! While a suspicious city-dweller would think this was dubious, we went with our gut and hopped in.

We even wanted to give him the sour plums we made as a thank-you gift but he wouldn’t allow it.

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We made our way to 八甲漁場 where we checked in without (too much) of a hooha at an inn. The owners of the inn also owned a fish farm a short distance away, and the boss explained to us that he worked at the fish farm when he was younger. When he ‘retired’ he moved to the inn while his son took over at the fish farm.

Here we encountered yet another show of hospitality and generosity. The boss had some vacuum packs of 高山茶 (high mountain tea) sitting on a small side table, and we wound up in a tea tasting session with him. Sipping the tea, we learnt that he had actually been to Singapore as a judge for a competition (which he constantly reiterated as a point of pride), he had three children, and he cared about the difference between a 北瓜 and a 西瓜🍉.

That’s a 北瓜 I’m holding:

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We were in for yet another surprise show of hospitality. We has been thinking of going to a whiskey factory nearby that morning but we had learnt from our previous night’s experience that taxis were hard to find. Fortunately, his friend Qiu-beibei came over for tea and offered to take us there.

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Thanks to him, we had some fun.. though we didn’t go for the whiskey sampling (whiskey is not really our thing!) and the museum part was closed.. so we didn’t do too much except take a couple of photos.

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A side story: the tree standing outside the inn was transplanted from another location because the owners loved it so much. These people treasure heritage quite a bit, and their hospitality really made our first two days, so making sour plums was really just a side attraction.

This is the tree and the awesome inn!

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Mandatory selfie:

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Our next encounter with good hospitality took place on our ride from Yilan to the bus station to catch a bus to Taipei. On the way there we wanted to stop by a 牛舌餅 (cow tongue biscuits) showroom. When we arrived there, the driver offered to come back to pick us up  so that we needn’t carry our luggage. Once again, we went with our gut and accepted his offer.

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After trying the cow-biscuits, he picked us up again and brought us to the bus station.  On the way there, we were chatting and he offered us some of the thing he was chewing. It was some betel-nut concoction, similar to those eaten in certain parts of Southeast Asia. It’s wrapped in a leaf, and when you chew it, a red juice emerges and stains the tongue of the chewer.

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My friend who had the guts to try it:

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The red coloured seed that you spit out:

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In the next chapter of the hospitality series, we find ourselves at 金瓜石, the lower part of the mountain that popular tourist destination 九份 is on. This story also involves a cab. By then, we realised that we had a strange affinity with taxi drivers.

Halfway on our journey from 瑞芳 train station to our accommodation, our taxi driver got really excited and pulled up by the side of the road. He whipped out his iPad and started showing us pictures of people he had brought around. Apparently he offers an informal tour guide service, and he boasted of how much time you can save and how many sights you can see and how unlucky we were to have missed him. To demonstrate his credibility, he opened several emails where people mailed him to book him as their tour guide. He showed us pictures of where he brought this lone female traveller from Hong Kong, whom he said was “very brave”. His name was Hu-beibei.

This took a while and by then we were getting tired of listening to him. But he declared that he would take a short detour to show us some sights!

He first took us to a really beautiful naturally rocky area (don’t know what is called but it is quite near 野柳).

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We climbed up a short area ignoring the red warning signs.

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This is perhaps one of the undiscovered areas that has not been ravaged by tourists. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints-but in this case, even footprints would be damaging.

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That’s him! Hu-beibei!

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He told us he was really experienced with taking shots here.. he told us how to pose nicely!

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Here’s our photo with him and his umbrellas!

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On the way back to our accommodation, we drove past the Yin Yang sea, which is named for the two colours in the water, which he pointed out to us.

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He told us that we could arrange for him to pick us up the next day, and that he would come early to show us more sights, such as the 黃金瀑布 (Golden Waterfall)  and the  黑金剛大山 (Black King Kong Big Mountain).

Of course, we were too happy to agree.

We went to the mountain first, where they have a map to show you where are the face, forearm, fist and bottom of the King Kong.

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He told us this used to be a site where minerals from the mountains were processed. The derelict structures still stand.

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Here is the King Kong mountain.
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These columns were used to bring smoke from the bottom of the mountain to be released at the top of it, as he explained to us.

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We really got a good birds eye view.

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He then brought us to the 黃金瀑布 (Golden Waterfall). He gave us a geography lesson on how the land is so rich with minerals that there are no trees on the mountain itself. Most of it is pretty flat and grassy (as you can see). It’s called a golden waterfall because there’s gold underneath, if I’m not wrong.

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And off we went to the airport. He gave us the option of setting what we felt was reasonable for him–but of course he had earlier shared with us that a trip from our accomodation to the airport would cost about NT$3000.

Actually, we have my friend Ke Yu to thank for the richness of hospitality we experienced. Part of the reason is actually taking the road less travelled. It was a self planned trip and this brought us to unconventional places. People hardly visit Yilan and even 金瓜石 (most just come for day trips to 九份 and stay there). Taking the road less-travelled does involve some pain (I’ll never forget our hour long walk to dinner), but you’ll also be surprised by what you find.

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