Sorry I've been so horrid about updating; I was sick on top of a killer schedule plus a lot to get done for Christmas - we're throwing a party! - so just haven't had the time.
We spent Sunday in Miaoli county, wandering around Sanyi and it's well-known surroundings. In general it was a lovely trip - we did some holiday shopping, ate delicious Hakka food, saw the very good and very underrated museum (I think it's better than the Yingge ceramics museum) and hiked along the abandoned train tracks near Shengxing, a Hakka "village" that thrives mostly on its heritage and old buildings.
As Brendan rightly pointed out, Miaoli seems to be full of old folks. I mean that in a complimentary way; after all the more mature generation of Taiwan has endured, they deserve a hearty hats off with some applause thrown in. We have both noticed that all of our students seem to have at least one eldery relative in Miaoli - a grandmother, great uncle, distant cousin, aunt or great great great great grandfather. "What did you do last weekend?" is so often met with "We went to Miaoli to visit our grandmother" that we coined a new slogan for the county's tourism campaign:
Miaoli: Home to Every Taipei Resident's 92-year-old Hakka Grandmother.
I think it has potential, no? There could be an entire series of commercials...oh well. Nevermind.
There were a lot of day trippers and visitors but all of them were Taiwanese; I find this a lot less irritating than finding places thronged with foreigners including tour groups from Japan, China and Korea. It's crowded, sure, and loud...but also great to see Taiwanese people enjoying part of their cultural inheritance.
And for anyone who still argues against Taiwanese food being delicious - Prince Roy, I'm looking at you - the Hakka food we enjoyed for lunch decisively put that debate to rest. It was wonderful. All savory dried squid, fragrant pork and chicken, winter melon, taro and...just good. Much better than a lot of local cuisines of the mainland (like Beijing) and able to put up a good fight against Sichuan food.
Some photos from the day:
The broken bridge about 5km from Shengxing was quite atmospheric, although the market, parking lot and other tourist amenities set up near it kind of ruined the mood. Still, there wasn't another foreigner to be seen and we enjoyed seeing locals and day-trippers taking pleasure in their own history. That's me snapping a photo (this photo is Brendan's).
The train tracks between Shengxing and the collapsed bridge are scenic if you look ahead, scenic if you look around, and even scenic if you look down at the old wood forming the base of the tracks.
My sister making lei cha (blended/pounded tea) at the well-known restaurant where we ate lunch. We all took turns with the mortar and pestle and ground the various nuts until the mixture was a paste, shining with the oil of pulverized nuts. Then some other powder and hot water is added to make a starchy "tea" (not really tea at all) that is also sweet and quite filling.
Kids on the old train tracks. Not many people hiked further than this; the day trippers drove. We hiked, and got a taxi back (worth it, though I would have hitched if it had been just me or me and Brendan).
Delicious winter melon blob! Under the blob you can find taro, cabbage, pork and some other stuff. Very nice flavor, hearty on a chilly day.
Old-skool house...Shengxing is full of these and is worth the trip from Sanyi town. Then you can return to Sanyi to shop (but buy the sweets here).
See what I mean? Lots of friendly older folks. I'm sure these guys have third or fourth nephews or grandkids who have office jobs in Taipei. I bought some stewing spices from the foreground guy - long, fragrant plants grown in the mountains and rolled up. The guy in the back seems to love his cigarettes.
We saw these signs all over the roads - the header says "Everyone Come Learn Hakka" and it teaches some basic phrases in Hakka for drivers or pedestrians. A lovely facet of Miaoli that makes a sincere effort to promote local culture. I love it!
Walking in the countryside is a wonderful treat, especially in the late afternoon as the sun takes on a warm, filtered quality.