Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Hukou Old Street: A Photo Essay
To get my mind off of the tragedy that is the Taipei MRT stabbing, and the less-surprising-yet-still-saddening Santa Barbara shooting (hey, let's make it legal for misogynist assholes to legally buy guns! Nothing could possibly go wrong there!), I decided to post some photos from a recent day trip to Hukou Old Street.
The good things about Hukou Old Street: the train station for it is on the local line (not far from Hsinchu) from Taipei, meaning it's easy to get to the town. It is not quite as 'discovered' yet, with far more people inviting you into their traditional homes-cum-shops to peruse antiques than stores selling soap, camphor balm, brown sugar cake and plastic children's toys (they still have those things, but they are far smaller in number). The street never gets fully crowded even on a kinda-sunny Sunday. The buildings and their decorations are remarkably well-preserved. The area has a lot of down-at-heel local color and friendly folks.
The annoying things about Hukou Old Street: first, it's not that close to anything else. Second, while it's easy to take a taxi there from Hukou train station, it is not within easy walking distance and the bus between the two comes rarely. There are not taxis lining up to take you back to the train station or wherever. If you don't have your own transportation, I suggest getting the phone number of whichever taxi took you so you aren't calling taxi companies from a Hi Life when you're ready to go back, hoping one will have a car they can send your way. Because, uhh, I wouldn't know anything about that, no sir.
This is one drawback of living in Taiwan: it's a developed country and as such has an urban metro system, in Taipei and (slowly but surely) in Kaohsiung, worthy of the first world. And yet, much of Taiwan remains rural: it's not "poor" enough that there needs to be public transportation for a populace that can't afford cars, but not "rich" enough that it has the excellent public transit infrastructure of, say, Japan.
But once there, the old street and surrounding town is a great way to spend some time - I recommend, to the best of your ability, tacking it onto something else - not sure what, as it's not near anything, but something. Including time spent eating you could spend a morning or an afternoon here, but not a whole day.
Which may be why it's not packed to the gills with tourist junk and the tourists who buy it like other old streets, so perhaps that's a blessing in disguise.
(Don't get me wrong, I like some of the tourist junk. I use the camphor balm and love brown sugar cake, it's just...I've seen it all. I'm happy to see that Dihua Street is going more traditional+upscale galleries and Hukou is maintaining its traditional flavor).
At one end of the street there's a church - worth a quick look. At the other, a temple (beyond the temple there are some rural farmhousey-type areas you could walk around in, although beware unfriendly local dogs).
One woman invited us to enjoy some tea in the loft/top floor of her house - the first floor was full of antiques - most for sale. The seating area and tea set:
Not bad, eh?
She doesn't invite everyone up, so don't push her...but you may be pleasantly surprised!
Another friendly old fellow with a clip-on mic and megaphone invited everyone in to see his collection of...things, which seems to have taken a Hoarders level of dedication to amass. For example, this thing is not creepy at all:
This guy had a huge obsession with the KMT, wearing a fake KMT politician vest (he was not a politician) and collecting various Party bric-a-brac which was interspersed with photos of him shaking hands with KMT dignitaries, Hello Kitty piggy banks, Three Wise Men on camels, Ronald McDonald figurines and horrifying light-up faces in faux tree trunks. Also, clowns.
All in all, it was pretty enjoyable, even if we really stretched out our mealtimes to make the trip all the way out to Hukou worth it.
If you're into old streets and Japanese-era architecture - and I am - and you're willing to go out of the way for a bit more authenticity, Hukou's a good choice.
I mean, it doesn't get more authentic than that, does it?
Loved the decorations on the traditional buildings.
Another nice family invited us to the back of the house to see their antique brass bed.
The temple is a pretty basic temple, nothing you can't see elsewhere, but it has a nice atmosphere...very peaceful, no scaffolding or corrugated tin roofs. And a few nice surprises like this little elephant hiding in the ceiling beams:
And this gorgeous black-and-white tiger painting:
There are a few restaurants, the most famous of which is in the old theater (the food is pretty good - not life-changing, but good enough), and plenty of snacks. We also got ginger tofu pudding (薑汁豆花) - honestly, not as good as what you can get in Sanxia at the much busier Old Street.
But, of course, a visit to an Old Street is incomplete without a piece of plastic junk. I thought this happy green poop-shaped container holding Smartee-like poop candies was a good choice. He sits on my desk now.
From there, we weren't hungry enough to head out to Miaoli for a good Hakka dinner. It wasn't exactly convenient to get to Hsinchu or Zhubei, although we considered stopping in Zhubei for Titty Tea's tasty brownies and good beer before heading back to Taipei from there (I know a place in Hsinchu city that does shabu shabu with congee broth, but we weren't hungry enough to eat that soon and I didn't have their information readily available). In the end we just went back to Taipei (after *cough* waiting at a Hi Life for a taxi to finally come get us) and had dinner there - we got back in plenty of time.
Just to show you how friendly and open people can be in Taiwan, I mentioned the taxi kerfuffle to some Hsinchu Science Park students and two of them were all "you should have called me! I would have given you guys a ride, no problem!" (Hukou is about a 20-minute highway trip from Zhubei). Awww.