Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Postcards from Jiufen

A few weeks ago, we took my kid sister to Jiufen - she's here for a year, studying at Zhengda's Chinese language learning center, and has never been to either Jiufen or Jinguashi. We only made it to Jiufen (though we had planned to visit both towns) because we ended up climbing Keelung Mountain and it took us well into twilight to do so.

Getting to Jiufen was an adventure in itself. We arrived at Taipei 's Main's railway platform at 10:42am, exactly two minutes after the local train to Ruifang had departed. The next one wasn't coming for an hour. Why did we get there so late? We all agreed that we wanted to sleep in a little and not drag ourselves out of bed at 7am. Rather than wait on the platform for an hour (b-o-r-i-n-g) and giving our day a sour start, we boarded the next train, which terminated at Qidu, figuring we'd find a way to Jiufen from there.

When we got to Qidu, all seemed lost - we were simply going to have to wait 40 minutes for that same local to Ruifang (the base from which to take a bus/taxi to Jiufen). The station master didn't know of any other way. Fortunately, at that moment, a nice girl who grew up in the area was heading through the station on the way to visit her mother. She told us that the place where she was planning to meet her siblings to head to their laojia (ancestral home) happened to have a bus stop where the bus to Jiufen came. Woohoo! We climbed in a taxi with her and her recently-rescued stray cat, Meimei, and headed for a 7-11 on the border of Taipei and Keelung Counties (what else would you expect to be there?). She met her siblings, all of whom had adorable pets in tow, and we gave her some cash for the taxi and boarded the bus to Jiufen, which came soon after. Success!

Below are some photos:

Clay masks along the 'stair street' at Jiufen...most people who've been there have passed this house. Someday I really will go inside.

Jiufen and Jinguashi are noted for having lots of old-style houses, most of which have been coverted into museums, teahouses, cafes and other tourist amenities. While I prefer authenticity to convenience, I guess it's a better fate than being torn down or cascading into ruin.

Brendan and I have been to Jiufen several times (I believe this was my fourth visit) but as Becca hadn't, and wanted to buy gifts, souvenirs etc. from Taiwan, we took her down the tourist street. While I'm not too fond of it (you can get the same stuff almost anywhere) I do like their fancypants soap store, which sells great facial soaps made from herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. I also got a new pair of beaded flipflops for summer and a travel accessory bag made of fake 'Chinese silk'.

The good thing about the market is that there are also lots of different foods on offer. We particularly liked the cup of squid and the deep fried chunks of giant mushroom.

Delicious pickled mango!

Gooey snacks - if you look at the colors, you can see that she's making taro and sweet potato goo-balls, which is a popular flavor combination in Taiwan. And, for some reason I've never figured out, Taiwanese people seem to love gooey snacks...the chewier the better.

The bad thing is that on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it was packed to the point where even the Taiwanese people there thought it was too crowded (wow). There were times when you couldn't move at all. A good warning to try and visit on a weekday, if at all possible.

Crowds and crowds

Afterwards, hot and tired from the pushing crowd, but well-fed on squid and fried mushrooms, we headed to one of Jiufen's famous teahouses to relax in the sun and have a cold drink. We were the only ones out on the deck except for a couple lounging under the awning, far from the sun...another thing locals seem to hate is getting a tan. But after a winter of clouds and drizzle, we were basking in it.

Traditional buildings have mostly been converted into teahouses. Above is one with Keelung Mountain in the background.

Doesn't that iced green tea look great?

From our balcony perspective, we also got to enjoy Jiufen's famous views over the northeast coast (I actually prefer Jinguashi's views to an extent, but Jiufen's are lovely too).

Afterwards, as the afternoon waned, we decided that we had just enough time to make it to the top of Keelung Mountain and back before sunset. Keelung Mountain is shown in the background of one of the photos above, and it doesn't look all that difficult, does it?

Did we really think we'd have time to make it up and back this late in the day?

Well, it's not a tough climb, per se, but it is all stairs which meant that my knees were creaking as we ascended. It also took longer than we thought.

On the road to the trailhead

Along the way, you can see views of Jiufen on one side and Jinguashi on the other, with strategically placed pagodas from which to view them both. At ground level, the lower levels of the mountain are littered with tiny shrines. As you ascend, the view expands on either end to include Bitou Cape on one side and Keelung City on the other.

Jinguashi on one side...

...and Jiufen on the other

Me and Brendan with a view of Jinguashi's coastline

Tiny shrines dot the sides of Keelung Mountain

Pagodas on the way up give you a chance to rest and enjoy the view.

This may not look like much, but look in the wide valley on the righthand side. Do you see a little stick poking out? That's Taipei 101, as seen from the north coast of Taiwan!

Views of Jinguashi

The sun set on our way down.

As you can see, we didn't quite make it up and back before sunset. It got darker as we descended, and by the time we hit the final pagoda, night had fallen. We walked the rest of the way with barely any illumination, but with the lights of the northeast coast twinkling in front of us, and those of ships out to sea behind us. In the distance we could see the city of Keelung lit up brightly.

We took the bus to Keelung Night Market for dinner, though after all that snacking we weren't very hungry. But Keelung is a great night market spot, so we made room for some delicious, fresh seafood.

Lots of oranges!

Mmmm, sea urchin sashimi. My favorite!

We had sea urchins (visible above), cream crabs (crabs cooked in cream and butter with onions and other seasonings), clams, sweet potato leaves and beer. It was delicious!


Sasha said...

hey,accroding to the photos of delicious beans. i think they are "pickled mango" instead of beans......and the shrines...aren't they tombs ?i feel that.

Cahleen @ The Alt Story said...

Jiufen is one of my favorite places in Taiwan, and your pics are absolutely beautiful! You probably already know this, but just in case you don't I thought I'd tell you that there's a convenient bus that leaves from the new Sogo and goes straight to Jiufen quite often. That's how we always get there. =)

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Yep, I know about the bus! We just figured it may not come as often on Sunday, plus we correctly guessed that traffic there would be horrible (it was).

As for the beans...maybe they were pickled mango. I don't know - I didn't eat any. I am pretty sure the shrines were just shrines to ancestors (maybe not gods) because they were much smaller than tombs. Tombs are usually big and wide, with a little 'yard' thing in front...these were just tiny outposts.

Craig Ferguson said...

Great photos and report. Well done. You make me want to make a return trip to that area - it's a few years since I was last there.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

aww thanks! There are a few I wish I could take over - more close ups of the mud masks and the little statue that's pointing, and a good night vision camera for a night shot coming down Keelung Mountain, and I need better focus overall (don't know how to do this with an old PowerShot) but I am happy with the composition and colors of the photos.

MJ Klein said...

thanks for the trip down memory lane! i visited this area on my very first trip to Taiwan. i've only been back one time since. your story reminded me that i need to go back again (on a weekday!).

Deanie Yap said...

I am visiting Taipei during Chinese New Year in 2011. That is the only time I am available for traveling. Do you think it is a good idea to visit Jiufen during CNY? I hope all the shops/stalls are not closed

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Deannie - just don't go on Chinese New Year's Day. If you go at any other point during the CNY season or vacation, it should be fine, but on CNY Day itself (da nian chu yi, or 農曆一月一號) everything will likely be closed. So it's really just one day you need to worry about.

That time of year tends to be gray, cool and rainy though so you are not likely to get good weather.

Deanie Yap said...

Jenna - Many thanks for your reply. My mum who is in her sixties will be travelling with me; so I guess hiring a cab to take us around in Jiufen may be good idea. Do you have any recommendation? And how much does it cost?