Showing posts with label old_houses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old_houses. Show all posts

Friday, October 23, 2020

Not Just The Tip: Visiting Shezi Island

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The Li Hexing Mansion on Shezi Island


I've been on Shezi (which is really a peninsula) twice, but never wrote about it as both times I was either pushing to get my dissertation proposal or actual dissertation handed in. So, now's the time! 

I'm no expert on Shezi history or anything like that, so this is more of a wanderer's blog than a deep dive, in the hope of showing that Shezi is more interesting than just its scenic bike path (though that is great, too). So far, it seems most explorations of Shezi begin and end at its periphery, which includes the scenic park at the very tip. That's certainly worth a visit, but I have more to say.


There are several buses to Shezi, though none of them run particularly frequently. The 2, 215, 536 and R10 will take you up there, from various yellow or red line MRT stations (these buses originate at or pass by Yuanshan, Taipei Main, the Jiancheng circle on the Chongqing stop near Zhongshan, Jiantan and Daqiaotou, for example. The R7 from Jiantan will also get you in the general area of some of the old buildings and a good cafe popular with cyclists.

Quick bit of advice: wear or bring mosquito repellent if you're heading up here. The entire area is lowland and between two rivers, with rural or light industrial stretches. You will get bitten if you don't prepare. 

The most efficient taxi ride would probably be from Qili'an or Qiyan stations further north as you'll ultimately be heading to Yanping North Road Sections 8 and 9. The peninsula is huge -- far larger than one would imagine for what is often considered a remote area of Taipei -- with its base somewhere around the Yanping-Dunhuang Road intersection and its tip so far north that you can see Guandu in the distance, with Yangming Mountain on one side and Guanyin Mountain on the other. Needless to say, the bus takes awhile. 

Here's a photo I snapped along the way:

 

Before heading up, I do suggest stopping off at the Chen Yueji Ancestral Mansion (陳悅記祖宅) at #231, Yanping Road Section 4. Most of the buses coming up from the south will stop by there (but probably not the ones that originate at Jiantan). It was built in 1807 and renovated in 1859, when one of the members of the Chen family became an imperial officer, had a great deal to do with arts and education in the Dalongdong area, and was the master of the Xuehai Academy (another old building in Wanhua that's worth a visit). 

After that, it's a long slog up Yanping Road, although you will pass some funky old houses from a variety of eras, several weird store signs and a Statue of Liberty that I haven't quite figured out the purpose of yet. Yanping skirts the river for awhile before turning inland so you'll get the best of both views. 





If you're on the bus, get off first at Jian'an New Village (健安新村). On bike that's Lane 157, Yanping North Road Section 8. From the bus stop turn into the aforementioned lane (heading south, so north if you're coming from the bike path). What you're looking for is a house somewhere in the vicinity of #s 11, 15 and 19, Lane 133, Yanping North Road Section 8 (延平北路八段133巷19號) which involves turning right into Lane 133 (if coming from the bus stop - Google Maps says this is Alley 6 but I'm not sure if that's accurate). 

Down one of the dead-ends along this lane, you'll see an old two-story brick house. This is the Li Family Mansion, which one descendant of the sprawling Li family (the Li Hexing branch) on Shezi still takes care of. Nobody from this particular Li branch was around when we came by, so we couldn't ask to see the inside. Another Li family member lives nearby; though he's not authorized to let you in the house, he did invite us into his home.


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Mr. Li told us that much of the island, or at least the part of it with these old houses, is inhabited by various branches of the Li family, who settled here in the Qing dynasty to take advantage of the farming opportunities in these low wetlands. That said, he also complained about the frequent flooding, and noted that the government hadn't done much about it, telling stories about his younger years when, during floods, his family would gather in the upper loft of the house as the ground level flooded. Once, he said, the water actually made it to the upper loft and they had to break a hole in the ceiling to stand on the roof until the water subsided. From the Formosa News link a few paragraphs down, it seems likely that this was the massive Typhoon Gloria in 1963.

More information is provided by a helpful Chinese-language blog, which names other prominent families on Shezi, including the Wang and Hsieh families, and notes that the name Shezi actually has indigenous roots: a branch of the Ketagalan tribe had lived here at one point, and called it "Shezai", which later became "Shezi". It seems that for awhile the area disappeared underwater but re-emerged in the 18th century, when Han settlers began inhabiting it (some moving here from Jinshan or Luzhou in Taiwan, but the families themselves having immigrated to Taiwan from Fujian). 

According to that blog, Shezi indeed used to be an island. Apparently, an earthquake caused a sandbar to come up, resulting in a spit of reclaimed land that connected Shezi to what is now Dalongdong (in Datong district). So it's called "Shezi Island" for a reason! That said, the sandbar was still somewhat cut off from Dalongdong by a waterway until 1975, when the Chongqing Road Intersection filled it in.

Showing just how integrated the history of this area of northern Taipei is, there are two interesting related trips you can take: to one side of Shezi, the F108 bus from Danshui will take you to the Li Yanlou ancestral shrine (Li Yanlou was one of the original Li family members to migrate to Shezi). On the opposite side of Shezi, the Li Family Ancestral Mansion in Luzhou (which I swear I will blog about someday; I did go, and never wrote about it). Li Yanlou's actual house can be found at  #2 Yanping North Road Section 7 Lane 63 Alley 12 (延平北路七段63巷12弄2號), near the Fu'an Village bus stop.

The Chinese-language blog linked above offers lots of other photos of old houses on Shezi, many of which we also managed to find. Addresses are included, or you can refer to this list of historic Shezi buildings. Some are clearly Qing era, others have a strong Japanese influence notable from their use of wood. Some sections of Yanping Road Section 8 also include some interesting post-war/mid-century architecture, though nothing that you can't see in other parts of Taipei.

I'll include pictures below, but my recommendation is to bring along these addresses for reference, and stop by the ones that are convenient on your wanderings. Li Hexing's mansion is the real must-see if you stop by this area. 



Being a tight-knit, difficult-to-reach part of Taipei that feels isolated from the city despite its centrality, you can probably imagine that there is also a tightly-knit political scene here too. Local political figures I've never heard of play up Shezi community spirit and generally run on platforms of getting Taipei city to pay more attention (and shower more funding) on the area. This generic legislative candidate poster comes with a less formal notice of a community meeting to discuss local issues.

It's a bit of a difficult situation. Many Shezi residents want development, and it's quite fair to be angry over a lack of investment in things like safe building, flood safety and drainage. But some residents want more, citing the"tall buildings" in the rest of Taipei, but not Shezi, and the broken promises of a series of Taipei mayors who say they want to develop it (Hau Lung-pin wanted to turn it into "Taipei's Manhattan" and successive mayors have touted that line, which led to failed mayoral candidate Sean Lien (princeling son of absolute cheesemold Lien Chan) apparently calling it an "island" when it's a peninsula, demonstrating his lack of knowledge about basic Taipei geography. Ko Wen-je has also picked up the issue with the "Shezi Development Project" (no good sources in English, sorry), which appears to be ill-defined and controversial.

Some say that in order to force the issue, some landowners salted land previously zoned as agricultural in order to make farming impossible, though this report notes that the widening of the Danshui river at Guandu has also let seawater flow downriver, causing a decrease in arability. The latter is certainly true, but the former is still quite possible.

But the fact remains that Shezi is a partial sandbar in a flood plain, period. I'm no urban planner, but my best guess is that it's unlikely to ever be safe to turn Shezi into a concrete jungle. Instead of planning and carrying out a sustainable investment and development plan that suits the geographical limitations of the peninsula, a succession of mayors have made insane promises of a 'Manhattan' that they know they can't deliver, and now it's hard to scale back expectations.

The area surely deserves more investment, but I'm not sure that some residents' higher-reaching skyscraper dreams could ever feasibly come true. It's hard to say whether some sort of compromise that involves sufficient infrastructure funding and loosened restrictions on, say, rebuilding decrepit buildings but that doesn't dangerously overdevelop a flood-prone area can be reached.


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A longish walk from the biggest concentration of historic buildings will take you to Lili Koko Coffee (延平北路八段2巷200弄101號 -- #101 Yanping North Road Section 8 Lane 2 Alley 200) which is along the northern section of the bike path near the Shezi Wetlands, and therefore popular with cyclists. It has big windows and a nice view as well as decent coffee and light food. 


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This isn't the only cafe one can find on Shezi, however. There's another one right at the tip of the peninsula with equally great views. It's not walkable from the old houses, so you'll need to get back on the bus on Yanping Road and take it all the way to the end (the last stop is Fuzhou Village 富洲里) and walk the last minute or so.

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Up here you'll find An Coast Cafe, which also has coffee and light food, and panoramic windows with a view of Guandu. The park at the very end is a short walk from here, and is worth a quick stop. If the wind is blowing just right you'll even catch something like an ocean breeze coming off the Danshui River, as it meets the coast not far from here. 




Also up here is an interesting (though somewhat overpriced) antique shop called 56 Deco, but they keep very limited hours. Of course, it's pricey because it's not really meant as a browsing space for the general public (though you can go there and look around), but more like a design studio for people looking to outfit their commercial space in a funky antique style.

There's also a fun rechao 熱炒 spot up here called Shezi Island Head Riverside Gourmet (my translation for 社子島頭河岸美食). I haven't eaten there yet but after dark it looks like that's where the party's at. 

All of this is enough to make Shezi a worthwhile day trip in Taipei. I haven't yet managed to see everything I want to on the peninsula, however. I've only stopped by the old houses near the Li Hexing mansion, but not the ones that are further away. There is a clutch of secondhand 'junk shops' further south on Shezhong Street (社中街) that I've found by perusing Google Maps but haven't visited yet (they're difficult to get to by public transit). I love junk shops so I'll have to go someday. 

All in all, whether you want coffee with nice views, a visit to some lesser-known historic houses or to trawl secondhand stores and junk shops, Shezi isn't a dead end, and it contains far more than just its scenic bike path.

Anyway, I mentioned funny business signs, so here you go!


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Sunday, October 4, 2020

Wandering around Neihu (yes, Neihu!) and a political history of the Kuo family, for some reason



On the final day of the long weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival, we decided to pick a part of Taipei we rarely visit and find something interesting to do there. Usually when we do this, we end up in one of the older or more innately interesting areas: Ximen, WanhuaBeitou, Shezi (included here as an antique store listing, but I've actually explored far more of the area than that), Wanhua again, my many walks in the quieter parts of Dadaocheng and Dalongdong, more Wanhua. Sometimes, of course, we seek out the less clearly fascinating parts of the city and run with that. These include our visit to the oldest house in Xindian, which has probably been demolished by now, or our trip to the Li Family Mansion in Luzhou - though that post doesn't actually discuss the Li mansion as we couldn't enter that day, we did eventually visit. 

This time, we set our sights on a more challenging district: Neihu. While it looks like a nice place to live, and the restaurant scene there is improving, there isn't much to interest the casual visitor in this part of town. Other than restaurant trips, the occasional visit to a big box store (hey, that's where they sell American-style drip coffeemakers), plans to meet friends, one visit to Donghu Park and one hike, I don't think I've ever purposely gone to Neihu for fun. Has anyone?

I had a vague recollection of hearing about an old family mansion in Neihu that I'd never been to. The photos from my old set of Historical Sites in Taipei books made it look decrepit and unloved, and back when I first heard about it, there was no MRT up that way, so I let it slip from my memory. But with this idea to see what one could actually do for fun in the area, I dug out the books and found the listing: the Kuo Family Estate (now the Kuo Ziyi Memorial Hall). Nearby was another Japanese-era building -- the old Neihu Village Hall.


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And conveniently enough, both were near the MRT.

In fact, the Kuo mansion is so close to Wende Station that I'm surprised it took me this long to check it out -- it's less than 50 meters' walk, not including a long but not particularly steep set of stairs. So that's where we started. 

Kuo Ziyi Memorial Hall 郭子儀紀念堂

MRT Wende Station (Exit 1, turn left and follow the signs, you cannot miss the gate and stairs)

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Built in 1919, the house is in the Taisho style very common to that era of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan -- you'll know it by its red brick and cement exteriors with Baroque decorative flourishes and typically wood interiors.

This was originally the home of Ku Hua-jang (郭華讓) the first mayor/borough chief of Neihu, back when it was a village unit rather than a district of Taipei City. In fact, it was an administrative unit called a zhuang 庄 in Chinese, which isn't quite a town, and was a different type/level of administrative unit from the old Qing-era system. (I don't really understand much more about that, so that's the most I can say). It was later occupied by Kuo's relative, Kuo Hua-xi (國華溪). 





The Kuo descendants from this branch of the family also were important figures in twentieth-century Taiwan.


Historical Sites in Taipei says that there was a beam installed specifically to hold "traditional Taiwanese censers and lanterns", and at some point it was re-named 碧奉宮 (Bifeng Temple), although it was never actually used as such. Apparently in the 1980s there were plans to turn it into a Matsu temple, but the architecture of the front gate was deemed inadequate, and neighbors opposed the move, which led to the site being abandoned and falling into disrepair.

Then, the World Kuo Family Association -- which has its own website -- stepped in to direct and fund its renovation. (Their website calls Taiwan the "Taiwan Area" - a minor thing, but it'll come up later). It's also now the seat of the association. 

Anyway, even though the house was built by the clearly wealthy and connected Kuo Hua-rang and his cousin Kuo Huaxi, they had a much more famous ancestor, Guo Ziyi. Guo was a general in the Anshi Rebellion (the one where An Lushan revolted) in the 700s. That would be the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong -- if that means nothing to you, you may have heard of Xuanzong's favorite and famously beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei (who had been friendly with An Lushan....anyway, there are lots of dramas, go watch those). He was also key in diplomatic (and war) dealings with the Tibetans and Uighurs and apparently saved poet Li Bai's life. Long story short, Guo Ziyi was an extremely important historical figure who had a real impact on the history of East Asia. 



This is why, when the World Kuo Family Association renovated the mansion, instead of honoring the builders, they turned it into a memorial hall for their much more famous ancestor, Guo Ziyi. 

Here's the culture difference: if I built a bad-ass Baroque mansion because I was the local town chief, and a few generations later my descendants decided to renovate it, I'd be pretty annoyed if they ignored my legacy and turned it into a big memorial for some ancestor of mine. But, when it comes to local culture, that doesn't seem so weird at all. I bet Kuo Hua-rang and Kuo Hua-xi would not only think that was fine, but deem it right and appropriate. 

Here's another thing I find interesting: years ago, a friend of mine surnamed Kuo told me about how there were three groups of Kuo immigrants from Fujian. One settled in Yilan, one in Hsinchu and one in Tainan. More Kuos came with the KMT refugees (including the family of tycoon and supreme jackass Terry Gou). Apparently, although most of the Kuos of Fujian were entirely Han Chinese, some were actually descended from Hui ("Chinese Muslims", though I don't know how I feel about that term). Guo Ziyi was from Shaanxi (陝西) and was later named the Prince of Fenyang (汾陽王) -- according to a plaque in the mansion, this was due to his military victories in Fenyang, Shanxi (山西 - not the same as his birthplace). The Kuos had been around for a long time before the Tang Dynasty, and therefore not every Kuo can name Guo Ziyi as a direct ancestor. However, many Kuos in Taiwan, regardless of which group of settlers they were in, claim that the Kuos from Fujian originally came from Fenyang, and can be traced directly back to Guo Ziyi. 

I have no idea if (or how many) of these Fujian Kuos, many of whom eventually settled in Taiwan, were actually descended from Guo Ziyi, and how many were not. But this is illuminating

One of the Guo family is from Hui clans around Quanzhou in Fujian.

Early in the 14th century, a Persian Al-Qudsan Al-Dhaghan Nam (伊本·庫斯·德廣貢·納姆) was sent to Quanzhou by Külüg Khan for assisting grain transportation by sea. He failed to return to Khanbaliq due to war, then got married and settled at Quanzhou. Because his Persian surname Dhaghan pronounces similar to Chinese Guo, Al-Qudsan Al-Dhaghan Nam's grandsons began to change their surname to Guo in order to assimilate with local Han Chinese. It was politically expedient to claim they were descendants of Guo Ziyi in order to be better accommodated by Local people and later Ming Dynasty government....

In Taiwan there are also descendants of Hui who came with Koxinga who no longer observe Islam, the Taiwan branch of the Guo (romanized as Kuo in Taiwan) family is not Muslim, but still does not offer pork at ancestral shrines. The Chinese Muslim Association counts these people as Muslims. The Taiwan Guo now view their Hui identity as irrelevant and don't assert that they are Hui.

Various different accounts are given as to whom the Hui Guo clan is descended from. Several of the Guo claimed descent from Han Chinese General Guo Ziyi. They were then distressed and disturbed at the fact that their claim of descent from Guo Ziyi contradicted their being Hui, which required foreign ancestry.  While the Encyclopædia Iranica claims the ancestor of the Guo clan in Baiqi was the Persian Ebn Tur (Daqqaq).


Huh. Assuming this is true, the guy being memorialized in the Kuo Family Mansion is probably not an ancestor of all of the Kuos in Taiwan (although surely he is an ancestor of some). 

Another unofficial story, relayed to me by word of mouth, is that some Kuos from Fujian were actually the descendants of captives or slaves brought back by Guo Ziyi after his dealings out west. Some moved back west and even on to Turkey, but some stayed in Fujian. In later generations, in order to assimilate, they took the surname of their captor's family. It again was considered politically wise to simply say they were descendants rather than admit they were not Han (this is also said to account for some Kuo families not including pork in religious offerings).

I don't want to presume too much, but if the ancestors of these Kuos were actually Muslim and from areas west of China, wouldn't that potentially make them more closely culturally/historically connected to Guo Ziyi's negotiating counterparts or even enemies, rather than Guo himself? Does it matter, so many centuries later?

Perhaps that's too much of a supposition, but it's worth contemplating that the official or "politically expedient" version of history is not always the correct one.

And in the case of Taiwan, this potentially looks a lot like a Sinicization -- no, a Han-washing -- of history to keep every narrative in line with Taiwan as a mere offshoot of the "Great Chinese Nation" and its "5,000 years of history", rather than a unique place that may hold some of its own unexpected historical twists and turns. I do wonder why the World Kuo Family Association, which includes people of "Kuo" ancestry across the entire spectrum of the Chinese diaspora, might be interested in pushing a Han-centric narrative, especially in *ahem* the Taiwan Area.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, and connecting the site to an extremely famous guy from Chinese history was just a way to get government funding for the restoration. But the Kuos are huge (just check their website!) and there's a wall of donation plaques, so I am pretty sure it was funded by the association. If you're curious, I did not see a plaque from Terry Gou. 

In any case, the mansion has been beautifully restored, though rooms that would have been living spaces once are now clearly meeting halls for the World Kuo Family Association. 


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There is a rubbing from a Tang Dynasty tablet extolling the virtues of Guo Ziyi, a placard that casts some pretty passive-aggressive shade on Yang Guifei, a big idol of Guo Ziyi, some lovely wood restoration especially around the windows, and lots of dorky-fun photos of the World Kuo Family Association as well as a variety of books locked in glass cases.

It's well worth a visit. 


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Neihu Village Hall 內湖庄役場會議室

#342 Neihu Road Section 2 內湖路二段342號

MRT Neihu, or a short walk from the Guo Ziyi Memorial Hall 

From the Kuo mansion, we walked to the Neihu Village Hall, which is now a community activity center. 

Built in 1930 -- so, when the Kuos were still around and probably running the area -- it faces north and looks over the "old village" of Neihu. There's nothing left of that, however: just newer residential buildings all the way to the hills. There is an old ruin called the Chen Family House a short distance north but a quick look on Google Maps made it seem unimpressive -- a ramshackle of bricks mostly hidden by a corrugated metal roof. We were hungry and it was hot, so I didn't suggest we go. 

The interior of the hall was not open but no matter; the outside looks far more interesting (you can see some photos of the interior here). In a country full of Japanese Baroque, it's refreshing to come across some straight-up Art Deco

The design of this hall is more interesting than its history: the tiles are greenish-blue and reticulated (meaning they have a veined or network pattern), and are dull, meaning they don't reflect light. This is apparently the "air defense color" I wrote about before, as it made buildings more difficult to identify by the bomber pilots flying above. Of course, knowing that now, I seem to have messed up the popular bright cyan color that I wrote about with this duller blue-green; it's clear that this earthier color camouflages better than bright turquoise-y cyan, and would more naturally be used in architecture where air defense was a concern. That means the bright, cheerful cyan I looked into was probably just a cheap and popular paint color in mid-century Taiwan (it was also popular in the mid-century US, so that's no surprise) and because it's both bright and contrasts attractively with brick, wood and concrete.

Of course, the "air defense color" -- that earthy blue-green -- also became popular as an aesthetic-only choice. Look at the way it's used here: there's no actual military or defensive purpose for it. 
It's there simply because it was deemed pleasing. 


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The cyan I had been talking about looks more like this: 





Other notable features include the bull's eye windows with medallion/key pattern decorative casements -- very common in Art Deco -- and the semi-circular columns that end in a waterfall pattern that reminds me of the Art Deco dressers my mom used to have (we sold them not long ago, and though I'll miss them, I have no reasonable way of getting them to Taiwan). The stepped gable is also classic Art Deco, though only a nod to the design (some stepped gables are far more dramatic). 

After the ROC occupied Taiwan, the building was briefly named Zhongshan Hall (not to be confused with the bigger, fancier Zhongshan Hall in Ximen) and then the Neihu District Public Activity Center, now that Neihu had ceased to be a village or zhuang 庄. 

We wrapped up our day in Neihu with a visit to a whiskey store near Xihu that has a particularly good selection so I could pick up some rye (洋酒城 - literally Foreign Liquor City; there are more branches than the one in Neihu), a quick stop at Oma's German Bakery, and a late lunch at The Antipodean Specialty Coffee, which I strongly recommend. 

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The walk from the Neihu Village Public Hall to The Antipodean takes about 20 minutes, and will take you past the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts, interesting for its mid-century 'Eurasian' architectural style that I find both revolting and fascinating (it looks a little bit like a budget Sun Yat-sen Memorial hall from the outside, if you squint). 


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You'll also walk past Bihu Park -- it's not dramatically impressive on its own, but it does make the walk more pleasant and offer a nice place for a break. The large, white building at the far end is a reading room -- literally just a large building full of tables with air conditioning where you can go read and study. Not very exciting, but I enjoyed the review by one visitor who complained about the old lady who hangs out there like it's her house and spits loudly and frequently. 

There are more things to see and do in Neihu, of course. If you're closer to the Costco end, check out the tomb of Lin Xiu-jun (林秀俊墓), which is very close to the bus stop with good service from all over the city. Though it's just a small tomb, it's the best-preserved, and perhaps the only, traditional Fujian-style tomb in Taipei, and dates from the 1770s. There don't seem to be any animal sculptures like the one in rural Miaoli or the few you can find on Kinmen, but there are some interesting colored tiles. It's also near Aphrodite, the funky antique market I sometimes like to peruse, though I haven't been in years. 

There's also a Qing-dynasty quarry (easily findable on Google Maps) near the trail up to Gold Face Mountain. That is also a worthwhile hike, though we came at it from the Jiantan side, which took all day. A bit to the east of that are several hiking trails that snake past temples with good views and a suspension bridge. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Taipei Antique and Vintage Hunting

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Honestly, I think we're all sick of Constant Coronavirus Coverage. Let's talk about something else.

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed giving my home a sort of modern-retro look by decorating with vintage finds of dubious value - I don't really care what a thing is 'worth' as long as I like it, and the price is acceptable. In fact, everyday vintage items of lower value are preferable, as I can use them without worry.

The shops where I hunt these items down are also great places to check out, as we look for ways to get out of the house, possibly while we still can. I'm not talking about the high-end antique shops or the "vintage stores" that sell the clothing I grew up wearing for a Generation Z crowd. I mean the places that sell a combination of old Taiwan and Japan flair (which is what I'm after) and the sort of Western kitsch I'd generously call "Goodwill finds" back home.

I wouldn't want to go to a bar full of people or high-traffic department store right now - not that I do so typically - but these shops tend to be lower-traffic, and they are also businesses trying to stay afloat in an economy that's suddenly turned against everyone.

Since deciding to create that 'vintage Taiwan' feel on a wall display at home, I've had even more reason to trawl my favorite vintage stores, so now feels like the right time to write about them.

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There are surely more than these in Greater Taipei, so feel free to add any that you know in the comments.


April's Goodies (唐青古物商行)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路一段83巷17號
#17 Lane 83 Roosevelt Rd. Sec 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting or CKS Memorial Hall
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The entrance to April's Goodies 

With old windowframes and some larger furniture outside, and everything from old Taiwanese dinnerware to teapots to a few vintage clothing items inside, this place is small but packed with quality vintage goods.

Not only did the window with the textured glass on my wall come from there, my glass persimmon did, too.

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(No, I don't know the actual names of vintage glass patterns, I'm not that much of a nerd about it, but this one, the vaguely floral pattern and a reeded or fluted textured glass are the most common textured glass found in vintage Taiwanese windows).


Treasure Hunters (藏舊尋寶屋)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路二段38號
#38 Roosevelt Rd. Section 2, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting

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This well-known store specializing in Japanese antiques looks small when you enter. Then you find it stretches further and further back (with an alley separating buildings at one point), and has an upstairs! A lot of the antiques here are actually from Japan, not Taiwan's Japanese era, but there's a lot here if you want to capture a bit of the Japanese influence of a vintage Taiwanese look. Also, their ceramics and lacquerware are highly sought-after by collectors.


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All three antiques on this bookcase came from Treasure Hunters


Prices may seem high but for a lot of what they have, you'll find it's actually fairly reasonable. For example, I've picked up 1970s vintage Zohiko and Wajima lacquerware here for a song (Zohiko is a brand, and Wajima is a Japanese island known for lacquer), as well as a beloved lacquer tray with a beautifully rendered dragon from Okinawa. The 閑庭百花發 wooden calligraphy board on my wall came from here, too, and wasn't particularly expensive.

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Recently, Treasure Hunters has been holding half-price antique markets in small space on Lishui Street, I suppose to clear out old stock. Follow their Line account to get updates on when they occur.


Qinjing Old Warehouse (秦境老倉庫)
103台北市大同區民樂街153號
#153 Minle Street, Datong District, Taipei
MRT Zhongshan or Shuanglian (but there are buses that stop closer by)


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This tiny shop, crammed with vintage goodness, is where my vintage window grate came from. They occasionally have windows and window grates here, but the real finds at Qinjing are vintage dishware. Small items sometimes go for cheap - I picked up an small ceramic 招財 cat for NT30 here, and some crystal prisms for NT50 each, that I plan to hang in my window to create rainbows my cats can chase around on sunny days.

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Qinjing also tends to be a good place to look for vintage appliances, toys, old brand gimmick items, worn-out funky keychains, wooden signs and the occasional farm implement. I can't even describe how eclectic it is, so I'll let Elmo in a Blender speak for itself.



 

Swallow Used Furniture (Swallow燕子老傢俱)
 112台北市北投區東華街一段438巷4號
#4, Lane 438, Donghua Street Section 1, Beitou District, Taipei
MRT Mingde (Shipai is also walkable)




In a quiet corner of Beitou, just inside a non-descript lane marked by a burst of tropical greenery off the road that runs under the MRT, you'll find Swallow. This place seems to be run by a pair of hipster guys, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking the front courtyard for a junkyard, or the private home of a hoarding grandpa. When I wandered in, it was only apparent that it was an actual shop by the open door and music, and prices on most (though not all) items.
 
It's packed, and it seems tiny, but this place actually has three floors. The first floor is mostly small items. The second floor has more Japanese-era antiques, and the third floor is furniture. Old windows and screens can be found in the balcony off the 2nd floor (as well as in the courtyard).



One of the friendly hipster guys seems to work on creating upcycled furniture, much like W2 (though the look is different).

I picked up a Japanese-style sliding window screen here, but haven't figured out what to do with it yet.

This place is fun to check out in person, but if you don't feel like going all the way to Mingde, they have an impressively organized Facebook page where you can click on albums of their various items, complete with prices, and shop at home. (I don't know if they deliver but they put a lot of work into their Facebook page so they should be accessible by Messenger). If you want to score some old windows or window frames for yourself, their Facebook albums are a fantastic place to start.

Moungar (莽葛拾遺二手書店)
108台北市萬華區廣州街152巷4號

#4 Guangzhou Street Lane 152, Wanhua District, Taipei
(right behind Cafe 85)

MRT Longshan Temple

Moungar is housed in an old brick shophouse half-hidden by a large bougainvillea. Decorative Majolica tiles grace the front and make it an inviting space to enter.

This is more of an antique book shop - their selection of actual antique items is smaller than the other places I've listed. I have a book from them on my shelf - a collection of Pushkin stories.

Even if you don't buy anything, the old building is very much worth a look inside. I don't know if they still serve coffee. 



Aphrodite
114台北市內湖區民權東路六段16之1號
#1-16, Minquan East Road Section 6, Neihu District, Taipei
Not near the MRT - take any of the cross-Minquan buses to get here (278, 556 and 902 also stop nearby)

To be honest, I haven't been here in years, because it's no longer convenient to any of my worksites (I used to have a class in an office not far from here).

Unlike the other antique stores on this list, Aphrodite focuses on European antiques. The other shops sometimes have items from Western countries, but this place looks like your German immigrant grandma's attic. I've purchased old wooden coasters, some glassware and some copper items here, though much of their stock is furniture.


56 Deco
台北市士林區延平北路九段348號(社子島)

#348, Yanping North Road Section 9 (Shezi)
Take buses 2, 215, R10 or 536 to get there (most of them connect to the red or yellow MRT lines)

56 Deco is hard to get to, and they prohibit photographs, but they have an array of cool stuff, including a large collection of vintage chairs and other oddities. But they are very, very local -- not many foreigners make it this far up Shezi unless they're biking -- and friendly, and the selection is pleasingly eccentric.

They're a bit overpriced but not stratospherically so. I came close to buying a piece of an iron window grate but ultimately decided against it.

This place is far from everything else in Taipei, and I would never have found it if I hadn't been looking for the nearby cafe on Google Maps. But it is near the park at the very tip of 社子島 (the Shezi peninsula, which is called an island in Mandarin) and quite close to a friendly cafe with great views. Buses up there take awhile and don't come frequently, but if you time your bus departure it's not too much trouble - or just bike it. The bike path is very popular. There's also a popular local restaurant nearby, so you could combine a stop there with an exploration of that quiet part of Taipei.

They keep very short hours (daytime Tuesday-Friday only) but the cafe nearby opens at 3pm and closes late, so you can time your departure with the bus schedule.


Fuhe Bridge Flea Market (福和橋市場)
Under Fuhe Bridge on the Yonghe (New Taipei) side
Open until noon, most popular on Saturdays
Not near the MRT but many buses stop nearby, including the 275, R25, 660, 254, 672 and 208)


Oh, Fuhe Bridge Flea Market, with your stolen shoes and dodgy goods. With your weird, wonderful weirdness and wonderfulness.

I haven't been here in years either, mostly because I have a private class on Saturday mornings, but I'm told it's still going strong and is a great place for old vintage finds, as you can see from my pictures from 2013. (If you're wondering, I eventually got that Datong fan - did you know they still make them and you can get one new?)

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A few vendors at this market actually hold Yixing clay teapot auctions, so if you trust your auctioning skills and can get in on the fun in Chinese (or Taiwanese), you might get a good deal.

The link in my original post lists a few other flea markets in the Taipei area.


Yongkang Street Jin'an Market  (錦安市場)
106台北市大安區永康街60號
#60 Yongkang Street, Da'an District, Taipei

Honestly, I have less to say about this market. It's full of cool old stuff but it's also been 'discovered', meaning that prices are higher (it's also in a fancy part of town, surrounded by antique stores that sell high-end items).

But, it's worth a stroll-through, and I'll occasionally poke around the various shops, though I don't know if I've ever actually bought anything there.


Facebook Groups

Honestly, some of the most interesting things I've come across can be found in dedicated Facebook groups to vintage shopping. I'm a fan of Grocrery Store (no idea if the typo is intentional, and don't care), 寶島新樂園二手舊貨、古董、民藝 and 二手。古董。老件。收藏。裝飾 but there are honestly tons of choices - join a few and Facebook will suggest more for you.


I will say that I have not actually tried to buy anything from these groups,  but they're great fun for browsing.

Happy hunting!


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Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Hipster Cafes of Miaoli (and other things to do)

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The counter at Reinstatement, in Houlong, Miaoli


Because I really don't feel like writing about the election, let me tell you about the trip I took last weekend to visit friends in Miaoli County.

When I moved to Taiwan 14 years ago (!!!), there were plenty of cafes in the cities here, although cafe culture hadn't quite taken off. Even in Taipei you were more likely to find your only choices to be a Starbucks or a Dante rather than an atmospheric place to relax, and outside Taipei and the other cities, Cafe 85 - which lacks charm and doesn't even have good coffee - might have been your only choice.

That's all changed. Now even smaller towns like Miaoli, Luodong and Douliu (to name a few) have more aesthetically pleasing places to relax, with better coffee - and sometimes good beer and sweets - too. That's not all we did in Miaoli, but it was interesting to realize that I could have spent the whole weekend swanning about in cafes and never be lacking in choices (assuming I had a car).

What's even more encouraging is that these hipster-friendly spots aren't just copying Western cafe or restaurant culture; they're reinterpreting it for a Taiwanese setting, not only incorporating local ingredients into their menus but also aesthetic choices that draw on Taiwan's visual and spacial history into their design. Most of them seem to be operated by young people, which isn't surprising - I've heard more than one younger person sick of Taipei hustle express a wish to return to their hometown, but not necessarily work for a family company or a small-town boss. Of course, some of these people will make good on their desires, and open their own businesses.

I arrived in Miaoli late in the evening on Friday. After checking into my homestay which was a little far from the city center, the friends I'd come to meet picked me up. I took the HSR as I had to leave Taipei later than I'd otherwise prefer. There are bus and train connections to Miaoli City, but a taxi was only NT$200.

We went out to one of the only restaurants in the city open that late, Good Food Good Times, a Taiwan-style 燒烤 - barbecued stuff on sticks - and beer joint in downtown Miaoli. 

Good Food Good Times (好食好時台式居酒屋)
Zhongzheng Road #673, Miaoli City
360苗栗縣苗栗市中正路673號


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Good Food Good Times is the place to go for late night snacks - they're open until 2am - and Taiwan 18-Day "Fresh" beer on tap (Taiwan Gold Label beer and Heineken are also available). The space is decorated with old-style Taiwanese restaurant tables and chairs and old-school speckled floor, with upcycled old window frames and Japanese elements such as door curtains, rectangular flat plates and a Japanese-style dining bar up front. Frankly, it feels like the entire population of Miaoli under age 40 (so, like, 20 people) hangs out here regularly.

Also, the food is great. You choose what you want from the refrigerator case out front, using tongs to put your selections into a basket - just like a night market stall. There are non-BBQ dishes available too, including pork oil rice with egg yolk and shallot (a very Taiwanese, and in fact Hakka, dish that is simple and delicious). Best of all, it's not particularly expensive. 


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The next morning, we slept in a bit - we were up pretty late at the BBQ place, and waited for our friends at the homestay, which was comfortable and very Taiwanese. Basically if you're married into a local family it probably looks like your in-laws' house. 


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Not many people come to Miaoli as tourists, and to be honest, there's not much to do in the city itself. If you come without a car, you might be able to amuse yourself for a day in the city center for a day. There's the Weixin Hakka Artifacts Museum (維新客家文物館), with what I am assured by Hakka friends is an entirely fake, purpose-built Hakka roundhouse. We didn't go. There's also the Wenchang Temple (to the literature and scholarship god - 苗栗文昌祠), which is genuinely old and atmospheric, though not otherwise of particular note. The downtown area has a few older buildings worth strolling past, and some good restaurants.

There are also a few cafes in town that we didn't make it to, including Old House (老家生活苗栗店), which is in an authentic old house and I am told has good coffee, and The Spot (新興大旅社) near Miaoli Station. I have no idea how good it is, but it looks atmospheric. 

I'll write more about Miaoli city restaurants later - for now, let's focus on what we did during the day.

Instead of sticking around Miaoli, we hopped in the car and went to Houlong (後龍), a laid-back little town that's pretty to walk through, and offers scattered sights, though again there's not much to keep you there for more than a day.

On the way, we stopped off at the Tang Family Ancestral Shrine (湯氏宗祠) outside of Miaoli city. Sadly, the shrine is only open during the week, so this is as close as we could get. It's quite pretty though, even with that KMT sun symbol gate. If you were ambitious you could probably walk here from downtown, though it's better to drive.

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The shrine is near a temple - fairly new and not that interesting - but the parking lot nearby has lovely views of the rice fields leading to the mountains not far away.
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Houlong has a train station that will deposit you near the downtown area, but again, it's better to drive as most of the interesting things to do are not remotely within any sort of walking distance.

First, however, coffee. We had excellent coffee and lovely sweets - including a pecan toffee tart and a deliciously moist brownie, at Daddy&Mommy, a cafe run by a couple with (at least) one child, with a child-friendly play space downstairs and open kitchen-restaurant upstairs. They also have good burgers and meals.

Daddy&Mommy
356苗栗縣後龍鎮中龍里市興8號
#8, intersection of Zhongzheng and Zhongshi Roads, Houlong
(the town is not big, it's easy to find)

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Yes, you ring a temple demon bell to call the boss!

We really liked this place for the way they used simple design to preserve the original character of the building, but modernize it to create a clean and inviting atmosphere, using wood, whitewash and the original speckled flooring.

If you choose to wander around Houlong afterwards, you'll be rewarded with a few old buildings, a very weird/cool vintage clothing shop (closed when we visited), and at least one large temple, Ciyun Gong (慈雲宮). 

Across from Ciyun Gong is an opera stage, around which there are several food stalls. If you want to eat locally, the o-len (黑輪伯)in the clutch of stalls across from temple - tasty boiled things in a peppery, seafoody soup, you've definitely seen it before - is good, though it won't blow your socks off.



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Outside of town, one of the few old Chinese-style graves with carved animals can be found near the intersection of Highways 1 and 6, across the CPC gas station. This is the grave of Zheng Chonghe (國定古蹟-鄭崇和墓 - that's how you'll find it on Google Maps), who died in the 19th century. Some of the original carvings, and all of the original animal sculptures, can be seen. It's visible from the road and there is a path leading to it. Just park on the side of the highway.

There are bus stations out here, so theoretically one can get here by public transport, but I wouldn't recommend trying it. Do you want to take a bus to the side of a random highway in Miaoli County and count on there being a bus to take you somewhere else in a timely fashion? Yeah, didn't think so. 

That said, there's at least one restaurant and a 7-11 nearby, so you could do worse in terms of being stranded on a highway.

One of the interesting things about the grave is how some of the animal sculptures actually look like the animals they depict, such as the goat, and others really do not - for example, the tiger.

I guess we can surmise that the carver had seen plenty of goats but not one tiger. Why he thought they had creepy frog faces with human noses, I'll never know. Perhaps he was carving a tiger from a painting of a tiger by a guy who'd only seen another painting of a tiger. 



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From Zheng Chonghe's grave, we made three more stops in the Houlong area, not necessarily in this order. 

First, there's the "Cape of Good Hope" (好望角), which is in the area famous for having an extensive wind farm.

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How windy was it?

That windy.

It was near this stretch of coast that people protested the building of wind turbines, though these particular turbines are not close to inhabited structures (further down the coast you can see areas where they are closer). 

To be honest, the noise was noticeable, and I don't know that I'd want to live really close to one simply due to the audible sound, but I find the claims of other health problems resulting from proximity to turbines to be questionable, and I'd rather have sound pollution than air pollution. I didn't oppose the protests, however - I too would want the turbines built away from where people live.



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I will admit they are a little terrifying to walk under, though not actually dangerous. And they're only a bit creepy if you are directly underneath them. There's an area up here that's popular with tourists with nice views, and it's quite windy (which is, of course, why one might want to build turbines here). I didn't think they detracted from the coastal views - there's no beach to speak of - and although the sound was noticeable, one could talk above it even when standing almost directly under the turbines.

There's also an old railway tunnel here, further down near the actual coast. My friends and husband went, but suffering from a knee injury, I didn't want to risk a walk down and up a hill. There's a parking space down there, but everyone else said it wasn't really that special. 



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Another stop was a short "old street" in Houlong, more locally called Tongxing Old Street (同興老街). While not far from Longgang (龍港) train station, and with an old bus stop signpost nearby, and therefore theoretically reachable by public transit, this is another place you're better off driving to.

The street is not long and it's right off a highway, but well-preserved buildings (well, some are falling apart) and the simple and quiet atmosphere make this a lovely short stop on a longer drive. You won't really find souvenir shops or anything like that here, though at least one building is some sort of museum (closed when we visited).

The still-standing houses appear to be currently lived in, and some even have the old style wooden beams across the front, which I associate (possibly wrongly?) with pre-Japanese, Qing-era houses. 


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At the top of the street - which continues, but the houses end - there's a little shop called the Cat Organic Bookstore (貓裏有機書店). The friendly, quirky owners sell used books in Chinese (not many, though) and a few traditional-style Taiwanese toys. There's a pretty good Western-style bathroom you can use, too. The house the shop is in is worth a look, too.

By this time we were a bit tired and decided to hang out at a "hidden cafe" above a small countryside grocery store next to the Houlong Bao'an temple (苗栗後龍保安宮). The shop on the ground floor sells household staples on one side - soy sauce, oil, vinegar, dry goods, and sweets on the other - the old-school kind that Taiwanese kids used to eat, and sometimes still do. We're talking dried plums (both powdered and sticky), dried kumquats, those little choco-balls wrapped in sports-ball patterned foil, pixie sticks, various hard candies, chocolate goo in a tube...basically stuff that will make all your Taiwanese friends nostalgic for their childhoods. We bought a few - I can't resist sticky dried plums (I don't care for the powdered kind, which taste like weird medicine) and dried kumquats, and they sell my favorite herbal chews as well. They're even displayed in the old-school plastic containers with red lids.

None of this nostalgia trip is accidental. Above the grocery there's an extremely hip cafe, called 重成商號 (Reinstatement) which is known across the region - we suspect daytrippers from larger towns like Zhunan come by here as well, as it's too remote to stay in business on a purely local clientele. 


Reinstatement (重成商號)
56-1號, 中山高速公路後龍鎮苗栗縣356
#56-1, Sun Yat-sen Freeway, Houlong, Miaoli County



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The cafe is spread across several rooms decorated with old-school tiles and other bits of Taiwanese nostalgiana, and is especially known for high-quality desserts made with local flavors and ingredients. I especially recommend the chocolate mousse pyramid, with a surprise of sweet pomelo compote in the center. The purple sweet potato mousse is also intriguing, with a light flavor and attractive color and presentation.

There is a bus stop nearby so you could potentially come out here without your own transport...in theory anyway. 

Yes, it is worth the trip. 





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By that time, the sun was going down and we were about ready for dinner, so wet set off to return to Miaoli City. In the daytime, one corner of the downtown area looks like this - in fact, rather attractive as smaller towns in Taiwan go. 



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For dinner, we went to Jiang Ji Original Wonton Restaurant (江技舊記餛飩店), known locally as Jiang Ji (江技), a well-regarded wonton restaurant run by - you guessed it - the Chiang (Jiang 江) family. They make their own chili sauce here, which is fantastic on the dry wontons, and they make their own pork fat with fried shallots for pork oil rice. The Taiwanese meatballs (肉圓) and pork liver (豬肝) are also well-known. I also really liked the oily tofu (油豆腐). The whole restaurant is pleasantly decorated, with slate floors, polished wood tables and wood carvings on the walls, including an impressive round one bearing the name of the restaurant.

Why there? Well, first it's probably the best restaurant in town. Second, one of the family members is a friend of mine.

Jiang Ji (江技舊記餛飩店)
360苗栗縣苗栗市新苗街88號
#88 Xinmiao Street, Miaoli City
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Finally, in keeping with our penchant for hipster cafes, we sought out a place to have a few beers and just chill. Another friend had just put his daughter to bed and was also keen to meet up.

We ended up just around the corner at Donghai (Eastern Sea) Coffee, which has a fantastic selection of beer from around the world, and a comfortable upstairs sitting area.

Donghai Coffee (東海咖啡)
360苗栗縣苗栗市日新街1號
#1 Ri Hsin Street, Miaoli


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Donghai is filled with eclectic collectibles and vintage and antique bric-a-brac, keeping the character of the old building it's located in, but in a very different way to the other two cafes we visited that day. In this one, design lines weren't as clean, but the vintage charm of the place kept the space interesting.

Considering that there were "Vote Taiwan 2020" stickers downstairs, we think the old ROC memorabilia is just that - memorabilia and not a political statement. 



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We had an early morning the next day, as we planned to drive up to Xueba National Park (雪霸國家公園), specifically to hike in the Xuejian (雪見) area.

But first, breakfast. We went to People on the Water (水上人家), a famous little restaurant - as in, people in Taipei have heard of it - so named because it is (or rather, was) on the old water canal. The noodles are especially famous and well worth getting up early for. They open at 6:30 and close at 1, so it's not a place you can go for dinner. 

People on the Water (水上人家)
360苗栗縣苗栗市天雲街3號
#3 Tianyun Street, Miaoli

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The drive to Xuejian was long and winding on narrow mountain roads, or at least I'm told it was as I drifted in and out of a Dramamine-induced stupor in the back seat. There's a tourist information center (雪見遊憩區) up here where you can get food, coffee and tea, which has parking and Western-style restrooms.

We chose this hike - more of a forest walk really - because it affords lovely views of Snow Mountain (雪山), which was a big draw as there's currently snow on the peak. In addition, given my injured knee, was a hike I could do. Being a forestry trail, it's mostly flat with a few uphill stretches, and has no stairs. The elevation is high, so you might feel winded on even slight inclines. Fortunately, there aren't many and none of them are onerous.

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From here you can just see the peak of Snow Mountain behind those two ridges: 


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And it comes more into view the more you hike:
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You can also see Dabajian and Xiaobajian peaks, with a little snow between them. Yes, that's snow, not a cloud.
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In some places the view of Snow Mountain's peak is absolutely spectacular, even more so as it was capped in white:


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The trail itself is also lovely, and in the crisp winter air it had the distinct smell of Christmas trees. There are a few Port-a-potties (surprisingly clean - and there's no other good hiding place to take a whiz so they're quite welcome) and benches scattered along the way so you can take it easy.

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The whole trail is 6km long and not circular, but given the state of my knee and our desire to be off the mountain by sunset, we only hiked perhaps half of it. Or rather, pleasantly walked - this is not a challenging hike. 

On the way back, we took a different route to get to our dinner destination and ended up slightly lost, asking for directions in the charming mountain town of Da'an, which is an Indigenous village. With the election season in full swing, banners for local politicians, mostly Indigenous (and almost entirely pan-blue) were up.


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This is a poster for May Chin (Ciwas Ali or 高金素梅), a famous former actress known for her role in Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, now a unificationist Japan-hater from a small deep pan-blue party, the Non-Partisan (lol) Solidarity Union (she's the only legislator in office from that party) from Da'an village.


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There are other things to do in that area - Dahu is famous for strawberries and you can pick them yourself on dedicated farms, an activity I've done but I don't think I ever blogged about. There's a hot spring nearby (a public one, not a naked one), and Sanyi, famous for woodcarving, is not far from here, though its chief commodity, woodcarving, is environmentally problematic and the "famous tourist village" nearby is mostly inauthentic. The old Japanese bridge is nice, though.

To finish off our lovely weekend, we had dinner at Mengdingxuan (夢鼎軒精緻小吃), which doesn't have an English name I know. Mengdingxuan was our authentic Hakka restaurant for the trip, and is in a charming old building in Gongguan (公館) township outside Miaoli City.

Also they have two adorable poodles, one chocolate and one black.

Hakka dishes, while delicious, don't photograph well so you're only getting one photo of Hakka Stir Fry (which was actually a bit light on flavor, but heavy on the tasty pork fat). The sour ginger intestine was also sublime, in fact, the whole meal was fantastic and very local. 

Mengdingxuan (夢鼎軒精緻小吃)
363苗栗縣公館鄉華東街11號
#11 Huadong Street, Gongguan, Miaoli County
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It was a bit of a sad farewell afterwards (and after a few more beers at Donghai), as our friends are moving to the US soon - as in, in just a few days.

On Monday morning we checked out of our homestay and tried to catch the bus to the HSR (the bus also goes up to Xueba National Park, though I'm not sure where it stops exactly so I don't know how useful it is). It stops in downtown Miaoli as well as out by the arena (yes, Miaoli has an arena).

But, the bus took too long and we wanted to grab coffee before hopping on the HSR back - we wanted to get back to Taipei quickly - so we grabbed another taxi.