Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taiwan Translated: Day 4 at Jiufen & Hualien

Hello!  We got back to Singapore on Friday, but the weekend was spent entertaining hubby's sis & brother-in-law who were visiting, as well as doing massive loads of laundry and unpacking all our stuff.  Anyway, to continue on our "travelogue" before I forget what we did:

We spent Day 4 wandering around the cobbled streets in Jiufen, an old town nestled amongst the mountains, made famous by the shooting of the film "City of Sadness".  The place looks like a ghost town, with many shops closed or empty.  But you just have to look out for the 7-Eleven store (they call it "Qi hao" or just "Seven" in Taiwan), and enter the little alley that runs alongside the store to find a hive of activity: A street lined with shops selling all sorts of tasty treats, souvenirs, and all manner of touristy stuff for the young and old.  The place is picturesque enough to warrant local couples coming here to take their wedding shots!

We avoided most of these shops, only stopping to browse around for an ocarina for the little boy (there are about 2-3 shops that specialize in selling ocarinas here, and they come in all shapes and sizes, from owls, to cicadas, to even coke bottles!).

If you're not the shopping type, Jiufen is a good place to fill your tummy up:  One of the specialities sold by many of the shops here are steaming hot bowls of taro balls (yuyuan), floating around in red bean soup base (there are other soups to choose from as well).

Teahouses abound, and we spent a happy afternoon sipping tea at Jiufen Teahouse (Jiufen chafang), which boasts a 90 year old building that is filled with character and a lovely indoor garden complete with a pond filled with koi.  Tea here isn't exactly cheap, but the teahouse had traditional wooden platforms with benches that gave baby J some needed crawl time while we fed the boy his lunch, so we didn't mind.  The teahouse also has an art gallery that houses a collection of amazing clay teapots molded to mimic organic shapes, such as this huge one resembling a pumpkin:

Oddly enough, although there are at least 5 shops selling taro balls, there seems to be only one eatery that sells beef noodles in the entire street.  We stopped by for a bowl of beef noodles and a bowl of fishball noodles for lunch, and my... the beef noodles there are really worth trying!

We left with comfortably full tummies for a long drive down to Hualien.  Along the way, we pass the Bitou Cap (Bitoujiao), with its sea-eroded cliffs...

The route then took us down the Suao-Hualien highway, which runs along cliff walls that tower above the crashing surf below.  The passing scenery is spectacular, but heart-stopping too, since one mistake and you can land up in the ocean!

We reached Hualien after sundown.  We had planned to just use the place as base to visit Taroko Gorge the next day, so we didn't factor in any time to explore the area (save for hubby who went out to get dinner as I had to put baby J to bed).  The city does have its points of interest, such as woodcarving and stone-carving museums, but the key word to sum up the place is: Marble.  Its the city's main export, and the hotel we stayed in (Hualien Hero House) had a lobby replete with it.

Although Hualien was just a night stop-over for us, it left a lasting impression on me.  At 3 am that night,   when hubby and baby J were fast asleep, I paid a visit to the toilet... and the ground started shaking, and the door started rattling.  Earthquake!  A quick chat with a local auntie at breakfast next morning confirmed that tremors are pretty common in that area (There have been 2 larger earthquakes recently off the Hualien coast, a 6.4 magnitude on the 19th of Dec 2009, and a 5.6 magnitude one just today, the 19th of Jan.).  The locals seem pretty used to these tremors and the one I experienced was probably peanuts to them, as the auntie I spoke to said she slept through it (she said she wakes up during the bigger ones to check on her mother, who freaks out during quakes).  Ah well... I really thank God we got through the whole trip safely!

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