Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Time in Jiufen | Travel

As you may know, I'm spending a month in Taiwan to study Chinese and Chinese culture. Aside from going to class, I've been able to explore parts of Taipei and Taiwan. This past week I was able to go to a small town called Jiufen (九分). It's a small town that rests on the mountainous side of Taiwan. 

The group took a trip on the MRT (the local rail system) and then took the rest of the trip with a bus. It was about a two hour trip. When we got off of the bus, the weather was slightly different than that of Taipei. Taipei is really humid most of the time to the point where I'm constantly sweating and I have to take a couple of showers (gross, I know), but Jiufen was a little less and actually it was a bit colder because the clouds were gray. It was pretty foggy when we got up there. 

Immediately I started to walk around the market place. I don't know if it was the same as the Shilin Night Market ( 士林夜市) that was across the street from the hotel we were staying at, but it definitely had the same feeling. It was full of fun little shops that were selling food, tea (a LOT of tea), and souvenirs. I also hadn't had anything to drink for a little bit so I bought myself some watermelon juice for 50 NT (a little over $1.50 USD). There were some shops that were selling seals that you can get your name engraved in with the seal font (Chinese characters or hanzi have four different writing styles. Seal style is the style that dates back to the Shang dynasty that first utilized written characters. So they're more pictographs than anything.). I really wanted to grab one, but I don't really know how my name would be in Seal style. 

I also wanted to grab one for my grandpa, but my mom notified me that he had a fancy jade one. Sadface.

I also met a very friendly cat that was guarding one of the shops. Her name apparently was Niuniu, which is adorable.

The real reason why I was excited to go to Jiufen is that I heard it was one of the places that really inspired Spirited Away. Specifically a tea house called The Grand Teahouse. I was really keen on seeing it and going inside. It was a bit touristy and fan girly, but Miyazaki's works have been a huge part of my childhood, I felt that I had to go see it. While on the hunt for it, it started raining. First it was pretty light, but soon it turned into a shower. I also didn't bring an umbrella or my rain jacket. I don't know why I didn't, but I just didn't. Thankfully a lot of the shops had awnings, but with the hilly terrain and the fact that we, at some point, climbed through the winding streets and stairs of Jiufen we were soaked. 

We planned on eating close to The Grand Tea House, but after about an hour, we couldn't find it. We were already hungry so we decided to go and eat at a small place that looked good in passing. Spoiler alert: it was delicious. I ordered some xiaolongbao (小笼包). Xiaolongbao is a dumpling that has soup inside of it. You bite a little corner, suck out the soup, and enjoy. I'd only had it one time in the US and wanted to try it in it's home country. It was great. My friend had some braised pork and we all had a round of rice. 


We paid and went on our way, still on the hunt for The Grand Tea House. I didn't know when, if at all, I would be back to Taiwan so I wanted to take the opportunity to see it now. We walked around and finally found the place. The post picture is what the place looked like on the outside. I wasn't able to take an amazing picture with all of the lanterns lit against the dark infrastructure, but the resemblance is certainly there. 

Without any hesitation, I walked in. I knew it was probably going to cost a lot of money, but I really wanted to treat myself haha. The requirement was $300NT per person. Now even though that's only about $10 USD, in NT that's a lot. We were a bit floored, but we didn't want to leave. We chose a really nice oolong tea with a set of desserts. My friend Ryan was the only one who could really read any of the characters, but even then he kind of just chose at random. 

For clarification, I've only done a semester of Chinese and all of the characters I learned were in Simplified where as in Taiwan all of the characters are in Traditional. I can hardly read anything to begin with haha.

We were given a pot of hot water, tea that we could take home later (made it worth), a small clay tea pot (pictured), tea cups, and fragrance cups (those are the thinner ones in the picture). It didn't cross my mind that they would be doing the full gongfu tea ceremony (工夫茶). It probably should've considering the money we were paying, but I just assumed it would be really fancy tea. Gong Fu shouldn't be confused with Kung Fu. Gong Fu is for the tea and Kung Fu is for the martial art, sometimes they have the same romanization or pinyin, but they're different. 

I can go into detail about how the ceremony went, but it's really something to experience. You can find a bunch of videos on YouTube. 

The tea was honestly one of the best that I've ever had. I'm a huge tea drinker and I probably have more tea than Romona Flowers. This tea was worth the $800 NT. Yeah you read that right. I don't even think it was an ounce, but that tea was about $25USD. 

Now to the desserts.

We got three in the little set. There was this green tea... cake thing, I really wish I wrote the name down to look up later. It was compacted into these little flowers and in the middle there was a little bit of red bean. It was really great. I had two.

Then there was a small set of mochi. This mochi was a lot tougher than a lot of mochi I've had before, but it was still really nice. It wasn't super sweetened, but there was a good amount of red bean in the middle and a small drizzle of caramel to sweeten it. 

Finally there were these pudding like cakes that were coconut flavored. I've had these back home, so I wasn't really surprised by them. They were still really good so I had two of these as well hahaha.

After nearly clearing out my pockets of any money I had for this trip (to Jiufen I should add), my friends and I decided to head back to Taipei. It was another two hour bus ride and a MRT ride back, but I had a lot of fun. Before I left, I made sure to give the cat a little goodbye pet (I mean wouldn't you?). I regret not taking a picture of her, but maybe she'll be there when I go back. 

The weather cleared up considerably. It was actually really amazing to see how the fog transitioned throughout our visit to Jiufen. I believe I took pictures of each stage. It was first a light fog, heavy fog, and then the skies were quite clear. It let in a really nice hue from the sunset. I took a picture of a time when it was heavy fog because it really reminded me of the ink paintings from the Ming and the Song dynasty of the southern mountains. 

Overall Jiufen was probably the bigger highlights of this trip. The scenery was beautiful and the difference of the town vs. Taipei was really interesting. I would love to go back before I head over home to the States, but I don't think it'll happen considering how difficult it is to get to. I would like to go in a less touristy time because it was rather packed. 

The next trip I'm supposed to go is next week to Pingxi and Yeliu. We're also supposed to stop by a beach on the way, which I'm really excited about. There's also Cat Town before Pingxi and I'm determined to stop by. I need to see a town full of cats. 

Thanks for reading. I know I promised to make more of these posts, but I haven't really had the motivation until Jiufen.