Night markets, bubble tea, shrimp fishing, temples, and hot springs – these are the beloved staples of Taiwanese culture, and are indispensable items on every tourist’s itinerary. That being said, this vibrant and remarkably unique island is loaded with hidden gems and one-of-a-kind experiences that even many of the locals have neglected to fully appreciate. One of these underrated jewels is tucked away in Hsinchu County’s Beipu Township, home to the largest Hakka population in Taiwan. Taiwan Observer recently had the privilege of experiencing a taste of Hakka heritage, courtesy of our friends at MyTaiwanTour.
Our first stop was the old market by Zhudong Train Station, which was surprisingly bustling for a Thursday morning. In true Taiwanese fashion, the bazaar was both a wet and a dry market, lined with trucks, dizzying stalls, and small eateries peddling everything from crates of fresh fruit and vegetables, and snacks to munch on as you cruise and peruse, to clothes and bedsheets. The massive spice-crusted slabs of roasted pork, a Hakka specialty, are not to be missed.
Next on the agenda was the Sky Water Tea House (天水茶房擂茶), where guests were invited to partake in the Hakka tradition of tea-pounding. Each table was provided with a large ceramic bowl, a thick wooden pestle (for added aroma), a green tea base, and an assortment of toasted peanuts, black and white sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, melon seeds, and grains. The tea-grinding itself was a workout, but it was well worth it. After some blood, sweat, and tears were shed, we dug into our lei cha (擂茶, “thunder tea”), paired with traditional Taiwanese biscuits.
The thick, hearty tea, topped off with oats, was a full meal for older Hakka generations, who subscribed to the “waste not, want not” proverb. Nomadic Hakkas from the Qin dynasty, as well as their descendants, ground what little grains, seeds, and herbs they had into their teas. Lei cha was especially popular among farmers, who consumed these filling tea soups before toiling away in the fields.
After a delicious family-style lunch at a nearby Hakka restaurant (老頭擺餐廳), where we were treated to sweet potato rice, a layered pickled cabbage dish, “white cut chicken” with a side of tangy orange sauce, persimmon pork rib soup, and more, we embarked on a tour of artistic installations in Nanpu.
First, we admired “A Pickling Story” (鹹菜故事盒): a quirky, colorful mural documenting the stages of the Hakka pickling process. We then hopped on handmade bicycles provided by the MID 單車 company, and pedaled over to BK Square, a delightful artisan bakery with an old-fashioned wood-fired brick oven, and snacked on an array of freshly baked bread and dipping sauces. The “House of Smells” we swung by afterwards – a barn shaped like an oversized basket, previously used for the preservation of crops – was a feast for both the eyes and the nose. Be sure to catch a whiff of the “marketplace” (市場) crock.
After a spot of coffee at the HuKu PuKu Cafe, we headed over to the Chiang Ah Hsin Residence (姜阿新洋樓). The Baroque-style mansion, built in 1949, was commissioned by the wealthy black tea magnate following the success of his tea production factory and export business (Yongguang Company, Ltd.). The stately residence, designed by architect Peng Yu-Li, was constructed by local craftsmen, and doubled as a reception center for existing and potential clients. The mansion has since been designated a historical landmark, its restoration completed just last year, and is memorialized for the significant role it played in the development of Beipu’s once-booming tea industry.
The final leg of our trip was rounded off by three more artistic installations. We were fortunate enough to have the Spanish sculptor Isaac Cordal himself guide us through the winding alleys of Beipu, where he had hidden a series of “micro-sculptures,” not unlike real-life easter eggs. These small, but exquisitely detailed figurines, mostly of middle-aged men, serve as a commentary on the local life, as well as global issues.
We then moseyed over to Beipu Xiuluan Park (北埔秀巒山), where we were greeted by Australian artist James Tapscott. Tapscott’s signature piece, “Arc Zero – Ascension,” is a circular, illuminated steel portal mounted on the stairs leading up to the mountain, fitted with a misting system, and despite its simplicity, is an absolutely mesmerizing sight, particularly come nightfall. Local artist Liu Chih-Hung’s “Timeline,” by Beipu’s 100 Point Bridge (百分大橋) – an optical illusion consisting of a series of 1s and 0s erected along the riverbanks, designed to demonstrate the fleeting nature of time – was the perfect way to end this culturally enriching experience.
Image Courtesy of https://studio-jt.net/