Apr 29, 2013

[TopSelect] Taipei Day Trip: Jiufen - Travel Unique

This is like my 10th time visiting Jiufen, a town often titled differently, a town of sadness, of hills, and of gold. I can understand why it has something to do with hills and gold, as its geological location and guide books tell us, but the “sadness” confused me all the time. And clearing the confusion makes a huge difference for me to get a much deeper knowledge about Jiufen.

Not until Peter, my boss, definitely an expert of Jiufen, showed me and my colleagues around on my 11th time visit, did I get the whole story that has long been buried and kept away from previous visits. And they did not carry out a value-added travel experience. I felt totally relaxed during the tour since we didn’t spend too much time pushing around in the crowd (which I always did when there was not guide leading the way).

I enjoyed being a real traveler but not a tourist.

A fine view of the tranquil residential area, where a few of homestays are located

Stairs as a memorable symbol of nostalgia

Narrow alleyways as reminder of the old times

Another thing I got to say: We were so lucky that we came to Jiufen with a clear sky above us. And we managed to meet a true artist – a pitch painter. In Jiufen, art, explicit or implicit, is everywhere and many artists choose to stay in Jiufen to have their creativity fully cultivated.

To experience the real Jiufen with us,  visit: Topology Jiufen Day Trip.

Not just us enjoying a good weather
Pitch painting
Piles of works that present an artist's permanent residence in the town

When Peter introduced himself on an 8-seat van he drove, he put a DVD on show. Usually I don’t really care to watch DVD when traveling, but this film got me at the first moment. I've never associated Jiufen with Miyasaki's masterpiece Spirited Away, in which the scenes are taken from Jiufen.

A Miyasaki's work that often brings sweet sorrow into a person's mind.

As Peter knows that I’m into photographing and telling stories a lot, he brought me around to see things that worth digging for thoughts and that have stories. During the day I tried to capture what I thought was the best to show why Jiufen has its title “A Town of Sadness”.

Just a few decades ago during the Japanese colonial period, Jiufen was rich in not just gold mine but also luxury culture. People who lived in this area once savored delights from too-rapid prosperity before the gold rush declined. The architectures like tea houses (Chinese style cafés), shops, or even former residential houses are so well-designed that the view of the streets is more than just astonishing but giving its visitors a sense of luxurious way of life. However, the regression stroke when the gold mine was overly exploited. Jiufen, then, was nearly forgotten. So those exterior designs function mainly as attractions to tourists nowadays. (And yes it does attract a great deal of tourists especially Japanese because houses here are nearly exquisitely-copied from Japanese style architectures.)

One of the several tea houses where visitors could find along the alleyways.
A fine view of the coast is accessible from some well-polished tea houses.

The luxury culture, such as the former movie industry, appeared and it was the very beginning of the movie industry in Taiwan. Sheng Ping Theater now we can see in Jiufen was actually reconstructed into a retro-styled theater house. 

Filmed by Hou Hsiao-hsien in 1989, City of Sadness"悲情城市" . Since then the movie industry started booming.

Sheng Ping Theater
To experience the real Jiufen with us,  visit: Topology Jiufen Day Trip.

This part of history totally appeals to me, since I’ve told Peter that I love theaters and performance. The stage was intentionally modified into a revolving stage and I can imagine how marvelous and recreational the shows could be in the former time. Just imagine the actors and props go round and round on the stage. (Haha or it is just me being too imaginative!)

Can you see the curve?

As the tour went on, “the miners”, Peter reminded me of the basic economic activities of former Jiufen, “lived hard-working and tough lives during the gold rush while people from upper class were loath to live a luxury life, and tourist nowadays usually don’t see this side of Jiufen.” There are quite a few street corners, ruins, buildings such as health center, residential areas --- used to be the social institutions established for the miners---that represent the former lives of miners. And they are left out from ordinary touring, which is a huge pity. Stories behind tunnels, narrow stone streets and walls, abandoned housing areas, equipment the miners once used for a living were all cultural heritage.

The largest gold in the world at the Gold Ecological Park

Visitors experiencing how to be a miner working in the tunnel
Name tags of former miners. 

The best part of the trip is when we arrived Ji-Shan Street (基山街), right after a turn from Sheng Ping Theatre. Quite a few unique and special hostels are located away from the main tourist areas. Peter took us to a homestay called Lingsu(靈素) where he always brings the guests to enjoy an afternoon tea. And I was completely in love with the lovely house at the first sight. 

Every bit of the interior design is done by the owner of the homestay.

We don't see such bathroom so often now.

Situated at a rather quiet end of a higher residential area and overlooking the town, the house has a mountainous view in the front and a walking trial up in the hills at behind. Not a few minutes walk away from the house, visitors can pace on a cliff overlooking the bay.

The owner of the guest house is extraordinarily lovely. LingSu is owned by a married couple who have lived in Jiufen for several years. They have spent years collecting
Chinese antiques and made every inch of their house as cozy and authentic as it can be. The interior design aims to create a retro-Chinese style home and it brings back guests’ old time memories (if they are Taiwanese).

Tools for the miners

Vintage antiques

A phenomenal site at the homestay! 

We had our lunch just in front of LingSu and we all claimed again and again that it was such a nice weather we had. “You are lucky,” as the owner of the guest house told us, “because it rains nearly 200 days in a year in Jiufen. Well Jiufen is beautiful in many ways. It’s just that you have just made a fantastic walking trip.” Overwhelmed by listening to the owners’ stories, we as hungry travelers were treated so nicely that their home-made chocolate cookies, cake, Assam tea and roasted sweet potatoes have more than just satisfied us!

All offered by our hospitable homestay owner

It was a pity that a few of us needed to leave earlier, yet we have been saying again and again that how we wished to stay over at this lovely little town, even if we have all been here for so many times. Today’s tour was sensational. I know that the Jiufen has always offered diverse fun but this time I got so much extra bonus.

To experience the real Jiufen with us,  visit: Topology Jiufen Day Trip.

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