On our last full day in Taiwan we braced ourselves for another excursion out of the city. But first, we treated ourselves to a Taiwanese-style pancake breakfast down the street from our hostel. It wasn’t really a pancake as I think of them, but more like a Taiwanese version of a breakfast burrito. In any case, it was delicious! We settled into our meal and skyped some friends back in the US before hopping on the train. Once in Taipei Main Station we were surprised to see a familiar face. Aleisha, the health coordinator on our Pac Rim trip, was on a billboard for a Taiwanese university! This does make some sense, as she spent some time studying there not too long ago, but still, what a small world! And as it turns out, we actually knew two people on the billboard – another Pac Rim staff member, Pase, was towards the back. Naturally, we had to snap a few photos to send back to the group.
After our surprise run-in with Aleisha and Pase, we finally made it to Jiufeng.
Jiufeng, which seems to have a million different spellings, is an “Old Street” about an hour outside of Taipei. It’s basically a big hill overlooking the ocean, and it’s gotten a reputation for tea houses and street food. In Japan, it’s probably best known as the inspiration for an early scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. If you’ve ever seen the movie, the connection is unmistakable. Stepping onto the lantern-lined streets and delicious-looking foods was like stepping into the film – an effect that was somewhat ruined by the massive crowds and high temperatures.
To escape the heat, Annin and I decided to have tea at one of the many tea houses. We chose one that was well-regarded by Japanese tourists (we figured they knew a thing or two about tea) and went inside. We ordered the standard tea set, and one of the waiters demonstrated how to perform Chinese-style tea ceremony. The tea was a high mountain oolong, and we were told that this tea was meant to be steeped for very short periods of time, in a tiny teapot which held just enough tea for two tiny cups.
You might think that Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies would be fairly similar, but I’d say tea is about the only thing they have in common. Japanese tea ceremony involves hundreds of rules and specific actions one needs to perform. It’s incredibly delicate, and LONG. The tea is always matcha, which is a powdered green tea. Chinese tea ceremony, however, is usually done with tea leaves, and seems less stiff. The tea is made in small teapots, and many cups of tea are made over the course of the ceremony. The first cup is usually for smelling, not drinking, and the whole thing is done over a wooden box, so that you can overflow the teapot with hot water to warm the outside as well. The overall effect is quite nice, and I enjoyed getting a chance to try it for myself. And of course, the tea was delicious.
After we’d had our fill of tea we resumed wandering the streets, but the heat was a bit much and we made frequent stops in air conditioned shops and stalls. Sadly, the heat also took a toll on our stomachs, so we didn’t sample too many of the local foods. After maybe half an hour of walking around we decided to find a cafe with a view and write some postcards before going back to the city. It turned out to be a great idea, and we had a nice time just sitting, taking in the views.
Finally, it was time to head home. We left just before they lit the lanterns, mostly because we knew the traffic would get crazy afterward, and we’d both seen lanterns many times before (I’ve written about them in Nagasaki and Hoi An). Getting on the bus was a bit of an adventure, since the bus driver didn’t seem happy that we only wanted to go to the train station, rather than all the way back to Taipei. We were actually a bit worried he wouldn’t stop at the station. The ride up to Jiu Feng had been a bit rough on my stomach and nerves (Taiwan drives on the right, but after months of driving on the left I was convinced we were in the wrong lane). The drive down was no easier on the stomach, and the bus driver spent most of the time tailgating someone on a motorbike. Needless to say we were very relieved when the bus stopped at the station.
In the end, I’m glad we went to Jiu Feng, but I can’t say I’d ever want to go back. It’s made quite a name for itself with tourists and is just a bit too crowded for my tastes. I think I wanted to like it more than I actually did, but I know if I hadn’t gone, I’d have regretted it. And now that I’ve checked it off my list I can move on. Overall I really liked Taiwan and would love to go back. But maybe next time I’ll go in the winter.