What do you say about a day so big you need two full days to write about it? Well, all you can do is start at the beginning, I guess!
Jeff, always ready and waiting to introduce us to new friends and delicious food, got us up bright and early for breakfast at Chu Me Cafeteria, owned by his friend Benjamin and his wife. In addition to being English teachers, they opened and began running the little brunch spot several years ago, and used to be open for business every day, but once a brand new baby got added to the mix they decided to limit business to weekends only. We were lucky enough to catch them while they were open! The bright colors, sweet murals and slogans, and vibrant pictures on the walls (including photos of previously mentioned baby) made us feel right at home, and we could see why they were so busy, even with their limited business hours.
In our big meal, including a tasty pressed tuna sandwich, a burger, fries, onion rings, and fresh milk tea, our favorite thing by far was the marshmallow toast. Yes, you heard that right: marshmallow toast! Topped with peanut butter, chocolate, and sprinkles, the crispy, melted marshmallow on sweet toast truly was the best way to start the day off right.
When we were finished, we had some free time before our plans to meet Jeff’s friends at Lao Jia, so he took us to a lesser known tourist attraction called the Gong Wei Xu Tunnel, located at the far end of a windy, scenic park in Miaoli City. Just as we began our hike downhill, we all notice a familiar sound through the trees: saxophones! In the middle of the woods! We walk over to investigate and find a community saxophone class in the middle of a lesson. We only expected to quietly observe and listen, but the members of the class quickly invited us in, introduced themselves, and told us that the teacher wanted to play a song just for us!
After he belts out a few classics like We Are the World and Careless Whisper, a newcomer joins the group, who all the members clearly recognize. They all stand and the teacher stops playing to welcome the man into the group, and before we can ask, Jeff leans over to tell us he is the mayor of Miaoli City! You couldn’t make this up folks. One month in town and we got to meet the mayor! Of course we had to get a picture with him.
After all that excitement, we finally finished our walk, taking a lovely stroll through the huge tunnel, recently outfitted with color changing lights to highlight its cavernous ceiling, and taking in the surrounding park. We were exhausted by the time we made it back to the car, and headed back to Lao Jia for tea, coffee, and the most delicious brownie we’ve ever eaten to recharge before the big event of the day: Lhu Zu Nan!
Lhu Zhu Nan is the village we were invited to on Wednesday by our new friends, and we were finally getting our tour. Still standing strong at 300 years old, the village has been preserved as a piece of history by a group of people who live there, most prominently Lois (from Heart Feast) and her father. Though many buildings are now falling into disrepair from lack of use, a small team of people have dedicated themselves to its repair, preservation, and continued use. Some spaces, like the old shop pictured below, have been in continuous use for a century or more, but others have been refurbished for new purposes. These days, the village is a strong artist community, and in addition to teaching regular community craft classes, they also host international artists to live and work in the space.
Peter was our guide for the day, and he showed us all the hidden treasures of Lhu Zu Nan, from the antique rooms, to the pottery studio and kiln, to the DIY room, where he taught us to make beautiful cyanotype prints of our own photographs. Peter told us that they hope to continue to rebuild and fix up the village little by little, but even as it was we could feel what a special piece of history it was.
Our big day came to an end as any day in Taiwan should: at a night market. The one in Houlong was so much bigger than the one we experienced in Gongguan, we were almost overwhelmed, but the delicious smells of food lured us in. Jeff and our friends from Taokas guided us around, offering us some of their favorite night market food and drink, before the rain drove us off the streets and back home, where we dropped off, exhausted.
All in all, a pretty great final taste of Miaoli that still left us wanting to come back and see more. There’s only a few days left at the farm now, and we’ll miss it here for sure, but we feel lucky to have had the range of experiences and met the wonderful people that we did while we had the chance. We’re ready for our next adventure!