[Day 8] Happy People

Distance Today: 88km
Total Distance: 682km
Maximum Speed: 46kph
Average Speed: 15kph
Time in Saddle: 5hrs 50min
Journey: Tai’ Chung – Jhu’ Nan (via Provincial Highway No. 3 & No. 13)
Accommodation: Friend’s House
Money Used Today: NT$464

I WASN’T IN MY OPTIMAL MOOD when I woke up today, all thanks to the hot restless night I had. I thought this would definitely be my bad day but the ride crossing Tai’ Chung city in the early morning made me feel better. I saw for myself the much more cultural part of Tai’ Chung, with its clean streets and post-modern buildings.

There was a part of our trip where we cycled up an overhead bridge that seems to be some sort of highway (and it was probably for cars only). We did not see any signs forbidding us on that road so we continued on until there were only us, no other motorists or cyclists could be seen. Turning back was not an option at all because we could not even get to the other lane. So persevere we must, and we struggled our way through the highway, with all its climbs and slides. Although the entire experience felt unique, it was a dangerous one and not one that I would want to go through again.

San’ Yi (三義) could be called the capital and origin of wood carving in Taiwan. This small town is situated in a mountainous area with little fertile land, but the acid clay of the hills led to the successful cultivation of camphor and tea trees. During the era when the Japanese ruled Taiwan, the locals were commanded to deforest the camphor trees and grow tea instead. Skilled sculptors would then carve new life into the wood, making it into beautiful works of art.

To get to San’ Yi, we traveled northbound on the Provincial Highway No. 13 (台13線), which is blessed with relaxed and charming roads through forested hilly areas. The beautiful sceneries made us forget about the altitude climbs we had to work our ways up. We arrived at the town area to find that a wood carving festival was on, and tourists gathered here to see for themselves the aesthetic wood sculptors in different sizes. A small bazaar was held on a blocked road, complete with cops and their cars. The road was filled with all kinds of local items on sale, and the main focus was the sculptures of course. Here we can witness the art in action when experienced sculptors brought their skills out in public, performing the wood carving for all to see. Galleries after galleries of stunning masterpieces were on show, and most of them up for sale. The pieces were all carved out of camphor wood, which can also be made into medicine and perfume.

The other good thing about the fair is that free samples of food are found everywhere. Food vendors came into the fair hoping that the tourists would buy their stuffs but they did not know that we’re there for the SAMPLES. We would roam across the street, invading all the stalls with free samples, and while feasting hungrily on whatever they are offering, we would give them a good comment and walk away for more innocent looking stalls ahead. With all that free food, we still felt hollow, so we went for a decent meal at a REAL restaurant on that same street.

COINCIDENTALLY, the Tzu Chi organization owns a tea plantation in San’ Yi. We heard raves about how serene the organic tea farm was and we decided to go see for ourselves. We parked our bikes and hiked up to the farm, and for the first time in our trip, it RAINED. It rained heavily, and I was SO glad that my bag is a waterproof one. Tzu Chi commissioners can be seen at the top of the hill with their blue aprons serving visitors with hot tea and introducing inspirational books published by the organization. They were all very friendly and were more than happy to refill our bottles with freshly brewed tea. We were all exhausted so we napped for almost an hour.

After the long rest, we went to explore the tea farm, feeling the cute short trees at our sides. Tea farming is a difficult process, and it requires much more effort to make it organic. I was told that the commissioners play guide and host here on weekends but there is only one farmer who lives and work here during weekdays. He cared for all the tea trees personally, trimming and watering them with so much affection that all those who take a sip of the tea can feel his utmost dedication. We then took another almost vertical slope down, which is actually a faster shortcut, and it gets faster if you slip your way and fall tumbling down.

AFTER LEAVING SAN’ YI, we passed by many Hakka towns. The Hakkas are a separate subgroup of Chinese people whose ancestors originate from Guangdong. They form 15% of the Taiwanese population with high concentrations at North Western Taiwan. These Hakka people speak their own language and kept some of their traditional ways here in the small towns. I even heard Hakka over the radio and in the children’s conversations. This was a fresh difference because I haven’t been to a place where they predominate, still preserving their language and culture. I haven’t had the chance to know them well but I noticed that they are happy people indeed; smiling while doing their chores, smiling while riding their bikes and smiling while speaking loud as if they are in a fight. The kids smiled and waved to me, and I smiled back to them in return.

HIGHWAY NO. 13 WAS BEAUTIFUL but no one told us that it would be so tiring. I almost leaped happily into the air when I saw the sign welcoming us to Miao’ Li city, just a town away from our destination for the night, Jhu’ Nan (竹南). We would be meeting a classmate of mind, BO REN who was kind enough to offer us a stay at his summer getaway house. He comes from a family of doctors and dentists and the five floors above his mother’s clinic is actually a very well decorated home of theirs. He and his family lives in his Hsin’ Chu apartment for the weekdays and comes to this beautiful ‘palace’ for the weekends. After treating ourselves with iced tofu again and filling our stomachs with fried rice for dinner, we stopped by at a bicycle maintenance shop for a quick check and left a message about our journey before leaving.

When we entered BO REN’s house, it was just a series of shock one after another. For starters, they have a private elevator in the house and we had to change into our slippers inside the lift. There are so many bedrooms scattered all over the five stories that I had to stick to one that I recognized to avoid getting lost. The fifth floor was a mini theater (mini is such an understatement) with surround audio system and a gigantic screen. The walls of the theater are sound proof and the seats… oh the seats… they are SO comfortable. We rented ARTHUR AND THE MINIMOYS and watched it over some Pringles, beer and carbonated drinks. We ended up sleeping in the theater, and BO REN brought us comforters and pillows to us. I passed out thinking of how happy I was, so happy happy I was.

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