Neili (內壢), Taiwan

Urban farming in Neili (內壢), Taiwan.

I visited Neili (內壢), Taiwan for the first time on Tuesday. Neili is one stop on the line, not reached by any of Taiwan's express trains, north of Chungli (中壢). I had to take a local train from Taipei, meaning no assigned seating and that we'd stop at every station along the way. This is my favorite kind of trip, to somewhere obscure - somewhere off the map. Once on the ground, I began to ask people about the demographics, but couldn't get exact figures except that "we're mostly Hakka people". I'm guessing I took in a town of around 50,000.

Usually when I travel Taiwan, I take the High Speed Rail. Moving at 300 km/hr, it's a sanitized ride. We don't get to see the grassroots and grub of Taiwan in the same way we do on a slow train that chugs along, removing big chunks out of the morning. A ride on a local train includes stops at every single one of the Japanese-era stations. The views of shacks and farming along the tracks, in every crack of free space along the way, are magnificent.

I googled Neili when I got back to Taipei and came up with stats for Chungli, which Neili is kind of a satellite of. Chungli has a population of 355,707 (as of 2006). I also came up with this: "Ethnically, it is considered a kind of capital city for the [Hakka] people who live in great numbers here and in surrounding areas. In recent years a large number of foreign workers (mainly from the [Philippines] and [Thailand] ) have also settled in and around the city, making it a center for foreign laborers". This much is true. The place is bustling with a cheery-faced cosmopolitan community. There's a certain energetic street-life thanks to the inhabitants that is missing from other places.

Jiou Chong Flowers at the Hsinchu (新竹) Train Station in Northern Taiwan.

I bugged several people waiting on the platform in Hsinchu, which I traveled to today, before I could get a name for these flowers. Finally, I found a woman that squinted and then, after walking part-way down the platform to get a closer look, informed me they were jiou chong flowers. I still have no idea how to write this in Chinese or how it translates either, so I grabbed a shot (above) on my cell phone to get help later. "When they bloom, we know winter is here," she said. It ended up that she was sitting next to me on the train back to Taipei, and then on to Keelung. She's a high school social studies' teacher who commutes back and forth on a daily basis. With Taiwan's low birthrate - .91 and second-lowest to Italy in the world - we'll see a lot more of this teacher-chasing-the-student-around scenario here in Taiwan. Thankfully, we've got "foreigners", people "settled in and around the [cities]" now. One in five babies born in Taiwan has a parent born in a different country. 

As write this post, there is a Taiwanese newscast buzzing in my ear. It's about 老外 or "honkies" from France enjoying oyster omelets. I think I'll go watch them being disparaged now.


Anonymous said...

Neili is not a town - it is a district of Jhongli City. The area around the station is a mixture of mostly Hakka and Waishengren. The former were relocated there from the Lungan Juan Cun (眷村). The apartment tower in the photo is part of that housing project.

Anonymous said...

Those flowers = 九重葛

Patrick Cowsill said...

Thanks anon, but doesn't that mean "nine kinds of..."? How can that be a flower? Isn't it a grouping?

BTW, what is Lungan Juan Cun (眷村)? Coincidentally, I've met Hakka who married waishengrun. It might have something to do with why this group seems to support the KMT. Or, history might. The Hakka were pushed up into the mountains by the Taiwanese; they've been competing with the Taiwanese for 300 years, so there is some historical animosity. And we know the DPP is usually connected with the Taiwanese.

Anonymous said...

Try not to take it literally. 九重葛is the name of the plant. 葛=vines.九重simply means 9 twists.

Re the first anon's "眷村" = a village populated by families of KMT soldiers. It has nothing to do with the Hakka-Hokkien conflicts of the past. "300 years" of competition, btw, qualifies as the over-statement of the year.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"It has nothing to do with the Hakka-Hokkien conflicts of the past."

Yeah, I know. It's interesting to see how the Waishungrun, Hakka and Aborigines have ended up on a side v. the Taiwanese down around Hsinchu and Miaoli.

I'm not overstating the years. Hakka have been here since the early stages of the 1700s. It was actually a Hakka duck farmer that expelled the Ching Dynasty in the 1720s for six months.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, the idea that the Hakka were pushed into the mountains is at odds with the pattern of settlement in Taoyuan County. Keep in mind, this a county in which Chuan Chou settlers dominate the hills (Daxi) and the Hakka hold most of the plain(Jhongli).


Patrick Cowsill said...

No, it's not at odds, especially since I have Hakka friends who live in the mountains in the area. I have been also been to places in the mountains in the area that are clearly populated by Hakka people. They speak Hakka and say they are Hakka.

It's an interesting topic. I'm going to look into it more now.

Anonymous said...

If you're really interested in exploring this topic, Shepherd's Statecraft and Political Economy has a fine map of the distribution of population by locale of origin. This map clearly indicates that Daxi and the lower Dahan watershed were settled by Chang-chou and Chuan-chou immigrants. Historically, the border between Hakka and Taiwanese speaking immigrants was East Dasi - the area near the Dasi interchange of highway number three.

There may be isolated Hakka households deeper in the mountains, but I suspect most of them were established in parallel with the developing camphor and lumber trade. I haven't seen any evidence to suggest they were pushed there as a result of ethnic conflict.


Patrick Cowsill said...


I've already read Shepherd - Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600 - 1800, and have quoted it before on this blog. I think it's one of the three or four best books on Taiwan, period. Needless to say, I'm flipping through it again.

But no book can come close to replacing a first-hand account. Talk to you in a while.


Anonymous said...

I see those flowers everywhere in Taiwan. I may be mistaken, but it looks like the Bougainvillea that also thrives where I'm from (south Texas).


Scott in Tainan

Patrick Cowsill said...


Thanks for the link. I'm starting to notice this flower too (especially near the tracks), maybe because early winter is upon us.