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.