We took the slow train north out of Taitung by design. Being in no real hurry the slow train offers a chance to take in the rural beauty of the Inner Rift Valley. Which I consider to be one of the prettiest parts of Taiwan.
Secondly and of equal importance the slow train means I get a chance to take a few seconds to jump off the train at Chishang (池上 chí shàng) and buy a lunch box (便當 biàn dang) on the platform and be back on the train in time for its departure. With one of the best lunchbox meals on the island.
便當 biàn dang is a transliteration of the Japanese “bento” and they are absolutely everywhere on the island. The standard biàn dang contents consist of a thin pork chop, braised egg, some vegetables, maybe some five spice tofu, all on rice. However, there are numerous variations, but the idea is always the same, protein and veg on rice.
The Chishang biàn dang is unique and famous for its plethora of items it contains. Not to mention it is on Chishang rice, which is some of the best on the island.
Once we got to Hualien (花蓮 huā lián) we grabbed a bus to Fushi (富世 fù shì) village. A Truku aboriginal village at the mouth of Taroko Gorge. The name of the village in the Chinese characters suggests “wealth” which is ironic considering the grinding poverty of this (and too many) aboriginal villages.
The village itself has little in the way of tourist attractions, though some neat old Japanese buildings left for posterity’s sake. It does lie at one of Taiwan’s most famous natural attractions though. That being Taroko Gorge. Which is stunning in its own right, its scope and scale almost manages to make the tour buses look insignificant.
The place was thick with tourists of course. As bus after bus stops so people can hop off and take pictures in front of the gate. And a bunch of Chinese tourists wanted photos with us. Sure you are in a scenically amazing place and you want pictures with a couple white folks that just happen to be there. Sure. Makes perfect sense. We acquiesced, it was fine, weird, but fine.
We would go no further up the Gorge on this occasion. The weather was not great, and strictly speaking we were not really tourists on this particular day. We were here to track down an old acquaintance. Which we managed to do. We had a pleasant visit and as evening approached we headed back to Hualien.
Back in Hualien we found lodging at the homestay we use to stay at on occasion in the past. Bags stowed in what happened to be the same room as the first time we found the place we headed back down Zhongshan Rd (中山路) to find something to eat before retiring for the evening.
I started off with spicy chicken sandwich from a place roasting meat on a vertical spit. You would think it would be a shawarma, but no it was a sandwich. I just had to try it because of the the novelty of it. It was good of course, but just a the first course.
At 511 Zhongshan Rd (中山路511號), I happened upon 黃記蒸肉圓 (huáng jì zhēng ròu yuán), Huang Ji’s steamed ròu yuán. Ròu yuán (also pronounced bah-oân or bah wan in Taiwanese) is a pork and bamboo shoot meatball in a thick sweet potato flour (or sweet potato and rice flour mix) skin. Giving it a chewy “QQ” texture. This whole lot is served in a thick gravy like sauce. And in this instance a dash of sweet chili sauce, some fresh grated ginger, and a few leaves of coriander (cilantro).
Over in Taichung they make large ones deep fry them and serve them in a gravy. Yeah it is as healthy as it sounds. Unfortunately I didn’t get any when I was in Taichung so this was my last chance. These were a little smaller, steamed only, no deep frying, and served two to a bowl. They were also everything I had hoped for. So good, so need to exercise…
After dinner (and after tracking down some Taiwan beer) we turned in for the night.
The next day we were up and out for breakfast and walk about town. We found a traditional soy milk breakfast place. Then we proceeded to get lost in Hualien’s twisting, tiny, little maze of alleyway streets. Wow that was old school city layout there. It was cool. We finally found our way out and back to the homestay to pick up our bags and hit the train station for Taipei and finally the airport.
And so this concludes the travel portion of our show.