Final reflection – Joy of travelling is finding gems hidden in the crooks and crannies of a small town.
We were initially a bit horrified that we are going to be stuck in this little village with no internet access (we had to borrow the town’s chief computer for internet) for the next 7 weeks. I remember on the 2nd day after arriving in Neiwan, we made our way to Taipei city which took us 3 hours including waiting time for bus and trains. Mr Chang (張學義 ) understands that most people would want to visit Taipei where the city and tall skyscrapers are. However, he told us to give Neiwan a chance, to really explore the intricacies of this little town and experience the warmth of the locals here. Turns out, Neiwan more than anywhere else in Taiwan, gave me the most rewarding experience on this trip.
Whenever I walk the streets of Neiwan, I get overwhelmed by an Indescribable feeling of being connected to something larger than myself. Maybe it’s the community spirit, the way the locals seem to know each other, their generosity, and their eagerness to lend a helping hand that makes this place special. I love how close-knitted the community is. How a village ah ma would ask a stallholder how her son is doing and whether she is still getting the joint pains. I love the smiles of the locals and children on the sidewalk, the big black dogs, and the friendly policeman. It felt like home away from home, and I know that the memories here will still linger on, long after I have left this place.
Taiwan is rich in its history, art and cultures because of great efforts by the government and officials such as Mr Chang (張學義), in preserving the various language, customs and traditions of aboriginals and locals on the island. Neiwan is a successful example of such an attempt.
It is hard to come by a beautiful treasure like Neiwan. It has retained the architecture of the Japanese colonial times which can especially be seen from the famous cinema theatre on Neiwan’s old street. Home to a Hakka community, Neiwan is well-known for Hakka delicacies such as Lei Cha and Qi ba (mua chee), although due to influences from the Fujian and aboriginal groups living in neighbouring towns, most of any other Taiwanese street food can be found as well. Under the guidance of Mr Zhan, the locals have cleverly capitalized on the wild ginger flower grown locally, making Neiwan the only place in Taiwan selling wild ginger flower food products.
Today, Neiwan Old Street turns into a buzzling food street on weekends and there are an overwhelming number of fun-filled activities to occupy your day in the surrounding barbeque chalets, music cafés, funfairs and go-karting operators. Birthplace to the famous cartoonist Liu Hsing-chin, you see posters and replicas of comic characters Auntie (大嬸婆) and Third Uncle (阿三哥) all around Neiwan, making you feel as though you are in a comic strip village. Stay till 7pm and during the right season, and you get to witness the most amazing dance of fireflies in the mountains just behind Neiwan suspension bridge.
Having stayed in Neiwan for 7 weeks, I am more than convinced that if given half a day and a choice between Taipei and Neiwan, one should definitely come to Neiwan. The thrill of travelling is going on the path less travelled and discovering new places which the normal tourist wouldn’t dare venture or would generally give a miss. Neiwan gives you an experience like no other which is bound to exceed expectations ever imaginable. Be delightfully surprised again and again as you explore the miracles of this wonderful place in the northern part of Taiwan. The occasional handwritten road signs, mini tram, colourful candies, and freshly baked cookies, it is like Disneyland in a Chinese painting of mountains and rivers. So if you want spontaneous and endless fun in discovering an authentic Hakka culture, and be welcomed by the friendliest people on earth.. look no further than Neiwan