Maokong: A Charm of Taipei

I hopped off the bus as soon as I saw the sign to Maokong Station, not realizing that it was not meant for pedestrians.

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A nice little urban garden on my way finding the starting point for hiking

Continuing walking uphill for more than half an hour, I wasn’t sure where I was heading. The suburb, known for its high-selections of tea and charming scenes of Taipei, was a mystery. My phone was almost dead – which actually wasn’t that unusual for an early morning. I was along the mountains under the sky that soon would turn grey.

But luckily, I could still be able to manage my path to Chih Nan Temple with the mysteriously clean paved road after I got lost trying a hiking trail. All by myself. All by myself. The lyrics kept popping up on my head. I didn’t feel all by myself though – I know the imposing mountains, the fallen trees, the darting flowers, and probably the curious spirits were watching me. They were there. I consoled myself.

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I was curious where these stairs would lead me to, so even though no signs about its destination were in sight, I decided to go this direction

It wasn’t that promising when I arrived at Chih Nan Temple and it started raining dogs and cats that I decided I would just go straight to the nearest station of the Maokong Gondola. Then, I realized how longer the journey had become because of the rain. It’s not a good day to pick up tea leaves. At least because I had to run up against time. So ironic.

Well, still a good day to share a cup of tea, I thought.

The tea maker who goes by Cheng is a middle-aged woman whose family has been in the tea industry for generations. She told me that it was a tea marriage: Her family has been planting Bou Cheng and her husband’s Tie Guan Yin. I hope I got this part right, at least the tea names. After trying to keep up with our conversation with my broken Mandarin Chinese, I felt partially defeated, in part because I wanted to learn more about tea but I could not ideate anything in this language. I still love it though. I told her.

Taiwanese oolong cha is the best that I’ve encountered. Until I realize there are many types of oolong cha – by names, by tastes, by origins. Cheng didn’t hesitate to show her love for both traditional and modern versions of tea: We were talking about bubble tea and how it has transformed how people think about Taiwanese tea. The segmentation of the market that these differential types bring about creates a Taiwanese culture that is not so formal but you can’t really call it informal (for some reasons, I don’t think semi-formal would do it justice either). I wasn’t sure about how my tea was being prepared before my eyes. It seems like a farmer’s way doing things. Quick. Quick. Not ceremonious. But absolutely not random either. It’s harmonious. Probably because we were in-sync to discuss about tea and tea preparation and how our cultures meet. And probably it was raining and turning a bit cold outside. But we have our tea – roasted, hot, a bit bitter but without compromising that little sweetness.

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A view from Cheng’s tea garden behind her major tea house

I thanked Cheng and left with a pack of oolong tea and a cone of Tie Guan Yin ice cream out of all randomness. It’s breezing outside. And I decided to breeze along, walking around the hill to get a fuller sense of Maokong, which was once the biggest tea growing area in Taipei and is still now a must-visit destination for tea aficionados as well as tourists in the city. The fresh air. The smell of dirt. The taste of tea and the chattering mixed in Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and different English accents among other unknown languages to my ears. The thoughts about how the model could work in Vietnam. It’s turning 2 but I feel like a new day has just arrived.

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Tieguanyin ice cream | I think the other half was green tea flavor

 

 

[Edited] with more pictures. Written and first published 6/12/15.

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