Twenty-five sweltering minutes on foot took me past shops that cater to Southeast Asian migrant workers, as well as rows of factories in which they work, to a spot where a townhouse had been demolished.
Through the gap, I could see the corner of a single-story building that obviously predated Taiwan’s industrialization. I’d reached Zhaixing Cottage (摘星山莊) in Taichung City’s Tanzih District (潭子), and it turned out to be more than worth the trek.
According to the Web site I’d looked at before leaving home, the address beside the doorway — 88 Tanfu Road Section 2 (潭富路二段) — was the right one. But the door itself was firmly locked, and it looked as though it hadn’t been opened for quite some time.
Photo: Steven Crook
A notice informed me that the actual entrance is just down the road at number 124. There, I bought a ticket and stepped into a very different world.
Photo: Steven Crook
Zhaixing Cottage is an exquisite sight. Within the grounds, which cover 2,440 pings (8,064 square meters), there are longan, lychee, mango and rose apple trees. Dozens of fish inhabit the pond in front of the main building. After tramping through Tanzih’s industrial neighborhoods, the cottage and its setting were a more delightful change of scenery than I’d dared hope for.
Construction of this traditional four-sided residence (siheyuan, 四合院) was commissioned in 1871 by Lin Chi-chung (林其中). A local man and former military officer, Lin had made a name for himself fighting on behalf of the Qing Empire against the Taiping rebels in China. Later, he returned to Taiwan to help organize the suppression of the 1862-1865 uprising led by Tai Chao-chun (戴潮春).
Lin lived in the cottage between its completion in 1879 and his death five years later at the age of 52. In 1997, his descendants sold the land. When it looked likely that the cottage — by then in poor condition — would be leveled so the site could be redeveloped, cultural activists intervened.
Photo: Steven Crook
The local government quickly designated the building as a cultural heritage site in order to preserve it, but several years passed before renovation work could begin. Finally, in May 2010 the doors were opened to the public.
In keeping with the architectural conventions of old China, the original entrance (the one at 88 Tanfu Road Section 2) is on the southeastern edge of the compound, and the ancestral shrine faces due south.
To reach the shrine, I had to pass through a hall with masses of carved wood and a number of painted wall panels. Unlike some other relics in Taiwan which have been “over-restored,” many of the carvings and paintings inside Zhaixing Cottage have been left as they were found. Despite the stains, faded colors and peeling paint, the level of skill and detail is obvious.
Photo: Steven Crook
Two of the most impressive paintings were executed by Kuo You-mei (郭友梅, 1849-1915), a renowned artist based in Lukang. His name can be seen on the upper left side of the panels.
Some of the side chambers are rented out to artisans who make and sell, among other things, tobacco pipes. If you buy a coffee or an ice cream, you can get a NT$50 discount by showing your entrance ticket.
Torn between a desire to linger at this delightful house and a compulsion to do more sightseeing, I eventually left and began walking north on small country roads.
Photo: Steven Crook
Soon I crossed the Tanyashen Green Bikeway (潭雅神綠園道), a 14km-long bicycle trail which connects — and is named for — the three districts of Tanzih, Daya (大雅), and Shengang (神岡). From what I saw of it, it looked to be a well-designed and properly maintained bikeway that’s popular with joggers as well as cyclists.
My objective was Taiwan Miso Cultural Museum (台灣味噌釀造文化館), just inside Fengyuan District (豐原) at 701 Sishih Road (西勢路701號). Getting there took me about 20 minutes.
The museum occupies part of a factory owned by Wei Jung Food Industry Co, one of Taiwan’s oldest food companies. In English-language materials, the company now brands its products SauceCo rather than Wei Jung (味榮).
The museum has some Chinese-only information about how miso is made, but there’s very little about the history of this traditional soy-based seasoning.
Miso soup became common in Taiwan during the 1895-1945 period of Japanese colonial rule. A Japanese citizen who’s lived in Taiwan for several years has told me that Taiwanese miso is sweeter than its Japanese counterpart.
If you’ve not booked a guided tour, or a DIY session in which you can learn how to make miso, there’s only one reason to go out of your way to Taiwan Miso Cultural Museum: Its shop stocks an intriguing range of gourmet sauces, vinegars and other food items seldom seen in normal supermarkets.
The sun was high, and I knew the walk to the railway station at Lilin (栗林) would be another 20-minute march. I didn’t want to make my daypack any heavier, so all I bought was a small packet of dried pomelo peel.
As I write this, a week later, the packet sits untouched in my pantry. However, the image files from that morning at Zhaixing Cottage have been opened again and again. They’re perfect reminders that not everything humanity does in Taiwan diminishes the island’s tremendous natural beauty.
Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture and business in Taiwan since 1996. He is the author of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide and co-author of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai.
Bus 920 from Tanzih Railway Station (潭子火車站) stops right opposite the cottage’s parking lot. Bus 63, which can be boarded at Fengyuan Railway Station (豐原火車站), stops on Dafeng Road (大豐路), 550m from the cottage. There’s a YouBike rental point at Tanzih Railway Station.
Zhaixing Cottage is open from 9am to 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is NT$100, but free for residents of Tanzih, and half-price for students, senior citizens and people who live in other parts of Taichung. Admission to Taiwan Miso Cultural Museum is free. Guided tours and DIY experiences cost from NT$100 to NT$550 and must be booked in advance at www.weijung.com (English and Chinese).
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