Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Chishang Station 池上車站 near Taitung 台東

A nice little station, famous for its lunch box. The rice in those parts is especially good - just the right firmness. You might see "池上便當" or "Chishang biandang/lunch box" stores all over Taiwan, and supposedly, this is where it all started.

Here, biandang are sold on the platform and you buy them in the 60 seconds that the train stops at the station to drop off and pick up travelers. As the train approaches, you can hear three or four small-sized, middle-aged women wearing blue vests, carrying baskets filled with about 20 hot lunch boxes each and yelling "便當!便當!" meaning "lunch boxes! lunch boxes!" They can't go into the train to make the sale, so you have to be ready and waiting for them, TWD70 in hand, at the cabin exit. If you're too slow, too bad - no hoka hoka (means "hot" in Japanese) Chishang biandang for you. You'll just have to wait until the next time you pass by this station that is in the middle of nowhere and between two other middle of nowhere places. So no QQ rice, sausage, stewed egg, cha siu pork, sauteed leafy greens, fried dumpling and other goodies until...god knows when you get the chance to come by again.

We visited the restaurant by the station that made the biandang, and the owner was really friendly. It probably helped that she recognized me from TV. Haha. I tell you, I'm more popular down south in the countryside! Despite my lousy Taiwanese, they still like me over there. She told us that selling biandang at Chishang is quite fun, and I believe her, based on the smile that everyone who works at the restaurant has on their face. They have a great culture going on there. Their work is really routine. Five minutes before trains arrive, they bring the biandang across the street to the station and start calling out "biandang biandang." The trains leave, they come back, and do it all over again at the next train. But because you only really have one minute to buy/sell these biandang, things can happen in the scurry. She said just recently someone said "I'll take all of those!" right when the train was starting to move away. There was no time to give back change or take the biandang out of the basket, so the person said "don't worry about the change," and grabbed the whole basket. They never saw the basket again. "It's still on its journey around the island," the owner said. Another time, a woman hopped off the train to buy biandang for her and her son. And since little boys just don't know what "stay here" means, he followed his mom off the train but forgot to follow her back in. So when the trains left, usually it's just the three biandang ladies left on the platform, but this time, it was three biandang ladies plus one teary-eyed little boy. They ended up putting the boy in a car and speeding off, chasing the train all the way to the next station, where the mother was waiting after being notified of where her son was, and that the biandang ladies were making a special delivery.

So much fun. Such wonderful memories. We were there last week. I had a wonderful cameraman who filmed it in HD. He taught me all kinds of things, like subject placement, camera movement techniques, including one called "dolly in, zoom out." I can edit video, I've just never shot it before. I don't know if I'll ever film video myself, but I have to at least learn. It's fun anyway.


TCL said...

Great post! What an interesting little cultural stop. I've never been to Taitung but have always wanted to stop by on the way to Green Island.

The biking viking said...

That's a wonderful post. I've been through Chishang several times, and we even got off there once when we were biking across the Southern Cross Island Highway to Tainan. It's always been before 6am, though, coming down on the overnight from Taipei, and that's too early for the biandang ladies. But then I guess it's not for breakfast anyway.

翁郁容 Michella Jade Weng ミシェラ・オング said...

I'm glad you guys liked the post. The eastern coast of Taiwan really seems to be terrain undiscovered by most tourists. It's really beautiful and a place to slow down and appreciate life in, or so they say. I can't seem to slow down and smell the flowers these days. Sigh.

David said...

The scenary is so beautiful over there, its definitely still undiscovered by the tourists. The lunchbox is also very tempting...hahaha...can't wait to go back to taiwan next year.

翁郁容 Michella Jade Weng ミシェラ・オング said...

Oh yes, you should definitely visit. There's not much to do at Chishang, so I suggest you just do a train trip along the coast and just make sure to buy a bento there when you pass by.