Time for Taiwan 2015-2016, Episode 19: Jiji by Train
Today we’re in Jiji, Nantou County, and the theme of this trip is “tunnels.”
I'm Michella. I grew up in the Silicon Valley and was a journalist in Taiwan for ten years. I like to try new things, play with new toys, and visit old places in a new way. I’m going to show you around the Taiwan that I know. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.
To get to Jiji, you can take a train. The Jiji line starts at Ershui Station, which is in Changhua. You can pay by tagging on and off with an Easycard or iPass.
Railroads in the very beginning were built to transport not people, but resources. The Jiji branch line was first built for transporting sugar canes, then it was widened for camphor, bananas and building materials for a dam in the 1930’s during the Japanese occupation.
The dam at Sun Moon Lake was built to generate electricity, and the scale of the construction was huge and the local office anticipated that the emperor would visit, so they built a station house for this stop on the railroad.
This station house was originally in Yangmei, Taoyuan. It was retired, taken apart, numbered and put into storage. But when they heard that the big boss was coming, instead of building a brand new station house, they decided to find all the parts very quickly, put them on a train, and reassemble everything here in Jiji. I think that’s so cool and environmentally friendly, too! And personally, the grayish blue paint and white paint, I love that combination. Almost 100 years later, it’s back in fashion.
To visitors, this place looks nice and perhaps nostalgic. To people who have lived here their all their lives, it’s a place filled with memories. In the old days clocks weren’t common, people relied on the trains, which came in at the same times every day, to tell the time. That’s even more cool.
Next we’re going here, a banana museum.
This is where you can find out why even the royal family in Japan was so bananas about Taiwan bananas.
These are local bananas, and because the elevation here is above 200 meters, these are technically “mountain bananas.” So how do you know what kind of banana you’re looking at? This part of the mountain banana is shorter than that of the average banana.
Did you know that a banana is a berry? And that bananas on the market are genetically modified? Because if you peel open an ancient non GM banana, you’re going to get some huge seeds and no meat. So perhaps GMO’s aren’t necessarily all that evil.
Anyway, because Jiji bananas were so tasty and high in demand, back in those days, banana farmers here made a fortune in the old days. So if a handsomely dressed government officer and a banana farmer dressed in dirty work clothes and slippers walked into a bar together, the girls after money would pick the farmer in a heartbeat.
There are so many stories about this town and interesting things about bananas you can learn here. Let’s skip to the DIY part. Banana chocolate!
This is a camphor tree, about 400-700 years old. There used to be lots and lots of these here, but people started cutting them down in the 19th century because it was one of the ingredients for smokeless gun powder.
Every time a gun is shot, smoke goes up in the air, the enemy would see where the shooter is. So smokeless gun powder and camphor were in high demand, which was really bad news for these trees. It’s said that 70% of the world’s camphor came from the Jiji area.
This is Jiji’s famous “green tunnel,” on both sides of the road are camphor trees. These were planted in 1940 when Japan celebrated the 2,600 year of its founding. Each household was asked to plant three trees, and camphor being the valuable and native resource that it is, was the tree of choice for Jiji residents.
At the stop after Jiji, you’ll find the Shuili Snake Kiln, our other tunnel.
Because from far away it looks like a snake, that seems to have just had a feast, people called this kind of kiln a “snake kiln.” Another reason for the name is, in Taiwanese the counter for long objects has the same sound as “snake,” and the counter word later became mixed with the reptile and the name stuck.
In the old days, people would come and huddle by the kiln for warmth. Nowadays we have hand warmers, which are about this big and this thick. But back then they used bamboo baskets with a ceramic pot inside and inside those pots they would toss pieces of hot charcoal and hod the baskets like this for warmth.
When the kilns are fired up, they get quite hot, both inside and out. Damp wood would be placed over the kilns to be dried. But not only that. People who lived around here would also bring their laundry that they had just done, still damp, and place those over the wood. And that worked as a dryer for them.
The kilns are fired for 3 days at 1,200 degrees Celsius. On the last day after all the ceramics have been removed and the temperature drops to around 100 degrees, women with their damp and curled hair held together by fresh bamboo pins, would run inside and quickly run back outside and their hair would be newly permed. If that wasn’t curly enough, they would make the trip on more time. Run inside and quickly run back out, and that should do it.
Before plastics and other materials became readily available, people relied on ceramics for practically everything, from pots to water tanks, pipes, pipe fittings, some of them big, some of them small. This one is big enough to fit a person, and actually it is supposed to fit a person. This is a bomb shelter that would be buried under the ground with just about 5 cm of the rim sticking out of the ground. During the war and before the war, the military ordered tons and tons of these, and soldiers would even have to come to help with production.
Jiji might not sound like much. But it's not just a small town with lots of banana snacks. It’s amazing culturally and historically. I had so much fun learning about what camphor trees were used for, how the station house was built, why it was built and about the snake kiln and the people it served. The green tunnel is beautiful and the stories are so interesting. You should come!
Michella's notes 米雪拉的筆記：
I really enjoyed Jiji and Shuili, because of the fun stories and the history. The banana museum is relatively new and it was my first time there. I’ve been to the snake kiln a few times now and I feel like I learn something new every time I’m there.
The banana museum was fun. They greet you with tea eggs braised with some part of banana in the sauce, banana tea, banana egg rolls, dried bananas, banana cakes, banana chocolate…all kinds of bananas. The folks there are working really hard to sell their story and their bananas. They teamed up with a nearby university to design the packaging of some of their products, and I think they did a pretty good job! The motifs are cute in a pretty original way they depict stories relevant to the local banana industry. At the museum you’ll find displays on the banana industry here, its history, facts about bananas, and I found most of it quite interesting. It’s worth taking time to go through. Unfortunately there isn’t much in English yet. There are a couple of DIY activities you can do there, and both are fun. You can transplant a banana seedling and take it home, or you can make banana chocolates.
The history of the station house is also very interesting, starting from how it was built, or reconstructed here as I mentioned in the video. In 1999, the Jiji earthquake nearly destroyed the train station but luckily it was saved from demolition. The station house looked quite different than what it does now before it was restored. Historians wanted to restore the station house to what it originally looked like, so scraped down all the layers of various colors of paint until the very last one before the wood and determined that this is what color it was in the very beginning. I really, really like the bluish grey and white combination.
The snake kiln is amazing, from the tunnel itself to the items it once fired (including hand warmers and coffins). You can watch ceramic artists at work there, try your hand at pottery, buy some pottery (I bought some really pretty bowls made there at very reasonable prices), or just enjoy the trees and the space.
I took a lot of pictures on this trip and I hope to make a slideshow with commentary with them soon. Stay tuned!
We stayed at the Teacher’s Hostel in Sun Moon Lake this time. It’s old, but spacious and they’re building a new building, which means the old ones should be getting a much, much needed upgrade soon.
You should come!
Taiwan Railways Administration 台鐵： http://www.railway.gov.tw/en/
Jiji station 集集車站： http://www.sunmoonlake.gov.tw/English/SceneryView.aspx?KeyID=2de0aac3-4784-4ec4-ae07-bafe63500d87
Banana museum 集元果山蕉歷史文化館： http://jijibanana.com
Shuili snake kiln 水里蛇窯： http://www.snakekiln.com.tw/index_news.php
Sun Moon Lake Teacher’s Hostel 日月潭教師會館： http://www.sunmoonlake.gov.tw/Accessibility/HotelDetail.aspx?KeyID=215e1e87-1b15-4ead-9031-a7022f75107e
Shirt: kotipesä http://www.kotipesa.com
Watch: Martian http://www.martianwatches.com.tw
Shoes: Timberland http://timberland.com.tw
Backpack: ispack https://shop.cool3c.com/taxonomy/term/2704
Koziro Cinema Mount 手機拍攝： http://www.kphoto.com.tw/front/bin/ptdetail.phtml?Part=APK014
UAV 空拍機: 3DR Solo http://www.3drobotics.com