This past Saturday I made a trip outside Taipei to the Gongyuan Rd. street market in Hutoushan Park, Taoyuan. On the way back I made a quick stop at a local I-Mei factory that also has a play area, restaurant, and a few other tourist-y bits to it.For those unaware, I-Mei is like the Wonder Bread brand of Taiwan. Its an almost-century old Taiwanese baker and desserts maker. They both sell their products within groceries and through their own outlets and its virtually impossible to go to an engagement dinner without returning home with a box of I-Mei cookies and cakes.
One of the best things about Taiwan are the street markets. Night or day, it doesnt matter. If you are a shopaholic, they are the polar antethesis of an addicts anonymous meeting. If you are a foodie, some of Taiwans best culinary delights are found in them. If you are a culture conisseur, there is no better Taiwanese cultural nexus. If you like photogtaphy, there is no equal in accessibility to such a variety of subject matter.
This is inarguable Truth.
Surfing has become a very popular sport in Taiwan over recent years and it should be. Ethnically-speaking, shared genetic, language, dietary, and cultural characteristics have led anthropologists to classify some Taiwanese aboriginal groups as progenitors of the Polynesian family, the fathers of the sport. Geographically, Taiwan is a Pacific Ocean island group with a lot of coastline facing the waves.
And beaches like Waiao.
The last stop on my recent trip through Miaoli County, Taiwan was at the Ramune Soda Factory in Tangluo Township. Those who have been to the riverside markets at either Tamsui or Xindien will better know Ramune soda as marble soda due to odd shape of the bottles neck and the free-floating marble that will lodge in the neck keeping spills from happening when the bottle turns upside down. While the inventor of the distinctive marble-neck bottle was British Hiram Codd, Ramune itself is bottled and distributed by a Japanese company and is considered traditionally Japanese. In fact, ramune is a Japanese-phonetic translation of lemonade as the original beverage was a British-imported lemon-lime soft drink and the distinct bottle design became associated with that flavor.
Taiwan being a country with historical Japanese influence, Taiwanese consider Ramune to be a local drink and there is even a local bottling factory and that factory has a public-tour face.
Youve spent some time soaking your feet at the outside Taiyen Ocean Foot Spa and the hot and humid Taiwanese summer weather is starting to get to you. You need to get out of the sun and get in to some artificial lighting and air conditioning quick. It should also serve to keep the kids busy. Well my touring friend, youre in luck.
Contained within the same factory campus as the Taiyen, only a few yards from the spa area, is the Taiyen Museum. Its a small building dedicated primarily to the history and products of the Taiyen company but it also goes into the methods and technology behind how they (used to) collect and refine salt from the nearby ocean.
Famous locally for its salt products (every kitchen in Taiwan has their short, red cans of salt with the tiny spoon), Taiyen has recently put a public-facing front on its salt electrolysis and packaging factory in Tongxing Township, Miaoli County. Such a move by a local factory is not a new one and in fact is becoming the norm as the increased choice brought by globalization has forced local companies to Innovate new ways to engage local customers and keep their brands in the minds of Taiwanese. This practice has also spread into foreign companies that manufacture in Taiwan, such as Japanese piano-maker Kawai. There have been some civic implementations of this concept as well, such as the Taipei Water Park that hides one of the cities largest water pumping stations at its center.
What do you do if you are the village one train stop down from a very popular tourist-trail village? You come up with a hook to snag some of that tourist traffic. In this case, Houtong Village sits on the next stop past where anyone going to Pingxi to float some paper lanterns or Shifen to see the waterfall would exit.
The hook they came up with? Cats.