Before I start, I'd like to welcome to my new website and blog. I thought instead of making an introduction post to this site that I’d just forego that and jump right into the kind of posts I plan on sharing on this site!
Hsinpu (新埔鎮) is a small village nestled in the mountains of eastern Hsinchu county (新竹縣) and just like many small towns in Taiwan is characterized by its downtown core which consists more or less of a single street, a very slow pace of life and fields full of vegetables, fruit and rice.
The village however is historically an important centre of Hakka culture in Hsinchu county and Taiwan as a whole. and any visit to Hsinpu would not be complete without sampling a bit of the Hakka culture it has to offer. The main road through the downtown core of Hsinpu offers up dozens of restaurants featuring various forms of Hakka cuisine be it a hot bowl of Bantiao flat noodles (板條) or for the braver among us the extremely tasty Ginger pork Intestines (薑絲炒大腸.)
Hsinpu’s famous Yimin Temple (義民廟) holds several large celebrations throughout the year celebrating Hakka culture and history attracting tens of thousands of people each time. Yimin temple differs from other folk religion temples throughout Taiwan in that rather than worshipping gods in the temple, the temple is actually a memorial to Yimen (Hakka) ancestors who are considered heroes for sacrificing themselves protecting Taiwan.
My visit to Hsinpu this time however had a different purpose: Another one of Hsinpu’s cultural attractions takes place every year between September and November during the season when persimmon’s grow in the mountainous areas of the village. This period is when Hsinpu experiences the biggest influx of tourists visiting the village for non-religious purposes.
Coming from Canada we often consider ourselves lucky to have two seasons to grow fruit and vegetables before the long winter comes, so its nice to live in a country like Taiwan where there are four seasons to grow fruit and vegetables with each season offering a different variety for your palate.
Hsinpu is not famous for its persimmons alone however, its what they do with their persimmon’s that makes the village special. Farms throughout the village export fresh persimmon’s to fruit markets throughout the country and abroad, but at the same time they uphold traditional Hakka methods of drying fruit to create a Taiwanese delicacy called “Dried Persimmon” (柿餅) and this is what attracts the majority of visitors to the village.
Taiwan’s modernization into a first world developed country happened extremely quickly and certainly did not take the amount of time that it did other nations. Because of this, most areas of the country are industrialized and for people living in major city centres such as Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, or Kaohsiung yearn for a bit of traditional culture when they have free time. During the drying months for persimmon’s if you try to visit to any of these farms on the weekend you will have to fight for space as there will be large crowds.
The dried persimmon farm that I visited this year was the popular Wei Wei Jia Persimmon Tourist farm (新埔的味衛佳柿餅觀光農場) which is easily accessed (after a 10-20 minute walk) from Hsinpu’s downtown area if you are travelling by bus. This particular farm is famous among Taiwanese photographers because two of the owners are cute “aunties” who will gladly model in their traditional clothing for photographers. I’ve been to this particular farm before though, so I made sure that I visited during a weekday when there wouldn’t be as many people and I could get shots of the real work that goes on at this traditional factory.
Upon arrival at the farm you will be met with a traditional Fujian style house (三合院) with persimmon’s drying in front of it. This area is quite picturesque but the main area is much more interesting - a short walk past the house will bring you to the main attraction which consists of thousands of persimmons elevated about 200cm above the ground by a network of bamboo poles and large wickerwork plates holding the persimmons. You have the option of walking under the poles to see the drying process, you can also stand on benches to get eye level with the persimmons or you can walk up some stairs to get on a viewing platform a few meters above the persimmons.
While visiting the farm is free, you are essentially getting in their way (even though you’re very welcome) so its polite to buy something from the hard workers who are there. You can buy a pack of fresh dried persimmons ($150 NTD), fresh honey, different kinds of traditional Taiwanese teas ($30-40NT) and homemade persimmon flavoured popsicles and ice cream - if you arrive on a hot day I can assure you that buying a bottle of their homemade cold grass jelly tea (仙草茶) will both relax and refresh!
The Wei Wei Jia Persimmon Tourist farm is a nice day trip no matter where you are coming from. If you aren’t driving a car or a scooter, it would be best to take a train to Jhubei train station (竹北車站) and walk a few minutes to the bus station and take either bus 5618 (Hsinchu - Hsinpu), 5619 (Hsinchu - Guanxi) or 5620 (Hsinchu - Chungli) 5618[新竹-新埔(經犂頭山)] 5619[新竹-關西(經犂頭山)] 5620[新竹-中壢(經關西)] getting off at the church and walking up the hill.
A visit to Wei Wei Jia is a special experience for everyone who visits. If you are a foreigner like myself it gives you a chance to experience Taiwanese culture that you won't find in places like Taipei. If you're Taiwanese and live in a major city, you'll likely feel a bit nostalgic for the simple life that is now a thing of the past for the vast majority of people living in this country. If you're a photographer - well, lets just say, this is a cultural attraction that you won't want to miss. The scenery in the mountains is beautiful, you can walk among rows of persimmon trees, you have friendly people who are willing to pose for a picture and of course you have the main attraction to shoot. All in all its a great day-trip and you'll be happy that you took it.
There's still time left for this year. If you have any free time try to visit before the end of November!