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 consisting of a single street, a very slow pace of life and fields full of vegetables, fruit and rice surrounding it.
Despite the size of its downtown, Hsinpu isn’t just any small town - It is known around Taiwan as the most important areas for Hakka culture, history, cuisine and tradition in the country and has played an instrumental role in helping the Hakka people of Taiwan form their own cultural identity over the last few centuries.
Hsinpu has experienced a revitalization over the past few years thanks to the cultural preservation efforts of the government and everywhere you go you can see the past coming back to life again - Whether you are visiting for some great food or to learn about the history of this amazing culture, Hsinpu is one of the best places to visit and has quite a few attractions for the savvy traveller.
I have spent quite a bit of time in Hsinpu over the years taking photographs and blogging about the history of this quaint little village and its historic temples and buildings but there is one thing on my yearly calendar that I make sure not to miss - the persimmon drying season!
Persimmon drying? Sounds boring right? Wrong!
This is yet another one of Hsinpu’s cultural attractions and likely attracts just as many tourists as the popular Yimin Festival (義民祭). The drying season takes place between September and December every year when the fruit are in season and the local government does its best to promote this local tradition by having a persimmon festival full every October.
Persimmons grow in abundance in the mountains around the village which are then in turn exported to fruit markets all over the country and abroad. At the same time though there are local farmers who uphold traditional Hakka methods of drying fruit to create a delicacy called “Dried Persimmon” and this is what attracts the majority of visitors to the village as the Persimmons are beautifully put on display and the public is able to freely move about while the fragrant fruit is drying in the sun.
Dried Persimmons (柿餅)
Dried persimmons are a popular delicacy that are enjoyed all across Taiwan and are also exported all over Asia as well. The persimmons, which grow in abundance in Taiwan as well as in Japan, China and Korea are a super fruit and are said to be even healthier than apples.
In Japan, dried persimmons are known as “Hoshigaki” (干し柿) while their Korean counterparts are known as “Gotgam” (곶감) - In each country however the process of drying the fruit is completely different as is the final product. Likewise the dried persimmon’s you’ll find in China (while they share the same name) are also dried using a different process with a final product that is different in both the way it looks and how it tastes.
Here in Taiwan the process of drying the persimmons is undertaken through traditional and modern methods. In both cases however the persimmons are hand-picked freshly from the orchards, washed and then the skin is peeled off.
The fruit is then quickly taken to a large sauna-like oven where they are smoked for a short amount of time where the skin is both cured and hardened. When the smoking process is complete the fruit is put on an arbor that is placed on a network of bamboo shelves that are propped up at least two hundred centimetres above the ground and left for at least three days to dry in the sun.
When the drying process is complete and the persimmons have become soft, the arbor is taken off of the shelves to be checked individually by the farmers. If the persimmon is ready, they are given a light thumb pinch which changes their shape and makes them look like shrivelled up skin. They are then taken away for packaging and sale in local markets around the country!
Although there are a few places where you can see the fruit being dried, the most popular location for tourists is the Wei Wei Jia Persimmon Tourist Farm (新埔的味衛佳柿餅觀光農場) which is easily accessible (after a 10-20 minute walk) from Hsinpu’s downtown area.
This particular farm has gained a large following among the people of Taiwan as well as with Taiwanese photographers thanks the owners who have cleverly made available a few of the cute “aunties” who work at the farm to model in traditional Hakka attire for crowds of tourists.
As I’ve visited this farm several times over the years I have figured out that the best time to get photos of the farm is when the aunties come out. When they’re busy modelling all of the photographers and tourists flock to their sides leaving the production area empty and easy to take photos of. While the shot of the farm with the aunties modelling is what most Taiwanese photographers look for when they visit. My interests tend to lie with the actual production, farming and the make workers who get little to no attention which make my shots a bit different from what you’d see with local photographers.
Upon arrival at the farm you are met with a traditional Hakka style home (三合院) with some 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 a set of stairs to get on a viewing platform a few meters above the persimmons - which is one of the most popular spots for photographers to hang out when the aunties come out to model.
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 visit 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!
A visit to Wei Wei Jia is a special cultural 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 or any of the other large cities. 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.
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.