I had great trips where I stayed in awesome hotels and ate at great restaurants, but sometimes its the simple things that makes a memory heart warming.

In order to show me what a city kid I am, and how spoiled I am with all my electronic gadgets and clothing, my mom planned a great trip for me when I was in Taiwan. Actually, she just wanted to show me “my cousins (hint: I was born in the year of ox).” So one day in the morning, with heavy eyelids and messy hair, I shoved myself into the car, then passed out for the rest of the drive (good thing I was not the driver). When I woke up again, what I saw in front of me gave me a bit of “ohhh” moment.

Immediately I could see that no houses there are taller than 3 stories. Most of the houses are made of concrete and red bricks, in the “old fashioned” Chinese way. My mom proudly presented me “Fangyuang,” the secret place that captured her heart.

Fangyuan/芳苑鄉 is a little town in ZhangHua County. The name Fangyuan was given after the Sino-Japanese war.  It was the second largest port area in Central Taiwan just after Lukang town, yet lost its luster when the war was over. Right now Fangyuan only has about 26 villages, and total of around 35.000 people. Population there is decreasing exponentially as young adults are moving away from the town every year to seek more opportunities in big cities like TaiChung and Taipei. Such migration is especially apparent when there is only one class per grade in their public elementary schools (while schools in the city has about 4-8 classes per grade), with each class only 20-30 kids around.

What made this town special is the collection of original buildings and local food from as early as Qing Dynasty, and how people still living in their own world here, apart from all the shopping malls, offices, movie theaters…etc.

Many buildings here are made of red brick. Like the photo above, the walls contains patterns that forms into the word “喜喜” (means happiness).

This town survives by pumping underground water. The photo above shows the oldest pump they have in town. The pump has retired now with newer technology that brings water to all of the faucets in the house.

Some buildings from Qing Dynasty (above) in town are abandoned. By the local laws, one is not allowed to take down historical buildings. However, because some locals cannot afford the restoration of the buildings, they left structures like this one abandoned, hoping one day it would fall down itself. When I peeked inside this house, everything were still there: the family ancestor shrine, the tables, chairs, cooking utensils. It was quite a scene, and I cannot help to feel a bit gloomy about why everything is left in that state.

(Above: Ox looking back at its owner, with loads of leftover oyster shells on the left side. I was a bit intimidated by the size of ox)

The most famous treat in Fangyuan town is oyster. When the tides falls, before the sun even peeks out its head in the morning, the oyster farmers would secure carts onto the oxen’s back, and then take the oxen to the beach to collect the oysters. For the rest of the day, women would be sitting at little stations around the town, opening the oyster shells with a small knife, then take the juicy oysters to the market to sell. Oysters here tend to be smaller than other places in Taiwan, yet they taste sweeter and juicier (Hint: going to have one delicious post about locals’ favorite oyster treat coming up !)

(Photo Above: Stations where locals separate oysters from the shells)

(Photo Above: When its the good season, one could be sitting there till late afternoon working on the oysters)

Another treat from the sea here in Fangyuan is mullet roe/烏魚子. Mullet roe is considered a luxury in Asia. Often Japanese people would pay hundreds of Taiwanese dollars for the mullet roe here.

If you are not a fisherman or oyster farmer here, then you probably own a field where you grow your own peanuts, cabbage, high end flowers, and other agricultural products. Many farmers here would harvest their peanuts, then spread the peanuts out in their yard to dry. When you walk pass by the peanuts, due to the heat, the rich aroma of peanuts would tickle your sense of smell with temptation.

There are also many dogs on the street everywhere. It seems like no one particularly owns the dogs, and they congregate to have adventures together from time to time. One dog walked in front of us for couple blocks, looking back from time to time, like it is trying to show us around the town. 

Interesting thing is that everyone from the same village in this town all have the same last name: Hsieh in one village, Chen in another one, then Zheng. Every village is like a big family, because having the same last name means they are all came from the same ancestor at one point. Villagers would marry someone from another village or another town instead to prevent bloodline issues. When young people here go to the cities, often if they meet someone with the same last name, there’s a good chance they can trance the other person’s family back to here.

After walking around couple blocks, my stomach lets out a small “rawr” sound.

To Be Continued ~