Four Gates and a Jamaican in Hengchun
Our time was up at South Bay. As we are not particularly beachy people, we moved to the small town of Hengchun, meaning “Eternal Spring” due to its tropical climate. We knew about its four ancient gates but was not expecting to meet a Jamaican with a somewhat familiar accent!
After dropping our bags off at our new homestay, we had a few hours before getting into our room. We found a delightful café, Corner 98, that did the most delicious pumpkin and mushroom risotto and planned a walk around the town. OK, my “planning strike” didn’t last long!
Hengchun has four gates, the only castle town in Taiwan that still has all standing. I gauged that it was only about 2.6 km to walk to all four. We started at the grandest and most preserved of them all, the South Gate, also known as the Mingdu Gate.
Next on our trek was to the West Gate, taking us through part of the Old Town with quaint, narrow streets. We suddenly heard some reggae music, quite unusual in this part of the world, and noticed a handsome, smiling guy with fabulous dreadlocks chatting to a western looking guy by the side of a pop-up food stand.
He beckoned us over. Hang on a minute, that’s an accent we recognise. Zephon originated from Jamaica but was brought up in Sheffield. He met his wife, Cathy, there who is Taiwanese and they have the most adorable family, a gorgeous little three-year-old boy who rushed out and hugged our legs and a beautiful four-month-old daughter. Mike, (the westerner) has just retired and arrived over two weeks ago from Ohio to join his Philippine partner who works here.
The five of us chatted for ages, sharing stories and hearing about the many pies that Zeph and Cathy have their fingers in, including teaching English and rugby, farming, as well as making and selling falafels and Jamaican cake. I think what sticks these all together is that this wonderful couple wants to enable people to understand different cultures.
Zeph excitedly shared that he’d been asked to climb the pole. Luckily we’d just read about the “Qiang Gu” event that takes place in August the “ghost month” so knew about this pole.
People used to offer food to ghosts of the dead and then the poor were allowed to take the offerings. Unfortunately, this would end up in a mad frenzy. The local government stopped this by building a high platform with columns that people had to climb to get to the food. It is now an annual game, with the columns covered in oil to raise the entertainment value. What a shame we won’t see Zeph attempt this feat!
We swapped details, promising to see them again during our ten days here. We were very happy to meet them all, especially as last week we hadn’t talked much with anyone plus missed Jac’s chatter, despite pulling her leg about it.
Just up the road was the Western gate, but unlike the other three, this one was not facing the direction of its name. Why? Legend has it that it’s to do with Feng-shui, the position of the nearby mountains and homage to the royal capital. Or perhaps someone’s compass wasn’t working correctly – who knows.
The inner side of the gate was rather dull, so I walked through to have a look at the outer side; a little bit better. This poor gate has been a bit battered in its 150 years and needed rebuilding a few times.
We followed the battery turrets, taking us to the North Gate with a lovely view of the Hutou Mountains. This was the main entrance of the Ancient City where visitor needing to climb the ridge of the mountains to reach here. For some reason, there was a green tanker facing the gate, but no sign describing why.
We continued our journey walking by the old wall. We love to wander through the backstreets of towns; we never know what we will find. Here was a “LOVE” wall, John Dough Pizzeria, a whale and some fierce-looking fish jumping through a window and the other side of the wall, towering above us, was the famous poles already looking oiled up ready for August. Perhaps teams practice here in preparation for the event.
We eventually arrived at the last gate, the East Gate. We couldn’t walk through this one as it had a massive puddle, however, on the right, there were stairs leading up so we could walk on the old wall that used to surround the Ancient city. The ramparts turned into a modern bridge overlooking a softball pitch were men and boys were playing.
We realised that we were pretty close to our Homestay, so weaved through residential streets and came across a house built from metal shipping containers. We would have loved to have a snoop around. I hope their insulation was good otherwise they’d boil inside!
We relaxed in our room until the evening when we popped out to see Zeph, Cathy and their lovely family. Their son had great fun playing with Tim, and hooted with delight at Tim’s disappearing trick, quickly trying to do it himself. Oh, he is going to be one of life’s characters. There’s such a joy about him, just like his parents. And bless him, he cried when we were leaving.
We needed to get back as we were having a chat with our friends Kath, Phil and family using the App HouseParty. What a hoot we had, re-enacting some funny videos people have been creating during their self-isolation; you may have watched some yourself. Our friends Hugh and Fiona were supposed to join us, but Hugh’s phone battery died while they were out. At least we managed to chat with them later with more laughter.
What a great day, it lifted us, chatting and laughing with new and old friends and reminds me of Dinah Washington’s fabulous song:
What a difference a day made Twenty-four little hours Brought the sun and the flowers Where there used to be rain…