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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grabbing tigers by their tails

It was my wife's birthday yesterday (Saturday), and though she had to work in the morning, she was free after lunchtime. So, in the early afternoon, the three of us piled in the car and headed south to Yunlin County (Yún​línxiàn)​ 雲林縣, that area of central Taiwan where Pamela originally hails from (the town of Hsiluo [Xī​luó​] 西螺, to be exact). Our first stop upon exiting the freeway was Tz'ut'ung (Cì​tóng​) 莿桐, a rural township not far from Hsiluo. There, we paid a call on an old friend of my wife's, whose husband, formerly with the Foreign Affairs Police, had given us some very helpful advice regarding a recent ordeal legal matter I had to deal with concerning a traffic incident. Pamela's friend runs a small boutique, where Amber posed in front of the latest Yunlin fashions:


After saying thanks, we left, just in time to get a caught in a downpour that may have been a result of Typhoon Nanmadol, currently brushing past Taiwan's northeast coast as I type this.

It was still raining when we reached Huwei (Hǔ​wěi)​ 虎尾, an urban township with deep ties to Taiwan's history as a sugar producer. Parking our car downtown, it was a short walk in the rain to a small but beautiful wooden Japanese building that once served as the home of the county commissioner during the colonial period 台灣日治時期 「日本統治時代」:


My wife attended high school in Huwei, but doesn't recall seeing this building during her student days there. This suggests that the house was left to languish until recent years, when its potential as a tourist lure became apparent. It has since been restored, and now serves as a venue for artistic performances, such as the concert being performed inside while we were there:


Almost next door to the old home is the building that once served as the county hall during the Japanese era:



It now houses a museum devoted to Taiwanese puppet theater:


In addition to the displays of puppetry, the old cells used for holding suspects prior to their court cases are open for inspection. Here's Amber announcing that she is not, in fact, crazy inside the padded cell:


Kudos go out to the authorities in Huwei for not only preserving Taiwan's beautiful Japanese-period architecture, but for utilizing such spaces for more than just dusty historical displays. It would be great if more cities and towns across Taiwan could find ways to give their cultural and historical architectural relics (what's left of them, anyway) some relevancy in this day and age.

Following dinner in one of Huwei's numerous Japanese restaurants (this is a town that clearly, and unapologetically, embraces its past), we headed over to the old sugar plant. The factory itself was closed for the day by this time, but the small food store in the park across the street was still open. While sugar has declined in importance over the years (it was once a major cash crop in Taiwan), several old factories across Taiwan have been reinvented as tourist sites, where the main attraction is...ice cream. Yes, in Taiwan, you travel for miles just to eat ice cream on the premises of disused sugar refineries. I have to admit, though, that my chocolate cup was pretty good, while my daughter seemed to enjoy her peanut butter-flavored Popsicle:


The last thing we did in Huwei was to visit a clinic...or at least my wife did. Not to worry for there's nothing to be concerned about, but I'm not at liberty to disclose the reason behind the visit. Suffice it to say, while Pamela was waiting her turn inside, Amber and I took a walk through the downtown area:

Huwei's main bus "station", which was pretty quiet late on a Saturday evening. Pamela used to pass through here during her high school days, riding the bus back and forth from Hsiluo.

Like many towns and smaller cities throughout Taiwan, traffic circles have been built to smooth traffic flows. Taiwan being Taiwan, and the Taiwanese being Taiwanese, these can be an adventure to drive through (and around) at times.

Another leftover from the Japanese era stands watch over a busy corner.


As this is the last weekend of the Ghost Festival 中元節, several temple festivals were underway in downtown Huwei. Amber wanted to watch this puppet show, though the noise was a little too much for her to bear.

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