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Monday, November 30, 2009

Trapped like a tourist

If there is one thing that Taiwanese are good at, it's setting traps for tourists. The formula is simple but deadly: first, create an attraction free of charge to bring in the hordes, then lure them into a web of food stands, souvenir stalls and carnival rides. Once ensnared, the helpless victims are slowly nickel-and-dimed to death, with wallets slowly being emptied as stomachs are filled with snack foods and sweetened drinks, and children are plied with toys and games. And all this is set to a soundtrack produced by thousands of people all milling about in the same shared space. If this sounds like your idea of an enjoyable Sunday outing, you'll love Taiwan. As for a cynical curmudgeon like myself, even I have to admit it can be times.

Today's tourist trap trip was to the "Floral Sea", the best way I can translate from the Mandarin "haihua" 花海, in the town of Hsinshe 新社. This was the same ocean of flowers that I had seen from my lofty perch in the mountains of Tak'eng back on Tuesday (you see the photograph here). At the time, I congratulated myself for not having gone there the previous weekend, when the crowds would have been thick, but today I wasn't laughing. My wife wanted to see the flowers, the weather was perfect (still warm for the end of November - you can't complain about sub-tropical climates), and so we battled the traffic for close to an hour before finally reaching a parking lot close to the entrance. Once inside, it was a long walk through the different flower fields to where the food action was (the real reason Pamela, and many of her compatriots, wanted to go there today!). The colors from the various sections of sunflowers, cosmos, begonias and many others were certainly pleasing to the eye:

My daughter took a few pictures, which have been posted on her blog. For a child's-eye perspective on the world of flora, go here or click on the "Amber's Photo Journal" link over on the right-side of this page.

I also made a short panorama from the middle of the flower fields. The mountains that can be seen in the distance at the end of the clip are the ones I often go hiking in on Tuesdays.

Even amid the flowers, there were people selling balloons, ice cream and soap for blowing bubbles. Amber's cheaply-made, but not cheaply-priced, Dora the Explorer balloon didn't last very long, but she didn't seem to mind. It was fun while it lasted:

At the end of the fields were the stalls - lots and lots of them, selling all manner of foods and drinks, plus farm produce and toys and trinkets for the kiddies. There were also carnival rides, and Amber enjoyed a spin on a merry-go-round before we sat down for lunch. But food was the main draw for the throngs walking about. Hsinshe's culinary claim to fame is deep fried mushrooms, which draw thousands to the area on weekends. They're very tasty - unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the greasy noodles I had as well:

Amber came away from the stall area the proud possessor of a traditional toy known called a "chuch'an", or "bamboo cicada" 竹蟬. When twirled around, it mimics the sound of a cicada, as Amber demonstrates:

After lunch, we walked around some more, with plenty of photo ops to be taken advantage of among the flowers, and in a nearby hay field, before returning to the car:

Unsurprisingly, traffic was slow on the drive back to Fengyuan 豐原, so we stopped in Shihkang 石岡 to visit a rice husking barn that dates from 1942. There wasn't much to see inside apart from some old hullers, but it was free, and with the exception of a very quiet cafe adjacent to the wooden building, devoid of any commercial activity. No wonder there were only a handful of visitors.

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