One of the most difficult things about studying abroad is that I can take only short trips home to be with family and friends. My grandma said that it is like dipping the food in the soy sauce, and it is a taste many people cannot resist. My first couple years in college, I made two short trips home. Then I realized that it was not a wise decision to do that because I always needed extra time for homesickness and jet lag.
Each time I was back with my grandparents, there were several things I must do. First of all was to help working at the farm. It depended on we were trying to grow at the time. Our days could be very fun! Last time I was there, we were growing green onions and leeks. My hometown, Ilan, is an agricultural town especially famous for green veggies. What we would do was wake up early, pick the veggies, wash them in the stream, pack and send them to the Bureau of Agricultural before 2 p.m. Then, we were ready to relax. I really enjoyed doing it because of the harmony of people working together. Whatever we were doing, we were so close to each other!
In the afternoon, most families in the neighborhood were also done with most of their chores for the day so my grandparents and I often walked around and hung out with them. If the sun is out and it’s not too hot, we laid in the yard and told each other things that happened while we were away. At night, my grandma would tell the stories about the stars, waters and mountains.
Taiwan is a country with a long history, great natural environment and many legendary stories, and Ilan is one of the oldest cities. I love my grandparents’ house. Although many people in Ilan already remodeled their houses to a more modernized accommodation, I hope that we could keep ours forever. The house complex was built over one hundred years ago by our ancestors, and many original works are kept. The house meant a lot to my grandparents so they decided to maintain its aged prototype. Today, we still have a squat toilet in the house. There is no air conditioning or great home entertaining system. Lighting is not very good either, but most people sleep early. TV is seldom turned on. In general, life is pretty simple here!
There are several places we love to go during our free time.
Witch’s Food (Wupo Shifang)
Tel: (03) 956-4024
Add: Ilan, Lotung, Gongcheng Road, #33
Witch’s Food is located straight ahead of the Lotung Railroad Station. Usually when getting off the train and before heading home, we come here and eat something. There are not many fancy restaurants in town, but many are home-style eateries. Witch’s Food is one of the very few restaurants in town and has been recommended by many travel magazines and TV travel channels in Taiwan. Witch’s Food specializes in beef dishes. My favorite is pickled cabbage and beef steam dumpling with soup. If you are coming to Lotung, please stop by and try the food there!
Black Shop (Heydian Bindian)
Tel: (03) 932-9382
Add: Ilan, Shennon Road, #63
This is an ice shop that often appears in my dreams. I dream of eating the peanut flavor. The ice cream is different from the regular dairy products that usually are sold in the grocery store. It is not cream-based, and it is not sorbet either. It tastes like sweet snow, and it melts in the mouth within an instant. The shop has been open for 30 years. Currently, there are seven flavors of home-made ice for sale, and it only opens from April to October each year. Because of work and school, I wasn’t able to go back to Taiwan during this time. Therefore, I haven’t had it for years! Friends and family who go there now and then said that it is still one of the best ice shops in town. It might be difficult to find because there is no sign for advertising, but if you try to go, just look for where the crowds are.
Chilan Forest Recreational Area
The elevation is 300 meters. It might be a little too simple for serious mountain trekkers, but the valley of Langyang River is amazingly beautiful and relaxed. Chilan can be reached by bus, and there is Chilan Mountain Hostel with multiple housing options at different prices. The first time I went to Chilan was when I was 8. On a Saturday, teachers at the forest school took us out on a field trip. Tel: (03) 980-9606
Suao Cold Spring Carnival
Tel: (03) 950-4567
Add: Ilan, Suao, Lenchuang Road, #6-4
The Suao Cold Spring Park is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. For the past four year, the Ilan government held the Suao Cold Spring Carnival in the summer to attract more people to Ilan. It is a two-week long festival featuring a theme with cold spring. The locals will hold entertaining activities because it is during the summer vacation, many schools in town will also participate in this event and perform. The cold spring is unique to Asia and was discovered in 1928 by Japanese. The cold spring is below 22 degrees Celsius with heavy carbon dioxide. It is not only good for bathing but also drinkable! Bathing in cold spring is good for both summer and winter. The first minute will be freezing cold, but about a minute later, the body will adjust itself and then heat up. I love the cold spring because it feels like bathing in the bubbly soda water. What a luxurious hobby! It is one of the most popular, inexpensive leisures for Taiwanese people.
Jiaoshi Hot Spring
Chingchuang Bei Guang
Tel: (03) 988-9880
Add: Ilan, Jiaoshi, Chungchen Road, #287
Around the Jiaoshi Railroad Station, there are many places for hot springs. Jiaoshi is a hot-spring town. Bathing in hot springs in Jiaoshi, Ilan, there is no need to go up to the mountains. According to the researches, the same type of hot spring can only be found in Italy besides Taiwan. The hottest temperature of the hot spring is about 95 degrees Celsius; we used to cook eggs there before we went to bathe in hot spring in the area where the water temperature is safer for bathing.
Many residents in Ilan think that the city is under-developed. I agree with them, but I also think that it is a privilege so we can experience the unpolished nature. After years of traveling and living in other countries, I learned to appreciate and be proud of my hometown. Although I want as many people as possible to come and visit Ilan, it is unavoidable to sacrifice the natural environment to accommodate tourists. Currently, traveling in Ilan is quite challenging in some aspects, but Ilan is definitely a place for true adventurous global travelers.