Scooter Diary: Sweet potato history in Jinshan

We keep on driving on Route 106 through Pingxi district. There are many brightly-colored sky lanterns flying up into the clouds from the village of Shihfen, trailing smoke. There's nothing to slow us down – we only spend a minute waiting for a long traffic light and then continue our journey. I wanted to take a photo of the sky lanterns flying above the mountains while waiting for the lights, but the camera is never as good as my eyes.

From Shifen to Wanli to Jinshan

2pm, September 3rd, 2012: The journey on Route 106 is very pleasant, especially driving at this season in the afternoon. It became less pleasant when arriving in the Qidu and Badu industrial parks. The buildings and houses in the area look gray and dirty. But the factories are close to the beautiful mountains, so I think it's still better than working in the city. At five o'clock, the workers all came out of the factories. They are dressed in their blue shirt uniforms, racing their scooters around the mountains. They look like little bugs with wings hurriedly flying past us to get home, while we drift along on our own longer journey.

We keep moving on Route 2, driving past Wanli through heavy rush hour traffic, around the edge of the big port of city of Jilung (Keelung). Finally, we arrive in quiet little Jinshan. Like all the main roads in the towns around Taiwan, the name of the main road in Jinshan is Zhong Shan Rd (It's a bit similar to 'Main Street' in the US or 'High Street' in the UK). It's the busiest area of the town. We been driving 5 hours since we left home, so I need to find the guest house and rest before any doing any exploring.

My guest house is located in the middle of the sweet potato farms, at the foot of Yang Ming Shan mountain. This is a very big valley of flat, open land, between the mountain and the coast. Sweet potatoes from these farms are the best quality in northern Taiwan.

Sweet potatoes and rice

I remember, when I was young, my father pointed at the sweet potatoes and said “This used to be food for pigs, not people”. In the old days poor people who could not afford rice could only eat sweet potatoes. Even people with rice would still cook some sweet potatoes with it, to make the rice go further and keep the cost of living lower. Saving money is deeply rooted in most Taiwanese people's minds. But as people began to get a little wealthier, they could buy as much rice as they wanted, so they refused to eat sweet potatoes any more, and fed them to their pigs instead. Eating sweet potatoes became a sign of shame and poverty.

Recently, people realized that the sweet potato has more nutritional value than rice, especially processed white rice. Sweet potato is an alkaline food, which is very good for people who are usually eating too much processed food. So now the pigs don't get any more sweet potatoes, and people are eating them again. The pigs today would probably also complain about their food quality now, they get so many chemical additives to make them grow fatter, faster – maybe they would rather eat sweet potatoes and grow slowly.

We checked into the guest house by 7pm. The owner was a lively and friendly young man who grew up in Jinshan and returned there to open his guest house. Actually my ancestral home is near by, I still have some very remote family living in the old red brick house. My father owned part of the house; when we visited few years ago, the people living there worried that we might want to take it back. Jinshan is not far from Danshui, around the north coast. My great grandfather settled down in Danshui. He used to be a lawyer or orator traveling between Danshui and Fujian during the Japanese colonial era.

Starry night in Jinshan

Putting down the backpacks, and taking a shower, I didn't rest at all. I needed to get back to the main street to find some food. Unlike some small quiet towns along the northeast coast of Taiwan, there are actually many restaurants and food stands in the town center. We went into a noodle restaurant, where we had stewed tofu, blanched sweet potato leaves, dry noodles, shrimp omelet and Taiwan Beer. It cost less than NT$250.

We were driving around the edge of the town by the sea (水尾漁港), there are few seafood restaurants. There is also a public hot spring bath by the sea park, it's open for everyone. We found a restaurant with open seats on the second floor, it would be a great place for dinner, we are planning on coming back here tomorrow. With the view of the ocean, mountain, starry skies, and the warm gentle breeze, we decide to stay in Jinshan another night.

Accomadation information

This is the guest house we stayed while visiting Jinshan. 
The double bed rooms cost about NT$1,300 to NT$1,800 a night.


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