Scooter Diary: From Coal to Coffee in Jingtong, Pingxi

Photo by Joyce Tay September 3rd , 2012: Well, I am packed, and the scooter is ready – no more doubts. We left by 1pm, the sun was above us all the time when we were driving on Route 106. We left Taipei city and Shenkeng behind, and drove up into the mountains. As we went higher, the shadow of the mountains soaked away some of the sun's heat, and it became actually a cooler journey. And most of the time we are the only people on the road. That was a good decision: just get packed and leave.

Jingtong, Pingxi

After a forty minutes driving under the hot sun, up into the mountains, we arrived at the first town, Jingtong in Pingxi area. Jintong is the last stop on Pingxi railway line. Every time we visited Pingxi, I would always go to a bakery "巧門蛋糕'', owned by Mr and Mrs Huang. The shop is right across from the old wooden train station. They have a noodle stand right in front of the shop. Their noodle soup is good, but I enjoy their sweet potato leaves best, they told me they grow it themselves – no pesticide used.

After finishing the noodle soup, we always order a cup of fresh ground coffee, and a traditional red bean cake. The first time we came to the shop, I was trying to help them to write some English signs, and the owner even gave me some angel cake to thank me.

Noodle soup, fresh coffee, traditional cakes, and angel cake must be confusing you. Certainly, we were confused too. Who would want to order a cup of coffee from a noodle stand? Who would believe a noodle stand can produce a good cup of coffee, a real old style red bean cake, or even a good angel cake!


Since I first met them, I always end up talking with the owners of that noodle stand and coffee shop whenever I visit. I find it difficult to leave.

When I was curious about the coffee, and cakes, the woman who cooked me the noodles told me the cakes were made by her husband. They both come from coal mining families, and grew up in this little town. When the mines closed, there was no more work, he left home to work in the city.

She told me “Later the government was calling the young people to come home to work, after the town had been quiet for nearly forty years.”

A century ago, people had rushed into Pingxi to dig up black money: coal. After half of a century's rest, Pingxi has accumulated energy producing non smoking money.

Nowadays, the Pingxi railyway line is still running slowly just like half of a century ago. People take the slow train to enjoying the quiet countryside life style, and writing their wishes on fragile sky lanterns. Although this is supposed to be my Scooter Diary, if you are just visiting Pingxi, and not planning to go further, then I would suggest taking the train from Taipei, because it is a beautiful, tranquil journey, and you can get around the mountain by walking or by using the train.

Sometimes when I visited, I didn't see her pastry chef husband around the shop. She told me that he was busy holding some activites or meeting with the Pingsi Township Commercial District Association. We really enjoy the traditional red bean cake he makes, enjoying a cup of fresh coffee and a piece of good cake is the reason we always stop in Pingxi and come back to this shop.

The pastry chef, owner of the shop told me there are two big problem in this tourist area: There is only one public toilet nearby, and no litter bins. The garbage bin in the toilet is usually full with rubbish, the toilet gets very dirty. The tourists are usually walking around holding soft drink cups looking for garbage bins. The mayor of New Taipei city just visited this town in July, but no nobody talks about any problems.

Coal mining family

Today, on the way to Jinshan driving through the Pingxi countryside, we stopped at the noodle shop and bakery for a rest as usual. She cooked the rice noodle soup and sweet potato leaves for me, she handed the food to me and started telling me her story.

She told me that her mother used to be a coal miner, she pointed at an old woman who sat right in front of the shop selling ice cream from a freezer. The bent-backed old lady always asked us if we want some ice cream or anything. She still sat on a stool by the ice cream freezer all day even if no one was buying anything from her.

She said her mother used to push the big heavy coal mine carts away from the mine. Then I can understand why the old woman's back is bent forward. I was wondering why even a woman would work as coal miner. She said there are too many children in the family, so she has been working hard all her life. She said even her grandmother was a coal miner.

The tough environment leaves its mark on everyone. They are good people, but even now, they still seem tense with the worries and problems of life. We've been to this shop many times; I never see any of them truly relaxed and smiling, but I can tell that they are very kind. I was slowly eating the noodles while she was telling me the family story. There was a young father came in with a baby's dummy in hand asking for hot water to clean it. She went to get a cup of hot water for the father without hestitation.The family don't work like the staff in 7-11 or other modern shop – they don't shout out greetings, they don't try promote any of their products, but they never refuse to help anyone.

I assumed that her father was a coal miner as well. She told me her father worked as miner since he was 13, a child laborer. Because he was the oldest, and there were too many kids in the family, he had to work to support the family. She saw her father left home to work around four o'clock in the morning, but she didn't see him come back until after midnight. The coal mine had a three shift system, her father very often worked more than two shifts. I was curious what her father did when the coal mine closed 40 years ago. She told me that he worked on the construction site, drilling the walls. But the dust was even worst than the coal dust, he had black lungs like other coal miners, he died three years ago, at age of seventy-something years. Her mother, sitting by the front door selling ice cream, looks older than that though.

I finally finished my rice noodle soup with her story. She pointed at the wall, there are many photos of her taking with the famous people. She said people sometimes want to interview her now, but she refuses to appear on TV. Some journalists interviewed her mother once, then too many TV and newspaper people came afterwards. They just wanted to use this sad family story; they were not sincere.

We ordered a fresh cup of coffee as usual, but there were no cakes on the counter today. She said her husband is too busy with the Pingsi Township Commercial District Association fair. This season they are busy promoting Chinese Valentine's festival's special event in Pingsi.

I feel she has more to say to me, and I would like to keep talking, but if I don't get on the road now, I will be arriving in Jinshan very late. I told her that we will be back for the sweet red bean cake soon.

You can read the first part of this diary here, or another article with more information about the Pingxi area

Photos by Joyce Tay


For my next trip, if I have

For my next trip, if I have time I will make a pit-stop at Jingtong before heading to Jinshan.
What is angel cake called in Chinese ?



Hi Jodie. Just wondering if

Hi Jodie. Just wondering if theres any bikes for rental around pingxi? Would really love to.take a rode around all these great places.

I don't remember seeing any

I did see a bike rental shop in pingxi.

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