Taiwan was never in my radar. I’ve always deemed it an afterthought—a country that’s close in proximity to China and whose name sounds like a mispronounced version of “Thailand”.
Before I finally visited it last year, the only thing I knew about Taiwan—and this, I admit with much reluctance—was that it was where they shot “Meteor Garden”, a Taiwanese TV drama based on the Japanese shojo manga series, “Boys Over Flowers.” The story of the feisty poor girl attending a university for rich people—she unwittingly manages to attract the school’s hottest heartthrob, of course—got wildly popular in Manila in the early 2000s, and my college roommates and I were among the show’s legions of fans (heh). This show paved the way for the K-pop/J-pop culture that followed thereafter.
Anyway, by the time my itchy feet finally made it to Ihla Formosa, my Meteor Garden obsession had already faded. I was concluding my 10-day trip to Japan when I got the e-mail from my editor that I was going on a six-day trip to check out Taiwan’s leisure farms. I had no idea what the heck a “leisure farm” was (read: they’re recreational farms that are open for tourists to experience the countryside lifestyle), but the list of destinations I saw in our itinerary (Fairy Lake Leisure Farm, Fenchihu Old Street, and Hua-Lin Herb & Flower farm) and the activities they had lined up (“Visiting sea of flowers”; “Appreciating sunrise view of Fairy Lake Village”; “Appreciating Moon Surface like hills in Erliau”; “Meet the three legendary sisters of Daken”) piqued my curiosity.
The moment I stepped out of Taoyuan International Airport and hit the road to our first destination, I realized that there was definitely more to this underrated country than I had originally imagined. Known for centuries as Ihla Formosa—“The Beautiful Isle”—Taiwan is indeed a place blessed with gorgeous scenery. A mere drive along the country’s main thoroughfares afforded us scenic views of lush tropical forests, marble-walled gorges, grassy headlands, and bountiful fields that proudly display the country’s agricultural prowess.
When we finally made it to our first destination, the Daken Leisure Farm (see photo above), where we were to have dinner with the “three legendary sisters,” I discovered two things.
First, the three “legendary” sisters were, in fact, not quite of legendary age—they were young, much younger than I. And if they are “legendary”, then I am “ancient”.
Second, the Taiwanese have a penchant for all things kitschy and whimsical. You see it in the DIY activities they offer in the leisure farms, in the way they phrase their words, how they style their food, their design…it’s all an ode to cuteness and delight. :P
While the kitsch was more pronounced in Daken Leisure Farm than the others we visited after, it was really this predilection for the pretty that I found as the common thread. That, and the warmth and hospitality of the Taiwanese. I’ve been to different Asian countries, and the Taiwanese are among the friendliest I’ve met—even beyond the trip, a lot of them have kept in touch on Facebook, and when they went to Manila to further promote leisure farming, they made it a point to meet up with us.
I think my biggest takeaway from last year’s trip to Taiwan is a greater appreciation for nature. It’s a country that’s abundant with places that leave you breathless.
When we were high up in Alishan Mountain, I had no idea, when we went on an early morning stroll at Long Yun Leisure Farm, that I would find myself facing this gorgeous tea plantation.
And while I soon discovered that Fairy Lake Leisure Farm had no lake at all, it was the perfect place to view the sunset.