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FALLING OFF THE MAP.

Narrow roads, twinkling twinkling, in astronomy: see seeing.  red lights, old architecture and a quaint way of life makes Jiufen, in Taiwan, something out of a historical, mystical movie--quite literally.

The bus swayed and veered as the driver negotiated the steep, curving mountain roads, and every so often a dramatic view of the sea appeared outside my window. Over an hour after leaving Taipei, the driver finally indicated that it was my stop. I got off and looked around, glad for the cool mountain air after the heat of Taipei. There wasn't much around, just a few homes built into the mountainside as it sloped down to the sea below. Walking up the road, I found a bright 7-11 convenience store, undoubtedly the newest structure for miles. And right by it was the entrance to Jishan Street--the narrow, covered market street that marked the heart of the town. The red lanterns, though not yet lit, immediately reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し  . And although I didn't know it then, like little Chihiro in the movie, I was going to have myself a little magical adventure.

Nestled in the mountains at the northern edge of Taiwan, overlooking the East China Sea, is this little village called Jiufen. The Chinese characters for its name read 'nine' and 'separate' or 'portion', a reference to the time when only nine families lived here. Never on the map until the gold-mining era of the early 1900s, when it prospered under Japanese rule, the village all but disappeared again when the gold rush ended. It was brought back to life by a tourist boom following the success of the 1989 Hou Hsiao-hsien
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Hou.


Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Traditional Chinese: 侯孝賢; Simplified Chinese:
 movie A City of Sadness, which was set in Jiufen. It was given another injection of life when Miyazaki used Shuchi Road as the model for the downtown of his fantasy town in the award-winning Spirited Away, and Jiufen carries on its surreal existence till today.

I stepped in to the covered alley and was immediately surrounded by little stores of every kind, selling snacks, drinks, trinkets, clothes, curios, medicines and a whole array of other stuff. There were several sweet shops, all selling boxes of taro taro: see arum.
taro

Herbaceous plant (Colocasia esculenta) of the arum family, probably native to Southeast Asia and taken to the Pacific islands.
 balls, the local speciality. Some of the shops made the sweets and other confectionery in glass-windowed mini-bakeries, making the street smell appetisingly of sugar. Women called from the stores, encouraging you to sample their wares. I stopped to get myself some large diced mushrooms in a sauce that looked like soy, but with a tangy taste, and turned down an invitation to buy an acupressure acupressure
 or shiatsu

Alternative-medicine practice in which pressure is applied to points on the body aligned along 12 main meridians (pathways), usually for a short time, to improve the flow of vital force (qi).
 massage stone.

Regardless of the tourist bustle, not everybody was part of this 'new' Jiufen. In one of the stores, an old lady sat ensconced en·sconce  
tr.v. en·sconced, en·sconc·ing, en·sconc·es
1. To settle (oneself) securely or comfortably: She ensconced herself in an armchair.

2.
 in a sofa at the back, watching something on the television without a care for the potential customers streaming by her storefront. I was intrigued by what looked like spicy shredded chicken on large metal trays at the counter and, thinking it would go fine with some mango juice that I had picked up, I tried to get her attention. After a couple of waves, she noticed me, and came over with a big smile. I asked her if it was chicken, and she said that's exactly what it was--or that's how I interpreted her enthusiastic nod and "yah yah". It turned out to be fried dough
This article is about a particular kind of food that is known by the specific name "Fried dough."
For a comprehensive overview of many different foods that are all made by frying kinds of dough, see Fried dough foods.
! Well, it could have been worse.

Walking further up the gently sloping street, I was soon upon Shuchi Road, which was the second of the two famous streets in Jiufen. This street was more of a long, narrow set of steps, and looking at the red of the dangling lanterns against the dark brown of the old wooden buildings, it is easy to understand why this has inspired artists and filmmakers. I made my way down the steps, weaving between the tourists trying to capture the essence of this enchanting scene on their cameras. It was time for another quintessential quin·tes·sen·tial  
adj.
Of, relating to, or having the nature of a quintessence; being the most typical: "Liszt was the quintessential romantic" Musical Heritage Review.
 Jiufen experience: the teashop.

I was attracted by the dim yellow lights and rickety rick·et·y  
adj. rick·et·i·er, rick·et·i·est
1. Likely to break or fall apart; shaky.

2. Feeble with age; infirm.

3. Of, having, or resembling rickets.
 wooden porch of Beiqing Chengshi, the 'City of Sadness' teashop. The porch was more of a large balcony on stilts This article is about the poles. For the type of bird, see stilt. For other uses, see Stilts (disambiguation).

Stilts are poles, posts or pillars used to allow a person or structure to stand at a certain distance above the ground.
, and while the inside of the store was full of curious odds and ends and brimming brim  
n.
1. The rim or uppermost edge of a hollow container or natural basin.

2. A projecting rim or edge: the brim of a hat.

3. A border or an edge. See Synonyms at border.
 with character, the warm evening made me take a seat outside. The waitress was a matronly ma·tron  
n.
1. A married woman or a widow, especially a mother of dignity, mature age, and established social position.

2.
 woman who didn't speak English, but spoke Japanese. The menu too had only Chinese and Japanese, much like several other stores here. It was another indication that Jiufen, and possibly Taiwan as a whole, was yet to be really discovered by western tourists. I chose a table overlooking the steps of Shuchi Road, and went over the choice of teas.

The complete experience, of course, is to make your own tea. You choose a tea, and pay for a packet of leaves, and then the waitress shows you what to do. I selected a tea from the Ali-shan mountain in central Taiwan, and the waitress bustled off, leaving me to gaze at the giant mural of a scene from the famous movie on the wall across. Soon, dainty china crockery and a large black kettle--on its own portable fire-pot--appeared on the table. Two china cups were placed in front of me--one shallow and wide-mouthed like a bowl, and the other tall and narrow. The waitress explained that the former was the drinking cup, while the latter was only for smelling the tea!

I watched her put the tea leaves into a small red pot, and then place the pot in a large bowl. Then she poured the hot water over the leaves, put the lid on the pot, and then poured more water over the pot as well. After letting the leaves seep for a while, I was to pour the tea through a strainer into a big ceramic jar, and from that jar into the two cups in front of me. I smelled the tea as she indicated--it smelt much like the various green and yellow Japanese teas. Next, I was to drink it. It was unthinkable to put milk or even sugar in tea like this, and accordingly none was offered. The slightly bitter, clear yellow steaming broth felt just right at sundown after a long day.

The waitress told me that the leaves in the pot was enough for at least two more potfuls of tea, and that the flavour changed every time fresh water was added--it became less bitter, I noticed, or maybe it was my mouth getting used to taste. I was left alone to sip on my tea as dusk fell, and those beautiful red lanterns were slowly lit. I looked down onto Shuchi Road as the footfalls Not to be confused with the science fiction novel Footfall.

Footfalls is a play by Samuel Beckett. It was written in English, between 2 March and December 1975 and was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre as part of the Samuel Beckett Festival, on May
 slowly receded as the day-trippers started making their ways back home. After my third pot, I stepped back onto the street, and went down a little further to look up at a most enchanting sight. Jiufen was its most magical when it was lit up like it was that evening. The only lights in the buildings were quaint yellow lamps, and the streets were lit only by the round red lanterns, and in the distance were the dark mountains. It really did seem like a land ready for magic.

I started up the steps and made my way between the old wooden buildings, having the steps almost all to myself. The rushing crowd of the day was gone. I was soon back on Jishan Street, and although it wasn't much past seven, nearly all the stores had their shutters down. There were some food stores still open, but the streets were almost deserted. I made my way back to the entrance of the covered arcade, looking back over my shoulder at the red-lanterned wonderland that I was leaving behind. And as soon as I stepped out on the main road, apart from the incongruous in·con·gru·ous  
adj.
1. Lacking in harmony; incompatible: a joke that was incongruous with polite conversation.

2.
 7-11, my surroundings were completely dark.

For a couple of hours after the sun sets, Jiufen is at its most regal. And then it goes back to being a lonely ghost town ghost town, term for any once flourishing American community that has been abandoned, generally for economic reasons. While most of the towns have little or no population, they often contain old buildings, which may serve as tourist attractions. , to be awoken a·wok·en  
v.
A past participle of awake.


awoken
Verb

a past participle of awake
 again the next day. But in those few hours of grandeur, it shines and enchants like only a magical world can. As I waited for my bus back to Taipei, I couldn't help but feel like Chihiro in the Miyazaki movie. She too had escaped to a fantasy world that looked so much like the one I was in, and yet, as soon as she stepped out, that world disappeared like it never had been there at all. And as more lights were switched off around Jiufen, I saw it slowly disappear in front of me.

FACTFILE

Getting there

Delhi-Hong Kong-Taipei on Cathay Pacific Cathay Pacific Airways Limited (HKSE: 0293 ) is an airline based in Hong Kong, operating scheduled passenger and cargo services to over 104 destinations worldwide. It is the flag carrier of Hong Kong with its main base at the Hong Kong International Airport. [1]. . Fare: Rs. 45,000 approx. From Taipei take the train to the Ruifang station, from where Jiufen is about 20 minutes by road.

When to go

It's best to go between October and December. Avoid June to September, the sweltering swel·ter·ing  
adj.
1. Oppressively hot and humid; sultry.

2. Suffering from oppressive heat.



swel
 summer months.

Plus says

Stay

Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza Hotel The Plaza Hotel in New York City is a landmark 19-story luxury hotel with a height of 250 feet (76 m) and length of 400 feet that (122 m) occupies the west side of Grand Army Plaza, from which it derives its name, and extends along Central Park South in Manhattan. : In Eastern Taipei, this is a plush option. www.shangri-la.com

Yomi Hotel: Conveniently located in the central Zhongshan area of Taipei. www.yomihotel.com.tw

Eat

The local speciality is yuyuan, which are balls made from taro (arbi). Also popular are fish balls and assorted cakes made from mountainous herbs. Drink tea! There are a few old-style teashops on both Jishan St and Shuchi Rd.

Shop

Browse through several souvenir shops on Jishan St. There is a unique chocolate shop, which has alphabet-shaped chocolate so you can spell out your message in chocolate!

See

Head to nearby Jinguashi, another former gold mine which also served as a notorious POW camp during WWII WWII
abbr.
World War II


WWII World War Two
.

FYI "For your information." See digispeak.

FYI - For Your Information
 

Hiking around jiufen

Those who feel there isn't enough to do in Jiufen can head to the nearby Mount Jilong peak for some light adventure. Trek up to the height of roughly 588m, to this peak that divides Jiufen and Jinguashi. Sweeping views of the city of Taipei and northeast coast seascape await you at the end. You can climb to the peak in about 40 minutes.

Hot deal

Playing games

Wii Fit This article or section contains information about an unreleased video game.
The content may change substantially as more information becomes available.
 package at the Shangri-La Taipei at Rs. 13,000 per night (approx) gets you an X-box game console See video game console. , breakfast, wine, internet and more.

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COPYRIGHT 2009 Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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