In a quiet alley of Shida University district, there’s a shop that sells congee and ‘convenience’ noodles (方便麵). A single man in his 50s has been dolling these bowls of comfort food for years. But his business may not last much longer.
“The rent is getting heftier and heftier each year. Many stores have moved on and it may soon be my turn.”
I respond with a sad smile. The demand for larger western-style eateries come with the increasing international crowd. But what would local student life be, without slurping a bowl of heart-warming congee after a late night of study?
Ill and feeling sorry for myself, I went to my usual haunt for some comfort food. My small appetite fostered wistful thoughts for the owner.
“Your twenties and thirties are the prime of life – even when you’re not well. I used to spend all night out with mates, then work the next day feeling wrecked. But I could still do it. Nowadays my health is gone and all I have is this shop.”
Taking a moment to appreciate his words, I suddenly felt better. I finished my delicious congee, thanked him, and left to make the most of my prime.
One morning I found myself rising before the sun. Restless, I headed to a breakfast shop. It’s open from 3am everyday, offering handmade soy milk, buns and most importantly, you tiao (油條).
“They’re available from 5am only”, the owner said, as her trained hands rolled and cut dough. Bleary-eyed, I waited for breakfast and the sun.
True to her words, she placed the blistering curlers in front of me at 5am sharp. I hastily dunk them in my accompanying savoury soy milk. With every mouthful, the satisfying crunch and streaming hot liquids shook me awake. Far better than coffee ever did.
…When the KMT moved to Taiwan, they made it much harder for the locals here. They didn’t care for us. Their eyes were on China. They forced us to stop speaking Taiwanese, and they were prejudiced because we were educated under the Japanese system.
Though eyes bleary with age, he was sharp-minded and his hands didn’t shake as he unfolded the silk flag he had just purchased from his friend. It seemed fitting to give a foreigner the truthful rundown of Taiwan’s history as he presented the vintage piece.
Taiwan’s journey for democracy was turbulent, even amongst its own.
Weave off Yongkang Street away from the crowds and you’ll find local imagery that make this area much more intriguing than being the home to the original Din Tai Fung.
I found him, gloriously bearded, busying about in front of his store. That’s it. That little nook of a shop, indented slightly away from the street, crammed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with Asian knick-knacks.
Scanning my eyes along the bursting shelves, I asked him what was his most-prized possession. “He likes money best!”, a friendly neighbour cut in.
Chuckling, he enthusiastically agreed while delicately placing a vase on display.
Cycling along Ludong Road, Changhua, you might catch the glint reflecting off metal in what first appears to be a junk yard. Take a closer look. A mechanical bird call rings in the air to warn that you have trespassed into guarded property.
No need to worry. The husband and wife who’s nickel factory this place belongs to will greet you fondly. A family-owned company, the factory was founded by their father who’s well over seventy now. It’s anything but junk.
Wander about. Say hi. Send regards on behalf of two Aussies who randomly dropped in on their quiet day.
Sometimes late at night near Shida night market, you’ll find an old man selling hand-grilled corn from a rickety street cart.
He makes them made-to-order. The cob is layered with three sauces, slathered with a wooden paintbrush. He regrills the corn with each new layer, controlling the flames with his wrinkled but nimble hands. Once blackened enough by the coal (though never burnt), he hammers a bamboo skewer into the centre, and presents it to his waiting customers with a semi-toothless smile.
This is his only trade, selling corn on the cob for sixty years more. And still selling strong.