Thursday, January 29, 2009


Meinong, the small village populated by over 90% of Hakka speaking Chinese was famous for tobacco, bananas, yellow butterflies, oil paper umbrellas and currently cosmos, during the Chinese new year. The settlement of Hakkas didn't start until 1736 and the name of the village was changed from Minong (literally, “overflowing and dense”) to Meinong (old name of Gifu province, Japan) by Japanese in 1920 during the Japanese colonial era. Name was not the only influence that Japanese left in Meinong: the ecosystem was changed by massive plantation of kassod trees (cassia siamea) which created a yellow butterfly valley; tobacco and banana farming sustained the economics of the villager and the money paid for the education of children, producing the most doctorates per-capita on the island.

Majestic isn't the word that I will use to describe the beauty of Meinong. It is surrouned by hills on the west, east and north. The tallest mountain in the northeast is only 823 meters above the sea level, decreasing in altitude as you move south. Layer after layer, its jagged hills always make me wonder where is the end of the hills and what's over there. The “overflowing and dense” mists fill the valley to the brim at dawn then are dispelled by the rays of the sun. The natural barrier helped the preservation of Hakka culture-- hard working and frugal are the two most common comments given.

Winter is the season for tobacco growing, one by one seedlings were planted then transfered in the fields. Before the Lunar New Year, leaves were taken and dried in the red brick tobacco houses, the light smoky pungent fragrance floating on the air became the signature of winter of my childhood memory. Earthy aroma in the spring was the preparation for banana and rice farming. Despite the fact that green is the color that never fades in Meinong, the pistachio green of newly seeded rice always overshadows the background green. Summer was ruled by worms. Countless caterpillars came out from nowhere and took over the living room overnight; hundreds of thousands of caterpillars dropped off of a banyan tree in the slightest vibration, these were my nightmare come true every summer. Yet, a fairytale scene of the overshadowed sky by yellow butterflies was a dream come true. Having my name written with yellow butterflies by using my own pee was one thing that I always was proud of.... Autumn was the joyful season, rice swayed in the breeze emitting the golden hue of the sun. Military garrisoned in elementary schools to help harvest brought energy into this quiet isolated town. BBQ sweet potatoes in the harvested rice fields was the sweetest indulgence.

A reservoir building proposal disturbed the rhythm of the lifestyle here. Kassod trees were cut off to grow mango and betel-nut trees in order to get more compensation when the lands were levied. As rumors spread rampantly, one after another, fields that used to grow rice were now mango tree dark forests. It didn't take long for the butterflies to dissapear from the valley. As the youth moved out, the name of "Kingdom of Tobacco" can only be recalled in the ruins of deserted red brick tobacco houses and the glory of the old times whispering in the Meinong Hakka Museum.

In recent years, the preservation of Hakka culture is appreciated and Meinong came into the spotlight again. A number of B&B's have opened; trails for bicycle riding were designated; colorful cosmos' were planted in the deserted fields around Chinese New Year; oil paper umbrellas and pottery making in the cultural village are popular and chefs now take orders in hakka... It’s well worth your while to while away a few days here, where you can enjoy the quiet beauty of nature in a rural setting, living in harmony with modern convenience.

2009 Cosmos festival:
Jan. 15 to Feb. 28th, shapes in google map below are the main cosmos fields.

By Car:
1. Freeway 1 -> Exit at the Dingjin Interchange -> National Highway 10 -> Exit at the Cishan-> follow sings to Meinong.
2. Freeway 3 -> Exit at the Yanchao Interchange -> National Highway 10 (Kaohsiung Branch) -> Exit at the Cishan -> follow sings to Meinong.

Take the THSR to Zuoying Station, transfer to the bus.

By Bus:
1. From Kaohsiung, take Kaohsiung Bus to Meinong.
Kaohsiung Bus: 886-7-312-8140
2. From Pingtung, take Pingtung Bus to Meinong.
Pingtung Bus: 886-8-723-7131

More info:
A gourmand's visit to Meinong
Hakka Town
Meinong Township
Touring Kaohsiung County : Meinong Hakka folk village
Meinong - where making a paper umbrella is still an art

View Meinong in a larger map


Diney said...

I visited Mei-Nong with my family on the second day of the Chinese New Year! We had a great time. The flower fields are brerath-taking. Food is great and people are nice. But traffic is a bummer..

Hanjié said...

The 2009 Cosmos Festival in Meinong started from Jan. 15th to Feb. 28th. However, the comsoms flowers have started withering on the 5th day of the Chinese New year(Jan. 30th)! Nevertheless, the traffic is still pretty bad during the weekend...