The 2005 trip to Taiwan was a great one. We met a lot of tea people and farmers, and Mr. Zhang in Alishan was one of them. So how did I get to meet him? Here's our story!
We were in Taipei looking for a tea roaster. We stumbled into a tea store and found the tea roaster that we wanted. The owners were very generous and invited us to sit down and have tea with them. They asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Taiwan. I told him we were living in Seattle and were in Taiwan to look for teas and to learn about tea. One of them asked us where we were going next. We told him that we were going up to Alishan. When asked if we knew anyone in Alishan, we told him no and that we just wanted to go up there and randomly meet farmers. He took out his address book and started to make phone calls. After 5 minutes, he wrote down two names with phone numbers and told us we could go visit them. Mr. Chen said that one of them would pick us up when we arrived at the station in Alishan and that we could stay in the second farmer's house. We couldn't believe what was happening, so generous and warm of him to help complete strangers and we were very grateful that he arranged this for us. We stayed and had tea for a couple of hours and told them that we would return to visit again.
The first farmer picked us up at a bus station in Alishan, treated us to lunch and gave us tea to drink. He took us to one of his tea fields and was very proud of the location where he could grow his tea. He pointed out the mist that was accumulating up in the mountains. He told us that in a short time, the mist would travel down the slope and carry with it a lot of nourishment that his tea loved! He showed us different tea fields and then we went back to his house. We were greeted by an older farmer with a huge smile. We introduced each other, and this older farmer, Mr. Zhang, told us that we would be staying at his place that night. We thanked and said goodbye to the first farmer and left with Mr. Zhang. At his house, we were greeted by Mr. Zhang's wife, Mrs Lin. She showed us to our room and then she told us she would be cooking dinner for us. She apologized that they were vegetarians and there was no fancy food in the mountains. We thanked her and told her that she was being too polite. Mr. Zhang met us and told us that we should go for a small hike in the neighborhood. He is a great hiker. From time to time, he would stop and say, "Am I walking too fast?" I could hardly keep up with him, but I always said with a red face, "No, keep going!" There were lots of bamboo plants and trees in Alishan. It was a great delight to walk with Mr. Zhang. He knows a lot of the plants and told us a lot about them.
We ate very well that night. There were fresh bamboo shoot growing on Alishan and they were so good that I am sure I could eat bamboo shoots every day. It's one of my favorite vegetables. Along with bamboo shooots, Mrs Lin also prepared pickled wasabi roots (Alishan grows a lot of wasabi), some sort of fern-like vegetable, some vegetable grown in their own garden, tofu, and soy protein. Mrs Lin is a fantastic cook. She apologized again that the food was not good enough. I looked at her and smiled, "Are you joking? This is gourmet in America!"
The next day, Mr. Zhang took us to some of his friends' places to have tea. There were no appointments made. We just showed up (I know this can be annoying, but I do enjoy things like this. So spontaneous). We had a great time in Alishan, drinking lots of tea, talking about tea, doing lots of hiking, and eating lots of fresh vegetables. Before going to bed, we spent a relaxing time drinking tea with Mr. Zhang. He suddenly asked, "How long have you known Mr. Chen in Taipei?" We said, "We just met him three days ago." "What? It sounds like you have known each other for a long time!" he said with a big smile and continued, "This is 'Yuan Fen'(緣份, the closet translation I know of is 'Affinity'). Mr. Chen and you must feel very lucky and happy to know each other, and I am happy that Yuan Fen brought you two to me."
The next morning, before Mr. Zhang took us to the train station, I asked him how much we owed him for the room. There are a lot of hikers that visit on the weekends, so they run a small business renting out their rooms. He smiled and said, "I can't take your money. You are friends of Mr. Chen." I found a chance to go back to the room and left some money under the pillow.
On the train back to the city, I couldn't help thinking about the two days we spent with Mr. Zhang and Mrs Lin. I couldn't believe that we didn't know them at all before we met them, and yet there was so much kindness and generosity. My eyes were filled with tears and I realized how much I have missed Taiwan........
To be continued........