On a whim and a prayer yesterday, I took the train up to Luye, a small fruit and tea-producing town in the east Taiwan foothills. The abstract map I had in my possession showed it was a short walk to hire a bicycle to take in the sights.
Within seconds it became obvious the station was a great deal further than the two inches on the map. In thirty four degree heat, this mattered a lot. After hauling my backpack up a steep tarmac climb for a kilometer with not a soul or mad dog in sight, I wasn’t far off giving up, particularly when an old lady on a scooter pulled in front of me and let off a couple of angry volleys of mandarin at me. I had no idea what she was saying, only that her eyes were snarling – they were the only part of her visible behind face mask, helmet, gloves and long-sleeve clothing.
Just in time, a potential cafe – a woman sat at a table, appeared on the horizon – the opposite side of the road). I had experience in this situation, “I want tea” is one of the first phrases I learnt in both English and Mandarin. Unfortunately, in Taiwan there are so many types of tea, the question always initiates a further unintelligible stream of queries. I end up desperately trying to find a fragment of speech I can extract meaning from, a bit like when I am talking to my uncle in Shropshire.
Anyway, I got tea, an iced pint of it served in a glass decanter. The tea was served at a very stylish fan-cooled tea bar next door. The lady turned out to be a tea plantation owner; the oolong tea she served me was freshly picked. For an hour, she entertained me with stong-brewed stories, halfway through a snappily-dressed local singer from one of coastal aboriginal tribes popped in for a glass of tea with his mates. His songs echo the rhythm of waves the ocean apparently.
After paying for the tea, she lent me her bicycle, found me somewhere to stay the night, and invited me to join her husband’s 60th Birthday party that evening. It was an hour of tea therapy, at the end I was no longer thinking of leaving Luye, but planning when to come back.