A farmer’s birthday

The wife, a no-nonsense woman, was dreading the party. She is vegan and the food for the party was, “how say in English” , she showed me a translation on her phone: ‘queer, peculiar, strange’. I saw her point later when between the plates of pig’s ears, stinky tofu and sliced pineapple was an enormous elaborately decorated chocolate cake.

Sitting at a wooden table outside on the front porch by the road, family, friends, neighbors, random dogs and a random foreigner all toasted the farmer with glasses of pineapple vinegar (actually the dogs didn’t do this bit). The farmer was a man of few words, but at that point he whispered through a big smile, “very happy”.

The large grid of fields around the farm are planted with bananas, pineapples and tea: all things I normally see on shelves not growing on the ground. The farming town developed during the fifty years of Japanese rule; some buildings from this period remain with incongruous four-sloped roof – designed to prevent the accumulation of snow, something many Taiwanese now fly to Japan with the express purpose of seeing.

The next morning, I went tea-picking with the son. In a blue pick-up, he drove me to the oolong tea bush field where half a dozen women dressed in what looked like flowery radiation suits were busy hand-picking the freshest leaves from the top of the bushes. He introduced me to one. The moment our eyes met I knew it was her: the snarling scooter-woman. Thankfully she barked a bit gentler this time. For a couple of minutes I watched her pick, awed by the speed and efficiency. In the time it took me to pick one leaf, she had picked ten.

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