Small town cycling in Chishang
By Cheryl Robbins
Chishang Township, located in southeastern Taiwan's Taitung County and the southern part of the East Rift Valley, is home to only around 10,000 people. Although a small, rural township, it attracts many tourists. This is because it is becoming an increasingly popular location for TV commercials and ads, such as for Mr. Brown Coffee and EVA Air's I See You Campaign. The latter featured famous Taiwanese-Japanese actor Kaneshiro Takeshi. His most well known photo from this campaign is of him seated under a tree with a tea kettle next to him. This tree has become a must-visit spot for many Asian tourists. It can be spotted along Heavenly Boulevard, so named for the unobstructed views of rice paddies all the way to cloud crested mountains.
There are no telephone poles and no farmhouses here, just vast expanses of paddy land. I See You discs take the guesswork out of finding the best photo spots. Nearby is the equally famous Mr. Brown Avenue, where people come to frame themselves in a photo with rural landscapes in the background. Here, classical music is played from time to time to nurture the growing rice.
The development of this township can be traced back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). During that time it was discovered that the climate, soil and water conditions in this area are perfect for growing a variety of crops. The first was sugarcane. Later, pineapple became a major crop and this was eventually replaced by rice. The Japanese needed experienced farmers and turned to the Hakka people living in central and northern Taiwan. Incentives were provided to them, such as land, farmhouse and cattle. Thus, today, many of the residents here are Hakka, providing the opportunity to learn about this culture.
There are two rice harvests per year. The first is in summer, in late June or early July, and the second is in the fall in late October or early November. Just before the harvests, the paddies are filled with long golden spikes of rice swaying in the wind. Sounds very peaceful, doesn't it? To celebrate the fall harvest, the Lovely Taiwan Foundation hosts outdoor performances along Heavenly Boulevard, some by famous names such as pop singer Amit and Cloud Gate Dance Theater.
The roads are fairly flat in Chishang, which has led to the development of cycling. As the most famous roads are off limits to vehicles, except by local residents, it is necessary to cycle or to walk. There are many options for cycling including manual two-wheelers, electric bikes, electric scooters and electric-powered carriages that carry four, as well as many rental shops. Exploring this area on bicycle allows you to enjoy its beauty up close.
Heavenly Boulevard and Mr. Brown Avenue are part of the Dapo Pond Bikeway, which extends more than 17 kilometers if including the pond, old irrigation canals and waterwheels. Dapo Pond, is a natural body of water, formed by a fault sag. At certain times of the day, the clouds and surrounding mountains are reflected on the surface of the water and, in summer time, beautiful pink lotus blossoms appear.
Now that you have seen rice paddies up close, you may be curious about this crop. The Rice Village Museum is close to Heavenly Boulevard in the Wanan Community, one of Taiwan's first organic farming communities. Here, visitors can learn about the community's achievements in growing organic rice, and can purchase some to take home.
A visit to the Chishang Farmers Association is also recommended. This is where visitors can hear about the association’s methods for controlling the quality and distribution of Chishang rice, as well as visit the storage and processing areas. An exhibition area provides the opportunity to experience traditional rice husking methods. Next to the exhibition area is a restaurant that serves Hakka cuisine prepared using locally grown ingredients including rice. After finishing your meal, you can take home your bowl, spoon and chopsticks in a Hakka printed cloth bag.