To the youngsters grew up with Japanese anime, Jiufen tells the story of an alternative reality world experienced by a ten-year-old girl Chihiro Ogino, an adventure of “Spirited Away” amidst the nostalgic scenery of old-styled houses, quaint red lanterns and flights of treacherous stairs. To the local Chinese middle-aged generation, the story revolves around “A City of Sadness”, a story embedded with white terror, destruction and historical pain. To the older generation, Jiufen tells the story about vast gold mines before a backdrop of “Little Shanghai”.
Literally means “nine portions” in Mandarin, the place begins its story in an isolated village of nine families. Jiufen went through a path of prosperity and windfall of gold mines in the early 1900s, and experienced a mass abandonment slightly more than half a century later when the gold minerals depleted. If you fancy tasting the bitter- sweet tea and relishing the aroma of local delicacies in the midst of fresh air and majestic hills, Jiufen is the place for you.
My journey to Jiufen started with a TRA train ride from Taipei Main Station. Getting into the right train itself can be quite a challenge to a non-Taiwanese, bearing in mind that different trains heading to the same final destination (example, Hua Lian, in this case) and stopping at the same platform in Taipei Main Station (example, Platform 4, in my case) may arrive at or skip certain stations in between. It is hence extremely important to ensure that the station “Ruei Fang” (瑞芳) is one of which the train will reach. To avoid needless hassle, it is important to read the crawling words appearing at the stations indicator before each train arrives, and ask the station staff for confirmation if necessary before boarding any train.
Alighting at the correct station too can be quite a trying matter. Some trains have poor sound system. The next stop announcement can be barely audible, especially when the compartment is full of eager tourists like yourself. But fear not, Ruei Fang is always one of the most popular stops amongst travellers, hence, with a little observation of passengers’ movement and, of course, the station nameplate, there shouldn’t be room for mistake.
My journey continued with a 15 minutes taxi ride up the winding road to Jiufen from Ruei Fang train station. After numerous almost-180 degree-sharp bends and turns at each corner up the hill, we stopped right in front of a narrow entrance leading to the Old Street of Jiu Fen. The ascending stone-paved walkway of Jishan Street (基山街，which runs along the ridge line) is sandwiched between two rows of shop houses selling variety of glorious local snacks and souvenirs; From traditional red vinasse meat balls (红糟肉丸, chunks of meat marinated and fermented in vinasse of Shaoxing wine, covered with glutinous paste), to hand-made fish balls with more than 50 years of history (鱼丸伯仔), to Hakka glutinous rice cakes and all kinds of baked confectionary, to exquisite trinkets like the Taiwan ocarina (or “pottery flute”) in various shapes and designs, to a wide variety of leathers goods and shoes, there’s sure to be something to suit each person’s taste. The alley was substantially shielded, with little rays of sunlight shining through between gaps of roofs, presenting a cool and tranquil ambience to the place.
The street intersected with Shuqi street (竖崎路), which is essentially a street built up and down a steep slope of hill with staircases paved with old-hewn stones. The delicate architectures of antique teahouses and shops lining on both sides of the street form quite a breathtaking picturesque view. At the upper part of the street is where we can find the famous Ah Gan Yi (阿柑姨) Taro Balls desserts (served cold as topping for shaved ice or served hot in red bean soup, NT$40 for each bowl). The sitting area is built with balcony overlooking the scenic view of northeastern coast of Taiwan, with fabulous mountains and sea views.
Further down the slope is the oldest cinema in Taipei, Sheng Ping Cinema（昇平戏院, established in year 1914, closed in 1986 and reopened in 2011), and a Henry & Friends Shop (where all cutes things gathered).
The trip ended with another journey of sharp bends and turns down the hill back to Ruei Fang train station. This time, alas, we took a bus ride down, standing. Felt like an unsolicited roller-coaster ride.
Transport to Ruei Fang
TRA train from Taipei Main Train Station (台北车站) to Ruei Fang station （瑞芳站), NT$60 – $75, 45 minutes journey.
Transport from Ruei Fang to Jiufen
Taxi (NT $ 180) or bus (NT$22) right in front of Ruei Fang train station, 15 minutes journey.