Biking in Greater Kaohsiung

Biking in Greater Kaohsiung

The Rural Districts of Meinong and Qishan

Text:Joe Henley
Photos:Maggie Song

There are a number of marked bicycle routes around Meinong and Qishan in Kaohsiung, making it easy to explore these districts, which are characterized by farmland, old houses, heritage sites, and traditional Hakka culture.

Don't let the fact that it's classified as a single municipality fool you. Kaohsiung is a huge, sprawling area, with districts varying from dense and urban to wide open and verdant. To get to Meinong, the starting point for a recent bicycle journey by a crack Travel in Taiwan research team around the rural northeastern portion of Kaohsiung, we caught a bus outside Kaohsiung’s main railway station. Upon reaching Meinong after about 45 minutes, we took a taxi to a bike-rental shop near the first tourist attraction we would visit, Zhongzheng Lake.

Zhongzheng Lake
This artificial lake is Kaohsiung's second-largest. A cycling and walking path runs around the lake's circumference. At its southeastern end a pathway juts out onto the water, leading to a red-pillared pavilion, an attractive spot suitable for taking photographs or just stopping for a moment to bask in the cool tranquility of the calm water.
The lake is abutted by fields on three sides, giving you a feel for the pastoral nature of greater Kaohsiung. Toward the southwestern end there is a small shrine dedicated to the Earth God, one of the deities most commonly seen around Taiwan. If you happen to be visiting any time from October through March, you'll also find the lake frequented by migratory birds using this place as their winter sanctuary.

Meinong Hakka Cultural Museum
This museum is located a short distance from the northeastern end of Zhongzheng Lake. Here you can learn about the culture of Meinong's Hakka people. The Hakka are an ethnic minority that came to Taiwan from mainland China during a mass movement lasting from the end of the Ming Dynasty into the early period of the Qing Dynasty. In Mandarin, the term “Hakka people” literally translates as “guest people.” This term first appeared in household registries during the Song Dynasty, and was used to differentiate between those born in a particular area and those who had migrated from parts elsewhere.
Founded in 2001, the Meinong Hakka Cultural Museum has taken up the important mission of preserving and passing on Hakka culture and history, and telling the story of the Hakka people in Meinong. Its architectural style – the building resembles traditional tobacco sheds – and compound design is plain and rustic. Visitors are provided with rich information on Hakka life and culture through the display spaces on the second floor, which relate the face of Hakka culture in Meinong and give an in-depth understanding of the interactive relationship between the nature of a people and their environment.
Add: No. 49-3, Minzu Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區民族路49-3號)
Tel: (07) 681-8338
Website: (Chinese)

Jin Xing Shop
From the museum we rode our bikes into central Meinong to learn about traditional local crafts. Since 1926, the Xie family has been making the traditional Hakka blue shirt, a simple garment worn by Hakka women. Xie Guo-yao now runs the humble workshop started by his father many decades ago. The shirts serve as a subtle indication of a Hakka woman's marital status. On the sleeve of the shirt, a white stripe runs from armpit to shoulder. Women who are as yet unattached have a pattern featuring simple stitch designs of suns, butterflies, and pine trees, whereas married women wear shirts with only a plain white stripe. The sun denotes the diligence of Hakka farmers, the butterflies represent a return to the ancestral home and the importance of remembering one's roots, and the pine tree symbolizes the need to protect Hakka traditions.
Xie's shop has remained unchanged by the passage of time or its ever-growing fame. Pictures of former Republic of China presidents who have visited him here adorn the walls, alongside black-and-white family photographs from as long ago as the 1930s. Xie remains as busy as ever, claiming to be in charge of the only operation still making the blue shirts, keeping the age-old custom alive day after day.
Add: No. 49-3, Minzu Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區永安路177號)
Tel: (07) 681-1191

Yuan Xiang Yuan Cultural Village
Next, we rode about 2 kilometers south to visit a place where another important Meinong craft – the making of paper umbrellas – is kept alive. Yuan Xiang Yuan is a shop cum cultural village. Tourists can learn how oil-paper umbrellas are made from start to finish from the center's expert workers, some of whom have been dedicated to the craft for more than 30 years. An umbrella’s wooden frame is made up of different types of bamboo, each having traits of pliability and strength suitable for specific parts, such as the handle or the spokes of the parasol. The parasol itself is made of cotton paper, folded by hand and then coated with a synthetic oil. In the past the natural oil of the tung tree was used for waterproofing.
The oil goes over the paint job, with designs featuring peonies, scenery, and people alongside brief poems, excerpts from classical literature, or religious texts. Guests can try their hand at making their own umbrella: NT$120 for a small one, or NT$350 for a larger piece. There is also instruction in pottery-making available, and an on-site restaurant featuring Hakka dishes.
Add: No. 147, Sec. 1, Zhongxing Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區中興路一段147號)
Tel: (07) 681-0222
Website: (Chinese)

Meinung Folk Village
The Meinung Folk Village was next on our cycle tour. Located on a main road between central Meinong and Qishan, this is a kind of one-stop cultural shop with a heavy emphasis on the “shop” portion of that description. Though billed as a folk village, this is primarily a shopping center – a place to pick up some Hakka-related souvenirs and snacks. The center's saving graces are the oil-paper umbrellas with iconic Meinong scenery crafted on-site, a shop where you can make your own traditional Hakka lei cha, or “pounded tea,” a hearty energy-replenishing tea-based beverage containing ground tea and herbs along with various roasted nuts, seeds, grains, and other flavorings, and a restaurant with some very nice Hakka dishes on the menu. Recommendations include stir-fried pork intestine with ginger, Hakka-style mixed stir fry, stewed cabbage, stewed gourd, pork knuckle, and rice-flour thick noodles.
Owing to the Hakka people's past, most of their food had to be easily preserved and transported, and so in choosing ingredients and methods of preparation, they always had to keep in mind the fact that they could be on the move again soon. Thus, they became masters at utilizing hearty ingredients in their culinary creations – perfect for anyone who spends a day on a bicycle.
Add: No. 80, Lane 421, Sec. 2, Zhongshan Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區中山路二段421巷80號)
Tel: (07) 681-7508
Website: (Chinese)

Mei Nung Yao (Meinong Kiln)
From the folk village we headed back east, to get to our final Meinong stop. When it comes to the question of the center of ceramics in Taiwan, there are a few places vying for the title. For commercial works, Yingge in northern Taiwan is the undisputed mecca. But for artistic works, Meinong definitely enjoys a stronger reputation. One of the artists who has based his studio in Meinong is locally born-and-bred Chu Pan-hsiung. Now 77 years of age, Chu is the man who introduced the ceramics industry to his hometown several decades ago, and in the course of that time he has cultivated a strong international reputation for the gargantuan pieces he takes from concept to completion here at his home studio.
Chu's artwork is featured all over Taiwan, with the largest piece of public ceramic art in the country bearing his name at Ciaotou Station at the northern end of Kaohsiung City's metro system. The piece weighs in at a hulking 70 tons, measures 12 x 9 meters, and took a year to complete.
If you would like to try making some ceramic artwork of your own, classes are available for children and adults for NT$300. Techniques are imparted, but what you mold from your own formless lump of clay is up to you. There is also an on-site coffee shop, serving up coffee, tea, and healthy snacks.
Add: No. 6, Lane 496, Fumei Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區福美路496巷6號)
Tel: (07) 681-7873
Website: (Chinese with some English)

After returning our bikes at the rental shop near Zhongzheng Lake, we took a taxi to Qishan, the district just to the west of Meinong. Qishan is best known for its banana production and its historic buildings.
We checked out Qishan Old Street, which offers up many different snacks and treats with banana and plantain as the staple ingredient. Banana bread, cake, ice cream, chips – if it's got banana in it, chances are you can get it here. The Old Street is blocked to vehicle traffic, and the façade of its colonial-era buildings bear the names of the families who built them. On the street running perpendicular to Old Street is Wude Temple, with its mix of architectural influences from China’s Tang Dynasty and from the Japanese, dating from the latter portion of Japan's 1895-1945 colonial presence on Taiwan. Finally, we turned right at Wude Temple and follow the signs to Qishan Life and Culture Park, on the site of the former Gushan Elementary School, another holdover from the colonial days that is now a place to learn about the intriguing Qishan story.


English and Chinese

Chu Pan-hsiung朱邦雄
Hakka people客家人
Jin Xing Shop錦興藍衫店
lei cha擂茶
Mei Nung Yao (Meinong Kiln)美濃窯
Meinong District美濃區
Meinong Hakka Cultural Museum美濃客家文物館
Meinung Folk Village美濃民俗村
Qishan Life and Culture Park旗山生活文化園區
Qishan Old Street旗山老街
Wude Temple武德殿
Xie Guo-yao謝國耀
Yuan Xiang Yuan Cultural Village原鄉緣文化村
Zhongzheng Lake中正湖


Guang Rong Xing Paper Umbrella (廣榮興紙傘)
Add:No. 38, Minquan Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區民權路38號)
Tel:(07) 681-7051
Note:This is a small oil-paper umbrella shop on the southwest side of Zhongzheng Lake, which also offers Hakka specialties and bike-rental service.

Mei Nong Zhuang Agricultural Produce Center (美濃莊農特產中心)
Add:No. 49-2, Minzu Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區民族路49-2號)
Tel:(07) 681-8989
Note:This center for agricultural produces offers a bike-rental service and is located south of the Meinong Hakka Cultural Museum.

Bike Ya Bicycle Rental (百悅自行車)
Add: No. 197, Tai’an Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區泰安路197號)
Note:This bike-rental shop is located on the main road from central Meinong to Zhongzheng Lake.