Hayao Miyazaki has been a part of almost everyone’s childhood. He has made these memorable characters from his whimsical and timeless animated films. One of which is dragon boy from the movie, “Spirited Away”. He was my childhood hero. Dragon boy helped Chihiro, the protagonist, escape the magical world, whilst trying to regain his own memory. He was my epitome of badass.
Spirited Away, though an animated flick, has more things closer to reality than we think. One perfect example is that Mr. Miyazaki drew the inspiration for the movie’s location at Jiufen (the place I will be visiting today.) Jiufen is an old mining village in the northern part of Taiwan, known for its rich food culture and for being a favourite tourist destination of this said country.
Before heading to Jiufen, we stopped by Shifen Waterfall, found in the middle of a winding road, with iron-rich boulder—almost discoloured to orange—thriving on wild grasses.
The tour bus manoeuvres upward. The parking lot is starting to get full as we wait for out turn. I worry that I won’t be able to enjoy Jiufen. It is becoming so wildly popular with travellers, I might get lost in the sea of people than Jiufen itself. As we are walking down a winding road, I swear I can feel the wind from cars as they pass by me. It’s making me feel colder. A lot colder. The top end of Jiufen is almost within reach. Giddily, I sprint my way into one of its entrances.
I face my left and then there’s Jiufen. Suddenly, I remember every scene from Spirited Away—and I’m transported into a different world, a different timezone. Every thing feels magical even if they are literally just food stalls cramped in a narrow alley. Somehow, I’m engrossed, enchanted by the movie I have watched a bajillion times before.
To be honest, I feel like I’m one of Chihiro’s parents, whose fate ended in the worst possible way. Their love for food turned them into pigs. I love food, so morbid thoughts of me turning into a pig cross my mind a few times as I pass by food shops.
There’s an invisible force, a thread pulling me closer. I’m here pulling out Taiwanese dollars from my pocket whenever I see food. The aroma is so beguiling, that even though I tried my hardest to resist it, I still gave in after a few moments because I am weak.
One food that I cannot forget is the Taiwanese ice cream burrito, a dessert made of Ice cream topped on ground peanuts, rolled inside a thinly sliced flour crepe. Instant gratification upon my first bite. That’s all I can say about it. As a person who loves sweets so much, this is pretty much, straight up, heaven. I want to order more but I don’t want to hog the burritos. Plus, I saw one store in Taipei that sells this. So, I can buy there as soon as we get back in the city.
One of the most popular spots here is the A Mei Tea House. It is allegedly the inspiration for Spirited Away. The vicinity is lined with beautiful lanterns that looks more beautiful at night. Mostly made of wood, the tea house also has grass sprawling around its stairway. Too bad that it’s costly, I was not able to try their menu, but taking photographs of it is already as satisfying.
I slowly separate myself from the pack, wanting to discover the inner corners of Jiufen by myself. Call me selfish, but I would like to savour its magic alone. My time is limited and I don’t want to get caught up with anything else but this moment.
With my camera on hand, I venture the unknown streets packed with enticing food amongst other things. I can still vividly recall the aroma of each street treat hitting my nose—and then my soul. (All the food that I have tried and saw will be posted in a separate blog entry.)
Upon my endless pursuit of getting lost, I get to discover a few gems in Jiufen. A couple of artsy homes and homes-turned-into-shops make Jiufen dynamic. And if you are curious enough, you might end up like me, discovering places apart from the norm. Plus, I get to see a dog resting on a makeshift bed to keep itself warm. That’s definitely one of my visit’s highlights!
Countless of steps below is a souvenir shop that has an enormous cat sculpture on top of it. It’s really massive, you can see it even from across the street. I ended up buying a few postcards and refrigerator magnets to take home.
We barge inside a couple of stores as we climb up the famous stairway of Jiufen. One store that stood out was this mask museum. It is a bit eerie from the get-go, but the owner is so funny, you’ll forget how creepy it is inside.
Further north we pursue. I notice the crowd is getting thinner. I guess they are focusing too on the food stalls, that somehow, they overlook other places that makes Jiufen even more magical. The air is even colder up here. The loud noise below turns into soft murmurs and there’s nothing you can hear but the breeze.
Fushan temple sits serenely with a majestic view of a far-off mountain beside it. It is definitely a breather from the chaotic scene below. Here, I can sit by a corner and journal the day away if I could. With no one disturbing me, of course.
There is something about the golden hour. The fuzzy haze and the peacefulness of the atmosphere, when put together kind of makes time move at a slower pace.
One by one, the lights come alive and paint a different look on Jiufen.
It’s almost 8 o’clock when we decided to leave Jiufen. We walk along the steep, upward road to look for a car that will transport us back to Taipei. All the buses are full and we are feeling helpless by the minute. After a few haggling, we get to score a trip back to Taipei at 200 NTD.
As our car drives away, I look back a few times, watching Jiufen disappear in thin air.
I have been to Jiufen twice, but it isn’t enough. Like somehow, I need to stay longer. There’s so much more magic to witness, more stories to uncover and food to devour. Jiufen will always hold a special spot in my faint heart. The child in me will always favour Jiufen because of Hayao Miyazaki but my adult self will always fall in love with it because it is just so enchanting in person. Jiufen is one of those places that is capable of snatching your heart but has a bad habit of not giving it back. I left mine and I have to get it back.