Hualien, a mid-sized city in Eastern Taiwan, doesn’t have any jaw dropping tourist attractions, but this ended up being the city that solidified my growing envy of the Taiwanese way of life.
Hualien does not mess around with boring dog advertisements.
Hualien has a handsome cultural center where we caught a drumming show by Ten Drum. While I appreciated the skill of the drummers and that they performed original compositions, their stagecraft leaned more towards a 1980’s metal band aesthetic than I can tolerate. After the hair-thrashing and fog-machine laden show was over we took a drumming lesson from the performers that was lots of fun. HOB, who went to music school (shhhhhh he hates when I tell people that), did much better at the lesson than me.
The most endearing thing about Hualien is how it respects and promotes its indigenous people and their culture.
Even the planters on the city streets have carvings of native dancers.
Our guide from Taroko National Park encouraged us to try the food from local tribes and wrote us a handy list which we brought to the Hualien Night Market.
This was our first night market experience in Taiwan.
OH MY GODS AND GODESSES NIGHT MARKETS!
Is not enough that Taiwan has a superb public transportation system, abundant clean public toilets and delightful religious culture? Oh no, they had to slay me with jealousy of their night markets.
A Taiwanese night market is my social dream: a place of endless delicious affordable snacking opportunities and a scene that is not focused on drinking. I don’t care if people drink alcohol, just that the focus on getting drunk that is the heart of so many American social events is tedious to me.
Hualien’s night market has an old timey fun-fair vibe, plus a child-friendly lantern display and a stage where local indigenous bands play for the snacking and strolling crowd.
We had no idea what we were doing, of course. We clutched our handwritten list of indigenous foods and tried to figure out which of the dozens of food vendors might carry them. I found a likely booth and pointed to the phrase for “Bird’s Nest fern” and got an affirmative nod from the lady in front. HOB and I just stood there waiting for her to bring it to us. Oops—we were meant to go behind the booth, where tables were spread about under a tent, crammed with happy, chewing Taiwanese. With the lady’s help, we checked off our selection on a menu.
Our order of Bird’s Nest Fern was perfectly prepared and one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in my life. I suppose the closest flavor I’ve had is tender asparagus, but this was unique and I can see why the fern is beloved by the tribal communities of Hualien.
We wandered about until we found another booth selling bamboo rice. This turned out to be rice grilled inside a bamboo stick. It was sticky and yummy.
The friendly people who sold us the bamboo rice brought us a free dish of food—just because we were tourists I guess—isn’t that the sweetest thing? I think the dish was wild boar and though I’m not sure what the accompanying vegetable was I sure did enjoy its mild nutty flavor.
How we got to Hualien: train from Taitung.
Where we slept: The Fantasy Apartment. Price: €45 for a double. Recommended: yes