The Kindness of Strangers in Nanzhuang, Taiwan
August 24th, 2020
In typical fashion, we ventured to Nanzhuang with no plan and no place to stay. The internet hadn’t been of much help to us anyway since the websites of most guesthouses in rural Taiwan were in Chinese. Not a problem! We were confident we could figure out everything when we arrived.
Nanzhuang straddles a wide river, with a cute old village on one side and a leafy residential neighborhood on the other. The Kangjidiao suspension bridge connects the two areas and offers a pretty view up river into the mountains. Nanzhuang is known for its old street, Osmanthus Alley, and the local wine made from osmanthus flowers.
We walked around Nanzhuang and stopped at a little coffee shop to take a break, search our guidebook and find a room for the night. While sipping our coffee, a local woman named Lily overheard us as we called a guesthouse and worked out the logistics of getting to its location at the top of a mountain nearby. The owner had offered to come pick us up after dinner — just give him a call. After the call, Lily introduced herself and informed us that we might not want to stay there … the road was steep, the guesthouse owner was too old to be driving that road and the journey was long. Too dangerous, she warned us!
These are the forks in the road that come with traveling in foreign countries. Should we trust her? Should we cancel? Always go with your gut. Lily seemed to know what she was talking about. She also knew a local family with a guesthouse just across the bridge, so she called and booked us a room. We thanked her for her help and in the process of talking about where we had been in Taiwan and where we were going, she invited us to a party happening that night for the 10-year anniversary of the guesthouse. We would be there anyway, so why not?
We put on our backpacks and walked across the bridge to the guesthouse on the other side. The Li Jing Guan Coffee Homestay was everything we had hoped for – clean and cute with lush trees and flowers throughout the site.
The party that night was a blast. We met more locals, including the mayor of Nanzhuang, and ate all kinds of food we had never tried before including a thick chicken soup with a whole chicken floating in the pot.
The next day we met more of Lily’s friends and family members and felt as though we’d been adopted by the whole bunch. Lily and her husband, Mr. Chen, offered to show us a few sites around the outskirts of Nanzhuang including Shitoushan Quanhua Temple. They picked us up in their car and took us for a tour.
Shitoushan Quanhua Temple sits on the hillside to the north of Nanzhuang, looking out over the valley where the Dadong river heads west toward Zhunan township. The temple was built in 1898 on holy ground from long ago. A stone path leads to an open terrace where the temple sits with carved columns, a tiled roof and elaborately designed dragons and deities at every pinnacle.
We would have visited Shitoushan Quanhua Temple on our own but the local knowledge, hospitality and free ride shared by Lily and Mr. Chen was a gift – the kind of gift that often results from not having a plan, at least in our experience. Not having a plan leaves room for improvisation, change, chance and just saying yes.
We later met Lily, Mr. Chen and their son for dinner in Taipei before we departed Taiwan. Their hospitality is one of our fondest memories of Taiwan and a reminder that life is always richer when we welcome, invite and share.
Photos of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.