The Tai­wanese coun­ties of Hs­inchu and Miaoli pro­vide a glimpse into the is­land’s rich Hakka cul­ture.

Just down the tracks from Taipei, the Tai­wanese coun­ties of Hs­inchu and Miaoli pro­vide a glimpse into the is­land’s rich Hakka cul­ture.

DestinAsian - - DEPARTMENTS - BY THOMAS BIRD

As the train cruises to­ward the coast, the conur­ba­tion of greater Taipei dis­si­pates into small towns and fields sand­wiched be­tween Tai­wan’s moun­tain­ous in­te­rior and the sea. Soon enough Hs­inchu hones into view, a city es­tab­lished by Hakka Chi­nese in the early 1700s. The Hakka are an in­ter­est­ing bunch. They’re not an eth­nic mi­nor­ity per se, but a Han sub­group, some­times re­ferred to as “Chi­nese gyp­sies” be­cause of their mi­gra­tory her­itage. They’re found in pock­ets through­out south­ern China and South­east Asia and are known for their dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture, cui­sine, and rit­u­als; in Tai­wan, they make up about 14 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, con­cen­trated mostly in and around the neigh­bor­ing coun­ties of Hs­inchu and Miaoli. Which is where I’m headed. Hav­ing be­gun my ca­reer in China a decade ago with a rite-of-pas­sage teach­ing gig in Huizhou, a Hakka town in Guang­dong, I’m keen to get a taste of Hakka cul­ture, Tai­wan-style.

Hs­inchu City, as it turns out, is a su­per­fi­cially mod­ern place, made rich since the 1980s by a high-tech Science Park that is of­ten dubbed Tai­wan’s Sil­i­con Val­ley. Nowa­days, the city is known as much for its soft­ware as it is for its Hakka her­itage, though the iden­tikit high-rise sub­urbs ac­com­mo­dat­ing the tech-heads have yet to fully eclipse the riches of Hs­inchu’s past.

I dis­em­bark at Hs­inchu Sta­tion, which is said to be the old­est trans­port hub in Tai­wan; the Ja­panese built it in 1913 dur­ing their oc­cu­pa­tion of the is­land, when much of Tai­wan’s for­ma­tive in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion took place. From

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