Three of My Favorite Things (Hu-Kou Old Street, Part II)

Taiwan 008In my last post, I talked about the first half of our day trip to Hu-Kou Old Street in Hsinchu County. Now, it’s time to cover the amazing set of circumstances that were part of the magical aspect of the day. Our coffee destination was a lovely shop, Vanilla Garden. It was charming, and I was excited to have a cup of coffee, one of my simple pleasures of life. Our day had been so lovely already, and the anticipation of coffee was inching the day to near perfection. So imagine my surprise to discover, as I peered in the window as we approached, that there was a piano on the left wall just inside the shop.

But that’s not all! To the right, on the counter were stacks of fabric and quilts in various colors and patterns. Quilts were displayed on the wall behind the counter. The couple who owned this quilting and coffee/restaurant business had a daughter who studied piano. Her piano books were stacked on the piano, a cozy place for exploring music. Overall, the shop was magical, with coffee, a piano, and quilts all in one place. I just took it all in.

Taiwan 036It didn’t take long to get an invitation to play the piano. It had been about four years since I had played the piano on any kind of regular basis, so I was a little rusty. And excited. And there was an audience. My mind went blank. I couldn’t quite reach back to the memories of the songs that used to be my go-to’s. I tried a couple, but I ended up making mistakes, forgetting what was next, and just generally having a difficult time. I wasn’t comfortable trying to sight-read any of the daughter’s music either. Then I thought to try the one piece I had composed a few years prior. It took a minute, but then I had it. I was able to settle in and do a respectable job. And it felt good to play again.

After I finished the song, we wandered very slowly past the quilts and past the kitchen area toward the left where the seating area was. More quilts were displayed on the walls here as well. Imagine sitting down to have coffee with quilts hanging on the walls around you. OK, maybe that doesn’t excite everyone, but I was sure one happy camper. I was in awe of the amazing colors and details. I marveled at the craftsmanship while waiting for our drinks–coffee for me; tea for Mei-Hung.

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Taiwan 045When our drinks were brought to the table, we were also treated to free mango cake as a “thank you” for my music! Delicious!

Knowing that I would be having knee surgery the next year during winter break, I did a little fantasizing about how cool it would if I could come and hang out in this Hakka village, specifically in this shop and live with quilts, music, and coffee for a week or two. As I get ready to do some quilting next week, this post was a good reminder to take time for these things that bring me joy and well-being. More importantly, this post has made me realize that I can eventually turn my Vanilla Garden fantasy into reality. It may not be in a shop on Hu-Kou Old Street, but I certainly bring those three things (and more) together in one place.

All in all, an amazing day, which I have thought of many times in the last few years. I smile every time I see these pictures, and I thought it was time to share them and my memories of that day.

The link below is another blog post that has more pictures of the shop.

Hu-Kou Old Street; Hsinchu County, Taiwan (Part I)

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Day Trip 2010

During my first year in Taiwan, during the academic year 2009-10, I spent part of the winter break in Hsinchu, dog sitting for one of my friends. On one of those days, a mutual friend, Mei-Hung, came and took me for a day trip. This was the first of several day trips I would have with Mei-Hung while in Taiwan, and right from the beginning, I learned that a day trip with her is to be treasured. She starts out with a loose plan, but she’s always open to opportunities that present themselves. On this first trip, she took me to the historical Hu-Kou Street in the mountainous area near Hsinchu. What an amazing place, full of culture and things to see. Best of all, it wasn’t crowded, so we could really just wander around and enjoy the sights.

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On both sides of Hu-Kou Old Street (300 meters long), vendors of all kinds offered merchandise and foods of all kinds. According to information found here, Old Street first started in 1893 when a north-south railway station was established. However, the economic development didn’t last long because the station was relocated in 1929. In recent years, efforts were made to restore Old Street and make it a center of economic growth and culture again. You can go to for more information.

One interesting building located on Old Street is the Catholic Church established in 1965 and featuring Italian architecture. After being shut down in 1993, “Old Hukou Catholic Church Museum”  was reopened in 2001 as a center for local arts and literature. Here, you can see us in the interior of the museum. I love the traditional hakka fabric that is draped from the beams. This fabric is also made in bright blues, greens, pinks, and purples. I know that before I leave Taiwan, I will make some kind of quilt with these fabrics or bring some back with me. They always attract my attention, regardless of the color.

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(Photo credit: 棟樑‧Harry‧黃基峰‧Taiwan)

An interesting cultural phenomenon, especially among young people in Taiwan, is to take photos of their meals before they eat. This is one case where it would have been great to have photographed lunch. Mei-Hung ordered a variety of traditional hakka dishes, which I remember thoroughly enjoying. Without any pictures of my own, I offer this one I located on the internet.

After lunch, there were more shops to visit, and we headed out for afternoon coffee. This tea shop below was tempting, but my host had other plans–a trip to a particular coffee shop that would lead to a magical afternoon involving three of my favorite things.

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NEXT:  Three of My Favorite Things (Hu-Kou Old Street, Part II)