Monday, June 8, 2009

The Cats of Mucha

In the late evening of January 11, 2005, I landed in Taiwan for the very first time. Unfortunately I was told that it was too late to catch a bus, but a nice lady who worked at the airport helped put me on the right track to the Taipei hostel. The first thing I did at the hostel was borrow a stoned Canadian lad's phone card and give my wife a quick call. Then I hit the sack. Due to a mix of jet-lag and pure excitement I really slept terribly that first night.

The following morning, my first full day in Taiwan began. It was a chilly, windy and rainy day, perfect for tea drinking! My goal for the day was to reach the famous Mucha (木柵) tea park in the hills outside of Taipei. I wanted to drink the Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音) oolong that they are famous for producing.

First I hit an ATM and got some breakfast, then I started my journey. Back then (in 2005) my Mandarin Chinese skills were very poor (almost nonexistent) but I didn't struggle too much because the people in Taiwan are always so kind and helpful. Even if somebody could not speak any English, they would usually try to find a way to help me. With the aid of my guidebook and a nice young man at the Taipei metro station's information desk, I was able to find the right bus up to Mucha.

The ride up into the hills was thrilling. We passed temples and schools as we navigated the lush green hills. Most of the passengers on the small bus were old folks or elementary school students. At one stop, about 20 youngsters clambered aboard and the bus instantly became very crowded and loud. I had a good time talking to several of them and even caught a little boy who fell down when the bus lurched forward. He said xiexie (謝謝) (thank you) and I said bu keqi (不客氣) (you're welcome), then everybody on the bus started laughing.

Taken from the bus on the way up to Mucha:

After an hour or so I was at my destination. I've heard that this area can be very busy on the weekends, but on this drizzly Wednesday morning it was dead. I looked around at the view of Taipei down in the valleys but the thick overcast sky made it a little hard to see the city.

See what I mean?

At this point I really really really needed a cup of tea! I hadn't had any tea in over 48 hours and I was so tired from traveling and lack of sleep. I quickly choose an outdoor tea house at random.

Here is a picture of the tea house I choose:

I found a main room where they sold snacks and had a tea menu, but there was no sign of any humans. I called out "Ni Hao" (你好) (hello) in a soft voice. Nothing happened. I looked around a bit more, almost decided to leave, then called out "Ni Hao" again (this time a little bit louder). A groggy old woman rose from behind the counter, right in front of me. She had been sleeping, and as you can imagine, she was very surprised to see a laowai (老外) (foreigner) in her tea shop on a Wednesday morning.

She said ni hao and then we began that wonderful process of communicating with few common words. She sold me a 100 gram tin of what I think was her "finest Mucha Tie Guanyin oolong" then she led me outside to help me brew it overlooking Taipei. She was surprised to learn that I already loved tea and that I had come to Taiwan to learn more about it. She gave me a little tutorial on gongfu (功夫) tea brewing and took a few pictures of me. Then she left me alone to sip my tea meditatively in the open air. The morning was very quiet except for some cool breezes and light drizzle, but the temperature was very nice (about 60 degrees).

A photo the proprietress took of me:

The first thing I wrote in my travel journal was "I have made it!!!" I was overcome with joy to be drinking delicious Taiwanese oolong in Taiwan for the very first time. The tea rejuvenated me and I felt very peaceful.

I drank tea alone for about an hour before I felt a little cat rub up on my leg. I looked down and saw a tiny kitten hanging around!

He (or she) was very small and mewed at me for some attention. I pet him for a few minutes before I saw a bigger kitty approach.

Soon after that, a little white one came along too!

The curious cats kept me company for the next three hours, during which I caught up on my journal, ate some lunch, and took pictures of my new "feline friends." It was a wonderful start to my first Taiwan tea trek!


tieguanyin said...

Hello Brett,

A very enjoyable post. I think that cats and tea make for a great combination! For full disclosure sake, I am a cat owner, so my views may be a little biased! I had the good fortune to visit Taipei over the end of the year holidays in 2005 - 2006. It was a great trip and it gave me my first step towards the path of tea! I hope to go back one day.

Have a good rest of the week,


Justice said...

I love Brett's travel stories!!

Nicole Manha said...

Tea Cheadts! I love their faces!

Michelle said...

I love this story & the photos--totally feel like I just went to Taiwan! Thanks for letting me do that without abandoning my studies for the bar exam! Avilio and I dream of going there someday...

Cindy said...

I stumbled upon this post and how lucky I did. I grew up in Mucha on the hill of those mountains. The school you passed by on the bus is very possible the elementary school I went to! Your story brought me right home. :)