At a glance, the participants are mainly older local residents made up of “uncles” and “aunties” *. Outsiders, especially the younger generations, don’t usually come around Rueihe, Luye. All the performances directed or performed by the youth replaced the tranquility in the countryside with the laughter of grandmas and grandpas.
*In Taiwan, we often call someone older that we know but is not related to us as uncles/aunties or grandmas and grandpas as a term of endearment.
The Reihe Station is a train station without station personnel. The space is filled with history and memories. There are only a few shuttle trains that make the pit stops here each day. The train fanatics adore the silhouette of these trains parked at this quaint historic train station.
These days, Rueihe Station has been rented by the Taiwan Railways Administration honorary station manager Han Bifeng. Han decked out the waiting area with old photos and historical artifacts turning this space into a Huatung Railway museum. Though the station has not been operated by Taiwan Railways in ages, this quiet little space became the destination where visitors come to find their own travel stories.
As you walk up the footbridge, you find yourself surrounded by lush greenery with the misty clouds lingering above the mountains. The stories surrounding this old train station that used to only live in the memories of the elders are now being proudly displayed inside the station. The distant glorious memories of Ruihe seemed a little bit closer to the small village once again as the stories are being told to all the visitors far and near.
Han leads the bicycle tour of the event, and the tour departs from Reihe Station. He takes everyone down the memory lane of his childhood here in Reihe. The group follows him through all the old houses and buildings as his lively stories recount the past. The group learns about which families studied in Japan back in the old days or the fact that this little tiny village had over five rice mills and three wood mills at one time. Han also explains to the group why this town was once called Dabuwei.
Here even the smallest little details of the villagers’ daily lives can become the talk of the town. The villagers talk about not neighborhood gossip, but rather it’s about the familiar neighborly human relationships. All these little things carry so much warmth about the people living here.
It’s now that the actors from the event appeared out of nowhere and started to act as the farmers did during the Japanese occupation periods. This type of performance-based part of the event lets participants’ imaginations come alive!
This event is no longer just about learning all the shops’ names on both sides of the street through in-depth tour experiences. Everyone gets to learn all about the unique agricultural knowledge and different crops grown along the tour path whether it’s rice, sugarcane, pineapples, sugar apples, corn, or avocados.
Local farmer Mr. Huang takes us native corn picking as we ride through the path down the sugar apple orchard.
The towering corn field bears the native Taiwanese corn that grows all year-round. This native species has larger kernels and carries a fragrant aroma with a slightly gritty texture. This particular species is vulnerable to pests, which leads to poor pollination, so it yields to a smaller harvest than other varieties of corn such as waxy corn, fruit corn or sweet corn which makes it even more precious!
Huang reminds us only to pick the ear of corn with bright green husks and to avoid the ones that have been bitten by bugs. It’s a satisfying sensation as you push down the plump and plentiful ears of corn with ease.
After picking the corn, we arrive at the long narrow sugarcane fields. I’ve just realized that the sugarcane and corn stalls we often see along both sides of the Provincial Highway #9 are all grown here in this region between Reihe and Guashan. We often make impromptu pitstops here to buy a bag full of bright yellow colored sugarcane and watch the stall vendor peel the sugarcane with ease. The stop for this deliciously sweet snack always made the road trip so much more interesting.
We are able to join the guide and physically visit the sugarcane fields on this tour. It’s only while on this tour we find out sugarcane has to be strapped by metal rods to grow straight and that it needs to be pulled from the root when harvesting. Also, the roots will need to be cut off and trimmed after.
Huang gave a detailed account of the sugarcane growth cycle, explaining the process from planting to harvesting. He stressed that the cultivation of sugarcane needs to be alternated with corn cultivation to retain the fertility in the soil. That’s when I realized why the street stall vendors are always alternating to sell either corn or sugarcane! Huang also told us that the northeast monsoon wind makes the sugarcane sweeter, so winter is actually the best season to enjoy it.
These days sugarcane often doesn’t bare the best price, yet it requires a lot of labor to grow and harvest. Therefore not as many farmers like to grown sugarcane anymore. So it’s truly a uniquely special opportunity to be able to experience firsthand how to peel sugarcane on the farm. Here are some helpful tips when peeling the sugarcane:
・Use one thumb to hold the back of the peeler and hold it with a tight grip.
・The hand that’s holding the peeler pushes forward while you will pull back the other hand that’s holding the sugarcane. Continue with this peeling motion until the sugarcane starts to reveal the inner white color.
・Remember to not over peel!
The grandpa that plays the farmer during the Japanese occupational period starts his reenactment for the tour group. As he tries to sell the freshly harvested sugarcane and corn so he could buy some other fruits to give as offering for the local earth god, the sugarcane corporation tried to buy all his crops offering a below market price. The tour audience couldn’t help but feel the farmer’s frustration and anger. No wonder there is an old saying of “The dumbest person in this world is someone who sells his sugarcane crops to a corporation!”
A rare hundred-year-old coral tree sets its roots next to a local earth god shrine. After the long bike ride, everyone takes a break from the tour under the coral tree’s shade. The stories that grew from under this coral tree alongside the rice paddies become a spiritual symbol for the local Reihe residents.
The bike tour path takes us on the Luye Bike Bath and comes across the Reiyuan embankment where the Amis tribal men would fish. The tribal house along the riverbed was constructed for this August’s harvest festival. The Baohua Embankment Scenic Pavilion has been known as the perfect stargazing spot that’s been kept as a local secret! Our gaze along the horizon now encompasses the greenery of the trees and fields alongside the farm equipment guarded by dogs. This landscape might seem ordinary to an outsider, but they mean so much more about the simple joys in their everyday lives to the local residents. If you just try to slow down a bit, you can start to experience it yourself as well.
The bike tour has come in full circle and back to the train station, where the organizer of the Luye Story Festival has invited all the grandmas and grandpas’ favorite Hakka singer – Auntie Peng Peng! Peng Peng was a famous singer and talk show host from the ’60s. Her performance of many of the classic oldies brought so much joy and happiness for all the local residents.
Lastly, the festival concludes with the opening ceremony of a traditional Hakka kitchen stove. Everyone got to try some DIY pizza making and some traditional Hakka rice balls as well. There is even a BBQ party on the grassy area next to the Reihe train station serving fresh local produce and ingredients as well as freshly squeezed sweet sugarcane juice. The 2020 Luye Story Festival is an event that takes you back to all the sweet memories from Reihe’s past. It’s the perfect way to spend a whole day feasting and learning about this unique place.