Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Seeking solitude in Tamsui

Step away from Tamsui’s crowded waterfront and enjoy a picturesque walking tour with lots of history

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

This is one of the winding paths scattered through the hilly parts of Tamsui.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Staring at the Tamsui waterfront from a hill, all I can see is a never-ending sea of people. I get that people here like crowds, but it’s still a bit perplexing that my friend and I are the only people on this narrow, winding stone-paved path. With the noise blocked off by the buildings and trees, it’s completely quiet, making it even harder to believe that this is just two streets away from the chaos below.

I’ve been to Tamsui countless times since high school, but somehow every time I would simply follow the crowds from the MRT station and dive straight into Tamsui Old Street (淡水老街), which is lined with shops, stalls and performers. I was a bit embarrassed when I spoke to a granddaughter of a former British consul in Tamsui and admitted that I had never visited any of the historic sites there.

AWAY FROM CROWDS

On a fine Sunday afternoon, I visited Tamsui again but head in a totally different direction from the usual route. Exiting the MRT, I follow the tourist-laden Zhongzheng Road (中正路) until I make a right at alley 129 and walk up a hill to Chingshui Temple (清水巖). Miraculously all the tourists have disappeared. From here, there are a series of steep footpaths that take visitors through crumbling old brick houses and overgrown greenery.

The paths eventually lead to Zhongjian Street (重建街), a picturesque sloped path with some interesting shops, including Herbs Maison, housed in a 100-year-old residence and holds various herb workshops and historical tours. There’s a quaint alley surrounded by abandoned buildings dubbed Love Lane (戀愛巷). According to local lore, Tamsui doctor and writer Wang Chang-hsiung (王昶雄) would pass through this alley when walking home his future wife Lin Yu-chu (林玉珠). With its cute decorations, all signs point to a tourist draw tailored for selfies, but it is pretty and there are still few people around.

Don’t rush to the main street just yet, because there are some more narrow alleys to explore here. Most don’t really take you anywhere, but there’s a certain charm to them. Chungjian Street ends at Wenhua Road (文化路), the main thoroughfare for this area. At the intersection I see a poster for a cultural tour of Tamsui’s public bathrooms organized by the Taiwan Toilet Association (台灣衛浴文化協會), that runs until Tuesday.

I cross the road and walk up Chenli Street (真理街), another hardy slope, and pass two shops that both claim to be the original stores selling agei (阿給), or fried tofu stuffed with glass noodles and sealed with fish paste. I make a u-turn and walk down another pleasant, stone-paved path to the former residence of Tada Eikichi, mayor of Tamsui from 1930 to 1933. It’s a renovated traditional Japanese house that sits in a large, beautiful garden. Part of the charm is that it’s entirely open-air, with all windows and doors ajar.

PLENTY FOR HISTORY BUFFS

I follow the path along the residence walls, lined with red brick and greenery. It is the last moment of solitude for the time being, as the next area is swarmed with South Korean tourists. Apparently, the movie Secret (不能說的秘密) starring Jay Chou (周杰倫) was filmed here at Aletheia University (真理大學). Somehow it was a huge hit with the Koreans and they flock here en masse to see the school grounds containing buildings that are a hybrid of Western and local styles.

Before entering the university, I check out the residence of the former tax division customs during the Qing Dynasty, also known as the Little White House (小白宮). The verandas with white columns are great for photos, but it was crowded and I quickly left. Aletheia University is a joy to walk through, as picturesque scenes abound. University founder and famous missionary George Leslie Mackay’s former residence is located here, and has only been open to the public since May of last year. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Sundays, but it’s possible to find an isolated corner on the veranda and enjoy a moment of reflection surrounded by white columns, white walls and white doors.

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