Aside from running a restaurant on his farm by the side of Jiuqiong Lake (九芎湖) in Hsinchu County, Chen Hsin-yuan (陳新源) has been sharing the joys of hand-made toys with visitors, drawing on his childhood hobby of creating animal and insect figurines and whistles from plants found in the area.
Using bamboo, sponge gourds (loofah fruit), and legumes from the Indian beech (Milletia pinnata), Chen makes fanciful figurines of geese, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as bird whistles and other handicrafts.
Pointing to figurines of geese and butterflies, Chen said he made them using the fibrous skeleton from the fruit of the loofah plant, which he molds into the desired shape.
The bird whistles he makes out of bamboo and legumes.
“It’s really just a very simple flute and those who are musically inclined can easily play simple tunes with it,” Chen said.
The dragonfly figurines are made so that they can balance when their tails rest on any point of support, seemingly defying gravity.
“I failed in making that one many times because I didn’t have the right point of support, but I managed to find it through trial and error,” Chen said.
“These little things don’t cost much, they’re natural and as long as I’m careful when I’m making them, they’re fun and something new to modern kids,” he added.
Chen said he did not keep track of how many of the figurines and whistles he has made, but remembered only the smiles his creations have brought to children.
“As long as everyone who visits my farm is happy, I’m happy and content,” Chen said.
Aside from the various toys that evoke a sense of nostalgia among parents and provide fun for the children, Chen’s restaurant also sports unique furniture, made from wood of the Zelkova serrata — a tree species native to Taiwan, eastern China, Korea and Japan — and capturing something of the Aboriginal essence in the carving and finish.
The tables were all made of stone from Majia Township (瑪家) in Pingtung County and are covered with various totems and shapes.
While some have suggested that Chen mass-produce the bamboo dragonfly figurines, he said that the figurines were a treasure to him, and that he did not want them flooding the market.
He did add, however, that those who would like to acquire some of his figurines are welcome to visit his farm and restaurant.