The stars are a free show; it don’t cost anything to use your eyes.
—George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
That first night in Jiufen, the sky wasn’t starlit and it was nowhere as beautiful as the clear starlit night I’ve seen in rural South Korea. It was foggy and gloomy, and it felt like there was a supernatural force sucking out all traces of happiness in me. I stared at the gloomy sky in defiance, and tried to fight off all unhappy thoughts. I turned on my iPod and played some music.
I began to understand why many artists and writers come here for inspiration, and why Miyazaki Hayao drew inspiration from this place; this place just makes you feel things, whether happy, sad, or just pensive.
Many people like to tick off as many places-to-visit as possible, and they often try to do a day trip covering Jiufen, Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong. (It’s actually possible, if you’re planning to do the same. More on that later.) But the thing is, Jiufen shines when the sun sets. That’s why they say, in Chinese, 越夜越美 (loosely translated: the later, the more beautiful). When I was planning my itinerary, I asked a friend if he’d recommend staying over in Jiufen for two nights, and he said, “There’s nothing much to do, but you could chill at a cafe (the next day).” I still decided on two nights, and on my last night, I felt like I haven’t spent enough nights in Jiufen. There really is nothing much to do because the shops are closed by about half past seven, but there are free shows—free, but definitely enriching, and certainly my thing—to see and observe.
On our last day here, while we were at the bus stop waiting to get back to Ruifang, I told my travel companion, “It’s strange how we are able to wait here under the hot sun for half an hour, without any complaints, without our phones.” She nodded and agreed that we wouldn’t be able to do this back in Singapore; we would be complaining, either about the heat or the low frequency of the buses, or both.
It seems, as we chase after the expensive, we forget the value in the free, and in being free.
Jiufen on a Foggy Late Afternoon
(Trying out that grainy film look.)
There are other ways to get to Jiufen, but as a railway lover, I took the train/TRA from Taipei Railway Station (台北火車站) to Ruifang Station (瑞芳火車站). The ride takes about 45 minutes, excluding waiting for a train that heads in that direction. No tickets are needed; just tap your EasyCard and go. At Ruifang Station, head to the bus stop across the road. These buses should take you to Jiufen in about 15 minutes: 788, 825, 827, 1062.