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Photo by Ching Hsieh

Arrival in Yilan

After taking a very crowded MRT ride, we got onto a bus and officially left Taipei, heading for our first homestay in Yilan. The bus ride had incredible views that showed small pockets of houses and manmade structures peeking through the dense forests of the mountains, but eventually we entered a very long tunnel that was cut right through the mountainside. By the time we exited the tunnel, the mountains had fallen away completely and the landscape had gone almost entirely flat; we had reached Yilan.

Our homestay is with a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Zhang, who are incredible cooks and also do a lot of farming for themselves. We immediately got started on lunch as soon as we arrived. After we’d finished eating, we met up with a local farmer, Joelle, who moved from Florida to Taiwan and decided to become a part-time rice farmer. She taught us a lot about the local agriculture. A lot of rice is farmed in Yilan, but because it rains for three hundred days of the year, only one harvest happens in a year. Joelle brought us to her rice paddies, where she taught us about an invasive South American species of snail called the Golden Apple Snail. These snails eat rice plants and are terrible for the agriculture, but Joelle doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides in any of her patties, partly because there are other species of harmless snail that would also be hurt by the chemicals. She taught us how to find the difference and we waded into the mud of the paddy and began picking out the Golden Apple Snails, which Joelle feeds to the ducks she raises, and helped her with some weeding.

We got back to the homestay after helping Joelle. Mrs. Zhang began making tofu from scratch and we got to watch the process, which both her and Mr. Zhang participated in. Then we helped Mr. Zhang make noodles for dinner. Tyler earned five dollars on a bet when he ate the brain out of the chicken head on his plate. After dinner, Mrs. Zhang let us sculpt bread for the next morning’s breakfast.