Saturday, April 28, 2012

May Snow in Taiwan

Traveling through north and central Taiwan in April and May, visitors will be greeted by the sight of blooming tung trees, which paint swathes of the countryside a beautiful sparking white.

The annual Hakka Blossom Festival, help from mid-March to mid-May, attracts millions of visitors who come to admire the tiny flowers and to learn more about Hakka culture through dozens of musical and dance performances.

Native to southern China, tung trees have thrived in Taiwan at least since the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945). The Hakka, a subgroup of Han Chinese tung trees to be an excellent source of oil for making paint and began to cultivate them on a wide scale a century ago. The Hakka are the second largest ethnic group in Taiwan and comprise over 15 percent of the population, which the majority living in Hsinchu(新竹), Miaoli(苗栗), and in parts of Kaohsiung and Taichung – the same places where tung blossom flourishes each spring.

Nowadays the oil which is extracted from the tree’s seeds is used to coat paper umbrellas that are handmade in the southern town of Meinong(美濃). Impregnating the paper with tung oil makes the umbrellas mold and waterproof and gives them a shiny, translucent finish. The umbrellas, which are mainly used a parasols to provide shade on sunny days, are also an essential Hakka wedding dowry item. In days gone by, tung wood was used to make furniture, clogs, toothpicks and matchsticks.

Paper umbrellas  are still made by hand in the Kakka enclave of Meinong, Kaohsiung County. The oil  used in the waterproofing process is extracted from the fruit of the tung tree.

About 90 percent of Taiwan’s tung trees are from the Aleurities montana (Lour) family. They are tall, quickly growing trees that thrive in mid-altitude regions. The trees blooming in the springtime with each flower lasting just two days before it withers and falls to the ground. Over a period of weeks, the flowers pile up to form a fluffy white white carpet beneath the trees. The oil-bearing fruit develops over the summer and ripens in the autumn, before finally being shed in October and November.

Seemingly ubiquitous in the spring months, tung blossom can be seen in TuCheng(土城), ShenKeng(深坑) and Shiding(石碇) in New Taipei City, Longtan(龍潭) and Daxi(大溪) in Taoyuan County. Qionglin(芎林) and Ermei(峨眉) in Hsinchu County, Nanzhuang(南庄) and Sanyi(三義) in Miaoli County, and in areas of Taichung, Changhua(彰化), Nanton(南投), and Yunlin(雲林) counties

While the main springtime attraction in these areas is the tung trees in bloom, visitors can also learn more about Hakka culture and trees in bloom, visitors can also lean more about Hakka culture and experience traditional foods and activities in each area, whether it is sampling steamed pork and stinky tofu(臭豆腐) in Shenkeng(深坑), launching delicate paper lanterns in Pinxi(平溪), experiencing monastic life in the mountains of Hsinchu, or admiring the work of woodcarvers in Miaoli.

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