A Portrait of Meinong／蛻變與永恆：美濃印象
A Portrait of Meinong
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Wu Sheng-huang, Pao Chung-hui
Oil-paper umbrellas are certainly indicative of Meinong and very symbolic in Hakka culture. Umbrellas represent the importance of practicality, an important virtue that is held in high esteem. The pronunciation "oil-paper" has the same sound as the popular sentiment, "Have sons". Characteristics of the umbrella are symbolic of four people taking cover, and the round shape symbolizes harmony and fulfillment. That is why parents in Hakka families gift sons a pair of oil paper umbrellas at their coming of age ceremony and at daughters' weddings, wishing them a future blessed with children and blissfulness.
Oil paper umbrellas were once the most important industry in Meinong. At its peak, there were as many as twelve umbrella factories in Meinong. However, synthetic material became the norm, and the umbrella industry eventually faded. The factories which remained survived by transforming the art form into a tourist attraction and can still be found at places such as the Meinong Folk Culture Village on Jhongshan Road and the Yuansiangyuan Culture Village on Jhongsing Road. Both places are great places to appreciate artisans creating umbrellas, purchase Meinong's traditional arts and crafts and sample Hakka cuisine.
There are also other great attractions in Meinong. Following the signs to Jianshan, visitors will arrive at the Shuangsi Viviparous Tropical Forest, a conservation area, where Taiwan's indigenous flower, fauna and insects are persevered. The lush forest is great place to take a stroll. Along the trail, there is a stone bridge that straddles the Shuangsi River. Further along the trail is "Yellow Butterfly Valley", although the natural habitat has been damaged, the magnificent sight of yellow butterflies can still be observed during the summer.
After spending some time in nature, drive to Chaoyuan Road where the Jhong Lihe Memorial Institute. In the gardens surrounding the institute, there are thirty steles which have carved lists of works by different Taiwanese writers. The installation was completed in 1997, becoming Taiwan's first "Literature Walk" Inside the museum. There is a special exhibition, where visitors can create "Divine poems". For example, "Love 09", can be found in a quote from Johng Li-he's novel, An Ordinary Couple, which states, "We did not aspire to obtain power and fortune, and owning a vast stretch of fertile land held no allure, either. All we wanted was a simple house in a simple place, where we would live our simple life, content in our love for each other even when we became old and gray. We had no want for anything else". This is indicative of Jhong Li-he who describes disappointments in the lives of people that essentially pursued an ordinary life and that love does not diminish through the trials of time, while reality becomes more precious.
Meinong, a beautiful small town, maintains strong ties with tradition, yet continues to evolve and transform. There are several buses that run from downtown Kaohsiungk, and it's a 45-minute drive by car down the number 10 Freeway. There are many attractions which provide the opportunity to experience Hakka culture and history.