Early April in our household basically means two things: putting the duvets away after Tomb Sweeping Day, and going mullberry picking. We usually go to a place five minutes down the road from us in Dali, but this year we thought we'd try the one out in Dadu (大肚) - literally "big belly".Love that name. Well done to the people who thought that one up. The name of the mullberry farm is 追分桑椹休閒農園. [Mildly amusing side note about their website - I asked the proprietor what the significance of "54333" was. Was it one of those number homonyms which meant something like "我是想桑椹' (I'm thinking of mullberries)? Ah, no. It's just easy to remember. But she said I had a good imagination.]
It's a big place, the largest mullberry farm in Taiwan according to one of the faded news clippings on the wall in the weighing area. The kids had a great time searching out the ripe ones. It's still early in the season so there was probably only one ripe mullberry for every twenty or so unripe ones. It's a great hillside location surrounded by a patchwork of rice paddies and small factories. Further up on the hilltop is a large cemetery. When we were there a noisy funeral service was in progress, which made it a slightly surreal experience.
Apparently there is a very old school nearby which was founded about a hundred years ago, and there's an old train station which we're told is also worth visiting. Maybe next time.
There's an interesting tradition associated with the train station in Zhuei-fen 追分. Around examination time, superstitious and/or desperate students anxious to get good grades, will line up in their hundreds to buy a ticket from 追分 station to 成功 (cheng-gong) station. The reason being is that 追分成功 means "pursuing grades to success". Oddly, they don't actually take the train, they just buy the ticket, which I think is cheating!
Part of me loves little traditions like this. It's often the little things, the superstitions and cultural quirks, that make living in Taiwan so interesting. But another part of me gives a sort of snort of derision at the mentality of these hordes who are not just lining up to buy some special ticket "for a bit of fun" but are actually desperate enough to think that this might, just might, help them get the grades they're hoping for. I mean it's like they've never even heard of lucky underpants.
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