After resisting the idea of visiting MaoKong for months due to various reasons, including one that was political, I finally accepted my friend Inga’s invitation to have tea one sunny, predictably humid afternoon last August. MaoKong is located in the Wenshan District of Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. The most traveled route to reach MaoKong is via the MaoKong Gondola, which delights its passengers with a magnificent aerial view of Taipei, highlighted by the famed Taipei 101 skyscraper. Inga and I chose to take a medium-sized bus departing from a station near the Taipei Zoo – a must-visit attraction even for non-animal lovers. The ride, which lasted about 30 minutes, was fun and typical-Taiwanese – an experienced driver drove with utmost dexterity on steep, winding mountain roads so narrow that they appeared one-way from time to time.
In MaoKong, we encountered some difficulty choosing the tea house, not only because there were so many of them, but also because some of them were hidden in the woods. We ended up having smoothies at a crowded eatery – not something I would recommend. After spending over an hour chatting and feeling a bit bewildered as we were not having tea at a place famous for tea, we went to a convenient and conspicuous tea house, a next-door neighbor of the MaoKong Gondola Station, named YuanXuYuan, which loosely translated into English means “continuation of predestined affinity”. My friend Inga had been to YuanXuYuan in the past and enjoyed the experience. We were immediately presented with a menu so that we could order our tea before we were seated. Our choice was GueiHuaGuanYi, or Osmanthus Flower Kuan Yi Tea. YuanXuYuan is a lovely tea house with many enclosed eating areas, each concealed behind curtains. To reach one of these eating areas, visitors must cross an indoor pond with roaming giant coy by overcoming their fear of falling into the water and steadying themselves on the many stepping stones. We requested the menu again and ordered a few dim sum dishes. The tea came in a sealed bag inside a small, take-away tin container and was surprisingly fragrant. Inga cheerfully prepared the tea. I enjoyed the quasi-play-house experience, using and playing with the complete tea set, which reminded me of the tea cups and plates I created with Lego in my childhood. We laughed while listening to the laughter of others; we did not care if the other guests heard our gossip. The rain began to fall on the verdant vegetation outside the window of the cozy space after we had been there for three hours.
Inga suggested, maybe indirectly insisted, that we take the MaoKong Gondola to return to the city. The English version of the MaoKong information pamphlet published by the Department of Tourism describes the rainy day view as “Splash Ink Taipei”. The scenery mimicked a traditional oriental painting embellished with creations of modern civilization. While I was filming the view using my digital camera, a child in our cable car kept asking if I was taking pictures of him. Oh, narcissism being cultivated at such a young age! The gondola ride seemed endless as we passed a few stations, without stopping, such as the Zhinan Temple Station along the way, before reaching the final terminal. All in all, an enchanting visit!