After a short ride offered by a local, we stood in front of an open ground, feeling a bit puzzled.
“Are you sure this is the place? Does it exist?”, asked my friend.
“I am clueless but Google said yes. Let’s go to the back”, I said.
We went to the backyard, still looking. Then, emerging from bamboo trees was a stone archway with nice wooden sculptured boards saying “A-Jiang Home Café 23”. “Yes, it exits. We found it”, I shouted happily. This was the place we had been looking for.
A young lady came out from the cafe with a warm and welcoming smile. She introduced herself Yangui, daughter of the owner. When she learned I came from Vietnam, she could not hide her surprise and said happily: “That’s fantastic! You are the first Vietnamese guest of our café! Welcome!”.
Then she took us to visit the family-run business, which serves as their home, tourist home-stay, café and restaurant. According to Yangui, her family is from the Tsou aboriginal tribe, one of 14 recognised tribes in Taiwan and the first to settle in Alishan. Because of population drift, many Tsou families, including Yangui’s, have turned to tourism to both earn a living and preserve the unique cultures of their tribes.
Yangui said her father, A-Jiang, who used to work as a ship-builder for over 20 years, came up with an idea of building a place that can give visitors authentic experience of the lifestyle of Tsou people.
At A-Jiang Café, everything from chairs, tables to flower pots and bronze statues are made by A-Jiang from rustic but delicate materials. Talent, creativity and love for his root allowed him to take advantage of local natural materials such as bamboo, stones and wood to build this one of a kind dwelling.
He meticulously built carved stone huts and decorated them with wooden doors and windows and colourful pom poms – an accessory on traditional costume of Tsou women.
He also made room for a fireplace or a hearty kitchen, which are indispensable spaces in every conventional house of Tsou people. In the afternoon sun, the café looked more stunning and magical, making me feel I had just arrived in a fairyland.
We also got to try local tea prepared by Yangui. Their approach of using local goods applies to cooking ethos too. The family plants tea, vegetables and herbs while other ingredients are purchased at local morning markets. All are seasoned and cooked nicely on a traditional charcoal stove. This is how Tsou people express their gratitude to nature, preserve their identity and introduce their customs to visitors.
We sat at the best position of the café, with a view of majestic mountains in front and a valley of green tea plantation beneath. Our tiredness was gone with the wind. Taking a sip of rose-scented tea, listening to Tsou folk songs and being embraced by white clouds, my friend said he wished to live here forever. I myself felt grateful to make it here, meet this family and learned lots about their interesting culture. This is such a hidden gem in Alishan mountain that’s worth a visit. Till next time!