Sunshine and Sunnyrush

The morning after our full moon feast, Yulun’s family treated us to a breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit. We were planning to wait out the morning until Jeff came by to pick us up, but when we finished our dragon fruit and bananas, Yulun asked us, “Do you want to see where these came from?”

And how could we say no to an offer like that?

So, she piled us into her car and took us for a morning trip to her family’s garden.

Yulun spent much of her childhood at her grandfather’s farm, where he cultivated tea plants. He’s long since retired from the tea-farming life, but her family still owns a small(er) plot of land, where they grow many of the fruits and vegetables they eat on a daily basis and keep a small gaggle of chickens and ducks for their eggs.

When we were told we would be visiting the family garden, we imagined something akin to a community garden. A small plot with maybe a few boxes and pots for their favorite produce. But what we found was very nearly a forest!

Nestled between groves of trees and wild undergrowth, the garden had just about every fruit and vegetable you could imagine, and plenty we had never even heard of. Yulun and her father showed us around, pointing out various herbs, flowers, fruits, and greens along the way. It was a truly incredible space, featuring orchards, trellises, and rows of crops, with a river running right through it all, full of tiny silver fish you could see from the shore. Their little dog Kobe kept us company while we explored and insisted on coming with us when we headed back into town.

Jeff was there waiting for us when we got back, and he had our next destination all planned out: the nearby town of Yuanli, where some of his friends have opened an incredibly special business.

Sunnyrush might seem like a hat shop at first glance, but it’s so much more than that too. It’s an enterprise dedicated to reviving the local art of rush-weaving, which has deep roots in the town’s history.

Decades ago, the women of Yuanli dedicated their lives to weaving beautiful hats and mats made of a unique type of grass native to the region. In recent years, as the cost of living went up and appreciation for handicrafts went down, weaving rush wasn’t profitable enough to pay the bills. Many master craftswomen were forced to abandon the practice and find other ways of making money.

The founder of Sunnyrush, Liao Yi-Ya, came to Yuanli as a student and began learning about the decline of the town’s unique cultural history. She decided that something had to be done to bring back Yuanli’s dying art. So she started up Sunnyrush, employing local women to make incredible, handcrafted hats, bags, accessories, and more out of rush, and marketing them as the works of art they really are.

The business is booming these days, with locations all across Taiwan, but the store in Yuanli is the original. Jeff took us by the store and introduced us to the other owner, Yi-Shen, who showed us around the shop. We got to watch a bit of weaving being done and admired. Ryan and I each got our own hats, intricately designed and fragrant with the fresh, trademark scent of Yuanli rush.

Yi-Ya talks more about the story of Sunnyrush and the importance of keeping the rush-weaving art alive in the video below (subtitled in English, for our friends back home), and you can explore their website here.

Our new treasures in hand (and on head), Jeff showed us around the rest of Yuanli, where we grabbed lunch at an incredible Vietnamese restaurant called Vegan Heart and caught beautiful views of the region’s famous grasses. We headed to the seaside as the day wound down, Ryan snapping some pictures on his film camera, and all of us doing our best to keep our new hats from flying away.

While we walked along the sand, we realized that Jeff had taken us to this same beach our very first day out with him two years ago—an incredibly symmetrical end to our first trip back to Miaoli.

Of course, we had to end the day at a night market, stocking up on some of our favorite snacks and winning tiny toys as keepsakes from our adventure. We stopped by Stonewall one last time on our way back to the railway station, where Karen was giving a presentation on Zhang Yongpeng, the photographer their gallery was designed to pay tribute to.

We watched for a while, said our goodbyes, and headed to the train station, where we left Miaoli behind for the second time.

This time around, we won’t let two whole years pass before seeing it again. Already we’re planning our next trip down south, where we hope to catch up with more familiar faces from our past and make some new memories for the future.

This time, we weren’t saying “goodbye” to Miaoli. Just “see you soon.”

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