Travel: “You Are The Apple Of My Eye”

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One of the best-selling movies across Asia in the year 2011, we think you wouldn’t be too unfamiliar with Taiwanese novelist-turned-movie director Gidden Ko’s feature debut “You Are The Apple of My Eye” (《那些年,我们一起追的女孩》). Adapted from Ko’s 2006 novel, the movie tells of Ko’s personal teenage romance with the girl of his dreams, Shen Jia Yi. It is a nostalgic throwback into yesteryears, reminding one of lost youths and bittersweet romances.

W&T took a day’s walk through two places along the Pingxi Railway Line where Ke Jing Teng and Shen Jia Yi went on their one and only date-trip in the movie. All we can say is, we were absolutely thrilled! If you, like us, are ardent fans of the film, here’s where you can relive those onscreen romantic moments in your next holiday to Taiwan.

Pingxi (平溪)
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Slowly shedding its ancient past as a coal mining town in the early 20th century, Pingxi is evolving along with the attention it has received as a newfound tourist destination. A vivid contrasting scene of the past and modernity, expect to find old wooden shop-houses juxtaposed with colorful graffiti and be spoilt for choice between finger-licking street food and hip cafes in hidden alleys. A railway track that cuts through the middle of the town also gives one the rare experience of eating and shopping beside a chugging train.

Pingxi is also home to Taiwan’s biggest lantern festival. Crowds from all over Taiwan, and most recently tourists, pour into the small town on the 15th day of Chinese New Year to release huge sky lanterns, known as Tian Deng (天灯), scribbled with well wishes.

The movie buff itinerary:
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1. Release a Sky Lantern: Shops that sell sky lanterns are aplenty in this small town but to replicate your own Ke Jing Teng and Shen Jia Yi moment, find Shi Di Bridge (石底桥) which is only a 10-minute walk from the station.

If you also happen to be a K-Pop fan, you’ll be psyched to know that Hallyu stars Super Junior visited Pingxi to release their own sky lantern two years back. The shop patronized by the Korean boy group is located on a slope near the station. To reach, you just have to walk away from Shi Di bridge and go uphill before you find the shop adorned with pictures of SJ. If unsure, just ask around. Shopkeepers in this area are hospitable people who will point you in the right direction.

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2. Eat an ice ball: This is located directly opposite the sky lantern shop with the SJ poster. These oval-shaped ice balls, which Ke Jing Teng and Shen Jia Yi had in the movie, are sold about a dollar each and come in various flavors like chocolate and mango. It reminded this writer of the long ice packs I used to love eating in primary school. Nostalgic much.

Jing Tong (菁桐)
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The last stop of the Pingxi Railway Line, Jing Tong is a small town boasting of a glorious past and a national monument. Located near the mines, the town in its golden days was a prosperous market place but now, it is on most days peacefully quiet.

The largest draw of the town is the preciously preserved wooden railway station built in the 1930s. It is one of the remaining four authentic Japanese-styled railway stations in Taiwan and still preserves many original features from its heyday, including traditional train tickets and electrical railway block instruments.

The movie buff itinerary:
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1. Walk along the railway tracks: It felt like time stood still when this writer was here. Jing Tong might have passed its prime of being a bustling town but it now possesses a serene beauty that few places in Taiwan can rival. Try balancing on the train tracks, like Ke Jing Teng and Shen Jia Yi did, and just soak in the tranquillity.

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2. Pop by the post office: Movie goers should remember scenes of the couple having a good time walking down an old street. Relish that here in Jing Tong and be entertained by quirky post office themed shops, selling cute items that will do good as souvenirs.

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3. Make a wish: This might not have appeared in the movie but we thought this would be something romantic to do for couples. Purchase a bamboo stick, write down your wish and hang it carefully along the fences surrounding the railway tracks. We saw many couples doing the same when we were there!

Apart from these two destinations, do make full use of your railway ticket by popping by other stops along the Pingxi Railway Line. Shifen (十分), neighbour to popular tourist destination Jiufen (九分), is home to “Taiwan’s Niagara Falls”, a scenic waterfall nestled within greenery. One can also opt to alight at Dahua Station and hike through a hilly terrain of bamboo forests to see the legendary Dahua Potholes, which are odd-shaped craters due to natural erosion.

Pingxi Railway Line is accessible at the Ruifang Train Station, a 40-minutes train ride from Taipei Main Station. For those who have more time to spare, consider planning in Shen Keng (深坑), a small district famed for its smelly tofu, where you can take a 30-minute bus that brings you straight to Jing Tong. Do note that train services along the Pingxi Railway Line are infrequent, so time your stops well. Train schedules are available on the Taiwan Railway website and at every station.

If you’ve been to Pingxi and Jing Tong before, tell us your favorite memories. We’ll love to hear from you!