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Mid-Autumn Festival, pomelos and tea

Thursday, September 22, 2005
By Nicholas Cowham, Special to The China Post


The 15th day of the eighth lunar month (September 18 this year) marks the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) which just passed a few days ago. Its origins are deeply rooted in myth and legend - the most famous being that of Chung-O. Unlike other celebrations, this is a fairly low-key holiday characterized by quiet reflection, romantic moon gazing and peaceful gatherings with friends and loved ones. Although businesses have popularized the new custom of barbecuing - traditional symbols such as moon cakes, tea and pomelos still hold firm.

With the festival nearing, the usually sleepy little township of Reisui has been abuzz with activity. Located in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) - 83 kilometers south of Hualien - Reisui is a major producer of tea and pomelos.

The pomelo - locally known as youzi - (柚子)is the largest fruit in the citrus family and an antecedent of the grapefruit. Because of its rotundness and time of harvest, it is commonly associated with the moon and Mid-Autumn Festival. The character “you” is also a homophone of blessing and protection and thus, the pomelo is considered to be a felicitous fruit. Along with its auspicious name, the robust, slightly tart honey taste of the pomelo complements the freshness of tea and the rich flavor of moon cakes. President Chen’s recent adorning of a pomelo skin hat shows that the old tradition is still popular today.

An especially prized variety of pomelo is the wendan (文旦) - a variety for which Reisui’s Hekang Village (鶴岡) is widely renowned. Before the 1960’s the village was celebrated for its internationally acclaimed Hekang Black Tea, however, cheaper imports resulted in a drastic slump in domestic sales. In 1961 the government and Reisui’s Farmers Association persuaded farmers to plant wendan pomelos. Hekang currently has some 800 hectares of citrus orchards - producing around 16 million catties of pomelo each year.

Pomelos are very nutritious with around 8 times the vitamin C content of apples. They also have numerous medicinal functions. The pulp and juice are good for the throat, stomach and spleen. The seeds and skin are said to be effective in treating coughs, stomachache and motion sickness. Dehydrated Pomelo skin can also be burned and is effective in repelling mosquitoes.

Old farmers say choosing a delicious pomelo is like finding a good wife - it should be cute, not too big, have an oval face and round bottom.

Reisui is also famous for its unique Tienho (天鶴) (Heavenly Crane) tea which has been cultivated on the Wuhe Terrace (舞鶴) for over 100 years. The tea plantations cover an area of approximately 700 hectares with an elevation of 150 to 300 meters. It’s moderately warm climate, abundant rainfall and good soil drainage create a tea that imbues a crisp sweet fragrance.

According to local legend Wuhe’s Saoba (掃扒石柱) monoliths are the incarnations of incestuous twins who took refuge here escaping their furious tribe and certain death. Archaeologists however, opine that they are the relics of the prehistoric Beinan (卑南) megalithic civilization.

Whatever the case, this is a perfect place to relax and take in stunning views of the Hongye River (紅葉溪) and Reisui Dairy Farm (瑞穗牧場).

Just a few hundred meters away is the sundial-esque Tropic of Cancer Landmark - one of only three in Taiwan.

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