The free tour would be leaving in two hours. Masters at killing time by this point we headed toward a small gift shop. I got in line to buy a postcard for our niece; it was made of fabric and could be sewn into a penguin. I gave the check out lady 5 dollars; she gave me 80 New Taiwan dollars back.
We wandered down a wide, empty hallway and found the waiting room. At 8:15 a.m. a man entered holding a clipboard. He looked at it. He looked at us. He looked at the clipboard again, “Laura and Matt?” he asked. We were the only people in the room, “Yes,” we answered, standing up. “Okay, come on,” he said and spun around toward the doors. We followed him to the bus. We were prepared to be the only passengers, but a quick stop at Terminal 1 changed this. Now we were three. A brief run down of our destination followed the acquisition, “Welcome to Taiwan. We go now to Yingge for pottery. There is a nice street for walking and looking at the pottery.”
The drizzly drive went quickly after some getting to know you chat with our tour-mate. He was from Germany; we envied his 3 o’clock departure time.
The bus eventually stopped on a vacant street. It looked like the kind of place that would be busy on a sunny day; brick sidewalks and mostly two-storey buildings lined a cobblestone road, “This is Yingge Old Ceramic Street,” we were told, “It was modernized in twenty-oh-one.”
Yingge became a hub for ceramics when a Guangzhou immigrant came to the area over 200 years ago – the town was then called Geshi, but was renamed Yingge after World War II. The man, called Wu An, became the town’s first potter. With the help of a brick maker, Chen Kun, Wu An turned Yingge into what is now the leading ceramics center in Taiwan. Today the roughly 13 square mile area is home to over 800 shops and factories that make and sell ceramics of all kinds. Wandering in and out of the shops I was tempted most by a ceramic mug that changed color when used for a hot beverage. A Wu An invention? I didn’t think so.
Our next break was at the Yingge Ceramics Museum, our guide seemed particularly proud of this stop, but was again minimal in his description. “You can see many pottery here, old and new ones,” he told us while cautiously stopping traffic to lead us across the street.
The museum is a modern concrete, steel and glass structure that houses over 200 years of ceramic history. We were paired up with a museum guide, but I was quickly bored with her spiel and wandered off on my own, Matt followed suit; the German remained steadfast.
A display of heavy mugs in individual glass cases fascinated me; they were decorated with minute Chinese characters only visible thanks to conveniently placed magnifying glasses. But amidst all the plates and pots, and even toilet seats, it was the last exhibit that boggled my mind: Future Prediction: Industrial and High-tech Ceramics. Also called advanced ceramics, the exhibit detailed the use of ceramic parts in modern communications technology such as cell phones, power lines and laptops. I took out my $30 Nokia phone, “Do you think mine has ceramic parts?” I asked Matt. “I wouldn’t call that phone advanced,” he responded.
Our last stop off was the Taoist Zushi Temple in Sanxia, Yingge’s neighbor; everything seemed to be under construction. “No ceramics here,” I commented while weaving my way through scaffolding and devout Chinese holding incense above their heads in prayer. “Not true, “ Matt said, pointing to some vases on the altar. “There’s no escape!” I joked.
Back on the road there was little traffic and we were back to the airport at 1 p.m., leaving the German the recommended 2 hours before his international flight and us an unfavorable five. We wandered around the duty free and gift shops. I came across a ceramic keychain emblazoned with a Chinese character. I have no idea what it read, but it suddenly seemed very appropriate.