On my way between Taipei and A’tolan, I take the Taiwan Railway Eastern Line through the Eastern Rift Valley. The trip takes several hours, but luckily there is a place of refreshment: Chishang, where vendors sell boxes on the train platforms. The Chishang Bento Box owes its fame to the quality of the rice grown around Chishang Township, which has one of the purest water sources for irrigation. During the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), rice from Chishang was one of the Taiwanese products given in tribute to the emperor. Today, the Bento boxes sell on the platform for 60 NT, a good deal for a lunch or dinner if you can get on the platform and back to the train in time

I am fond of the Chishang Bento, but my own love for this product has to do with its place in the Taitung soundscape as well as its taste. Stopping at Chishang or Guanshan on a calm night, the sound of vendors mix with the idling train engines and crickets. Vendors stand on the platform advertising their wares in two syllables, elongating them in a way that resembles steam whistles, no longer a feature of Taiwanese trains but recognizable as part of an iconography of train travel:

Be—–en To————ng! Be——en To——ong!

The sound, with its combination of loneliness and the promise of at least a filling meal, touches the wanderer’s heart

The Chishang Bento is more than just a sound associated with the feeling of train travel, however; it is a witness to the transformation of Chishang over the past 100 years. Large scale rice cultivation and the train line, in fact, are inextricably related. Expansion of irrigated paddy land in the Rift Valley was coordinated with the development of the narrow gauge railway between Taitung and Hualian Harbor in the early twentieth century. In the intervening years, the Chishang Bento has increased in fame. It is now iconic, perhaps because of the nostalgic relationship between agriculture, trains, and the past in a Taiwanese historical imagination. Partially, this imagination has been fed–literally–in consumption of the Chishang Bento boxes, now not an absolute necessity, but hearkening to a time when travel to or from Taitung took much longer than the six hours it takes today. It would be interesting to see whether one could track label designs for the wood slat bento boxes and consumption patterns to track the intersections of provisioning, nostalgia, and development at play in the history of the Chishang Bento. Although we might not recall this history each time we hear the vendors’ call, this sound of Taiwan’s Eastern Line captures the history of the island’s development and the postmodern desires of Taiwanese people today to experience that history anew



不過我喜歡池上便當,不只是因為好吃, 我覺得池上便當形成了花東線 soundscape (音響景觀)中的一個奇觀,就是池上便當的叫賣聲!

ㄅ—————ㄣ ㄉㄜ————-ㄥ!