When Grandpa suggested a trip to a ranch with no animals, I figured it was a front for a money laundering scheme, like Mattress Firm, probably.* What kind of ranch has no animals? Isn’t “breeding livestock” what defines a ranch?
Either there was something shady going on or the business owner was a visionary in ways I couldn’t comprehend, both of which were compelling enough reasons for me to check it out. Also, I was nearing my last few days in Taiwan, and this was the first time Grandpa had voluntarily suggested an activity we do. Usually he insists that Mom and I choose.
So I located lodging information on his tablet, almost surrendered upon having to explain the concept of Google Chrome because I’m a flawed human being, and helped last-minute book two rooms at the 五柳園 (Wuliuyuan) ranch.
Mom: Since the ranch is in Chiayi County and only an hour away, why do we have to pay to stay the night?
Me: We wouldn’t get the whole experience. Obviously.
Mom: Obviously? What’s the experience?
Me: … Obviously.
Ten minutes later, in another room
Me: If there aren’t any animals, what do they breed?
If this were any other person, I’d be floored. But, from Grandpa, the answer seemed acceptable. See, some old people enjoy couponing. Some like to fish. My grandpa is deeply passionate about trees—somehow, what this ranch was all about.
Arriving at 2PM the next afternoon, I stepped into the ranch with no expectations. Or too many conflicting ones. A zoo but with trees in cages. A pasture of freely grazing saplings. A regular forest hiding a log cabin filled with cash and a washing machine—the latter because I’m still unable to mentally disassociate the words “laundry” and “laundering.”
But the ranch just looked like a nature resort. Turns out there was a translation issue—Wu Liu Yuan was only described as a “牧場” (ranch) by an unofficial reviewer. The actual place uses the word “farm” and “resort”—五柳園休閒農場. Wuliu Farm. It features ancient oaks, countless fruit trees, homegrown crops, and fish ponds.
The gardens out front were so picturesque that, walking along the path, I heard background music. Then I looked down and saw the speakers lining the trail.
I wound through a row of plants dotted with pinkening strawberries and admired several heads of lettuce, neatly lined up. A nearby staff member reached behind himself, picked off a leaf, and crushed it between his fingers for the cinnamon scent.
Me: This is beautiful and all, but how’s this place sustaining itself? We’re the only ones here. Our payment can’t be putting a dent in the upkeep.
Mom: I don’t think they’re doing it for the money.
I chose to ignore that she probably meant they did it for their love of nature and became more suspicious. Now that I thought about it, I’d seen zero sign of wildlife. Just trees? There had to be something fishy going on.
Unlike me, a tree philistine, Grandpa was over the moon, explaining to anyone who would listen about the history behind different types of wood. He’d smooth his hands over oak rings, reverent like a motorhead stroking a brand-new ride.
Grandpa: Look at the size of this one. Whoo!
The number of oversized trees did make for plenty of potential hiding places for cash. I kept my eyes peeled.
Grandpa: And and and that one. Do you smell it? The wood scent? They haven’t painted over it.
Grandpa: Can you get a picture of me with this one?
Grandpa: Just standing here already makes our money worth it. Each one’s got to be worth millions (NT) by now, after deforestation became illegal.
I blinked. So we were talking about large amounts of hidden money. Had I been… sort of right? It was incomprehensible. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
So I didn’t. I started to relax and focused on living vicariously through Grandpa’s excitement. I mean, even if the resort were a front, it wasn’t bad at all. The clean, crisp air, the spacious rooms… My only reservation was that, alone in the resort, we might get caught up in some money-laundering crossfire. (Whatever that, uh, would look like. Obviously I hadn’t really thought that far, if it all.)
But you should visit if you’re in the area, because clearly there hadn’t been anything to worry about. I woke up the next day, lucky that no one’d killed me or—hurtfully—not important enough for anyone to have even tried.
*Ha, you thought I was going to cite my sources? Okay, fine. But actually my friend just mentioned the conspiracy in passing and I thought it was funny.
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