Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taiwan Parting Shots aka cleaning out the camera

We're in Minnesota now, getting over jetlag and enjoying the hospitality of Alex's parents!  After uploading all 879 of my photos onto my laptop, I became nostalgic (already!) for Taiwan.  There was so much great stuff we didn't get to share on the blog.  Here are a few shots that didn't make it.

Our blog has been surprising free of awkward/hilarious translations.  I believe (and hope, for their sakes) that most Taiwanese don't understand what the English text on their tshirts actually says (one of my favorites was a grandmother wearing a shirt that said "Flirty").  This caption was in a squatter-stall in the women's room.  Any suggestions as to what this actually means?

The Taiwanese are serious about obeying the laws.  NO ONE jaywalks, and they diligently wear helmets when riding scooters.  But that doesn't stop them from expressing their individuality while being safe!  Here Alex is sporting a helmet adorned with what appears to be a muppet-scalp.

Speaking of expressing yourself, this scooter was completely bedazzled in a tribute to the NY Yankees.
Baseball is the most popular sport in Taiwan, and the New York Yankees, with a Taiwanese player on their roster, is Taiwan's favorite team.

Some of you may remember the post on odd pets.  Perhaps the oddest thing about the pets is the context of their environment.  For example, this rabbit on a leash outside a shaved-ice stall.
Dogs in Taiwan often ride on the front of scooters with their owners.  When this guy rode off, the dog was positioned between his feet.  This is not limited to small dogs, or even one dog.  We saw scooter riders with multiple pups under their feet, and golden retrievers cruising with their masters.

Looking for a deal?  Pick up a teacup pig in Taitung's night market!  These little porkers will set you back 1300 NT, or 40 USD.  These porkers are highly coveted in the UK and will set you back $1,100.  At a price like that, you might as well shell out a couple hundred more and get a round trip ticket to Taiwan to pick up a few of the little guys here.

Helmets and pets aren't the only cute accessories in Taiwan.  Your dessert can be adorable too!  Here's a selection of cream-filled treats in the shape of classic cartoon characters.

A bento-box of sushi-gummies.

And for the more tongue-in-cheek sweet tooth...
Band-aid and sanitary napkin themed chocolate.  No, we did not eat these.

Don't let all the candy and fried food fool you; the Taiwanese are extremely health conscious.  Everyone is always watching their weight and eating "Chinese medicine" foods.  Regular workouts are also a part of the culture, though the Taiwanese idea of working out differs in approach from American custom.  In the early morning, middle-aged to elderly men and women gather in groups in the park to essentially swing their arms around.  Laughing at the end of the workout is also good for the body.  Here's a video from my trip a few years ago, taken in the morning at Da-An Park in Taipei.

The parks also feature work-out equipment next to jungle-gyms and slides.  Though they mimic in appearance ellipticals and stairmasters, they offer little resistance.  I think they look pretty neat, and they're definitely fun to play on.

I was also taken with the design of Coca-cola machines next to the National Palace Museum.  I believe they feature a ceramic by Chinese artist Taikkun Li.

The best part of the trip for me wasn't the crazy food, scenic vistas or interesting style/design.  I loved getting to spend time with my Taiwanese family.  It was such a treat to get to be in Taiwan with my cousin Sharon.  Sharon is my age, but grew up on the West coast so we didn't really get to know each other until we were both in Chicago.
Hanging out with Sharon is one of the things I will miss the most about the Windy City :)

Getting to meet my cousin's 2-year old son Chris was also a highlight of the trip, in case you hadn't noticed from all the attention he's already received on this blog.

And of course, my lovely Ama (grandmother), and all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles who were so wonderful to us while we traveled!  I will miss them all very much.

Although we'll be busy with the big move over the next two weeks, I hope to post a few more gems of our trip.  Look out for posts on a Japanese tea house in Taipei, old family photos, and aboriginal clothing in the near future!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Goodnight Taiwan

Lilly and I are turning in for our last night in Taiwan. We head back to the US tomorrow. We're off to our next adventure in Atlanta. We have every intention to keep blogging. Sadly, however, this is the end of our Formosa adventure. It's been amazing. We are thankful for all the kindness and hospitality that Lilly's family has shown us and are looking forward to the next time we can visit Taiwan.

Butter Buns?

Typically a good rule of thumb with eateries in Asian is look for the line.  When it comes to the best dish, it seems everyone is well aware of where to go, and no one will settle for less.  (The previously posted-on noodle-plate man has a competitor two stalls down, serving the same type of meal with the same ingredients.  However, our NPM always has a HUGE crowd around him, while the other shop sits mostly idle).

Q.E.D., when we saw the long lines forming around one shop we had to get in line too. 

Not knowing how to read Chinese, we weren't sure what we were getting, though there were clues.
Gotta love the cartoon-avatars of the house specialty at these restaurants.

When we got closer, we finally figured out what they were serving.  Sweet buns, coated in sugar, with a HUGE slice of butter slapped in the middle.  
Here is the slice of butter being placed on the open bun. 

And here it is.

And the verdict?  Totally underwhelming.  It really tastes like solid butter in a mildly sweet bun, nothing more.  Not BAD per se, but hardly worth the line.  What's all the fuss about?

I guess every rule has its exception, even rules-of-thumb.

- Lilly

Stirfry without the stir or the fry

At the Shida night market near my grandmother's home in Taipei, one of the most popular chefs is the fellow pictured above.  He fronts a streamlined operation that churns out noodle plates like clockwork.

The vat in the picture is divided into 4 sections so he can have four meals cooking simultaneously.  As soon as one is done, the chef pulls it out, gives the whole steaming mess a couple of shakes, pours it on a plate and seasons it, and immediately throws another batch of ingredients in.

Each customer selects his/her meal from a long table heavily laden with ingredients ranging from varieties of tofu, meat/fish balls, veggies, eggs, noodles, etc.

Here's the highly tasty (and spicy!) finished product.  One plate was more than enough for the two of us.

I can't imagine how many dinners this guy cooks each night; I wonder if anyone knows.  The man is a machine!

- Lilly

Top 5 things we wanted to blog about but never found the time...

#1 101

We visited what was, until a few months ago, the tallest building in the world. Now surpassed, by the Burj Dubai, Taipei 101 still holds claim to the highest observation deck and the fastest elevators. Lilly and went to the top at around 8pm and got a wonderful view of night time Taipei all lit up. It was so beautiful we didn't mind it was only the second tallest building...

#2 7-Eleven.

One would not be blogging about Taiwan if one did not blog about 7 Eleven. This convenience store is seemingly on every block. There seems to be one shop for every man woman and child on the island. When ever Lilly and I would get tired or thirsty we could seek refuge in the air conditioning or get ourselves a cold drink. Luckily they are open 24 hours and even have a mascot named "Open". You can see him below. We spent as much time in these stores as we did museums of temples.

#3 Temples

As we visited more temples we became more interested in the particularities of Taiwans religious culture. It is a fascinating mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, and local belief. Consider these imaes from shrines to Mazu a figure from Taoist belief who has become a kind of patron saint of fisherman and ships. In these temples is was common to also see Buddhist altars. Or occassionally there would be altars to real historical figures such as Koxinga a Ming general who defeated the Dutch in the 15th century. Fascinating stuff wish we had more time.
#4 Roads
As we have taken buses across the island we have been suprised with how massive the highway system is (especially on the western side of the island). You can see how an immense network of elevated highways criss cross the rice fields or cut through the mountain valleys. There is an untold story in the creation of Taiwan's infrastructure.
#5 Tribes

Taiwan is home to dozens of tribal groups (both recognized by the government and unrecognized). To really understand Taiwan and its history one has to know about the indigenous peoples. They kept the island more or less out of imperial hands for centuries (Chinese, Japanese, or European). The Japanese only took the Island in 1895. Lilly and I have been particularly fascinated by the traditions and stories of the various tribes. Above is a parade in Taitung of local tribes (mostly Ami and Yami) perfoming dances. Below I'm sitting with a group of school children learning about the Paiwan tribe at an Ethnography museum in Taipei. There is so much interesting material and not enough time.

You also note on the side of the blog I made a sporkle quiz to help memorize the recognized tribes of Taiwan. It still need work but you can try it while I work out the kinks.

Taiwan Country Buffet

One of the joys of eating in Taiwan are all te deviations from our American favorites. Take for example tonights dinner. Lilly's family took us out to a buffet. This however wasn't any Golden Coral or old Country Buffet. Instead it is a massive all vegetarian buffet. As you can see above it was packed and popular.
They make all sorts of riffs on meat dishes but made entirely out of vegetables.
This is a traditional Taiwanese meat soup called "Buddah Jumped Over the Wall" but made with all fake meats.
You can see the vegetarian sashimi being put on the plate. It looked increadibly real but tasted kinda like jello.
We had a great time and no animals were hurt in the making of this post.


Lilly and I have become painfully aware of how much we have to learn about Taiwanese food. Our blog is not an indepth or systematic resource for eating in Taiwan. But for a pair of travellers who speak no Chinese and have no car we're trying our best. However our Tawainese counterparts are serious about the food. There are dozens of books on street food alone. This is a bookcase at the eslite book store in Taipie just of books on finding street food.
Many of these books have detailed descriptions of the food...
As well as walking maps of neighborhoods...
And biographical information on the individual vendors...

There are also books dedicated to just finding good beverages on the island.

Or this one dedicated to just finding foods made by indigenous people.
This isn't mentioning all the news articles and blog material in Chinese. This country is really serious about it's food...who can blame them, it is all fantastic.

top 3 foods that didn't make the blog yet

This is just a quick list of stuff we ate but never found a time to blog about it. Above is a picture taken in Koahsiung. It makes me look huge compared to the vendor.

#1: Blood Cubes and Chicken Hearts severd with spicy oil. The cubes are fried pigs blood and rice and the chicken hearts are pan fried then both served in a bag.
#2 Crazy Candy. The first are tasty and colorful nut brittles. These were purchased in Koahsiung. The second is a chocolate bar with pop rocks mixed in. Why didn't America think of that yet!

#3 Crazy Drinks. Unfortunately drinks don't photograph well. But we've had some tasty stuff. Taiwan is the inventer of bubble tea and almost every blog has a cafe mixing up lot of varieties of teas, milks and juices. The first is black tea ice cream float. The second is milk mixed with mung beans.

Dishonorable mention: For breakfast we tried a Japanese fast food shop called Mos Burger. It was humorously bad. Lilly had a pressed chicken and shaved cabbage sandwhich, while I had egg ham and peanut butter. This is fair warning for future travellers. Don't do breakfast at Mos Burger.