Chinese New Year

It’s overcast and my feet are cold now that I’m back in Taipei.  I caught a ride down to Tainan with my Uncle’s family– the highways here drift past shadows of mountains, flat mirrors of newly flooded rice paddies, dried rivers that are paths of white pebbles, and industrial wasteland.

We feasted at my aunt’s parent’s traditional home in the countryside.  They have a traditional brick stove!brick stove

There was so much food there that it overflowed from the kitchen into the two rooms nearby.

Kitchen and older generation’s table:

I’ve never seen steamer trays that big outside of a restaurant! They have rice cake in them I think… (Sometimes I don’t ask– just eat!)  I think the brown one has brown sugar in it– and it was fried later on. The cakes in the pink bowls are put where the rice is stored to ensure abundance for the year.

We had two tables of people– the younger generation and the older generations.  My Aunt is the youngest of about six kids (don’t quite remember). All of us girls who were of age had nu-er hong  jo (daughter red wine would be the direct translation).  Traditionally nu-er hong jo is a bottle of wine buried upon the birth of a daughter and then unearthed at her wedding.  We had these tiny porcelain sort of urns on three legs instead of glasses for the 17% alcohol.  It made my face feel a bit warm.

Then, we detoured to a nightmarket where we saw a man who sharpens and sells knives, got sweet roasted hazelnuts and fireworks.  We parked by a dark rice paddy where you could hear the frogs calling each other.

People play bingo at the nightmarket.


The knife-seller’s stand– he had farm implements, swords, scissors, and knives.

Rice paddy.

Then we drove down to Tainan, where the last in a lineage of dogs to bark as soon as you arrive at the gates of my grandfather’s house greeted us.  Whenever I used to visit Taiwan with my family, there was always the barking of Ding Dong– a lovely dalmation whose puppy Shao Bai Zhu (Little White Pig– so named because she was the youngest and had no spots yet when we met her) I used to play with.  This time, there was the barking of Shao Hei (Little Black), who is really an adorable tiny little white fluff of a dog that belongs to my cousin in Taichung.

My grandmother’s jasmine was very fragrant as we walked up to the front door.

My grandfather’s house has undergone a lot of changes over the years.  The last trip to Tainan with my family was while he was still clacking through the halls in his wooden slippers and striped pajamas– over ten years ago.  The house had to be remodeled due to termites, and gradually emptied as the elders have passed away and children have grown and moved on.  The garden has shrunk as the city has encroached upon the old property and the walls have moved in with the creation or widening of streets.  We still had fun laughing over my travesties of language and stories about how all the kids and dogs of the family have fallen into the fish pond at least once.  The fish pond was a murky green soup, which we drained and cleaned while we were there.  We were rewarded with the discovery of a mysterious little turtle.  My mother tells me that they had tried to cultivate turtle eggs there long ago, but had failed.  It was covered with algae (its tail had little green plants as a kind of odd fur).

[There would be a photo here– but I couldn’t get any that focused on the turtle properly… ;( ]

The next day, we had another family feast with all the traditional New Year’s foods at my grandfather’s house.  We had a fish whose name is a homonym for “leftover”, which means that there will be an abundance of food for the year.  We also ate soft soy-sauce pork– the character for “pig” is found within the character for “family.”  There was also chicken, which in Taiwanese– ge is a homonym for “family” (if I recall correctly).  We also had fish eggs (they’re like little orange dense cakes in slices) which are an expensive delicacy– “Well, these don’t have a meaning– they’re just expensive and good!” my uncle explained.  I think we also had duck, green vegetables, and I forget the significance of those, if there was any.  To finish the meal, we ate tang yuen which was water lily seeds with white and pink sweet rice flour balls. It was really sweet, and is supposed to indicate whole perfection (all spheres)– which I think signifies family togetherness.

(Mom, you’re welcome to correct me on any and all of this.)

I’ll tip tap type more later… But in the meantime, Happy Pig Year!

Aren’t they cute?  They were selling them in the market and reassured me that they wouldn’t grow too much bigger than a cat, but my uncle warned me that the honesty of the sellers at the nightmarket isn’t always that reliable… and I could end up with this:

a pig bigger than I am.  We saw this one in Kaioshung.


3 Responses to “Chinese New Year”

  1. February 25, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    That dog is So. Cute. Like, Cute Overload-level cute.

    Happy Year of the Pig!!! I kept meaning to e-mail, and, craziness. Your pictures are all sooooo amazing. Beautiful, yummy, evocative, amazing.

  2. February 26, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you! I was just getting critiqued on my composition from my dad!

    And yeah, Shao Hei is really impossibly cuddly cute (except when he growls).

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Free Rice

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