Archive for March, 2007


At market…

Today I went to the traditional market to pick up some dumplings (dumplings are a theme lately… perhaps they deserve their own category?). At the traditional market, the dumplings are fresh and MUCH better than what you pick up at the grocery store frozen in a plastic bag with a picture printed on it.

I ran into my landlady at the one of the fruit stands, and she insisted on giving me over half of her tangerines, directing me to the best kind of vegetables to eat with dumplings, and getting them for me.

She’s so sweet.

Being in Taiwan, I’ve often felt overwhelmed by the generosity of the people around me and generally less than worthy of it. Now, I’m trying to get to the point where I can accept it without feeling bad, and pass on the giving spirit to the people around me who’ll accept it, generally my younger cousins. It’s a bit empowering to finally get to pay for ice cream.

And some older photos from the traditional market (vegetarians beware– there are some unfortunate either to-be-dead animals or dead animals in the upcoming photos…):

dried fish and shrimp

Anyone know what this (the above) is? The leaves are really pretty.

Sorry the eggplants are slightly blurry– but they’re so prettily purple! They’re different from the eggplants back at home.

Veggies! Note how the carrots are much thicker and shorter, and generally not as sweet as I’ve found in the US (however, in one of those long-ago visits, I saw one carved into a really cool rooster garnish)– and does anyone have any idea what that green vegetable that looks like a ball with leaves sticking out of it is? (edit: Apparently, thanks to RK, it’s a kohlrabi).

Mmm… Fruit! My favorite section of the market (it’s quite extensive too!)

Fish– this makes me feel simultaneously guilty about the overfishing of the world’s oceans and hungry.

Chickens about to meet their immediate end. I’ve heard that live birds are going to be prohibited in traditional markets in a bit due to legislation that has to do with SARS.

Steamed buns fresh from the oven.

Paper money to burn for the ancestors and a market cat (this stand had four cats around it and offered me a kitten, which I unfortunately had to refuse).

A stand just for sharp things– knives and scissors…

A store for all household things– the bins on the left-hand side are your own personal furnace for burning paper money, and there were stacks of dishes and hanging teapots in the store.

I love markets. The language of choice at the market is generally Taiwanese, which I fumble terribly. The sellers are generally friendly, and there is a liveliness to the market that the grocery store just can’t match.


Eating today…

So, anyone who knows me knows I’m dreadful at eating. I’m a slow eater, and I procrastinate. When it was time for me to get off the mandated meal plan in college, my mother knew that my diet would be brownies and lasagna and pasta out of the box. I have essentially eaten Velveeta Shells and Cheese or spaghetti with sauce out of jar (with slight additions every now and then, like frozen peas) for dinner for years. (This was livened up by getting to know the Domino’s and Wings Express and Subway delivery men in college personally, and a few outings on the restaurant scene every now and then afterwards in New York).

Before coming to Taiwan, I figured I’d successfully avoid the gooey golden Velveeta processed cheese product goodness for the next few years. A friend brought it to my attention that there’s probably no actual non-artificial ingredients in the aforementioned flavorful squish, and I figured it was time to grow up.

So, I came to Taiwan and ate dumplings. I bought a large bag of frozen dumplings and dumpling juice (it’s a little bottle that’s got brownish black soy-sauce and vinegar and little ginger flecks in it) from the grocery store (Mat- su –sei as the ads chime), and basically ate that every night until that first happy payday.

Then, I basically ate out for the rest of the time. All the restauranteurs of the area know me now. Some of them complimented me on my improved Chinese today, actually. I struck up conversations with the sweet couple who served me dumplings (Yes, I still like dumplings.), the busy red-aproned servers at the bustling place I pick up fried dumplings and buns and fried beef noodles (and my nutritionist mother is tut-tutting me in my head as I type “fried” so I’ll stop), and so forth.

Today I did the usual– procrastinated about eating breakfast until it was lunch (well, I didn’t exactly wake up early either). Unusually, I actually went out in the spitter spatter of rain and had the pay con dan bing (bacon-egg wrapped in a thin pancake of sorts), which my roommate has gotten me quite fond of. I talked to the English-speaking server there about his trip to America, and he showed me his six-month old son’s photograph, very cute kid with big ears and a red visor from the US. We had a nice little chat about my reading comprehension in Chinese as I finished my warm do jang (sweet soy milk).

When I got to school, one of the Chinese teachers carefully handed me a cup of dark do jang and a manto— a steamed bun.

After I finished work late, I went to get dinner and the red-aproned ladies were cleaning up the store, so I went next door to a place famous for pig feet and got chicken instead. The man and I spoke in a mishmash of English and Chinese as he thoughtfully warmed up my chicken leg in the soy-sauce pot. He said he hopes that the store will be my favorite and gave me my corner-rubber-banded bien dang or take-away box.

Unfortunately, I got home, promptly got on the internet and meant to eat dinner a bit later. I finally ended up doing the absent-minded pick with the chopsticks, eyes glued to the screen, and swallowed a chicken bone that wished it was lukewarm. So perhaps it is poetic justice if I feel slightly queasy now.


Taking the 11-bus

I have the most vivid memories of the trips to Taiwan from summers around high school. We came for the first time in thirteen years, and I met relatives who hadn’t seen me since I was three or four. Then we visited at least once afterwards before I went to college.

My relatives and I didn’t understand each other, oftentimes. One of my relatives scolded us for not learning Chinese. I recall many fancy restaurant buffets where we were completely out of place in shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with “Hawaii” on them (we did a stop there to visit my aunt before arriving and thanks to my cousinlets who are around my age, were gifted with quite cool T’s).

I felt awkward and out of place. It was sweat-drenching hot. I was grossed out by the squat down toilets and the lack of plumbing in my father’s abandoned old house. I began to feel extremely self-conscious. Partially, I think it was just what I was used to– feeling out of place and self-conscious at home in school (I was nerdy and unforgivably, unfashionably, unashamed of my nerdiness). Partially, I really felt stared at wherever we went. Taiwan was more formal than the US at the time– girls generally in skirts, and ladies generally in heels in public. I actually tried at one point to blend in, wearing skirts given to me by my aunt, which were rather akin to the school girl’s uniform at the time. However, as soon as I opened my mouth, it was obvious that I didn’t belong there. I was even awkward with chopsticks.

I was also probably extremely self-conscious partially from being photographed a lot by my uncle who has an acute case of shutterbug, which seems to be a genetic thing since I seem to be leaning in that direction, and at least a fair smattering of cousins seem to be as well.

Anyway, Taiwan was also my first experience living in a city. There were bridges to cross the street because to try to cross the street at street-level was asking for a rapid unpleasant death under the wheel of scooters and cars who understood red lights to mean that they needed to turn or dash across the intersection REALLY fast. My uncle’s apartment in Taipei is fairly luxurious as far as space and location go according to my standards as a former New Yorker now. However, back then, I felt cramped and grumpy in the dirty city of Taipei, where they sky always seemed grey with smog.

So going to Tainan, staying at my grandfather’s house was a different world. My grandfather’s house had a garden, a fish pond, a hutch for birds, and lots of family. My grandfather, as I remember him, was tall, slightly stooped, with a clear deep voice, and excellent English. He also sang Beethoven for us in the original German, and was excellent at it.

He found me bouncing on my cousin’s bed one evening regaling my younger (but to this day, far older cousins in the ways of cheeriness and ensuring a steady supply of sweets from popsicles– bing bang– to candy) cousins with my rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer” (which I cringe upon remembering and realizing that I think the aforementioned shutterbug uncle may actually have video of this and various other slightly embarrassing moments from that trip). He introduced us to his collection of karaoke laser discs and videos, and each of us picked out songs to sing.

My Grandfather’s venue was the park. So, he took us (much later than his usual constitutional in the morning since we were sleepyheads) on a walk to the park. He called it taking the “11 bus” and laughed when I was disappointed that we weren’t actually taking a bus, since the “11” stood for our two legs. He was in his eighties, I think, and we had a tough time keeping up as we walked together to the park through Tainan. I remember monkeys in the trees, but no one else seems to and their existence has been denied by some of my relatives. We walked past an orange rink of sorts where people ballroom danced, and these little kiosks where people sang karaoke. Apparently, circulating the park, there were at least six of them, and they had different types of songs– popular, Japanese, Taiwanese Folk Songs, Chinese songs, etc.

We all ended up at one with yellowish tiles and gave our renditions of random American popular songs… I think my brother sang “Pretty Woman” or “Hotel California” or something like that. One of my other cousins visiting from the states sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

This kiosk was familiar– I think perhaps we stopped by this one for Japanese Karaoke, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, we would play at the playgrounds, and my aforementioned popsicle-supplying younger cousins would attract stray dogs. I think there were three stray dogs that followed them down the concrete slides and over to my aunt’s house where they were left waiting at the front gate as my cousins and aunt snuck out the back.

Over Chinese New Year, I visited the park with my aunts and cousins, and people don’t sing karaoke there anymore. It was much quieter, and a bit less lively. Maybe we weren’t early enough for the dancers, but the karaoke set ups are gone. It was still fun though we drove, and it wasn’t the same without my grandfather’s brown smooth hand holding onto mine to cross the street (even though I was a teen, crossing the street back then, you still really wanted to be holding someone’s hand).

It’s a very old park– my aunt said it might be around 100 years old.

Pavilion with the seven-cornered bridge. We used to run across this– supposedly bad spirits can’t follow you around all those corners.

An old gate.

Yellow bamboo.

I find the mix of vegetation really cool.

I climbed this tree, which was ancient, and really great to climb up, but as usual, there was a bit more trepidation on getting down.

And we took my aunt’s car back this time, instead of the 11-bus with a stop for fruit and little hot dogs with ketchup for breakfast. However, we DID get bazhang, sticky rice with egg, mushroom, pork, peanuts, and other really yummy things all wrapped up into a pyramid with a large leaf and twine.


From the BBC

Taiwan is shutting down a lane of a highway for butterflies, which makes me think it’s time to go looking for some…

“Human beings need to coexist with the other species, even if they are tiny butterflies,” Lee Thay-ming, of the National Freeway Bureau, told the AFP news agency.


I’ve already heard that I should go to Ali Shan to be entranced by the lights of fireflies, too.


Because it’s on my conscience

that I haven’t posted in a while.  So, although it is four in the morning and I should sleep, here’s a random photograph from Taiwan:


Ba-Li at twilight by the Danshuei river.

I’ll catch up with the posts I’ve been meaning to post soon enough, promise.

There’s one about the park I used to walk through with my grandfather, the public service announcement on why Mister Donut should be banned on two-and-a-half hour bus rides, the aunt who has told me the most stories about my father so far, generosity passed down through the generations, and the terracotta soldiers in Taichung…


A photo I didn’t take…

I walk across the park in front of my apartment every day to go to work on the opposite side, or get my bubble tea fix and then go to work on the opposite side.

It’s a fairly decent-sized park with playgrounds, pavilions, avenues of trees, the library, little amphitheaters made out of the hills, and dried out fake ponds.  People are often dancing there or Tai-Chi-ing or doing their Falun Gong meditations.

Often, at least once a week or more on days where there’s a breeze and no rain, I’ll see him.  An old weathered man who has a little wooden thing in his hand and is looking up.

He is usually looking up at his kite, a triangle that dips and catches on the wind.  Today, I asked him if I could take his picture as he looked up at his kite with a certain wonder.  He waved me off.  So, instead I watched his colorful isosceles triangle kite, which always caught the updraft right before extending its descent to the ground.

Sometimes it’s a cluster of men flying a series of kites, but it’s usually an older sort of a man, no kids around, just holding onto a line that connects to a kite higher than the buildings that surround the park.

I wonder what they’re thinking as they fly their kites in the often grey smog sky.


More photos of the Lantern Festival

I went to the Lantern Festival again, because there were a few lanterns I hadn’t seen yet, and because there is just something cheery and marvelous about them.  I really want to make a lantern now…

Learning more about the student competition of the lanterns, I found out that my favorite display, up against colleges and elementary and middle schools, was a high school display that won first prize!

Some more lanterns…


And the shot that we spent quite a while trying to figure out:

Credit goes to my cousin for spotting the angle and capitalizing on the sign thingie to put the camera on.  I contributed my journal to the process, and did the final fiddling with the camera.  A little hack I’ve discovered for taking night shots is to set the self-timer for two seconds mode on so that it doesn’t get the press-the-button wiggle.

The concert hall (or is it the theatre?)  I always mix them up unless I’m in one.

Free Rice

March 2007
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