7.29.2011

1/2 Day Trip















































Another mountainside village today--Jiufen. It overlooks the ocean and is well known for its view, winding bustling street market, and unique local treats. It's also the one place in Taiwan where wood postcards can be found. Initially the wood postcards were my main incentive to go, but they didn't come close to meeting my expectations. So if I promised to send you a Jiufen wood postcard... sorry! 

The unique old street with it's spiderweb of secret alleys and undiscovered treasures did provide some snap worthy sights though. 







Peanut shavings from this large block are topped with ice cream and served with this flat bread.




Lion carved from soap--finest smelling store on the street. 




Chris discovered this steep alley. So naturally we explored. 





Alley sign. 


Back in Taipei we ate at a newly discovered brick oven pizza joint. Although the local food is really beginning to grow on me (Shocking, I know. The Queen of Complaints is finally complying), it was still good to have a slice of home... or at least of Italy. 








7.27.2011

Cultural Observation #3: Into "Cute"

There is one English word that any Taiwanese teenager is bound to know: cute.  They are all about cute here. Advertisements are littered with pokemon-ish cartoons, girls' i-phone covers have large plastic bunny ears, and the majority of the population owns buggy-eyed bred lap dogs.  

With the “cute” obsession has come an interesting phenomenon: Playboy brand is super popular here. I know--they have a clothing brand? Who knew Playboy sold anything other than magazines, bunny ears, and mansion admission tickets, but since arriving in Taiwan, I frequently see people sporting shoes, frames, and clothes all stamped with the bow-tie wearing bunny. There are entire Playboy clothing stores here with not a magazine or leopard print robe in sight, so if you ask people, “What’s Playboy?” they don’t know it as anything other than a clothing brand. My opinion why Playboy made it big in Taiwan—the bunny. I used to think he was cute before I realized that he was a symbol of big nekked boobs and booties. Anyhow… just a theory.  

 

Frankly, I think these figures are a little freakish, but this is the kind of "cute" stuff that the Taiwanese are obsessed with. If I had to chose though, I would say the striped one with the fuzzy stuff on his face is the cutest.  

7.25.2011

Cultural Observation #2: Television

I think Taiwanese television producers try to induce panic attacks on the viewers with repeated boinging sounds, whistles, clashing symbols, buzzers, rapid Chinese chatter, trippy animations, and flashing lights. Unfortunately my apartment doesn't get any American channels, so I have pathetically spent one too many lunches watching Chinese soap operas and game shows.  

Today there was a commercial on that begun with an American “Go Army” clip. It had our soldiers doing pushups, swiftly saluting their captains, maneuvering jets--the whole nine yards. I started feeling pretty pumped and patriotic but remembered, I’m not in America, where is this going? It ended up being a moped advertisement constructed from splices of military recruitment commercials. Not sure where the connection between sweaty guys sporting dog tags and street scooters is (maybe an attempt at sex appeal?), but hey… that’s why it’s cultural observation #2. 

Game show! 


7.24.2011

Sunshine Moonshine

My weekends in Taiwan are beginning to thin out. I have started to form mental lists of what needs to be done when I get home and the anticipated stresses of what awaits me are trying to distract me from the joy of being here. Despite our approaching departure date, I'm am making a contentious effort to suck in all of the green and beauty and freedom out of this island so I will remember it a little more clearly when I've landed in a desert in the middle of August. In addition to taking advantage good Taiwanese food, and eating every tropical fruit that customs won't let me pack home, we have been visiting ALL of the sights, and this weekend another got checked off the list. 

The Taiwanese would always look slightly offended when they would find out we hadn't been to Sun Moon Lake. We knew little about the lake other than that's it's hugely popular with the locals and that it's apparently a grave sin not to go, especially after being on the island for 2 months, so... we went. My conclusion: Sun Moon Lake is definitely not worth the expense and travel time it takes to get there.

Chris and I spent seventy bones getting to and from the center of the island to see the lake, and I doubt it is the lake I will remember when I look back on this weekend. Instead I will remember the miserable day when we woke up at 4:45 a.m. to catch a bus (which we missed) and, finally made it home at 1:00 a.m. with a lot of uncomfortable travel in between. 

Don't get me wrong, there were some nice sights in, but in the long run--not worth the time or the money. But point blank, I spent the time and the money, so I might as well cover the pros. 

We traveled from Taipei to Taizhong (about 3 hours south), where we met up with Chris and Britton's mission friend. He organized for us to take a taxi to take us from Taizhong to Sun Moon Lake (an hour north). Our taxi driver made about 6 stops along the way. He wanted to make sure we saw everything going there. I would say it was generous of him but I think he was probably just trying to rack up our bill. This is what we saw along the way:









Tennis ball sized spider in a web large enough to tangle up a human. Maybe it's hoping to catch a bird. 



Drum roll... the lake. Not much to do. We were hoping to swim, and I got kicked out for wading. The cop said it's a $2,000 fine for swimming. Joy kill. So, not much to do other than look. Wahoo. 



We briefly visited a Buddhist temple. The grounds were covered in white rock. It created kind of a pure serenity.  





This architectural wonder was the Sun Moon Lake Visitor center. We didn't even bother to go in. The main attraction was the building itself. 




The hi-light of the trip for me was dinner back at Taizhong before heading to Taipei. Chris' mission friend, George and his awesome wife Helena made us a feast of a meal complete with roasted duck, homemade dumplings, soup, fruit, salad--the works. 

 





7.18.2011

Random Cultural Observation #1: Ghost Month

Part of the joy of coming home from a vacation is squishing in between family members on the sofa while retelling your adventures. Naturally the presentation includes photos and lots of interesting stories (typically exaggerated for more of a reaction). Then the family acts interested, asks a few questions, and eventually gets bored. But today I had the sad realization that there isn't going to be a need for a sofa squishing gathering in a few weeks. I have pretty much covered everything right here, and what I haven't mentioned, I plan to in my Random Cultural Observances posts (starting right now).

That being said--Random Cultural Observance #1: Ghost Month.


-          The Seventh month is regarded as Ghost Month by Chinese Buddhists. It is believed to be the month when diseased ancestors freely roam the earth. Seeing that it’s July, worship is on the rise. In front of many business will be a tiny burn barrel ablaze with fake money. The concept behind burning money is to provide the dead with purchasing power. If they take counterfeit currency in the afterlife--I'm there and my posterity better provide. Although I'm normally very supportive of diverse cultural traditions, but I happen to be very bad on a bike and have nearly plowed over a handful of fire spitting barrels. And when I do manage to wobble around one, I usually get a face full of hot flaky ash or choking smoke. 































Aside from providing their ancestors with money, the diligent Buddhist will prepare meals to be set before a shrine. It’s not unusual to enter a business and have your eye caught by a red-lit encasement (usually made from carved wood). Within the shrine will be figurines of gods and a bowl holding vertically placed incense. 










7.13.2011

Fisherman's Wharf

This was a little evening activity that I really enjoyed. I feel like I got the best of all worlds. The wharf is in Danshui at the top of the island. To most people it would sound like a trip, and from Taipei it is, but we live so inconveniently north of Taipei, it was a nice change from the hour commute we make to the city every day.

The wharf's reputation is anchored by a stunning cable foot bridge that stretches across the river before it opens into the ocean. The bridge is a sculptural wonder in all its functionality. A design success and I enjoyed every minute taking advantage of both its form and function.

It felt to good to be carefree. To let go of my spirits and enjoy everything--the sunset, exploring the bridge's angles from behind my camera, the breeze cooling my sticky body and whipping my hair into tangles. You know those times when you think, "I'm perfectly happy" and are surprised at how little effort it takes to feel that good. And then you try and determine if it's the weather, the location, everything leading up the perfect moment, or if the stars and moons just happened to align. Then you decide that maybe it's a little of each and hope the celestial bodies will be in your favor again soon.





7.11.2011

Bali to Ying Ge

Friday:

We peddled 5 + miles up the island, took a boat across cross the river, and a trekked down the beach to enjoy a 5 minute oceanfront sunset at the tip of Bail. It was definitely worth it. The hour and a half long bike ride home was less rewarding.










Saturday: 

We ventured to Ying Ge. It's a small town that reminds me a bit of a retirement community although no one here really ever seems to stop working. The old ama's and agong's would have their fish or fruit sprawled on the street with their dried grass hats the only relief from the sun. 





Because Chris served part of his mission here he was full of useful information. Before the road was even in sight Chris explained there would be a woman around the corner selling hot sweet potatoes. Although it's been over two years and she works from little more than a cart on wheels, Mrs. Sweet Potato was right where he said she would be. 







Even though the potato skins were dry and charred, the insides were sweet and soft as butter. It was an unlikely but very good treat. 





Ying Ge is a hot spot for tourism because it has an unusually beautiful main street (for Taiwan) and is famous for its pottery. The cobblestone roads are lined with palms and attractive storefronts selling the beautiful local pottery.