Sunday, February 28, 2010

Buddha's head

This is called the custard-apple, sugar-apple, or my favorite: buddha's head.  It's really sweet and soft.  Too mushy for my tastes so I can only eat a little bit, but Jeremiah likes it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Back to basics

We have started to learn Chinese. Step 1: Learn the sounds. Children in Taiwan all learn a phonetic alphabet called BoPoMoFo, or Zhuyin Fuhao, so we are too. In the picture above you can see our workbook where we are learning to write the first two "letters". Flashback to kindergarten! Jeremiah and I quickly realized it is not easy learning how to write a new alphabet. The alternative to learning this alphabet is to use pinyin, which is a romanization to represent chinese sounds (which is difficult because the sounds we know from english don't always correspond with the sound in chinese). Our flashcards have both bopomofo and pinyin.

PS Awesome pen, right? I sure do eat a lot of carrots, why not write with one? Thanks TK, I love it!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Awkward elevator chit chat

We use the elevator in our building almost every day.  Most of the time we ride alone, but sometimes we share with another couple, a group of kids, or the lone old man or woman.  Sometimes we ride in silence or talk to our respective groups, sometimes smile at one another, or my favorite - share cheerful "ni haos".  Every once in awhile someone tries to strike up a conversation in Chinese.  Normally we apologetically say in English "no Chinese".  Last time, however, I wasn't thinking and said it in Chinese.  Well, I tried to say it.  In the moment I got flustered and instead said either "You don't speak Chinese?" or "I don't speak Chinese?" (I can't really remember what I started with because I was so focused on the fact that I had accidentally turned the statement into a question).  The old man laughed at me.

We're trying out Chinese lessons this week.  Maybe next time I ride with him I will be able to correctly put together a statement.  Or maybe I should just stick with ni hao.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Its getting cold in here

It's in the mid 50s right now, and not much warmer inside

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taiwanese Hospitality

Living in Taiwan I am continually amazed by the kindness shown to us by complete strangers.  Yesterday we were invited to spend Chinese New Year eve with a friend's family whom we have never met.  I spent some time worrying that I would do something wrong, commit some serious faux pas, embarrass myself or worse - offend the family who so generously invited us into their home.  Turns out that was all time wasted.

Walking into their house we had no idea what to expect, but as we all snaked our way back to the room where we would eat it was clear that many hours were spent cooking for this meal.  Our friend knows that Jeremiah and I are vegan, and as the food was brought out (and kept coming out) she pointed out which dishes we could eat.  She explained for everyone what each dish was and how to eat it.  Our friend's mom, our host, came into the room and welcomed us to her house.  Wine was poured, bowls and chopsticks were handed out (along with a few forks, "just in case") and we started eating, everyone a little nervously at first, finding things we loved and discreetly passing along those we didn't.  As we got more and more full, you could feel everyone's apprehensions fading away.

At the end of the meal, dishes cleared away and fruit brought out for dessert, conversations continued in Chinese, English, Spanish and a little Lao for good measure.  Our host quietly handed all of the guests red envelopes.  Xie xie ni, thank you, hardly seemed to suffice to express our gratitude not only for the red envelope, but also the hospitality.  It was a wonderful evening, and we all felt thankful to this family who took us in and shared their holiday with us.

Friday, February 12, 2010

LeoFoo Village Theme Park

When we were on our trip to Yingge we saw signs for LeoFoo Village so we googled it and discovered it's an amusement park!  What could be a better way to start the Chinese New Year break?  Plus, Leslie and B are here visiting!  Hopes were high it would live up to the promises of the website, but we were also braced for it to end up like Enchanted Forest (pretty bare-bones kiddy park in Oregon and their website makes it looks way cooler than it is).
Picture in left bottom corner shows the variety of LeoFoo - Arabian palace, dinosaur and tropical log ride

Turns out LeoFoo is Leo-Fab.  Many similarities to Disneyland, including Mickey and Minnie look-alikes and different themed "lands" (Wild West, South Pacific, Arabian Kingdom and African Safari).  We thoroughly enjoyed all the rides we went on - Screaming Condor (shot forward and backwards into the air super fast), Little Rattler, Old Oil Well (flipped upside down), Pagoda's Revenge (dropped from the sky), Mighty Mountain Flume Adventure (like Splash Mountain, we got wet) and Sultan's Adventure (like Indiana Jones).
Little Rattler ride

We went in determined to have a good time regardless of how lame the park ended up being, but I think even debbie-downers would have fun here.  It's no Disneyland, but it's still pretty impressive.  We spent a full 4 hours there and could have stayed longer (alas, it was closing).

Fake crocodile, real monkey behind us

Fake horse, real flamingos

Ultimate verdict: we'll go back.

Our new friends

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Good Fortune


One day this sign appeared on my office door.  The sign is the character for "good fortune" and is hung upside down, because the Mandarin word for “upside down,” dao, is a homonym of the word “arrival” and thus represents the “arrival” of prosperous times.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wall Art

The Chinese word for fish (yu ) is pronounced the same as the word for "abundance" or “surplus” (余), so fish decorations are popular during the Chinese New Year.  We've got these fishies hanging in our apartment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guo Nian

Look around town and you'll see red and gold, everywhere - lamps, clothes, signs, couplets, flowers, etc. Shops are well stocked and busy.  Children are excited to have a break from school.  Travel plans have been arranged for families to visit one another. Chinese New Year is almost upon us.

I've done a little research on the story behind Chinese New Year, and this is what I've gathered from a few different sources. (Anyone have anything to correct or add... please leave a comment!)

Depiction of the Nian from here

Legend tells of a terrible beast called Nian (or Nien) who would come to villages to satisfy his appetite, eating the people, as well as their livestock and crops.  One year, an old man offered to help them with their problem. He said to Nian: "I hear that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts instead of people who are by no means your worthy opponents?"  Nian took the challenge and ate many of the beasts that hurt people, livestock and pets and thus these beasts were frightened back to the forests. This old man turned out to be an immortal god and before flying back to heaven he told the villagers that they should put up red decorations each new year to scare away Nian in case he decided to come back (in other versions of the story the villagers discovered that the Nian was scared of loud noise and red so they chased him away without the help of a god). The villagers enjoyed their peaceful lives, each year hanging red lanterns and red scrolls on their doors and in their windows to keep away the Nian and also lighting firecrackers to frighten him if he tried to come back.

 A very different depiction from here

Since then, the term "guo nian" has the meaning of "pass-over" or "survive" the nian (the word for "year") and is sononomous with New Year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

big snow mountain hike

last weekend we made the 90 minute drive from taichung up to big snow mountain forest recreational area, also known as dasyueshan (see more info at luca's taiwan travel guide).  we picked up our friend (who speaks chinese) and then headed up around 7:30.  it should be noted that i told allison the hike would take "roughly five and a half hours round trip," but in reality, our friend had told me five and a half hours one way, which means i made up the round trip part.  after passing quite a few birdwatchers (i mean, hardcore birdwatchers with huge telescopes out and multiple cameras around their necks), we made it to the information center/trail head around 9:00, got ready, and started out on our hike.  we'd heard how great the views were going to be from our friend, but as we started hiking, we noticed it was going to be a pretty foggy day.

fortunately for us, this hiking path wasn't made of lincoln logs like our other hike closer to us.  we enjoyed walking on real dirt, steps, through grass fields, lots of forests, and in the end, up a small paved road.  the entire hike up the the mountain was just over 9 km (about 6 mi for most of our readers) and i think our elevation peaked at around 2,600 meters (8,500 ft).  although the name seemed to promise a mountain that was big and covered in snow, most of our views consisted of the peaks of smaller mountains poking their peaks through the clouds.

although we were snacking on nuts and berries the whole way up (gatherers, no hunters over here), we were pretty hungry once we reached the top around 1:30pm.  our friend busted out his portable little tea making contraption and we feasted on peanut butter sandwiches and jasmine green tea.  after about an hour of resting and picture taking, we decided to go try and find some to give us a ride down.  this is where the trip gets fun.  as we're walking down, we notice there are no more than three cars in the parking lot and they belong to large groups of people.  by now, allison has realized it isn't a five and a half hour hike up/down, but more of an 11 hour hike up/down and we had a 15 km walk down the road back to our car if we didn't get a ride.  it's about 3:15pm when we decide to start walking down the road, hoping to grab a lift.  fortunately, we saw a car coming after about a half hour.  unfortunately, their car was full.  after another half hour, saw a van coming down, so we stopped them, told them our story, and then smiled and said (in chinese), "sorry, we have our bed down in the back and don't want to put it up."  that made allison happy.  i thought she was just going to dive in and make them drive us down.  our third strike came when a police jeep went flying by us, not even stopping to check if we were alright, which is surprising because we were waving at him as if one of us was having a heart attack.

after 7 km, we ended up at the hotel area and hoped that we'd be able to get a ride down the rest of the way.  no luck.  eek.  it's pretty dark now, the nice views are gone, it's getting colder, and we're starting to realize we might not make it down for the indian food feast that i'd been thinking about the whole time.  as we're walking away from the deserted hotel, policeman comes flying back up the hill and allison and i start waving our hands again.  he stops, and the reoccurring  "ni hao no chinese" conversation ensues as he continues to talk 40 words a second at us and he takes off.  our chinese speaking friend comes running up (he was at the hotel looking for help) and we apologize for being ignorant americans and for not being able to make the police officer wait thirty more seconds.  so... we decide we'll keep on truckin' down the hill, but fortunately the policeman came back down the hill and our friend was able to ask him for a ride, which he reluctantly agreed to.  now, i've never been in a race car, but i always imagined that when/if i did drive in one, it'd be on a race track, not a winding road heading down a mountain, in the dark, with cliffs, and the ever present threat of death around every turn.  i'm pretty sure the policeman thought we had to make it down in a hurry because i thought we were going to plummet to our death a few times (though he was thoughtful enough to say that we should let him know if we felt like we were going to throw up so he could pull over).  we probably topped out at 90 mph (ok, maybe 60.  alright, i'm lying.  closer to 30), but it definitely was fast.  i think i closed my eyes a few times, so i'm not sure if allison passed out or not.  we made it safe and sound, hoped in our car and i sped off (and by sped off, i mean about 5 mph) through the denses fog i've ever been in with two passengers making sure i noticed the turns on the way down.

and in case you're wondering.  we did make it down for our indian food feast.  and it was glorious.