Saturday, August 28, 2010

House of unique stink

Before coming to Taiwan our friends Dan and Debbie invited us over to watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. One of the bizarre foods he tried was stinky tofu. Stinky tofu in different variations are everywhere, there is a shop just down the road from us (and trust me, when you walk by you can't miss it). So we've tried it a few times - me taking small bites and Jeremiah actually consuming most of a serving. However, the restaurant Andrew Zimmern went to looked to be just about the stinkiest of the stinky tofu you can get.

Video clip from the show - an introduction to stinky tofu; Andrew's visit to 
Dai's House of Unique Stink starts at about the 5:00 minute mark.

We knew at some point we would make it to Dai's House of Unique Stink to see for ourselves just how bad it really is, and it just so happened that we found ourselves in Taipei with some time to kill when our moms were in town. Lucky them right?  Right.

It took us a couple minutes just sitting in the restaurant to acclimate to the smell.  It about knocks you over when you walk in.  Ms. Wu herself came to take our order and recommended two varieties of stinky tofu - one that comes cold, soft and raw, and another that is fried.  We tried the soft one first:

Folks, this is the grossest thing I have ever eaten.  Think of the worst sewage smell you have ever experienced and imagine that being in your mouth.  I thought some of us weren't going to be able to swallow it.  We had chasers of dark, strong, juice that we quickly drank but the taste doesn't leave your mouth that easily.  Next came the fried stinky tofu and Ms. Wu showed us how to prepare it.

Compared to the raw kind, fried was a piece of cake.  Smothered in sauce it was manageable.  Manageable as in I would probably never again eat it on purpose but if made to I could do it without gagging.  Jeremiah rallied and went back for seconds of the raw type, and I think even ate a whole square of the fried one by himself.

Now whose ready to try some?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The price is right

Bargaining is an essential travel skill that I lack.  Not only am I not good at it, but I dread the whole process.  I'd rather be labelled the silly foreigner than have to go through the process.  But Jeremiah has absolutely mastered this skill and thoroughly enjoys the game aspect of the whole thing.  It was clear during our first few trips to the markets that I simply cannot be around once bargaining begins.  I try to be helpful, really I do, but as it turns out I'm more helpful to the vendor than Jeremiah.  He can laugh at a price on their calculator and walk away like he genuinely doesn't want the product and I get nervous that he's not just acting but that he might actually walk away from the whole deal (and let's be real, it's usually something I want that he's trying to get).  So now we discuss what we want under our breaths or through looks and eyebrow raises and then I walk away.  I try to watch nonchalantly from a distance where my anticipation can't ruin it for him.  Because we buy very few things for ourselves the items we choose are usually those we are very excited about having; so after money has changed hands and whole exchange is over, Jeremiah's walk back to my hiding spot has a victory lap feel to it.  And I can breath a sigh of relief.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunshine on the water looks so lovely

Love this shot J took.  Sunshine (or suntan) on shoulders is not always appreciated by the people in Taiwan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harold and the purple dumpling

We got a surprise when we opened our order of take-away dumplings

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo op

For those of you who may be missing our smiling faces

I think the man that took this picture secretly wanted to be a photographer, he took our picture at least 18 times in front of the Taj Mahal.  By this point in the trip I was used to having my picture taken, because throughout our time in India, especially in Delhi, strangers were taking our picture all the time.  Some would come up and ask, some wanted to be in a picture with us, and others just took them from afar.  I liked to wave at the camera when I caught them doing it.  I think we only said no to a picture once.  We had entered a mosque in hopes that it would be less crazy than the market outside where I thought I was going to have a breakdown if I stayed in the insanity for even one more second.  The mosque unfortunately wasn't any better.  The man who asked for a picture simply had terrible timing.  I was hot, thirsty and trying to escape the stares and get quickly back to my shoes as the ground was searing my feet.  I had just been called a rather mean name (though in retrospect I'm sure the young person who said it didn't really understand what it meant).  I was also feeling self conscious in the comically bright pink floral muumuu I was given to cover my already very conservatively dressed self.  Looking back it is humorous how ridiculous the whole situation was.  But at the time I didn't feel any need to mark the moment with a picture of me and a stranger.  So I declined.  Jeremiah did however take a picture of the madness before we returned to it to get cold water and a rickshaw.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Holy rats

Before I even stepped into the temple I knew I wasn't going to like it.  I hesitated before putting my bare foot down, hiked my pants up, and thought about what exactly I was going to be stepping on and contemplated turning back.  I looked up and saw the temple filled with people calmly walking through and decided if they can all do this, I can too.  While everyone in the temple was praying to their god, I was praying that I could keep it together enough to not scream if a rat ran over my foot.  Ahead of me I saw a man jump away and decided I could allow myself that much if one got too close.  Behind me Sanjay was reassuring me, again, that the rats are holy so they won't bite.

These little guys are everywhere.  They cover the edges of the room and crisscross the floors between people's feet.  They climb gates so when you turn your head there are rats at eye level.  I'm not sure what I had expected but it wasn't what I saw.  I do know that when I had read the word "rat" in the guide book in my head I had pictured the rats in pet stores - nice and clean.  These weren't like that.  We are told some of them were feeling hot and resting, though I'm not so sure they were simply sleeping.  Death is certainly the fate of these rats if they chose to escape the temple; they are only holy when living inside.  But why would they want to leave when they rats are fed a steady diet of sweets and sugary milk?  

Jeremiah handled it much better than I did.  He seemed as calm as the others and was willing to stop and get close to them to take pictures.  We searched unsuccessfully for the extra special white rat that is supposed to be very lucky to see.  I personally was glad to leave the temple and I'm okay if I never experience that again.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cows and Camels and Monkeys, Oh My!

Summer break is over and we are now back to school.  We've only been back a few days but it feels good to be getting back into a routine of some sorts.  We had a fabulous time in India and have been sorting photos and retelling stories to our friends and family.  One of the things in India that continually blew us away were all the close encounters we had with animals.  The sightings started slowly, goats and cows pulling carts in the busy markets of Delhi, and quickly gained momentum.  By the end of the trip we had seen rats, camels, goats, elephants, monkeys, peacocks and cows... lots of cows.

Soon after setting out on the highway we saw herds of goats and sheep crossing the road.  Cars slowed to a stop for cows who decided that the road would be a good place to stop for a sit-down break.  Water buffalo crossed the road with cars weaving between them (our driver informed us while he laid on the horn that cows will move for cars but the buffalo just stand their ground).  This highway traffic is different from what we are used to, but not too far out there.  When we got to town it was the same story though.  Cows, goats and pigs just kicking it in the road, in front of stores, crazing on piles of garbage.  This means that while walking through town you would have to walk within feet, inches even, of cows and bulls with big horns.  We wondered with all these cows roaming around town, how did their owners know where they were?  The answer is that Indian cows (and their owners) are smart.  The cows are milked in the morning and then let free to roam town to find food.  Cows are holy in India so often food is left out for them.  They may also sift through the trash on the street or find some patches of grass.  Then in the evening they find their way home to be milked again.

I had one close encounter with a bull when I passed too closely and it turned its head and his horn got me in the arm but this is nothing compared to the camel ride that left me sore for days.

Camel sightings became frequent a few days into our trip and we just couldn't get enough of these weird looking animals.  Up close they are pretty big and intimidating so our camel rides had me nervous.  We got on successfully, I let Jeremiah get on his first to test the waters, and held on as the camels get themselves up from their folded sitting position, first standing up on their back legs then straightening their front legs.  It was a rocky start and we had to hold on tight.  We headed out to the dunes to watch the sunset.

My camel and I were doing pretty well together despite the fact that I didn't have a guide sitting with me.  He stopped a few times to get a roadside snack of leaves and berries but with a few tugs I got him back on the right track.  I become aware that we are suddenly in the middle of a bunch of cows when out of nowhere a cow comes headed straight for my camel.  Trying to avoid being hit by the cow my camel maneuvers out of the way and in doing so nearly knocks me off.  I slid to the right and my glasses fly off my head.  It's quickly over but my heart is racing.  Visions of the camel falling on top of me had flashed through my head.  I gripped with my legs so tightly that I felt like maybe I pulled a muscle.  I got props from our new friends who were impressed that I stayed on and didn't freak out too much.  Over the next few days I had some very sore leg and ab muscles.

Needless to say after my cow and camel interactions I was nervous the couple times we came across groups of monkeys, especially when they were fighting amongst themselves; I am happy to report we had no run-ins with the monkeys.  They were pretty cool to watch though.  Apparently there is a monkey god and many people feed the monkeys in tribute to the god, so there were many groups around some of temples we visited as well as in the holy city of Pushkar where we were visited by a bunch them during dinner.  They were content with their meal of leaves high in the trees and were finally chased off by the owner's 5 year old son.

I mentioned we also saw rats... but you'll have to wait for the next post to hear that story.