Tuesday, August 17, 2010

{{ the potatoes of Asia }}

Sunday I went shopping. The metro was packed with young lovers, doing last minute shopping for Valentine's Day. I was starving when I arrived at the Central Park station. I went to Talee, which is one of the oldest department stores in Kaohsiung. Being a food addict, I went right to the food court.

This is a new restaurant in the food court. Their specialties include sticky rice, zhongzhi, white carrot cake, and wongua (in Taiwanese). I totally made up the spelling for this because I don't know what it's called in Mandarin. Anyhow, I decided to get this because it's been such a long time since I've last had wongua.

Wongua is made from rice. First, the grains of rice are milled into powdered form. Then, with water, the mixture is steamed in a bowl to get the shape as shown above. There is meat inside the bowl-shaped wongua and it is served with minced meat and diced, dried white carrot on top.

It is quite delicious and the taste of it, so nostalgic.

{{ what? a rooster in the house! halt! }}

Kaohsiung Metropolitan Park is one of the most popular public parks in Northern Kaohsiung. The site used to be a landfill, but after years of planning and executing, the park now treats 19 million cubic meters of methane. By burning it as a fuel in a gas turbine or steam boiler, methane is important for electrical generation.

The park itself is huge and beautiful. Across the bridge (above), there is a hill, perfect for watching sunset. Next time I come, I will be bringing my camera.

This park provides a habitat for 137 different species of birds, 9 types of amphibians, 15 types of reptiles, 8 types of fish and more than 100 types of common insects and more than 400 types of plants.

The Visitor Center plays a short film everyday at 9 am. The day we went, I learned a little bit about Yu Shan (Jade Mountain), which is the tallest mountain in Taiwan and the tallest in Northeast Asia. The highest point of Yu Shan range is 3952 m and is covered with thick snow in the winter.

The "Golden Rooster Sundial" is one of the attractions at the park. It designates one of the twelve animals in the Chinese culture.

Locals crowd the park in the morning, doing their morning exercises. From cyclists to Tai Chi-ers to yogis, the park is filled with the young and the old, all of them searching for that balanced lifestyle in the hustle and bustle of city life.

{{ so they are friends}}

No need to say more....

{{ a little treasure a ferry ride away }}

Saturday night, my parents and I met up with my uncle and my little cousin Jeff for dinner. We went to a Japanese restaurant called "Fubaku". The sushi there was delicious, especially the beef rolls. I haven't eaten anything that I didn't enjoy since I've been back, which is a pretty good thing!

Instead of going to my uncle's place for delicious coffee after dinner, my parents and I decided to go for a evening walk at Chijin Island. It's a long-striped island off the Port of Kaohsiung and it is a popular place to go for seafood. There is a tunnel that goes to the island from the mainland, but most people (walk-ons, scooter-ers, cyclists) take the ferry instead.

The ferry costs $15NT per person and a little bit more (not that much, maybe $35 NT) per scooter. I'm not sure about bikes. Anyway, the transportation department of Kaohsiung City has made it convenient enough for MRT users by permitting the use of MRT passes (MRT is the subway system in Kaohsiung). The ferry ride is only about 8 minutes - maybe not even. It's lovely to go in the evening because you get a beautiful night view of downtown Kaohsiung. There are many ferry terminals on the mainland and a popular place to take it is by Sizihwan, where Sun Yat-Sen University is close to.

This area is famous for their shaved-ice-in-a-huge-bowl-topped-with-whatever-toppings-you-want (usually fruits). We were too full from dinner to have any, so I'll save the details for another post.

This temple on the island is celebrating its 337 year anniversary this year.

All in all, it was a very busy day. Other than families with young children, there were a lot of young couples out walking about. Chinese Valentine's Day is coming up. It falls on July 7th every year on the Lunar Calendar. There is a depressing love story that explains the origin of this holiday, but I'll elaborate on that later.

There is a lighthouse on Chijin Island that is supposed to be quite beautiful. It was too dark to visit on this particular evening. I plan to purchase a bike, perhaps second hand. I can then bike around the island with a biking group that I've recently joined (on facebook).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

{{ I tried to share his sense of passion }}

My father is an amazing singer. He, who never had any training, has a beautiful voice and like most non-professional singers, he frequents karaoke bars.

Now, karaoke is like crack to Asians. Apart from the big kara
oke chains such as Holidays where you get your own room and etc, there are BEAUCOUP family owned karaoke places. The big chains are popular for younger people; by that I mean younger than the age of say..40. The latter is a hit for older, married working people (aka, people like my dad). It is usually part of the owner's house, located on the first storey. It has 3 ~ 5 tables with a stage in the front. Now each party has their own table and the owner will play the requests table by table. This means that you can be singing up on the stage in front of people you don't even know. It's great fun because of the excessive amount of echo from the mic and that people there are usually drunk anyways.

My dad likes to go to these places after work. Nobody in my family really enjoys singing besides him and I; so now that I'm here, we go together. People at these places are always giving unnecessary compliments and asking awkward questions.

"Your daughter is so beautiful"

"She sings so well"

"How old is she? Oh! She's from Canada? Does she have a boyfriend?"

"I have a son..."

and it goes on and on

I understand that this type of conversation is completely normal in this part of the world. Our small and dense neighborhood prohibits solitude. Everybody pretty much knows everybody so it is no surprise that my dad has befriended these frequent customers. Despite of all that I understand about this culture, when you're the youngest soul present, surrounded by strangers, it is a little uncomfortable to hear what they have to say.

It is all part of the way of life that I still have to slowly adapt to. I enjoy going to karaoke because it's just me and my dad. He doesn't have many interests but for as long as I can remember, singing has always been his favourite past time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

{{ the youngsters like their games }}

I started teaching English to little kids last Thursday. Thanks to Julia and her helpful comments, my teaching skills have improved. The same goes for Ryan. He is doing so much better now that he's taught a couple of classes. The kids are adorable, but they have amazingly SHORT attention span. It isn't personal, but it is very easy for them to get tired and bored if the classroom energy isn't kept at 100%. It is more of a challenge teaching young children than teaching adults. That is a fact. Creativity is so essential in children education. It has been a week and I can only see both Ryan and myself getting better at this.

Good luck to us!

{{ eight more members }}

Mike and I wanted to get something special for my dad this year for Father's Day. Two of my brother's friends came along with us on our little shopping spree. We've known each other for as long as I could remember - family friends. So the five of us (including Ryan of course) went from department stores to department stores without any idea of what kind of presents to get.

In the end, we decided to go with this....

My dad likes fishes. He used to have a fish tank in his clinic, but that was before we left for Canada. We figured that the little swimmers can keep him company when we are not here in Taiwan.

We bought each things individually. The tank set was on sale. It included the tank, the light, the sand, the fish food, and the little motor for water circulation. We chose our own vegetation to plant and the other ornaments such as the cranes, frogs and bridge. We bought 5 little tiny fish to start ( the pet care difficulty for this type was labelled 'EASY'). It was buy 5 get 3, so we ended up with 8 little swimmers.

We surprised dad in the morning of August 8th by bringing the tank down to the clinic early in the morning. I think he liked it =)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

{{ You only get one Dad }}

"Eight" is an auspicious number in the Chinese culture. This is probably because the word 'eight' sounds very similar to the word for 'bringing fortune'. The word 'eight' also sounds like the word for 'dad'. Thus, August 8 sounds like the word 'father'. Every year on August 8, the Taiwanese people celebrate Father's Day*.

* I don't think this is the case for Mainland Chinese or Hkers. August 8 is only celebrated by Taiwanese.

Sunday, August 8

We got all dressed up to go to our Father's day lunch/family reunion at the Ambassador Hotel. Mama had booked this reservation (more than) a week in advance since the restaurant in this hotel is a popular place for family gatherings. Many members of my family showed up, including an uncle who I haven't seen in years. It was so lovely to see my little cousin, who is going into grade 12. So much pressure is put on him because his university entry examination will be coming up shortly. He's a good kid and he works so hard to make his parents proud.

My great aunt and uncle are very close with my family. I have known them my entire life and they are the most wonderful people I know. My great aunt kept speaking Chinese to Ryan, telling him that she can and will only speak Chinese to him from now on. Her intention was simple, to force him to learn Chinese ASAP! Ha, but as we all know too well, learning a new language is easier said than done.

One of my uncles brought some bottles of wine to have with dinner. The white Chateauneuf-du-Papes and a German riesling were among them. The riesling was sweeter than most and was a good aperitif. We had mediocre red bordeaux with our main dishes. It's almost a waste to have delicate bordeaux with Chinese food. It is not because the food is not delicious (IT IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING), but the authentic taste of traditional Chinese cuisine just isn't compatible with most delicate European wine. I don't drink many white wines, but this bottle of Chateauneuf was unlike anything I've had before. The rich flavor lingers long after the sip.

After lunch, we went to the courtyard on 4th floor to take some photos. More on facebook.

I like family gatherings. There are promises for more, now that I'm back in Taiwan for awhile. I look forward to see my relatives more and I loo
k forward to spending Chinese holidays here in REAL CHINA TOWN.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

{{ What a Day! }}

Today was a pretty hectic day.

6:00 am: woke up and went for a walk with mama and papa to World Games Stadium, which is 5 min scooter ride away. In the morning is where you'd see a lot of elderly people doing tai chi and today was no exception. It's serene and soothing for practitioners as well as for viewers such as myself. The stadium was built for the World Games that took place last year. The dragon-shaped stadium contains 8000+ solar panels that almost look like the scales o
f this auspicious creature. It's a beautiful structure and the landscaping around it makes it a popular place for locals to spend their early mornings and cool evenings.

7:15 am: Mama, papa and I were going to Mei & Mei after our walk to buy breakfast (nobody really eats at home here...), but I told them that Ryan enjoys going out to breakfasts with us. So we went home first to get Ryan and off we go again. mama and papa on one scooter; Ryan and I on another.

9:00 am: The water pipe from our hot water tank had burst 2 days ago and we had about 6 people working on our roof this morning. My house is 3 storeys high and the only way to get to the roof is from my brother's room on the 3rd floor. I kept running up and down the stairs trying to make sense of the situation.

The source of our water comes from underground. It gets pumped up to the roof and is stored in a water tank. The cold water gets heated by the two huge solar panels that are positioned diagonally by the hot water tank. The system is quite simple but there are about a billion useless pipes sticking out from random places on the roof.

We had to relocate our cold water tank about 1 meter higher in order to provide sufficient pressure head. Our neighbor's roof shade (made of sheet aluminum) was in the way so the workers decided to remove a chunk of it out. They then got anxious because there was a girder in the way but they managed to do it anyway. The missing rectangular piece made the entire roof hideous. After placing the water tank onto the new rack, the workers chuckled because they realized then that they really didn't need to remove any of it. I almost died from their lack of precision, organization, and preparation. Despite of this, these good-humored people possessed the most defining characteristics of Kaohsiung locals.

It was a hot day and dad bought drinks for everybody. Mama and I were watching the men work while Ryan snapped a couple of photos. They didn't mind our curiosity even though our actions may be considered weird to other local Taiwanese.

It took forever to finish reinstalling everything though it is, without a doubt, considered rocket speed compared to Canadian standards. It was a long but educational morning. The maths and physics I learned at UBC had come to visit from half way across the world.

12:30 pm: I had an appointment at a computer drafting school and during out scooter ride to Nan-Tzu, it started pouring. The raindrops were unlike anything in Vancouver. You can get completely drenched within minutes and the raindrops can be ridiculously painful.

4:00 pm: There is a local English kindergarden/bushiban just around the corner of my house. Ryan and I paid a visit the day before and was offered the opportunity to teach for an hour each today. Ryan was so nervous and I could tell. I think this will be a very challenging job for him (maybe the first he has ever encountered) but overall a very rewarding experience. Knowing how the educational systems works here in Asia, understanding how difficult it is for a kid to learn a new language, and having experience in communicating with non-english speakers, I was able to "cheat" a little bit. I am the nervous type. My legs wouldn't stop shaking..

Julia, an exceptionally nice lady whose family owns the bushiban, immediately offered me a permanent part-time job. I didn't even ask for the details because 1. I wasn't even expecting to get a job here 2. I had thought this opportunity was mostly for Ryan 3. I didn't think I did a decent enough job 4. I live so close to the school and I start teaching on Monday. I figure she will tell me more about it. ETC..

In the mean time, Julia is giving Ryan the opportunity to teach at the school to gain experience. I thought this was so nice of her. I believe with some practice and adjustments, Ryan will be a very brilliant, engaging teacher.

8:00 pm: The walk home from the bushiban took all of 3 minutes. We were starving. Life here is very structured, especially with my family: 7:15 am breakfast, 12:00 pm lunch, 5:30 pm dinner. Ryan and I wandered around and found a cheap family restaurant. Like everything else we've had already since we've been here, the food was delicious. To celebrate/de-stress, we shared a bottle of Taiwan Beer (Gold Metal) with dinner.

I had trouble trying to remember it all because so much happened in one day. So far, I am enjoying every minute of everyday. I look forward to new adventures and discoveries.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Bonjour! Or Ni hao!

It seemed like it was only yesterday that I was leaving Victoria for Quebec. All of a sudden, I am half way across the world, away from my friends from Vancouver and my new friends from Trois-Rivieres. My flights from Montreal to Toronto to Vancouver went by really fast. My flights from Vancouver to Beijing to Taipei seemed even faster!

Beijing was gloomy. It was my first time in China (in my opinion, HK is still on its own..) People were a little intimidating, but maybe it was because I was holding a Taiwanese passport. Who knows. I was glad to leave when I did.

Despite the gray sunlight, Terminal 3 was massive and impressive. The columns, the scale-like skylights, and the spacious layout are all very artistic I thought. Norman Foster designed it for Beijing Olympics 2008. I believe it contained one of the fastest baggage transfer systems in the world. I would've loved to see the city of Beijing, but it was quite a long way away. It would've been interesting to see / compare the lifestyle, architecture and food to the Taiwanese.

Upon arrival in Taipei, we were greeted (by surprise!) by my brother! He hadn't planned on coming to pick us up at the airport nor was he planning on heading back to Kaohsiung on the same day! We managed to fit 4 suitcases, 3 backpacks, a computer monitor, some bags full of Mike's stuff and 2 (haha) straw hats into the car and drove ~300km southbound to my lovely home city Kaohsiung.

I missed this humid, hot weather. It sounds gross but I actually missed the feeling of sweat dripping down my spine. The burning sun beams, the noisy traffic, the dirty squatter toilets, the huge selection of drinks at any convenient store, the chewing tabacco stains on asphalt, the creepy men standing around random places and the green banana/palm trees are just some of the familiar things I remember from my childhood.

It feels awkwardly strange and normal to be back home!

This trip is different from past summers. This trip is to last for a year. This trip is for me to rediscover my roots, culture, language and of course, to EAT LOTS OF TROPICAL FRUITS! I have a little friend with me this time. Ryan is here again in Taiwan 3 years later. He is remembering places he's been and food he's tried. There is a lot more to be discovered and learned for the both of us. Huan ying Ryan =)