Posted by: sea2stars | July 16, 2010

1000 Awesome Things

Now that I’m writing my own blog detailing my life experience I’ve started searching other peoples blogs when I’m bored. I came upon this one a few months ago called 1000 Awesome Things. I really like visiting this blog when I’m a little down on life or feeling overwhelmed because it helps remind me of the simple, everyday events that make this life truly amazing. It reminds me to be thankful for all the wonderful things I have in life and helps me remember that everything always works out and I should just relax and enjoy the simple things in life. I felt that some of you might enjoy this as well.

What’s on your awesome list? I’d love to hear.

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Posted by: sea2stars | July 14, 2010

Temple pottery

We went to a Bantaoyao, just a short scooter ride outside of Chiayi to look at traditional Taiwan pottery. The place we went to is famous around the world for making temple decorations, specifically one called Koji pottery. Koji pottery is a soft ceramic sintered at low temperatures. Their is a second type of temple decorations where they use broken pieces of porcelain bowls and put it together to make animals and flowers while the koji potter is usually for warriors or Gods. Their was a great museum that had examples and explained what all the potteries were and how they were made. Most of it was in Chinese but my friend, Doug, had done his homework and was able to tell us a lot about the different types of pottery.

This place was also pretty cool because you could make your very own temple decoration. Renee and I painted Gods. She chose Matsu, the God of the Sea. I chose Tu Di Gong 土地公, the Earth God. Doug decided to make a tile and he put his Chinese last name on it.

The town we were in had many decorations from this pottery place. There were tile cows and decorated walls. We went to a famous wall of flowers and plants made from the broken bowls. It was very impressive and fun to take some very Taiwanese posed pictures. My friend Renee has become a master at the Taiwanese style posed photographs.

We then went to a very famous Matsu temple. It was rather appropriate after seeing how temple decorations were made. I’ve been told that the decorations on temples are usually designed to tell an important story about a God. It’s always interesting to go to temples and see the way in which people pray. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever seen before. It seems to involve massive amounts of incense, bowing, and fake money. I haven’t written much about the temples in Taiwan, mostly cause I don’t understand them very well. They had an english description at the Matsu temple about how to pray properly, this is what it said…

“Light three incense sticks. Bow with the sticks three times in front of the Statue of Matsu in the main hall an say the prayer. Your follower … (your name) I was born in …(your date of birth) I am … (your gender) I live in … (your address) Today I earnestly pray your answer for my problem … (tell Matsu why and what do you want to request for advice) Please give me an answer and let me come back for your indication after a while. (Now visit the other halls in order of the directions)
After finishing all the praying return to the main hall. Then tell Matsu why you are here again and ask if you are ready to get the answer by casting the semi-lunar diving blocks. If the answer is “Yes” you will see that the pair is landed showing different sides: If not, please what until Matsu gets ready to give you answer. When allowing to get the answer, draw a lot from the lots container and put it on the alter and cast the semi-lunar diving blocks. If the pair maintains different sides three times continuously it means that it is the right lot for you; otherwise return it and repeat the step again.
According to the number on the pot, find a hole which divine message is inscribed. The information counter or the priest will help you to explain it.”

http://www.bantaoyao.com.tw/main.php

Posted by: sea2stars | June 16, 2010

Creative Cooking Class 2: Mango Salsa

My creative cooking classes started around the holidays when I became interested in making holiday treats but really didn’t have the equipment to do so. I was able to make no bake cookies and puppy chow with corn flakes. The lack of an oven, basic cooking utensils, and completely different groceries have led me to some interesting cooking endeavors.

This week it was mango salsa. We have the most extraordinary fruits and vegetables here in Taiwan and I’ve had the pleasure over the past few weeks of trying lots of new fruits. It’s mango season now and I’ve been getting tired of eating just the mangos so I looked up some new recipe ideas and found one for mango salsa. I looked up a few recipes and decided what ingredients I had available to me and cut stuff up and put it together until it looked about right. I used mango, red onion, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, lime juice, red peppers, and salt. All the recipes called for jalapeno chilies but I couldn’t find any. I still think it tastes delectable and never mind the fact that I can’t find tortilla chips, Taiwan has lots of different crackers that are a sufficient substitute.

Posted by: sea2stars | June 7, 2010

Taipei Zoo

It’s seems that no matter how old I get I’m still fascinated by zoos. Although I have now gained the composure from running up to in-closers yelling “mommy mommy look,” I still feel that sense of excitement when I go up to see a wild animal in such close proximity. All zoos offer something different, they have different animals, different exhibits but I have discovered that no matter what language or culture the kids are always the same, either completely elated to see a new animal or scared to death of them. I also love this part of zoo. As much fun as it is to see the wild animals it’s also fun to watch the kids. This time it had an added bonus for me as some kids and I exchanged languages and they told me how to say the animals in chinese and I told them how to say it in English.

I had perfect weather for the zoo, it was a cool gray overcast day with a few brief sprinkles in between and it wasn’t too hot for the animals and they were surprisingly active all day. I find that many zoos offer the same array of animals, but their are always a few things that are different. This is the first zoo that I’ve gone to in another country and had a lot of animals I’ve never seen before. Hippos, baboons, wolves, koala bears, lemur monkeys, and panda bears just to name a few.

The panda bears were amazing. I think all zoos should have pandas, not because I think they need saving, but because they highly entertaining. Pandas have to eat for roughly 10-16 hours a day. This means they are active most of the day and they are far more interesting to watch than the sleeping bears that I’m use to seeing at zoos. Also because of Pandas ‘thumbs’, which allows them to hold thing in their front paws, they have a rather humanistic quality about them and as I watched them I found it rather easy to anthropomorphize them. It makes it easier to understand why they invade so many stories and why people want to save them.

The zoo also contained some oddly familiar animals to me. I was quite surprised in the nocturnal house when I came upon a raccoon. I’ve always considered these animals more of a pest than a zoo animal. In another part of the zoo they also had a pond full of painted turtles. I found the seen rather odd in a zoo because it just looked like an ordinary fishing pond to me with turtles sunbathing on a log. They also had animals like buffalo, american bullfrogs, and Przewalski wild horses. I had to read the sign about the horses to understand what made them zoo worthy. They looked like normal horses to me but they have a short mane and actually come from Mangolia.

Seeing these seemingly wild animals in the zoo started me thinking. What sort of animals are in African zoos? They surely don’t have an African section with giraffes, elephants, zebras, etc., etc. All my friends from Africa have always seemed rather blase about these animals that I find so fascinating. They are just much more realistic about them. One of my friends had a picture of a sleeping lion in her locker in high school and I commented about how cute it was and she very simply responded by saying ‘Yah, until he wakes up.’ The African animals that I love to see at zoos are not so adorable in Africa, they are just apart of life. So what animals do they have in African zoos, Australian zoos, or Indian zoos? Maybe some more American bull frogs or white tail deers. I guess I’ll just have to go see for myself.

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Posted by: sea2stars | May 18, 2010

Mahjong 麻將

I love the randomness that is Taiwan. When I first came I was at a scooter shop trying to get my oil changed. As I tried to pantomime what I wanted, this girl came up to me and helped me explain to them what I needed. Her English wasn’t great but she mostly understood me and I usually figured out what she was trying to say to me. We exchanged numbers and went out a few times for language exchange but our schedules got busy and we lost touch.

This weekend I went down to the burger joint, across the street from where I live, to get a quick refreshing smoothy and I ran into her again. She was having lunch with all of her friends. They all spoke some English and I sat down with them while I waited for my drink. We talked for quite a while and eventually they invited me to come over to their house and learn Mahjong. I was thrilled, I’ve been wanting to learn.

Mahjong 麻將 is a very traditional game here in Taiwan. The closest thing I can relate it to is poker. I’m going to explain the game of mahjong here partly for you to read if you are interested but mostly so I can remember how to play it. In case I ever come across it again.

4 people play at a time. To determine where you sit you use 4 pieces that say North 北 South 南 East 東 and West 西. One person roles 3 dice. Whatever number comes up you count around the table from the person that rolled the dice and that person then picks the first piece and then everyone else picks. Whoever has north gets to decided where they sit and then everyone else has to sit around the table according to north, just like a compass.

There is no way to cheat in this game. They do everything possible to prevent this. First you turn all the pieces upside down and you mix them all up like you are going to play go fish. You then pick 36 pieces and make two rows of 18 and stack one row on top of the other. Don’t worry about picking carefully like you do in scrabble because you don’t get to keep your pieces anyway. Everyone then puts their stack at a diagonal in the middle of the table.

Someone at the table is the Banker. The bankers main purpose is to start the game and distribute money if you decide to play that way. Everyone gets to be the banker at some time. The banker then roles 3 dice. Again you add up the total and count clockwise around the table. That is then the starting point. You then use that persons stack and count the amount on the dice down the stack and you separate the stack. The person to the left takes the first 4 from the separation, then the next person takes 4, then the next person takes 4, and the next person takes 4. You go around the table and everyone takes 4 pieces 4 times. At this point everyone has 16 pieces.

I should note that it took them about a half hour to simply explain this set up process to me. It goes very fast once you understand it, but it sure is a lot of steps to keep from cheating.

Now you are read to play. Their are 5 categories of pieces: flowers, words, numbers, balls, and sticks. The flowers are only significant if you are playing for money. If you have a flower in your stack of 16 pieces you put it down and grab another piece from the other end of the stacked rows. You always keep 16 pieces in the playing stack. You then have numbers, balls, and sticks that all go from 1 to 9. With these pieces you can get three of a kind or three in a row. The word pieces you can only get 3 of a kind. The goal of the game is to be the first person that gets 5 sets of 3 and 1 set of 2.

The banker starts the play by picking up a piece. You can chose to keep the piece or discard it, If you keep it you have to discard another piece. Any piece that is discard can be taken by another player by a pong or chu. A pong is when you want someone else piece to complete a three of a kind. Once you complete the three of a kind you have to lay it down for everyone to see because you used someone else’s piece to complete the set. A chu is when you want a piece to complete 3 in a row. However you may only use a chu for the person to your left. Lets say you have a 6 and 7 piece and you are waiting for a 5 or 8 piece. If the person to your left lays down a 5 you can pick it up and complete the three in a row. If the person to your right lays down a 5 you can’t pick it up.

It took the entire game until I figured out the difference between a pong and chu. I’d say pong and then they would tell me it was a chu and I couldn’t have the piece.

So you play like this until someone wins. It’s actually a lot of fun and I had some beginners luck and won the first two rounds. They tried to explain to me about how to score when you are using money but it seemed very complicated and I was already tired from learning the rules with broken English. It has something to do with the flowers, the higher the number on the flowers the more you get. If you win a lot and then you loose you have to pay more to the winner. The banker also has to pay more if he looses. Their is something about regular money and special money, I have no idea what the difference is. Either way it was an enjoyable day and I got to learn a new game.

Posted by: sea2stars | May 11, 2010

Fireflies

This weekend we went to Ruili 瑞里 in the mountains to see the fireflies. The drive was enjoyable as we curved around mountain roads. We brought lots of cold food to snack on and camped near the firefly area. My South African friends had never seen fireflies before and were really excited. At dusk we walked up the road a bit into the woods to see all the fireflies. Their were lots of people and even more fireflies. We decided to come back when it was less crowded so we could sit down and not have to listen to chinese firefly tours. They have tours for everything here.

Campgrounds in Taiwan are a bit different too. They are lit with florescent lights instead of the soft glow of campfires. There is not a fire pit or wood insight and I’ve never seen a picnic table anywhere. To cook, Taiwanese bring out a full kitchen with table and chairs included. The have burners and woks and a fridge full of food for cooking all night. The people next to us must have felt sorry for us because they came over with freshly baked scallops and garlic seared in a butter sauce, which was delicious. We wanted to give back to our friendly neighbors so we made them a fruit salad. They meet our challenge and then came over with perfectly cooked steak. It has been so long since I’ve had steak of any kind and I savored every bit. We couldn’t top that, lets be honest, our fruit salad didn’t exactly equal scallops either, but we continually thanked them for their kindness. I’m always so appreciative of the kindness of the Taiwanese people. They are so hospitable and friendly to foreigners, it makes me feel bad for all the times I have been less than kind to people from other countries in America.

After eating our late dinner we ventured back to the fireflies. Without people to congest the scenery it was truly amazing. The woods flickered with hundreds of lights. It was magical and it was suddenly easy to imagine that woodland creatures and fairies might actually exist. I remember catching fireflies as a kid, but I can’t remember if they were as abundant as this hillside in Taiwan. We sat on the hill for a long time reminiscing about our childhoods and just watching the fire flies. It was really beautiful.

Posted by: sea2stars | April 8, 2010

Alishan

The cherry blossoms are blooming in the mountains and my friends and I took a visit up to see them on Alishan. Alishan is a very famous mountain in Taiwan and all tour busses to the mountain leave from Chiayi. It is actually close enough that you can ride up on your scooter but it would be a rather uncomfortable 2 hour ride so we took a bus instead. Ideally you buy tickets the day before but we aren’t that organized so instead we were stuck in the isle of a mini bus for a 3 hour ride up the mountain. This ride is not designed for sensitive stomachs and I was proud of my friends who made it up the mountain without loosing anything.

It was a beautiful day to be in the mountains. The sun was shining and the air was clear and cool. We wondered around the park taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and going through the cypress forest. The forest was my favorite part. It’s one of those forest that just feels old, the trees are tall and the moss grows thick on the bark. As you step deeper and deeper into the forest most of the tourist fade away and you can feel the depth and wisdom of time gone by. It reminded me of the red wood forest in California and I could have easily spent all day in there if my friends would have allowed me. One of the coolest parts of the forest were all the big old stumps that remained behind. Their was one stump that looked like an elephant and another that was the root system for 3 generations of trees, the oldest dating back 1500 years.

We chose to stay the night and get up early for the sunrise. We had a nice cup of tea under the cherry trees before heading to bed early. We got up at 4am to give us enough time hike to the overlook. The trial was lit and incredibly crowded. Alishan is known for its sunrises and many people come to see it. We were lucky and had a rather clear morning to watch the sunrise. I’ve been told that many times there are too many clouds to see it. To make you feel better about not seeing a sunrise Alishan’s tourist burrow has come up with a clever slogan for the clouds calling them the ‘sea of clouds,’ a must see on your trip, or so they say. We saw the ‘sea of clouds’ the night before and just ended up confused as to what it should really be called. Were they clouds, fog, or just mist? Despite all our debating we never actually came up a conclusion. You can now imagine the type of scintillating conversations my friends and I have.

Posted by: sea2stars | March 30, 2010

Lantern Festival 2010

Lantern Festival was amazing. Now this is what I think of when I think of Asian festivals. Lots of bright lights, fireworks, tons of people, and lots of food. We got very lucky this year and Taiwan’s National Lantern Festival was in Chiayi, just a few blocks from my work. It was a whole week of festivities with different nightly shows and fireworks every night at 7 and at 9. Our park also had lots of different sculptures that took weeks for them to put up. The most impressive being a large wood dome structure that I initially thought they were going to set on fire, like the bonfire at Alabama for home coming.

The lanterns were made by professionals and amateurs all over Taiwan. If I had know I could have made one and entered it I would have. Most of the lanterns were made out of cloth that was pulled over a wire frame and their were quite a few that were animatronic. I was so excited about all the different lanterns I couldn’t help myself from taking lots of pictures. I made a little video so you could see just a sampling of all the different lanterns. Some things you should know before watching that will help you understand some of the lanterns.

There were many lanterns that contained things about Taiwan and Chiayi. Each city in Taiwan is known for a specific food. Chiayi is known for turkey rice and there were lanterns with turkeys and rice bowls. Chiayi is also know for its park. We have a fabulously big park and in the middle of the park is the Chiayi Tower and on the very top is a magnolia which is the flower of Chiayi county. 2010 is the year of the tiger and the National Lantern was of course a tiger and their were many smaller tiger lanterns as well. It’s also helpful to know that in Taiwan it’s all about financial prosperity and 金元寶 symbolizes gold and money.

There were a lot more pop cultural references than I would have expected. They love spongebob, snoopy, winnie the pooh, hello kitty, all things Disney, Doraemon, Butter Lion, and the 7/11 character. Sometimes they combined their love for winnie the pooh and tigers and inevitably there were numerous Tiggers. They also love baseball, music, and dinosaurs. They love dinosaurs so much that there was an entire field dedicated to just dinosaur lanterns, which was actually my favorite part.

Now you are ready to watch my video of all the different lanterns I saw. Just click here 2010 LANTERN FESTIVAL VIDEO and away you go. I hope you enjoy it.

Posted by: sea2stars | March 25, 2010

Sticky Rice Balls

Lantern festival is a festival that takes place a few weeks after Chinese New Year. For the opening of Lantern Festival it is tradition to get together and make sticky rice balls and we were invited to join in on the festivities. We arrived at 9am to a tent in the street and a truck designed for karaoke. Tables were set out with all the products for making the rice balls. To start things off their were a few speeches, including an impromptu one by our ring leader, Theresa. We also had to have a group picture before starting and us foreigners were asked to sit down because we were too tall and hiding all the short ladies behind us.

Each of us were asked to join a different table to make the rice balls. Of course they didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Chinese so communication was all in action. They first showed me how to role the balls, then we had to flatten them out so that we could put in the filling and then role them again to make sure the filling wouldn’t fall out. We had three different fillings, poppy seed, penutbutter, and red beans. Rolling rice balls was like playing with dried out oobleck. If you kept it in your hands for too long it got sticky and melty but not long enough and it was too cool and would crack. It also drove me nuts that all the rice balls were of different sizes. This may be due to the years of Christmas cooking making, where under the watchful eye of my grandmother we were instructed to roll the date balls and snowdrops with amazing precision. Because I was unable to ask what size they should really be I finally just chose a size that suited me and made my rice balls to that standard.

Of course while rolling our sticky rice balls we had entertainment in the form of KTV, also know as karaoke. Just barely awake at 9:30am I found myself singing “Take Me Home Country Road” from the back of a truck, under a tent, in the middle of the road, and watched as they wheel grandma out in front of us for a picture. It was hard not to laugh at the whole situation. It was even harder to sing as we watched asian women in bikinis on beaches scroll across our screen as we sang about the dixie land.

After a little while we had an encore performance and sang “Hey Jude.” I didn’t know this song as well as the first song but as the lyrics popped up “Hey Jude, don’t make your bed” I was pretty sure that was wrong. But just like reading from a prompter we all sang it that way anyhow. All I can say is that the Taiwanese love their KTV. It was a lot of fun to see so many of them participate with enthusiasm that would be mocked in the US but was praised and adored here.

It was amazing how quickly the time actually passed and before I knew it we got to watch them cook the sticky rice balls. They first boil the balls until they float. They are then transfered into another boiling broth that was sweet and contains red beans. After they boiled in that pot for a while it was time to serve them up into a dessert the Taiwanese think is 很好吃 delicious. It was actually not a bad dessert. The rice balls were kind of sweet and very chewy. Their is nothing I can think of that I can compare them to but the chewy texture of foods is very common here and I’m finally starting to get use to it.

Posted by: sea2stars | March 6, 2010

Kenting and Green Island

We got a week off for Chinese New Year and I took the time to see a little more of Taiwan. I was suppose to scooter with a friend to various places in the south and along the east cost but at the last minute my friend was unable to go. I had nothing planed, that was her job, I was just going along for the adventure. So I found myself a week away from Chinese New Year with nothing booked. All attempts to book trains, buses, and accommodations were futile, as everything was in chinese or already full. The week prior to Chinese New Year was beautiful and I decided to buy a tent and take my chances. I have never traveled alone and without plans like this before. I usually find myself rather anxiety ridden about such thing, afraid that I will end up on the wrong side of town. But Taiwan doesn’t make me nervous because there isn’t a bad part of town. Kids are too busy studying math or English to become hoodlums and get into trouble. Plus people are super nice to me because I’m a foreigner and they are always willing to lend a hand, even if they only speak a little English. So I packed up my bag and my tent, made sure I had my Taiwanese friends on speed dial, and headed to the train station.

I hopped on a train and then a bus to Kenting, which is a national park on the very southern tip of Taiwan. I drew a picture of a tent on my notepad and pointed at it to show the bus driver where I wanted to go. Camping or Tent weren’t in my mandarine chinese hand book, I suppose it’s not a common thing to ask when you travel to another country. The bus driver knew exactly what I wanted, although I’m sure he was a bit confused as to why, and kindly alerted me when we got to the camp site. He said a few words to the owners of the campsite and they took me to my “campsite.” I use this term loosely because in true chinese fashion tents were no more than a few feet from each other. I was actually quite surprised to find the Taiwanese camped at all, they have never really struck me as the outdoorsy type.

I first went to the Kenting aquarium, actually called The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium. It was by far the best aquarium I’ve ever been too. Although I will say that I don’t remember much of the Chicago aquarium. I was pretty little the last time I went there. The entrance to the aquarium was amazing. They had large whale and fish sculptures with water cascading down them into a shallow pool that you could play in on a hot day.

The aquarium was huge. There were three different buildings and I kept getting lost every time I would try to make it to a feeding or a show. I tried to make it to a penguin show and the beluga whale feeding but then I got lost in the kept forest.

I also got to see all the Finding Nemo fish, even the light fish from the depth of the ocean. They had a great section of fish preserved from the deep ocean.

The aquarium had many large fish tanks and one of the fish tanks had 3 different tubs for you to walk through to see all the wonderful fish, stingrays, and sharks. They also mimicked a shipwreck to show how it creates habitats for fish and all the hallways were decorated as if you were in an old shipwreck.

At the end of the day I found a gallery area where you could just sit and watch all the fish go bye. I watched for quite a while as a whale shark and other fish swim in circles around the tank.

They also had lots of fun kid sections full of fish to play with. They had a touch pond and I got to even pet a sea cucumber. They are actually kind of soft in a slimy sort of way.

After spending a few days in Kenting I continued on my trip and headed to Taitung to take a boat to an even smaller Island. At the bus station to get to the ship I meet a nice American couple traveling from Taipei to Green Island as well. It was very nice to talk to them and have some company on my trip. As we boarded the boat I wondered how rocky the ride over would be. My Lonely Planet guide book warned that it was the barf mobile. It’s amazing how calm the water looked but how rough it was in actuality. I can’t judge how big the swells were, maybe 5-10 feet I suppose. It was kind of like riding a mini roller-coaster as my stomach would drop as we rocked over every swell, I was loving it. But their were many people who were not enjoying it at all as they reached for plastic bags. At least half the boat has plastic bags and by the end of the trip the smell was a little overwhelming and I was happy to get off the boat.

I parted ways with my new American friends and rented a scooter. I had my tent and was ready to go camping but the girl that rented me the scooter kept telling me that the campground was closed and she was trying to sell me a room at her home-stay, but it was very expensive. Taiwanese are very pushy when they are trying to sell you something, which I personally really dislike. It is also completely ok and expected to bargain. By the time I left and was insistent on going to the campground the price of the room had dropped by more than half. Although the price was getting better it was still expensive. I took my chances and went to the campsite and found other people camping and pitched my tent.

Green Island is a beautiful volcanic island. It rained most of the time I was there but I just bought a 7/11 rain coat and continued to explore the Island. I scootered around the Island and went on a nice little hike and found Green Island to be beautiful through all the fog and mist.

Columnar jointing is often seen in volcanic rocks and is due to the way the lava cools. If I could have gotten a closer look I would have.

Only in Taiwan would they turn a perfectly good cave into a temple.

You got to love the universal road sign. No words needed.

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