Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Visit to the Far East, Taiwan!

It had been over 10 year since I've last visited Taiwan. The land where my mother, uncles, aunts, and some cousins grew up. Most don't know this, but I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half when I was a kid (born in the US though). It had been over ten years since I'd last been back. Much had changed, but I was happy to see a lot was still the same.
The feeling of reconnecting with your roots and to see the places where your family grew up is incredible. I'm so proud of the long history, customs, food, respect, family values, language, and did I mention food? There is such a long history of my people and to go back and learn more about it from my mom, uncle, and cousins makes me even more proud. After the second day I was already thinking in Chinese, that didn't take too long! For those that don't know, I speak Mandarin fluently and lived in Taiwan as an expat kid from 1988 to 1990. My dad relocated the family to Taiwan for work and I attended a prestigious American school that I hated. I walk away from that experience learning that expat kids are for the most part stuck up snotty brats.
Every time I come back I am reminded of the differences between the US and the far east. I wish more Americans would travel outside of the western world and see how lucky they are to live comfortable US. I want people to experience the fruit and veggie markets, the night markets, the different foods, and the hard working people who are doing what they can to rise their family. It's not always about doing what you love, but doing what you need to do to feed your family. Sitting in an air conditioned office on a comfy chair typing away doesn't seem as bad if you think about hardworking people working under the hot Taiwan sun in the extreme humidity. Or think about the man scooping hop soup from a hot cauldron all night long. I wondered how he lost a chunk of flesh from his forearm... Moral of the story? Sometimes we need to just shut the hell up and do our work. Be grateful for what we have and quit bitching.
The food was flavorful and reminded me that Taiwan is the country that best fits my palate.
I ate so much I think I may have hurt my insides. Here's a quick overview. Please see my facebook for many, many more!

Sao bing you tiao. Sesame pancake w/ fried soybean cruller

morning market in Banciao

Banciao night market. Yes, that is a tub of raw chicken out in the open.

oink oink

pork blood popsicle

stinky tofu

I'm happy to report that my Mandarin improved and actually made me want to work on my reading and writing... I think some time in China and Taiwan is in order. Get down to exploring the roots of my people. We'll see if this comes to fruition.
With every trip to Taiwan, the most important thing is to go and visit my grandparents gravesite. There is great tradition and practice behind what happens to those that pass. It is desirable to be buried on a mountain, the higher on the mountain the better. And the better the feng shui the better. My grandparent's are buried on YangMingSan. It is the mountain where government officials and the weathy purchase their plots. My grandfather was a a Congressman for Taiwan. It is tradition to bring incense (three for each person visiting), Chinese burning money, flowers, and food. The flowers and food are displayed and the incense is lit. Each person gets three to hold with both hands, everyone bows three times, and says their piece. Afterward, the Chinese paper money is burned n a little hut at the foot of the site. The purpose of this is to send money up to my grandparents. You call out, "Come, come and get the money."

I remember doing this as a kid on hot, humid Taiwan summer days and being scared of getting too close to the fire when throwing the money in. You can only leave after the incense is burned 2/3 of the way through. The groundskeeper for my grandparent’s lot came by to say hello and chatted with my Mom and Uncle Charles. I got a small lesson on mountains like YangMingSan and things you should and should not do from my Cousin Michelle and Nicole. I learned that you are supposed to point at or take pictures of other people’s plots. You should care for the plots of the dead. My family pays the groundskeeper to upkeep my grandparent’s site; not every family does this. I saw many plots on other areas that were a complete mess. The shrubbery was overgrown, weeds that needed to be pulled, rubbish in the plot, broken tombstones from earthquakes and wear and tear. It was really quiet sad that their families haven’t taken care of them after they pass.
Every time I come back I am reminded of the differences between the Eastern and Western Worlds. The norms and cultures are so different. I like the reminder.


  1. You are all about the food - too bad you are not a real chinese and can eat shellfish

  2. Okay, I was with you until the pork blood popsicle...