Tag Archives: Taiwan

The 9th quarter review

17 Oct

The last quarter has flown by – it seems like just last week I wrote my last post celebrating Zhongguo Jumble’s two year anniversary.  Even though there was only one major trip in the last quarter (our trip to Greece) – I feel like I have been all over.

The posts show that as it was in the last quarter that I published many of my travels from the previous quarter as I got caught up with such a busy summer.  Travel posts were very popular and the following especially so:

Posing over 50 floors up

Posing over 50 floors up

1) Roppongi Hills & Tokyo City View – a post on my visit to Tokyo in May and getting swallowed by a spider (not quite)

Ready to dig in!

Ready to dig in!

2) The Pineapple Cake Wars – tasting two competing pineapple cakes in Taipei, Taiwan and hearing which kind others will choose.  The food in Taiwan was so good.  I would like to go back just so I can eat.  Taiwanese sausage has now become a staple in my kitchen.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

3) And We’re Back… – the initial post on our trip to Greece with just enough of a taste to keep people coming back to see what will happen.  I’ve only had time to get through the first day so far.

There were also two posts that sparked a lot of comments based on their topics which were more philosophical –

My mandarin accent – where I thought back to how I got my mandarin accent prompted by a taxi driver in Taipei, Taiwan

The Chinese dream – looking at the propaganda campaign that the Chinese government has been pressing lately and talking about what your dreams are.  Make sure you check out the comments on this post if you haven’t before, lots of good commentary that made me think even more.

And finally – two posts that I especially liked with some great photos to share.

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

A walk in Hefei – where I saw the possibility of a beautiful park over the Mid-Autumn Festival

Hammock with feet

Without a care in the world – photos from our trip earlier this year to Michigan, the place where I can put up my hair and dance crazy circles on the lawn.

It was a wonderful quarter and I look forward to the next one.  Did I miss your favorite post?  I’m still debating about the book possibility, so maybe more to come on that front.

More changes to come, so stick around and keep reading!  I anticipate more trips and of course, more views of Shanghai.  Autumn is my favorite season.  Happy Fall!

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Taiwanese temples – new and old

27 Aug

Over my two trips to Taiwan (May and July) I went to two different temples.  They seemed to represent two different sides of Taiwan and two different sides of worship in that country.

The first example was part of my group trip with my colleagues – a temple set high on a mountain that was created to awe.  The floors sparkled and the statues of the guardians towered over the people who were inside.  It was probably the largest and cleanest temple I have ever been in.  People walked around in hushed silence – though most of the visitors were groups who followed guides with little flags.

The temple was so large I couldn't get the entire thing in my shot

The temple was so large I couldn’t get the entire thing in my shot

Gold leaf and temple guardians

Gold leaf and temple guardians

Frightening lion by the door

Frightening lion by the door

Enormous multi-headed guardian inside

Enormous multi-headed guardian inside

When I confirmed the name with my colleagues, I got confused – it actually is called the Zhong Tai Mountain museum (中台山博物院)- but it is also a working temple.

Wishes floating to the ceiling like balloons

Wishes floating to the ceiling like balloons

Beautiful tiled floors - spotless!

Beautiful tiled floors – spotless!

The Buddha - meditating

The Buddha – meditating

Holy individuals - larger than life

Holy individuals – larger than life

The grounds outside the temple were manicured – a golden bridge crossed a small pond where we posed for an occasional photo in the mid-afternoon heat.  I was in awe of the surroundings and the peace at the temple – very different from the typical experience at a temple in China. We didn’t have enough time to visit both the temple part and the museum part, but I tried to absorb the peace and serenity that existed – even though it seemed just a little too squeaky clean.

The second temple was Longshan temple (Dragon Mountain Temple – 龙山寺) that is in downtown Taipei.  It was on the subway line and one of the top tourist sights in Taipei.  When I went though – it didn’t feel that there were any tourists at all – just me.  I snapped a few photos of the outside of the temple – an obviously historic building with lots of character and lots of people!

The entrance gate at Longshan temple

The entrance gate at Longshan temple

Intricately painted walls at Longshan temple

Intricately painted walls at Longshan temple

The double dragons dancing over the entrance

The double dragons dancing over the entrance

A peaceful waterfall near the entrance

A peaceful waterfall near the entrance

By chance I had arrived there at the same time as they were finishing an afternoon set of prayers.  In addition to the many monks who were seated in the main body of the temple, over 100 people in street clothes were following along and chanting prayers and sayings with the monks.  The smell of incense hung in the air.  I felt out of place taking photos, so I decided to put my camera away and just enjoy the spirituality in the area, hoping it would soak in to me.

I have been to lots of temples over the last several years, but this was the first one that I visited where it felt like ordinary people were participating in the life of the temple in more than writing wishes on a page or making a donation.  The temple had obviously been there for a long time, but it was neat and clean.  People inside were very polite – letting others towards the front or offering lights for the incense.  I am not a Buddhist, but it felt like some place I could feel comfortable in – a local temple, for the people who live nearby.

I thought the two temples summed up Taiwan for me – a city with many shiny new things – Taipei 101 – as well as a deep respect for history and culture found in the politeness of the people, the food and the worship.

I liked Taiwan.  It was a wonderful transition before the end of my long trip.  Taipei especially seemed very familiar – almost as if I had been there before – enough differences to make me notice, but enough similarities to mainland China that I still felt at home.  I would recommend a visit to anyone looking for a view of what China may become.

Have you been to Taiwan?  Do you have any feelings about temples and how they represent a people?

The architecture of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

11 Aug

One late afternoon (after watching the storm roll in and out) during my visit to Taiwan, I continued to explore Taipei.  My last stop before heading back to the apartment was Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

The complex consists of two very traditional Chinese buildings – one a performing arts center and the other a museum, which flank a large gate leading into a colossal square.  It feels a little like the Forbidden City with the scale, meaning that the architecture is not set to a human dimension but is intended to awe.  At the end of the square is the memorial to Chiang Kai-shek.

By the large gate were a group of people protesting something but I wasn’t in the mood to poke around.  It could have been people wanting to rejoin with China, or propaganda for Chinese tourists who make their way there – I don’t know.  But the group wasn’t that large – less than 50 and so I continued forward.

The entrance gate

The entrance gate

The first thing I noticed was that square was full of children – I know Taiwan’s birth rate is declining, but you wouldn’t guess that from the number of kids running and playing and splashing through the puddles left over from the downpour.  Families walked and talked and snapped an occasional picture, enjoying the breeze and cooler temperatures from earlier in the day.

Music floated through the air from a concert going on – I am guessing they had opened the back doors to get a cool breeze and it was as if I had a soundtrack as I steadily approached the highest point to take a picture of the statue of Chiang Kai-shek.   Some of the music was traditional Chinese and another piece sounded like a John Phillips Sousa march – an eclectic mix to move me forward.

One of the great halls - with traditional tile roof

One of the great halls – with traditional tile roof

Looking down from the highest point I was able to view where I had come and enjoy the view.  No high rise apartment buildings crowded the square – the gardens below laid out a patchwork quilt of patterns only visible from above.

Chiang Kai-shek flanked by the Taiwanese flag

Chiang Kai-shek flanked by the Taiwanese flag

Looking back from the top of the monument

Looking back from the top of the monument

I didn’t study the history before I visited Taiwan – different websites had different points of view as to the version of events that were emphasized in different places.  As I stood there I wondered about the people who built the square and their intended purpose.  I thought about what they would think about the current state of relations between Taiwan and China.  Then, I stopped.  For that afternoon, for me – the architecture and feeling of awe was enough.

Viewing the gardens

Viewing the gardens

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This post was inspired by Where’s My Backpack’s Travel Theme – Architecture.  If you’d like to see how others visualize the theme please click the link.

Architecture can influence our emotions and rally us around an idea or a concept.  The cathedrals of Europe, the temples of India, the pyramids of Egypt, the great wall of China – all were created by people who were searching for a bigger purpose.  They were representing things greater than a single individual.  What architecture do you enjoy the most? Where have you had that “sense of awe” recently?

An afternoon thunderstorm

1 Aug

When I was in Taiwan, it rained almost every day in the afternoon.  Most of the time I was in the office and so would watch the sky go dark from the window, hoping that the storm would be over before I needed to head out.  One of the weekend days that I was there I decided to stay in for the afternoon and watched the sky from my window snapping these photos.

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My window looked north and the contrast of the mountains with the changing weather was something special.

The photos were taken over about two hours as the blue sky was covered by clouds, then the rain started and finally, things cleared again.

After things cleared, I went out and in the cooler afternoon air, started to explore more of Taipei.

Sometimes staying in for the afternoon is the best – how do you decide if you’ll go explore or relax inside?  What’s your favorite way to spend a thunderstorm?

My mandarin accent

25 Jul

As I settled into the taxi to head to the famous pineapple cake store in Taipei, I started talking to my taxi driver in mandarin.  We talked about where I am from and why I was in Taipei, but suddenly he asked me if I had studied Chinese in mainland China.

It took me back, but when I answered in the affirmative, he indicated that he could tell from my accent.

Similarly when I told my Taiwanese colleagues that I went to visit Taipei 101, I used the “mainland Chinese” way of counting (yao ling yao instead of yi ling yi).  The number “one” has two different pronunciations and I chose the wrong one for Taiwan.  They laughed and said my terms were the same as the “mainlanders” and corrected me.

This started me thinking – many moons ago before I moved to China I volunteered at the Chinese Mutual Aid Society in Chicago.  There, before I made the plunge to mainland China, I took half a dozen lessons from a teacher there who had taught English in Taiwan for a couple of years.  We didn’t accomplish much more than the greeting words and the numbers, but I found it useful when I first hit the ground.

One evening as a group of us teachers were waiting to catch the subway after a night of classes, I was talking with a local teacher trying to show off my numbers.  I said “Line 2 (二号线)” and she laughed.  She said that my pronunciation of the number 2 was very Taiwanese!  Then she corrected me gently with the correct pronunciation.

I have come full circle.

In Taiwan, I noticed that the number two was different from mainland China – and I could hear the difference, but now, I can’t replicate it without feeling strange.  I also noticed other words and phrases that are just a little different – it seems to me that the Taiwanese phrases are more polite.  For example, “Good Morning!”  In Shanghai we say, 早 !(Zao) But in Taiwan they say, 早安!(Zao an) It feels less abrupt and more traditional, just like they use traditional characters, the language is different.

Language changes with time – there is no static way to capture a language.  New terms and words are constantly coming and going – slang changes and becomes standard and my mandarin is starting to get to the point where I can pick up those differences.  It’s not just my accent, but my ability to recognize and absorb and mirror back those changes.  Taiwan was a good lesson for that.

Do you have an accent?

Taipei 101

23 Jul

On one of my weekend days in Taiwan I took it upon myself to visit Taipei 101.  I’ve seen television programs on it – how it is a city, you could go days without needing to leave, and I decided no trip to Taipei would be complete without a visit.

Approaching the town, I snapped a photo from quite far away so I could get the entire building in my frame.  It appears to billow at different levels, perhaps like bamboo?  One thing that struck me though was that the rest of the buildings around it didn’t even come close to approaching its height.  The skies were gray as I approached and I started to wonder what the weather would be like at the top.

Approaching the tower

Approaching the tower

Before entering I snapped a photo of kids soaking themselves in the fountain in front of the building.  Some things never change – no matter what culture!

All kids like to play in the fountain

All kids like to play in the fountain

After winding my way up to the fifth floor to buy a ticket and a postcard (which I later sent my mother), I entered the elevator to zip up to the observation deck.  The elevator is one of, if not the world’s fastest.  Going up over 100 floors took less time than my daily 43rd floor trip to my office.  It was very, very fast.

There was a free audio tour included with the cost of admission so I made my way around the circle and listened.  The aforementioned storm became reality and I slowly watched the views change from sun to clouds to pelting rain.  It was a unique way to see a summer thunderstorm.

My feeling from below was correct – there were no other buildings even close in height to Taipei 101 that I could see.  Instead, I looked at the mountains that surround the city.  Over the audio tour they talked about how important nature is to the Taiwanese and that the public transportation system connects city residents for easy hiking in the mountains all year round.  They also talked about the tunnels that cut through the mountains and the difficulty in building them.  Nature is a powerful force.

View from the top as storm clouds roll in

View from the top as storm clouds roll in

Just past the city is the rolling mountains - the tower appears taller than the mountains, but I am guessing that is an optical illusion

Just past the city is the rolling mountains – the tower appears taller than the mountains, but I am guessing that is an optical illusion

Since it was now storming pretty heavily I wasn’t able to go to the open air observation deck.  Instead I took a staircase down and looked at the dampers – the feature within the tower that allows it to withstand the frequent Taiwanese typhoons.  The dampers allow the building to sway with the storm and absorb the force.  They were enormous.

View of one of the dampers

View of one of the dampers

My visit complete I went to the famous food court in the basement and got a take out order of Din Tai Fung soup dumplings.  I have eaten them many times in the Shanghai branch, but wanted to see what the difference would be in their native territory.  Per my count, they tasted the same – but were much cheaper than the branch by my house!

Taipei 101 was an overall good experience.  I would recommend it if you are in Taipei.  And make sure you get a picture taken!

Say cheese!

Say cheese!

What’s the tallest building that you’ve been up?  Where was it and what kind of memories do you have?

The pineapple cake wars

18 Jul

When I had gone to Taiwan for the first time at the beginning of May, my colleagues had lists and lists of foods that they wanted to try.  They had done research about the best purveyor of all types of Taiwanese specialties.  I was along for the ride and hadn’t done any research.  I accepted what they said and ate lots of good food as they searched things out.

My recent trip to Taiwan I decided to see for myself what some of the differences were.  In doing so, I tumbled head over heels into one of the longest running debates in Taipei.  Who makes the best pineapple cakes (Feng li shu -凤梨酥)?

The name of this food confused me from the beginning because pineapple is boluo (菠萝) so I could never remember the appropriate name.  No matter what they are called though – they are delicious.

According to my colleagues there are two schools of thought on the best type of pineapple cake.  Some people like a treat that is a little sour and a little sweet and others like it to be completely sweet.  Each side believes the other is wrong.

They are made fresh with an expiration date of no more than two weeks, so it’s not something you can buy a lot of and then store – best for immediate action.

The sweet/sour camp is championed by a small local shop that only sells pineapple cakes.  It is off the beaten path and is called Sunny Hills (微热山丘).  I went there on a rainy Saturday afternoon and was welcomed at the door with a fresh cup of tea and a pineapple cake to taste before purchase.  It was a very homey experience.

Packaged to last

Packaged to last?

The sweet camp (which according to my Taiwanese colleagues is more preferred by mainland tourists) hangs its hat on a shop called Chia Te (佳德).  It is right on Taipei’s Nanjing Road and it also has many other sweets that are available.  I actually ran out of time to go there, but my last day in Taiwan a colleague insisted on buying two boxes of treats for the Shanghai office, so I got to taste that one as well.

Bringing back gifts

Bringing back gifts

Bringing the boxes back to Shanghai the first day I got all kinds of comments – “Chia Te is the best!”  “Wow! You got the right kind.” and one person who said, “Did you go to Sunny Hills?”

On the plane ride back from Taiwan, there was a small pineapple cake included in the lunch menu.  It wasn’t a brand I recognized – too sweet.  My favorite – the sweet/sour combo.

Ready to dig in!

Ready to dig in!

Seems that the pineapple wars will continue…

Which would you prefer?

A typhoon? You have got to be kidding!

16 Jul

At the beginning of my last week away from home, my colleagues in Taiwan started to mumble about the weather.

“You know a typhoon is coming, right?”

“Maybe you should go back to China early?”

“It might not be safe, when is your flight?”

As a child of the Midwest, typhoons don’t even make my radar.  Despite living through a typhoon in Shanghai last year, I have never really considered their impact – nor have expected them to impact me.  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even looking at the weather report in Taiwan.  I knew every day was hot and it would rain after lunch.  Seemed enough of a forecast.

After their constant questions though, I started to do research.  I discovered that Typhoon Soulik was bearing down  directly on Taiwan and impact was expected Friday.  I was supposed to fly back to Shanghai out of Taipei on Friday.  Great.

From my previous post, going back early wasn’t really an option, so either I was moving my flight up on Friday or I had two extra (very rainy) days in Taiwan.  I opted for the former and crossed my fingers that the typhoon wouldn’t pick up speed.

As I walked back to the hotel Thursday night people were soberly boarding up glass windows, covering doors with wood and paper and really battening down the hatches.  I booked a taxi for 6am the next day and the receptionists all started commenting on the typhoon and maybe I should stay longer.   As I packed, I made sure in my carry-on were my rubber shoes and what clean clothes I had left, in case I got to the airport and was separated from my big bag.  I didn’t sleep much that night.

Friday morning bright and early I left for the airport.  The rain hadn’t started but an ominous quiet was over the city.  The trip to the airport took 30 minutes when it should have taken an hour, almost no cars were on the road.  Taoyuan airport was buzzing, everyone was trying to get out.  After I made it through customs I looked out the window – the rain had started.

I ate breakfast in the airport and made my way to the boarding gate.  The airplane pulled up late – it was one of the huge, double decker planes with first class on the top.  I’m guessing that the airline wanted to get as many people out as possible as well.  The 30 minute delay made me very nervous as the sky got darker and darker.  I tried to stay calm but the panic born out of over  five weeks away from home came very close to winning.

But… I did make it out.  If I had stayed for my original 2:30 flight, I would not have been in Shanghai on Friday.  Simply put, sometimes it is worth it to listen to your colleagues.

Typhoon Soulik did make a direct hit on Taiwan late Friday evening and had torrential rain and squalls through mid-day Saturday.  The airports were working again Saturday night and things were pretty much back to normal on Sunday.

You can see it reduced in intensity by the time it hit Taiwan, but still - a direct hit on Taipei!

You can see it reduced in intensity by the time it hit Taiwan, but still – a direct hit on Taipei!

The typhoon didn’t win.   I am finally home.

31 Days

7 Jul

When I moved to China over five years ago now, I didn’t know if I would be there three weeks or three years.  This year is come November is my sixth year here.

As my time extended, I started to become aware of a rule that hit during your fifth full year – for tax purposes at some point in that year you need to be out of China for 31 consecutive days.  The day you leave and come back don’t count so it’s actually close to 33 or 34 days out of the country depending on who you ask.

That is a long time to be away from home.

And that is what I have been doing for the last month.

To make things even longer, I had a business trip to Beijing at the front end, so my time away from home has extended even longer.  I can’t wait to get back!

In the last month I have been in four countries, many cities, have been on around 10 flights and racked up thousands of frequent flier miles.  And I am still not home.

I have vacation stories and work stories.  I went on a food crawl in Singapore – tasting the local hawker dishes for an entire afternoon.   I rode the world’s fastest elevator in Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.  I ate my fill of avocados in Washington DC and sat at the Lincoln monument as the sun began to set.  I learned the secret to entering the back door at our Taipei office and met people in Singapore that I have never seen face to face.

I also have not gone to a yoga class, written a blog post, cooked a full meal or seen my Chinese colleagues, though I am working and have been on more conference calls than I would care to admit.  My husband went with me for part of the vacation time, but I haven’t seen him either for coming up on four weeks.

It is discombobulating to be in so many different places but also invigorating.  I remember last year in the fall when I didn’t travel for about three months how antsy I got.  Hopefully this trip will cure me of my traveling bug, at least for a while.

And I know that every five years I get to do it again.  Not bad.

I am back blogging now, but may be a little sporadic until I make it back to China.  The fluidity of my schedule can be tough to predict as well as uploading photos when I am not    home.  Let’s see how it goes.

What is the longest you’ve been away from home?  Why were you away?  If you could take 31 days to travel, where would you go?

Sun and moon beach (日月滩) in Taiwan – a must see for all Chinese tourists

9 Jun

Because the Taiwan trip itinerary was decided by my colleagues and the travel agency I had no say on what we actually saw.  It also meant that each of the stops that we made – the Palace Museum, Sun and Moon Beach, Hualien had specific significance or were famous in mainland China.

Sun moon beach - I was there

Sun moon beach – I was there

Sun and moon beach was one of those places.  It is the stuff of children’s bedtime stories and part of the special unit on the “province” of Taiwan included in every elementary school textbook.

First view through the trees

First view through the trees

Beautiful sunny day - blue sky and green water

Beautiful sunny day – blue sky and green water

The lake is famous for having clear water that changes color according to its mood and there are special tea and herb soaked hardboiled eggs that are devoured by all tourists.  The entire area was beautiful, but not really something that I would go out of my way to see and my Taiwan friends say that Taiwanese folks don’t go there much at all themselves.

The special herb boiled eggs

The special herb boiled eggs

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We were serenaded by local singers who seemed to be having a great time.

To add to the atmosphere, tour bus loads of elderly Chinese tourists kept arriving and pushing all around the grounds.  They wanted to be the first to take a photo and the first to eat the egg.  Accents from across China from Beijing to Xiamen to Sichuan mingled on the small island in the middle of the lake.  My colleagues even got embarrassed at the behavior of the groups which says quite a lot.

The tourists waiting to take their photos - I didn't snap my picture here

The tourists waiting to take their photos – I didn’t snap my picture here

In spite of the other tourists, we were able to take a boat ride across the lake on a beautiful day and find several spots worthy of a photo.  I didn’t eat one of the eggs, but I can now say that I’ve been to the place in Taiwan that is a “must see” for all Chinese tourists.

View from the top of the island in the middle

View from the top of the island in the middle

Where would you recommend visiting in Taiwan?  Have you heard the stories about Sun & Moon beach?  My guess is the Chinese textbooks are full of propaganda, but it does make for a built in tourist trade in Taiwan.

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