Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adventures in Taiwan

I'm back in the good ol' US of A! After about 48 hours of sitting on airplanes or in airports and a fantastic week in Taiwan, it's good to be home. The trip was an unexpected opportunity when my friend Mindy generously asked me to join her for a visit home to see her family, and I'm so glad she did.  We explored, we ate, we celebrated the Chinese Lunar New Year, and we ate some more (this is becoming a common theme).

My first experience in Taiwan, quite fittingly, involved food. Once Mindy's dad and sister brought us home, her mom was in the kitchen readying lunch, Gua Bao. It was introduced to me as a Taiwanese sandwich: doughy buns lovingly filled with tender braised pork belly, bright cilantro, pickled greens, and crushed peanuts. Delicious!
During my time there we visited the National Palace Museum, where I saw a very famous jade cabbage, graceful calligraphy, artwork, and ancient and intricate carvings. We did some window shopping at the pricey shops at Taipei 101, formerly the world's tallest building. I learned a little Taiwanese history at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, honoring the first elected president of Taiwan.  On New Year's Day, we visited the Longshan Temple along with, seemingly, the rest of Taipei. It was filled with countless worshipers holding incense and praying for blessings in the year to come.
We visited Bitan, a lake nestled within the mountains with scenic walking paths, a pedestrian bridge, restaurants with outdoor seating, and even paddle boats.  Another afternoon was spent strolling along a boardwalk area on the Danshui (or Tamsui) River with carnival games (I failed miserably at trying to catch fish with a little easily broken net), more street food than you could imagine, and shops. We sipped tea overlooking the river, enjoying a rare sunny afternoon. I even tried stinky tofu (not as bad as the name suggests but still not my favorite)!  We explored the mountain town of Wulai, ate local specialties such as mountain bubble tea and rice baked in bamboo shoots,  and then marveled at a lovely waterfall cascading down one of the mountains (after a very long trek due to a broken train).
We explored both the sprawling and unbelievably crowded New Year's Market and the bustling traditional market. At the New Year's Market, we stocked up on snacks and goodies for the holiday and sampled as many items as we could manage: dried veggie chips, jerky, sugar cane juice, pig's blood cake on a stick (yes, you read that correctly), candies, roasted nuts, and on and on. At the traditional market, where Mindy's mom does her day to day shopping, there were booths of produce, boxes of live frogs and eels (totally normal), fresh meat ranging from fish, live chickens killed and sold on site, and every part imaginable of cows, pigs, and goats, piles of homemade noodles, fresh flowers, and even more street food. We snacked on dumplings as we explored, took pictures, and waved at vendors who were so friendly and kind to the foreigner poking around their market with her big camera.
We also spent time with Mindy's sweet family. For New Year's Eve, we enjoyed a multi-course meal at a local hotel. For New Year's Day, Mindy's mom cooked an unbelievable feast, where the dishes never seemed to cease. We chatted with cousins over a large, simmering hot pot, we visited Mindy's grandparents, and we even went "shrimping" and shared a plate of grilled shrimp that we caught ourselves.
It was a wonderful week spent with wonderful people. And they're memories I'll cherish forever.

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