Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Beautiful Island"

3/17/12 Saturday

Kenting or Kending, however you say it, it must be Taiwanese for Hawaii! And no wonder, it sits on the same latitude as the United States’ island paradise. I cannot help make another comparison to the US by saying we arrived the seaside village of Kenting (my preferred spelling) via Taiwan’s National Highway 1 just as one in America would drive to Big Sur via the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) which is our US Highway 1. If you’ve ever driven either, you know the highway hugs the coast, and you travel for miles with a continuous view of waves, rocks, beaches and the ocean meeting the horizon. It was as magnificent here in Taiwan as any drive we have ever made on our own west coast.

We arrived at our hotel, the Bethlehem B&B, after searching high and low for street signs. We gave up hope that we could find the hotel by looking for an address, so we began looking for a place that hopefully resembled the pictures that were online. We spotted one possibility that was very similar to what we had seen that was up a tiny side street.  

When I got out of the car and went into the lobby I was convinced it was the right place. It looked exactly like the picture I had seen. But, “No,” the man who couldn’t speak English was sure I was in the wrong place and pointed somewhere “over there.” I couldn’t argue. What did I know? So off we went to look “over there.” And, surprisingly to me, there was another hotel that looked just like it on the main street! When we walked in the lobby and talked to the girl at the front desk, she pulled out her list of reservations, we pointed to our name and we had a room!

This was the cutest little hotel/B&B! It was, like the subtle theme of the village, Mediterranean style…more specifically Greek. It had stucco walls painted white with royal blue shutters and doors. Our room was on the third floor of the complex off the back patio where you entered through a charming little blue gate. The lobby there was decorated tastefully with brightly colored flowers and knick-knacks. They stood out boldly against the white walls and staircase.  

The outside wall of each landing had a window and was painted a different bright color. One was orange, one was hot pink, one was yellow. The stairs from the second floor up were painted the same royal blue as the window frames and doors. I need not continue describing this adorable inn because I have a lot of pictures of which I have chosen the best to post below.

The back patio entrance to the breakfast room.

Lobby to the back complex of rooms.
The Bethlehem B&B at night.
This adorable place, though, was positioned amid Old China. I am not making any kind of statement. I have mentioned this before…a most wonderful place might not be surrounded by an equally lovely place. I want to be truthful about our experience. Next to the cute, clean patio where we walked up an alley and tiny street to enter, there was an old complex of tile-roofed traditional Chinese homes. They were in a u-shape all sharing the same roof that extended out over the walkway in front of the house. As is traditional, the wash was hanging outside the front door when we first arrived. There was a low, broken-down  brick wall around this set of family homes with a large opening. Someone in this family obviously ran the beach business of “wave-running” because the jet ski and “hot dog” to pull behind it was stored in the large plaza area inside the walls of the property. 

No matter about the neighborhood. It was safe and quiet. We enjoyed our two nights at the Bethlehem B&B. We had a big, good bed, air conditioning (which we needed), American channels on TV, a bathtub (which I haven’t had in 3 months) and eggs for breakfast in the morning. The accommodations were perfect for relaxing. This was the purpose of our get-away to Kenting. Mission accomplished!

Of course relaxing didn’t mean soaking in the tub or watching TV all day. We did walk the beach.

We also explored the interesting rock formations that covered the “beach” immediately in front of the hotel. When we got right down on them we discovered they must actually be coral. The designs in them were beautiful.

This area is famous for a rock that tumbled into the edge of the sea and sits strikingly by itself. From the water, they say it looks like a sailboat, so they named it the “Sail Rock.” However, from the direction of the boardwalk people thought it looked like the profile of Richard Nixon. This idea was passed along so often that even the information sign describing its history says it is best known as “Nixon Rock.”

On Friday morning, we took a ride around the tip of the island to see the east coast. The east coast is quite remote. There is very little space to build between the ocean and the mountains. There is a road similar to the road to Hana on Maui that winds up and around and through this coastal area. At one point we stopped and got out of the car at an overlook. We walked through a meadow and through a path that was cut through a clump of yucca plants. We came out to another open space that was very unusual. The clay-like ground was worn smooth and hard but it had strange rock formations popping up through it. We continued on all the while the ocean was spread out below us.

When we got to the edge of the cliff there was an information plaque that explained the geological phenomenon that was happening to form this ridge. The mountain we were standing on was made of coral. There are coral caverns within the mountain that will eventually collapse causing the edge of the mountain to drop down creating a shearing effect. In geological terms, this is called “slumping.”  

Aside from the absolutely breath-taking view from this overlook, we explored fissures in the ground created by earthquakes and “slumping.” We found a granite marker that had writing on it. It was flat in the ground like a grave marker. We know how they mark their graves and this was not that. I found it interesting, so I took a picture.

We walked farther and saw another marker just like the other one only this one was standing upright. It appeared that the first had fallen during a “slumping” episode and the other is still as it should be. We surmise they might be warning markers.

We continued on our drive. After quite a sharp descent, we were at sea level and driving along the coast, again. This time we stopped and walked through another path cut through jungle-like vegetation, only this time we ended up on a sandy beach with surfers in wet suits.  

There was driftwood on the sandy beach as well as a collection of rocks that had been washed up over the years. They were round and smooth, just the kind you see in Oriental rock gardens or used as a bed in an indoor water fountain. We made ourselves little rock “seats” to sit on in the sand. We sat there for quite awhile watching the tide coming in, then decided to head back to the hotel.

Later in the day, we drove through the Kenting National Forest Recreational Area. We drove through an arched entryway and followed the signs.  

When we got to the peak of the park, we could look down onto the little seaside village with the ocean rolling in on the beach. It, too, reminded me of some place we’d been before. It wasn’t till later that night that I realized that it wasn’t Hawaii or the PCH but it was Catalina Island.  

It was very warm…hot…in the middle of the day, but the temperature was pleasant after the sun went down. That’s when we took advantage of the beautiful view of the night sky and ocean. We could also see the lights of the huge resort around the curve of the bay that, again, gave the impression of the Mediterranean Riviera. It was a great spot to eat ice cream that we bought from the 7-Eleven across the street. (Again, I want to give an honest portrayal. It was beginning to sound a little “more” than what it was. It was just a lovely place to share ice cream.)

This was our “last hurrah” before setting our minds to packing and going home in four days. It was a fabulous way to end our time on the “beautiful island,” Formosa. The Portuguese had it right when they gave this name to the uncharted island that they found while sailing for Japan in 1542!

A Pleasant Day in Goushung


We went on our weekly Tuesday day trip yesterday. We rode the HSR to Goushung. We took the MRT to the city center station and walked to the Love River where we had lunch at Outback Restaurant. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. The walk along the river is very pretty and peaceful. We ate on the patio at Outback, which overlooks the river. As we waited for our lunch, Don commented, “This is so pleasant.” While we ate, a group of little sailboats went by.  

The sailboats were still on the river when we left Outback, so we walked over to the river side to see what was going on. It was a school class learning how to sail: “running” up river to the bridge, turning around and then “tacking” down river. A few got into trouble by getting too close to the bridge and their sails got caught. A few others got stuck “lufting,” having a hard time catching the wind in their sails. Some of the young sailors did a few unexpected "bumper car" maneuvers. Those of them that were more advanced were able to keep a nice line, one behind the other, and tack back and forth across the river while sailing downstream. The sailing coach stood at the edge of the river calling out instructions to the class. There was a “life guard” in a kayak stationed some distance from them as well. He looked relieved once they all got away from the bridge where they had the most difficulty. They were very fun to watch on a warm lazy afternoon.

We had looked at our map and discovered a route to get to a ferry pier that would take us to an island on the other side of the harbor. We walked to the MRT station and rode the train to the closest stop to the pier. When we came up out of the subway tunnel we were in a very old part of town where the buildings were wall to wall and the streets were narrow like alleys. We would have wondered if we were in the right place except there was a young man stationed there at the exit to direct people to the ferry. “Go straight and turn right,” he said in quite good English. We went straight for several blocks past run-down buildings, parked cars, scooters and bikes and construction workers. We also had to cross a street that was being repaved. The steamroller operator just waved us on, and we gingerly walked over the hot tar!  

As soon as we turned right, we could see the pier and the ferry. It was boarding time, so we bought
tickets for NT$50 (about 60 cents each) and walked up onto the second level of the boat while dozens of scooters drove onto the first deck. Don and I found a bench to sit on outside so we could see the harbor and take pictures. The buildings upriver stood right on the water looking like Venice or Amsterdam. The engine started and off we went to the other side of the harbor to the island of Cijin. 

It was a short ten-minute ride. We had a beautiful view of the big container ships docked at the Goushung harbor. We also saw a ship being guided by a pilot boat into the harbor from the open sea. The skyline of the big city was beautiful to see from the vantage point of the water.  

We knew nothing about this island other than we had located it on the map. When the ferry docked, we disembarked with many other passengers and realized Cijin must be quite a tourist spot. Right outside the ferry entrance were rental bicycles of every variety, scooters, and rickshaws.

There were street vendors selling everything from baseball caps and flip-flops to toys and trinkets. Further down the main street was the food section of vendors. Both sides of the street were lined with fresh seafood shops, some with tables set on the sidewalk for eating “in” and others sold take-home. When I say “fresh” seafood I mean “fresh” as in “still alive.” There were rows of fish tanks filled with a large variety of local catches. There were other displays of fish on ice. These were very pretty…seafood laid out individually in neat rows each surrounded by a mound of ice. The shop owners were very particular but speedy as they put out the latest arrival from the docks.

This main street ended at the ocean, the Taiwan Strait…90 miles to Mainland China. The sun was shining brightly, and it sparkled on the water like diamonds.  

The beach had a boardwalk and a nice park area before the sand. The sand was black volcanic sand. We could see big ships on the horizon. The sun was low in the sky because it was after 4:00. It made for long shadows and a dazzling sea. There was a child (Asian) who was speaking English (!) to his parents. He said, “Oh, I hope we can see the sun set!”  

We walked back to the ferry along the same main street as we had coming in. I’m thinking that in the time we were at the beach, people who live on the island had come home from working in the city. It seemed like more local activity than tourist on the way back. There were people eating their supper at the street vendors, people at the street-side temple and scooter drivers carrying satchels, I assumed from their jobs.

The temperature had cooled down so we rode in the cabin of the ferry on the way back to Goushung.

We decided we had had a very nice day and would go on home to Chia-yi rather than continuing on to Lotus Pond as we had planned. So we followed the same route we had taken from the HSR, to the Redline on the MRT to walking through town on our way to get to the ferry only in reverse. It seemed to go a lot faster going back than it did on the way in. We had walked probably 10 miles total on our little jaunt around Goushung, so we sat quietly on the train ride home being appreciative of the time we’ve had to spend exploring together these past few weeks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Lesson in American Table Manners


Around 6:00, we headed over to church for Bible Study/ English class. Class was very good. We read about Jesus not being accepted in his hometown. There were moments that it felt like they were truly understanding what was happening in the story. At 8:00, we all got up to leave because the students for the advanced class were coming in. Sharon from our Mon. night conversational class arrived. We were at the door explaining that we had only two Wed. nights left before we would be going back to the US. They were very disappointed that we were leaving, so I blurted out that we could have a party at our house before we go and I would cook them American food. Woah! That got a reaction. Sharon, who had already sat down for the 8:00 classtime, jumped out of her seat and asked if she could come, too! We had a hard time leaving for all the planning they wanted to do and the excitement that they could not contain. So we’re having a party next Thurs. at 6:30! I’ve decided on hamburgers and hot dogs, baked beans and potato chips, the All-American meal. After supper, we’ll play UNO. There will be about 10 of us. Yikes! What did I get myself into?


Last week at Bible Study/ English class, I had made the big offer to have a dinner/ party at our house on Thurs. night. After talking to Debbie about it, we changed it to Wed. The guest list had risen to include all English classes…Conversational plus both Wed. night classes. We had also invited Jerry’s wife and Happy and Pastor James. We were expecting 12 people. We borrowed tables and chairs from the church.  

I had planned to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. We went exploratory shopping at the RT Mart and Carrefour in Chia-yi City after church on Sunday. We found almost everything we needed except hamburger and buns. This was not going to work, so we switched the menu to spaghetti. We went shopping for all our supplies and groceries on Wed. morning. We needed to get paper products and some extra serving bowls and utensils. We found nearly everything we wanted at the RT Mart, but they didn’t have salad dressing. We went over to Carrefour where we knew they had 5 kinds of salad dressings.

Shopping at the RT Mart where the escalators accommodate shopping carts,"trollies," that have specially made wheels to grip the grooves of the escalator.
By 6:00, everything was ready for the party. Don went over to the church as planned and guided everyone to the house. Well, almost everyone. They lost Sharon for a bit, but she showed up after tracking her down on her cell phone. Clark and Jenny both brought friends with them, Eric and Mini. That brought the count up to 14 for eating. I was prepared with an extra table. The more the merrier, I always say!

The living room was quite crowded, but they wanted to see the rest of the house, so we didn’t spend much time all huddled in the living room. They were very impressed with the size and “beauty” of the house.    

We were going to wait to eat until Jerry, his wife and Happy came since he couldn’t get here till 7:00. By the time we had toured the house, Jerry was arriving with his family. I still needed to do a few things in the kitchen, so they all gathered in the living room again. It was truly packed. Sharon had brought several kinds of sliced fruit that we set out on the coffee table and I served orange juice, a common beverage for the Taiwanese to serve before or with a meal, and water. Debbie came in the kitchen with me as I cooked the noodles for spaghetti.  

When I was done in the kitchen, I had to get everyone’s attention in the living room in order to have them come to the dining room for instructions on what to do next. I had all the items for place settings (dinner plates, bread plates, salad bowls, silverware, etc.) on the buffet. I explained to them to pick up one of each item and bring them to the table. When they were all seated with their tableware, I showed them how to place each item on their place mat according to American table-setting tradition. They were very attentive and fascinated with this whole process. The Taiwanese have no equivalent to this.

Then we talked to them about thanking Jesus for our food before we ate and that this was done by the one who is at the head of the table, usually the father of the house, or he may choose to ask someone to say the prayer. Either way, you know he is done praying when he says, “Amen.” We covered it all.

Then I served the meal “family style,” starting with Don and passing to the right…everything being passed to the right. We talked about asking to have something passed to you if you wanted more. Again, we covered almost everything you can think of that might take place at the dinner table. For example, I told them that the napkin is big enough to set on your lap through the whole meal and you are expected to use it throughout the meal. I needed to tell them this because the Taiwanese have small squares of “Kleenex” in a pop-up box that is set in the middle of the table (maybe) that are used as napkins. They are smaller than the napkins in a dispenser at a soda counter. They often don’t use them at all and they never put them in their lap. When I showed them during the place-setting instruction where to put the napkin, they didn’t understand what its purpose was, but when I demonstrated its use, they nodded their heads and quizzically said, “Ohhhh.” That example explains how different it is to eat American-style as opposed to Taiwanese. I have to say, they were good sports and really wanted to learn.

I think the biggest difference in the way Americans eat a meal and many other countries in the world, including Taiwan, is that we serve food only three times throughout the meal…salad, main course and dessert. The Taiwanese, as many, have multiple courses served throughout the meal. I have described this several times when talking about restaurants, so I won’t belabor the point. However, I think this was very foreign to our guests the other night to realize that once the food was served, that was all that was going to be served.  

Vincent came during the meal because he had a dinner to go to at the hospital that night. We were honored that he left his event early in order to get in on some of the fun at our house. Shortly, Pastor James came as well. He was just in time for ice cream, egg rolls and coffee.  

Note: Clark had brought “egg rolls.” They are a specialty “cookie,” like krumkakah, that are made in Chia-yi City in a shop in a little alley. I’m told you have to go to this shop an hour before it opens at 8:00am in order to get these delicacies before they run out. Debbie said we were very privileged to have gotten a bag of “egg rolls.” They were the best Taiwanese treat we’ve had! Thank you, Clark.   

We had had two tables together to make one big table for supper. When we were done eating, we cleared away the dishes and separated the two tables in order to play two games of UNO at once. We had taught the Wed. 6:00 class how to play UNO last week, but the others had to learn. It, of course, is such a simple game that they caught on very quickly. It’s a good way for them to practice their numbers and colors in English. It wasn’t long before there was laughing and shouting and good-natured rivalry was happening! They became quite a rowdy bunch! It was fun!

By 10:00, they realized they needed to be going home. As they were preparing to leave, someone got out a camera…then another and another. We spent time getting in the group picture or taking the picture. It was such a wonderful feeling of friendship and fun. I felt like we had had a night like the hundreds, maybe thousands, of nights we’ve had with any number of groups of friends throughout our married life. Another proof that people are the same all around the world. This had to be one of my favorite nights in Taiwan!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Day of Surprises

3/10/12 Saturday

We had a wonderful day today! We had planned to go to the town of Tainan to go to the performance of "Shen Yun," classical Chinese dancing. Last night we rode the train into Tainan just to have supper and saw an ad for the International Taiwanese Orchid Show taking place in a nearby town this weekend. After looking on the map, we decided to head out earlier than expected and see about the orchid show on our way to the dance performance. The orchid show was our first surprise.

The orchid show was only 30 minutes from our house way out in fields where they grow them in green houses. We followed signs from the main road down country roads, through a small village and out again onto a county road and suddenly we came upon huge fields turned into parking lots. They were surrounded by dozens of green houses. We were directed into one of these and parked the car.  

This was another event that had thousands, if not tens of thousands of people attending. We melded into the crowd even though there was no event building in sight. We walked past a building with English writing on it that read Hao Mei Orchid USDA Certified. That seemed odd, but then I remembered something I had read about the US being a part of some kind of orchid “pact” allowing them to import and export with each other. Maybe that is why there is such a building in Taiwan.

We finally came to the huge venue where the show was taking place. We first walked into a building that displayed the orchids as it had been recorded by the Portuguese explorers who happened upon Taiwan in 1542: “The explorers decided to venture through the primal forest and came across giant tree trunks that had fallen down. They found fragrant orchids growing all over the tree trunks.” There it was before us: orchids covering old tree trunks, orchids cascading over the toppled branches, orchids covering the forest floor!

It was fabulous! I could never have imaged so many orchids!!!! Each room we entered was another display somehow connected with this original history. One room had tiny yellow orchid “balls” hanging from the ceiling. This was to represent how the orchid leaves were blown on the wind, spreading new flowers all about the island.

There were many rooms to this main display. As we followed the path, we saw orchids of every color and size.

Then there were hundreds of them displayed in a series of green houses that were in an international competition. Outside, there were more displays and a park with statues adorned with orchids. In other buildings they were selling orchid "everything" as well as plants themselves. They were selling them for as little as $3.30!

This was "just a little side trip" on our way to our planned event. We did not have enough time to see it all!!!

Then we went on to the city of Tainan where we went to the Cultural Center of Performing Arts where we encountered a few more surprises. (Please read to the end to discover our last surprise of the day.)

When we went to the ticket counter, they were very impressed that foreigners wanted to see the performance. We bought two tickets, and a very nice woman who could speak English visited with us for a few minutes. Then the ticket lady broke in on our conversation and said she had better seats for us, so please exchange the original tickets with these better ones. We thought that was nice. We went to our seats and they were two of the best seats in the house! WOW! What a great surprise!

By the time the performance started, the auditorium was full except for the top balcony.
We bought a program from a very classic-looking Chinese woman in the lobby. She was wearing the traditional Chinese embroidered jacket and long skirt. Lovely!  

The printed program was bi-lingual and explained the performances. There were 22 little vignettes of classic Chinese stories, 11 in the first half and the same number in the second half. Each of them lasted only 5 minutes or so. A Chinese man in a tuxedo and a Chinese woman in a simple flowing gown were the emcees. They came on stage between each scene and gave a short synopsis of what we were about to see. The man spoke in English and the woman spoke in Mandarin. There was no speaking or singing from the performers, only dancing. This was all about story-telling through dance. And they did it marvelously!

The orchestra was a combination of a classic Western symphony and old Chinese instruments. The combination was very easy on the ear. The Western instruments softened the “screechy” sounds of Oriental music, yet the music was very much in the style of traditional China. One act was a performance of an ancient instrument that sounded like a violin but the body of the instrument was a small box that sat on the player’s lap. The strings were attached to it and connected to the pegs at the top of a long narrow neck. Thus the bow was drawn across this upright instrument sitting on her lap. Either it is made to have a beautiful delicate sound or she could play it magnificently, but it had the most wonderful sound. The percussion section of the orchestra had a huge Chinese gong. The percussionist swung a large mallet that she hung at her side. She sounded the gong without looking at it standing behind her. She’d swing the mallet at her side like a pendulum of a clock.

“Shen Yun” originated on Broadway by Chinese performers in New York. Its purpose as stated in its subtitle is “Reviving 5,000 years of civilization.” As I’ve mentioned before in other entries, the Chinese culture was completely wiped out on the Mainland by Mao’s revolution. Taiwan and the Chinese that have lived abroad since 1949 have the only preserved culture of ancient China. It is a privilege for the Chinese people to be able to perform and witness their traditional heritage around the world, except in Mainland China. The impact of this fact was very evident on the audience.  

The dancing and costumes and music were so very lovely! So graceful! I don’t know how the Chinese women do this, but they can move from place to place without looking like they are walking. They glide, float, transport themselves with no effort. Wearing their long flowing skirts, one would almost think they have some mechanism hidden underneath to cause them to move so gracefully. The colors of the costumes were beautiful combinations of pastels. The picture I have included from the poster in the lobby shows the dancers in primary colors, but that was the exception. They put colors together that we, as Westerners, would probably not combine in one outfit, but they were beautiful and soft to the eye. I wish we would have been allowed to take pictures because I cannot portray the beauty of these clothes…men’s as well as women’s.

The dance moves were also spectacular. The men were like gymnasts flipping and jumping in perfect choreographed sequences. The women were like a chorus line but more graceful and with more complex moves than any you would see done by the Rockettes in New York. Every dance used some kind of prop…swords, fans, scarves. In one dance, the woman were wearing dresses that had what they call “water sleeves.” Their sleeves extended long past their hands and were used like what we call now “ribbon dancing.” They would in one graceful movement ball their sleeves up into their hands and then throw them up in the air. They would flutter about and begin to descend to the floor and then with one sudden jolt they would whip them back into the air to make patterns with them. The men used baby blue fans as weapons, if you can picture that! They were very effective. The men would slap those fans shut all at once and the sound was like a clap. With them shut, they would extend them in an assertion of strength and power and then, snap! They would open them.

There was one feature in this program that was very modern and “Broadway”-ish. The backdrop was a screen that had scenes projected onto it. Sometimes it was just a background of mountains or sky, but sometimes it was an animated scene where one of the characters of the story was portrayed. In these scenes, the character would move from the screen onto the stage or visa versa. For example, there was a story of a Monkey King. The curtain rose on the Monkey King sitting in a tree eating a banana. When he rose to jump out of the tree, it appeared he popped right out of the tree onto the stage…actually, jumping up from behind a set of steps that stretched across the back of the stage. It was very realistic. The timing had to be precise.  

The vignettes told stories of a soldier killed in battle and his wife taking his place, of apprentice monks getting into mischief while mopping the floors of the monastery, and of snowflakes in spring to mention a few. My favorite was called “Lotus Leaves.” The women dancers were dressed in dark pink flowing pant outfits with a lotus blossom atop their heads. They carried full-circle dark green fans that looked like lily pads when opened all the way. The contrast between the pink and green was striking. The choreographed moves were perfection. The message of the story was encouraging, “Behind the leaf of every lily pad growing in the muck and mire of the pond lies a blossom ready to bloom.”

Along with the ancient stories and philosophies, there were three scenes that dealt with the suppression of free speech and religion in China today. These were very moving. As with all culture, there was some mention of their religion. The closing story was a very graphic scene using the animated screen.  It depicted Buddha saving the earth and defeating evil.

Even though I have spent quite a bit of time talking about this event, I have to include what happened when the curtain dropped, the biggest surprise of the day. As soon as the curtain came down and the lights came up, the lovely lady that visited with us at the ticket counter came to our seats and asked to please come with her to be interviewed for the TV!!! Sure enough, that's exactly what she meant for us to do. We followed her to a room where there were others, as well, waiting to be interviewed about their impressions of the show. Our lady escort was very anxious about our being on TV and shuffled us to the front of the short line. We were ushered into a room and there a TV person with a microphone interviewed us in front of a camera! How funny is that! It was a day of wonderful surprises!