Friday, February 24, 2012

Random pictures of Household Items

This does not sound like a very interesting blog piece.  I should have thought of a clever title, but I didn't. I have taken pictures over our time here of things around the house that are different from what I have ever had in a house in the US, no matter what state we were in.  Therefore, I found them interesting enough to photograph for "posterity."

This is the type of broom and dust pan that is used in every home.  It is super light being made of aluminum, the brush is very thin and the dust pan has a handle as tall as the broom so as not to have to bend over, like the ushers use at the movie theater.  I have not seen another type of household broom sold here in Taiwan.  I'm actually missing my O'Cedar, but I like the dust pan.

This is the biggest tea pot ever!  This is used to boil water for washing and rinsing the dishes, as well as making soup or instant coffee or tea.  You can supply all of these with one full pot.  The steam release is in the cover knob and can really sing!

This is the "socks dryer."  You can hang a dozen pair of socks on this little contraption and take up very little space.  The blue "rope" that is strung to the same hook as the sock dryer is my clothes line.  It is made so that you can hang your clothes on hangers and slip the hanger hook into the divided spaces so that the wind won't blow them into a clump...which it will if you don't do something about it.  I choose to use old fashioned clothespins but hangers really do save space.  Everything in Taiwan is designed to take up as little space as possible.

I also use the clothes pole to dry clothes.  It does have the issue, though, of the wind blowing the clothes smack together so that they can't dry as quickly.  "Quickly" is relative, as I have complained before about the amount of time it takes to dry clothes in our humid air.

This is a rice bowl, my favorite dish in the cupboard.  I don't use it for rice.  I use it for oatmeal.  I can make oatmeal in the morning and with the cover on it, the cereal will stay hot until everything else, including Don, is ready to eat.  I also use it for ramen noodles.  Boil the water in the giant tea pot, pour it over the noodles and flavor packets, put the cover on, let it sit for 3 minutes and we've got supper!  A-tai is going to buy me two rice bowls to bring home!  Yeah!

The orange hose is a permanent fixture in every bathroom of every house.  It is, as you can see, attached to a separate spigot under the sink.  It is for rinsing the floor daily and the water runs into the drain in the floor. (Note the water jug on the floor.  I have a pitcher on the shelf above the sink filled with bottled water for brushing our teeth...including dunking our tooth brushes.  I refill the pitcher from the gallon water jug on the floor.)

Almost all the door knobs in the house have these fabric covers on them.  They could be for decoration only, but I think they may be for sanitary reasons.  You can remove them and put them in the washer.  I realize there are many cleaning products to spray door knobs to get the same effect, but I'm not sure if they are used.  These covers are cumbersome because you can't get a good grip on the knob to open the door, so I'm assuming they have a practical purpose rather than decoration only. We've removed many of them for the very reason we couldn't manage to open the door efficiently.  We'll replace them when we leave.

I love this feature in the closet/ dressing room.  This is a sliding door that is hiding...

the balcony door!  Slide it over the closet and you've got an entrance onto the balcony.  Close it and you've got a solid wall.  Very clever...and space-saving.  Very IKEA.

The last item I am going to document is this little "shed"/ "cabinet" that shelters the gas tank for the stove in the house.  It is outside in the very narrow alley.  You put your hand into that open slot in the door that is at the exact height of the handle to turn on the gas.  When you're done with using the stove, we were told to go outside and turn it off.  Note the door next to the gas tank "shed."  That is the neighbor's back door.  We're all really close together!

These are household items that I have not used or dealt with in my houses in the US.  They make life interesting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

National Lantern Festival, Lugang, Changhua County


Now I am going to tackle putting the experience of the National Lantern Festival into words.

A little background: The lantern festival “season” starts on the 15th day after Chinese (Lunar) New Year and lasts two weeks. Thus, this year it ran from Feb. 6 until yesterday, the 19th. Originally, the lantern festivals were held at the city temples. People would parade from temple to temple with their lanterns. In 1989, these were consolidated into one annual national event to spare people from shuttling between them all. Even though there are two temples in Lugang, the actual festival took place between the two. Don and I never actually saw either temple during our time at the festival.

Main entrance.  We actually exited from here because we entered from the street, not the shuttle bus parking lot.
There are still a few local lantern festivals such as in Goushung. As the one in Goushung, they are smaller by comparison and do not run simultaneously with the national festival. There is one festival that takes place on the 15th day of the lunar New Year that is internationally known, separate from the National Lantern Festival. That is the Sky Lantern Festival in the small ancient coal village of Ping Xi where they launch thousands of traditional lanterns into the night sky, as we have all seen fabulous pictures of and consider this event as the lantern festival of China. This is a smaller one-day event even though thousands of people flood the little village for a glimpse of the spectacular sight.

The National Lantern Festival covers a large area of the city in which it is held. In 2008, it was held in Chai-yi county among the blocks of government buildings and our beautiful civic park. This year in Lugang, it encompassed probably 2 miles from the South Lantern Area to the North Lantern Area with a few streets branching off to the two local temples.

With that background, I am going to describe our own experience and observance of the National Lantern Festival in Lugang, Changhua County.

We took the HSR to the city of Taichung, the closest HSR station to Lugang. Having looked on the map, we knew it was quite a distance between the two. We read online that a free shuttle bus was offered from the train station to the festival, so that was our plan when we arrived. We followed the signs in the train station to the shuttle bus area, but we were in for a big surprise when got there. There was the longest line we had ever seen waiting to get on the shuttle bus(es)! The train station is a very large building, covering at least one square city block. We walked out one door to get in the line and began to walk to find the end of it. I took out my camera and began to photograph this line because we could not find its end. We went around the first corner of the building and could see it wrapped around the next corner as well. Each time we turned another corner around the building, the line continued on. People were standing patiently with hundreds of people in front of them.  

They didn’t seem to think anything strange of this never-ending line. When we found ourselves winding around the 4th corner of the building and the tail of the line was now meeting the head of the line, I had taken 9 pictures of this line and never repeated a section! We decided to hail a cab!

It was a good ride. Leaving Taichung, we crossed a river into Changhau City. This was a big city crisscrossed with a freeway system that looked like any other freeway system in America or Europe. We passed many, many “brownstone” complexes at an elevated level. Each of them, like ours, had stainless steel water tanks on the roofs to give warm/ hot water when heated by the sun…not a common occurrence in these winter months, though it was a beautiful sunny day yesterday. We were driving directly west at 4:30 pm. As the sun lay low in the sky it shone on those many, many water tanks making them look like soup cans lined up in rows. We also passed what appeared to be a “public” graveyard. I need more information on this subject, but I will add a picture I took in a “cemetery” near our house so you can see how different their burial sites are from ours in the US.  

Traffic became very congested the closer we got to the festival area. Scooter after scooter passed by our cab…zoom on the right side, zoom on the left side. They were non-stop, again carrying as many people as possible. We would come to a full stop for several minutes at a time and then nudge a little farther. It was like being in rush hour traffic in LA or inching down Snelling Ave. during the MN State Fair. Those friends who are not from MN cannot imagine this comparison, but it is fair to say that the MN State Fair traffic and crowds can rival any big city event for its two-week annual run in August. The other accurate comparison would be Disneyland on Christmas Day. Lugang was expecting 5 million visitors to attend the festival over two weeks. The police were out in full-force trying to control the flow of traffic.

The taxi finally turned into a city street and dropped us at a corner where the driver pointed in the direction of the festival. We stood on the corner getting our bearings for only moments when a tall, slender Chinese man asked us in English if we needed help. He ran to a store that had maps of the festival area, but returned saying, “No English.” He gave us a map in Mandarin showing us where we were. The rest was quite self-explanatory. We could see the main street that led between the two main areas of activity, the north venue and the south venue. The north venue was the center of activity. We marked ourselves on the map (like “You Are Here”) and headed from this crowded side street north to connect with the main street, which ran east and west.
Because the Strait of Taiwan was a short distance directly west of us, we were hit by the cold sea wind as soon as we turned the corner onto the main street, Zhongshan Road. I quickly wrapped the scarf I had brought around my neck and put on my gloves. Aside from noticing the cold wind, we discovered we were entering what is called “The 1,000 Mile Dragon Gallery.” The street was closed to vehicles and became a massive pedestrian walkway. Block-long dragons hung overhead. Each block or two had a different version of a dragon. They were non-stop the entire length of this main street connecting the south venue with the north.  

Shortly after we turned this corner, we saw a Chinese couple taking pictures, as everyone was. The wife was taking one of her husband with the lantern dragon over his head in the background. I asked, in pantomime, if she wanted to get in the picture with him. “Yes, yes!” “Shi-shi, shi-shi!” She then offered to do the same for us. Thus, Don and I have a rare photo of the two of us…at the Lantern Festival!  

These dragons hanging over the street were fabulous! Each one was different, though all made from lanterns. There was an orange one and a pink one and a green one. There was one depicting the “dragon boats,” famous in this area.  

There was one block that was hung with rows and rows of lights in shapes of fish and waves. The street was lined with food vendors and the local shops were open for business. There was street entertainment. We walked through this area when the sun was just about to set. As we walked, the sky drew darker and the lights began to turn on. It would be another hour before it actually got dark and the full beauty of the dragons would be lit up. But we needed to move on.  

Move on we did. We turned toward the “Main Theme Lantern Area.” This main venue was bordered by displays of lanterns from all around the country that had been entered in the lantern competition. These were in the shape of flowers and dragons and children and their most famous landmark, Taipei 101. The winner of this competition would be crowned “Lantern King.”

Taiwan's Empire State Building...Taipei 101, 2nd tallest building in the world.

Another contest entry; taken later in the evening.
There were not only dozens and dozens of lanterns in this area, but all of the trees were wound with lights…we’d call them Christmas lights, but instead of Christmas colors, they were purples, pinks and oranges. It was a fairyland of lights. The wind was blowing so strongly that the branches of the trees were swaying, and that caused the lights to look as if they were twinkling. Don and I were oohing and aahing at this point, “but we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Because of the route we took in getting to this area, we found ourselves entering into the main theme area from a side walkway. The first thing we saw was a tall pagoda lantern…very, very pretty…

but then we turned the corner! There was an enormous stage (65yards x 22yards) with red skirting that held life-size scenes from Chinese culture. They were so…so…so…Chinese! This is what everyone in the world has in mind when they think “Chinese”! There it was…bigger than life! The sun was going down fast. The darker it got, the brighter the lanterns got. This was awesome! We forgot we were cold, we forgot it was windy, we forgot we were one (or should I say two) in a crowd of thousands. It was a sight that completely overwhelmed me!  Here is some of what we were gazing on:

Confucius Temple
Zhonghua Gate Castle

Women playing Majong.

Temple Gate

Once we could pull ourselves away from that main display, we turned around and directly behind us was a pathway to follow through  four "Welcome Lantern Pillars" and gate.

This pathway brought us under an enormous lantern that was shaped like a gourd. The word for “gourd” in Mandarin is a homophone for “fortune,” so the gourd has come to symbolize good fortune. This open space was called the “Fortune Gate Lantern Area” which led to the “Blessing Lantern Forest.” As one can imagine, it was rows and rows of trees and lattices hung with gourd-shaped lanterns.  

Fortune Gate Lantern
In this area, there was one of the five “secondary” national lanterns, the “Bisi Bearing Fortune.” A bisi is a tortoise-like creature in Chinese folklore that loved to carry heavy things on its back. He did this with “diligence and without complaint,” as the story goes. The philanthropist of today is like bisi who can bring good fortune to others.

Bisi Bearing Fortune
We then moved into the entertainment open-air arena where there was a dance troupe performing on a huge stage before a huge crowd both in stadium seats as well as milling about a gigantic open space. The troupe was dancing to American pop music sung in English. They started out with “Puttin’ On the Ritz” and followed through the decades with songs like “Greased Lightning” and “YMCA.” During this performance, a laser show danced on the tall building bordering the stage. You could see the beam being shot from a top-story window from a building on the other side of the festival grounds.

Crowd watching the dance performance at the Entertainment Square.
Full stadium bleachers also watching the dancers on stage.
The dance stage was dwarfed by the centerpiece lantern of the festival, “Soaring Dragon in Radiant Skies.” The website describes this lantern as embodying “a dragon soaring across the world … abounding auspicious clouds and embracing virtue.” The soaring dragon was on a high pedestal and changed colors from inside its lantern body.

"Soaring Dragon Over Radiant Skies" (from behind)

We walked on to other displays before the dance performance was over. We could still hear the music clearly as we walked through another area of competing lanterns and through a grove of trees covered with lights. As Don and I walked arm in arm through this enchanted forest, we could hear that the hit song “Take My Breath Away” was playing over at the stage. I realize that song is arguably the most romantic song ever, but the title itself described the evening’s experience for me (and I dare say Don, as well)…it “took my breath away.”

We took the free shuttle back to the HSR station arriving just in time for the 8:00 train back to Chia-yi. We sat on the train and said to each other once again, “WOW! WOW! WOW! We’re really in China!”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saturday Morning Errands, with a Detour


Saturday was a very fun day. We went out in the morning, ate lunch and rested for an hour at home. Then went to Taichung/ Lugang for the National Lantern Festival.

Even though the Lantern Festival was the absolute highlight of the day, I am going to relate in this post what we did in the morning. First, we have carried on our tradition of going out for Saturday breakfast. Considering McDonald’s is the only place in town that we trust for American breakfast food, that is where we went. The girls at the counter have gotten familiar with us and try to use any English they know. They get very shy and humble when we compliment them on their skill with the language. They are very sweet.  

After breakfast, we set out to make our weekly run to the Giraffe Supermarket. As we were approaching the corner to turn into the market, we noticed a line of tour buses joining us on the main road. There were about 8 buses in all. We ended up at the stoplight next to them and read their name, “Hosanna Buses.” They had a cross and dove for a logo and a flame for decoration. We decided that we had no schedule to keep so why not follow them. Maybe they would lead us to some kind of Christian “convention” going on somewhere nearby.  

We followed them to Dongshih, and then we continued on to a small town we were not familiar with. We ended up going through a little village downtown area until we saw the buses all turning off the road into a driveway where there were policemen directing traffic. They pointed for the buses to turn in, but they pointed their traffic stick at us and directed us to move on. As we passed the driveway, we discovered that it was not a Christian convention they were going to at all. We drove around the block to get a look at what was going on. They had been dropped off at a Buddhist garden that was being used as a gathering place for these busloads of “worshippers” to parade to the local temple. They all received incense sticks as they disembarked the bus. Then the processional firecrackers were lit and the pop, pop, pop of them went on for several minutes. I got out of the car and took some pictures of the gardens, but I could not get close enough to see the people.  

I got back in the car and we headed back towards the main road to go back to Putzu. When we turned the car around we discovered that we were in a community that processes salt from the sea…remember that Dongshih is the oyster town and we were not far from there. We had read that there were salt flats and mounds in the area. Well, we found one of them by accident on Saturday. There were “mountains” of salt, taller and wider than the buildings next to them

After finding that amazing sight, we turned back onto the main road, but the traffic was now stopped by the parade of worshippers. They completely blocked the street and now the policemen were holding back traffic until they all got close enough to the temple to clear one lane for traffic to go by.

As we finally were allowed to creep past the crowd, we saw what has become a familiar sight to us…the people were filing up the right hand staircase into the temple, flowing through the temple and descending down the left hand staircase, all the while carrying their burning incense sticks. The smell of the incense was very strong in the car just from driving past the crowd.

It seemed ironic that “Hosanna Buses” were bringing Buddhists/ Taoists to their temple for pagan worship.

We drove back to Putzu and continued with our original errand, grocery shopping at the Giraffe Supermarket. We’ve gotten familiar with the store so that we can find just about anything we want without too much hunting around. This was a quick run, in and out. Then it was on to the fruit stand by the “market.” We loaded up on fruit and headed into the “market” for a look around. It was already after noon, though, and the “market” was being disassembled for the day. We walked around several blocks looking for things to bring back to the US. I especially want to find some covered rice bowls. They work really well for oatmeal. I’m also looking for some tea sets. The shops around this area are all smashed together. Some are very nice and some are not. Like in Taipei, you have to walk the street and look inside to determine if the store might have what you are looking for. We found a “hole in the wall” shop that had just what I wanted! It was the jackpot! I plan on going back a few more times before we leave Chia-yi. What a fun Saturday morning just doing errands...with a little detour!

Korean Dinner with 3M Asia

3M Singapore, A-tai and Carl enjoying our communal Korean dining experience.


3M Asia came to visit Singform last week. Because of this, I want to describe another restaurant!

Wed. night, Don came home from work and said we were asked to go to dinner with SF and the visiting Asians. We met the three men, one from Korea, one from Thailand and one from Singapore, at a Korean restaurant not far from our house along with Cherry, Johnson,Carl and A-tai. It was a very nice restaurant. It was another experience in communal eating.  

The Koreans have their own style. We had two tables pushed together to accommodate the eight of us. Each table had a “grill” and a heater/burner recessed into the table, similar to the way a hot pot restaurant works. The grill was round and had burning coals under a concave grate. There were many plates of raw meat and fish that we laid on the grate to cook.  

The other heater was covered with a clever domed heavy gold “thing,” like an inverted wok with no handle. I will describe it. Its size fit exactly over the burner. Around the domed center was a little moat with edges several inches deep. When the dome was nice and hot, we took thin slices of meat and laid them on top of it to cook. Vegetables, including lettuce, were put into the “moat” and a pot of boiling water was poured over the meat washing it’s juices down into the moat with the vegetables, which could then be scooped out into a soup bowl.  

Until I came to Taiwan, I had no idea there were so many ways to cook meat and make soup on a tabletop! We grilled large raw, which means they were black, shrimp on the grill and watched them turn orange. They were very good! Cherry showed me how to cook a thin strip of beef and eat it wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Also very good. We had a bowl of “rice” which means it includes pieces of pork, vegetables, etc. I like that, too. They served Kim chi, but I passed on it. Don said it was “real” Korean Kim chi, not too hot. I didn’t chance it. I can’t decide if Korean food is just tastier than Taiwanese food or if I am acquiring a taste for Asian food, but I liked everything I ate at that restaurant. That’s a first! It’s taken only seven weeks!

Renewing our Visas


We had to renew our visas yesterday. We went to the county government building that is not far from our house. No one could speak English there, but they called a young military man in to interpret and help us. We were told that we needed to go to the immigration building a few blocks away.  

This young man, Paul, walked us over there. We visited as we walked. He had spent two years in Australia. His English was very good. He spoke for us when we got to immigration, and after some discussion between several people, we were asked to bring in another set of passport pictures. These we happened to have at home, so we left with Paul to go back to the original government building. As we walked, we apologized that we didn’t know where to go and that he had to walk us to and from buildings. He said, “Oh, no problem! This is my job. I am here to help foreigners. In my two years here, you are the only ones I have ever had the chance to help! We don’t have many foreigners in Chia-yi.” Cute.

We had parked the car on the street. When we returned, we had gotten a “parking ticket.” Oh, dear, without knowing, we must have parked in a restricted space. As it turned out, this wasn’t an actual parking ticket. Tagging your car on the windshield is their method of charging for parking, without a parking meter. A “meter maid,” if you will, tags your car when you pull in and every 10 minutes she comes around and marks another ten minutes on the ticket. Then you go to the 7-Eleven or Family Mart and pay within a few weeks. (We got this information from our students at conversational English class last night. After class, we went to 7-Eleven and paid our parking fee…33 cents!)

When we went back to immigration with our passport pictures, we were helped by a volunteer who wore a vest that said, “Interpreter,” on the back. I’m sure she can interpret Mandarin, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, maybe even Thai but not English. This interpreter did a lot of pointing. She was a very nice, friendly girl but not one word passed between us until she was done filling out our papers and we said to her, “Shi shi” (“Thank you”).

We moved on to a service window. It was exactly like immigration in LA where it was a set-up like the DMV…take a number, go to the window on the electronic sign that appears when your number appears. After handing our paper work to the man behind the glass, we stood at the window and watched him read through every instruction on his computer. He examined our papers very closely. Others came by to see how he was doing with his task. After 30 minutes or so, he stamped our passports with a visa allowing us to stay in the country until April 27. Again, they don’t get many foreigners.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Random Pictures


Today marks the seventh week we have been in Chai-yi County, Taiwan.  I decided that I have some pictures that are, as I titled this post, "random," but interesting.  So here they are:

This is a children's version of the Zodiac at a local park.  There is one for each animal sign covering this huge open cement area.

There are also tall statues of dragons and mythical creatures in that park, as in the picture below

If you or your business owns a truck in Taiwan it looks like the one in the picture below.  These are every where on the road. I have not seen a truck that is not blue and does not look like this one.  I can only assume it is the only model in the truck market.  The only variation on it is that the bed might be covered or it may be a lot older than this one.  They've obviously been selling them for a long time.

This picture was taken in the park by the Tropic of Cancer.  It was a beautiful day in Chia-yi County!
Here I am with one foot in the tropics and one foot not! left side didn't feel any warmer than my right!

Food has been a fascination to me, so here is another food item. Can you guess what is in these bags?

The picture above is of bags of mushrooms!  I don't know if this  is "Sam's Club" size but we have seen people walk away with one of these monster bags.  Do you think you "can carry it on a scooter"?   Oh, yes, you can!  They can and they do!

This is a political billboard before the election in January.  This woman ran against the incumbent president and lost by a small margin with 80% of eligible voters voting.  On the ballot, if you voted for this candidate you would have marked the "number one" candidate, as indicated by the one in the circle.  The men on the other side of the sign were running for other positions in the same party, DPP.

This was taken at Jerry's family farm in the mountains.  Jerry's uncle, to the left, lives on the farm and runs it for the family.  Next is Jerry and his wife  and Don, of course.  Behind them is Mike Kreager and Donnie Gray.  Jerry's uncle is holding a small gift I brought as appreciation for inviting us to visit his farm.  (Notice the bamboo wall of the building behind everyone.  In the mountains, everything is made from bamboo.)

Happy eating ice cream in the mountains.  
(Notice the proverbial scooter and blue truck behind her.)

Here she is again.  This time trying on a mountain rice harvesting basket...pick the rice, put it the basket strapped to your head.  Happy is adorable and full of personality.

These are the elevated tracks of the HSR, High Speed Rail.  It could be anywhere in the USA!

Food, again!  These are dumplings.  I have mentioned them several times.  These were served in a bamboo steamer dish at Koa Chi in Taipei.  Don handles them well with his chopsticks.

Food, again!  One more time... but this is weirdly interesting.  This contraption makes what they call "cookies"/"Oreos".  (Taiwanese use the term Oreos as generic for cookies.)  However, these are not what we call cookies.  They are what we would call rice cakes.  They were a popular snack at sidewalk vendors when we were in Tainan.  This is what is happening in the picture:  They put rice batter in the front of the appliance where a "press" comes down on it.  When the press is released the cake is shot out of the contraption like a catapult, thus the "cookies" are flying through the air and need to be trapped in the cage.  The weird thing about them is that they are flavored with shrimp!  They are shrimp rice cakes!

That's all the random pictures for now.  I hope you enjoyed this variety of unrelated pictures.