Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Outsider's Look At America

Well, I'm finally back in America for good. (Although I'm coming back to visit Taiwan at least once a year!) The first few weeks have been a whirlwind of adjusting to the time, car-buying, apartment-finding, and all-around moving in. I don't think it's at all unusual that I feel like an outsider here, having lived abroad for over 5 years and assimilated into their culture and language. It's not a bad feeling, although I'm trying to be prepared for when reverse culture shock kicks in. I just think it's interesting some of the things I've been noticing and feeling, now that I'm back for a longer period of time.

The strangest thing I've felt so far is having to readjust to the language, specifically the pace of it. Of course I had to use English everyday in Taiwan when I was an ESL teacher, but I'm used to talking with non-native speakers, focusing on their accent and correcting mistakes. Over the course of time I've slowed down the pace of my speech and simplified my vocabulary, and I'm used to hearing similar language. So I'm trying to get used to how fast some people speak here. I sometimes have to pause before I reply in order to catch up with what someone else is saying. Also, the fact that I spoke Chinese all the time outside of work has added to the situation. I sometimes have problems thinking of the word I want to say because I have the Chinese word in my head, or sometimes I just draw a blank with both languages.

HOWEVER, I know I'll be able to catch up again. It's my native language after all, and I can get my old vocabulary back, especially if I have to retake the GRE. (Looking into master's programs in bilingual education & Chinese studies)

A really cool thing I've noticed is the racial diversity. I missed that a lot in Taiwan. However, now where I live I don't often see many Asians. So I miss that now. I relish the time I spend in Chinese restaurants because then I might get to hear some Chinese spoken in the background.

Something I'm really shocked about is how expensive everything is. I can't believe the prices of food, for example, and I can see my small amount of savings quickly draining away. So I'm holding tight to my wallet and keeping hawk eyes out for sales on the things I need. On the other hand, I can't wait to be able to shop for clothes and earrings here.

Another striking factor is the commercials on TV. They're all for prescription drugs!!! The wonders of medicine are wonderful but sometimes taking a pill is not going to fix the underlying problem. There's just so many commercials for them and it's shocking to me sometimes.

I still have yet to finish a full meal with the portions given here. Ok, I lied. I can finish the small dish you can get at Noodles & Co. (My favorite place) I feel a little weird though that I'm always the only one who has to get a box to take my leftovers home.

I'm LOVING the music here! Although the quality of songs nowadays is not so great- ("Shuttup and Dance with Me!") What's the deeper meaning in that? I think I'll mostly stick to country music for now.

All in all, I'm hopeful about being back and ready for anything. Trying hard to find a job! Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Guan Zi Ling 關子嶺- Mud Spring Resorts near Tainan

So the last part of our trip in January was to go to the Guan Zi Ling hot springs near Tainan. From Tainan we had to take a train and rent a car to get there. I've been wanting to visit this place for a while because they have mud springs here and it sounded like fun.
On the train.
We went to the King's Garden Villa Resort. Before entering the hot spring you could put a facial mask on and you could choose from either apple, mung bean, or mud. Of course I went with the mud!
Then you could put your feet into a mini spring while your face dried.
Also included in this resort are what I can only assume as fat-reducing machines. In the picture below you had to put your feet on the gray thing and it would shake your whole body from side to side.
For this one you would wrap the belt behind you and it would shake your midriff. We didn't have enough time to try them out but I think it would've been funny if we had. I don't believe they would help you lose weight- or if they did it would take a LONG time.
Then after you washed your face you could go into the actual hot springs. There were various pools of different temperatures and ingredients. I felt like I was being cooked in one it was so hot. The actual mud spring was just mud tinted water- you couldn't actually put mud on yourself and get in. Then there was a Chinese herbal bath. It smelled very different and the sign on it said it had lots of benefits- mostly for the elderly, like relieving joint pain. Lastly, there was a spring that had Chinese juniper oil in it. I guess there were no health benefits- it's just supposed to smell relaxing.
And it was- the whole experience was very relaxing and it's a great thing to do in the winter when it's cool.
On the way back to the train station we tried one of the special foods in the area. It's chicken that's cooked in a huge clay pot. Maybe the picture doesn't look great but it was VERY delicious. My mouth starts to water thinking about it. The broth was especially good.  
In the restaurant was a shrine to an interesting deity: Ji Gong 濟公. He was a Buddhist monk who supposedly had magical powers which he used to help the poor stand up to injustice and he didn't abide by Buddhist rules by drinking alcohol and eating meat. He's usually represented holding a fan like the one on the top shelf.
This is the device it was cooked in. I would call it an oven but Albert maintains it was a pot.
So that was the end of our Tainan adventure. I'll tell you about what we did over Chinese New Year next time!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tainan Souvenirs: Sword Lions and Puppets

So Tainan is famous for its "Sword Lions." They were first used on the shields of Koxinga's soldiers and later they became symbol that is believed to protect you. The number and direction of the sword means different things as well. If there's two swords it means it's extra strong, if the blade points to the right it's meant to expel evil spirits, if it's pointing to the left it will supposedly bring good fortune and luck. I thought it was a pretty cool souvenir and I like the design of it.
Also, puppetry is a tradition in Taiwan, called Bu Dai Xi (布袋戲). I'm really into the story Journey to the West and I found a puppet of Sun Wu Kong, the monkey king. He's known for being mischievous and intelligent and he's pretty funny too. The cudgel (the long stick in his hand), is said to grow and shrink at will and this puppet can twirl the cudgel by a small rod in the back. These puppet shows are common on TV and sometimes are performed live. However, they're all in Taiwanese and I have no idea what they are saying if there's no subtitles.
Pretty cool, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tainan Revisited: Yummy Snacks, a Catholic-Temple Fusion, and Koxinga's Park

This was our breakfast on the second day! Tainan is famous for congees (rice porridge). This one had fish and other unidentifiable things in it. I prefer not asking, otherwise I might not have dared to try it. It was really delicious! Oh, and Albert's eating fish stomach lining. (Ew!)
So there were a couple more used book stores we stopped today but I won't get into that. We had a midday snack of "NGUA GUI." It's Taiwanese and super hard to pronounce and spell. Basically it's made of turnip and it's served in a bowl. I thought this one was great! Better than the one I tried in Taipei. Oh, and by the shop was a really large and cool looking tree.
Would you try it???
Something that also keeps Tainan apart from other parts of Taiwan is its abundance of churches. I was very surprised to notice it this time. I wonder why they are so prevalent here. Maybe because of missionaries? It was the capitol for a long time. Anyways, today we wanted to visit a special Catholic church that had traditions and decorations fused with Taiwanese style temples. (Don't worry, it's legit!)
Welcome to Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral!
The Chinese characters above me say: "Catholic."
Among the many different things about this Church, Mary is depicted as Chinese. The volunteer who let us into the Church and told us about it said she was modeled after the empress CiXi (慈禧). I don't know if I believe her but that's an interesting thought. (CiXi was called the Dragon Lady and considered the worst and cruelest leader in Chinese history)
This crest was on the entrance. I wonder what it means. Albert thought the hat was funny.
Isn't the ceiling gorgeous?
There was also Chinese writing on either side of the front doors, which is common in temples. It's about Jesus though. Don't ask me to read it... it's a little too formal. (:embarrassed:)
The church looks a little dark in the pictures because it was about to close. We were lucky we walked around the back and found a volunteer who was happy to let us in. I would have been so disappointed if we didn't get to look inside.
So here's the side of the church. Notice the "hobbit hole!"

This is the inside of the Church. Again, it's a little dark because they were about to close and no one was there. Notice the octagonal opening at the top? The shape of the room itself was octagonal as well. This conforms to the Chinese philosophy of Ba Gua. I'm not quite sure how to describe it because I personally don't understand it (although I tried). The opening though is to allow your prayers to reach heaven easier... and it looks nice. Notice the incense burner in front of the altar?
Here's a close up of it! We use incense during some masses, correct? Well, the volunteer we talked to explained that the priest holds a lit incense stick to enter every mass and first puts it in this "tripod," for lack of a better word. 5 years here and I still haven't figured out how to call it in English (or Chinese either)... Oops! Laymen can also add incense whenever they like. It's a symbol of your prayers going up to heaven.
The container for holy water is also Chinese-style. :)
What else is special about this Church is the family shrine:
I asked the volunteer to explain how this was okay in the Catholic church. She reminded me about All Souls Day, where we pray for the dead. In this church, all of November is dedicated to all of the souls that have passed and this allows the parishioners to keep their tradition of paying respects to their ancestors. Instead of separate shrines for each family, this is a communal family shrine, and, again as with the incense, anyone is allowed to pay respects at any time.
Let me show you some more pictures of the church.
The Chinese says the name of the church.
I really enjoyed visiting this place and seeing the meld of Western and Taiwanese culture. I especially liked how these traditions were acceptable to the Catholic church. I'd like to go to mass there someday if I'm in Tainan again.
Next, across from the church was a park and memorial dedicated to Koxinga, a half Japanese pirate who helped kick the Dutch out of Taiwan in its early history. This wasn't part of our itinerary but we saw it and thought it looked interesting.
There's a big Koxinga idol!
I love the style of architecture!

Look at the beautiful woodwork!
I can't help it. I must take pictures with animal statues. This lion had an interesting style to it!
Ok... so the piece de resistance. (Excuse my lack of accent marks) I have been wanting to try this food in Tainan for years now, ever since I was told about it in my Chinese class. Last time we were here we didn't make it our priority, but, behold, we found GuanCaiBan (棺材板) or "coffin toast." It's a hollowed out piece of toast with gravy and other random things in it. Originally it was stuffed with organs. Luckily mine was not. (Barf!)
I thought it was pretty delicious! At first we only ordered one in case I couldn't handle it, but I scarfed it down and Albert had to order another one. Sorry!!! But it reminds me of biscuits and gravy. I think I'll try to make it myself someday too!
Also, there's another dish from Tainan that I have to mention. Now, I'm not too fond of oysters but if you are you should try "O-A-Mi-Sua." It's Taiwanese so I have no idea how to spell it. Basically it's thin rice noodles in broth with oysters. I skipped out on this one because I have tried it before and I was too full from my "coffin toast."
So that was the end of our second day in Tainan! It was a blast! I forgot to mention the two things I bought in the Old Street, but this entry is already picture heavy. Let's leave it for next time!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tainan Revisited: Five Concubines Temple, "Hell" Temple, and Garden Night Market

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and the original capitol. It has a completely different feel from Taipei in that there’s no subway system, many of the buildings are brick and look extremely old, and there are way more temples and Catholic churches.

Another common feature we found on this trip was that there’s also an abundance of used book stores. We stopped in almost every one we saw and bought at least 1 book on average at each one. My favorite finds were a book of Chinese synonyms and one on common grammar constructions.

But books were not the main focus of our trip- that was only a happy coincidence. I wanted to stop by the famous temples we missed last time (years ago) and go to the old street for shopping.


This is a common treat in Taiwan: Wheel Cakes (車輪餅). They’re filled with various things, such as red bean paste. Believe me, it’s actually good!
You can get a feel for the old type of building methods here. Some roads were even cobblestone.
Our first place to visit was the Five Concubines Temple (五妃廟). It’s dedicated to the concubines of a prince in the Qing Dynasty who hung themselves as a sign of loyalty when they were certain he was dead. It’s a very unusual concept in Western thinking. I don’t think I’ll ever understand people who commit suicide to follow someone in death. However, this is an interesting temple and it was surrounded by a gorgeous park.
You can read more information about the temple from this sign.
I told you it was a beautiful park!!! Below is the temple. It’s pretty small and in the back are the graves of the concubines. The grounds also include the grave of a eunuch who also hung himself for his prince.
What is extremely unusual about this temple is that people will offer perfume (in the bottle that looks like a beverage), makeup, and lipstick to the concubines in respect.
These are the idols of the five concubines.
This is the map of the structure. You can see the grave in the back. It’s the gray mound.
I didn’t take any pictures of the eunuch’s shrine but I think you get an idea of the place. Right across from the temple was a shop famous for tofu desserts. We got almond flavored tofu with red beans on top. It was actually delicious! Normally I’m not a big fan of tofu. I would definitely go there again if I had the chance.
Next we went to Dong Yue Temple (東嶽殿), which I would nickname “Hell Temple,” because you come here to pay respect to the god of the underworld. It boasts of murals of hell but they’re obscured now (probably because of all the incense).
These are all different gods that have to do with hell. This one in particular judges you when you get there.
See the chains in the guy’s hands on the left?
Each level of hell has a god who rules over it. These are some of them.
And the god of hell is the large one in the back.
These red crescents are used to ask the gods questions or ask for a wish. You throw two of them on the ground and if one of them has the round side up and the other has the flat side up three times in a row then the gods “agree.”
People offered a whole fish, a whole chicken, and a whole duck. We also saw an old man who was carrying a yellow paper with red writing on it. He was bowing multiple times to each god in the temple. Albert said the paper must be a spell. For what, we don’t know.
This guy is pretty interesting too. His tongue always sticks out because according to his story he hung himself.
You use this furnace to light your incense before you pay respects.
We were also able to get a copy of the Taiwan’s version of Dante’s Inferno. They have a similar story of a person who journeys through the different levels of hell and you find out the punishments for each wrongdoing. I found it more graphic and violent than Dante’s version.
That night we went to one of the famous nightmarkets: Garden Nighmarket (花園夜市). Unlike in Taipei, nightmarkets are only open on certain days. They are also usually on a city block and not along a road. This makes it much harder to navigate and easily crowded.
We got to try one of Tainan’s famous dishes: O-A-Jian, or Oyster Omelet in English.  Oysters have never been my favorite but this omelet was not too bad. We also found Mo Ji. I guess it’s Mochi in English??? It’s like a thick rice paste made into balls and dusted with different flavors. Peanut is the best! ;)
The way he made the balls was fascinating. I’m never that graceful or fast when I try to make Mo Ji balls.
So that was our first day in Tainan this year!  Wait for the next entry where you get to a see a Catholic Church that’s fused with Taiwanese temple decorations!