Sunday, October 29, 2006


Commenting about English by non-English speakers is an exercise that will quickly get you in trouble. So I am in danger of being snotty here. On the other had, it is hard enough for me to formulate a coherent sentence some days!

The sign at right says, if you can't make it out, "On the lawn, please don't dance, exercise, do yoga, play the ball, and so on." Interesting choices, presumably you are able to walk across it! And so much more polite than "Keep Off the Grass."

Other signs made interesting English errors, which, while amusing, weren't memorable enough to photograph or write down. Most places that we went, the English was pretty good. There was one place that had a large sign: "Forset Ecosystem", an error that occasionally shows up here in the states but gets fixed really fast.

The place that really butchered the English was a tourist stop, where we were the only non-Asians. Here are some examples, talking about alcohol: "Thickness of Alcohol in the blood: .1%-.2%: Slightly show the signs of getting drunk, like talking , joke , feel happy , walk and usually orderly equally in love." Still understandable. Then there was: "After mid-night , should not drink again , it is still drank after a night that avoid to feel the pain." I think they are telling me that drinking after midnight is for the wrong reasons. "Want to drink and just drink oneself , should not impulsive , reluctant the universe cup." Any ideas? I wonder if the universe cup is an idiom that doesn't translate well.

I have this theory that when you make mistakes in a foreign language, you use your own grammar. So these sentences may be perfectly acceptable in Chinese!

A brochure in the airport in Taipei gave us some really useful information: Thank you is Shie-shie, which of course we pronounced with a long e sound. That is actually a word for toilet. "Thank you" has an a sound added towards the end, but it is not "shay-shay". We were told that people would figure out what we were saying. But I'm sure lots of Chinese shopkeepers were sniggering behind us!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back to religion again.

We also visited the Wenwu Daoist (or Taoist) temple, on the shore of Sun Moon Lake. It was totally different than the Buddhist monstery. It was guarded by a pair of lions; the colors are bright red, green, blue and yellow, but mostly red; There were lots of prayer flags and incense.

A pair of lions guard not only the temples but many public buildings in China. We were asked which one was male and which one was female. There was a ball under one and a small animal under the other. I finally guessed that the male gets to play (with the ball) while the female works (takes care of the baby), and I was right!

There are many ways to worship in Taoism. As our guide put it, the complicated thing about praying is understanding God's answers. So there are machines and pulling sticks from a barrel and fortune telling and astrology...all of them with suitably vague answers.

This is also where we sampled some tea. The teapot probably holds about 2 cups of water. You fill it about 1/5 full of tea, pour the water in, let it steep for 1 minute, pour the water out, refill, and steep one minute more. Pour (through a strainer) into your cup. The first minute gets all the bitterness out. The expanded tea leaves competely filled the little pot! They like their tea weak, so why Starbucks is popular I don't know! But the tea was very good. We also acquired enough knowledge to be dangerous. Handpicked tea is better than machine picked. Mountain grown is better than valley grown. Taiwan's best tea was way to expensive to be sampled. I bought handpicked mountain grown tea for NT$800 (a little over US$25) for 8 ounces. I passed up handpicked high mountain oolong for about twice that. And, of course, I discovered both at 2/3 the price at a Saturday market! But I was running short of cash and at least the temple took credit cards!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Throughly Modern...

One of the odd dichotomies about Taiwan is that it is a mixture of west and east. It is a thoroughly modern city: traffic, skyscrapers, buses, those obnoxious little motorcycles, a very clean subway that has magnetic credit cards, western clothing, etc. But it is still very Chinese in attitude. There are public classes in Tai Chi in the parks, the museums have the upraised roof edges of traditional Chinese architecture, the food is all healthy...

Taipei 101 is the world's tallest skyscraper, here on this little island. (unless you want to count the pinnacles, then the Sears Tower beats it by 19 meters). It is loaded with very upscale shops, business offices, the world's fastest elevator, the world's largest New Year's Eve Countdown clock. It will withstand an earthquakes of over 7.0 and super typhoons. Very Modern! And there is traditional symbolism in the tower: it was inspired by the bamboo plant, and the top 64 floors are 8 sets of 8 floors -- 8 being an auspiscious number in Chinese culture.

I like this building!

And the souvenirs we sought? Traditional Chinese clothing, conical straw hats, jade necklaces, traditional tea sets. Which no one ever wears. (but they do use the traditional tea sets). I wonder if we don't have an unconscious attitude here in the US that you can't really be modern unless you are American. (Which is an interesting adjective in itself, since Canadians, Mexicans, and people from Latin and South America are also Americans. But I digress.)

You can get anything you want in Taipei: Gucci (and other similar fashions way outside my budget!), $5 t-shirts, fine Jewelry, cheap jewelry, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks (YES!), green tea, black tea, wheat tea, handpicked high mountain oolong tea (way outstide my budget also), wonderful food, food on the street (not recommended by our hosts!), karaoke, Doritos, rice candy, cars with a video view of what is behind them, flat screen TVs, chopsticks made of whatever material you want, western silverware ("A real fork!" we cried at a restaurant on day 6), books in English, books in Chinese, Books in English and Chinese, books in French, dried mushrooms in 55 gallon sacks, dried fruit (ditto on the sacks), dried meat, dried sea cucumber (looking vaguely obscene), in fact dried anything, cheap jade, expensive jade, modern art, traditional art, very expensive glass artwork, geodes, foot massages, whole body massages, commemorative stamps with whole books explaining a set of 5 stamps, silk, brocade, cotton, polyester, rayon, twill, wool...

Taipei is a very modern city, but you could never mistake it for any city in the US. Even if the signs were all in English.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


We went on a tour of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery, the largest Buddhist monstery in Asia (or maybe the world), near the city of Nantou. It is an interesting mix of the ornate and the modern. It is 44 stories high. We were allowed on only a few of the stories.

There are a lot of squares in Chinese architecture. The nun who conducted the tour said this was to remind us of the rules that we need to follow. So the construction with the cubic blocks is very much in sync with Buddhism.

The window in the center of the main tower is 30 meters high (that is 98 feet, 5 inches, I wish we were metric). It is made of of squares of glass about a foot square that are held together with plastic and supported by a flexible metal frame. This allows the window to flex 43.9 centimeters (17 inches) during typhoons and earthquakes. I would love to be there during a storm! I saw this kind of engineering at least one other place in Taipei, possibly Taipei 101.

One thing that I can't get out of my mind is the hall of 10,000 Buddhas. This has a pagoda in the center, and over 22,000 images of Buddhas which were a coppery gold color. This is so different from the Christian tradition, we don't have halls of 10,000 Jesus's! Not even in the most ornate Catholic church! After pondering this, I think I have finally figured out why: Because the nature of Christianity is (ideally) not on what laws you do or don't follow, how you worship, how much money you give to the church, but how Jesus changes your heart and mind. On the Protestant end, we can (and do) worship in gyms!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A health Conscious society.

The rocks underneath the park bench are, I guess, to massage your feet as you sit. They are pointed up, just like the rocks on the pathway in my first post. They call it healthy, we in the west call in masochistic. I did walk on the rock pathway for about three steps, and my feet hurt. My host-mom said that if my feet hurt, then something is wrong with my body. I know exactly what my problem is: I'm overweight!

The beds are extremely hard -- and my back never once complained until I got home! My husband is not excited about sleeping on the floor.

Everything food we were introduced to was proclaimed to be healthy: green tea, fish and other mystery foods that came from the sea, beans (in whatever form), soy milk, there anything that was not healthy?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Choosing a flower picture is a little like Lays potato chips: You can't upload just one.

When I returned home, I signed up for a Hawaiian quilt class at, which includes designing your own hawaiian quilt. I picked the little purple flower because it is simple, and now people in the discussion group want to know what it is. Does anyone have a clue? I tried to find a flower key for Taiwan flowers, but kept getting shunted to a UK web site.

Ginger flowers are very good at perfuming the air. Impatiens grew wild along the pathway up to a pagoda built by Chiang Kai-Shek in honor of his mother. (Our guide did not understand why we should go out and buy new flowers each year, especially when we know they won't survive our winter!) Orchids were popular (dendrobium, I think). I was told the yellow and red flower was a dragon lily, but I don't know for sure. I saw tropical hibiscus for the first time. The flaming red flower with the extra long stamen was interesting, I wish I could have taken a better picture. The one with the blue bits (which I would have called a blueberry flower were I in charge of naming things) looks a little like a fuschia.

The fauna was quite shy. I never saw anything, even in the mountains. There were pigeons in Taipei, and they were as much a nuisance as in any other big city.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Things You Just Gotta Know

OK, lets get this topic out of the way. I am not an overly delicate person, and have been known to make a few coarse jokes in my time. But I prefer different conversation topics....

If you are in a public restroom in Taiwan, you must check for two things. The first is toilet paper. It is not always stored in the stalls, there is often a large roll on the wall near the entrance. So, when the restroom is out of toilet paper, it is Really Out Of Toilet Paper. You can sneak into the men's room, or in some cases (like the 150 stall rest area we stopped at once) check the other entrance. You would be very wise to carry a packet of tissues with you.

The other thing to check for, particularly if you are old and decrepit like me, is the kind of toilet behind that little swinging door. It is no fun squatting with a purse and camera in one hand (because, just like here, there are not always hooks for such extraneous items) and a feminine napkin in the other. I have bit the bullet and done so, just so I can gross people out. Once. Only.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I found a quilt in Taiwan! We really didn't take time to look for quilts, so I only found one. It was not for sale, but the shop keeper let me take a picture of it. They made these little bugs and lizards by stuffing socks, and then embroidering on them to make the rest of the picture. What a cute idea!

We found a lot of traditional crafts, like wood carving, glass making and ceramics. I was limited by space in my suitcase and the fear that the more elaborate stuff would break -- and now I am kicking myself for not buying more. Particularly glass from the Tittot Museum. I took no pictures there, but I could not take enough anyway. The website is Go there and drool over it at your leisure. If I were to return, this is one of my must see items.

The other problem is trying to figure out what is "tourist trap" items and what is really worth buying. In the end, I bought what I liked and didn't worry about it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The drivers are not really insane here

The traffic in Taipei is incredible. They are not insane, they just drive by different rules here. You have your space, and people just don't invade it. Mostly.

There are 2.6 million people in Taipei, and 1 million small motorcycles. The motorcycles drive wherever they want, between cars, zipping in front of buses, on the sidewalk. Just behind the crosswalks are motorcycle zones, where cars are not allowed to stop. At the stop lights the cycles will be packed in their space, between cars and on the side walk, and a small army of them takes off when the light turns green. Even in the rain -- they have foot length ponchos.

I told my host mom there are no cycles in Seattle and she said "I love Seattle!"

The zipping in front of buses is what the cars do also! People just let them in. And if you want to go around someone, you can cross the yellow line. If you want the other lane, you just take it. If you are in 1 of 2 left turning lanes and you want the other one, you can just take it in the middle of the intersection. It is better to just look off to the side and try to figure out the Chinese characters on the signs than to look at the traffic and hope you survive.

The lane markings on the street are there, and painted well, they are just ignored. I was arguing with my fellow tourists about whether the lane markings are guidelines or mere suggestions, when our host walked by and said "They are just decorations!" Just think of how many more cars you can fit on the street if you ignore the lanes!

The term "Parking Space" is very losely defined. If you want to stop your car in a driving lane, you just do it. After all, you can fit 2 cars in the 1 1/2 lanes left! (And a cycle or two, maybe!) People will go around you and Not Honk Their Horn. Parking in the street is not a Horn Honking Offense. Neither is cutting someone off. Neither is coming to a stop in the middle of the street when the light has turned and you are in danger of causing gridlock. People just drive around you.

I am not driving in Taipei.

I am not driving anywhere in Taiwan.

When we were in the mountains, on the twisty turny lanes you get there, people drove the same way! There are mirrors on the corners so you can see who is coming, since people would ignore the no passing lane markings even if you did take the time to paint them on.

The one thing I wish we had is the pedestrian crosswalk signs: they tell you how many seconds you have left to get out of the street.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hospitality in Taiwan means never letting your guests go hungry. Out hosts made sure that we were fed. They always made sure we got to lunch and dinner on time. Several times we had multi course meals, and they were not the paltry 7-course meals you can get here in the states where one of the courses are a spoonful of sherbet and one is coffee or tea. Ten course meals occurred several times, all of it wonderful! We learned not to take seconds on the first courses. Tea was always available, but we had to ask for water. And of course, no fortune cookies!

I often hear that Chinese food is westernized so that more Americans will eat it. If it had originally come from Taiwan, that would not have had to happen! The only thing I would change is soups (which have no seasoning, just the natural fat flavor from the animal) and beans for dessert. I have nothing against beans, but I really see no reason to puree them, add no sugar and serve them as dessert. (I see no reason to puree anything!) Just so you know, you really can eat raw ginger (slivered and put in in vinegared soy sauce, it is great with dumplings), pork dried to the point of looking like wool and sea cucumber (no flavor, just don't think of slugs). It was all wonderful.

The last course was fresh fruit. In the picture is watermelon and pineapple. The green one is very hard, not very juicy, and good. The red skin with white fruit and black seeds is dragonfruit. We were told that it is like kiwi, but only because they both have little black seeds. It had very little flavor, but it was juicy.

What surprised us was that it was actually 3 days before we had any rice! We had dumplings (meat and/or vegetable wrapped in dough, noodles (which originated in China, not Italy), breads, sweet potatoes...but lots less starch than here in the states.

And, of course, after a full day of activities and food, we came home to a host family -- who thought we were hungry and prepared more food for us!

We have ten rules for the exchange students that come to the US. I add rule #11: "You will gain weight. Just deal with it." I am proud to say that I have obeyed rule #11!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I finally left the continent

I have considered starting a blog for a long time, and I finally came up with a purpose. Several, actually. They are: to keep my host families informed of activities and relate travels and other adventures so I don't hve to e-mail everybody and try to remember who knows what, and finally, to post my opinions, informed or not.

I just took my first trip off the continent of North America, to the island of Taiwan. I was able to do this almost free, because I placed enough exchange students that my orgainzation paid for my plane ticket, set me up with a host family, paid for museum admissions and food. I did, however, have to bring my own spending money.

My first impression of Taiwan was a wonderful mix of traditional and modern, eastern and western. I discovered within an hour of landing that we were to be fed very well, and it didn't stop until we left. My last impression was that I am really going to miss the food (although not the quantity!), and am planning trips to the International District in Seattle to attempt to find it.

I want to bring friends and family back with me, because you simply cannot tell them about the traffic, the motorcycles, the smells, the crowds, the markets, the trees, the buildings, or anything and have them understand what is going on. So, here is the first picture -- a rocky pathway -- which is suitably metaphoric. And no, I do not know what the sign says. I didn't know what any of the signs said!