Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's on YOUR pizza?

Today, was an exciting day in the office for us because the company decided to order pizza for all of the teachers! Free lunch... and pizza none the less!! oooo I was excited.

I'm still not sure whose job it was to order the pizza, but it is important to note that the teachers were not consulted on the pizza choice.

Typically, if you are ordering pizza for a group of people, especially if you don't have a chance to ask them for any input, you want to order something benign, with mass-appeal; something that everyone will surely like.

In the US this would mean ordering plain cheese pizza, maybe mushroom, or pepperoni... you might even go out on a limb and get a veggie or meat supreme and if you're ordering several pizza's, one may be a specialty, like Hawaiian...

But I would say that a general rule of thumb is that, for mass pizza appeal, the less toppings, the better.

Well, as usual, my expectations couldn't have been farther from our reality.

I opened the first pizza box (delivered from Pizza Hut) to discover what Taiwan Pizza Hut calls the "Seafood Supreme."

Toppings on this pizza include Tar-tar sauce, Broccoli, Crab meat, Squid, and Pineapple... a bit bizarre, but I figured it would be nice to have one slice of this and one slice of the other pizza that had been delivered.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the first option was the better of the two!

The second pizza that we had to choose from was the "Osaka Taco Pizza" (taco is Japanese for octopus). This pizza had octopus, mashed potato, sea tongue powder (whatever that is), mayonnaise, and teriyaki sauce.

I mean really... what more could you ask for from a pizza!? If nothing, it is at least a very creative pizza option! I'm actually ashamed to say that neither Nick or I tried this pizza - I guess we're traditionalists - but I am told it wasn't bad.

I have to say, this isn't the first time this has happened... it's actually the 3rd or 4th time this type of pizza has been ordered for us. It just goes to show you how deep my cultural expectations are! I guess I am having a hard time switching my expectation for pizza to include things like mayonnaise and squid!

Taiwanese tastes certainly differ from American tastes and there is no doubt that they put their own special spin this Italian treat.

Also on the Pizza Hut "Traditional Pizza" menu are these inspiring options (complete with descriptions copied directly from the Pizza Hut website):

Kim Chi Pork Pizza
King Surf and Turf (Half with lobsters and imitated crab sticks, half with Canada bacon and BBQ chicken - topped with mayo)
Seafood (Selected fresh shrimps, crabmeat, squid clams, together with green peas,offers you a sensational taste of encores)
and Lobster Abalone (High quality lobster, imitated abalone, and lobster sauce match perfectly. (Imitation abalone made by squid.)

Well, what can I say - Italian food was awful in Denver what could I possibly expect in Taiwan!? A country with virtually no Italian population - where Pizza Hut reigns the supreme pizza authority!

This is just one example that highlights an important lesson that took me 6 months of living here to learn: It is much better (and less expensive) to stick to the local cuisine: it's always exactly what I expect and often delicious.

When ordering any type of western food here disappointment is inevitable and should be expected!

(McDonald's, of course, being the only exception!)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Acting Debut!!!

It's been quite a long time, so you may have forgotten, but a couple of months ago, Nick and I spent a grueling day filming an infomercial for waterproof / dust mite-proof sheets. (check out that blog post here)

Well, the waiting is finally over ladies and gentlemen! Behold the beginning of what I think is going to be a long, prosperous career in acting for both Nick and me.

Feel free to hitch your wagon to this star, people!!

3RTW-COTEX機能性寢具 from CSLmedia on Vimeo.

(you can also click here to see the video)

My First Earthquake!

Today, I experienced the first earthquake of my life!

According to the AP:
Authorities say a 5.5-magnitude earthquake has struck eastern Taiwan rattling buildings in Taipei but causing no casualties or damage.

The Central Weather Bureau says the quake struck at 2:10 p.m. Sunday (0610 GMT). It was centered about 9 miles (15 kilometers) off the eastern city of Hualien some 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of the capital.

So, I was in class teaching on the 42nd floor of a building in Taichung (western Taiwan) when my student took a couple troubled breaths and let out a stutter " qqquake."

This particular student is known for spewing random, completely unrelated things durring class, so I was a bit confused. My typical response is to simpy ignore her, and I was about to do just that when another student repeated the statement a bit more assertively. It was then that I finally shut up and let myself experience it.

The quake only lasted a couple of seconds and was really just a minor rumbling... Had my students not pointed it out, I probably would have continued rattling on and not even noticed it; but it was pretty cool! A little shaky feeling in my tummy and bottom (a bit like indigestion). Anytime I want to repeat this experience, I can just go down the street, buy dumplings, and wait 45 minutes!

And now I can add "earthquake survivor" to my list of life's accomplishments!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Our Trip to Yilan (宜蘭): Day 2

Nick and I awoke on Saturday morning to our roommates telling us that we had just 10 minutes before the bus left! Oops - So much for our bike ride.

Unfortunately, a typhoon was in the area, and the water was too choppy to go out on a boat, so our whale watching activity was cancelled for the day - on the bright side, this did delay our departure just long enough to give us a chance to eat breakfast!

After breakfast, we headed to a pretty cool out-door museum and spent the morning checking things out. Due to the inclement weather, and the fact that we had only two umbrellas in our group of 6 people, our movement throughout the park was restricted, so we didn't see as much as we would have liked.
Below is a picture of the house of the first national scholar who came from this area. We spent about an hour in the house (partly because we were waiting for a break in the rain!) and learned a lot about the tradition of education in Taiwan and in China. It's really a interesting history which dates back over 2,000 years - I will surely touch upon this in another post.... one day!

I would actually really like to go back to this museum to catch all the stuff that we missed, especially the famous Taiwanese puppet shows that can only be seen two places in the whole country.

(picture source here)

After the museum, it was off to lunch at the harbour where we were supposed to go whale watching. Fortunately, right next door, was a huge black-sand beach - complete with volleyball nets, a stage, a shaded concession area, and some other fun surprises.

The beach was clean and beautiful. On one side was the ocean and on the other mountains.

At lunch we were told that we had three hours to spend at the beach; due to the typhoon, no one was allowed to swim in the ocean, but we just happened to be at a beach with a kiddie pool / shower-mister contraption.

Yes... a kiddie pool - at the beach!! A large square pool was actually dug into the sand just a stones throw from the ocean! For those who aren't comfortable with swimming in the dangerous sea.
(I just kept thinking that my father, who thinks a trip to the ocean is the ideal vacation, would get a kick out of this! I could just hear him laughing at the utter ridiculousness of it all. "What the hell do you need a pool for ON the beach! The ocean is RIGHT there! Isn't the ocean enough!!!" - no... the answer is the beach, by itself, is just not enough)

After taking a break in the shade, we wandered over to the stage area to check out what was going on. Apparently a dance competition was taking place and it was priceless.

Take a look at two of my favorite performances:

It seems to me that the minimum level of talent required for a public performance - be it singing, dancing, or anything else - is much lower here than in the US. I guess lacking considerable talent is no reason to miss out on all the fun - more power to them!

Just as we began to wander away from the crowd, we received a phone call from our friends.

Apparently the tour group decided to cut our time at the beach short - by one whole hour! And the four of us were the only people who hadn't returned to the bus!

Now, I know that the Taiwanese people have a somewhat apprehensive relationship with the ocean, and they certainly don't enjoy sun bathing, but this beach was chock-full of things to keep you occupied, including a nice place in the shade with food and misters to keep you cool (not to mention that riveting dance performance!)

It was absolutely beyond me why they would want to cut short what to me was the best part of the trip - but we didn't have a vote in the matter!

My theory was that everyone would rather be singing karaoke on an air conditioned bus than being scorched by the sun on the sweltering beach.... but that's just my theory!
Regardless of the reason, we headed back to the bus to begin our journey home to Taichung!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our Trip To YiLan (宜蘭): Day 1

This past weekend, Nick and I went with some friends on a trip to Yilan, on the east coast of Taiwan.

In typical Taiwanese fashion, we went with a tour group of three bus loads of people.

As always, there was KTV on the bus. Our fellow travelers were particularly welcoming to me, their 美國朋友 (American friend),so they clapped along with me and applauded encouragingly throughout my karaoke performances.

The bus ride to Yilan took us through the mountains of Taiwan, up past Taipei and then down the eastern side of the island. It was an absolutely beautiful bus ride. It was one of the clearest days we've had here in Taiwan and the mountains were breathtaking.

(even from this truck stop!)

After a stop for lunch and another for souvenir shopping, we arrived at a water-fun park. This park had a couple areas for kids with shallow pools equipped with a wide array of shower-like water fun attractions. Based on the suggestion of our friend, we decided to skip over these crowded areas and head for the more natural river area.

We had a little less than 3 hours to hang out by the river, so we hurriedly changed into our swimsuits and jumped in. The river was dammed in several places to create a handful of separate and distinct wading pools. The water was calm, warm, about thigh-deep, and refreshing.
The afternoon was reminiscent of one of my favorite summer activities back home: driving up to Fort Collins, CO to go tubing down the Poudre River. It certainly wasn't the same as floating freely down the pristine Poudre,

but, it certainly was refreshing to be out of the city and surrounded on all sides by beautiful, lush green mountains, and, as our friend said, this was much safer.

My favorite feature of the park was the water slide located at the top of the river:

It doesn't look very steep, but it was fast! Thankfully, the park provided helmets: Just in case you're worried about the safety of this ride, you can grab a foam helmet when you pick up your tube!

There actually weren't too many people wearing these things, but some people certainly were!

The thing that struck me as the most peculiar was that the people that I saw wearing these things weren't small children whose mothers had instructed them to do so... they were actually older teenage boys! Seriously! ooh some things I will just never understand!

Towards the end of our time at the park, it started to rain... a typhoon was coming! S
o we headed back to the bus and continued on our way to the hotel.

I'll tell you what, these tour groups sure like to pack in the activities! Once we arrived at the hotel we had 1/2 hour to get situated before dinner, which was promptly at 6:00pm. At 7:00 most people went to the near-by park to watch a drum show (which we missed). E
vening activities also included a trip to the spa and some friendly gambling.

Saturday morning our wake up call was at 6:30am, as we were planning for an early morning bike ride through the park. Breakfast was to be at 8, departure at 9, whale watching for the morning, lunch, a trip to an outdoor museum in the afternoon, followed the long drive back to Taichung.

Whew, I'm winded just thinking about it! But I'll save day 2 for another post!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Finally Made it to Sun Moon Lake!

After a couple failed attempts to drive our scooters to Sun Moon Lake, last weekend, we finally made it!

Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan, and it's only about an hour and a half from Taichung by car. We were taking our scooters though, which meant the highway was off limits.

If you know where you're going, it takes about 2 hours to get there by scooter; if you don't know where you're going, it takes three attempts and a total of 6 hours to find it! (what's that saying... life's a journey, not a destination)

The drive up to the lake goes through some beautiful mountain roads with great views (that I was hardly able to capture with my standard digital camera)

The mountain vistas were as plentiful as they were beautiful and after spending so much time driving along this quiet mountain road, I began to get images in my head of an untouched mountain lake - as quiet and as peaceful as our drive had been.

I pictured something like a larger version of Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park:

But my illusions were shattered when we arrived at Sun Moon Lake and the first thing we saw, after the gas station, was this:
I had no idea that there is actually a full blown town up there!
Despite the people and the development, Sun Moon Lake is a beautiful mountain lake / recreation area with tons of things to do and see - temples, memorials, walking paths - certainly enough to fill a full day or two with activities and sight-seeing. Here are some pictures of the lake:

After walking around for a bit we stumbled upon a HUGE temple and took some time to look around.

We spent about a half hour at the temple when it began to rain... so after 2 hours of driving to the lake and 2 hours of checking the place out... we began our journey back home.

Fortunately, other than a light sprinkle at the beginning of our ride, we had great weather the entire trip and were driving home just as the sun was setting over the mountains, which gave us some great views.
We'll definitely have to take another trip out there when we have some more time to check things out - but next time, I think we'll take the bus!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Taiwan Solar Eclipse!

Today I saw the first solar eclipse of my adult life.

I do have a vague memory of seeing one when I was a child, but that may or may not be a figment of my imagination.... so today was a big day for me!

Just last year I had the pleasure of watching a total lunar eclipse (2/20/08) while I was on a business trip driving through the mid-west country side, so astronomically speaking, this has been a lucky year for me!

It turned out to be fortunate that it was a partially cloudy day because the clouds allowed us to see the eclipse more clearly (and allowed me to take some pictures!) Check it out:

The language center office took apart some old floppy disks and gave us the film to use while we were looking at the eclipse, these - along with the clouds - gave us a great view of the event! According to my teacher, the next one won't occure in Taiwan until the year 2070!

Taiwan only enjoyed an 80% solar eclipse. Here are some pictures of the eclipse at it's peak:

Pretty cool!!!

Here is a video of the eclipse that someone from my University put together (Feng Chia University - 逢甲大學). The video was taken from the same courtyard where I was watching the eclipse.

and speaking of eclipse videos... my friend just sent me a note asking me if I caught the eclipse yesterday and attached this video... priceless!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Taichung is a Beautiful City...?

Since I've come to Taiwan, I've heard people say some peculiar things like:

~The words ambulance and excellence sound the same


~It takes over an hour to get to a grocery store in the United States

but one statement that really struck me as completely off the mark was this one:

"Taichung really is a beautiful city!"


I have been living in Taichung for about 6 months now, and I really can't find any reason to say that Taichung is beautiful... Sure it has some nice parks and some cool things to see, but the city as a's just not beautiful.

As far as the eye can see, Taichung is just a string of (ugly) buildings.

No sky-line to speak of, no apparent city planning or consideration for the aesthetic, just buildings, buildings, buildings.... Sure, every now and then it has an architecturally interesting building, but for the most part its just... blah. Nick and I don't even look up anymore because there's just no reason to.

From what I've seen, Taipei is the same - an endless sea of buildings with the world's tallest sky-scraper arbitrarily shooting up from the center.
(photo taken from this website)

Nothing, to be sure, compared with my home town:

(photo from here)

The sad thing is that Taichung is surrounded by some beautiful mountains; however, due to population density, pollution, and humidity, it is almost impossible see them most of the time.

Two weeks ago I was driving home from school (a drive which I have done 5 days a week for the last 5 months) when I caught my first glimpse of the mountains - poking out from between the buildings at the end of the street.
5 months, I had been driving on that same road every day, before I noticed them! And they were beautiful.

I was so caught off guard that I was only half looking at the road, half staring in amazement at the sight before me. I had forgotten how much joy I derived from ever-present mountains surrounding Denver. Mountains give me peace and remind me that my problems are small compared with the rest of the world, and just as in Denver, beautiful mountains surround this city, unfortunately the sightings are seldom and fleeting.

For those living in Taiwan, I do have to say that Taichung is a nice city to live in. I am thankful that we ended up here - It's close to the mountains, the weather is ideal (sunnier than Taipei and cooler than Kaoshung), it's not too crowded, the traffic isn't bad most of the time, and the people are wonderful...

Aesthetically speaking though, It aint no Pittsburgh!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Wonderful World of Taiwan's Eggs

As we all know, the egg is a very versatile food.

Coming from the US, if you asked me how many different ways there are to cook an egg, I would come up with the following list:

  • scrambled
  • hard boiled
  • sunny side up
  • over easy
  • poached
  • deviled
  • omelet

Pretty extensive, I think, but by no means exhaustive.

Living in Taiwan for the last 6 months, however, has opened my eyes to a whole new world of egg preparation. And so, I'd like to take a moment to share with you all my egg-citing discoveries.

The first and by far most prevalent egg here in Taiwan is the Tea Egg (茶葉蛋). Tea eggs are eggs which have been hard boiled once, then had their shell slightly cracked, and been further stewed in a salted tea liquid with various other spices. According to the Wikipedia post on Tea Eggs, 7-11 chain stores alone sell 40 MILLION tea eggs per year in Taiwan!!!!

At any convenience store in Taiwan, you will find a vat of eggs floating in a black tea mixture

Needless to say, Tea Eggs are very popular here. I'm actually ashamed to say it, but it took me a full 5 and 1/2 months to try a tea egg! Finally a couple weeks ago, on my way to work, I picked one up for a quick snack on the go.
I have to say, tea eggs are the least flavorful of all of the egg-options here in Taiwan. They're really just hard-boiled eggs with a hint of tea flavor.... that's it. But the mild tea flavor is enough to turn a simple hard-boiled egg into a lovely little snack.

The second egg-option here in Taiwan is the salted duck egg (鹹鴨蛋). Now, unlike the tea egg, this is not a chicken egg, but rather a duck egg (surprise surprise). I have to say, this is my least favorite egg option and I have only eaten it once since I came to Taiwan.

They are basically just salt-cured eggs and they are SOOO damn salty that I really couldn't eat more than one bite of mine.

(as a side note, these are served with a very thin egg-shell firmly and surreptitiously in place... diners beware!)

The third eggcelent egg I've come across here in Taiwan is the Iron Egg (鐵蛋). Iron Eggs are eggs that have been repeatedly stewed in a mix of spices and air-dried. They're a bit like tea-eggs on steroids, except they're not made with tea. They are very dark brown and chewy due to the fact that they've been cooked for such a long time... and I love them.

In my opinion, these eggs are by far the best of all egg options here in Taiwan. They have a sweet-spicy flavor and they're just delightful. They are commonly made from chicken eggs, but one of my new favorite snacks here are iron eggs made from quail eggs.

Quail eggs are pretty tiny, so you can eat 7 in one sitting to equal the calories in one big chicken egg.

Last, but certainly not least are the Thousand Year Eggs (皮蛋). Mmmm.
These eggs are a traditional Chinese snack that are cured for about three months (traditionally by burying them in clay.
They're cured for so long that the egg white becomes a clear, brown jelly-like substance and the yellow becomes green and creamy (or slimy, depending on who you ask). It's a bit like the egg family's version of blue-cheese.

Despite their appearance, these eggs actually have a much milder flavor than that of the iron eggs, and once you get over their appearance, you'll find that they're delicious.
So there it is, the wonderful world of Taiwanese eggs!

Bonn Appetite.