Saturday, August 29, 2009

Our Trip to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村) - Part 2

After our morning of cultural exploration, it was off to the amusement park section to check out the rides. Our first stop was the modern feet-dangling roller coaster the Mayan Adventure. Although there were no terrifying drops, it was one hell of a cork screw and overall a great roller coaster.
AND there was no one else on the coaster, so we got to ride in the front seat!

After this it was time to go in search of all the other rides. We had heard of a Pirate Ship, a Disney-like "Space Mountain," a dinosaur ride.... lots of stuff, but for some reason, Nick and I could not manage to find the rides. After we had literally walked around the whole park, we decided to walk into an arcade area to look for space mountain.

What we found was an indoor amusement park!

I guess I kind of understand the point of this... it is a way to beat the heat (it definitely was cooler in here than it was outside) and avoid the rain and sun (the Taiwanese people do not like to be out in the sun), but I found the whole thing a little bit odd! The park is set up in the mountains in a beautiful part of Taiwan, but you kind of miss that when you're in a massive aluminum warehouse.
Although it was inside, we enjoyed the amusement park rides.

The space mountain roller coaster was certainly no Disney Space Mountain, but it wasn't bad. It was funny because you could see that once upon a time, they had a bunch of black-light decorations - planets and such.. but it was sooooooooo old so you really couldn't see any of it anymore. It was just a roller coaster in the pitch black, but it was fun! I couldn't stop laughing the whole time.
We also rode the 2-story carousal
and the balloons
After we were done with all the rides, we headed back to the park entrance to meet up with the bus, but on our way out we took a moment to check out the European geometric garden (complete with it's own palace!)
What Taiwanese aboriginal culture center is complete without it's own European-style garden!?

What can I say - the whole concept of the place was a bit bizzarre, but it seemed to work well and we had a great time!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our Trip to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村) - Part 1

This weekend, Nick and I went on a trip with with my school (the Feng Chia University Chinese Language Center) to visit the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村).

The park is up in the mountains, just over the hill from Sun Moon Lake, it's a beautiful place for a theme park and it was really nice to get out of the city for the day. Here is a map I got from their website:
It's a bizarre mixture of an aboriginal culture center and amusement park.

The aboriginal culture part of the park is all the way up at the top, in the middle is the amusement park and then down there at the bottom is the European Palace Garden and "Ritz Palace." It's really a one-stop-shop for all of your educational and entertainment needs! (because you can't have entertainment without education ;-)

Upon entering the park, in front of us was a traditional aboriginal dance (for the day's opening ceremony):
And behind us was this indigenous architectural gem:
Ok well, I guess they wanted to put the "Cool" stuff near the entrance of the park. Based on this picture, I guess I don't have to tell you that this place was built in the 1980's!

Immediately following the opening traditional dance, some aboriginal ballerina's came onto the stage wearing traditional aboriginal sequins:

The performance was great, so I took a video of it to share it with you all (if you listen closely you can hear that the song actually has the family friendly lyric "touch me, feel me"!)

After the opening ceremonies, we decided to head up to the top of the park and work our way down, so we spent the first half of our day learning about Taiwanese aboriginal culture. I have to say it was surprising to us, but there were actually a lot of cool things to see and we spent a good three hours exploring.

This section consists of a lot of aboriginal houses and buildings that have been transplanted to the park.

This is a Paiwan house from the SouBau village:

This is a traditional granary...

There were lots of places with thatch roofs, but I guess the upkeep for those is difficult because I noticed that the park opted for a synthetic version instead: painted metal

This house had an interesting feature burial:
The Paiwan people actually buried their deceased in their homes (under ground) to protect them and to keep the family close. Well... you know what they say: keep your friends close and your dead family members closer!

After walking around for an hour or two, we decided to stop for lunch near one of the performance stages, where we had a great view of a show.
For lunch we had some traditional Taiwanese cuisine:
although, I have to admit... it looked better than it was. The little balls on the top right were sweet pastries filled with red-bean paste - a tasty treat for sure. But the bamboo tube with rice in the middle (Bamboo Rice 竹筒飯)
was really just not good. I had been looking forward to tasting this traditional Taiwanese food for a while, so I was a bit disappointed. It just had a bizarre, earthy taste.. I really can't even describe it.

The red bean ice though, was a nice dessert and was in an awesome container as well:
After lunch we walked through the museum for a bit (note the awesome presentation of traditional basket weaving - the attention to detail is impeccable)
(this is not the first museum we've been to where we've seen this kind of thing, the attitude seems to be that it's better to display all of it, than to only show some in an orderly fashion)
After the museum, it was craft time.

One of the things I was most looking forward to was the pottery center; for just $50NT (less than $2 US) we got to make our own bowls or cups on a pottery wheel! I LOVE crafts, so I was all about this. Just as we were sitting down to begin though, we noticed that someone else was already occupying the pottery wheel:

I seem to remember that praying mantis are good luck, so I took this as a sign that I was about to make some pretty cool pottery. After carefully removing the praying mantis, we sat down and began to mold our clay, Nick was very focused:

After I finished my bowl, they guy who worked there sat down to finish it off and remove it from the wheel... or at least I thought that was what he was doing, until he just smashed the whole thing down and RE-MADE IT!

WHyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!? Needless to say, I was a bit perturbed...
(here he is finishing my pottery piece)

However, as a result, my bowl looked like this:

and Nick's looked like this:
But I love Nick's, because he made his himself, and it's awesome... mine is just a piece of crap bowl that some random guy at the aboriginal village made... boooooo.

Our next stop was to try our hand at making millet wine:
So, this woman put some fermented millet wine in a strainer for us
and we squeezed out all of the alcohol
and then poured it into these little bamboo tubes so that we could take it home (and later drink it with friends!)

It clearly hasn't been distilled and was a bit gritty and tart, but Nick seemed to like it! (not surprisingly)

Once the wine was all sealed up and ready to go, the lady informed us that we owed $200NT! A detail that it would have been nice to know beforehand... but o well!

This concluded our cultural exploration for the day, and so it was off to the amusement park to check out the rides! But I think I'll leave that for another post!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taiwan's Confusing Street Signs

One of the most confusing things for Nick and I when we first began driving around Taichung on our own scooters was trying to figure out Taiwan's street signs.

(this picture is from the China Post's article about this same issue)

This may seem like an obvious problem for a foreigner to have here in Taiwan - of course the signs are in Chinese - but actually that was not the source of our confusion. It was the romanization of the street signs, or the "English" street names that were confusing!

Allow me to explain:

As I have mentioned
before, pinyin is the the system of romanizing Chinese words so that they can be read by people unfamiliar with Chinese characters. There are many pinyin systems in existence. The most widely used system for most of the 20th century was the Wade-Giles system.

It is interesting to note that while the Wade-Giles system has been largely abandoned throughout the world, many of Taiwan's cities are still named according to the Wade-Giles spelling. This creates some peculiar problems with mispronunciation.

For example, Taiwan's capitol is officially spelled Taipei, and so most people around the world will pronounce it TaiPei, but it is actually pronounced with a "B" sound. Phonetically, a more accurate spelling is Taibei. But believe me, this only scratches the surface of Taiwan's romanization problems!

In the late 1950's China replaced the Wade-Giles system with the new (and in my opinion vastly improved and simplified) Hanyu pinyin system. Hanyu Pinyin is now the accepted and standard system used the entire world over... except here in Taiwan.

A third system, tongyong pinyin, was introduced in 1998 and adopted by the Taiwanese government as the official system in 2000. Just last year, when the "pro-China" (I use that term loosely) political party here in Taiwan (the KMT) regained the presidency this system was abandoned in favor of Hanyu Pinyin.

So... where does this leave us foreigners here in Taiwan? Well, in quite a ridiculous predicament I'm afraid!

Let me give you an example: In order to get from my house to my job, I drive for about 10 minutes on one road: 忠明路 Here is a look at the various street signs I drive past - note that these street signs are all for the same road: 忠明路

忠明 - Zhong Ming (Hanyu Pinyin)

忠明 - Chung Ming (Wade-Giles)
忠明 - Jung Ming (I'm actually not sure what system this one is!)

Basically, the entire country is a mish-mash of different romanization systems all used simultaneously and the only thing you can really count on is the Chinese characters. The maps of Taiwan are even more of a mess than the street signs! (Just assume that in any given geographical location the romanization on your map will not actually match that of the street sign you happen to be looking at!)

Here are a couple more examples:

So, why doesn't the Taiwanese government just standardize the signs and straighten this whole thing out?? Well it's not at straight forward as it may seem.

For one thing it's not exactly a pressing issue - ask any Taiwanese person about this problem and they're almost certainly oblivious to it... and do you blame them?!

If street signs in the US had some Chinese on them (or Spanish for that matter) to help out visitors or immigrants, 99% of Americans would have no idea if they were mislabeled... we only read the English!

Another stumbling block is that it has become a bit of a political battle - using Tongyong is seen as a symbol of Taiwan's independence from China, while using Hanyu is interpreted by some as a sign that Taiwan is moving closer towards the "One China" policy.

So, what is my suggestion?

Personally, I do believe that the Hanyu system is the easiest to understand for foreigners, but what it really boils down to is that a standard system - any standard system - would be helpful for us westerners visiting or living here in Taiwan.

But until that day - far far down the road - those of us who can't read Chinese will just have to just make an educated (or uneducated) guess and hope for the best!

Fortunately, studying Chinese has really helped me as I am able to recognize many of the characters used in street names here. Nick, on the other hand, has come to adopt his fathers precarious navigation techniques: if you head in the general direction and make enough turns - by process of elimination - you'll eventually reach your desired destination.

(NOTE: it is by this philosophy that it took us three tries and 6 hours to make it to Sun Moon Lake!)

final note: if you're intersested in this topic, you can check out the China Post article (here) or the Tongyong Pinyin Wikipedia page.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guess What!? Chicken Butt!

Friday night for our weekly dinner with Angel and Eric, we went to a new Japanese-style BBQ place here in Taichung. It was a nice place with a pretty good deal - all you can eat (and drink beer) for $500/person (about $14 USD).

At these kinds of places, each table has it's own charcoal BBQ pit and they bring uncooked meat or seafood to your table and you cook it up yourself.
The cooking part can be a bit troublesome, but it's a fun thing to do once in a while and the food was absolutely fantastic. Angel was our executive chef!
Our feast, which lasted for two hours, began with some shrimp and delicious scallops.
We went on to eat all kinds of things, from fish
(which you must carefully remove the bones from) beef, pork, and chicken. As with all of our dining experiences here in Taiwan, there were a couple culinary surprises along the way!

For example, in the lower-middle area of this platter is pork intestine! I've had tripe before (From a cow) but never from pork. I found it to be a bit too oily for my tastes, but it wasn't bad. (the beef on the other hand was absolutely fantastic!)
You may not recognize the delicacy at the top of this next platter, I definitely didn't.

I guessed that it was some type of liver, but actually it is chicken hearts! (as a side note, I was surprised that chicken's have such small hearts, I would have guessed a chicken heart would be bigger than this...)
Anyway, we threw the chicken hearts on the grill and waited for them to cook to perfection, at which point...
...I tried one!

Here is me with my first chicken heart. Interestingly enough, I actually thought the chicken heart tasted a little bit like steak. Who knew!? It was pretty good!
The last, and most interesting surprise of the evening is at the top of this platter:
Can you guess what it is??? Of course it is chicken, but what part of the chicken?!
.... give up!? It's chicken butt!!! Apparently, it's our friend Eric's favorite food! So obviously, I had to try it. It's basically fatty chicken meat - pretty flavorful and a bit oily. It wasn't my favorite food of the evening, but they're actually not bad, I had a couple of them!

All in all, the meal was fabulous and we had a great time - we'll definitely be returning to this place again in the future!