Salut! I hope your Memorial Day weekends have been relaxing. For those with family members who are veterans or still serving our country, thank you for your service and dedication to our safety. For others, be sure to be remember of the significance behind this holiday somewhere between the burgers and beers! While everyone has been celebrating the long weekend back in the United States, I’ve also been celebrating this weekend here in Taiwan. It’s the annual 端午節, which is also known as the Dragon Boat Festival. I won’t bore you with the history of it, but just know there are lots of dragon shaped boat racing and people eat 粽子, also known as sticky rice with meat and beans wrapped in lotus leaves. It’s a dim sum classic if you’ve ever tried it. Let’s just say the paleo state of mind has been given quite the amount of gray area until I’m home again.
I’ve decided to call the series of posts to come Tour d’Origine, seeing that this trip post-graduation is all about me returning to my roots, traveling to new cities on my own, and starting a simpler chapter in my life. I’ll be taking you with me everywhere I go starting from my dad’s hometown in Nantou County to my mom’s in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. Some will be personal, some will be purely exploratory. I hope that through my lenses, you’ll be able to see my motherland and parts of Asia from a different politic-free and non-stereotypical way.
I’ve inserted some Google images of the greatest attractions on this little tropical island. I’ve been to many already and will be going to the ones I haven’t in a few weeks!
The first stop I’ll be taking you on is the little village outside of Taichung where my dad grew up. It’s in the suburbs of the city and surrounded by farmland. When I come back to Taiwan, I usually spend most of my time in Taipei (of which there are already thousands of blog posts and YouTube videos on). So for this series, I decided to make Nantou the main focus since most of my time in Taipei will be spent with my grandparents and not traveling around.
The island of Taiwan is mountainous and tropical. The temperatures in the summertime reach the nineties and humidity is always at a high 70-90%. Until my trip to Shanghai, I’ll be spending some quality down time in the countryside. In the past, I’ve dreaded coming back here because we still stayed at the run-down cottage that he grew up in. Being a city girl, I found it difficult to go from the high standards of living in the US to the very simplistic style of the 1960s. After both my grandparents passed, my dad and I stay at our new modern house in the same neighborhood. But this visit, I found a whole new love for his old dying village, its shabbiness and all.
The village was once radiant and beautiful, full of life. Neighbors were like extended family members, and everybody knew each other. The families that lived in this massive piece of land were all employees of the provincial government, which no longer exists and has merged to either the central or city government level. There were enough kids to fill two large elementary schools alone. My dad would tell me stories of how School #1 kids and School #2 kids loved defining their “territories” and competing with each other on which half of the village is better. There was (and still is) a large arts center for movies and plays and events, a pool house, a track field, children’s playground park, and a small street full with cafes, mom & pop food shops, and your typical town buildings.
Back then, every cottage was brand spanking new. The concrete walls were clean with no cracks from earthquakes and no vines, the roads were freshly paved, and the metal gates were so shiny that a reflection from the hot sun could blind you. Everyone’s gates were painted a bright red for good luck, and their yards were full of fresh plants, fruit trees, and children. Some buildings were newer and taller with 5 stories. I describe them as buildings similar to San Francisco’s homes in width and height, but not so much architectural design. Those were for higher officials. Unfortunately, once governments merged, the village was no longer cared for. As the grandparents pass, the streets are growing empty and silent. Rust and vegetation cover many of the once beautiful homes.
I used to gag at the site of these metal houses the way I would if I were in some of the very run down redneck areas back in the states, but now I find them so bittersweet to look at. I can see how they held a whole story and can only imagine where the children (now in their 50s and 60s) of those parents who lived there are. As for the ones that remain, I see their shiny new cars outside, fresh coat of paint, and makeshift garden behind the metal fences. Some may say it looks like a shack that could collapse anytime soon seeing that it’s been through multiple bad earthquakes. I say it has so much character and reflects the reminiscent love that still flourishes inside those concrete walls.
One day when (sorry to be gruesome) the last resident passes, the village will be demolished and a new development will probably rise from the rubble. But for those who may forget the stories or never get to see it in its glory days, the everlasting and vivd fragrant scent and sight of the white flowers on the trees all over the village and the tree tunnels over the streets serve as a great reminder of the good old days. (I’m unsure as to what exactly they are, but am led to believe they are some sister flower of magnolias.)
Outside the quadrants of the village are small markets where local farmers sold vegetables, fruits, dried goods, clothes, utensils, medicine, poultry, red meat, and fish. In the main one pictured below, everything is so fresh that you have to compete with both neighbors and flies for the best batch at 7am. While they’re still there now, times have changed and the size has dwindled. Many of the stands have been empty. The remaining ones are manned by elderly farmers. Since it’s a local market, everything is sold within two or three hours. I’m very surprised because the farmers there have enough energy and zest to fill the empty holes.
For someone who has lived in an FDA-approved world, this market will terrify you. Everything is on steel stands with fluorescent light, makeshift fans swat away the flies (not always successfully), and there is no AC because it’s outdoors. Your fresh meat hangs there in the heat (which to be honest is what they do in many supermarkets and Asian markets in the states except in cases with lights to keep the giant pig warm). Your fish is laying there on ice cubes (which is honestly what they do in supermarkets back home anyways). But I’m not going to lie and say that I stared at the butcher’s cart without being slightly alarmed. I ran through many lists of unspeakable amounts of parasites and worms that could be in it. But many years have passed and no one’s had a parasite or tapeworm so that’s a good sign. While I don’t know Taiwan’s food regulations, we’re far into the island enough that a lot of the seafood is “imported” in from fishermen who sell with national regulations in mind. As for the meat, let’s just say my dad and I have boiled it in water for quite a long time just in case.
At night, this market comes alive with dessert carts. Dessert in Asian countries don’t necessarily fall under the typical pastries or baked goods we think about in the Western culture. Many dishes are savory and flavorful takes on meal foods like stinky tofu, Chinese cruller, glutinous rice with savory meat inside it and a delicious soy paste, black sesame and red bean rice balls in soup, shaved ice with fruit and jellies, sour plum juice, soft tofu pudding, or fried chicken. Yes. Fried chicken. In Asian cultures, we often enjoy a midnight snack with friends, usually consisting of these desserts or a mini meal.
To spare myself the calories, I’ve Googled some photos for you below. You’ll be seeing me engulfing them when I go up to Taipei and out to night markets in the city with some friends:
If those desserts aren’t enough and you’re starving at 3am, the best part of Taiwan is here to serve you even in the nearly-forgotten village of mine: 7-Eleven convenience stores! Trust me, they’re disgusting in America but incredible in Asia. There are more of these than there are McDonald’s in America. They have everything you need, and I do mean everything. They have tasty kebob snacks (hot dog on a stick, different types of tofu or fishcake kebobs, etc.) and tea eggs (hard boiled eggs seeped in Assam black tea). The one by my dad’s house even sells Johnnie Walker bottles! Unfortunately, they don’t have a fresh deli that can make you food like the Wawas in New Jersey, the fast food in Sheetz in Pittsburgh, or New York City marts, but they have more than enough packaged fresh meals for you on the go. But wait. The best part is ALL THE ASIAN SNACKS AND BEVERAGES:
I’d sit here and tell you my favorite snacks, but you’d be here for a long time. So with that, I’m going to venture out and replenish my stock because in the time that I wrote this, my dad has devoured the ones I just bought… *sigh*
Until next time, mes chéries. À bientôt!