Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jenny and Milton: Helping us survive in Kaohsiung

Being in charge of the blog post today is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because today was extremely fun, informative, and full of new experiences, but a curse because we saw, ate and learned so many new things I worry I won’t be able to do them all justice. Today we met up again with our new friends, Jenny and Milton, for lunch and an afternoon of sight-seeing. They suggested we go to a place called “喫茶趣” or “Cha For Tea”. It’s a restaurant serving a variety of dishes all made with tea as an ingredient!

We brought a notebook this time to record the useful things Milton and Jenny told us, and I am already relying on it to help me remember the many different foods we ate. We ordered a “set meal” which comes with rice, an “appetizing drink”, appetizer, main course, side dish, soup, dessert, and after-meal tea. Hot oolong was also flowing like water throughout the entire meal. To start, we each had a bowl of tea-flavoured wonton soup along with our “appetizing drinks” made from honey, vinegar, and green tea. The drink was sweet, sour, and amazing. Jenny and Milton explained that it can be consumed before the meal, or sometimes afterwards to ease the discomfort of a full stomach.

More and more dishes of food kept arriving at the table, and we shared around as much as possible while Milton and Jenny tried to explain the Chinese and English names to us. I had a bowl of purple rice, referred to on the menu as “grain rice”. Milton said it’s a healthy mixture of five different types of rice and gets its purple colour naturally from one of the grains during the cooking process. We also tried the Ten-Lu Tea Pork Wrap, which was filled with pork and spring onions then fried and sliced to be chopstick-friendly (and extra delicious). We also had Pu-Erh Beef which was marinated in a tea-based broth and dipped into a sweet and spicy bean sauce. Milton shared some of his shrimp dumplings with us which would have put any Canadian dim sum restaurant to shame. We also had tea kimchi, which is marinaded Korean cabbage. I’m pretty sure it was pickled and seasoned with garlic. For our side-dishes, we tried Alluring Jasmine Tofu (which Jenny had to show us how to handle with chopsticks - very slippery!) and Pi-Lo-Chun Green Tea Bamboo. After all that, we still had dessert (Green Tea Mango Mousse) and our after-meal tea. Jenny and Milton ordered a fancy type of green tea (I’m no expert, but it tasted pretty fancy to me) and Brett ordered a “taro green milk tea with QQ”, also known in Taiwan as “pearl milk tea” or “bubble tea” in Canada. Fun fact: the pearls are referred to as “QQ”, because this is a “pinyinism” which is pronounced “chew chew” and the pearls are chewy like gum!

That led to a very helpful explanation about the art of ordering a cup of tea in Taiwan. There are tea shops on nearly every street in Kaohsiung, and many of them will offer a wide variety of cold and hot teas, but until now Brett and I have only been able to stare longingly at people sipping icy-cold takeaway cups of steeped goodness. Milton and Jenny explained to us - with Chinese vocabulary - the four steps to ordering a cup of tea. First, you name the kind of tea and whether you would like it hot or cold. If we wanted to order for example a cold green tea, we would order a liu cha. Then, we would select the size: small, medium or large. After that we must order either no, half, or the full amount of sugar. Jenny said some tea shops will have a chart where you can point and indicate how much sugar by percentage! After the sugar, you have to indicate if you would like no ice, half ice, or full ice. Brett wrote all of this down and we will be bringing our notebook along on our next walk. I feel so empowered with this new knowledge!

After Cha for Tea, we all went to the Kaohsiung Museum of History which is in what was Kaohsiung’s city hall during Japanese rule. The building is lovely and I’m sure Brett wants to go back with his camera to get some shots of it. It is also located next to the Love River and best of all has excellent air conditioning! Once inside, Milton and Jenny selected all the appropriate English materials and steered us through the museum as our own private tour guides!

The first exhibit we saw was about the god Ne Zha or San Tai Zi - the Third Prince. He is the guardian of children and taxi drivers. Adherents can visit temples and leave him offerings of candy, soft drinks, and toys to secure his protection and guidance. His image underwent a renaissance at the opening ceremonies of the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung during a high-energy performance of him as the “Techno Prince”. This god has undergone a lot of different incarnations - from fierce warrior manifestations to that of a nine-year-old boy - and is hailed as a deity “with the courage to accept new things and transcend (sic) himself. Therefore, shedding his religious color and sage legends, his image inspires the art style of Techno Prince Music and many innovative creative cultural products.”

We also saw a very interesting exhibition about the history of Kaohsiung. We saw old photographs of the harbour areas and were impressed by the changes that have happened to Kaohsiung over the years. The area the museum is located in, Yan-Cheng district, used to be a salt farm! It was cool to see old photographs of some of the places we had already visited, as well as many newer photographs showing how much Kaohsiung has grown and developed in more recent years.

My favourite exhibit today was “Prelude to Love: Exhibition of the Rites of Passage” which showed traditional Han rites of passage including marriage, conception, childbirth, and all the stages of development a person undergoes before being deemed an adult and of marriageable age. It was interesting to read about the rituals and superstitions observed by another culture from the other side of the world. Some of our ancestors’ beliefs and practices were so similar to the Han and have evolved similarly as well, while others couldn’t be more different! At the end of the day, everyone loves to see healthy babies, bright children, and happy couples, and we all love to eat, drink, and celebrate each other’s achievements as often as possible.

Milton, Brett, Amanda and Jenny at Yanchengpu MRT station

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