Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Dinner at Splendor

Just a quick update on how Christmas dinner in Taichung went... MMMM! We went to the Euro A buffet at the Taichung Splendor Hotel. It's a beautiful restaurant. Never before have turkey, roast beef, sashimi, and whole crab fought for my attentions as Christmas protein. We all had a great meal and enjoyed bottomless juice, soda, beer, and coffee for about NT$850 per person which seems pricey, but really paid for itself while we feasted and drank our fill over hot, familiar food. For anyone looking to celebrate a holiday alone in Taiwan, a turkey buffet at a big hotel is really the way to go. Pumpkin mashed potatoes... I'll leave it at that.

After dinner we played Bad Santa, though no one actually ended up stealing anything! I came home with a beautiful box of chocolates, and Boje opened a new webcam!

Christmas is a flash in the pan in Taiwan, as it's now 7:30 the following morning and we're getting ready for Chinese class and work tonight. We had an excellent weekend with some wonderful Skyping, some beautiful packages in the mail, and lots of quality time with friends. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Love and Merry Christmas from both of us!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Merry!

First of all, Happy Festivus and Merry Christmas!

Yesterday morning was pretty amazing. Brett and I woke up at a halfway decent hour to Skype with our friends as they celebrated Festivus back home. I thought it would make me feel incredibly homesick, but I actually felt way better! Yesterday flew by and it was hard to feel sad about missing our friends and family when we had so many frantic errands and tasks to do to prepare for the weekend. I also spent the afternoon at the branch teaching kids in an English social club how to bake sugar cookies. The catch was that we were using a "Taiwanese" oven the size of my microwave. My co-teacher at the branch did an amazing job of pulling together all the baking ingredients I needed which is quite a feat on short notice in a country where home baking isn't a big thing. We were still missing a few key things (like one-cup measuring devices, for instance!) but we improvised with an elaborate system of tablespoons and plastic cups.

The kids were split into two groups and they all got to take turns measuring ingredients and mixing them together. They all did a pretty good job. I tried not to micromanage and I think as a result of the cold medicine I was on I kept my cool pretty well. There was considerable spillage. There were erroneous measurements. There was flour on a boy's face. The girls team eventually forgave me for convincing them to make "purple" dough which actually turned out pretty grey. They even baked me a Thank You cookie!

This evening, our friend, Denton, came into town from the county. We went out for an amazing Indian dinner at a restaurant called Bollywood near the Science Museum. Nothing says Christmas Eve like onion pakoras and a selection of rich curries! We then went for a stroll to SOGO nearby and had some lovely Christmassy encounters with Taiwanese people. As we walked through an underground tunnel to the department store, we came across a Taiwanese man playing the harmonica. He asked us where we were from and when we told him Canada, he busted out a beautiful rendition of Red River Valley. What a hustler - our wallets were out ASAP.

We had a lovely evening of Christmas movies and Star Trek episodes (though I must admit I snoozed through half of it) and we had a great Christmas morning of Skyping with our families and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. We're going out for Christmas dinner with some other foreigners in Taichung tonight, and I can't wait!

Cookies baked by Amanda's students
Care package from Annemarie & Kenny!
Xmas Feast, 7-11 style
Denton & Amanda at at Taichung's Sogo

Monday, December 19, 2011

This is my friend. His name is Tim. He is a good friend.

The kids I teach don’t do a lot of drawing in class. In fact a lot of my students don’t do any drawing. Yet, every now and then there is some free time in a class or a substitution pattern in which they can write their own substitution and then draw a picture. 

In one of my youngest classes there are two boys that sit next to each other, Jack and Tim. The substitution pattern they were practicing was very simple: 

This is my friend. His/Her name is _________. He/She is a adjective friend. 

Jack drew his friend Tim, and I simply couldn’t resist sharing his artwork. 

I think there are some valuable life lessons to take from Jack’s drawing. These being: 

1. When you come in first, don’t miss the opportunity to do a funky dance on the first place podium and rub it in everybody’s face.  

2. Second place isn’t bad. Sure, you’ll feel like you’re in the shadow of a giant, as Tim does something that resembles the truffle shuffle, but don’t feel bad, it could have been much much worse. 

3. Coming in third place is when things start getting much much worse. Don’t be a cry baby. Stand there and grimace if you must. Just remember there are a lot of people much worse off than you. 

4. This is the point at which you sprout vampire teeth and your hair catches on fire. 

5. Okay, now your whole body is on fire. 

6. You came in sixth place. Seriously, you should be ashamed of yourself. Just throw yourself off the podium why don’t you! 

7. Well this chap looks fairly happy. He does also appear to have a halo with wings floating above his head. Perhaps he has died or is just delirious with disappointment. 

8. No hand head stand. “DON’T TALK TO ME! I CAME IN EIGHTH!!!”  

9. When you come in ninth place, you don’t get to stand on a podium, you get strung up by your feet and dangle above it while people take advantage of the opportunity to use you as a punching bag and tell you how badly you did. 

10. You came in tenth. Eat some rat poison, fall off the podium and die! 

11. I don’t even want to guess what is going on on/under the 11th place podium. 

12. You’ve turned into a monster. I don’t think there’s any coming back from this disappointment. 

13. You came in last, and appear to be a ghost. What more can I say.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Teaching Kids How to Make Pancakes,...

… that was my Saturday. Not bad at all considering I was being paid to do it as well!

The private language school I work for has an extra-curricular “club” program whereby children have a Saturday class once every few weeks. The program is all about learning new things and having fun in an environment speaking only English, but there is no focus on teaching grammar patterns or anything like that.

So far, I’ve taught one “Words in Songs” class (not that much fun), one “Little Picasso” class (lots of painting, kids enjoyed it, and this weekend the theme topic was “Little Chef”. The teachers guide recommended teaching the students how to make spaghetti. Instead, I opted to teach them how to make pancakes.

After discussing what ingredients were required, my branch were kind enough to collect everything that was necessary for the class and they even brought in two portable gas stoves because the branch kitchen is currently only equipped with a microwave and toaster oven.

To start with I had the students come up to the front, introduce themselves to the class and tell everyone what their favorite food is. Predictably, this inevitably resulted in a few students declaring, “My favorite food is poo-poo!” Haha, very funny kids... NOT! Thereafter, I gave the kids a quick and serious talking to about the importance of washing hands and what they can and can’t touch after they have washed their hands. Wish all that covered, we then jumped right into making the batter. I had the students pair up and work in twos.

Step by step I walked them through mixing the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients, and then everything combined. In the second hour we started cooking. Kids, gas stoves and scolding hot oil don’t mix, and so it was my Taiwanese co-teacher and I that did the cooking. All went well and there was an array of toppings for the kids to choose from: bananas, peach slices, pineapple slices, cream, honey, butter, chocolate chips, and peanut butter.

I had originally planned to make "American Pancakes" (of the thicker and smaller style), but we were quite short on baking powder and so, not expecting the batter to rise very much in the pan, I ended up choosing to make Dutch style pancakes which are larger, flatter and rolled (or folded) before eating.

It was pretty torturous standing in front of the stove cooking pancake after pancake, only to see them taken away, smothered in delicious toppings and then gorged on by hungry and eager kids. Very luckily, I was allowed to take home the left over batter and toppings. So Amanda and I will be having some homemade dessert later tonight.

The students really enjoyed making the pancakes, but even more so enjoyed eating them. I certainly wouldn’t mind doing another class where I had to teach them how to cook something else. Enchiladas, next time, perhaps.

Photo from Flickr user Gilmoth

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chinese Class!

Boje and I are making it official... by formally studying Chinese at Feng Chia University in Taichung. We go to school at 8 am every weekday morning (ughhhhhnnnn) then go home for lunch, then head off to work until late at night. If you notice a slightly haunted look in my eyes in any of our photos for the next three months, that's why!

We don't qualify for Level 1, so we're actually in Level 0. We're currently learning the phonetic alphabet (bopomofo) and how to read our own Chinese names. My name is very easy to identify and write, and I've been told that "" is pretty much the "Smith" of family names in Taiwan, so I'm lucky. Boj, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Taiwanese Wedding

This weekend, Boje and I had the privilege of attending one of my co-teachers’ weddings at a beautiful restaurant in Taichung. This wedding wasn’t strictly traditional, but it did incorporate a lot of important Taiwanese traditions and had marked differences from the Western weddings I’ve attended. For one thing, the wedding ceremony takes place days or weeks before the banquet and is an intimate affair. The banquet is the part everyone’s invited to.

When you arrive, you sign the guest book and hand your red envelope (filled with cash) to people whose specific task is to receive and count the money for the couple. No anonymity, either! You are meant to write your (Chinese) name on the envelope. There are certain amounts that are appropriate for whatever level your relationship is at with the bride and groom, and you’re not supposed to give too much or too little. You’re also not supposed to choose a number ending in odd hundreds, like 100, 300, etc, and no numbers including a four, please! “Four” and “Death” sound the same in Chinese. After consultations with Taiwanese friends, Boje and I settled on what we were told was a suitable amount. Handing over the envelope was still embarrassing though, as I had painstakingly printed my Chinese name on it with a black marker. It was very wobbly and I’m sure that even my littlest students would have laughed to see my horribly lopsided attempt.

Once you’re inside the dining room, life’s good. There were three tables reserved for the bride’s colleagues, and my supervisor very kindly guided us to an appropriate table with Chinese signage. We sat with Taiwanese and American friends at the table and it was so lovely to take a look around the venue. The tables were Chinese-style banquet tables - round, with gigantic “lazy Susans” in the centre of each. When we were seated, the first course was already on the table. They were little round balls of cooked sweet dough, sort of dumpling-esque, sprinkled with raisins and crushed peanuts. They reminded me of the QQ balls we ate with Stanley and Vicky in Kaohsiung. One of my friends explained that wedding courses all have special significance, and that this one carries a wish for hundreds of sons and thousands of grandsons - though the way she phrased it was much more eloquent.

Once the bride and groom entered the building (and it was with a splash), food started coming out like crazy. There were only six of us at a table for ten, and each table was served a huge portion of every course. We had a sashimi boat, a king crab served on a pile of sauteed onions, a platter of tender, falling-off-the-bone lamb in a spicy sauce, amazing spicy scallops with pea pods, as well as mushroom and chicken soup. The chicken soup was impressive in that it was a delicious broth filled with plenty of mushrooms as well as an entire chicken. You had to use the ladle to break off some chicken for yourself, and I’m pretty sure I spotted a beak. You know you’re at a good party when every table has its own chicken and crab! After the chicken soup, there was also a pork, clam, and vegetable soup, a steamed fish, and a big pile of prawns. We had another course that I believe was abalone, a popular dish for weddings in Taiwan, but the Taiwanese girls at our table weren’t sure what to call them in English so that goes unconfirmed. For dessert, we had delicious moist cupcakes with beautiful fruit toppings and small, individual cartons of Haagen Daaz. All of us there as the bride’s colleagues (and our partners) were given special little jars of honey as favors in little Tiffany-blue boxes. Remind me to go to weddings more often!

While all the courses were coming out, there was a full-on spectacle going on with the bride and groom. Their wedding had a professional host, photographers, videographers, makeup and hair people, and multiple dress changes. She came out in a gorgeous white gown and tiara, then changed into a pink number, and then bright orange. It’s amazing to see a coworker who you see every day in their company t-shirt transform into a princess with professionals dabbing her makeup between toasts. She and her husband spent most of the wedding walking around handing out sweets, toasting guests, and smiling nonstop while surrounded by their professional entourage. It was like being at a red carpet event.

As we walked out of the wedding (only about two and a half hours after we arrived), we were given a massive box of wedding cookies. The cookies are a big assortment of flavoured shortbreads, chocolates, and baked egg rolls. Delicious!

My verdict on Taiwanese weddings? Always accept an invitation. You will love it. It was worth every moment of panic I had trying to find an appropriate outfit my size in Asia (even though it meant shopping at places called “Big Shoes for Ladies”). It was a great party, and easily one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Our camera died at the beginning of the event, but I’m going to ask our friends and try to compile some photos of some of the impressive dishes!

A Taiwanese wedding appetizer. QQ Balls with raisins and shaved peanuts.
Lamb in the foreground and king crab in the background.
Brett & Amanda

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving in Taichung

So we kind of missed the boat on Canadian Thanksgiving, but we were lucky to have been able to take advantage of American Thanksgiving’s November date and as such we signed up to get our fill of ham and turkey at an establishment that is quickly becoming one of our favorite eat-outs. So much so that we are now greeted by the waitresses with a large grin and a “hello again”.

Thanksgiving dinner at Early Bird in Taichung... delicious!