Saturday, January 28, 2012

Black and White

On Monday, we staggered out of the hostel with crazy food hangovers to enjoy even more of our favourite spots in Kaohsiung. The first stop of the day was Lao Song Beef Noodles on Wufu 4th Road. I could suggest beef noodles at any given hour on any given day, and Boje’s ears would perk right up. Lao Song was definitely at the top of the list of places we had to revisit in KH. We both ordered the regular beef noodles with medium noodles. He ordered soup, and I had mine dry (dry meaning still with a delicious gravy-like broth soaking the noodles at the bottom of the bowl). We also ordered my favourite side dish, cucumbers with chili and garlic in a sesame oil dressing. The cucumber dish is so cold and refreshing, then you feel the spicy kick... just perfect. 

After beef noodles, we went to FE21 in Sanduo Shopping District to meet up with Stanley and his friend Russell. We all hung out outside the department store for a while watching Stanley’s nephew, Montana, run around in a super excited frenzy about all the kids activities that had been set up for the holiday. After we watched Montana bounce on a bungee trampoline contraption long enough for me to feel seriously ill (even from the ground), we parted ways with the others and headed back into the department store to catch an early evening showing of Black and White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault. Black and White actually started out as a Taiwanese TV show with English subtitles! I haven’t seen the show yet, but we’re going to try to find it on DVD. The film was shot using Kaohsiung as a backdrop for “Harbor City”, a fictional pan-Asian city. I plan on buying the DVD and forcing my Canadian friends to sit in on a viewing when I go home. You can check out the trailer here, and if you’re in Taiwan you should go out and watch the movie! Support Taiwanese cinema! 

After the movie, we continued our food nostalgia tour at Teresa’s Latin American restaurant (across the street from Lao Song). It’s a great restaurant with a large selection of dishes from various South American countries. The decor is mellow, with South American currencies, flags, artwork, and foreigner-signed walls. We ordered a couple of our favourites to split, as most of the menu items are meant to share family-style. After that, we went back to Harbor 60 to rest up and recover from the food punishment we’d been giving ourselves since vacation started on Friday night.

Amanda at Lao Song Beef Noodle Shop
Amanda gets straight down to business.
Lao Song Beef Noodle Soup... so delicious it should be illegal.
Before (happy on the outside).
After (happy on the inside).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ringing in the Year of the Dragon

On Sunday night, we went with Stanley and his family to a restaurant in Kaohsiung for a Chinese New Year banquet. Stanley’s family has adopted many foreigners, and we happily joined their American, English, and Japanese guests at a round Chinese-style banquet table. The celebrations officially started as the God of Fortune entered the room in an opulent parade to the main stage of the banquet room. Children were invited up to the front of the stage to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and then the eleven-course meal started to come out. A lot of the foods served for New Year’s Eve dinner hold special meaning and significance. I’m no expert, but the BBC News magazine posted an interesting article about the significance of special New Years dishes this week. Check it out here!

First, we had a selection of cold meats and cured fish. We got to try mullet roe, which is a very popular food given and served at CNY each year. The next course was shark’s fin soup, minus its most controversial ingredient. This soup, instead, was chock full of mushrooms and tons of different types of seafood. The kinds I identified were lobster, crab and shrimp, though there were many others as well. The next course was steamed whole fish (my favourite!!!), then a dish of langostines in a clear broth. When you order shrimp or prawns in Taiwan, they usually come with the shell, legs, face, etc still attached which used to freak me out, though now I am able to very calmly watch as Boje peels them for me. :)

Next was leg of pork, which looks a bit intense for the Western palate, but was the most tender, amazing, delicious, perfect, beautiful pork I’ve tasted in a long time. It came in a very rich and beautiful gravy as well! After the pork leg was crab with sticky rice (like we had at Anna’s wedding) and then a dish of sliced squid cooked with bell peppers and onions. The sauce reminded of us of sweet-and-sour dishes you’d find at a Chinese restaurant back home. After that was fish with mushrooms and bok choy, then of course a tureen of black chicken soup. During the meal, musicians walked around playing traditional songs for each table, and the God of Fortune came from table to table to gamble with diners. I myself won a beautiful little envelope containing a shiny NT$10 coin. I hope that’s a sign of good things to come in the New Year!

For dessert, we had a beautiful fruit tray and individual steamed cakes. There were two flavours. One was honey and the other tasted richer, like a mapley molasses. It was all delicious, and we had a really great time. After we finished eating, the guests at the table all gave red envelopes containing cash gifts for Stanley’s nephew - it’s customary to give red envelopes to children on New Year’s Eve. Our Taiwanese friends have lamented to us that the holidays can become very expensive once you reach adulthood!

We hope all our friends who observe the Lunar New Year had an excellent weekend. This was an experience we’ll always remember fondly, and a highlight of our time spent in Taiwan thus far.

The restaurant was absolutely beautiful...
... and there were intricate wooden carvings everywhere, many of which were apparently saved from temples across Taiwan.
Shark Fin (Style) Soup. Apparently there was not real shark fin in the soup.
Leg of pork.
Crab and sticky rice.
Squid with vegetables.
Seafood with bok choy and mushrooms.
Cai Shen (財神) pays our table a visit.
Amanda beats Cai Shen at the dice roll... and wins 10NT.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy New Year... of the Dragon! Xīnnián kuàilè! 新年快樂!

Tonight, Amanda and I had a wonderful evening celebrating New Years Eve and the beginning of the Year of the Dragon with the family of our good friend, Stanley.

More details to come in a later post, but we just want to wish everyone a very happy new year (xīnnián kuàilè - 新年快樂) and happiness and good fortune for the Year of the Dragon (Gōngxǐ fācái - 恭喜發財)!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Afternoon at Pier 2

On Sunday, we (very slowly) got up and made our way to Stanley’s restaurant to spend the afternoon together. Stanley decided show us Kaohsiung’s “Bumblebee” that had gone up in the months we’ve been away. We followed Stanley on our rented scooter to Pier 2 Art Center. We’d been through the area a few times before, but hadn’t taken much time to thoroughly explore it. The venue is a cluster of old warehouses and shipping containers on the pier, not too far from Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s also where a few scenes for a new Taiwanese film, Black and White, were shot this past year. A lot of the sculptures and artwork show a real consideration of the space being used. Something I think Kaohsiung does really well is taking what used to be old, industrial spaces and transforming them into something beautiful. 

A good example of this is where Stanley took us next, the vanishing railway. Near Sizihwan MRT station, there is a railway museum inside an unused train station. Behind the museum, rows and rows of train tracks have slowly been filled with grass, soil, and beautiful flowers! Again, what used to be a place for commercial transportation is now a beautiful public art space where families could spend the afternoon hanging out. It’s connected by bike path to the Pier 2 Art Center, and makes for some beautiful photo ops.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chinese New Year Vacation in Kaohsiung

On May 18th 2011, I put up a blog post called “You scream, I scream, we all scream for... garbage anyone?”. In that post, I mentioned how happy we were to be changing accommodations because for six mornings out of seven, we woke to the not-so-pleasant sound of jack-hammers being operated not-more-than 20 meters from where we were sleeping. I was pretty bitter by the end of that week. Pretty bitter, pretty jaded, pretty grumpy, pretty soured, and pretty cantankerous... BUT IT WAS ALL FOR A REASON!!! 

Eight months later, Amanda and I decided to return to Kaohsiung for the week of Chinese New Year. We get a week off for CNY and neither Amanda nor I have taken any vacation days since we started in teaching in August, so the break from work is most welcome! 

When searching for accommodation in KH I found a new hostel listing that looked to be just what we were looking for and in an area with which we are familiar. The website seemed to suggest that it was very near to the hostel which we had stayed at in May 2011, but it wasn’t until we got here and saw it with our own eyes that we realized it was in fact the very building that was being constructed right next to us as we slept just a little less than a year ago. 

We are currently staying at Harbor 60 Hostel and it is beautiful. Being abruptly woken by those jack-hammers now seems strangely worthwhile. Eric, the hostel owner is incredibly friendly and helpful. The hostel is clean, new, well furnished, modern. We really can’t say enough good things about it and we have already agreed that when we next return to KH overnight we will plan to stay here again. 

Our first day in KH, we immediately set about trying to find a scooter rental store that we would be able to rent us a scooter. We were able to arrange something through FAST Scooter Rentals, which we located on the website English in Taiwan. 

We also stopped in at some of our favorite haunts for lunch (Muddy Waters - next to Āozǐdǐ Forest Park 凹仔底森林公園) and dinner (Amy’s Taiwanese Cuisine). 

At the end of the night, we met up with our good friend Stanley who showed us around Sanfonzon Street Night Market - a special night market that is open for only five days during Chinese New Years week. 

The night market was absolutely bustling and easily as busy as Fongjia in Taichung or Shilin in Taipei on a Friday or Saturday night. There was a veritable plethora of different sweets, snacks, spices, teas, meats and toys available at Sanfonzon. With so many vendors selling the same traditional items in one place, the many booths had varying degrees of advertising tactics, like free samples and balloon animals. One sweet jelly booth even went so far as to hire two young women to shriek and drag people over to their shop - the girls went absolutely crazy when they saw Stanley with a pair of foreigners! There were also lots of New Years charms and decorations available to purchase, and though we were warned by Stanley that we won’t be rolling in riches this year (because we disrespected the God of Fortune by asking “Who’s that funny little man meant to be?”) we still managed to have a great time.  

After the night market, Stanley took us to a nice quiet café, Donutes, where we enjoyed something to drink, a slice of cake, and some Chinese jokes, very well told to us by Stanley in both Chinese and English.

Amanda at Aozidi Forest Park
Lunch at Muddy Waters
Smoked chicken & gouda on ciabatta with vegetables and a reduced red wine dressing.
Orea Cheesecake
Amanda at Jhongjeng Park
Imperial Spring Rolls
Beef & Vegetables Fried Rice
Sweet & Sour Pork
Kung Pao Chicken
After Dinner, we went for a walk along the Love River
The Water Dragon, Love River & Ambassador Hotel.
Sanfonzon Street New Years Night Market
Apparently people go candy crazy during Chinese New Years!
Assortments of fried cookies, dipped in honey and covered with seeds or nuts.
A little similar to Turkish delight, but much more gelatinous.
Various roots, herbs and spices.
The night market was absolutely bustling.
Our good friend Stanley!