Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday in Taichung... with Mom

The weather was pretty gloomy in Taichung on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we were all very tired from the long hours we’d kept over the weekend. Tuesday we ambled over to Cha for Tea for lunch, where we’d also taken Brett’s parents during their visit. Mom enjoyed all the tea-infused foods and then we did a bit of shopping in Tiger City.

After that, we headed to the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts, a gorgeous facility in Taichung. Entry is free, except for the special exhibit on a Japanese comic artist which we decided to skip. I love checking out museums in Taiwan, and this one was beautifully curated and featured a lot of amazing Asian themes. There was a real focus on Taiwanese artists, and we also enjoyed an exhibit featuring Korean art. Mom’s favourite part of the day, however, was the exhibit on Taiwanese Printed Cloth. It will be here until July 15, and it showcased beautiful, brightly coloured Taiwanese fabrics. The exact kind Mom had been asking us to help her find. She’s really into quilting, and wanted to find some locally produced textiles to work with. A woman working the exhibit gave us a Chinese address for a shop where we could buy some of the fabrics on display. I’m sure Mom could think of nothing else for the rest of the day! 

That night we went to Feng Chia Night Market, which was pretty busy as many students were still on holiday from school. Mom tried a few kinds of dumplings, shrimp pancakes with sweet chili sauce, spicy Korean noodles, deep-fried chicken breast stuffed with cheese, strawberry milk, papaya milk, Taiwanese yam fries, steamed duck wraps, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten! We also stopped at a typical Taiwanese bakery so she could try some pastries. Just writing about all this now is making me want to go to a night market for dinner tonight!

Lunch at Cha for Tea
Outside the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kaohsiung with Mom, Day 2!

On Monday we woke up in Kaohsiung ready for another day of sight seeing. We took Mom to the rail museum and gardens that we visited over CNY with Stanley, and then went for lunch at Stanley’s restaurant. It was Mom’s first time using chopsticks to eat pork ribs in soup, and she did very well! I always knew I got my superior hand-eye coordination from somewhere. Stanley’s awesome family treated us very well, as usual, and my mother was declared to be very, very tall. Fair enough. She’s 5’11 and towers over many other women back home, but in Taiwan she’s a marvel. 

After that, we went with Stanley and Vicky to the gigantic Yuan Hen Buddhist temple for some photos and touring around. We took a walk all around the exterior of the temple, reading about the life and legend of Siddharta. After that, the day was declared hot enough that we needed to have some shaved ice for dessert. We had a lot of different things going on at the shaved ice place, including soy jelly, strawberry milk shaved ice, and chocolate shaved ice topped with sliced bananas. Vicky also ran out and got us some Hong Kong style waffles, a popular street snack that is too delicious for words. They were so good, they prompted my search for this amazing thingie to make them at home. That’s going on my Christmas 2012 wish list, by the way.

Stanley and Vicky headed back to work, and we went back to Harbour 60 to get out of the rain. The lovely Eric at Harbour 60 let us chill in the common area for a few hours despite having checked out that morning. Our luggage had been hanging out in his office all day because he’s awesome. We eventually headed back out, Mom’s rolling suitcase in tow, to meet our dear friend Milton for lunch. We were sad to miss Jenny as she’s studying in the US at the moment, but it was so nice to catch up over Shanghai-style food with Milton. He told us lots of interesting stuff about Taiwan’s history (as usual... our Taiwanese friends know so much more about their country’s history than we do about ours). It was really nice to see our friends again so soon after our CNY visit. After dinner, we headed back to Taichung via HSR. Another great weekend in Kaohsiung!

Takao Railway Station
A father and son kite flying at Takao Railway Station
Octopus Kite!
Yuan Heng Temple
Stanley and Vicky!
Vicky, Amanda and Stanley!
The Tuntex Sky Tower in the background
Brett and Stanley about to enjoy some chua bing.
Amanda and her mom at Takenori Temple (武德殿)
Brett, Milton and Amanda after a delicious meal at Amy's

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Back to Kaohsiung

After a wonderful start to Amanda’s mom’s stay with us, on the second day, we rose bright and early and headed for the HSR station to catch the train to Kaohsiung. Upon our arrival, we headed straight for Harbor 60 Hostel where we would stay for one night. Eric, the hostel owner, was his usual extremely hospitable self and we really enjoyed our stay.

After checking in at the hostel, we headed straight back out to the Lotus Pond/Lake (蓮池潭). The weather was unusually warm, even for winter in Kaohsiung, and we were able to enjoy near 20C temperatures and clear skies while we explored the various pagodas, pavilions, statues and temples that are at the Lotus Pond. We explored for a good two hours and still barely even scratched the surface. The Lotus Pond is definitely somewhere that you could spend a whole day and still not see everything.

After the Lotus Pond, we headed to Aozihdi Forest Park to go for a jaunt in our old stomping ground and to pay a visit to one of our favorite haunts, Muddy Waters. We enjoyed a great lunch and then headed back to our hostel before heading out to the lantern festival festivities along the Love River.

On the way, we stopped at Lao Song Beef Noodles Shop and we were very happy to introduce Amanda’s mom to one of our favorite Taiwanese foods. Back on the road and heading to the Love River, we past by a temporary stage where some sort of Chinese pantomime was being performed. We’ve wandered past a few of these during our time in Taiwan and they’ve always been incredibly brightly colored, often including neon and black lighting, as was the case here.

The Love River was absolutely jam packed with people. There were lantern displays along a good stretch of the western river bank, and plenty of vendors selling food and souvenirs along both sides of the river. After exploring the Love River for some time, we headed to the Love Pier where a fireworks display was scheduled at 9pm. The fireworks were spectacular and there was a crowd of thousands of people that had gathered to watch.

To finish off the night we caught the MRT to Foster Hewitt’s to meet our good friends Stanley and Vicky. We enjoyed some drinks and nachos before piling back into a cab to head back to the hostel to sleep after a long day of lots of walking.

The Dome of Light at Formosa Boulevard
Amanda at 蓮池潭
Lotuses at the Lotus Pond
A crane or a stalk? I don't see a baby, so I'm going to say crane.
Picture taken from the Dragon Pagoda at the Lotus Pond
The Dragon Pagoda
Amanda and her mom
One of many Taoist God statues at the Lotus Pond
Amanda at Aozihdi Forest Park
Amanda said, "Make a face like you're really excited to eat it!" This was my best effort.
Amanda's mom enjoying beef noodles at Lao Song
A sort of Chinese pantomime performance that we stumbled on. It was so brightly lit with a variety of neon and black lights.
One of the Love River lantern displays.
Many schools compete to design and create the best lantern.

2012, Year of the Dragon
Foster Hewitt's with Stanley and Vicky!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Taichung Lantern Festival with Amanda's Mom!

Before I gush about my Mom’s visit to Taiwan, I want to fill everyone in on our floor - It’s finished! It exploded on January 5, and then construction began to replace all the tiles in the apartment on February 13. We spent every weekday from the 13th until the 21st getting up for our 8 am Chinese class, then not being able to re-enter the apartment until we got home from work around 10 each night. One night we came home and were told we couldn’t enter because of wet cement, so could we please go find a hotel to stay at! It’s all paid off though, as we now have our living room (almost) back to normal.

Anyways, now the fun stuff! On Saturday, February 4, my mom came to visit! She’d spent the day before hanging out in Taipei checking out the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and 101, and then arrived in Taichung around lunchtime by HSR! I somehow managed not to cry like a big baby and we got her home to see our apartment. She came bearing tons of Canadian snacks and gifts from our loved ones and it felt like a little bit of everyone had come along with her! We took her to our favourite dim sum restaurant for lunch, and then to the jade market! 

Shopping with my mother is always a drawn-out affair, and the jade market was no different. We could now speak enough Chinese to help her negotiate on prices a bit, and I won’t go into details too much on what was procured as I would hate to spoil any surprises for the recipients! We tried some Taiwanese tea, looked at beautiful jade bracelets and pendants, checked out antiques, and admired traditional calligraphy and paintings. We were all tired when we left, but it was nice to see Mom so excited about her great finds! 

We rested a while, then after dark headed back out to see the lights at the nearby park for Taichung’s Lantern Festival celebrations. The Year of the Dragon made for an amazing spectacle, and we were not disappointed! One of my favourites was a giant vase-shaped piece that was made up of thousands and thousands of tiny glass bottles filled with coloured liquid. At first they looked like light bulbs, but when you got close you realized it was little corked bottles that had been painstakingly wired together... holy smokes. There was also a lantern made to look like the famous Jade Cabbage in Taipei, complete with grasshoppers! It was made up of what looked like green and white glass plates. Amazing! 

While at the festival, we also took the opportunity to introduce my mom to a few local foods. She tried some gigantic pieces of fried squid, some fried yams, and savoury slices of whole roast pig washed down with watermelon and papaya milk. A successful first day!

Lantern at 臺中圓滿戶外劇場. According to Google Translate, the name of the park is Taichung Satisfactory Outdoor Theater Park. I can confirm that there is in fact an outdoor theater there, but I would be a little more generous than to say it was only satisfactory.
Pagoda Lantern Display
The Dragon is a very auspicious creature in Chinese culture. To enter the mouth of a Dragon is said to bring you good luck, and so there were many displays whereby people could enter the mouth of a lantern dragon's head and walk along its body until finally exiting a less detailed depiction of its rear end.
In the National Palace Museum, in Taipei, there is a famous carving of a jade cabbage that includes a carving of a grasshopper.
Amanda and her mom
One of the more impressive lanterns
The park is apparently the main location in Taichung where the lantern festival is celebrated.
There were very large crowds on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday - this picture does not do the crowds justice! Best to visit on a weekday night, if possible.
Crowds 'exiting' the dragon, after having walked along its body.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Love Pier (真愛碼頭)

On the last full day of our holiday in Kaohsiung, Brett and I were excited to have lunch at Stanley’s restaurant, and to be reunited with Vicky who’d just returned from a family vacation in South Korea. After an amazing lunch of pork noodle soup and cold red tea, we set out with Stanley and Vicky to Kaohsiung’s Love Pier. The Love Pier is where parts of the set of the new Taiwanese film, Black and White, have been opened to the public. We opted out of waiting in an hours-long line for a tour of the film’s police station set, and instead walked around outside. It was pretty cool seeing some of the boats and landscapes where the action movie was filmed. After touring around the area, we went to a nearby coffee shop to escape the cold with some hot lattes and waffles. A perfect little afternoon! 

Our friends met up with us again after work that night, and the Black and White fanatic tour culminated with a stop at Coastal, the bar built in the Pier 2 art district especially for the film. It doesn’t have a kitchen, just a liquor license, and it was absolutely packed with people. We shied away from the crowds, but not until Brett and Stanley had each taken dozens of photos. We had burgers and drinks instead at a popular Western-style pub called Bottoms Up on ChengGong 1st Rd.

The next morning we packed up our things and left for Taichung. We were sad to go, but so thankful to our awesome host, Eric, at Harbor 60 Hostel. His is the cleanest, most comfortable hostel we’ve stayed at in Kaohsiung. The facility is beautiful, we were served Chinese tea (“good for the eyes!”) whenever we set foot outside our private room, and it was so nice to return to a clean, quiet environment at the end of each day. The mixed and female dorms are also very bright and clean with a row of lockers in each. There’s also an extra shower adjoining the beautiful and comfortable fourth floor common area. I highly recommend Harbor 60 if you’re planning on staying in Kaohsiung!

Lunch at Stanley's, delicious!
I'm not sure what it's original purpose was, but this was the "South District Police Station" depicted in the movie Black and White.
Vicky and Stanley!
Brett and Amanda
We stopped for some coffee and dessert after the Love Pier.
I think I'm in love... with the waffles.
We tried - and failed - to get into Coastal: a bar that was created for and featured in the movie Black and White. Coastal is located down at Pier 2.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lunch at Chef Teng’s (鄧師傅功夫菜) and the Lotus Pond (蓮池潭)

There has been a bit of a delay between this and our last post. Chinese New Year was a wonderful break and thereafter, we were able to enjoy a visit from Amanda’s mom, perfectly timed for us to catch the Lantern Festival in both Taichung and Kaohsiung. 

Let me get you up to speed on the last few days of our Chinese New Year week in Kaohsiung. The day that followed Amanda’s last post, we met our good friends, Jenny and Milton, for lunch at Chef Teng’s (鄧師傅功夫菜) - location here. It was really great to see Jenny and Milton again as the last time we had managed to see them was back in August 2011. Our meeting was also perfectly timed, because Jenny was due to fly to America the following week for a four month study program.

Chef Teng’s was a really great lunch and there was an incredible array of foods from which to choose. We had a bowl of beef noodle soup and shared some gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken), spicy tofu, bitter melon served with salty duck egg, a dish of Chinese mushrooms covered in a sweet chili sauce, and some really tasty sweet and sour white fish. 

After lunch, Amanda and I took advantage of the blue skies and finally paid a visit to the Lotus Pond (蓮池潭), something we had been wanting to do for a long time.

The Lotus Pond is a man-made lake that was opened in 1951. There are many temples, pavilions and pagodas that are spotted around and on the lake. One could easily spend an entire day at the Lotus Pond and not see everything. It is well worth the visit. 

The Lotus Pond is in the north of the city, very close to Zuoying High Speed Rail Station and hence it was quite the scooter ride for us to get there. Including a few wrong turns along the way as well as some time looking for parking, we were both sitting on our 100cc rental scooter for close to an hour. Needless to say, it was a fairly ungraceful dismount, when we eventually did park. There were a number of festivities at the Lotus Pond when we arrived. No, the festivities were not related to our arrival - no welcoming committee of the sort - instead, there were many food, gift and carnival type games stalls that ran the temporarily-pedestrianised length of the street on the west side of the Lotus Pond. Amanda and I commented to each other that the atmosphere reminded us much of the Calgary Stampede (minus the cowboys/girls and the alcohol). 

After exploring the Lotus Pond, Amanda and I made our way back to meet up with Milton for dinner. Milton took us to a Korean restaurant where we tried some Korean kimchi fried rice and a bowl of spicy rice noodles with kimchi, mushrooms and seafood. Also, we shared a traditional Korean seafood pancake called haemul pajeon (해물파전). The seafood pancake was deep fried and served with a sweet chili sauce. It was soooooo good. Something we learned that night was that Korean chopsticks are flat - as opposed to square. It took a little while to get used to, but I think we got the hang of it. 

We had a great day and it was really nice to see Jenny and Milton again. We always enjoy their company.

Jenny and Milton at Chef Teng's
We had beef noodle soup, bitter melon with duck egg, a cold mushroom dish, kung pao chicken, sweet and sour fish, and spicy tofu. Everything was delicious!
Milton, Jenny and Amanda
At the Lotus Pond (蓮池潭)
 Amanda at the Lotus Pond
The variety of temples, statues, pagodas, pavilions, sculptures and carvings are incredible.
At the Lotus Pond
A Taoist God statue at the Spring and Autumn Pavilions
There are many pavilions and pagodas around the whole lake.
I was pretty trigger happy with the camera. I think Amanda was quite patient with me that day.
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at the Lotus Pond
Dinner at the Korean restaurant
Dinner with Milton
Delicious Korean haemul pajeon (해물파전)