Archive for July, 2010

A Quiet Day in the Neighborhood

July 29, 2010 - 8:10 am 1 Comment

July 19, 2010 (Monday)

Grandparents came to visit us at Uncle’s place for lunch, as dad had invited them over to showcase his new-found cooking skills. We spent some time chatting afterward – I showed my grandparents my website and Givology. My grandparents then slept while Grace and I played different games. We walked to Raohe Street together to shop and browse the vendors setting up for tonight’s market. Later on, grandparents joined us, and we took them to a venue specializing in foot massages. We ate dinner at Raohe Street, including my favorite black pepper buns and the stinky tofu adored by Grace and mom.

We returned home for a second dinner (I swear, I spend so much of my day just eating). Aunt Jennifer then took us to buy shoes for my dad, while Cousin Jessica brought bubble tea for us to enjoy!

Lunch with the Meng Family and Taipei 101

July 29, 2010 - 8:00 am 2 Comments

July 18, 2010 (Sunday)

After a leisurely morning, we had lunch with my father’s siblings (other than Uncle George). To send off Uncle David, an avid vegetarian as a result of his Buddhist religion, we went to a tasty vegetarian buffet. The food was absolutely extraordinary, with delicate dishes prepared from fresh ingredients! As a glutton for diversity, I stuffed myself to near a near uncomfortable level trying to sample all the dishes. The kitchen kept on rotating in new dishes, so I kept on eating! The vegetables were cooked in a variety of ways, with subtle spices and cooking techniques enhancing the natural flavor. My dad had a chance to catch up with his sisters – a wonderful reunion after years apart!

Stuffed, I fell asleep for the entire afternoon, probably not the healthiest thing to do. To help settle our stomachs, we walked to Taipei 101 to browse the shops and the bookstore. As one of the tallest buildings in the world, Taipei 101 sticks out in the skyline like a sore thumb, especially since the majority of the city is very flat. Given the frequency of earthquakes and typhoons, the task of constructing the building constituted a colossal effort in engineering.

While we did not do very much sightseeing today, spending time with family in it of itself is a joy.

Ding Tai Fung, Sun Yet Sen Memorial, and the Three Kingdoms

July 29, 2010 - 7:46 am 2 Comments

July 17, 2010 (Saturday)

On Friday, our flight back to Taipei was somewhat scary due to turbulence associated with heavy rain. In general, we spent a quiet day at home, sharing stories about our trip to Korea with our parents, and resting in preparation for tomorrow’s busy activities.

On Saturday, we woke up relatively late. Cousin David invited Grace and me to lunch at Ding Tai Fung with his girlfriend and her sister. Since the New York Times chose Ding Tai Fung as one of the “Top 100 Restaurants in the World”, you can imagine the quantity of eager tourists who frequent! I found the soup dumplings really delicate and tasty – the thinnest outside skin containing a fragrant pocket of meat swathed in a rich soup.

After lunch, we all went to the nearby Sun Yet Sen memorial, commemorating the Father of the Nation of Republic of China. Sun Yet Sen played an instrumental role in inspiring the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China & the Kuomintang (KMT).  As a uniting figure in post-Imperial China, he remains unique among 20th-century Chinese politicians for being widely revered amongst both the Chinese and Taiwanese!

We came just in time for the changing of the guards – an elaborate spectacle of twirling guns and militant decorum. Afterward, we browsed the accompanying museum to the memorial. I learned about the three principles established by Sun Yet Sen: 1) Democracy, 2) Nationalism, 3) Livelihood.

Afterward, Cousin David dropped Grace and me off at the National History Museum to view the special Three Kingdoms Exhibition with my parents and grandparents. My dad’s stories brought the exhibit to life – he reenacted the famous scenes from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, quoting exact text and explaining the significance. My dad’s knowledge of the book is truly amazing; he read the book numerous times in his childhood, and from his passion for the stories, understands so much.  Compared to the museum’s cursory explanations, my dad’s dramatic interpretation was so much more meaningful.

As an avid fan of the Three Kingdoms drama, Grace was near giddy with excitement as she saw statues and artwork depicting the heroes she adores, particularly the courageous Guan Yu – a general serving under Liu Bei. After the exhibit, we went to the botanical gardens, where the Chiao family took several pictures together.

Hungry from the afternoon, we then walked to a nearby tasty restaurant serving banquet dishes. Dining on sea cucumber, a special pork stew, and other exotic dishes I’ve never encountered before, we all felt fully satisfied. My mother then took my grandparents home, while Grace and I headed off to Shilin market to meet up with Jen Jia, my friend from college who happened to visit Taipei for her MBA program. Grace and I played a few claw machine games, and ended up getting a cute alligator stuffed toy! We browsed the stores until late, and then returned home.  What a wonderful day, filled with good food, family, friends, and museums!

Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung

July 29, 2010 - 7:02 am 1 Comment

July 15, 2010 (Thursday)

Grace and I woke up early to meet Susan. We started off at the National Palace Museum of Korea, located in Gyeongbokgung Palace. The museum houses over 40,000 artifacts from the palaces of the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire, and 14 of the national treasures of Korea! I found the special exhibition about the Japanese occupation of Korea particularly intriguing. The bitterness over the Japanese destruction of Korean culture and the harshness of authoritarian rule – in particular, the ending of the Korean imperial family with the symbolic assassination of Queen Myeongseong – permeated the entire collection. In contrast, the Taiwanese – also occupied by Japan in the early 20th century – has a rather positive view of the Japanese…go figure.

Gyeongbokgung Palace astounded me. Although I’m very familiar with the castles of Europe, I’ve never visited the palaces of Beijing before, so it was my first time to walk through an Eastern palace complex. One day, I really hope to visit the Forbidden Palace, likely much more ornate than Gyeongbokgung Palace. In particular, I really enjoyed the perfectly manicured gardens and the labyrinth of ancient buildings. Susan told us that a lot of movie and drama filming take place here – the perfect backdrop to a period drama! First constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name of the palace translates in English as “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” Unfortunately, much of the palace was destroyed during Japanese occupation. As such, only ~40% of the original number of palace buildings still stand or are being reconstructed (even still, the palace complex is huge!).

Hungry after our morning’s exploration, Susan took us for traditional Korean BBQ for lunch! I really enjoyed the succulently marinated meat with the crisp greens, as well as all the small side dishes designed to whet the appetite with sweet and sour tastes.

After lunch, we headed to Changdeokgung Palace, literally translated as “Palace of Prospering Virtue”. Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of many princes of the Joseon Dynasty and consequently, retains many elements dating from the Three Kingdoms of Korea period that were not incorporated in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung. For example, the buildings of Changdeokgung blend with the topography of the national landscape instead of imposing upon nature.

As a UNESCO world heritage site, Changdeokgung is recognized for its beautiful Eastern-style architecture, though much of it reconstructed in modern days. The Palace was burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609 by King Seonjo and King Gwanghaegun. Changdeokgung was the site of the royal court and the seat of government until 1872, when the neighboring Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt. Korea’s last Emperor, Emperor Sunjong lived here until his death in 1926. I found it much larger and more pleasant than Gyeongbokgung – we could easily get lost in its labyrinth of courtyards and different palace plazas!

After Changdeokgung, Susan left for work, and Grace and I found dinner at a cold noodles restaurant very popular with locals. I really enjoyed the texture of the cold buckwheat noodles, but the soup was so spicy that I must have spent 15 minutes trying to assuage my burning lips and tongues with ice cubes! Nevertheless, what a tasty meal!

We then headed home to pack for our return to Taipei tomorrow morning. Susan stayed over with us so that she could come along to send us off. What a wonderful day exploring the heart of ancient Seoul!

Dongdaemun and the National Museum of Korea

July 29, 2010 - 6:50 am 1 Comment

July 14, 2010 (Wednesday)

After hearing the stories of Aunt Jennifer and Aunt Alice, we headed off to Dongdaemun, the main shopping district of Korea and the gathering place of wholesalers. The selection was so massive that Grace and I felt completely overwhelmed! For example, in the Pyeonghwa market, we saw seemingly never-ending rows of sock wholesalers, all lined up next together in crammed stalls, filled with thousands of sock designs! In the shoes market, we must have passed hundreds of vendors showing off an immense mountain of shoes. In fact, due to the sheer scale, Grace and I couldn’t settle down to shop at all! We got so lost that we ended up going to a rather posh internet/gaming café to look up directions. Inside, we experienced for ourselves a bit of Korea’s gaming culture – even at an early hour, plenty of young boys and men played warcraft and other RPGs with intense concentration.

In addition to the wholesaler markets, Dongdaemun has plenty of massive department stores, stretching 10+ stories tall. Rather than large shops for each retailer, as in the US malls, each vendor only has a tiny stall, meaning that on just one normal-sized floor, one can find dozens of different retailers. As such, the department stores feel really crammed – clothing, jewelry, and goods of all different colors and styles clashing with one another. As such, I found it very difficult to find the mindset to shop – rather, I enjoyed walking around and absorbing the sheer diversity of goods available!

We had such a tasty lunch at a local restaurant! I ordered a cold version of my favorite dish of bibimbap, while Grace ventured out of her comfort zone to taste sweet potato cheese. After lunch, we walked around the area, visited the memorial park (unfortunately, most of it is closed to construction), before heading off the Korea National Museum.

What an extraordinary museum, reflective of the country’s pride in its cultural identity! Grace and I got audioguides to fully appreciate the exhibit content, and as such, learned a tremendous amount about Korean history. Organized chronologically, we walked through the prehistory of Korea to the last reign of the Josun dynasty, abruptly ended by Japanese occupation. We learned about the Three Kingdoms period in early Korean history, the major milestones of the unifying Shilla dynasty, and the country’s traditions in calligraphy, painting, and other fine arts. The museum truly captured the immense nationalism of the Korean people – an immense pride in their country. Objectively speaking, the museum does not have as much content as the National Palace Museum in Taipei, but the attention to detail by the curator and the scale of the mammoth building provides such a better context for the artifacts! If only the Taipei government could replicate such a building – too much of the National Palace Museum collection remains hidden from visitors due to lack of space! We stayed at least four hours, intrigued by the contrasts and similarities between Korea and China.

After the museum, we visited Nanmendong to buy ginseng products for my grandparents and family. At the ginseng store, we met a friendly woman who gave us a lot of insight into the history of the Korean ginseng. By expressing our admiration of Korea, we got a substantial discount – yet another manifestation of the intense nationalist pride manifested in the people that we meet.

Rather than sitting down for a formal meal, Grace and I sampled different delicacies in the street stalls, tasting kimchi buns and dukbokki, a popular Korean snack food made of rice cake and a spicy-sweet chili seasoning. We then ended the night back at Myeong-dong again, buying earrings and trinkets as gifts for friends.

Alas, what a wonderful sisterly day of shopping and museum visiting!

A Local’s Perspective of Seoul

July 29, 2010 - 6:13 am 1 Comment

July 13, 2010 (Tuesday)

Grace and I awoke early, dressed, and then went downstairs for sumptuous breakfast buffet, complimentary of the hotel. At 9:30 AM, we met with Susan, who had cleared her schedule for the entire day to show us around. I found Susan immediately very likeable – laid-back, friendly, good-natured, with a quirky sense of humor. Grace stayed with Susan for 10 days nearly five years ago; as such, they are quite close, with lots of shared memories and inside jokes. As truly a gracious and kind host, Susan enthusiastically researched the major attractions in Seoul to figure out the highlights of the city to show us.

We started off at the Mokin Museum of Wooden Carvings and figures in Insadong, the traditional part of the city. The collection featured over 15,400 pieces from across Asia. My favorite exhibit was the wall of tigers! After leaving the museum, we then browsed the unique handicraft and artisan goods shops around the area – I swear, my head felt as if it were own a 360 swivel – there was almost too much absorb all at once!

We then headed off to a series of small art galleries that Susan identified as particularly noteworthy. Notably, we went to Il-Min, a gallery of fine traditional crafts, including embroidery, weaponry, and calligraphy, furniture design, brush painting, among other art forms.

Susan then took us to a traditional restaurant for a tasty lunch of hand-made noodles in clear broth. After lunch, we took the subway to a large plaza dedicated to the most respected king in Korea, recognized for unifying the country and introducing the modern Korean language. After snapping some photos, we went to a museum in the vicinity, dedicated to Korea’s natural beauty through a series of large photographs capturing landscapes and ancient cities, many of taken in Ulsan. Soothed by the exhibit’s refreshing images, we then headed back outside to the picturesque man-made stream created by the former mayor (now president) at the height of his popularity. As Susan had to choose an English textbook for her students, we headed to a bookstore – a detour that gave us some relief from the hot afternoon sun.

After the bookstore, Susan guided us to Coex Mall, a huge shopping complex popular with the youth. The sheer size astounded me – shops of every kind crammed into the sprawling center. Even though today is just Tuesday night, young people flooded the mall from every corner. I enjoyed the trinket stores the best – lots of cute notebooks, stationary, adornments, stuffed animals, and jewelry. Coex Mall seriously is so large that without the interactive guide maps to help befuddled visitors locate themselves, navigation would be impossible. Without Susan to provide some general direction, we would be completely lost!

After browsing the stores, we went to eat dinner at a restaurant specializing in “soldier stew” – a spicy hot pot shared communally, in which all ingredients are combined at once (back in the old days, soldiers had to devise a fast way to cook). Donning bibs, we dug in to the delicious meal. I love Korean food; every flavor seems so exotic and sumptuous, particularly the unique kind of heat from the chili.

On the way home, we met Susan’s fiancé, a really nice man that shares her odd sense of humor. I’m really glad that I can travel with Grace – she has friends around the world so willing to host her.

Arriving in Seoul

July 29, 2010 - 1:25 am 1 Comment

July 12, 2010 (Monday)

Grace and I departed for Korea at 1:30 PM. I could barely contain my excitement! After a generally uneventful flight, we arrived at Incheon International Airport, a really impressively modern building. Grace’s friend had given us explicit instructions to arrive at Lexington Hotel, so we caught the bus with ease. As one of the premier hotels in Seoul with five stars, the Hotel Lexington typically charges a really high rate, but we got a discount thanks to Susan! The room were really comfortable and the building luxurious. Conveniently located to the National Assembly, the Hotel is really close to one of the newest metro lines. Dropping off our bags, we gathered our belongings to walk around the neighborhood and take the metro to Myeong-dong, a popular commercial district and one of Seoul’s main shopping and tourism districts. Myeong-dong is absolutely amazing – streets filled with shopping of every kind, the young and fashionable crowd prowling the streets in search of the latest trend. In general, shopping in Korea is a great pleasure – Grace and I bought some pretty earrings from a street seller. As Grace actively participates in the Soompi online forum, she knew exactly which cosmetic stores to go to and the famous products to buy. We tested out the exotic-looking products at Etude House and Missha, and ended up buying gifts to bring back. Trinket and cosmetic shopping turned out to be even more fun than I anticipated (this is not a typical pursuit of mine!), especially in the right environment. Surprisingly, the shop attendants speak Japanese and Chinese, though limited English – a fact resulting from the predominantly regional tourism. Astonishingly, so many people were out on the streets, even at 11 PM on Monday night! Grace and I had a simple dinner at a local restaurant in the area, tofu stew and hot-stone bibimbap (one of my favorites!). I really like Korean food, but rarely had a chance to enjoy it over the last two years, as no Korean restaurants exist in Oxford. Alas, I intend to sample as many traditional delicacies as possible! We arrived back at the hotel quite late, and feel asleep quickly given the excitement of the day. Grace got in touch with Susan, her friend from language camp at Montreal. Hence, tomorrow, we’ll get a local’s perspective as we follow Susan around town.

Dinner with the Second Generation of Mengs

July 29, 2010 - 1:01 am 1 Comment

July 11, 2010

We awoke early to go to grandfather’s grave with all my aunts and uncles and Cousin David. Since grandfather fought for the nationalist army and served in the military as a major in Taiwan, he is buried on a special mountain reserved for old soldiers. Regrettably, my memories of grandfather are sparse – growing up away in the USA means that I don’t have the same depth of relationship that my cousins in Taiwan experienced. But I do know that my grandfather is so dear to my father, having grown up with so many stories of grandfather’s love of family and education. My dad loves his dad dearly – he raised a family of five through very difficult times, trading army-rationed cigarettes for bread to raise his family, and somehow squeezing together enough resources to put all five children through college. Hence, the love I have for my grandfather stems mainly from the love I have for my own father.

Following the traditions of ancestor worship, we all bowed in front of the grave, burned heavenly money, offered fruit and food (including my grandfather’s favorite peanut candy), and said our prayers. Grandfather watches over us – the entire Meng family. If he were here today, then perhaps he and I would finally have a proper conversation.

We went back to Uncle George’s house for a simple lunch before a Meng family conference took place regarding the care of my grandmother, who is now left in a vegetative state after a devastating stroke nearly 10 years ago, occurring soon after my grandfather’s passing. My grandmother has lost most of her sentience, but her presence remains a comfort for the entire family. We had originally planned to visit my other grandmother, but Grace and I couldn’t leave the apartment. Rather, we spent the afternoon learning taekwondo moves from the husband of my eldest aunt. Since he served as part of the special unit of the military, he knows very many specialist combat moves. (He’s actually quite an intimidating guy – told us stories of how he beat up four guys who attempted to rob him!

After retiring, my uncle took to the serous study of Chinese medicine. As such, I mentioned that Grace’s wrist was once broken in elementary school, and ever sense, never returned to full functionality. He took a look at it and said that the position of the bone had not returned to normal. He swung Grace’s arms and the bone snapped, leaving Grace in pain and Uncle satisfied. I’m not sure whether he justifiably reset Grace’s wrist or made things worse – we’ll see, but in the mean time, I feel rather guilty.

For dinner, we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, where your order dishes and then the servers make it to order. Dad wanted to treat the entire second generation of the Meng family to dinner in order to give a chat about an important message to deliver. All my cousins showed up other than Martin, who currently resides alone in Canada. Frankly, I’ve never gotten to know my cousins well, as we have spent very limited time together. I don’t understand their big-city lifestyle, and at least from superficial observation, their parents love for them have created a sense of entitlement.

Dad wanted to inspire them to action so he invited them to dinner with the intention of making a speech to inspire a personal “spark” – a motivation to act consistently with self-defined principles. In my opinion, although this sort of coffee chat can serve as an effective wake-up call, without a self-driven will to change, no one can externally foment a transformation. Dad used the book Double Take to reinforce his message, a story of the journey of a 24-year old man born without legs. Without using his physical disability as an excuse for all his troubles and a reason for evading society, Kevin decided to participate competitively in the X-games, travel around the world, and snap photos of all those who gawk at him, inherently “looking down” at him given his stature.

For me, education and entrepreneurship are two causes that I feel strongly about, and working on Givology and YouthBank gives me a sense of fulfillment and meaning in my life. Why sit around and watch television and squandering time, when we all can play our part, no matter how small, to make a difference? Even if I work 14 hour days and feel exhausted, I intend to reserve time for Givology and YouthBank because of their personal significance.

Dad spoke of the importance of having a personal spark – to help and engage the world or to pursue knowledge in search of self-enlightenment and fulfillment. As my cousins need to take final responsibility for their actions on their own accord, I doubt my father’s rousing remarks would make a permanent difference, but I’m glad that we all gathered together. There are just too many “shoulds” in Asian society – parents tell their children that they should study, pursue a stable career, and respect the principles of filial piety. My dad didn’t tell my cousins to do anything, rather he challenged them to decide for themselves about how to construct their own identity and find their own passions. Indeed, an unconventional message, particularly for this society.

Grace and I leave for Korea tomorrow,  so we spent tonight packing. I’m really excited to go and see another culture, visit the popular youth districts romanticized in Korean dramas, meet Grace’s friend Susan, and…escape the suffocating heat in Taiwan.

A Visit to Ximending

July 28, 2010 - 4:50 pm 1 Comment

July 10, 2010

Uncle George leaves for China on Wednesday so Grace and I have been spending lots of time with him. The evening prior, we went running together (well, Uncle George walked) and then strolled around the neighborhood for an hour, passing the Taipei Arena, known paradoxically as the “Small Giant Egg”. This afternoon, Uncle George invited us to a buffet lunch at the Rose Restaurant, situated in a fancy hotel. We met up with Uncle George’s friend’s son, a young man who just returned to Taipei to serve his military obligation after years of working in the USA.

The food was quite tasty, particularly the sashimi and the deserts. Grace and I must have sampled at least six different types of cakes and puddings! After lunch, mom picked us up at the restaurant and took us to Ximending – a trendy area with a similar feel to Korea’s Myungdeong and Japan’s Harajuku. Ximending didn’t always serve as a popular haunt for young people, however. Mom grew up in this area, and despite all the changes with new stores and construction, she still knows her away around so clearly.

We started off shopping near mom’s old home in Taiwan – a street market where we bought lots of pretty souvenirs, jewelry, and other trinkets. Mom told me stories of her life on Yuan Ling Street, the old stores that used to be there, and the neighbors who played an important role in her childhood. Even though Taiwan has changed a lot over the last few decades, not much has differed in the last five years, reflective of economic stagnation and the loss of competitiveness in light manufactures as a result of China’s emergency to world markets. The goods that we bought may have been considered inexpensive by US standards, but can easily be hard to afford for a typical family, as wages have not risen in line with prices.

After shopping, we headed to the heart of Ximending – young people everywhere chatting, hanging out, and shopping. I absorbed the atmosphere with great interest and excitement, my head on a near 360 degree swivel. The frenzy of activity astounded me – the unique collision of youth culture mixed with remnants of the past. Notably, one particularly nostalgic moment of the day occurred when my mom took us to a shopping selling sweet/sour plum ice. Founded in 1966, the shop used to be one of my mom’s favorite places to spend her 5 cent allowance. She told us that the entire operation used to be run by an old man with a pushcart – now, nearly five decades later, the stand is now a full store and the attendants (about my mom’s page) likely the daughters and granddaughters of that old man. As mom relished the ice, she had such a sweet smile – “nothing has changed”, she told us.

Asia’s rise is often discussed in modern media in context with the decadence of the west. Just simply being here gives me a strong impression of momentum and energy, compared to the quiet tranquility of Oxford post-6’o-clock, when nearly all economic activity shuts down. The small business owners here strive to squeeze as much profit as they can, even if it means opening up shop late into the night for the convenience of the working consumer. The European attitude, in contrast, much prefers free time at the expense of forgone revenue.

We then went to an anime shop that sold lots of subculture items. Taiwan is years ahead of the US in terms of official manga and anime releases! As the connection between Taiwan and Japan is very strong, a lot of idiosyncratic Japanese cultural institutions get replicated in Taiwan, from sushi bars to maid cafes. Grace wrote down the location of idol shops selling Johnny’s Entertainment (JE) merchandise so mom helped us locate them. What an odd array of items! The stores seem even borderline stalker-ish as photos, posters, key chains, wall scrolls, and all sorts of picture paraphernalia bearing the visage of beautiful Asian boys and girls greeted you. Grace bought a packet of 36 Arashi photos to share with her friends as souvenirs.

We went home for dinner – dad wanted to show his brothers and sisters his new cooking skills. With a dinner of salad, vegetarian roullexe, frittata, and vegetable soup, I felt truly content – familiar home-cooked food in a foreign country.

Climbing up Yanming Mountain

July 28, 2010 - 4:06 pm 1 Comment

July 9, 2010

Uncle David wanted to take our family around by car before he departs to Canada. All of yesterday, mom kept on telling me about “Wulai”, one of the most famous natural parks in Taiwan. Naturally, I really wanted to visit! To my dismay, my plans were derailed as Uncle David took us to Yanming Mountain instead. Nevertheless, the day turned out wonderfully.

We first started off at Lin Yutang’s house, nestled at the foot of Yanming Mountain. His house really intrigued me because you can walk straight up to the artifacts left by the grand master and observe them without any obstruction. He is one of my father’s favorite authors, such that even though I have never read one of his works (will do so when I go home), I am nevertheless familiar with his life, name, and historical role.

We then drove up Yanming Mountain. After parking the car, we went up the mail trail towards the waterfall. As we walked, I felt the years melt off my mother’s age as she recounted the numerous elementary school class trips that she took to Yanming Mountain, from wading in the stream to catching cicadas. The weather was surprisingly cool for Taiwan, albeit intolerably hot by objective standards. Dad and mom enjoyed the hike greatly despite the rather steep upward slope. In fact, they both ended up wading in the water near the falls!

After taking a brief break in a café nestled in the mountains, we drove up to “Len Shuai Kong”, translated as the Cole Water Gorge (Springs). A kind attendant informed us that just for today, cars were permitted to drive up to the world famous mountain-top grassland known as “Qing Tian Gang”.

The beauty of the meadow stole my breath away – imagine rolling hills akin to the opening scene in the Sound of Music, the Taiwanese equivalent to the mountains of Austria. With a comfortably cool breeze behind us and the chance to roam the fields barefoot (while evading the cow poop), I felt so refreshed! My parents were near giddy with excitement; my mom couldn’t contain her glee as she devolved into a frenetic, photo-snapping, giggling girl. The park ranger told us that out of 365 days, fog obscures the view of the mountain for nearly 300 days. Such a day of cool weather, cloudy cover of the glaring sun, AND a clear view of the mountain constituted a rare and perfect condition for enjoying the grasslands!

For dinner, we went to Shi Lin Night market to sample traditional Taiwanese “small eats”. Five years ago, I lived near this area, but did not frequent the night market often given my general aversion to the crowded conditions and ubiquitous smell of human sweat in the humid air. Nevertheless, I am still enamored with the night market collision of sights, sounds, and tastes. I revisited my favorite food stalls of the past: in particular, black pepper buns cooked in a charcoal oven, pan-friend meat buns, and the delicately spiced fried chicken steak. Mom, Grace, and Dad also ate stinky tofu and oyster pancake – two of the most representative Taiwanese “small eats” (neither are much to my liking, though!).

The night market is always a wondrous visual feast of trinket stalls, clothing stores, food stands, and bauble hawkers setting up temporary shop on the crowded streets and sidewalks. After 7 PM, especially on a Friday, the conditions get far too crowded for my liking. I’ll surely return to explore on a different day, and somewhat earlier to evade the crowds!