Friday, February 8, 2008

My Taiwanese celebration of the year of the mouse

Ya-wen preparing the table with yummy dishes.

New Year's Eve dinner
Near the door Dong-dong startled by loud firecrackers shot into the sky to welcome the year of the mouse. I was invited to Ya-Wen’s house in Zhonghe (中和市) for a dinner on this night of New Year’s Eve. After dishes were placed on the table, Ya-Wen’s dad popped a bottle of champaign for cheers, and we started to savors these delicious dishes bearing names whose sound resembles auspicious word in either Mandarin and Taiwanese; therefore, they are must-have dishes for New Year’s Eve dinner. For instances, fish (yu), fish balls (yu wan), meat balls (rou wan), and Chicken (ji) were on the table tonight. However, I did not remember all what they mean (sorry Ya-Wen). For soup, we had “Buddha jumps over the wall”—very delicious! Ya-Wen’s dad and mom as well as Dong-dong had been entertaining me. At one point, Ya-wen's dad mentioned a situation when he worked as an engineer for various tunnels in Northeastern area of the island, while her mom wanted him to quit the job and come back home because of the job's dangerous nature--diggning a hole into a moutain is not an easy job then; many lives were spared. As we continued savor the dishes, many stories had been shared and I had become stuffed. But....dessert was yummy too! Of course, I had a space for it! At the end, Ya-Wen gave me some of her home-made “cai tou” cake to take home for tomorrow (I guess “cai tou” must refer to something with a nice meaning too). Well, not mention other dishes that would last me for couple days during this break. By the time Ya-Wen and her dad drove me home, firecrackers were even louder because New Year already arrived!


Delicious Dessert

Ya-wen is slicing her “cai tou cake for me to take home.

New Year Lunch
Wayne invited me to have lunch with his family (mom, dad and a younger sister) in Banciao (板橋市). His mom prepared many dishes to welcome three of his cousins and me. His dad had been to Thailand for seven times, and he loves the country and is a very fun person to talk with. While his mom was preparing dishes, we had a very lively conversation about various subjects—I must admit, he knows about Bangkok much better than I do. He said that every time he was in Bangkok, he went to pray for Erawan shrine, which is one of the most sacred places in the city. One of Wayne’s cousins and his in-law cousin are news anchors in one of TV stations—often the discussion turns into the coming election.

Wayne's family eats spicy food!! All dishes made my tongue so happy! Wayne’s mom had me try a type of Chou doufu, which was different from what I had had earlier. Though it had a stronger smell, it tasted good! After I had been well fed, Wayne’s mom did not let me go home empty handed. She packed me some fruits before I left around 4 o’clock. It was such a wonderful afternoon visit.

Dinner in Raohe night market

New Year evening at Roehe Nightmarket

When evening arrived, TeChing sent me a message and offered to take me out for a dinner at Raohe night market. This market is the one where I made a turn back when I biked on the first evening I arrived in Taipei. After couple rounds of finding a parking space, we lost ourselves in a crowd filling this small street, sprinkled by light rains (I kept taking my camera in and out my jacket). I thought it would not be that many people here, but I was wrong! We had a type of soupy dishes in Chinese herbal medicine, which are very good. Then, we were standing in a snake line for a famous hu jiao (pepper) ping. Although TeChing does not eat it because pepper bing contains meat, he knows it is good. And, yes, it is! But it was very very hot (temperature-wise)! When we arrived at the other end of the street, we went into a temple of Matzu crowded by worshipers.

Thanks to Ya-Wen, Wayne, TeChing and importantly their families for taking me into their home and their heart during this special occasion of my very first Taiwanese New Year celebration.

Enjoying his dish.

My dish--Black Chicken.

Famous hu jiao ping

Non-stop assembly line of hu jiao ping

Matzu Temple

A carved lantern piece in the temple.

Thai iced tea, but the sellers are not Thais.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Eating shenkeng tofu and visiting Zhinan Temple kick off my Chinese New Year

As labmates started to leave for their long holiday with their family, TeChing prompted to plan for an outing trip as the starter trip of my Chinese New Year break. Shenkeng (深坑) followed by Maokong (貓空) was our destination for this evening. Considered as a back garden of Taipei, Shenkeng Township is famous for its tofu and where TeChing knows best. From our lab (actually, he picked me up from 家樂福 near my apartment), we drove over a mountain to Shenkeng’s famous tofu alley, where many restaurants offer their specialties. When approaching the entrance of the alley, I acknowledged the presence of the (in)famous dish of the town, chou doufu, which its glory has been credited to Shenkeng’s pure water suitable for tofu production. Not all shops sold tofu, however. Some were selling several colorful and tasty snacks. A number of shops closed its business today as did TeChing’s regularly visited restaurant. This was a bit sad, but he took me to a place right by it. I assured him that we would order all “su shi” (素食; vegetarian) dishes which made him smiled because he is a vegetarian. By the time I realized I was full, all of the dishes were almost gone. One of the dishes were, of course, mala chou doufu (stinky tofu in spicy soup), along with mian xian (cold noodle), hot-plated tofu, and a vegetable dish. After the dinner we got our snack. TeChing bought two boxes of snacks, and I got a piece of rice cake, gui (in Taiwanese), which was very yummy. The snack is native to Hakka, but I do not know to call it in Hakka tongue (well TeChing did not know).

Facing a new restaurant, TeChing is thinking hard for what to order. "Chou Doufu, man! I am hungry."

Savory Mala Chou Doufu!

Mian Xian.

Hot-plate tofu.

TeChing really enjoys the dishes as do I.

Continuing with his plan, he took me to Maokong with an anticipation for a nice spot to view Taipei City at night. After many right-angle turns and high graded slopes and because rains and dimply lit street made it eery to drive, he would take me to Zhinan Gong. Such weather contributed to our mis-turn, veering us down to mountain foot at the other side. Even though I told him that I was fine if we had gone home, TeChing was still determined to climb up to visit the temple which is a famous temple in the area. And finally, we found it! However, all the shops at the entrance of the I-forgot-to-count steps were close. At the time we arrived, there were only two old men chatting loudly in a small building right next to the main shrine. Then, I realized that people had really left Taipei.

Door art at the main shrine of Zhinan Gong.

We could see scenery of the city down below, and I was trying to take a picture but not successful. A story goes because of his unsuccessful marriage of the main deity of the temple (Lü Dongbin), a couple should not come to this temple together. If so, they are doomed to be separated because it believes that he is jealous of lovers. I guess TeChing never came here with his girl, or did he?

Zhinan Gong walkway decorated by beautiful lanterns.

We walked along the walkway from the main shrine to the other two shrines that are devoted to different deities. All shrines had its door shut because of no more god visiting hour. Walkway was decorated with numerous yellow lanterns and big board signs were placed to inform visitors that Rat and Horse year peoples will be in bad luck this year and they should call the numbers (they are numbers of the temple) to donate, and the temple will pray for the god on his/her behalf. I am a horse but I don’t think that I would call these numbers. There is a shrine of Confucius at the other end of the walkway but we decided to turn back after reached Maokong Gondola Zhinan Temple Station (TeChing planed to take me here by the gondola but the gondola did not service today). In front of the station sits a bust of “a-not-so-famous” gentleman (that is why I do not know his name) who helped Taiwan during Japanese colonization era. By the time we got back to the car, it was well beyond TeChing’s bed time. After I requested another visit to Shenkeng tofu, he retraced his way back to my apartment and turned back on the same route to his Shenkeng sweet home.

In front of Zhinan Temple Station, sitting a bust of "not-so-famous" man under several lanterns hung on leave-less tree branches.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A colorful Sunday without sunshine

Gugong in a no-sunshine Sunday
Sound of small grains hitting water surface, followed by sound of moving fish tearing water surface apart, repeated intermittently and was regularly interrupted by aww-sounds of people above a school of multicolor-stripped large-size carps. Ya-Wen mentioned that these carps were not this big and in a large number when she was here last time (how long has it been?). Carps, specifically koi, are considered to bring a good fortune to an owner since when Japanese farmers domesticated them for food and for pleasure from their colors generated by mutated genes. Koi can survive and eat little (or nothing at all) in sub-10C cold water of winter months. I believed that the water in Dragon Lake of National Palace Museum (NPM or Gugong) today was not cold enough to discharge these koi from gulfing food that a girl had been throwing down for almost half an hour now (she really had lots to give to the koi). I quickly snapped the actions of these beautiful, colorful koi (even though I saw a very large black (rather ugly) one too).

Ya-Wen and I in front of Main Exhibition Hall

Colorful koi in Dragon Lake of Chih-shan Garden

Bright colors of these koi were very different from those rich deep colors and intense light and shadows of Baroque paintings in “Splendor of the Baroque and Beyond: Great Habsburg Collectors,” a special exhibition of NPM we saw this morning. These paintings involving subjects such as portraiture, natural history and religion often depicts a pronounced moment of subject, similarly to the movement of these koi fighting for food. These European style paintings were contrastingly housed in Chinese architect style exhibition hall. The famous treasures of Chinese Emperors, however, are housed in the main exhibition hall, which will be the destination of my next visit for a full day tour. A fun short movie introducing NPM, a much shorter version of "Night at the museum" but without Ben Stiller, made me want to spend a good quality time with the treasures. Since the opening time remained only couple hours today, Ya-Wen and I decided to enjoy a walk in this traditional Chinese garden of the Sung and Ming dynasty style, decorated by colors of late-winter blossoms and birds, where I stumbled into the koi.

A feeding girl looking down at gulfing koi

Mother with two children admiring koi

Treasury Style trash jar in Gugong.

Yummy Da chang bao xiao chang stand in Shilin Night Market

Leaving colorful koi behind, I faced colorful xiaochi in Shilin night market (well, smells too). Ya-Wen introduced me to various dishes such as famous oyster omelet (e a jian), squid soup, da chang bao xiao chang (big sausage wraps small sausage), da bing bao xiao bing (big bun wraps small bun), cold noodle and infamous (fried) stinky tofu. All of dishes were good in their own right but I must make my own comments: Thais have a similar dish to e a jian but, instead of oysters, use mussels, bean sprouts along with tofu and ground peanuts. It is called หอยทอด (pronounces hoi tord; fried mollusk) and tastes much better than e a jian. While da chang bao xiao chang tasted very yummy, da bing bao xiao bing was not impressive. After I tasted a series of colorful dishes, I hopped on the red and blue lines back home in a loud underground tube. Even though the sun did not brighten up colors of today, thanks to Ya-Wen my third Sunday in Taipei was painted colorfully.

Cooking e a jian

Famous Taiwanese xiaochi: e a jian

Squid Soup

Shilin's Da bing bao xiao bing stand

Ya-wen with cold noodle and fried Chou doufu; the former is quite spicy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Amid a jolting crowd on Dihua Street

Lining from shoulder to shoulder in a less-than-two-meter-wide space, I was tucked in a jolting crowd and resounded by loud noises. Oh, I was not standing in front of a famous pop-star concert stage but in Dihua Street Market (迪化街), a famous Taipei shopping destination for Chinese New Year supplies. A normally wide street was narrowed by rows of tarp-covered stands on both sides, creating a bottleneck flow of shoppers passing through its Section 1. This sardine-packed crowd reminded me of Jatujak Weekend Market in Bangkok, even though Dihua Street Market is much smaller but in a more pleasurable weather than Jatujak Weekend Market. Usually, Dihua boasts for herb and dried-food shops and its architecture of the Baroque decoration from Daisho Era, but this size of crowd easily blinds one from seeing the buildings’ architectural style (the about-one-mile alley packed at least 7,000 people today, my own non-scientifically estimated number).

Architectures of Dihua Street Buildings in Baroque decoration of Daisho Era looking down the jolting crowd.

Most Taipei-ren (台北人) here came for their New Year Party supplies, but I joined the crowd for a feel of it and plus for enjoying free samples offered by all vendors (I learned about free samplings from an article on Taipei Chinese New Year). I was quite sure that a large proportion of this crowd also loves such free samples. All shops were decorated by red paper with golden Chinese letters as “red for good luck,” but offered similar products from one another, ranging from auspicious-name dried fruits to colorful sweet candies. I did not know much about these goodies but I was puzzled by strangely red-orange interesting flatten heart-shape stuff. I latter learned that these were “Mullets’ eggs,” and it is a must-buy-must-eat New Year dish, as a saying goes "eating gray mullet's golden eggs can bring you lots of good fortune every year!"

Kids and adults are circling piles of colorful sweets.

Tanghulu (sugar coated fruits or vegetables) and frog leg stands.

Colorfully wrapped, candies were piled high as if one could taste how sweet they posses in a glance. Kids and adults circled and dug into candy piles as if they were mountains of gold. Dried fruits displaying their colors invited me to stop and taste. I decided to buy some dried sweetened green beans and apple slices home. People were not only circling the piles of goodies but also enclosing one another. Nonetheless, a glance through space of the touching-shoulder wall entertained my brain by colorful displays and scents from one vendor to the next, from a strong smell of hot ulong tea to savory scents of fried noodles and steamed buns.

A lady preparing fried stinky tofu nearby a Taiwanese sausage stand.

Attractive displays and aroma of goodies were not enough. To persuade potential buyers, the shop keepers worked as a team, dressing in an eye-catcher costume, speaking into a microphone to amplify their products’ specialties, while handing samplings out to moving crowd. Some vendors put on a demonstration, especially at toy shops. A roasted pork stand even displayed whole roasted baby pork, which attracted attentions fairly well. Too bad, I did not taste the pork whether it was good or not. In addition, xiaochi stands were located on the north end along Gueishuei Street and spuriously on Dihua Street. Often, shoppers veered out to pray for blessing at the Xiahai City God Temple, one of Taipei's most reputable worship places. Some released themselves from the crowd to enjoy various performances and programs running throughout the day on stages hosted by Taipei City as Dihua Street is a part of multilocale 2008 Taipei Big Street New Year Shopping Festival.

Sellers speaking into a megaphone to persuade a crowd of shoppers.

Roasted baby pig on display (though its size is relatively large). Shopkeeper is narrating how good the pork tastes, I assume.

Yummy noodle soup and fried noodle being prepared by chiefs.

After pilgrimaging the full circle on Dihua street and filling my stomach along the way, I continued walking down to Ximending to find myself amid another type of crowds watching wannabe-star performers.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

An email to friends: My first three weeks in Taiwan..

Dear friends,

As my third week in Taipei will be completed, I have been experiencing and learning new fun and interesting things. At this point, I am also waiting for Chinese New Year (a long break, which will start from February 6th to 11th) to explore more of Taiwan.

After a hectic plane ride from Chicago, I arrived in Taipei, seeing smiling-face Li-Ching and his (4-year-old) son, Yo-yo, who were waiting for my arrival at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (though my boarding pass still bears Chiang Kai-shek International Airport as its name). We managed to fit all three pieces of my luggage in his car by scarifying Yo-yo’s car seat. He has to sit on my lap in the passenger seat. The boy has been growing up to be a happy, big and tall kid since I saw him last time in Chicago about two years ago. Since it had passed his bed time, Yo-yo was dropped off at his home with the mom before Li-Ching brought me to Carrefour (家樂福 (Jia-le-fu), or คาร์ฟู) to get some food and necessary items. Later, he showed me my new home and my office. As the time had moved well into early morning, we decided to eat at McDonald in front of Jai-le-fu near my apartment. This Jia-le-fu turns to be my regular shopping spot for food and other stuff. I went to bed around 2am (1/12/2008). This concluded that I arrived safe and sound.

The next morning (8AM) I went out to get my first breakfast in a Chicken rice restaurant near Jai-le-fu (this complex has five to six restaurants including Italian and Japanese cuisine). One of the servers in this Chicken Rice restaurant spoke English, so my order went smoothly. Chicken rice was pretty good, and it came with soup. After the meal, I came back for a nap which turned to be a sleep from noon to 6pm. After getting hex wrench from Jai le fu, I quickly reassembled my bike and set out to explore the neighborhood. Biking in rains due West along Nangang Rd (until the end of section 3; I live on the section 2) was fun. It was quite cold but not that bad for me. A Taiwanese friend in Chicago already warned me of the rainy cold weather in Taipei, and I found it to be similar to his description (and to what I understood him).

My apartment is located in a small alley (a bit hard to find since the alley number is confusingly arranged around here). The apartment has just been turned into three small rooms with a private bath in each. My room is quite spacious and furnished with a bed, a couch, a closet, a desk, a chair, a small refrigerator and a (flat-screen) TV. The bathroom is connected to a small courtyard in the back which is surrounded by buildings all four sides. This means that not much sunshine for this courtyard (too bad.. well, at least for now, there is no sunshine all over Taipei). I am thinking of turning this space into a cooking area and/or a little garden. A common hallway space has a washer and a place to hang clothes. I park my bike in one corner close by my apartment’s door. By this time, I have met both housemates. They work in Nangang Industrial Complex—one for Game Software Company and the other for Semiconductor Company. Both are very friendly and helpful. Even though my lack of Chinese, we can communicate fairly well in English.

I have been biking to work everyday; a one-way ride usually takes about 15 minutes and, of course, through the rain. Often, I felt that biking is faster than taking a bus. Luckily, Nangang roads do have relatively fewer vehicles than other parts of the city, so the rides, thus far, are relatively smooth. However, I do not like how buses and taxi are driving. Sometimes they can be quite annoying. A housemate suggested me to be ware of them as “taxi and bus don't pay a card according to the card;” I am quoting him. I do not understand why they need to come too close to my bike even though the street is wide open on other lanes. I have both front and rear light signals and wear a helmet. This adds safety for biking at night. However, I am still need to be vigilant. One more thing, I do need to get a mudguard because Taipei winter is very wet!

The first day of my work was well spent for document and registration with Human Resource Office as were most of the other days of my first week. Our Academic secretary has been very helpful in this matter. The first Friday, I set out to apply for Alien Residence Certificate (ARC) card in downtown by myself. Li-Ching helped me planning my subway (so called MRT) and bus route for this trip. The trip went pretty well and quite quick. Traveling around town is convenient because of MRT (the extension line is coming to Nangang soon). Bus system is good too (busy streets usually have bus lanes). Moreover, subway and bus signs are in both Chinese and English (MRT does announce in 4 languages). Besides submitting the ARC application, I also stopped by Thailand Trade and Economic Office (TTE) on Zhongchain Rd to get Survival Guide in Taiwan Handbook for Thais. I found a branch of Bangkok Bank near TTE as well. Since I hadn’t had lunch yet, I ended up having a meal around 4pm at a nearby night market where I accidentally walked by. Beef noodle again this time. So far, I have had this type of noodle soups at many places for these several days, so a friend jokingly suggested that I should write a review on Beef Noodle (Niu Rou Mian). JJ often brought me out to dine with his friends, while I regularly lunched with other labmates in Cafeteria in the Institute. This is very helpful for me since I hardly order anything properly but pointing finger and hand signing gesture have helped me to get food and sometimes with an unexpected surprise! Especially for dinner, JJ often introduced me to his friends, which has been fun to meet new people. For breakfast, I followed Meng-shin's suggestion to get stuff from a breakfast place (such as Mei&Mei) nearby my place, which often surprised me with good tastes of Taiwanese style breakfast. Meng-shin gave me a list of breakfast in Chinese for me to order. I will go through the list one item a day.

The night market I had my late lunch on Friday after the ARC card application.

A snake-tail line waiting in front of a Xiao-Chi stand in the market. I do not know what is being sold.

First weekend…

A crowd is enjoying a free concert near Taipei Main Station; I guess the guy must be famous.

So far, the sunny days were in the first weekend. The weather was very nice for traveling, and I took it as a sign of good welcoming me to Taipei. Saturday, I met with a Thai friend, P' David, who has been a visiting student in TaiDa (National Taiwan University) for almost a year and a half. He has been given me advice since I first contacted him via emails while I was in Chicago. He has been very helpful even though we had not met. We walked from Taipei Main Station to Ximending in the morning. Taipei Main Station is a big interchange station of MRT lines and usually crowded. This structure is huge and composed of both MRT and “around-island” trains. This area houses many shops including various bookstores, hotels, restaurants and some governmental offices. During the walk, he pointed out Shinkong Mitsukoshi Building (新光三越) to me as “a genetic marker” for Taipei Main Station in case I lost my direction.

An emerging crowd in front of a square in Ximending as the day gets brighter.

Ximending is a “hang-out and having-fun” place for young people, or as a guide book describes “at weekends it’s packed with Mandopop fans checking out wannabe performers and wearing the latest fads.” We were cruising through these narrow streets as shops were opening up their doors for an emerging crowd of kids. There are many movie theaters in the area as well. During the walk back from Ximending to Taipei Main Station, I spotted a festival near Zhongshan Hall and found that there was a microwave for NT$990. It was tempting to get it, but it would be too troublesome to carry it back home, so I passed it. We had lunch at a restaurant that was not too far from Zhongshan hall.

The lover's bridge at Fishermen's Wharf in a Sunny Saturday. A day like this is longed-for in Taipei Winter months.

After lunch we hopped on Danshui MRT for fisherman’s wharf and the lover’s bridge. To get there, we had to continue our journey on a bus. The bridge got its name from numerous pairs of couple coming to view sunset here. This was true for this evening as well. People were sitting in pair along the pier as the sun was softening his ray. The wharf has various restaurants and coffee shops with live music; many people were walking or biking around here. On the east side, a stage often holds open-air concerts and performances. Today, many young (or old alike) ladies were sitting in line for a depute concert of F4 as they reunited. I also heard a group of girls conversing in Thai for their favorite F4. The other end of the pier is where Danshui River meets Formosa Strait. On both sides of this Strait, the political tension between two nations is still going strong. I later learned that Danshui itself has a very long history of a very important port and went trough degeneracy and renovation. I would like to come back to learn more of the town history.

A group of dancers waving at audience near Danshui Station.

One the way back, we saw a cute group of adults dancing on a stage right by Danshui Station, so I could not resist taking a snap shot of them. I guess everyone is taking full advantage of sunshine. Biking path runs on both sides of the river down to downtown Taipei and even farther south. Actually, one of them runs parallel with the MRT line. I want to ride my bike from Nangang to Danshui some days (I saw the narrow bike path packed by crowd of bikers, runners and walkers).

Fried Stinky Tofu in Gongguan nightmarket.

P' David is enjoying Stinky Tofu soup.

We got off at Gongguan for Chou Doufu (Stinky Tofu). I personally felt that its smell (well of this one) was not bad and it tasted pretty good. We had both (medium spicy) soup and fried ones with rice. My Taiwanese friends were so surprised that we had rice with Chou Doufu. We walked around to get pearl milk tea (where we had to stand in a long line). Actually, they used only milk tea from a package and added tapiocas which made its taste just good. Amazing, isn't it? Hehehe… Gongguan also has many Thai restaurants, but only one is owned by Thais, according to P' David. Later, we walked cross TaiDa campus through Coconut Tree Blvd. to P' David’s dorm before I went home by MRT from a station at the other side of campus. Today P' David taught me several useful Chinese phrases, but I only remembered less than half of them. Well, it goes little by little, right?

Dong-dong is very pleased in his mommy's lap.

Ya-Wen and her parents invited me and JJ for lunch. She picked me up from Jing-An Station, which is near her place, to go for lunch at a Japanese fusion restaurant. JJ and his friend, Laurence, came to join us later. The food was very good and we all were full. After lunch we went to her place to visit Dong-dong and for tea. Dong-dong has been recovering slowly from a severe burn on his back (he lost lot of hair). He had a hood on to prevent him from licking the burned area. He does not like the hood that much, so Ya-Wen took it off once awhile. Just a second after the hood was taken off his neck, he started to clean his wound right way! Dong-gong must believe that his wound was dirty, right? It was too unfortunate of Dong-dong to get burned in a pet shop because of staff’s neglecting. He was put in a dryer for too long after he got a haircut.

Dong-dong enjoys JJ's and Laurence's company.

Ya-wen’s parents fed us more, while we were playing with Dong-dong. After JJ and Laurence left, Ya-Wen and her parents took me to Longshan Si. Her dad had to drive the car back right after dropping us off because of full parking lot (there were so many people that day). Besides touring the temple, I was trying to ask a question from the god but the answer was not given even though I offered the fruits to the god (I followed Ya-Wen's mom's suggestion). Ya-Wen said that I was not serious enough, and god only answers to those who are serious.

Longshan Si is one of the most famous temples in Taiwan. The main god is Gaun-yin (พระแม่กวนอิม), a female Bodhisattva. The shrines surrounding the main shrine are of gods and goddesses from Taoism each with his or her specialty, and people come to ask for specific wishes or blessing from each of them. For example, people put their examination ID with their offering for passing the coming exam. Ya-Wen often came here with her parents when she was young. After that we went to eat wa-gui (碗粿) and Fish Ball Soup at a restaurant near by the temple. Wa-gui is a Taiwanese word and the dish is Taiwanese specialty. Plus, wa-gui in this restaurant was awarded for its excellent taste, and I agreed with this completely after finished my bowls. Today I had been fully fed and even got some fruits home.

Faithful devotees in front of main shrine of Longshan si. During New Year, many Taiwanese come to pray for good luck.

Ya-wen and her mother. Mom is carrying a fruit bag that was given to me after we offered them to gods.

Wa-gui (碗粿) and Fish ball soup are very tasty and interesting. I added all sauces (e.g., garlic, hot sauces) into my Wa-gui. :)

Second week….

With the boss at GRC Wei-ya (thanks Christine for the photo).

I guess that I has come here with some luck. Given that I had been in Academia Sinica for only a week, I got a chance, at the beginning of the second week, to go to the end of the year party (Wei-Ya) where the employer had a dinner party for employees and thanks us for our hardwork for the whole year... (Yes, I had been working very hard for the first week!) In additional to this, I was lucky enough to get a prize of NT$10,000 gift certificate to spend at a department store (SOGO), which was one of the two special prizes. When the president of the institute picked my name up, he said the lucky one was in Dr. Li Lab but he could not pronounce the name. Right then, everyone in the lab realized that it was me, and Wen-Hsiung read my name for the president. One more thing, my raffle number was “168”, whose sound in Chinese closely resembles the phrase “yi lu fa”, which means “going on the way to be rich.” Thus, this is considered a lucky number! Some friends said, "I have been here for three years, but never got anything [at Wei-ya].." Well, I bought some cookies (thanks to Meng-shin's help) to treat my labmates later on for our good luck in the coming year. :) Actually, the prize I got that night was only half (5,000), but I received the other half the next day. I think that there was a technical issue.

Receiving gift from GRC president at Wei-ya (thanks Christine for the photo).

Second weekend…

Saturday, Baker, one of my housemates, took me to dinner with his brother, Frank, in GongGuan. I had Ba-jang and Clam Noodle in a Japanese-Chinese Restaurant. I think that they chose this restaurant because of its pictorial menu. I learned that Baker does not eat anything that live in the sea, not because of allergy, which surprised me (Taiwan is an island, OK?). We walked around for some xiao chi.. We had red bean pastry (sweet cake stuffed with red bean pastry) and Grass Jelly with “Yu yuan” at “Meet Fresh” (鮮芋仙). Frank said that the former is much better in his hometown (Pingtung) than here. It was a long line to get this one (and always), but I think that the tastes is just alright. By the way, this was my first time riding motorbike in Taipei.

Grass Jelly with “Yu yuan” is one of my favorite Xiaochi.

Sunday, I went to see out with P' David to Longshan Si and Snake alley. It was fun to come back to Longshn Si and of course there were many people. Snake Alley is also interesting, but I hate snakes. Later, I took David to eat wa-gui at the restaurant Ya-Wen took me last week. After that, we came for a hot-pot in Da-An district. Hot pot was so spicy, really! P' David said I was complaining on its spiciness but still kept putting stuff into the spicy soup. Well, it was good yummy spicy… One of the waiters is Thai so he talked with us a bit as well as a Taiwanese gentleman whose Thai ex-wife lives in Chaingmai. His Thai is every good because he used to work as a tour guide in Bangkok for ten years. He also told us that his son (with the Thai ex-wife) was just killed in a motor bike accident in ChiangMai last year at the age of 17.

David gets ready for hotpot in Da-an.

Interesting note on trash in Taipei...
Nothing is as smooth as silk. One thing I found difficult is throwing out my trash. First, I had to buy expensive special trash bags...getting one of these is tough too since it is only available only at some convenient store (7-11). I finally got a hold of them. Second, trash truck only comes at a specific time of day and specific days of weeks.... The time it comes, I am usually out in Lab so I have not thrown my trash since I arrived here. Luckily, it is nothing smelly because I did not cook yet, and I put it in the backyard. :) Third, I have to recycle my stuff, which is good. I like this, but recycling truck comes at specific time and specific days too... and certain types of recyclable things can be picked up on certain days only... it is for awhile that I find this out since my landlord, housemates and I do not communicate that well because of the language. Another thing, it is hard to find a trash bin on the street as Taipei City put this policy in place to improve atmosphere of the city.

Chinese Class...
I recently started my Chinese class at the institute. The course is offered to foreigners who are working here. It has been quite interesting. But somehow, I am feeling that I do not learn at full capacity because I haven't done much practice and homework. (whom should I blame this on, Bush or Taksin?)

So far, my life in Taiwan has been good and fun. I cannot wait to explore more of Taiwan, especially Taipei. Well, importantly, it has to be under the fact that I have been working hard and doing good research.