Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Real Reason for the Season

Every year we've struggled getting into the Christmas spirit, because there’s no hullabaloo about Christmas.  You don’t hear Christmas music on the radio and in every store.  There are no huge blowout Christmas sales.  No Christmas parades.  No Charlie Brown Christmas specials playing on the television.  No Salvation Army Santas.  The cops aren't pulling you over and giving you money like in the US.  Nobody decorates their house.

This year, though, we’re noticing some Christmas cheer.  Downtown Taoyuan is aglow with Christmas lights.  There are Christmas trees in every store. Some stores have photo opportunities where you can pose in a Sleigh or something winterish.  There are only two things missing.  You don’t see any fat white guys (or Asian guys for that matter.) in red suits, ho-ho-hoing their way through lines of children dying to tell them what they want for Christmas and there’s no baby Jesus. 

In Taiwan, Christmas is a secular holiday.  Well, actually Christmas isn't a holiday at all.  Christmas is just a sales opportunity for the big chain stores.  You don’t see little shops that people open up under their homes decorating for Christmas. 

Personally, I’m into Christmas.  Please don’t make me listen to Christmas music, though.  I don’t want to hear “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”  Spare me Alvin, Theodore and Simon, singing their little Christmas song.  Do not “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” I moved to SoCal all those years ago to get away from that.  I’m not into the post-Christian era Christmas.  I’m a Christian and I’ll tell you why I appreciate Christmas, so much.

As a young man, I was successful in my field.  In high school, I started and operated a number of recycling centers at local high schools.  I got out of college and went to work for a waste hauling company, as a recycled materials collector.  I drove a pickup truck and pulled a trailer collecting cans, bottles and newspapers on the street.  After 20 years in that field I ended up as the Director of Recycling and Resource Recovery for the largest privately held waste hauler west of the Mississippi River. I was on the board of directors for California Resource Recovery Association. I was 35 years old. 

I lived in a beautiful condo, had a hot car and a lot of money.  My neighbors would point me out to their teenage sons and tell them, “If you work hard, you can be like that.”  The problem was that my life was a mess. 

I was an alcoholic.  I drank myself to sleep every night.  I had isolated myself, because social interaction interfered with getting drunk.  I was lonely, miserable and full of self-hatred.  I knew the things that I had done to make myself  "successful."  The way I had treated people:  The lying, the cheating…all of those things that you don’t feel good about. 

Then I was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy and I thought to myself, “If this is what life is all about, who needs it.”  I spent a number of evenings trying to kill myself, but couldn't drink up the courage to do it. 

An acquaintance invited me to see a drama, in which she was starring.  She was a waitress at my favorite restaurant.  So I went.  The drama centered on Mexican gangsters:  The old school Mexican gangsters, “Cholos.”  I had very little experience with gangs.  In the suburban environment where I grew up the toughest gang was the Parent Teacher Association.  But the drama struck me, because it was my life in dramatic form:  A successful young person whose life had gone downhill. 

At the end of the play a young man preached a short sermon and used the line, “Jesus took a bullet for you.”  In my spare time, my mind drifted back to this line over and over.  I went back to that church the next week and ended up giving my life to Jesus.

That was 23 years ago.  The change in me was apparent immediately.  My sisters had been taking turns calling me to “check up on me.”  They were worried that I would do something drastic. They couldn't get over the change that had taken place in one day.

I no longer drink alcohol.  In fact, I haven’t had a drink in 23 years.  I’m not a recovering alcoholic…I’m an ex-drunk.  I committed myself to Jesus and patterned my life after my pastor’s life.  Now I’m a missionary and pastor because I want to see what happened in me, happen in other people’s lives. 

I appreciate Christmas because it is an opportunity to honor Jesus.  We celebrate the birthdays of presidents, not because of their birth but because of what they did in their lives.  I celebrate Christmas because of what Jesus did with His life.  He sacrificed His life, to free us from the bondage and self-destruction of sin.  He took a “bullet” for us.


Merry Christmas.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the Road, Again: Hualien

Editor's Note:  After a long hiatus I've begun to work on this again.  I just wasn't feeling like writing.  It’s a long story, better left untold, but my mind is back in the right place now, so I think we can expect regular Taiwan Adventure Blog posts again.  I apologize for the hiatus but it was needed.

The Virtually Indestructible M13
Recently, my friend You Tube Motovlogger M13 had a serious accident on his scooter.  He ended up going over a cliff, breaking both legs and having to have part of his hand amputated.  The accident happened right outside of Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, about four and one half hours from where we both live.  My wife and I went to visit him.  We had never been to Hualien before, so we stayed for the night and did a little sightseeing on the way home.

Hualien is located about a third of the way down the east coast of Taiwan, about 177 km (about 110 miles) from Taipei.  But those 110 miles take about four and one half hours.  From the perspective of the drive Highway 9 is horrendous.  The road is narrow and traveled heavily by quarry trucks and tour buses.  There are also those intelligent drivers who have no fear of passing on a blind corner over a double yellow line.  Caution is required.

From the Nan ao Overlook
It’s a long, tiring trip but very worth the effort.  The vistas of the Pacific Ocean are spectacular.  There are a number of overlooks where one can stop, take in the scenery, and get a few photos. 

In Hualien, we stayed at a motel called the Taiwan Best Hotel.  The hotel was comfortable and clean and rented for about $2600 NTD (about 90 USD) per night.  This isn't bad considering Hualien is one of the premiere tourist locations in all of Taiwan, because of it’s proximity to Taroko Gorge.. 

The Entrance to Taroko Gorge
So, even though we were in a hurry to get back, (I had to finish up working on my Bible Study for the evening) we took a short detour to Taroko Gorge.  The road through the Gorge is one of the three most scenic roads in the WORLD; not Taiwan, but the ENTIRE world.  We were there only for a short time but were awed by the beauty of that place.  We will definitely make another trip to Hualien and to the Gorge to see it all.  This is just a taste of The Road to Hualien.

The day was pretty hazy, due to high humidity, and the photos aren't the greatest, but we’ll do better when we go again.

Taroko Gorge


Chung Chan Temple

















































Su ao Overlook:
Su ao harbor


The Port of Su ao

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Mountains of Taiwan

We recently took a trip to the mountains of Taiwan to a small picnic area above the city of Sanxia.  We got lucky, in terms of the weather , which is pretty unpredictable this time of year.  The Plum Rains have started and we are seeing thunderstorms on an almost daily basis.  But last Saturday was just about as perfect as weather can be.  Temperatures were cool, but not cold.  There was no rain, just a slight refreshing breeze.  As an added bonus, because of the terrible weather for the last week, everyone stayed home, expecting the weather to repeat, so we had the place virtually to our selves.  Only lifeguards were milling around.  That doesn't happen often on a weekend in the Taiwanese mountains.








































Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwan Travelogue: Lala Shan la拉拉山
Taiwan Travelogue:  The North Coast
Taiwan Travelogue:  Driving to Hawaii

Photos:  Elizabeth and Emily Banducci

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Shameless Plug: Book Excerpt

Our book, The Taiwan Adventure:  An Expat's Observations of Life in Taiwan is on sale at Amazon.com and other bookstores throughout the World.  It's now out in the Kindle Version, so it has become quite accessible.  You can purchase the book at this link.  Today in a shameless plug I want to present and excerpt from the book:  The Number 7 Cross Island Highway.

7.1 The Number 7 Cross Island Highway

A Poppy Field in Daxi

One interesting thing I've discovered is that the meaning of certain words is different in Taiwanese English than it is in English-English. Huh? What does that mean? Take the word Highway, for instance. We've driven the #7 Cross-Island Highway from Daxi Township all the way to Yilan. It starts out
as a beautiful highway. It’s wide with double yellow lines down the middle
and moves along easily at 60 km/h (38 mph). In essence it lives up to the
name highway. 
One minute we’re zipping along in beautiful mountain scenery. We 
passed a huge field of orange poppies: Then the immaculately manicured
Chiang Kai Shek mausoleum. Then something happened to the road. The
highway was like a road with dual personalities…and suddenly the evil
personality showed up.
The complexion of the road changed. It narrowed a little, then a little
more. Then it began to snake through the forest and up the side of the
mountain; twisting and turning; even the switchbacks had switchbacks. Until
the Cross-Island Highway looked more like the Cross Island Goat track: And
then I’m sure I saw a goat refusing to get on the road.

A remote temple in the mountains

At times it felt like I was driving the car in the cartoons where the tires
on one side of the car stayed on the road and the others hung out over a
yawning abyss. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating here, but not much. Then the
road got really narrow and the sun began to set.
Then it got darker and darker. The conversation turned darker as well. It
was like driving through a horror movie. It got so dark that we couldn't see to
the trees on the side of the road. And then it got really dark. I thought it would
never end.

A waterfall near the road before it went all Twilight Zone/Zombie Apocalypse on us.

We had decided to drive over to Yilan. People have been telling me what
a wonderful place it was, so we thought we’d make it a day and drive the 7.
Because I hadn't been there before, I was watching the mileage signs; just
before dark we saw a sign that said 28 kilometers to Yilan. So we drove in the
same direction for at least 10 kilometers then we saw the next sign. Yilan 32
kilometers…wait…we were traveling in the right direction how did it get
farther away. Then I’m sure I saw him…In fact, I’m positive I saw Rod
Serling hitchhiking with a sign that said “The Twilight Zone.” Then it got
really, really dark; it got so dark that the boogieman had a night-light.
Eventually about an eon later we came out of the mountains and into a good-sized city.
We stopped for gas and a man gave us a road map so that we could find
an alternate route home. One of our friends had commented to us that we
shouldn't stop for anyone walking on the road. He said that many people had
reported seeing ghosts on the side of the highway waving to people. I just
passed it off as a legend. You know where I grew up we lived with the legend of
the “White Witch of Nortonville.”
This woman was apparently a nurse in the 1800s during an epidemic of
small pox in Northern California. Legend has it that she overturned her wagon
while trying to reach some sick child in a remote cabin in the hills near the
Somersville mines in Nortonville. Now she supposedly wanders the roads
around the cemetery she’s buried in. We would go out and visit Nortonville
looking for her but didn't really expect to find her.
Then, I saw a guy, standing there, I couldn't help but stare he was
completely pale, like he hadn't been outside in years. He had dark circles
around his eyes and walked with a shuffling gate, sort of dragging one leg
along. He had a double-bitted axe in one hand and chainsaw in the other. He
was headed for the mountains… on the road we just came down.
When he heard we’d just come out of the mountains he looked a little
peeved. He just muttered something that sounded like, “I knew I was late.” I
wonder what he meant by that…




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hey it Works: Public Transportation in Taiwan



Buses at the Banciao train station
One glaring difference between California and Taiwan is seen in the use of public transportation.  In California, you see lots of empty buses, trains and rapid transit trains.  The Amtrak commuter system is rarely used.  Bus after bus passes by empty or with just a few seats being used.  Californians rarely travel by train. 

Of course, one reason that people rarely travel by train may be something like I experienced.  I was traveling to Northern California from Riverside in Southern California.  Because of the mountains near Bakersfield, there was a need to travel for a while by Amtrak bus.  So as I went to board the bus with my luggage the driver told me I wasn’t allowed to travel with luggage.  Yeah that works, if you have to stay the night somewhere, or are planning a stay for a while, I guess you have to wear all the clothes you might need.   

In Taiwan however, buses are full to overflowing, the MRT stations are crowded, and the trains are a popular way to get around.  It might be because the train system seamlessly connects with bus and MRT routes.  There are two types of trains; local and express.  They’re inexpensive, clean and pretty comfortable.  A trip from Taoyuan to Taipei takes approximately 30 minutes.  There are bus stops and MRT connections (In the MRT Service area) at every train station.

The Easy Card:  It is aptly named
Because the buses and MRT are so frequent there is rarely more than a ten-minute wait, except during peak commute hours where buses are full.  In those cases you may have wait for a while to get on a bus. 

The other nice thing about the system is that it can all be accessed with one card:  The Easy Card.  You can put an amount of money on the card at kiosks in the train station, 7-11 and other locations throughout the city.  In fact, the easy card can be used at a variety of shops and places in addition to transportation system.  Here is a look at a small part of the system between Taoyuan City and Banciao.

Trains:


Passengers waiting for the train at the Taoyuan City station.  There are many different types of users for the train:  People commuting to work, high school and college students commuting to class, shoppers and tourists. People commuting to work into Taipei, can make a trip to the main train station in Taipei in about thirty minutes.


All of the train stations have a safe "waiting zone for female passengers at night."  These are well-lighted areas with camera surveillance.  The trains run until late at night and sitting in a poorly lit, nearly empty train station isn't particularly comfortable. The waiting area adds safety and comfort for female passengers.














Crowded trains mean that many people have to ride the train standing up in the aisle, so  handy grab rings hang from the ceiling.















The photo above is the Banciao Train Station.  In addition, to transportation services, there are shops, and restaurants in many of the large train stations.  There is an entire shopping mall underneath the Taipei Main Station.

MRT:

The MRT station is also clean and well lighted.  You can see the red lights in the platform at the center of the picture.  When the train is approaching the station the lights flash off and on, then remain on as the train gets closer to warn passengers to stand clear of the oncoming train.  Note the "rough tile" next to the waiting line in the center of the photo.  This is to notify blind people that they're too close to the track.

Buses:














People line up at Banciao train station to catch the bus to almost anywhere they need to go.  Buses run from here to almost every point in the city of Taipei.




Every bus is equipped with an Easy card reader, which automatically deducts the NT$ 18 (US$ 0.57) fare.

Disability Access:














This sign on the bus shows the different levels of accesibility available on the buses.  All the trains station make some provision for access.  There are elevators for going above or below the tracks to access different platforms.  There are even people who will lift wheelchair bound people in and out of the train.  One time a man wanted to carry me on his back out of the train, I declined however, for reasons of dignity.














The turnstiles at the Banciao MRT station are equipped for easy card access and you can see the turnstile at the far right accommodates wheelchairs.  All MRT trains are designed to have the floors level with the platform for easy wheelchair access.

All Photos by Emily Banducci



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Taoyuan City Confucius Temple

The Confucius Temple in Taoyuan City, located at No 40 Gongyuan Lu is built on the outskirts of Hutou Shan park.  The grounds are beautiful and have trail-heads for hiking in this "wilderness" area.

In the typical Taiwanese fashion the trails are beautifully kept and easy to walk on. However, for a disabled person these trails present a problem because they are made with stairs and so are inaccessible to wheelchairs.

It is worth a visit, especially if you're into hiking and walking in a beautiful and tranquil environment.  I would recommend that you do these walks on a weekday as the trail become very full on the weekends especially with the Winter turning into Spring.





































































I have embedded a Google map to make it easier to find.



View Larger Map

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Taiwan Adventure: Now Available on Kindle

The Taiwan Adventure Blog is pleased to announce that our book, The Taiwan Adventure: An Expat's Observations of Life in Taiwan, is now available on Kindle. The book is a number of the posts from this blog updated and rewritten as an informative book for anyone considering a move to Taiwan.

There are a number of posts about traditions, history, food and even a section on living in Taiwan with disabilities.  The book is full of lots of full-color pictures depicting Taiwan and it's people, culture and natural beauty. I've been living here about four an and half years, now and have adjusted to the differences between   American Culture and Taiwanese Culture.  I would encourage you to go to Amazon.com and purchase your copy of The Taiwan Adventure: An Expat's Observations of life in Taiwan. (The title is a link to Amazon.com's Chris Banducci page)  If you're planning a move to Taiwan grab a copy of this book to give you a "heads up" about what to expect.


Look at some of the reviews the book has received:

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It's informative, funny and very easy to read.  I learned a lot about Taiwan, its complex history, customs and what it's like to be an American expat living in that country.  I loved the section about food and the author's willingness to try different kinds of foods which may not always appeal to American tastes.
Taiwanese traditions such as the selling and brewing of tea, ghost month, the lunar calendar and other traditions are explained.  There is a chapter on Disability in Taiwan which would be very helpful to anyone who wants to travel and has mobility issues.  The author needs to use a wheelchair most of the time but it has not kept him from doing a lot of sightseeing in the country.  
There are lots of tips on how to adjust to this particular culture and it seems the author and his family have done that very well.  
I hope there is a sequel to this book.  I'd be interested in how the author's teenage daughters adjusted to living in the country and how they perceive Taiwanese teen-agers. (sic)
(Taken from the Amazon.com website)

I will post some excerpts from the book over the next few weeks.

5.7 The Stink of Adventure

Stinky Tofu at arm's length, which I think is safest.
I debated what to call this article. I toyed around with the idea of calling it, Eating Around. But there was more to it than just eating in a lot of different places. It was kind of a culinary adventure, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t really all that adventurous, well not for me anyway. I’ll try eating just about anything once, maybe twice depending on whether or not I got the full gastronomical sensation the first time. I’m not like my children who consider mushrooms on their Pizza to be the worst possible hardship. I don’t even want to think about their reaction to Anchovies.
But on to the adventure…My family left for a visit to America, I was to follow a week later. So, I was on my own. When living in the same house and sharing space with my wife, I am required to follow certain rules and
regulations, which are enforced for the good of my marriage. Aside from the
obvious marriage breakers, my wife enforces some fairly strict culinary
requirements. You may think that she’s thinking of my health, not allowing
me to eat high cholesterol or fatty foods, ensuring that I don’t become a
casualty to heart disease, cancer or diabetes. You might think that, but if you
did you would be wrong. Her concern revolves around something much more sensitive than those things, her concerns are olfactory.
Taiwanese people occasionally engage in what I like to call “Xtreme
Cooking.” This kitchen-based sport revolves around liberal uses of odoriferous
spices, herbs and other things. It may even make use of foods that in
themselves, have a high stench coefficient. These types of foods have been
included in the “illicit foods” list in our household. I have been told, on more
than one occasion, that if I come home with the scent of any of these
contraband food substances on my breath, in my skin or on my clothing that I will be sleeping folded into my desk chair, if I’m allowed into the house at all.
But for the moment, the storm troopers, er, uh…enforcement team was gone.  So I did the only thing I could do, I immediately checked the “Summary of Forbidden Foods.” What should I do first…More Garlic snake? No, that’s too mundane. Do I need to make a trip through the night market, allowing my nose to guide me to the Xtreme Cooking experts? Completely unnecessary. A friend who had heard me speak wistfully of a food, which was at the top of that list, a sensitive person, who obviously cares for the real essence of manhood, solved the dilemma with two questions. 
Two questions which speak directly to the core of mankind’s need of
adventure. Two questions which were shockingly simple. They weren’t
complex and requiring great thought. They weren’t like the question that
caused Charles Mallory, an early pioneer of Mt Everest, to hesitate and shyly answer, “Because it’s there.” No these were direct, to the point, there could only be one answer for each of these questions. The first, was a call to
adventure, it was framed, on the idea that the time was now…that opportunity may knock only once and then drift off to find someone who would answer more promptly. In other words there was an urgency to this question that could not be denied, “Did your wife leave for America, today.” I was tingling with expectation. The question that followed was so obvious that I was embarrassed not to have thought of it myself, “Do you want to try Stinky Tofu.” It was brilliant, I almost wept at the elegance of the idea.
Chris Banducci, and his copy of The Taiwan Adventure
Of course, I wanted to try it. Every time, my wife smelled it and wrinkled her nose and complained that the odor was the worst thing she had ever smelled, I had to wonder how something like that would taste. The smell was like a siren call to me. It tantalized, no less than the mermaids of old tantalized the men of the sea. Although, I will admit that as food it is entirely appropriate in its name. But perhaps, to an adventurer that was the allure. 
After all, what caused men to climb the highest peaks in the world? No one, who has ever climbed a mountain, has ever been heard to exclaim, “I want to do it because it will be easy and I just love a nice, cozy tent.” No! The cold, the danger, the difficulty, those were the things that drew men to death zone of Everest. The danger and the discomfort were the draw. This is what makes an adventure, an adventure.
I was ready to throw aside the comfort foods, I cared not for the
delicately flavored tasty combinations; I had a hunger for adventure. There are two ways to prepare Stinky Tofu, I had only to choose one, and my friend like a trusty Sherpa guide, would get me there. What is Stinky Tofu? It’s Tofu with a twist. They take the soy bean curd, (that’s what Tofu is) and they ferment it.  People in Asia do this with a number of foods. Kimchi is fermented cabbage. Thousand-year-old eggs are fermented eggs. Stinky Tofu is fermented soy bean curd. 
They prepare it in two ways; they either steam it or deep-fry it. I have
heard, from more than one source, some of them were even Taiwanese, that,
steamed Stinky Tofu, tastes exactly like it smells. I’ve seen it, and it looks like it smells, as well. Hey, in food, even for me, presentation is important. So I opted for the deep fried type. The lust for adventure runs deep in my
family…but not that deep. 
I found it to be surprisingly tasty. It was covered with a garlic sauce and topped with cabbage. I have spoken to a number of Taiwanese people about food. In fact, I talk to everyone about food. Most of the Taiwanese people I speak to name Stinky Tofu among their favorite foods. I met a bunch of seventh graders who claimed they liked Stinky Tofu better than ice cream.
This adventure didn’t end with just Stinky Tofu. It was an adventure of
monumental scope. We traveled throughout Taoyuan City stopping at a
number of food carts. These are little carts where people prepare food, right on the side of the road. These are the places where you can really get the taste of Taiwan.

I enjoyed Stinky Tofu, the forbidden fruit of Taiwan; well, forbidden in my house, anyway, but I think it’ll be a while before I eat it again. My wife isn’t planning on traveling again anytime soon.