Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveling with M13: Finding Toad Valley

(click on photos to enlarge)

There is a video blogger living in Taiwan that posts videos through the visor of his helmet while riding his motorcycle through Taiwan. I started watching some of his videos before I left the US. I watched them because they give you a real feel for what it’s like in the city and in the mountains of Taiwan. I have to tell you that the commentary is occasionally shocking, and his language is a little course, but he’s an interesting character. Recently he did a video that featured a small campground and swimming place. This is up in the mountains above Taoyuan City, about 40 minutes from my home.

I saw the video and thought it would make an interesting day trip for us. We want the girls to see some of Taiwan while we’re here so we have set aside one day a week, to do something with them outside of the house. One week we decided to see if we could find this swimming place.

I wrote M13 an email. Since I’ve been here I’ve written to him a number of times and he has responded and told me how to find places. He also told me how to find the go-kart track. The problem is that his directions are accurate but sparse. Here is the text of his response:

Your the guy with the modified scooter, right?

If you look at a map there is the number 7 cross island highway.....there is a road that connects to it called the 7 (symbol) it's a 7 with a symbol next to it....I think the symbol reads as "Ja". Anyway....that's the road that I'm originally heading up. Then I cut over to the road that's on the OTHER side of the river that the 7ja follows. Got it?

Yeah, I got it…sort of. The symbol is a Chinese character like this 乙. It looks like the the character 之. This character is zhe (juh.) The meaning of the word in English is “this.” The actual character on the sign is yi (eee), which means the second, as in the second highway 7. I want you to know you may need to decode his directions but when I got out there I could see exactly what he meant.

We actually found the place by looking for landmarks we saw on the video. And we did find it.The place is called Toad Valley. We got out of the car, the girls went swimming and we decided we need to come back during the summer to swim and barbeque. The whole thing was a neat little adventure. Taiwan, as you can see from the pictures is a beautiful place. Don’t be fooled by the lack of crowds. We went on a Tuesday, during the spring. There aren’t too many people who will miss school or work for a trip like that. I’ll take pictures when we go with friends and you’ll see the difference.

Left: The Rock says Toad Valley: camping and Picnics Right: The river valley from the road.

Left: This is one of three natural pools. Right: The river feeds into the first pool.

Left: The water is deep enough to swim. Right: Elizabeth exploring near the bridge.

Left: Wildflowers on the path. Right: A tree with a leafy parasite growing on the trunk.

*Mordeth13 image used with permission

Other posts you may be interested in:

Traveling With M13:  The Sequel:  Return to Toad Valley
Traveling With M13:  Custom Scooters of Taiwan

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cultural Unawareness: Ticked Off in Taiwan

Traffic Anarchy and Other Stuff

I saw a pretty common sight, today: A young woman lying unconscious on the street, next to her badly broken motorcycle, while an ambulance came down the street with full lights and sirens. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen an accident like this. Just a couple of weeks ago, we came upon a woman in her early twenties, bleeding in the street after a motorcycle crash. I have had a number of close calls on my own motorcycle and I’m extremely careful. I’ve even had a car come in contact with my outrigger and literally push me off the road.

The problem is that Taoyuan City is made up of a many narrow streets, there are many more cars and bikes than the narrow streets can handle, and nobody, I mean nobody, will yield to anyone else. Add to that people crossing lane lines, riding in the wrong lane, and darting out from every side and you can see why there are so many close calls and accidents. Sometimes there is just too much vehicle activity to see everything. The result is people get hit and accidents happen.

People are used to motorcycles here. They are ridden all over on scooters from a very young age. You see babies hung in slings across the front of their mothers all the time. People grow up on scooters and have very little fear of riding, so many of them are very aggressive riders. Interestingly enough, it is women in their early twenties who seem to be the most aggressive riders.

I am always amazed at the fearlessness with which people ride. I’m very oriented toward defensive driving, it comes from driving trucks for so many years, so I drive looking well ahead of my vehicle. If I see traffic slow down or change in some way, I come off the throttle, because I don’t want to come up on, what could be a developing emergency, too fast. But scooter riders here launch themselves right into the middle of it, without slowing down until they can clearly see what’s happening. They depend on the agility of their bikes and the quickness of their reflexes and find themselves in a dangerous situation before they can react. Then somebody gets creamed and usually the bike rider gets the worst end of the deal.

I’ve said all that and I said it all to say this. It is absolutely amazing to me that a parent would ride one or more of their children on a motorcycle without a helmet. But it happens all the time. Parents are so concerned about their kids getting enough sleep. They can’t come to church for the evening services because the kids need their sleep. There is such a concern about disease. Parents routinely make their kids wear doctor’s masks when they go to a crowded place so they don’t get sick: such fear and anxiety about the sniffles, for crying out loud. But those same parents think nothing about putting their kid on a scooter and riding through “traffic anarchy” without a helmet

It really gets me! So shy and demure soul that I am, I tell them. “Ta xuyao yi ge an chaun mao zi. (He/she needs a safety hat.). This upsets them, because if I take a photo, and obviously I do, and send the photo to the police station I get a reward and they get a fine, if it has their license number. I’m not in it for the reward, I just don’t want to see some beautiful little kid bleeding in the street, or lying under a yellow blanket. That would really tick me off.

Editor's Note:  I had a number of photos of people that were riding motorcycles with unhelmeted children, but I decided to take those photos out.  Not because of any concern for the embarrassment of the adults, but because I didn't have permission to put the children's pictures on-line. -Chris

Other posts you may be interested in:

Scootering in Taiwan:  New Helmet Technology
Random Asianess:  Driving in Taiwan

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cultural Unawareness: Cultural Explosions

When we move to foreign lands, we have a tendency to take our culture with us. We are who we are, after all. I’ve spent 50+ years living in one culture and now I’m adjusting to a different one. But I’m open to it. I doubt that I’ll ever “go native,” because I can’t possibly learn all the cultural mores, nor do I have the desire. There are some aspects of the culture I was raised in that are worth keeping. Since we hang on to certain aspects of our culture, we will encounter some shocks. This is a phenomenon known as Culture Shock.

I have to admit that I haven’t been shocked too badly. It may be because I’m open to cultural differences, or it may just be that I don’t care about how people do things but I want to share some culture shocks that I have experienced.

What does it say? It says 獸醫, Oh that clears it up:

This is obvious; we aren’t always able to understand people. We also encounter difficulty trying to communicate our ideas, expectations and needs. For example, I can only read about 100 of the 80,000 Chinese characters that exist. This can lead to certain problems. Recently, we took our cat in to be neutered. So we went on Google and found a local veterinarian. We put the cat in a box and carted him off. When we arrived the people in the office spoke no English and since my Chinese lessons haven’t reached the word castration yet, (It’s difficult for the textbook authors to write a dialogue using that word so they have a tendency to ignore it and let you find out the hard way) we were forced to resort to international symbolic gestures. My wife made the universal sign for scissors and said, “snip, snip.” We were delighted with response, the knowing smile, and the gesture of understanding. So we bade farewell to the cat and wandered off. When we returned to pick him up, he still had his manhood intact…but he had a really nice haircut. We had taken him to the groomer, not the veterinarian.

City Planning? Yeah, right:

The last story brings up this one. One of the reasons that we got him to the wrong place has to do with City Planners. In the US, addresses are logically laid out. One side of the street has the even numbered addresses and the other side has the odd numbered addresses. They are laid out in close proximity to each other. For example, 373 Ming Sheng Street would be almost directly across the street from 374 Ming Sheng Street. However, the veterinarian at 374 Ming Sheng Street was a block and half south of 373 Ming Sheng Street. This led to part of the confusion. There are no City Planners. It’s random. In the US we have commercial zones and residential zones. Planners insure that it’s very difficult to locate commercial things in residential areas. In Taiwan, most people have businesses under their homes. On my street there is a motorcycle repair shop, actually two, there is a butcher who butchers pigs on his front porch. There are food sellers. It’s like a regular downtown area.


My mother always taught me that it was impolite to stare at people. In fact, in the US people get downright nasty if you stare at them. But as we have lived in Taiwan, we see people staring at us, a lot. It’s because we’re foreigners. My neighbor A fang, tells me that I’m the only American she’s ever met, and one of the few that she’s seen outside of television. So they’re very curious. But sometimes, it’s pretty funny. I’ve seen people stop and drop their jaw and stare as if I’ve come from Mars: The total slack jawed, big-eyed look. I have one of two reactions, I either smile and say “Ni hao,” or I give them the full Brooklyn Italian, “Hey Howyadoinn’? Fugeddaboutit.”

Me Chris…Who You?

Introductions are a thorny problem. In the US if we meet someone we will say, “Hi I’m Chris,” and extend our hand to shake hands. People almost without exception will shake your hand and tell you their first name. But that isn’t how it is done here. People rarely, if ever, just introduce themselves. So in our neighborhood, we have a neighbor who sells bread. We didn’t know her name so we just referred to her as the “Mian Bao Xiao Jie” (the Bread Lady.) But I was kind of uncomfortable with that. I didn’t want to know my neighbors as “The bread Lady” or the “Pork Guy” or the “Scooter Dudes.” I wanted to know them and be friends with them. So one evening, I said to the “Bread Lady”, “Ni hao Wo jiao Chris, ni jiao shen me ming zi.” ( Hi, my name is Chris, what’s your name?) She got very embarrassed, sputtered around a little, and finally answered, “Wo jiao A Fang.” (I’m called A Fang. - Fang means fragrant. It’s a girl name) I broke a few cultural rules with that one. The correct way to ask that is “Nin gui xing” (what is your honorable surname?” Then they will tell you and ask yours. You may eventually get to know each other’s given names…after you become friends. I should be calling her “xiao jie” (Miss). But she’s very friendly with us now, where before she was rather reserved.

Move It or Lose It, Pal:

Driving is very different in Taiwan. In the US, things on the road run very smoothly. People generally stay in their own lane, the usually go the right direction, they almost always do U-turns in the intersection and most watch out for pedestrians. I drive like an American and this has the unintended result of infuriating Taxi drivers. They’re always honking at me or passing me on the right, driving through the scooter lane.

Being a pedestrian in Taiwan is like playing a high stakes game of Frogger. You know that game, the frog has to get across the busy highway without becoming a flat red spot. This is what pedestrians do, here. You cans see them wide-eyed, in the racing stance, ready to sprint across the street at full-speed. You can also see the maniacal grin on taxi driver’s faces as they try tos ee how close they can come to the pedestrian, with making a mess on their car. I, as an American, have a tendency to let the pedestrian pass in front of me. But this is more dangerous than just going in front of them, because if I slow down some sociopathic, homicidal taxi driver, will pass on my right at high speed. It could result in a flat red spot on the road. I have to be less safe, it’s much safer that way.

Guess what…Chicken Butt:

Food can be quite interesting. Taiwanese people and American people don’t eat the same things. Okay, maybe that statement is obvious. But they eat parts of stuff that we don’t. For example, Duck Blood is very popular here. It comes mixed with rice in a little bar and people eat it. I tried it, accidentally once, and I won’t do it again. Americans are wasteful, as we prepare meats to eat. There are parts of the animal that we don’t eat. In Taiwan people eat everything. In fact, one thing that you find on menus is the rear end of the chicken. Not that little nub that goes over the fence last, where the tail feathers connect. I’m talking about rectums here. They say that it’s good for your skin, keeps the wrinkles from your face. Hmmm,….I look at it this way, wrinkles add character to my face. I did try one without knowing what it was. My friend waited until I ate it and then told me what it was. Hey it tasted like chicken. Afterward, my face was as smooth as a baby’s butt. Well, chicken’s butt, anyway.

I’m not intending to mock Taiwanese people, here. I just have to laugh at the differences and the confusion that comes from fusing two cultures together. I have found Taiwanese people to be friendly and generous, with their time and themselves. I have also found that culture aside, people all over the world are just people. They have the same basic need for relationships. I appreciate their patience as I unintentionally explode their culture before their eyes. No one has reacted angrily or been offended as I made cultural mistakes and did things they would find offensive. What is really interesting to me is the reaction of other Americans. In almost every case, they refuse to even acknowledge another American. Canadians are friendly, Filipinos are friendly, but Europeans and Americans are not. Maybe it’s a cultural thing…. I hope not.

Other posts you may be interested in: 

Taiwanese Traditions:  They Don't Include Christmas
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Cross Island Highway
Random Asianess:  Driving in Taiwan
Random Asianess:  Random Thoughts

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eating My Way Through Taiwan: A Traditional Restaurant

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and his family took us to a traditional Chinese restaurant for a meal. It was a very special place. The entire building is built over a large Coi pond. There were individual rooms of all sizes and they were connected together by a series of bridges. On some of the bridges were wide spots where tables were set for couples and small family groups to sit outside over the pond. The bridges were covered and protected from the weather. What a beautiful place!

The fish in the pond were huge and colorful. The restaurant sold little packets of fish food, so children could feed the fish. Consequently as you walk across the bridges the fish would follow you in a huge clump, sticking their open mouths out of the water, hoping for some of the food to fall into their gaping maws. It is amazing but some of these beautiful and colorful fish were three and four feet long.

As in all traditional Chinese places the food was served Family Style: Large platters of food that’s shared among every one at the table. The beverage was Hot Green Tea, brewed at the table with Taiwanese Green Tea.

The meal consisted of San Bei Ji (Three cups chicken), A delicious spicy chicken recipe, two types of shrimp, some vegetable and beef dishes and clam soup. One type of shrimp was deep fried shrimp, served on pineapple with a “Miracle Whip” type of mayonnaise. The other was the very small, bay shrimp fried crispy with skin, antennae, eyes, and legs all intact.

We went there with about 21 people. The food was served quickly and hot. But it just kept coming. The owner, a young woman, in her early thirties came over to greet us and personally thank our entire group for eating at her restaurant.

One of the other interesting things was that the place was filled with Chinese artifacts; old hats and Chinese tea sets. The purpose of the evening was that our friend wanted to wish the Nieds well in America and to thank them for caring for his family.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Niu Rou Mian
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Bao zi
Eating My way Through Taiwan:   Buddha Jumps Over the Wall
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Traditional Market