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Amis entrepreneur Cheng Zhong and myself at his family’s ancestral fields near Donghe on the east coast.

Six months in Taiwan changed me in ways I’m just beginning to appreciate! Different cultures, food, plants, animals, friends, and family all glow a little brighter, the colors richer, the flavors, tastier!

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View north from the sea-cliffs near Donghe.

Fulbright Taiwan has just published an article about how much Taiwan and her people mean to me, and the kindness and generosity of my father, family, colleagues, and friends in welcoming me there and helping to explore indigenous farming and cultural values.

I would be so happy if you can visit the online journal Research and Reflections to read it, at http://journal.fulbright.org.tw/index.php/browse-topics/new-cultural-insights/item/361-wild,-tame,-and-in-between-traditional-agricultural-knowledge-of-taiwan-indigenous-people.

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Back in Idaho now, on a warm summer evening I sip a cup of Taiwan tea…organic, from the high mountains.

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Holding the tea canister, a gift from Fulbright Taiwan. This is from V&L Organic Tea Farm, in the central mountain range above Taitung in the south.

Amazingly, the tea is cooling as well as fragrant, smooth, full-bodied, and all out wonderful. The flavor of that wonderful place.

 

I’ve been lucky to enjoy Taiwan tea in peoples’ kitchens, living rooms, dorm rooms, offices, forest ranger cabins, and indigenous villages. Everyone there loves it and knows how to brew it. The health benefits of drinking lots of tea are well-documented, maybe this is why most Taiwanese are so slim…?

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Red Oolong Tea brews up to a lovely color!

Here’s an abbreviated guide to getting the most out of your Taiwan tea.

The main point is, you need two teapots, one to brew in and one to serve from; also you need to have hot water (with small bubbles but not a rolling boil) on standby, and a small bowl or bucket to pour off excess.

First, rinse the pots and cups with hot water. In your brewing teapot, add the tea. Don’t stint–fill your pot about 1/4 to 1/3 full with dry leaves. If the tea is organic, steep for about 45 seconds and pour into the second teapot for serving. You can drink the tea after the first steeping although it won’t be its best. If the tea is non organic, just pour it out, this is a ‘rinse’.

The second steeping should be a bit longer, about 60 seconds. If you have enough leaves, you should see them reach the top of the teapot. Pour into your serving pot. While sipping, always leave the tea leaves as dry as possible with the lid just propped up over the top.

If the tea is truly good, you should get at least 5-6 steepings and each one will taste different! There are many good web pages. and of course any Taiwanese person can show you how. I intend to spend a lifetime discovering Taiwan tea.

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This is how the tea leaves look after the fifth steeping: their fragrance lingers even after so many cups.

Nighttime in the forests of Taiwan is velvety dark. Mysterious cries float through the leaves and massive tree trunks. A myriad of frogs, insects, and night birds croak, sing, and chirp. Giant flying squirrels cheep to each other in the canopy. And then you hear it: A sharp, echoing bark! Is it a dog?

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A tiny doe licking her fur to complete her evening grooming routine.

No, it’s Taiwan’s barking deer — English call them muntjac (latin name, muntiacus reevesi). These terrier sized deer have little antlers and fangs, apparently for fighting to maintain territory. The image above was taken by me in Fushan Experimental Forest; the image below is from mammals.biodiversityireland.ie.

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Male showing antlers and canine teeth.

These deer, called Shan Xiang in Mandarin, used to be favored prey of Taiwan’s indigenous hunters who used bow and arrow, and nets. Japanese logging at the turn of the century, farming, and development have reduced the forest-meadow interface that these animals prefer. They are protected now.

But the deer could be making a comeback. During my travels I heard them barking in several nighttime forests and as you can see above, I spotted little does grazing and grooming in the evening and morning. Also, indigenous farmers mentioned that Shan Xiang will sneak into gardens that are located near forest edges. I hope this charming Taiwanese animal continues to survive and thrive!

This perfectly captures the quirky nature of Taiwan’s street culture: old dudes on their trusty bikes (Rocinantes!) making their way through life’s traffic…

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It always come to my mind the image of Don Quixote when I see old men riding their bikes. The bikes are their imaginary horses, the wrecked thin old horses, knowing their masters so well that no words are necessary between them.

To watch Don Quixote(s) and their bikes passing through the road is drop-dead romantic.

Finally, having quite lost his wits, he was seized with the strangest conceit any madman in the world has ever had. It seemed to him that it was requisite and necessary, for the augmentation of his honor and for the benefit of the commonwealth, that he should become a knight-errant and ride throughout the world with his horse and his arms to seek adventures. (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote)

Photo by Guest House Zoar

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I’ve returned from Taiwan now for the past two weeks and boy, do I miss stinky tofu!

As you walk through the streets of anytown, Taiwan, you might find your nose assaulted by a uniquely dreadful smell. It’s especially poignant in the night markets, when darkness makes your sense of smell keener.

There is something cheesey about it, with overtones of rotting vegetation and something more primeval. When the earth was young and ruled by single celled organisms, the smell of stinky tofu existed. Before human noses to wrinkle at it, human language to describe it, hands to make it, tongues to savor it.

In the 1960s my young father, homesick for tastes of his homeland, bought 臭豆腐 in jars. For breakfast he garnished old-school rice porridge with nice crisp pickled turnips, bits of scrambled egg, and stinky tofu. My sister detested it, but I adored its pungent creaminess.

For the stouthearted among you: Cook some calrose style rice with a little more water than usual. Scramble an egg with sesame oil and soy sauce, add some kimchee or chinese pickled veggies, and maybe 1/3 block of stinky tofu. Stir well, and sprinkle with chopped green onions and/or skin-on peanuts. It’s lowfat, gluten free, nutritious, and delicious!

For a cool video about how this stuff is made, check out https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/taiwan-s-mother-of-pungent-foods-stinky-tofu?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool

 

 

 

 

 

After waiting nearly a week for it to be ready, I can enjoy my own version of Taiwan’s delightful fruit vinegar drinks (known as ‘shrub’ in English speaking countries).

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To make this drink, I infused fresh mango pieces (2 1/2 cups) in vinegar (1 1/2 cups) for three days at room temperature, then added turbinado sugar (1 cup) and refrigerated, stirring occasionally, for one more day.  I strained through cheese cloth, allowing some pulp to come through. Then diluted with water to just a bit stronger than preferred, and poured over plenty of ice.  Aaaaah.

 

 

Fruit vinegar drinks are common in Taiwan. I was served some at a dinner party recently and really enjoyed it. This drink, known just about everywhere except America, is wonderfully refreshing and offers many health benefits. Before you make a face, just try it once.

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Dad is really good at cutting slippery mangos.

You can order it on Amazon. But I’m making my own batch using mangos right now.

Below is a recipe I derived from Taiwanese friends (rooftop kickboxing buddies), who love to drink a cold cup of this over ice after a workout.

  • 5 parts fruit pulp of your choice (mango, berries, apples, etc.)
  • 3 parts Cider Vinegar or Rice Vinegar – organic apple cider vinegar recommended
  • 2 parts sweetener of choice (Turbinado Sugar or Raw Honey recommended

Put the pulp in a large jar and pour the vinegar over it. Let it sit for 4-5 days, and strain through a cheesecloth slowly. For sweetener; either include it right from the start and shake from time to time to incorporate — or slowly heat the fruit vinegar mixture after 4-5 days along with sweetener to create a syrup. You can pour over a lot of ice, or dilute with a bit of water depending on your taste.

The hip bartending crowd calls this a ‘shrub’.

Virgin or not, this tangy sweet fruity drink tastes fabulous in the hot weather, especially after over-indulging in the grilled or greasy foods that always show up at backyard get-togethers!

 

My Dad Jiunn Yu and I enjoyed a great celebration event for Fulbright Taiwan’s 60th anniversary!

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Thank you Fulbright Taiwan for the amazing gala last Friday: and for all your support!!

In 1957 Taiwan was reeling from the effects of World War II and the White Terror.  Dad was 19 years old, having weathered starvation, disease, and the sight of his neighbors and friends being dragged away for execution by a military regime. His own father barely escaped with his life. And yet, Senator Fulbright’s vision of scholarly exchange for mutual understanding was about to come true here, against so many odds…

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Senator J. William Fulbright wished to bring “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs…”

They say Taiwan has experienced three miracles since that time: the industrial miracle of modernization, the miracle of an Asian tiger economy, and the miracle of nationalized, successful health care.

The silly selfie of Dad and me is a symbol of the fourth miracle: a resilient, free, and open democracy where people can enjoy their lives, and where scholars can come and learn about Taiwan and its evolving role in the world.  Thank you Fulbright Taiwan for support of my amazing experience here!

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A beautiful dragon boat head up close, in Taipei’s Dajia Riverside Park.

All over Asia dragon boats raced yesterday to commemorate a mythical Chinese poet and virtuous government official, Qu Yuan.

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Qualifying heats pit four boats against each other. Each boat is equipped with a drum to ensure cadence for paddling!

Qu Yuan (pronounced Chew Yu-en) struggled in a time of corrupt, brutal government officials. After many exiles and military loss of his beloved capital, Qu Yuan called it quits and walked into a river holding a rock. But not before authoring hundreds of extraordinary poems, the first attributed by name in China nearly 2,300 years ago.

These gorgeous boats mimic a rescue attempt. Races take place all over Asia and where there are big Asian communities and rivers to race on–like Minneapolis in the states.

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Jockeying for position while paddling to the starting line.

Teams are variable; amateurs mix with veterans, retired schoolteachers with athletes, women with men. The crowds are raucous in their support of favorite teams! I must admit, some of the teams are, well, “easy on the eyes.” I hope Qu Yuan’s spirit is pleased with these offerings of piety, athleticism, and fun.

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One of the fastest Dragon Boat teams in Taipei. Several paddlers are indigenous Taiwanese!

The Paiwan people of Southern Taiwan traditionally carve beautiful, evocative ancestor pillars of stone and wood. These pillars have graced the houses of noble families for hundreds of years.

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My sketch of “Tjivuluwan,” a very old male ancestral figure associated with the Paiwan community of Jiaping. The community allows depictions of this pillar to be made public.

National Taiwan University’s Anthropology Museum has taken care of many ancestral pillars that were ‘collected’ in the 1930s from villages that were abandoned during the terrible period of relocation of indigenous people by the Japanese colonial government.

Recently, Dr. Chia-Yu Hu and Museum staff have worked with Paiwan communities to create the best plan for caring for these ancestral pillars. This success shows the power of people working together from two very different sides of the cultural heritage landscape: very inspiring.