Archives for category: cultural heritage

It’s time for the harvest…a poem upon glimpsing the huge harvest moon tonight.

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Tonight a great golden moon rises above the black mountains

Golden the tea in my cup

Golden the yolk of the egg in this mooncake

Golden my memories of you, Taiwan.

 

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Many Amis people have moved to the mega-cities of Taiwan in pursuit of a better life. In the concrete and pavement jungles, some Amis people are creating small urban gardens to grow fresh, inexpensive, easy-to-cultivate produce. The flavors of home include some weedy wild plants, like this one below. The main thing: make sure no fertilizers or other chemicals are in the soil.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, Amis and other indigenous Taiwanese consider edible weeds as a daily health supplement that is also delicious. They stir fry them, or seethe them with cured meat in savory soups.

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Inspired by the Amis idea of easy fresh urban-foraged produce, I’ve planted two service berry trees in my yard. Now it’s mid-June and the berries are at their ripest. If you live in an area with service berry trees (they are native to most Western states and like creek banks but also do well in office landscaping) go pick some!

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Service berries are important to Native American diets, and can be used to make pemmican. They’re a little less flavorful than blueberries but delicious and FREE. Rinse, dry, and put ’em in pancakes, muffins, or over ice cream. Or, freeze on a cookie sheet and store for winter snacking.

A beautiful wooden singer near the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University. Behind him, shrouded in clouds, are the green Coastal Mountains of Taiwan whose forests hold precious cultural knowledge and spiritual values.

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The lands near here are traditionally associated with Amis or Pangcah people. I hope this song is a joyful one, to celebrate young indigenous scholars of Taiwan!

 

If you are in Taichung and are a breakfast lover, roll out of bed and hustle over to Chen Ji Early (陳記早點). Dodge through the scooters to take your place in line. When you get the front, grab wildly at a cup of warm soy milk to your right, and fill your plate with amazing breakfast fare to the left.

This pic with a savory turnip cake, a perfectly fried egg over easy, and foreknowledge of a heaping plate of potstickers and cabbage-filled pan-seared dumplings, makes my belly growl. If I acquire sufficient merit to achieve Nirvana, THIS will be waiting for me.

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Here is the address and FB page for Chen Ji Early: across from the National Library of Public Information, at No. 1737, Jiancheng Road, South District, Taichung City, Taiwan.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/%E9%99%B3%E8%A8%98%E6%97%A9%E9%BB%9E/172117926188091

Here’s A view of self with Dad snarfing in the background. Happiness is potsticker juice all over your phone.

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A couple of weeks ago in Taichung, celebrations were underway for Mazzu. She is a sea-goddess who is very special to Taiwanese Han people, who have never forgotten their seafaring and fishing heritage.

In the park next to my Dad’s apartment we were charmed to see a nice little traditional puppet theater all set up in her honor, colorful with many lights. The whole thing could be folded up and fit into a van.

Glove puppet theater, or Budaixi, is centuries old and persists in Taiwan street culture today.

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This is what the theater looks like from in front. Old-school drama was belted out in Taiwan dialect by two young guys in white tee shirts in the back. Screechy opera style music in the background…

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A little poem I wrote about it.

 

In the city park a glowing colorful jewel

Set in black velvet of a hot night:

A tiny theater.

 

Bright puppets race back and forth

On foot, on horses, on boats

Robes flapping, head-dresses bouncing

Cudgeling each other

Singing, exhorting the audience

 

Kids perched on seesaws and swings

Mesmerized

Dad, 82, stands on the grass

Mesmerized too.

 

Have you ever heard that dandelion greens are edible? Amis tribal gardeners of Taiwan who make ‘wild’ greens an everyday part of their menu. These little volunteers were growing in my Boise, Idaho backyard.

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Common dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) were introduced to North America from Europe and are become a familiar sight in yards, parks, and lots. After briskly invading, they are now ‘naturalized’ — in a state of balance. Neither wild, nor tame.

The leaves can be harvested before blooming, and ideally before the buds form. But you have to keep an eye out, because dandelions are very speedy bloomers. It’s very important to harvest from areas that are chemical-free!

 

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I soaked my dandelion leaves in water with a little salt, then rinsed and blanched them (pop quickly into boiling water and remove). They can be chopped lightly and sauteed in sesame oil with minced garlic and ginger and a touch of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter ‘zing’ that pairs well with fatty meats or cheesy dishes. Most Amis gardeners sautee them like I did or put in soups with salty pork bits, rather like Southern collard greens.

 

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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.

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.