Archives for category: SE Asian culture

Amid the hustle and bustle of a sunny Saturday morning farmer’s market in Taipei, I wander into the Wenchang Temple grounds. Noise recedes, butterflies float. A small sculpted Buddha sits in the garden, holding a book in his left hand (was he left-handed?) and his right hand on a stack of books he has already read–or is about to read.

fullsizeoutput_e46

As an avid reader I love this image. The serenity and focus of the Buddha amid the everyday secularism of folks filling their baskets with fruits, veggies, fish, and eggs captures the essence of a large Asian city: teeming multitudes each pursuing her or his path through this existence, essentially alone.

Advertisements

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.

fullsizeoutput_dae

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!

 

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.

fullsizeoutput_d9f

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…

IMG_5228

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.

IMG_5204 copy

 

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!

 

IMG_5203 copy

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.

 

The wonderful people at Fulbright Taiwan have just posted a video interview about my research on indigenous farming. I hope you enjoy!

 

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

IMG_4771

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…?

IMG_4779

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.

IMG_2411

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?

Barking Deer in Fushan Forest

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.

Muntjac

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!

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).

IMG_4666

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.

IMG_4148.jpg

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!