Archives for category: SE Asian culture

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?

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.

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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!

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.

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Red eye of the sun winks at the horizon, it’s twilight in the Taipei mountains.

After riding the gondola up to the beautiful mountainside town of Maokong that overlooks the vast metropolis of Taipei, Dad and I stroll around looking for tea cuisine.

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The city below us; Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world, is to your right.

High above the sultry humid city, cool breezes rustle. A small opening in the green beckons us down to a delightful restaurant whose laid-back, Japanese ambiance in the evening calm evoke a Miyazaki moment.

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Shan Shui Ke Tea House: ‘Mountain Water Guest’. There are flowers and frogs tucked in everywhere. Seemed like kodamas, the tiny forest spirits of Princess Mononoke, were perched just out of sight.

The tea-oil chicken is so tender it falls off the bones, with a delicate tea-flavor throughout. It is graced with paper-thin crispy ginger slices that are so awesome Dad and I duel with chopsticks to grab them.

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The fragrance of tea rises from all three dishes…is your mouth watering yet?

A heap of crayfish have been shaken with sweet potato starch, salt, and white pepper, then fragrant oolong tea leaves are tossed in. The crayfish are fried to crisp perfection and scattered with chiles and scallions.

The fried rice also has crushed tea leaves along with shreds of egg, scallion, and pork. The delicacy of the tea flavored food and beauty of the setting are a treat never to be forgotten as the lights of the city wink on below us. The proprietor of Maokong Shan Shui Ke Tea House, proudly tells us that the chef working the miracles in the kitchen is his wife. For those of you in Taipei: go, go; for everyone else, I hope this entry gave you a few relaxed minutes in your day.

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Lights twinkling and trees rustling in the evening cool.

If you are like me, you love browsing a farmer’s market. In a good one, and Taipei has a multitude, the produce itself seems alive with personalities of their own.

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Oranges glow in the foreground of a fruit vendor’s booth. Taiwan fruit is firmer and sweeter than most in the United States.

If you are like me the little market near my Taipei apartment is a dream come true. People swarm through and around the colorful fruits and vegetables like fish through a bright coral reef, hefting and squeezing the items, greeting each other, shouting greetings at the vendors, juggling bags, handing over money.

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I love the woman laughing in this blurry photo. It seems to capture the energy of friendship and food that typify a good open air market.

At my favorite veggie vendor the kind man in a red baseball hat speaks in Taiwan language just like my Dad. He often throws an extra bit of something into my bag: some scallions, a crisp cucumber, maybe a handful of fresh firm green beans.

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Capturing this vendor in action is impossible. You have to be one of those nature photographers with a special lens to capture activity too rapid for the human eye.

Welcome to almost-summer, welcome to the first harvests of the season!!

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Mouthwatering yams, cauliflower, red and yellow peppers, guava fruit, bitter melon, and some kind of purple herb (basil?) await hungry shoppers.