Archives for posts with tag: taiwan

Dad is now officially an anthropologist!

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Would Margaret Mead’s own dad have gone this far?

We’ve been staying in a tiny indigenous lodging house (owned by Zhong Mama, in my last blog post). She and her 84-year old husband showed up last night with traditional Amis costumes. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Dad let himself be dressed in full male regalia.

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The women’s head-dress contains a mixture of traditional materials (fur, leather, feathers), and modern (bright silk thread, rhinestones). It’s tight behind the ears, but very lightweight.

We were instructed not to giggle, a typical nervous reaction to being honored. But when Zhong Mama and Baba showed us our image in a mirror and then took our pictures, their wrinkled faces were wreathed in smiles!

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In Taiwan, tea is often used in cooking. Clint and I rode the Maokong Gondola up into the mountains near Taipei two nights ago and had dinner at the Big Tea Pot.

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I wish you could smell this.

We had tea-infused rice, sweet potato greens, spicy fern leaves, and mushroom chicken soup. For the rice, tea leaves are roasted and then ground in a mortar, then added during the cooking process. For the vegetables and soup, small bags of tea are steeped in the broth. The result is a lovely tea scent and aftertaste I’ve never experienced before.

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Mushrooms, tender chicken, bamboo shoots, all in a tea-infused broth.

The view from this open air restaurant was gorgeous. A more romantic and fun dinner can hardly be imagined!

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The lights of night-time Taipei as viewed from the balcony.

On the east coast of Taiwan, Dad and I visited Ba Xian Dong or Eight Immortals Cave–Taiwan’s best-known Paleolithic site–which was created before agriculture.

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Standing at the edge of the biggest cave: you can see the characters for Lingwa Cave to the right.

These mysterious caves in sea cliffs echo the booming of the Pacific ocean. More than 30,000 years ago the waves pounded into crevices of the cliffs, opening up caves that ancient hunter-gatherers made into temporary homes.

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Home to Taiwan’s first human inhabitants more than 20,000 years ago.

As I held a pebble chopper that was last used more than 1,000 generations ago, I felt time moving through me as I moved through time…

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Paleolithic chopping tool created by skillfully removing just a few flakes from an ocean-rounded beach pebble.

The Eight Immortals are sacred to Taoist religion and also worshipped by Buddhists. In 2014, Ba Xian Dong was a bustling series of temples built right on top of the archaeological sites. Last year the temples were closed down by the Taiwanese government to protect the sites from further damage. Although the scientist in me is glad the site is being protected, the echoing emptiness of Lingwa Cave during a winter rainstorm is haunting…the Eight Immortals watching us…

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Three years ago the thriving temple…

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The same view today. Bare concrete, wires, and haunting bits of paint are the only testament to the old temple. The latest layer of archaeology added to 20,000 years of Taiwan’s human story.

Well, I’ve arrived in a small village on Taiwan’s southeast coast. This is one of my research sites (yes, I’m here to do anthropological work in addition to eating amazing food and admiring cats and flowers!) It’s absolutely beautiful here.

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Coconut palms dance wildly in the wind, making a delightful clacking noise. I’m standing with the sea at my back and the mountains right in front.

Yesterday I was thrilled to meet a man who knows how to make and shoot traditional indigenous bows and arrows. Mr. Gao, a retired tribal policeman, is of Amis ancestry and has collaborated with a man from the Truku tribe just north of here to re-create his traditional weaponry.

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Mr. Gao stringing a small bow used for rabbit-sized game. The young man in the white shirt was my ‘shooting coach’.

The bows are simple (e.g., not re-curved or compound), and their length and power is related to the prey targeted: big bows for deer, smaller ones for rabbits. With humor and grace Mr. Gao and his family offered to let me do a little shooting. Take up the arrow, nock it, raise to the target, pull the arrow to the crease between your cheek and nose, and let go. Sounds easy, right? I hit the board six times out of 20, but never the actual target, and my right shoulder was aching by the last shot!

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A toxophilist’s delight: traditional bows in all stages of manufacture in Mr. Gao’s workshop.

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In this scene from Seediq Bale: Warriors of the Rainbow, tribal warriors with arrows on the nock are hunting for an enemy. This scene from the film directed by a film by Wei Te-Sheng can be found at \\http://www.coveringmedia.com/movie/2012/04/warriors-of-the-rainbow-seediq-bale.html

Taiwan is a fresh fruit-lovers paradise. From persimmons to dragon fruit to wax apples to starfruit and dragon eyes, the ingenuity of 10,000 years of Chinese fruit agriculture is on display at any street market in Taipei.

The mysterious fruit that has stolen my heart has many names. Sugar-apple, custard-apple, sweet-sop, cherimoya–its Latin name is Annosa squamosa, its origins lost in the mists of time somewhere in the central Andes of South America. Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to men”.

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Sekya ready to eat!

The Chinese call it Shijia, in the Taiwanese dialect, Sekya, after Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha.

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Buddha’s distinctive hairstyle.

You won’t find this fruit in North America unless you get lucky in an Asian market–but if you do, feel it carefully (don’t squeeze!)  If it’s soft as, say, your upper thigh, it’s ready to eat. If it’s harder like the top of your shoulder, let it rest on a soft surface at room temperature till soft. Carefully pull open the sekia on a plate or saucer (these things are delightfully messy) and use a small spoon to scoop the out the flesh. The big black seeds are very hard, don’t bite ’em. The flavor will amaze you: creamy, sweet, tangy, fragrant: if ice cream, custard, pears and lemons got together and had a baby it would be the magical Sekia.

My room-mate Yin Ying-Mei is a PhD candidate in tourism studies, and is studying how food tourism affects emotional states and mental health. So it’s quite fitting that last night she treated me and a friend to her delicious handmade noodles, Shandong-style.

Ying-Mei is self-deprecating about her cooking overall, but proud of her skill with noodles.  First, she made a simple dough with wheat flour, cold water, and an egg, then patted it into a ball.

Then she laid some cellophane on the counter, sprinkled more flour, and began to roll out the dough.

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Watching Ying-Mei roll out the dough is hypnotic! 

When it was paper thin, Ying-Mei dusted the dough with more flour and folded it over, then used a cleaver to slice delicately thin noodles:

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She made it look so easy…

The noodles were carefully placed in boiling salted water and cooked till tender. Ying-Mei topped them with ground pork in a rich black bean, garlic, and red chili sauce. Delicious! A nice way to prepare for the new year.  I wish you all a happy, prosperous, and fun 2017 from Taipei!

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Ying-Mei and her friend Ms. Ting, ready to dig into a fantastic Shandong style meal.

 

 

 

Moving south again to Taiwan, I would like to share a picture of an aboriginal dog from the Atayal village of Smangus in the mountainous center of the island. I hope to see many more of these beautiful, intelligent animals during my research trip beginning in December.

These dogs are boar-hunters, companions, and guards for the tribal villages of the mountains. They are always inky-black, with sharp upturned ears, alert brown eyes, and muscular, compact bodies. I was sorely tempted to bargain for a puppy…

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Can you spot the noodles in the dog’s dish?

If Taiwanese tribes are indeed related to seafaring Austronesian peoples as suggested by linguistic similarities, then these unusual Taiwanese dogs may be ancestral to the extinct poi dog of Polynesian cultures in Hawai’i. Below is a historic picture of a Hawai’ian woman with her poi dog. These dogs were small and short-legged, showing how quickly dog breeds can be altered in size and appearance.

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I encountered a variety of native dogs while working with the Pumé hunter-gatherers of southern Venezuela. These puppies, photographed by me in 1993, were being toted by a young lady and her grandmother packed for a wet season camp move several miles away.

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Unlike Taiwanese Atayal dogs, Pumé dogs are typically white with black spots. But the two breeds are similar in their athletic wiry build, keen intelligence, and excellent value as hunters, companions, and sentinels. Many native special breeds (like the poi dog) are now extinct. But where would we be without them? Hats off to Native dogs everywhere!

Is Bubble Tea a drink, a food, or a dessert?  Invented in Taichung, on the west central coast (where my father lives now), this wildly popular tea is a blend of tea, milk, sugar, and ‘bubbles’–little squishy sweet globes of manioc starch. Better known to Americans as tapioca, manioc starch comes from an ancient root that was domesticated more than 6,000 years ago by Native South American tribes. Manioc comes in two varieties: bitter and sweet. The bitter kind needs lots of cooking to remove toxins (useful for keeping pests at bay). The sweet kind can be found in Mexican produce sections and can be subbed for potatoes in a chicken stew.

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Manioc, like many traditional root foods, has long, complex sugars that digest slowly so that you don’t absorb many before they exit your body. Slow-release starches are a GOOD thing, as you feel full but don’t pack on carbs as quickly as say, Twinkies. My research project in Taiwan will focus on another complex starchy root–taro–which has a rich and ancient past in Southeast Asia and Polynesia (poi, anyone?) Above is a delicious combination of them both: taro-flavored bubble tea!

Have you experimented with a Paleodiet before? I’ve actually lived with hunter-gatherers and eaten a real paleodiet, complete with fibrous roots, all kinds of fruits, beans, and nuts; and wild creatures like anteaters, storks, crocodiles, electric eels, armadillos, and of course, nice juicy larvae!

In my view any paleodiet that doesn’t include bugs is phony, straight up.

But you might not have to eat bugs to eat optimally. There’s a concept out there called your ‘food family tree’ that basically says you should eat what your ancestors were eating–not your ape-like ancestors, but more recent farming or herding ancestors (or, if you are of indigenous descent, then your hunting/gathering/fishing ancestors). Great concept, huh? Especially since, unlike the paleodiet, your Neolithic diet might include beer and wine :–) The tribe I lived with, the Pume of Venezuela, make a delightful beer; women chew cakes made of manioc root, spit them into a bucket of water, cover with a cloth, and leave it alone for about 12 hours. The mixture turns into a sweetish light beer–with chunks. Cheers!

My Taiwan project will focus on traditional foods of the indigenous Taiwanese farmers: Millet, taro, wild ginger, chenopodium (known to us by its Peruvian name of quinoa). This sculpture, from the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory, shows a young lady bringing home tribal crops in her carrying basket. These crops may hold a secret not only to improved health, but resiliency to climate change (which is really affecting Taiwan’s agricultural economy). My next post will be about specifically adaptive characteristics of ancient foods, including crops like these, and why our diets should include more of them.

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At the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung, a sculpture captures the image of Neolithic crops of millet, taro, and rice carried by a young tribal woman to help feed her family.