Day 249: About Taiwan

Fri. 19th April 2013

Having tea, Taiwanese styleIts not our home but it is Rob’s and his family’s home and his family is our family so, that, sort of, makes it home. It certainly is nice not to be constrained by having a set time for tours to start or the need to dash off for a plane or a bus. We (I) wake late (well, 8:30) and by that time Ceilin and Jamie have got up had breakfast and got off to school – they were quiet and I was tired. Janet assures me that she’s been awake for hours and was just about to wake me.

Street vendors - just no idea what they are sellingOne of the early discussions with Rob was about school life and it seems pretty hard for both kids and teachers. Regular school seems to be from 7:30 until 4pm and then there are (optional) additional classes (at separate schools) either for homework supervision or for extra classes at a ‘Cram’ school. Sian teaches at just such a ‘cram’ school and whilst she doesn’t start until lunchtime she is back late (after 9pm) most evenings. It must be hard enough being a teacher (or a pupil) let alone being a mum as well. Rob seems to be the exception to the ‘its tough’ rule – he teaches English Conversation and seems to have it well under control.

We can't get over the number of signs in the streetWe are enjoying a slow morning and gradually formulating a plan for the day – Spag Bog for supper is an early decision – when we get a call from Ceilin’s school to say that her cold is worse and she should come home. As we needed to make a trip to the supermarket anyway we decide to combine that with collecting Ceilinand taking her to the doctors. Unlike in the UK, there is no need to book an appointment with a GP. We just arrive at a new, immaculate looking, paediatric clinic and 15 minutes later Ceilin and Rob go in to see the doctor. Apparently it is much easier for Ceilin to describe her symptoms than for Rob to (though his Mandarin sounds pretty good to us). Also unlike the UK, drugs are dispensed by the clinic and 10 minutes later Ceilin has her tablets each sealed in one dose envelopes.

Lunch with our new friend!After dropping Ceilin off at home (and extracting promises to rest and not to spend the entire afternoon on Facebook) we head off for lunch and then some sightseeing. We really want to take advantage of Rob’s local knowledge and so encourage him to take us to one of his favourite haunts where he is greeted with big smiles by the cheery owner and they gabble away deciding what we should eat. We’d have no chance in a restaurant like this by ourselves – the menu is entirely in Chinese (and only exists on a board on the wall) and there are no pictures and not even any pre-cooked dishes that we could point to. We’re entirely (and worryingly) in the hands of my little brother.

They like their lanterns hereFortunately, he comes up trumps and 5 minutes later dishes start appearing in front of us – a couple of different sorts of chicken soup along with plates of pork in ginger and ‘empty heart’ vegetables to go with our rice. Simple and delicious. Its just unfortunate that I am none the wiser as to how to order any of it, or even how to find the restaurant again – there didn’t seem to be any signage outside, just a little shack in streets filled with similar shacks.

Tourist trail in LugangIn the afternoon, we have a short drive to Lugang (or Lukang, depending on where you look). This is an historic, old town, that used to be important during the Dutch rule of Taiwan. I hadn’t appreciated that there was Dutch rule here – I knew the island used to be called Formosa (Portuguese for beautiful) and had assumed it it was ruled by the Portuguese. But apparently not. I also hadn’t appreciated that after the Dutch left, the island was part of China until it was gifted by the Chinese to the Japanese at the start of the 20th Century. This just seems to make the current ‘one China’ double-talk even more of a nonsense.

Matzu templeThe highlights of Lugang include the restored houses in traditional style complete with wooden fronts and the ornate temples dedicated to the local Taiwanese god of Matzu. Definitely a version of Buddhism and Rob assures us that Buddhism doesn’t preclude the worship of other gods. For us, this seems to confirm that not only are the politics and the history of the island complicated but that the religion is too. Why can’t they keep it simple, for goodness sake?

Deep fried mussel omelettesAll around the main, Matzu Temple, are street vendors with their carts selling snacks. The local specialities seem to be deep-fried mussel omelettes (which tasted better than the name suggests – though I thought they needed a bit more salt) and ‘cow-tongue’ pastries. The latter were named for the look rather than the content and were not savoury but sweet – pastry wrapped around some honey mix – and actually quite tasty.

Are we sure this 'tea house' isn't a brothel?Rob is a proper, full on, Hornsey and can’t even last as long as I between caffeine fixes (I might have got a bit better, by necessity, on our travels). It is inevitable that we’ll need tea or coffee and so we decide to stop at a tea-house and see how the locals have their tea. He does warn us, though, that ‘tea-house’ is one of the euphemisms for ‘brothel’ and so we are a little cautious when we are shown in to our own little cubicle with curtains covering the door. Not to worry as the menu consists entirely of tea – but here, even Rob, struggles to make sense of all of the different types of tea. In the end, he and the waiter agree on something and a few minutes later we have a pot of rose tea; a pot of a fruity, berry tea; and a pot of what turns out to be Earl Grey. All good choices though the rose tea was a bit bland.

Individual cubicles in the tea-houseOur learning curve in Taiwan is quite steep and we really would be making much less progress if we weren’t with Rob. We’d find it hard to get around; hard to find places to eat let alone to know what to choose off a menu. With a guide, however, this is a fantastic not-quite-a-country. Everybody is friendly and all of the food we have had has been delicious. I think we’re going to have a good week here.

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