gAstronomical Adventures – Japanese in Jiaoxi

Yesterday we took an afternoon excursion in the hills of Jiaoxi near Wufengci Waterfall, which included a steep climb straight up a mountain, some bouldering, a bit of repelling, swimming, and at least one near death experience. Needless to say, I was ravenous by the time we arrived back at our scooter.

We had planned on going to a Japanese restaurant, Le Shan, which we had tried a couple of times before. We headed into town excited for sushi, but not so much for the restaurant itself, as the staff is horribly rude and there is no English menu. We figured we’d just use our rudimentary Chinese skill combined with menu roulette, and see what we ended up with.

Well, thank goodness they hadn’t yet opened for dinner because we tried out the place next door instead, and it was fantastic all around. Xiao Liu Restaurant is a must visit if you are in Jiaoxi. The menu offers sushi, sashimi, and nigiri, along with other 小吃 (xiao chi – literally, small eats).

Although they don’t have an English menu, they have lots of photos on the menu, as well as a sushi bar up front where you could easily point at the different types of fish you wanted. However, the owner’s English is impeccable, and he helped us find exactly what we wanted to eat. He also gave us some seared squid to try, which we both agreed was some of the most well prepared squid we had ever eaten.

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Happy eating seared squid!

The prices are a little steep compared to the general Taiwanese fare, but for the food and the service, they are totally reasonable. We had an assorted sashimi plate, seared salmon, and some rice-stuffed bean curd skin, totaling about NT660 or US$22. Pretty dang good if you ask me. I’m sure at home we’d have paid at least $40 for the same meal.

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Our spread (after the better part of it went straight to our bellies)

For me, Xiao Liu is a complete 180 from the place next door (which I think is a super famous restaurant in Jiaoxi – it’s always packed).  The sushi at Xiao Liu is just as good, if not better, and the service isn’t even comparable. Our experience here was a perfect example of the Taiwanese friendliness and hospitality that so many travelers and expats in Taiwan speak of.

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 Outside they even have a little hot spring bath for your feet. How luxurious!

How to find it:

Coming in from Yilan City, continue on Jiaoxi Rd into the main downtown area, and turn right on lane 108. The lane only has two restaurants so just look for the Xiao Liu Restaurant sign. From the train station, just head up towards Jiaoxi Rd and turn left; take another left on lane 108. Happy sushi!

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宜蘭縣礁溪鄉礁溪路5段108巷1-1號

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Oh That Smell, Can’t You Smell That Smell

The first time I smelled durian I was in Vietnam. It is not a pleasant scent. People compare the smell to that of dirty diapers or porta-potties, yet it is an Asian treat.

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Recently I was taking a train down the coast here in Taiwan, and this old lady busted out her bag of durian. The thing about the stink is that it’s pungent. It’s not that it smells; it’s that you can smell it from a mile away that makes it so offensive.

So if it smells so bad why is it so popular? Well, durian is a very healthful fruit; Durian contains more potassium than bananas, it has a wide range of minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. It is also a uniquely high source of b-complexes among fruits. Durian has a lot of dietary fiber and, having soft flesh, is easily digestible.

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Ok, ok, ok. So the question you are all asking. How does it taste? Not bad. It’s sweet. It has a strange texture, but it isn’t nauseating once it reaches your mouth.

It is less stinky if you chill or even freeze it. If you are spending time in Asia or anywhere else that you come across some durian, give it a shot…but hold your breath.

Typhoon-o-rama

When I was a kid we had snow days. Here in Taiwan they have Typhoon days.

Well it’s typhoon season again. Typhoons come and go here with little impact on the urban areas. The season goes from July to August, the rest of the year it’s just normal storms.

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We are slated to see the first of the season on Friday. While the Typhoons I’ve been in haven’t been all that pleasant, they have been relatively benign. This on the other hand threatens to be a more spectacular storm.

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Typhoon Morakot, in 2009, hit Taiwan hard and resulted in around 600 fatalities. The next year an equally intense storm (Megi) resulted in at least 25 deaths. Soulik is predicted to bring similar rains and winds, but if we are all smart and safe, less fatalities.

The Taiwanese government has been much more proactive in canceling school and work when there is a typhoon risk, but it is also important to know what you can do to ensure your safety.

Here are a few tips that may help you in a dangerous storm:

In high winds be wary of falling glass and roof tiles

Avoid the coast if possible, water rises quickly and the seas become violent

Avoid places that are landslide prone.

In all honesty Taiwan is very safe as far as storm preparedness, however it is good to know what to expect; hope for the best and plan for the worst.

I hope I didn’t worry anyone, just be safe out there. If you are interested in more information about storm preparation check these sites out, http://www.city.osaka.lg.jp/contents/wdu020/enjoy/en/emergency/06.html, http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php.

Really my best advice is to make some hot coffee and watch your favorite TV show from the comfort of your house; relax and let it all blow over.

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Getting Jaded, In a Good Way

Lately, I cannot get jade out of my head. Each time we pass a market stall selling jade pieces, I slow down and do one of those long, open-mouthed stares, while Tim urges me to hurry up.

I have always found jade to be a beautiful stone, but I hadn’t thought too much about purchasing any in Taiwan until recently. I asked my mother what type of gift she might like from Taiwan, as I was completely at a loss, and she asked me for a jade Buddha statue. An ongoing search for the perfect Buddha statue ensued. I still haven’t found a Buddha, but I have found at least a hundred bracelets, rings, and pendants to drool over.

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An array of poorly organized jewelry and stones at the Yilan day market. We did the coin test on some of the jades; fakes!

The biggest problem with shopping for jade is that it can be extremely expensive. The second-largest problem is that people love to try to sell fake jade; especially to naïve foreigners. Knowing this, I have been really apprehensive about buying any jade jewelry thus far. I bought my first piece today at the day market in Yilan; a decidedly fake jade ring which only cost NT$100. Low-quality jade can be inexpensive, especially small pieces, but that’s not how I figured out my find is fake.

There are quite a few tricks to determining whether a piece of jade is authentic or not. Many of them include big, fancy jeweler’s tools and other things like scales and buckets of water. If you were looking to spend a lot of money, I would say these types of practices are a good idea, but for the casual shopper, they aren’t so practical. The simpler tricks will certainly suffice, especially for less expensive stones.

According to the experts, real, quality jade has a unique look and feel, especially upon close examination. Generally, a single piece should be a uniform color; meaning you won’t have green, yellow, and red shades all in one ring. It should also look slightly transparent, like looking through honey, with no air bubbles. Clearer than honey probably means it’s glass.

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My faux-jade ring. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a rainbow piece of jade like this; not to mention there is a raised line where the maker clearly melded the resin together. Oh well, at least it was cheap!

Next, jade has a feel. It’s dense, man. This means that choosing a piece of jade is like choosing a good watermelon, when you pick it up, it should feel heavier than you expect. Furthermore, jade is a quickly cooling stone. Hold a piece of jade in your hand until it matches your body temperature, then let it sit for about 30 seconds; touch it with your tongue or the inside of your wrist, and it should feel cool.

Finally, the sound test; take a coin or another piece of true jade, and hit it lightly against the piece in question. It should make a light high-pitched sound. A dull sound indicates that it’s probably either marble or resin, and a low-pitched ring might mean glass.

These aren’t necessarily surefire ways to tell whether jade is real or not, and they may not indicate quality of authentic jade, but they will certainly help you along. Pay attention to these little details, as well as the price. A large piece costing a miniscule amount of money is probably too good to be true.

Now you are ready to hit up one of Taiwan’s famous jade markets! In Taipei, the Jianguo Flower and Jade Markets, or in Hualien, the Stone Crafters Market; they both offer many options for jewelry and other trinkets. Happy jade hunting!

Of course I didn’t come up with these tests on my own. I had a little help from the following websites: http://www.wikihow.com/Tell-if-Jade-Is-Real, www.hotscams.com/articles/how-to-tellif-a-jade-is-real-or-fake, where you can also find more in-depth information.

How Old Are You?

“How can you live with him, he is so childish.”

Mallory gets asked this every day at work.

Teaching little kids means being a little kid. We are both teachers at an English language school. She works with kids from elementary to high school age. I teach mostly elementary age and I have a kindergarten class as well.

My kindy kids are from four to six and they are freaks! They are so weird they make me weird. I never know what the day will bring when I walk into my classroom full of twenty little psychos.

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Since little kids don’t know how normal humans act, it can be totally liberating, but some days I want to pull my hair out. To keep these kids interested in English I have to be 110% of my normal energy (normally I’m a steady 65%). Luckily I can blow their minds with the simplest things. Yesterday, I talked to my finger; just to be weird (we have been singing Where Is Thumbkin) they couldn’t get enough. About a month ago they learned the word underwear, I don’t know if they’ll ever get tired of it.

Some times they really bring out the best in me, other days I feel defeated. Kindergarten is an emotional rollercoaster, but if you can hack it you will be a rock star to any five year old you meet.

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Not for the squeamish

Last night, we got our first (known – *shudder*) rain spider, otherwise known as the Laya spider. I almost ran all the way to Taoyuan International airport. They may be big, but they are crazy fast, so we now have a new roommate. They do seem to be mostly harmless though, and they eat cockroaches, so I guess I’m ok with our new little (big) pet monster.

Photo update – I was able to get a picture of our very own laya, as she is still cruising around the apartment; here she is:

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