Show Me a Sign!

Everyone has seen poorly worded signage. Although, living in a Chinese speaking country you are surrounded by poorly translated, strangely co-opted and awkwardly phrased signs, ads, and warnings.

I have seen so many that I haven’t taken pictures of for one reason or another but here are a few of my favorites.

ImageI don’t think I really need to tell you why this is funny.Image“WooHooo!!! Lets have some FUNG!!!”Image“Some one already used KFC…What about KLG?”ImageAll I can think is how awesome that flying baby is.ImageI don’t know, maybe it’s a PSA, like “look out for that shit!”ImageWhat a wholesome toy!ImageThe shamrock really ties this one together.ImageNothing like smelling of spam all day.

If you look online there are so many more hilarious signage mistakes and odd translations, but it really makes me think how bad our signs must be in the states or in Europe for that matter, that have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese or really any other language other than our own native tongue.

I Survived Yue Mei Kang: Bear Grylls’s Got Nothing On Me

 “I don’t think we’re going the right way” is how our real adventure started.

Mal and I had heard about a river trace in Jiaoxi and though it would be a great Sunday trip. We didn’t really know what to expect, or honestly, where we were going, but found a promising trail.

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The trail is steep and chalked with forks, so like any would-be Indiana Jones we started following the mysterious red arrows painted on rocks and trees. We had been meaning to get to the river but instead were climbing a mountain.

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That’s when we decided to back track and our story starts to get interesting. After winding our way back to the river, it was time to cool off. We split from the trail and found a great little fall to swim at. The water was fresh and cool and the perfect depth to do cannon balls off the fall.

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All of a sudden we were in the midst of forty Chinese tourists and the luxury of our secluded private pool was quickly lost.

They all headed back down on the path we had taken up, so we made the most obvious choice, leave the safety of the trail and follow the river all the way back down to the park entrance.

It started out easy enough with a few easy traverses down into shallow pools, but when we got to the third waterfall things got real. At this point it was still completely feasible to turn back and get back on the trail but being headstrong adventurers (idiots) we forded onward.

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This particular waterfall was beautiful but too high to safely leap, luckily for us there was a slippery mud soaked rope that went down, under a rock bridge and off a small overhanging boulder. While, this rappel wasn’t all that high, it was awkward and the rope was less than confidence inspiring.

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After that we were sure that we were on easy street…NO. Just past our treacherous abseil was an even gnarlier waterfall. Mallory uneasily pointed out that the rock bolts on the edge probably meant that it was going to be a rough climb down. She was right.

Getting down involved straddling the fall and then sidling up as close to the right side and jumping out as far as you possibly could, all the while hoping and praying that there wasn’t a hidden rock to break your fall.

I went first and to my great relief it was a deep pool with a relatively mild current.  Mal was getting ready for her leap of faith, and what do you know, her biggest jungle fear showed up to keep us company, a snake swam right down the fall and was wading in the pool.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do about it though and we splashed past it without getting bit (honestly it was probably harmless, but no sense in testing it out). After that we had a nice easy wade back to the trail to little the adrenaline settle.

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The main attraction, Yue Mei Kang Fall, is an awesome sight. It’s relatively tall with a wide, shallow pool at the bottom. This is a perfect summer time trek.

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If you go to the base of Wufengxi trail, instead of going up the stairs cross the river where all the kids swim and head up the dirt trail. Getting to the base of the fall and back down should take an hour or two. Safe travels!

This site has good instructions on getting up to the fall.

http://www.mandarintaiwan.com/2/post/2011/09/yang-mei-kang-waterfall-hike.html

Chung Tai Chan Monastery

Taiwan is a predominantly Taoist society, and it seems like Taoist temples are about as much of a commodity as 7-11s are. In fact, while driving down the east coast earlier this year, we saw a temple factory of sorts, where the intricate pillars and eaves seen in so many temples are manufactured. They are still beautiful, but it does take a bit of the magic away for me.

Although Taoism rules, there are still many practicing Buddhists, Buddhist temples, and Buddhist organizations. One of these is the Chung Tai Chan, whose monastery can be found in Puli, Nantou County on Taiwan’s East Coast. This beautiful temple and monastery are anything but factory manufactured. The monks at Chung Tai were kind enough to allow us to book a tour last minute.

The temple, which is over 16 stories tall, is nestled in the hills just outside of Puli and surrounded by trees. It’s shape is meant to represent a cultivator kneeling in prayer position. When we arrived, the parking lot was swarming with tour buses and tourists. Many people come to see the grounds, the museum, and the first two floors of the monastery, which are open to the public without needing to reserve a tour. We asked our hotel in Puli to help us call the monastery the morning of the day we wanted to go in the hopes we might be able to see a bit more of the temple. They agreed even though there would only be a Chinese language tour going on that day. Our guide was so nice and helpful and she took the extra time to explain everything in English to us as we went along the tour, although she did ask that if we ever wished to visit again that we book our tour at least three days in advance. Tour bookings can be made here.

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A temple guardian

At the entrance to the temple, guests are greeted by guards who sit out front protecting it. The first floor is called the Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings, which features four 12 meter-tall statues.

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Heavenly King

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Laughing Buddha to welcome guests

As you go up to the next floors, there are three Buddha Halls, which hold statues of the various Buddhas, and other intricate hand-made Buddhist artifacts. Each hall also has hand-painted ceilings, swimming with lotuses and mandalas of all colors. Our tour followed the path that the monks take every day on their way to the Chan Meditation Halls. The circular path instills calmness as you walk up.

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Transformation Buddha carved from red granite on the second floor

On the 16th floor, the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas is amazing. The wall is covered in Buddhas hand cast in bronze. In the center of the room, a 7-story teakwood pagoda was constructed without the use of a single nail. The tour ended here, and we were asked to share our feelings after visiting the temple while looking out across the valley. Many answers were similar, with people expressing feelings of peace and calm.

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Across the valley

Unfortunately photography is only allowed on the first  and second floors, so you’ll have to go see the rest of it for yourself. You can also check out the virtual tour, but seeing it in person is a really incredible experience.

We were given a taste of history, culture, and spirituality all in one visit. Not to mention the beautiful artwork and architecture that fills the temple. Just seeing the craftsmanship makes a visit well worthwhile. Apart from the temple, the Chung Tai also offers an art gallery, museum, and beautiful gardens.

gardenLotus pond in the gardens

I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who is in the Nantou area. There is a frequent bus between Puli and the Sun Moon Lake visitor center, and the monastery is just a quick taxi ride from central Puli.

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

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.