Taiwan: Getting out of the city—Emerald Valley

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Another day in Hualien, we rented bikes and went for a nice ride out of the city up to Emerald Valley or 翡翠谷 fěicùigǔ, about 15 kilometers southwest of Hualien. We wound around the somewhat busy streets of Hualien for a couple miles before leaving the city and passing through the outskirts. We stopped along the way at a 7-11 to get some breakfast and snacks.

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Once we left the city, the riding was pleasant through quite roads and farmland. We didn’t plot a definite route, instead opting to just wander through the countryside heading in the general direction of the valley, which we could see from a pretty far distance. Along the way we encountered a memorial for Taiwanese soldiers. It was built on a steep hillside and provided a nice view of Hualien in the distance.

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After a couple hours riding and exploring, we began the mellow ascent up the valley following along a large river. The trailhead was easy to find, and we locked up our bikes, grabbed our day packs, and headed down the trail. Within  a couple hundred yards there is an old WWII era tunnel to pass through. It is quite dark in the middle, but with our phones it was no problem navigating our way. Once the trail opens up at the junction of Feicui Creek and the main river, there is a manmade waterfall. Here we encountered quite a few Chinese tourists, wading and taking pictures. Not the place for us.

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We continued up a steep trail that paralleled the creek, until we finally dropped down into the creek bed and began boulder hopping up the creek. The water was crystal clear and cold, jumbled full of boulders, with thick jungle on each side. After a short scramble we arrived at a small waterfall and swimming hole. The water was quite low compared to photos we had seen (my daughter and son-in-law had visited there a few months prior). We decided to continue on. We skirted around the rocks past the waterfall and on up the creek. After awhile we came to another deep swimming hole and small waterfall. We took a break there, ate some lunch, a swam a bit. We ran into a young woman from Canada here and chatted with her a bit. She was just traveling around Taiwan solo. We didn’t see anyone else the whole day after we left the tourists at the man-made waterfall.

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Doesn’t look very deep, but this was a nice swimming hole, about 5′ deep

At this point it was rather dicey following the stream up, so we scouted around and found a trail that went up and around the waterfall. We followed this trail through beautiful jungle until it finally spit us out back at the stream at the base of Zimu Falls, 子母瀑布 zǐmǔ pùbù.  We had the place to ourselves and it was a great finale to our hike. It was an overcast, slightly cool day. Not the best for swimming in cold water, but great for a nice hike and bike ride.

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We hiked back down the valley, sometimes on a trail and other times through the stream bed. Once back on our bikes we decided to ride out to the beach in Hualien. We stopped at a Family Mart to get some food and liquids on the way. The convenience stores in Taiwan, particularly Family Mart and 7-11 have surprisingly good food and services (another post will address that). We then rode down to Nanbin Park along the coast on the south side of Hualien. We had a nice time walking around, and just relaxing at the beach. This was not your typical sandy beach. Instead it was covered with small multicolored stones. They were really beautiful, but knocked about your feet and ankles in the surf.

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As the day was closing we rode all the way back to the bike shop near the train station to return the bikes. It was a long and enjoyable day. In all we rode about 25 miles. Hualien is a really nice place and we really enjoyed our time there. I would like to take a bike trip down the coast to Taidong and beyond.

 

Taiwan: getting out of the city—Taroko Gorge

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Hualien is the largest city on Taiwan’s east coast with a population of about 110,000. That’s pretty small for Taiwan, especially when you consider Taiwan’s big cities have millions of residents. It has a relaxed, less rushed feel than other parts of Taiwan, and it’s a gateway to many beautiful scenic areas on Taiwan’s east coast.

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Last Fall my son and I spent a few days playing in and around Hualien. We booked seats on the Puyuma Express (普悠瑪號 púyōumǎhào) train from Taipei Station for the two hour ride. These trains are very nice and comfortable. It is a special class of tilting train that goes as fast as 150 km per hour (93 mph) that runs exclusively between Taipei and Hualien.

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The night market in Hualien may disappoint a bit because it is rather small, with limited options, but it did have some nice things that I haven’t seen in other markets. But hey, it’s a night market with delicious food, and you don’t find those here in the U.S.

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We spent a day in Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園 tàilǔgě guójiāgōngyuǎn) and another day at an area called Emerald Valley (翡翠谷 fěicùigǔ).  We rented a scooter at one of the many shops near the train station and rode about an hour along a highway with nice wide bike/scooter paths along the side to the mouth of the Gorge. It was an enjoyable ride up the Gorge. We pulled off the road multiple times to check out the outstanding views of the river and gorge. One of the interesting things about Taroko Gorge is that the cliffs and rocks along the rivers are marble, as in beautiful white and gray polished marble, not too unlike the marble you’d see on a kitchen counter top. There is a lot to see in Taroko Gorge and we could have easily spent a couple days up there, but we only had a day, so besides riding around, we stopped at two places, the Tianxiang area (天祥 tiānxiáng) and the Baiyang Waterfall Trail (白楊步道 báiyáng bùdào).

The Tianxiang scenic area is accessed by a bridge crossing the river and consists of the Xiangde Temple (祥德寺 xiángdé sì) and Tianfeng Pagoda (天峰塔 tiānfēng tǎ), as well a numerous paths through garden areas.

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The most entertaining part of this visit was when a giant hornet started buzzing around my son while he was filming. It was pretty hilarious watching him jump and dance around. Probably wouldn’t have been that funny if it was chasing me. We also enjoyed the views up and down the gorge and just relaxing at a peaceful, beautiful area.

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We then headed up to the Baiyang Waterfall Trail (白楊步道 báiyáng bùdào) which ends at the impressive Water Curtain Cave (水簾洞 shuǐliándòng). The trail is accessed across the road and within a tunnel, just a short distance from a parking area. Near the beginning of the trail you can cross a suspension bridge to a nice lookout of the two falls. As far as I know, that’s about as close as you can get to the actual falls, at least legally (without crossing barriers that tell you not to cross). It looks like it would be steep and dangerous to get up there anyway.

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Trial on the upper right

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The trail is pretty mellow, passes through a few tunnels, and follows along a couple rivers. It was a very pleasant outing. When we got to the end of the trail you can enter the Water Curtain Cave. Everyone coming out or going in had all kinds of rain gear on and some people offered to loan us theirs, since we didn’t have rain jackets with us. But since it was a nice day, and we aren’t opposed to getting a little wet, we declined. There are cracks in the ceiling of this short cave where water is pouring down in wide sheets. We clung to the wall, got a bit wet, and emerged on the other side. We hiked a bit further to a nice lookout of the river valley beyond. We had a little picnic, met a couple from Switzerland, and hung out for awhile, before heading back down the trail. It was a nice hike and so refreshing to be out of the noise and chaos of the cities.

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Taiwan: Getting out of the city—Alishan

 

 

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Taiwan is not all dense cities. In fact, the topography is quite varied, from jungle to mountain peaks over 12,000′ (3000 m) high. Once you get out of the city, small towns and villages dot the countryside. Access to natural areas is not difficult and Taiwan has her share of National Parks and other popular outdoor getaways, such as Taroko Gorge, Kenting National Park, Alishan National Scenic Area, Sun Moon Lake, and the Penghu Islands. There are countless other beautiful natural areas to explore as well.

Last Autumn I was in Taiwan for about ten days and wanted to get out of the city for a change. When I say city, I really mean Taipei (and the surrounding metropolises), or one of the other big cities like Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. My son and I (who was traveling with me) and a couple colleagues had the chance to play around for a day at Alishan, then later my son and I spent a few days in Hualien. It’s really nice to get out into the countryside where things are quieter and slower.

We took the narrow gauge railway in Chiayi up into Alishan National Scenic Area to the small town of Fenchihu part way up the mountain.

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We wandered around the market for awhile, then headed to a delightful little farm to table organic restaurant about a half hour walk from the train station.

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My friend and colleague, Henrietta, had a colleague from National Zhongzheng University in Chiayi that found the place for us. Xinhui was very gracious in showing us around Chiayi and satisfying our foodie inclinations by finding excellent restaurants. The mountain farm-to-table place was fabulous. We had individual hotpots, all the produce came from the farm right outside the door. The meal was fresh, light, and wonderful. The restaurant was really a farm house with no more than seven or eight tables between two rooms.

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It was a nice quiet, relaxed day with good food, good company, and beautiful surroundings. I’m always recharged when I leave the city and spend some time in a quiet, beautiful place. Sometimes even a city park can satisfy that need. Admittedly, I have not spent a great deal of time in Taiwan, at least compared to Mainland China, but each time I return, I find new things, new places, new food, and new resolve to return again and again.

 

A Quick trip to Hong Kong

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In October I was headed to China to visit some students at their internship sites in Shenzhen, and decided to stop in Hong Kong on the way. It was also cheaper to fly into Hong Kong than Shenzhen.

This is where is all started for me. I lived in Hong Kong for a year and a half back in the early 80’s and this was my first exposure to Chinese culture and the language. In fact, I learned Cantonese before I ever studied Mandarin at University. I still speak Cantonese but it is a bit rusty these days. In my early career I did quite a bit of work with Cantonese coauthoring a textbook series and teaching Cantonese courses at BYU.

Hong Kong is a dynamic, exciting place, and it has changed much over the years. Each time I go, I am amazed at how the skyline changes. Considerable amounts of land has been reclaimed into Victoria Harbor to make room for development.

With only a day and a half, I naturally focused on eating—Cantonese pastries, dimsum, chasiu, and a few other things. It was also fun to just walk the streets. I usually stay in a small hotel in the Mongkok District, on the same street I used to live on back in 1983. It’s a bit nostalgic and I don’t like the heavy tourism district of Tsim Sha Tsui. Hong Kong is a very crowded place. Back in the 80’s, the Mongkok District was considered one of the most densely populated places on the planet with 144,000 people per square kilometer.

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Street in Mongkok

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Another Mongkok street

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Night markets abound in the Mongkok area

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The famous “Ladies Street” market

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A couple getting their fortune told

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Hong Kong street food

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Hong Kong subway: always seems to be crowded

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The infamous  and chaotic Chungking Mansion in TST District

Not everyone shops in grocery stores. You can still find meat and produce markets all over Hong Kong, tucked away on side streets.

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Cantonese food is known for their roast meats, particularly roast goose, salt baked chicken, roast suckling pig, and chasiu (a bbq roasted pork).

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Lunch; in the little bowl is a dipping sauce made with scallion, ginger, and oil.

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Working class dimsum restaurant, full of older people.

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Beef balls

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Siumai (steamed shrimp dumplings)

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Choisum (caixin)

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Fried noodles

Most Westerners do not care for Chinese desserts, usually because they are not that sweet, and very different from what we are used to. However, Cantonese pastries are the exception, at least in Hong Kong. Two delicious pastries are a coconut bun, called gāi méi baū in Cantonese, and a pineapple bread, called bō lòh baū in Cantonese. I always have to get some of this delicious bread when I am in Hong Kong.

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gāi méi baū

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bō lòh baū

And finally a couple shots of some typical Cantonese dishes.

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After our short trip, we hopped on the train for the short 40 minute ride to the border and on to Shenzhen. It was a nice quick trip, though the heat was pretty unbearable, in the 90’s with high humidity. Oh well, that’s what you get in Hong Kong some times of the year.

A Geek in China wins award

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I received this notification recently, and was rather surprised.

The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation (SATW) announced the winners of the 2017 Lowell Thomas Journalism Competition and A GEEK IN CHINA was awarded GOLD in the Guidebook category! The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in journalism.

The Lowell Thomas awards, recognized as the most prestigious in travel journalism, were announced in Portland, Oregon, at the annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators.

 Twenty-five faculty members from the University of Missouri School of Journalism did the judging. The competition, for work from spring 2016 to spring 2017, drew 1,190 entries. This year, the SATW Foundation is giving 89 awards in 24 categories and nearly $20,000 in prize money to journalists in recognition of outstanding travel journalism.

Here’s what the judges said about A Geek in China: 

“A very different kind of guidebook, ‘A Geek in China’ delivers on the ambitious goal of actually helping would-be travelers understand this unique and complex culture. It achieves that goal through the engaging and authoritative voice of its author and in its bright, bite-sized design. The effect is both nuanced and delightful, as if one were just given a cultural crash course by a guide who is equal parts enthusiast and expert.”

Here is a link to the full list of winners.

http://www.satwf.com/2017-satw-foundation-lowell-thomas-travel-journali/2016-17-list-of-winners

A Geek in China

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This book is a project I have been working on the past few years. I was approached by the publisher to write this book and it is part of a series that is selling quite well, which includes A Geek in Japan, A Geek in Thailand, and A Geek in Korea. It was an interesting project. My focus was on cultural literacy. In other words, what are the kinds of things that all kids in China grow up with and know about, such as, who was Confucius, what was so great about the Han Dynasty, China’s regional cuisines, who are the biggest pop stars in China today, and so on. The audience for this book is armchair travelers curious about China, and those who know some Chinese and want to better understand all the cultural references that come up in everyday speech and writing. When you speak the language, it is also important that you understand something about the culture—history, politics, important people, myths and legends, literature, music, and so on. It is quite accessible with lots of photographs and short essays on a wide range of topics. Below is the promotional blurb from Amazon. It is scheduled to be released on December 27, 2016, and December 15, 2016 in the UK.

You can get it here (or in the link on the right under Books):

https://www.amazon.com/Geek-China-Discovering-Alibaba-Bullet/dp/0804844690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479760218&sr=8-1&keywords=geek+in+china

For every fan of kung fu, steamed dumplings, Confucius and giant skyscrapers, A Geek in China is a hip, smart and concise guide to the Middle Kingdom.

Packed with photographs and short articles on all aspects of Chinese culture, past and present, A Geek in China introduces readers to everything from Taoism and Confucianism to pop music and China’s new middle class. A mix of traditional culture, such as highlights of Chinese history, great historical and mythological figures, traditional medicine, how the Chinese language works, real Chinese food, martial arts, and how the Chinese Communist Party works, is complimented with information on what makes China unique today.

Chapters discuss why China is so crowded, what it’s like to work in an office, internet and cell phone culture, dating and marriage practices, top popular movies and movie stars, the contemporary art scene, China’s amazing new architecture and infrastructure, and popular holidays. It also contains chapters on what makes the Chinese tick, such as the importance of harmony in society, the practice of humility, and the importance of hierarchy. For visitors to the country, the author includes sections on what to see, both common cultural sites and off-the-beaten-track sites, and how to get around in China. Sections on visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan are also included.

This China travel guide is a unique guide to the world’s most populous and longest continuous culture. Readers will learn essential information about China’s past and present to be able to understand the many references to history, politics, and pop culture that come up in everyday conversation and in the media.

To the people, food is heaven (民以食為天)

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This saying, 民以食為天 mín yǐ shí wéi tiān, is a good indication that the Chinese are pretty serious about food and eating. I have written previously on this blog about food terminology in the Chinese language. Suffice it to say, the Chinese love to eat, and when they are not eating,  they are talking about eating, or planning what to eat next. China is truly one of the great cuisines of the world, and one of the ancient cuisines that has been around for a very long time. In fact, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) one could find more than 200 dishes served at a banquet, including 41 dishes of fish, shrimp, snails, pork, goose, duck mutton, pideon, etc., 42 dishes of fruits and sweetmeats, 20 dishes of vegetables, 9 of boiled rice, 29 dishes of dried fish, 17 different drinks, 19 kinds of pies, and 57 desserts. In the capitol city of of Hangzhou you could find 18 different kinds of beans and soya beans, 9 kinds of rice, 11 kinds of apricots, 8 of pears, and so on.  (See Gernet, Jacques. Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276). Think about what was going on in Europe during this time.

In China’s ancient book of poetry, The Book of Songs (shī jīng 詩經), published around the 5th century B.C., there are 130 references to plants, 200 to animals, 19 fishes, 38 types of poultry, the seasonings mentioned include salt, honey, malt sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper. By contrast, the Bible only mentions 29 food items.

There are at least three reasons we can contribute to China’s long obsession with food. One, there has been a very long, sustained civilization. In other words, there has been a long time to develop the many food sources. Two, geographical diversity. China is a land of many geographical features, from desert to jungle to fertile river plains. And three, for much of China’s history the people have been threatened with famine. This has resulted in the Chinese being very creative with all food sources.

三大菜系 sān dà cài xì: Three General Food Categories

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The first and biggest category is Han/Man 汉/满 which refers to the Han or Chinese majority and Manchurian (the rulers of the last imperial dynasty. This accounts for the vast majority of all Chinese food in China.

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The second category is Muslim or kosher cuisine, referred to in Chinese as 清真, and the third category is vegetarianism 素 which is often associated with Buddhism.

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八大菜系 bā dà cài xì: The Eight Culinary Tradtions

Chinese food, represented under the broad Han/Man category is often broken down into eight distinct culinary categories, which are generally divided by geographical region.

1. Chuān     川  Sichuan

2. Huì          徽  Anhui

3. Lǔ           鲁  Shandong

4. Mín         闽  Fujian

5. Sū           苏  Jiangsu

6. Yuè         粤  Guangdong,   Hong Kong

7.Xiāng       湘  Hunan

8. Zhè          浙  Zhejiang

四大菜系 sì dà cài xì: The Four Major Culinary Traditions

This list can be further simplified into four main geographical areas that incorporate the eight ares listed above. They are:

Lǔ                    鲁  Northern China

Huáiyáng         淮扬  Eastern China

                        (Lower Yangtze River Basin, incl. Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui)

Chuān              川  Western China (Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan)

Yuè                  粤  Guangdong, Hong Kong

Northern Cuisine 鲁菜 lǔ cài (Shandong Cuisine)

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• Wheat-based foods: noodles, steamed buns, fried flat breads

• Seasonings: garlic, chives, leeks, star anise, sweet plum sauces

• Poultry , especially duck, lamb, beef, pork

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Eastern Cuisine 淮扬菜 huáiyáng cài (Jiangsu Cuisine)

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• Land of fish and rice

• Light flavors that emphasize the natural flavor of the food; not too salty or sweet

• Famous for soy sauces, vinegars, and rice wines

• Stir-frying and steaming most common

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Western Cuisine 川菜 chuān cài (Sichuan Cuisine)

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• Land of abundance

• Liberal use of spice (chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns)

• Lots of garlic, ginger, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, pork, chicken

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Southern Cuisine 粤菜 yuè cài (Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine)

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• China’s haute cuisine

• Tastes and techniques a blend of China and the West

• Light flavors; delicate, fresh, tender, crisp

• Known for roasted meats: suckling pig, duck, chicken, BBQ pork

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