Thursday, May 19, 2016

sounds good to me.

{weekend wandering through the national gallery of art}

"the most powerful weapon on earth is a soul on fire."
- ferdinand foch 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

taiwan, pt ii





from miaoli, my family drove south to visit relatives and tour a few cities along the way. i wasn't fully aware of the magnitude of our road trip until we started, but we hit every corner in the tiny country:

taipei --> miaoli --> lukang --> sandimen --> tainan --> pingtung --> hualien --> su-ao --> taipei

something that i told myself repeatedly before going on this trip was that i was just going to go with the flow. as a self-proclaimed type-a planner, i am usually the one to help put together an itinerary, choose the hostel, research restaurants, figure out how to get from a to b. i knew that this trip would be a good time to really soak in the taiwan of the older generation and see it through their eyes. also, i know i'll be back to show my siblings and husband and family one day, and know that i'll be that much richer having this context and appreciation.

from the pictures above: 

lukang: a short stop, as we were just stopping for a lunch spot on our way to tainan - but i'm so glad that we did! the little town felt busier than miaoli, yet much smaller than a tainan or taipei, and with a different vibe than pingtung. we gathered in the back of a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop and and watched locals light incense at a beautiful, ornate temple in the center of town.

sandimen: the mountainous, rural township in pingtung couty, sandimen is home to various aboriginal taiwanese tribes that are rich in art and culture. we stopped here for a performance at the taiwan indigenous peoples culture park, where we were introduced to the customs and clothing of each tribe through song and dance. 

tainan: the oldest city in taiwan and the former capital during the qing dynasty, tainan was a bustling and pretty city. we stopped for a night at an amazing hotel (one of my favorite things about asia = the ridiculous exchange rate that allows for us to "splurge" on accommodation) and visited a relative that is a few times removed from my generation. although i had heard and read that tainanese food is renowned all throughout taiwan, i followed my exclusively mandarin-speaking relatives to a japanese restaurant for dinner, and received gasps of horror when i recounted this to a second cousin when we met up again in taipei ("why would you eat japanese food... in tainan?!"). in terms of sight-seeing, we stopped at the beautiful chihkan towers in the center of town. i'll definitely be back to this city. 

pingtung: we stopped here only for a few hours, but as my mom and grandparents caught up with our relatives in mandarin, my dad and i walked through the narrow, winding streets and watched the farmers tend to their rice fields. 

"for my part, i travel not to go anywhere, but to go. i travel for travel's sake. the great affair is to move." 
- robert louis stevenson

Friday, May 6, 2016

taiwan, pt i

{starting the trip in taipei}

{miaoli, where my mom was born}

on a tuesday morning in march, i flew from DC to chicago to tokyo to taipei, and 20+ hours later, found myself in a distant relative's apartment in the da'an district of taipei. the main reason we traveled across the ocean was to attend my mom's family's ancestral holiday (pronounced "god-ze" in mandarin) for the lai family, and we figured we would make a trip of it by bringing my grandparents (goon goon and po po) along to show us the ropes. my mom left taiwan when she was 12, and it was so, so amazing to see her back in her element. 

in the beginning of the trip, my mom considered her mandarin "rusty," but had trouble switching back to english as our two weeks came to an end. my dad and i - neither of whom speak mandarin or "hakka," the language of her hometown - watched on eagerly in the beginning, following the mouths of our relatives, then turning to my mom for translation. the few phrases we do understand - such as "happy new year" and "this food is delicious" - obviously did not get us very far. it wasn't until the end of the trip that my dad and i would sit through a meal having our own conversation in english and my mom would ask us to "be engaged in the conversation" (... hah). mandarin is unlike germanic languages in so many ways and felt nearly impossible to pick up despite my concerted attempts. while in paris, i felt as if i could somewhat follow along to a conversation in french, picking up a few words here and there. i even convinced some cafe owners that i was fluent when i told them je voudrais un café au lait. in taiwan, i felt lucky if i picked up one word that sounded familiar. my mom could not stop laughing whenever i said thank you ("xie xie"), and in such a serious, clearly enunciated manner. i told her that if i was going to say the only phrase in chinese that i knew, and be understood, i was going to say it well, dangit! 

the only language mishap: to my american ears, the words for "excuse me" and "you're welcome" in mandarin sound VERY similar (duìbùqǐ vs bié kèqì). so similar that often i would use them interchangeably - something i didn't notice until the end of the trip. so i was walking through the national palace museum in taipei, telling random chinese tourists "you're welcome" as i sidled up next to them in line. and when i handed my great aunt a warmed cup of soy milk for breakfast, i told her to excuse herself. this is the same great aunt who woke me up one morning laughing at me because i fell asleep with a hair dryer on, in my hands and pointed at my face, the night before (because, jet lag). she thought i was a special american child.

on the morning of the ancestral holiday in miaoli, we drove to the grave site of my ancestors, a small pagoda-like structure in a small field between rice fields and narrow, winding roads. almost a hundred people - all related to me - had already arrived, and we stood in the rain as the ceremony began. the oldest men in the lai family, my goon goon included, cast moon blocks on the ground as we held sticks of incense in front of the shrine. in the middle of chanting in chinese, everyone burst out laughing and stared at my goon goon, who had the biggest smile on his face. apparently in the middle of this important ceremony in hakka, he had spoken some english to the deities - a faux pas for the family. ohhhhh goon goon. afterwards, my family burned fake money and set off fireworks for our ancestors, and said ganbei a few too many times.  

photos above: 
- miaoli: visiting the house in which my mom grew up, her elementary school, the path she walked with her brother to school, "20 miles, barefoot, in the sun" :)

stories from the rest of my trip, to come!

"the world is big and i want to have a good look at it before it gets dark."
- john muir 

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