March 31, 2010

Chiufen (Nine Portions) Taiwan

Chiufen is an old gold mining village just outside Taipeh. We spent an afternoon there after a good big bowl of Taipeh's beef noodle. The road to this village is long and winding and at most times covered with mist. It was a lovely ride.

In spite of its being a very "movie studio like setting" today - the quaint mining town still has some of its old mining atmosphere. It gives the tourists a lot of opportunities to take photographs and taste the snacks sold in the two main streets .

This is Taiwan fragrant sausages fried and displayed on taro leaves (something that is really refreshing and interesting to me from Sarawak.)

This is the guide post in four languages...Jishan Street is a must visit street.

Branching from  the Jishan street are many alleys like this : alley going uphill would be from the seaward side and an alley going down hill would be going towards the sea. Very photographic.

Here's another alley going uphill.

Escargots being BBQed- TWN100 for get them cut up in you eat from a paper cup.

The misty atmosphere and a view from one of the alleys give you an insight to the past : a church and a temple on two sides of a hill facing each other...but both looking up towards heaven.Both were started in the 1890's when gold was discovered here.

Nine families started their lives here and they used to buy provisions from the boats. Each time they travelled to the coast (which was by foot then) they would buy nine portions. Thus the name in Chinese : 9 portions (9 fen).

At the peak of gold mining in 1900's this place was called Mini Shanghai.

Today it has been made famous by movies like City of Sadness directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and the Japanese animation movie, Spirit Away by Hayao Miyazaki used Chiufen as a model of the story background.

Today bus loads of tourists will descend on Chiufen to see its narrow Japanese styled streets lined with teahouses and souvenirs and snacks shops. And I would not mind going back that for a second visit - this time taking a whole day going over all the nooks and corners and even trying to go down to the sea and re-live those days when housewives trekked downhill to get nine portions of provisions!

(more photos later when the Internet is faster....we are facing some problems lately....)

March 30, 2010

Jin Ta Wan (Big Golden Bowl) or Really Big Bowl

One the best meals in Taiwan - beef noodles which came in a large bowl. The shop is called Chin Twa Wang...Really big Bowl. But the Chinese words are Jin Ta Wan.

The business is really good and wave after wave of tourists come into the shop. They have hundreds of waiters and waitresses.

Free flow of soup and noodles but not the beef or the pork chops. There are only two choices in the menu : beef or pork noodles. All in bowls of soup. So you cannot order kolok or dry . You cannot order goreng/fried.....

This is the signboard inside the shop.

Very thick healthy beef soup. You can add more spring onions and other ingredients which are placed on the table for you to help yourself.

This is a side dish of sea weed pickle.

Some dried pickled toufoo.

This is the pork noodle soup.

The whole range of side dishes for you and your friends. The shop also adds to the side dishes upon request.

This is the nice cold dessert sweet (transparent jelly with lotus paste).

this is the pork chop which goes with the pork noodle soup.

Lovely ladies from Miri!!

March 29, 2010

Saying "Sorry" : Taiwan politician

This is a normal street bus in Taipeh. I took this quick photo from my coach seat (which was unfortunately at the back) and straight away my tour guide told me the story.

An election candidate created an unforgettable incident and regrettable action when he "offered" " leg tail" ( post funeral meal) rice to the supporters.

This was a sad act and he asked for forgiveness. In five years' time he might stand for election again.....

This bus carries his request for forgiveness. He has taken out this advertisement for five years which is quite a hefty sum. But will they forgive him?

(No names mentioned in this post )

March 28, 2010

Foochow Funeral Rites and Customs : Hwang Lian

Relatives and friends can bring another kind of gifts for the grieving family to indicate their compassionate condolences and respect. Apart from these individuals or families associations of which  the deceased's family members (and in-laws) are members would also send these as tokens of their appreciation for the dearly departed who had contributed a lot to them in his/her life time in terms of cash donations or holding of certain positions. They would bring the correct length of materials (most shops in Sibu like Ta Sing would know how much to cut) to the bereaved family home and the clan committee or family would make the frame for the funeral procession. The materials are usually cut in the old  Chinese measure : suok chien (the Chinese yard) and suok suk (one and a quarter Chinese yard) etc...

(By the normal measurement the material is not enough to make a whole blouse which requires 2 yards or at least l.5 meters).

The materials would be framed up like in the photo..Hwang means "across" and lian means words or phrases written (on material/cloth.) The words would announce the deceased as "female" or "male" as the appropriate phrase would indicate "Great Mother Great Teacher" or "Responsible Wife Dutiful Mother" and I like this..:" Gracious lady Good family" or "Good Teacher of Good Children" etc.....a calligraphist would often be invited to write these gracious phrases (four characters). On lookers would read from the words and understand the significance of the funeral. The one who had passed away had done well for the community and the family in particular.

When I was young and studying at the Methodist Primary School I would learn all those words pasted on the cloth. The Hwang Lian would be lined up on the road in front of the church and some would even recline on the bamboo hedges. The bell of Masland church would toll slowly and sadly announcing a funeral and we would all be alerted to look out of our  classroom windows. The white mourners would slowly and respectfully walk into the church. What frightened me in those days were the gunny sack head coverings . The pianist would play mournful tunes or hymns slowly...and then the service would begin. I really liked some of my teachers who allowed us to look for a while. I was never scolded for losing my attention in class. I supposed the teachers knew that I was thinking about the funeral and death.

And I remember I had said to myself  more than once :"So much material in the procession!". In my young age I had measured the dead person's worth by the yardage! Perhaps that was the essence of this Hwang Lian in those days.

When the funeral is over all these special materials will be divided amongst the children and relatives as parting gifts. The volunteers would also be presented with some to take home as tokens of thanks. I remember when my grandfather passed away there were a lot of these hwang lian and we small children were asked to fold them. I did try to remove the paper squares but the glue was so good that the paper was stuck there for many years. Eventually my mother used up all her share of materials for making "stomach covers" or Too Heng or pillow cases. I had one skirt made in my Home Science class and indeed wore the skirt for many years. This shows how small I was then. I think many of my cousins cut small pieces up to make quilts and "hidden" pockets in their blouses. The older generations would consider these materials very "blessed".

The words would praise the deceased and would be part of the funeral. How long the Foochows of Sibu will keep this tradition? We will wait and see how strong the clan associations will maintain it and the attitude of each Foochow family.

Perhaps not many of the English and BM educated generation may want to continue this. What do you readers think?

March 27, 2010

Earth Hour March 27th 8:30 -9:30 p.m.

Peacocks - in all their splendour

Enjoy the Foochow dialect song " Peacock Flying South "

There's a beautiful peacock farm near Sun Moon Lake which was initiated by President Chiang Kai Shek in 1968. Chiang was a man with aesthetic tastes and he spear headed many interesting developments in this part of Taiwan. One can say that he was a man before his time : a man who knew what the good life was all about. And he definitely left a good place for future travellers to enjoy . There are more than 200 peacocks in this zoo. And it was the first time I saw an albino peacock.

Pretty eyes...reminds me of the eye makeup of Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

One can always learn to strut (John Travolta) as a peacock...proud and with such a fantastic flare of plumes...

It is hard to describe the dynamics involved in getting all these plumes or feathers up in such a majestic way......

I love the legend below...have always been a romantic at heart because our Chinese culture is just so full of such legends....

The legend A Peacock Flying to the Southeast was the work of an anonymous poet living in the Jian An period at the end of the Han Dynasty (196—219 AD). It is one of the collections of the Music Academy (yuefu) formed by the Eastern Han courts to gather literary works created largely but not exclusively by common people. Unlike a Western epic, Chinese poems of this genre, known as the "Han Yuefu songs," use vernacular language and depict mostly the average people. A typical yuefu song has regular five-syllable lines and both Mulan and A Peacock Flying to the Southeast follow this rule.

A Peacock Flying to the Southeast was a tragic love story of a young man named Jiao Zhongqing and his wife Liu Lanzhi. Although the newly weds loved each other very much, Zhongqing’s widowed and perhaps morbid mother could not stand Lanzhi coming between her and her son. Eventually she broke up the marriage. The young couple’s dream of coming together was shattered when Lanzhi’s mother and brother forced her to marry someone else. As a protest, they took their own lives, fulfilling their vow of living together in the other world.

It is alleged that the legend has its root in real life. In the Qinghuang County of Anhui Province, one can find a grave, known as the Peacock Tomb, believed to have entombed the couple. The word “peacock” comes from the first line of the poem, which is used to introduce the rest of the story, a style typical of the Han Yuefu songs. The image of "a lone peacock flying to the southeast, looking back every few miles," was used to accentuate the feelings of Jiao Zhongqing and Liu Lanzhi forced apart by their oppressive families.

Adapted into different art forms including various national and local operas, A Peacock Flying to the Southeast is well-known to the Chinese and enjoys a prominent place in Chinese literary history. Yet none of the eminent literary critics ever mentioned it in their works before the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). A possible reason may be that the theme of defying the social order was not politically right and so each monarchy tried to discourage the legend's dissemination. However, its publicity has gained momentum since the turn of the twentieth century when women began to be awakened to the cause of their emancipation from a male-oriented society.
Story retold/ translated by Haiwang Yuan, ©2004
Last updated: March 27, 2004

Here's the albino peacock.....

March 26, 2010

Face to Face with a Bamboo Forest in Hsitou of Taiwan


I have always wanted to visit a bamboo forest and imagine all the sword fighters gathering there and stepping on the bamboo stalks half way up the sky. They would fly towards each other and cross swords. Fantasies after fantasies would cross my mind and I would feel comforted that our ancestors were so smooth and adept in their swordsmanship .

This trip to Taiwan enabled me to come face to face with a real bamboo forest. The weather was just perfect : slight drizzle and lowered temperatures of 18 degrees. We met so many different tourists there : Japanese and local Taiwanese and even another coachful of Sarawakians! The forest is also a university research centre and thousands of students come here every day to do research or enjoy their sabbatical leave. What a beautiful and educational centre.

Unfortunately for me on a coach trip like this I could never take any of the front seats (a few people always managed to get on the coach ten minutes earlier than anybody else and sat in the front or the two First Class Seats next to the tour guide They did not even take photos and probably even fell asleep. Half of our time was on the bus and I only wish I have the front seat to take in all the beautiful scenery and take lots of photos. But then there is no such thing as reserved seats on a trip like this. Free for all. But it does not mean much in certain contexts.

As the coach takes you along the curvy road to Hsitou you see very quaint buildings like these. Some of the houses have Japanese influence because a long time ago Japanese miners came here to exploit the mines and later log the timber. An important time is Hinoki. I will write about Puli in another post...

Beautiful flowers - but poisonous. We were warned that many plants and flowers are be careful...don't touch or pluck.

Curvy roads...many tourists can become very car sick.

My photo of the bamboo forest did not turn out too well......hazy and mysterious....

This takes about 2 hours of slow walking. Quite an experience. Even 90 years old people can do the slower trail without any trouble. If you are very fit you can do it in half an hour. But if your tour guide is very good you can learn a lot more.

If you do not feel too well you may sit in a waiting area (watch birds and people and get into an interesting conversation) and then continue walking on your own but it is quite need to be with your group.

March 25, 2010

Short Stay at Bunun Village

 Taiwan Tourism  is very much geared towards world standards of eco-tourism and environmental friendly kind of tours. The tour guides are world class and in fact I heard from many that some of them are engineers and even architects who part time as tour guides in order to beef up the very knowledgeable pool of tour guides. Indeed our tour guide has great in depth knowledge of culture and history and geography of Taiwan and his linguistic skill in Chinese is superb. He was politically correct at all times. He would apologise if he thought he said anything untoward even when joking.

The Ti Lun Hotel at Donpo is famous as an Indigenous Bunun owned hotel. It has special programmes for tourists. The whole village is in fact focused on tourism as an industry. You feel that you are warmly welcomed by the whole village which is in fact made up of many winding and hill paths and shops which sell all sorts of natural products from tea to exquisite wood carvings.

The scenery is picturesque and the people very friendly and professional in their industry and outlook. All of them are articulate and very customer oriented. They take great pride in showing tourists what they have and what they sell. Taiwan is in their heart and soul.

There are two churches in this former "farming centre": a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church. It was Sunday morning when we departed for another place so I had an opportunity to sit for a while in this Church. We left punctually at ten in the morning . The church here starts its service at 9:30 .am. The Bunun children are bright and intelligent and will go far in education.

This Plains (Chinese ) people make popiah skin from scratch.

Hilly path.

Bunun Oven

A Bunun woman keeping the paths clean from the winter leaves.

Pretty path

Bunun carving from a tree trunk

Bunun boy performers

Bunun girls doing a dance number for the evening performance in the Ti Lun Hotel.

 There are tours  conducted in English. But it would be difficult to find hotels having English speaking staff unless you book into 5 star hotels.

More information for you : 
Tonpo, a small mountain village adjacent to the Yushan National Park, is well-known for its excellent hot springs. Situated around the Chen-You-Lan Creek, the village enjoys spring-like weather throughout the year. Surrounded by mountains, the climate here is fairly mild in winter and rather cool in summer.
Located at the foot of Yushan and midway between Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, Tilun is surrounded with many natural attractions, such as forests, waterfalls, and cliffs.

Yushan or Mt. Jade, with height of 3,952 meters, is the highest mountain in the Formosa Island and is also the spiritual symbol for the people in this island.
For thousands of years, Bunun aborigines pray for a good harvest with beautiful sound of singing intertwined with the cascading waterfalls amidst the woods. Their mystic and ethereal chords echo and linger among valleys.

Hotel Tilun Donpo Spa
TEL: 886-49-2701616
FAX: 886-49-2701360
NO 86, Lane Kaikao, Tonpo village,
Hsinyi, Nantou, 556, Taiwan, R.O.C.

March 24, 2010

The Late Tun Temenggong Jugah in photo with King Mau (Thao Tribe)

Part of the Sun Moon Lake Tour was the compulsory visit to Mau's House.

What surprised me was one of the photos which graced the hall of Mau's House : Tun Temenggong Jugah from Sarawa k with King Mau in a photo together.  This photo was probably taken in the 1960's judging from the bush jacket he was wearing. At that time he was also the Minister for Sarawak Affairs an enviable position from world view and especially World Indigenous Peoples' platform. Another photo was that of Tun Mahathir. There were photos of other world leaders and  prominent men and women too.

Photo of Tun Jugah with King Mau (Mau Sin Siao) of the Thao Tribe of Taiwan...they recognised each other as "brothers".

I understand that what we got was one of the compulsory tour destinations a Taiwan Tour of the Sun Moon Lake area: the visit to the Mau's House in the Aboriginal Cultural Village of Taiwan.

In Mau's House you see a presentation/infomercial of two important products of this area : Royal Jelly and Deer Foetus Capsules. The former is for the eternal beauty of ladies and the latter for the eternal health for men. Both will set you back at least RM1000.00 Be warned.

Miri ladies in King Mau's house... This will not be on the Hall of Fame upstairs.....LOL.

Wooden figurines in King Mau's house.Fairly similar to those crafted in Sarawak.

Near the Sun Moon Lake is a Taiwan Aboriginal Cultural Village for tourists to spend time. And a special destination is this Mau's House.(Thao)

Local oven for sweet potatoes. There are many shops along here selling many different products. The traders are Plains people or Chinese descent people and Aboriginal Tribal People (or Original Natives)

Millet for wine making. Rice wine made by the Aboriginal Groups are sweet and strong. Very good quality with different labels. They can be as expensive as RM70. Very simply brewed ones are at RM6.00

A local Church in this cultural village. The doors are always open.

A popular souvenir...seed which looks like jaring.

This is the Taiwan jaring...a giant one....

How Mao Sin-siao became King Mao - The New Leader of the Thao Tribe
Mao Sin-siao was a member of the Guard Regiment during the Japanese occupational era.  In 1949, while visiting the Sun Moon Lake, President Chiang Kai-shek took a boat to Dehua Village to enjoy the Thao tribe's dancing and singing. In order to welcome the president, Mao Sin-siao led his tribes people to the wharf to sing and dance. Because Chiang was not well informed about the Thao tribe he called Mau Sin-siao "King Mao" and the name got stuck.
Thao tribe's dancing and singing
President Chiang Kai-shek greatly appreciated the singing and dancing of the Thao tribe. Consequently, he arranged for King Mau to head a dance group to pay respects to the soldiers in the frontline of Jhouhan. Their performances were highly appreciated.

Later on, Mao Sin-siao organized the Sun Moon Lake Aboriginal Singing and Dancing Group. Then, in 1955, he established Mau's Garden which became a commercialised tourism product : you can take pictures with a "princess", and buy handicrafts. Subsequently the Peony Garden, the Shueishe Hall, the Chieftain's Great Garden, and the Aboriginal Culture Hall were also established.  From then on, the fame of King Mau spread further. Tourists would often assume that King Mao was the chief (“Toumu”) of the tribe. However, the Thao tribe in Dehua Village does not have the titles of “Chief” or “King”. Their leaders are known as “Skatafatu” and “Sinawanan”.

Owing to his good relationship with the government officials, King Mao became the new leader of the Thao tribe. Throughout his entire life, he strove enthusiastically for the welfare of his tribespeople.

In the Heart of Taiwan we learned a great deal : the tour guide told us many stories and many legends of this area. We learned a lot of moral lessons from him.

It is good that different people have so much respect for each other and for each other's origin. It is sad that some people cannot even treat their neighbours and fellow travellers with a decent smile or a decent nod of recognition.

We also learned that even if we have money in our pockets we could not buy up everything as if there was no tomorrow. You do meet some nasty sourvenir shop owners who are choosy about their customers. We learn never to look if we have no intention of buying. You can get bad remarks (which you can understand in Hokkien which they think you don't understand) and that spoils the day. You can bargain in some shops but not in every shop. Buy what you like and don't buy with enthusiasm. Before you buy give that special look that you "have the money but you won't part with it" ...and always look carefully because not all products are good in quality.

Also you may have some people in your tour group who will snap up all the products before you can take out your wallet. They have what we call " fast money". But never mind that. Keep your money for your old age and coffee for friends when you are home in Miri. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to get that last packet of Taiwan sweets when the rich aunty took the last 20 packets for her relatives.

Do have a list of what you wish to buy or you will have excess luggage. Air Asia may promise every one can fly but not every item can fly....

And to some of my friends there will always be more Taiwan trips in the future. Be comforted.

I must stand firm and take only photos and bring home good memories and leave my foot prints in Taiwan. Even though I wanted to bring home every living plant I could lay my hands on I must remember I should not create an invasion of plant diseases in my own country....On Guide's honour I promise to keep my luggage at 15 kg for always.

We have plenty to learn.

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...