In November I got an invitation to teach a one-week workshop at the Palace Museum on two diverse subjects: solubility parameters and anoxia. We decided that the Christmas holiday would be a good fit with Sean’s school and our other work schedules, and Fall is usually nice weather in Taiwan (and that turned out to be true enough: sitting around one evening in t-shirt and shorts we caught a BBC newsflash of storms in the Bay Area!).
The first week we stayed at the Landis Hotel, courtesy of the museum, and then moved in with grandma and family where we could let our hair down. Plenty of time to relax, play and as always, enjoy the huge variety of wonderful food that is available everywhere. Sean especially likes spicy (and greasy) ground meat over rice, as well as the ubiquitous convenience stores with triangle sushi, yogurt drinks and, 20 varieties of Pringles (he counted). I like the street vendors: that pan-fried sea snail in a Hakka village was tasty, as were the tiny creampuffs Sean and I picked up on our way back from the Living Mall one night. Then there’s the hot-pot, and the stinky tofu behind Sogos, and all the food courts on the lower floors of malls, the pastry shops, oh, and the candy. But nothing came close to the fresh seafood (except grandma’s vegetarian cooking: 10 dishes all with different textures and flavors. Oh, and my talented nephew cooking us a fabulous French meal, but I digress).
Driving a few hours east of Taipei through the 12.9km long Hsuehshan Tunnel took us to some infrequently touristed seaports like Ilan where ships were busily docking and unloading while venders hawked live catches that could be served right then in a bewlidering variety of ways: deep fried squares eaten out of the bag with bamboo toothpick, huge prawns stir-fried in garlic salt and pepper, steamed miniature fish no bigger than a rice grain, etc. Bring another couple beers, please!
Other northeast sights included Jiufen, a maze of crowded and lively shops, temples, and food stalls (chinese would say ‘renau’) nestled on a verdant hillside, and Luodong Sports Park where we rode bicycles built for two aroung a scenic lake.
The country was preparing for elections, and going through a soap-opera with the renaming and “decoration” of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (now called Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall). The worst part for me was the removal of the dramatic Guard of Honor that stood in the rotunda. Regardless, New Year’s eve saw us with friends on a nearby rooftop watching Taipei 101 bursting with fireworks in the balmy night. Word has it they won’t be doing that any longer either.