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Another Day, Different Mountain

Day trip to Ba Shen San National Park


Monday was a day trip up to a national park in central Taiwan called Ba Shen San , which means The Eight Immortals Mountain. (Why it's called that I'm not sure.) It was a rainy, foggy day, but that made for less tourist in the park. By the time we left the park around 4pm, we were the only car in the parking lot!

On the way, we stopped at a Ke Ren Cultural Center, which was unfortunately closed on Monday, but we walked around the grounds and fed some fish.


When we arrived, the national park was full of mist, occasional rain ... and giant spiders! Green and black striped abdomen, yellow and black legs. Bonus points for any etymologists that can identify it for me. Hard to catch a good picture, but I tried.


We hiked about a 3-km loop up to the mountain path trailhead and back. And this is what we saw:

Rivers and waterfalls...

Misty rest stops...

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Native flora...

Mountainside temples to house the spirits of boulders...

And bamboo forests...

As we left, the mist lifted and left us with beautiful views.


Posted by hsustyle 15:46 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

McDonald's in Taiwan

You can never escape the golden arches!

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If you don't already know, McDonald's has menus in different countries that try to adjust to local tastebuds. They have beer in Germany, shawarmas in Saudi, rice bowls in Japan... So as we took a rest stop near a McDonald's in central Taiwan, I couldn't resist sampling the local McDonald's offering of:


The concept is to replace the bread bun with a rice patty for those Taiwanese that, like me, can't get enough rice. The patties are lightly grilled on each side to brown them and keep them together, but on the inside the rice is white and sticky.


Good idea, but as much as a tout the virtues of rice, I suppose I'm more accustomed to a chicken sandwich involving bread. Other thoughts: the sauce wasn't able to soak into the rice patty like it would with bread, so a lot of if dripped out and the rice didn't mix with the chicken in the mouth, because it was all stuck together from trying to act like a bun...

In conclusion, I must say: Bread and rice -- same food group, but completely different purposes and properties. McDonald's -- good attempt, but you don't have me sold on the Grilled Chicken Toasted Rice Burger.

Posted by hsustyle 17:38 Archived in Taiwan Comments (1)

Goin' with the flow

The only way to go...

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Plan have changed, so I have the chance to blog a bit and give a short update.

We decided to do a day trip yesterday instead of leave on the road trip. Today we'll head north to Taipei and then south and then around again. The plan is to get back on the 19th, but who knows?

Happy trails to yooooou!

Posted by hsustyle 17:21 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Taking to the road now

Signing out until next internet connection

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Tomorrow I leave on our family road trip around the island and don't know when I'll next have internet connection. We plan to head south along the western shore until we reach the southern most point of the island, then drive north along the eastern mountainous section, hit Taipei and then head back to Beidou. The plan is to travel for six days and return on the 19th.

Should have some interesting posts coming up, stay tuned!

If you'd like to know by email when I post (rather than suffer the repeated disappointment as you feverishly check for new posts) you can subscribe to the blog.

Posted by hsustyle 03:04 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

National Forest, Fish Balls and Sticky Food

All are representative of the Taiwanese in a way...

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On Saturday, we drove up a a different part of the mountains east of my gramma's house to do a bit of sightseeing. As we gained elevation, we passed large tea fields. First, neatly trimmed rows of tea bushes. My gramma explained that you can only get them that neat by harvesting with a machine, which trims the bushes and vacuums up the tea leaves at the same time. Then, at higher elevation was the higher valued oolong and dong ding tea that is hand picked. From there we headed to the lush Shitou National Forest. Here in Taiwan, the national symbol (besides the flag or the bird) is depicted graphically as 2-D green shape of the island. I am beginning to realize why; it is the "winter" here, but everything remains green, from the flatland agricultural fields to the mountainsides.

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(Unfortunately, I didn't get a shot of the bamboo forests, which were beautiful. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.)

After about 3 km of hiking about, we stopped for a snack, boiled fish balls. (That is not a very appetizing description, I know.) As the Swedish have their meatballs, Germans have their bratwursts, and the Americans have their hot dogs, the Taiwanese have their fish balls as a meaty snack. Served two or three on a skewer, they are cooked in soup and served along roadsides and at every 7-11. They proved to be quite tasty, I made short work of them (with little help from my mom).


Lunch and dinner were both sticky foods. The more I describe Taiwanese food, the more I realize that a lot of it is made from glutinous grain flour making it sticky, gooey and springy all at the same time. After driving out of the national forest, we made a stop to partake in a local specialty, sticky rice cooked in a bamboo segment. The short-grain rice is put in raw with some mushrooms and bits of meat into a bamboo segment and steamed. Right before it's served, the bamboo is split open so that the dish is served right out of the bamboo. The rice is supposed to come out with a distinct bamboo flavor (which I didn't really detect...). However, still fun and filling!


As we drove back late in the afternoon, we decided to eat dinner in Beidou, rather than cooking dinner at home. Beidou is famous for their ba wan, which is somewhat like a Chinese dumpling with the wrapper made of sweet potato flour and is filled with pork and bamboo shoot bits. After steaming and frying, the wrapper makes quite a thick glutinous layer around the filling so much that the dumpling is cut into quarters before serving. Traditionally, it's served with a thick sauce, that has a bit of a miso flavor. (Apologies that I don't have a shot of the dumplings, pre-sauce.)


In the background, more sticky rice and tofu soup (not sticky).

It was a good balance of exercise and good eats. Hope you're all enjoying food too!

Posted by hsustyle 01:17 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Mountain food

Picking up a car in Puli


On Friday, we drove up into the mountains to Puli to pick up a car from a friend to use on our tour around the island. The friend of my parents' took us out to lunch at a favorite restaurant of theirs that specializes in local mountain cuisine and also ke ren cuisine. Ke ren literally translates to guest people and refers to people from the Fujian region of China that were mostly traveling laborers and therefore were frequently guests in other places. Most of the Taiwanese (including myself) are of that origin as many of them migrated three to four generations ago to Taiwan.

The food was great. Tender sugar cane tips cooked in salted vegetables and mushrooms. Fresh steamed bamboo that you peel away the outer layers to eat the soft core dipped in garlic oyster sauce. Small, 2-inch long fish deep fried to a crisp and served with shredded ginger sweet and sour sauce. Dee ka, pig legs stewed in a soy, five-spice soup. Clean bamboo shoot soup. Thinly sliced, sauteed bitter melon. All with some white rice and mee fun, tiny rice noodles fried with vegetables.

Yum. There are indescribable moments when your mouth knows when something has just come fresh from the land or from the sea onto your plate. To me it's like a clean, crisp flavor combined with a feeling of content. I felt that with a lot of this meal. As umami was recently proposed as a sixth taste, I now propose a seventh -- fresh.

Posted by hsustyle 00:49 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Election Day

The campaigning and voting for Taiwan Congress comes and goes.

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When I arrived in Taiwan it was about a week before election day for the Taiwanese version of Congress. Once the airport shuttle started driving into cities and towns, it was quite obvious. Banners lined all the streets and hung out of windows. Trucks plastered with candidates' faces drove by blaring slogans and music out of speakerphones. Banners, fine, but the noisy trucks I could do without. At my gramma's house, I could hear the trucks approaching and they would get louder and louder as I was either enjoying a quiet moment or trying to take a nap. They make sure that you hear their message quite clearly. It was so frequent I knew which candidate's truck was approaching by the faint background music.

Saturday was election day and on Friday long trains of trucks and cars would caravan through the streets with the candidates standing on the trucks and waving to people on the streets. As Friday evening came by, firecrackers could be heard. But the rule is that at 10pm on Friday, the campaigning has to stop. Thank God.

On Saturday, my dad and gramma went to vote and at night we saw the results. One party won overwhelmingly. Without getting too political, some people in the house were disappointed...

Posted by hsustyle 00:27 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Words of Wisdom

from my gramma:

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You can eat package ramen every day, for every meal, for one month if you want. But all your hair will fall out.

(She was totally serious too.)

(She still has all her hair.)

Posted by hsustyle 06:49 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Day trip!

Scootering up the mountain to Sun Moon Lake

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Took a day trip to Sun Moon Lake in the mountains of central Taiwan with my Dad yesterday. It took about 1 1/2 hours on the scooter; my dad drove and i rode on the back. It was a fun day trip, especially fun because we took the scooter. You get to feel the wind in your face and as the passenger, take pictures in any direction while driving!

I just discovered that I can make my own map at Google Maps, so you can take a look at it here. The two markers are my gramma's house in Beidou (on the left) and Sun Moon Lake (on the right).

Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan and on the weekend, is quite the Taiwanese tourist spot. However, we went on a weekday and there was hardly anyone around. We hit some of the main spots around the lake: the main pier, tea fields, a temple, a pagoda, orchid and betel nut growers and a pagoda.

Our trusty steed awaits as we take a break at the river bank.

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Scenes from the ride.

New year wishes hang beside the lake pier.

Tea fields. Assam tea from India was brought to this area by the Japanese during the colonial period and is now a huge industry.

Wish bells blow in the wind by the path that leads to the Wen Wu Temple.

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The Wen Wu Temple sits atop a hill overlooking the lake. It tributes both military and civil greats, such as a Han Dynasty general and Confucious.

There was a devastating earthquake a few years ago and the temple was just recently rebuilt. This closeup of a ceiling dome of the temple shows the detailed work and new paint from the reconstruction.

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Lion's Head orchids and betel nut are grown in the area, in addition to plums and mushrooms! (I found the betel palms to be quite beautiful, but the habit of chewing the betel nut is quite nasty. It creates a red spittle when chewed and people tend to spit it out on the streets. Somewhat similar to chewing tobacco.)

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The Tsen Pagoda stands high above the lake at almost 1000m above sea level. The first president of Taiwan, Chiang Kai Shek, dedicated the pagoda to his late mother. There are 9 levels and a loud gong at the top. I started climbing to the top, when the sheer noise and vibrations at the 5th level made me retreat back to the ground! Instead I beat on the giant drum which was only a small step and jump off the ground.

More pics at Flickr.

Notes on riding long distances on a scooter:

    • Riding as a passenger on a scooter on windy mountain roads is somewhat like dancing with a partner. You have to follow the lead (driver) and lean with the curves.
    • Make sure to have a helmet with a face guard - and use it. Small insects hitting your face at 70 km/hr is not pleasant.
    • It sure is fun, but after an hour and a half, your butt really starts to hurt!

Posted by hsustyle 21:21 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Making turnip cake

So I got to stoke my inner pyromaniac after all...

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Turnip cake or lo bo gao is a Taiwanese side dish made from the daikon root. It's not really a cake, but a steamed mixture of shredded daikon, rice flour and water. It's difficult to compare it to a western food. The texture is similar to the dense, springy, slightly gooey nature of polenta? It has a mild flavor and is served pan-fried with oyster sauce. Dim sum restaurants serve it, so some may be familiar with it that way.

Yesterday, Gramma decided to make some lo bo gao, country-style, and I thought I'd document the process:

Ingredients: Shredded daikon, soaked rice ground to a paste, white pepper, corn starch, water
Tools: Wood stove, bucket, spatula, steamer, cheesecloth, mesh cloth, 3-inch bamboo segments

When you have the fire in the wood stove going, cook the shredded daikon with a little bit of water until soft.

Combine ground rice, white pepper, corn starch and water in a bucket. Stir until evenly mixed.

Add cooked daikon to the bucket and stir frequently. More stirring will give it a better springy texture!

Fill the stove top dish with water and place steamer on top. Set bamboo segments vertically in a large round steamer to allow some air through. Cover steamer with cheesecloth and mesh cloth. Pour in contents of the bucket.

Spread the mixture evenly in the steamer. Add more wood to the fire and steam for about an hour until firm.

Remove steamer from heat and cut the cake into small rectangles about 3/4 inch thick. Pan fry with oil on high heat.

Viola! Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside lo bo gao. Dip in sauce and eat!

Posted by hsustyle 18:59 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

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