Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Weekend adventures in Taichung

Laura spent the first couple weeks working nights as the experiment ramped up, but once underway, she got to work regular daytime hours, including weekends off.  So for her first weekend off, we set out to see a traditional Chinese teahouse.

This was challenging for me, as I have been fighting off a flareup of what my friend, fellow priest, and chiropractic physician Shane Cobb says is surely a herniated disc.  We had to walk about 3km to get to the teahouse, but it was worth the effort.

In the middle of the a very busy road is the Wu-Wei Teahouse, which is a haven of greenery and traditional architecture and foot bridges over koi ponds.  Wu-wei is a Taoist term, which translates to something like "effortless action" or "acting without acting" or "creative non-action".

We were ushered to a private room and seated on tatami mats at a low table.  Presented with a menu, Laura ordered chicken soup whereas I had the fried pork, and both came with an array of side dishes including rice, picked salads, red beans in broth (the beans are okay; the broth though tastes like chocolate milk), and daikon soup.  Laura also ordered edamame, but it came chilled with a sort of anise seasoning that I didn't care for.

We also ordered tea, 20 grams.  This was advertised as tea for two, but after 10 grams, we had had plenty.  A waitress showed us how to make tea the traditional way.  The tea steeped in boiled water in a small teapot; after a minute and 30 seconds, the tea was poured through a strainer into a small pitcher.  The pitcher was poured into nosing glasses, which after they were poured into the drinking cups, we were encouraged to sniff.  All of these vessels had Chinese names, but the only one that stuck in my memory was im-bei for the drinking cups.

The tea we had was an oolong from the Alishan Mountains of Taiwan, which was grassy with a hint of citrus.  The waitress said the tea was good for eight infusions, each steeping time increasing by 15 seconds.  Each infusion was about eight ounces.  Do the math, and that's a lot of frickin' tea.  We were in no way to make another 10g of tea, so Laura bagged took the dry tea leaves to go.

On the way back, we popped into a stationery store.  Rilakkuma (Japanese, "Relax-bear") was of course everywhere in evidence, but Taiwan has fallen in love with a new character: Gudetama. Gudetama (a Japanese onomatopeia) is a clinically depressed egg yolk who hides in his shell, complains about getting up in the morning, is harassed by chopsticks, and often pulls bacon over himself in an effort to go back to sleep.  He's great.

Laura also bought an iced tea.  It was supposed to be citrus tea.  The tea itself was nice, but the tapioca pearls were a little weird, and the bits of kumquat rind were frankly a distraction.

On our way home we wandered across a festival, with a marching band, a man in a mirror suit, and a magician with a parrot.  Laura was very pleased.  I was also pleased, in that this presented many opportunities to sit and rest my herniated back.

The next day we went to see the nearby botanical gardens, which share the same grounds as the museum of natural science.  In the middle of the gardens is a glazed dome, under which there are waterfalls and streams and all sorts of tropical plants.  In the basement there is a cafe, and you can see the fish underwater behind a plexiglas window.  There are catfish there that can swallow a small dog.

Later we tried going to the Carrefour, but our taxi driver dropped us off at a place called the RT-Mart.  Either there was something wrong with our written instructions, or he's getting a kickback for dropping off hapless foreigners at the RT-Mart.  We were able to get most of what we needed, however, and though we failed to catch a cab back, we were still within walking distance of home.  We were chagrined to walk past our usual grocery store.

We decided on an easy dinner of pizza at the pizzeria across the greenway, which is convenient for those days when you don't want to fight for your dinner.  They make a cheese pizza Laura enjoys, and they offer a pineapple and ham pizza I appreciate.  The staff is young and speak excellent English. Our frequent dining companions from the company have practically taken up residence there, since after a long day at work, it's just easiest for them.  (It should be said they're traveling with their five-year-old daughter).

This evening, for the second time in the last week, we went to a yakitori place (the "yakitorium," I call it), which is a Japanese-type restaurant were various meats and vegetables are grilled on skewers, like shish-kebab.  I have eaten chicken skin, chicken cartilage, chicken butt (the menus here sometimes offer dubious translations), and chicken heart.  Weirdly, the cartilage was the tastiest.

We've also eaten at two Indian restaurants.  Of the two, the best was the won run by Pakistani immigrants (I've written about them before--they were the ones who invited us in), which is a drier, Punjabi-style cuisine.  The other place was a bit wetter with tastes of coconut milk and tomato sauce, but not my favorite.  Laura, however, preferred their naan, which is not an insignificant consideration.  But they also served short-grained Asian rice, unlike our Muslim friends, who serve long-grain basmati rice.  Choice of rice has got to approach quality of naan in importance.