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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Food and the Streets of Taiwan

The Taiwanese people - at least those on the streets of Taipai - were remarkably friendly, helpful and far more willing to speak English than folks in Korea.  For example: on our first day, while trying to find a subway station, Nick asked a young woman for directions.  She responded clearly: "Straight here. Then walka-walka-walka to the big temple. Then walka-walka into the MRT station."  We were so delighted.  You just can't make this stuff up.

Along Incheon airport's early-morning moving sidewalk, we considered Weeny Beanies,
Snoopy Café, and Hello Kitty Café as breakfast options.  
And then we saw Subway.  How could we pass up the smell of home?
Taiwanese street food: Nick noticed a line of locals and decided these breaded meat patties must be great.  
And they sure were.

A restaurant ad in our hotel elevator kind of freaked us out.

The sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Park City Hotel included clear labels in two languages.
I smiled every morning at this one,which is really so much more useful than using the French "crouton."

Convenience store food included some interesting surprises.

We enjoyed more street food and McDonalds
(remember: the Taiwan dollar is equivalent to $0.03 USD)

With all our walka-walking about, we noticed a LOT of scooters driving around. As a social scientist, I starting taking random samples and calculating the ratios of transportation types: scooters, private cars, and taxis/buses.  Scooters (at least in Taipei) made up roughly 50% of the traffic, followed by private cars (about 25%), taxis/buses (about 20%), and a miscellaneous category (e.g, delivery trucks, bicycles).

Scooters are serious transportation - folks carry not only themselves and often another person on their scooter: we saw bags of groceries, 24-packs of toilet paper, huge packages, diapers, little kids, and even some dogs.  Helmets are required by law (only a white guy and the little kids/dogs didn't wear one); scooters are given plenty of room to park on the sidewalks and in the rare parking lots, and we even saw several scooter repair shops.  What a great way to get around in a city that never sees snow.

Golden Retriever on a scooter; an adorable happy kid; a scooter seat repair shop.

One of my favorite street scenes - a very fancy private car alongside a man collecting boxes to make some extra money.
All under the watchful eye of Mary.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Learning Australian the Tracey Way

Befriending Tracey since moving here 20 months ago has entailed learning at least as much about Australia as about Korea. Just in time for her birthday, I shall here share my second-hand insights about her continent so filled with cozies (koalas! kangas!) and crazies (pretty much everything else). (Except Tracey, of course.)

Tracey and I having coffee at Firenze Restaurant (Jukcheon-ri, Pohang),
which heavily advertised steak and pasta,
except it has no steak on the menu.
Alex the Aussie.
Faithful readers may recall Tracey from wrangling horse poop, admiring a market man's silkworms, or tapping a poisonous centipede to death. Here are three salient background facts. Long ago, Tracey and husband Alex adopted three babies from Korea (now 15-22 years old). Second, Tracey's mom keeps alpacas and greyhounds. Third, Alex was a leading expert in the Australian avocado industry and then a wine grape expert until they moved to Korea 11 years ago (Tracey and Alex, that is, not the avocados or grapes). With that as backstory, how could I resist friendship?

Composting; brandishing eggplants; and precisely measuring the garden's pergola.  She can do anything.
My earliest clear memory of Tracey was a few days after we'd moved from the US into our sweltering campus studio apartment.  She came for a visit, perching at the end of my bed.  In distress over packing all the wrong clothes for the weather and culture, I asked her where I might be able to buy something more suitable in my size.  She looked me up and down in that direct Aussie way of hers and gently said, "Well, I buy mine in the market, but you're a bit more buxom than I am."  Um.  Yes.
Tracey bakes drool-inducing lamingtons (white cake squares coated in chocolate and shredded coconut);
bargains in the fabric market; makes stunning quilts, and educates hopeful missionaries. 
During our various gardening adventures and two semesters of Korean class (more on that here), I have come to appreciate that Australia is rather different than America (despite similarities in our histories as British colonies). Tracey, representing Australia, has a surprising range of unique vocabulary, pronunciation, and idioms.  I've learned that one's fringe can get a trim (that would be bangs).  What I would call a kitchen counter, she calls a "bench." At the store, grocery carts become "trolleys." A soccer field is a "pitch." Sometimes I'm pretty sure she's making stuff up.  After some satisfactory work making our compost bin, I heartily exclaimed "Well, Bob's your uncle!"  Without missing a beat, Tracey responded "And Mary's your aunt!" (I later researched this phrase and found... nothing. Google was uncharacteristically quiet about Mary).

The woman loves her eggplants.
I'd rather photograph than eat them. 
My current favorite word is "daggy," which apparently comes from the word "dag" which refers to a certain unsavory morsel hanging from the backside of a sheep.  Thus, something that's "daggy" is dirty.  "Oh!  So "daggy" is like the American "shit," right?"  Her shocked face and glance at her daughter told me all I needed to know. Ohhhh.  Ok.  It's more like "crappy" or "grungy" then.  Got it.
This cute succulent is called "pig face"
by Australian gardeners.
How can you not love that?

We share a deep love of gardening, though I prefer perennial flowers and herbs over her beloved vegetables and annuals.  We also enjoy being observant community gardeners, gossiping over whose tomatoes need supporting and who originally planted the now-runaway coreopsis. As we murmur along the paths, pointing out various gardening approaches, sometimes our names for plants are not the same and hers usually make me laugh aloud with surprise: to Australian gardeners, bell peppers are called "capsicum" (she has a certain disdainful look on her face when I call them bell peppers, which makes me persist all the more); columbines are "granny's bloomers."  Given her "Mary" quip, I am never quite sure whether to believe her, so I often sneak home and check with google to be sure.

A plate of elaborate cupcakes
from the Banks family
became our dinner on moving day.
Tracey always serves cake with spoons.  Every time.  I don't understand that at all. At first I just assumed she was out of clean forks, but this behavior persisted over time. Online research shows that this is a real thing - with surveys and Yahoo boards dedicated to discussing the propriety of forks (meant for crunchy things only!) vs. spoons (meant for soft desserts!) in eating cake. I had no idea.  Such an education I am getting.

I have also learned that during the Australian school day, children have "little lunch" and "big lunch"  What?  What are you talking about? "Little lunch" is morning tea - a brief snack time.  "Big lunch" is the mid-day meal, and some schools also have afternoon tea. How did the US miss out on this wonderful invention?

We discovered in Korean class that Tracey's accent helped her pronounce some sounds far better than I could (and I was usually grateful for her willingness to correct help me). I do love her accent and find myself unconsciously picking it up whenever we're together. Even so, I am continually startled when she spells "h" words aloud, thinking she's hissing at me. It comes out as "HAITCH" rather than "aitch"  and every time I need to rapidly process the "hissing! is she angry? - no, it's just her accent - ah, ok" routine.  Every time.  She has no idea.
A Russian, an Indonesian, and Tracey the Australian in Korean class.
Last week we hung out at her house for Australia Day.  In case you didn't know already, this date marks the January 1788 arrival of the first British admiralty fleet in order to establish a new penal colony in Australia; one of the Brits' previous penal colonies (Georgia) got lost during the American War for Independence (what we call the Revolutionary War) so they were looking for another one (another colony, that is, not another war).  Apparently this holiday is celebrated with great frolic and merriment back at home.  We in Korea celebrated with lamingtons (see photo above) and a game of Squatter while Alex shouted at the televised Asian Cup game. And in case you didn't know this, Squatter is similar to Monopoly, but instead of a cut-throat game of capitalistic greed, this game highlights the conflict of sheep vs. nature: droughts, fires, liver flukes, and a scary disease called "pulpy kidney" (Of course I looked it up later - its a real thing). And, instead of passing Go and collecting $200 for a payday, one collects "wool proceeds" based on the number of one's accumulated sheep.  And one can buy "stud rams" to hire out to other players for the contentment improvement of their herds. And like Monopoly's "Chance" cards, Squatter's "Tucker Bag" cards may unleash disaster (pastures overrun with rabbits!) or good fortune (my Stud Ram won a prize).
I hate Monopoly.  But Squatter was a lovely alternative, particularly because no dags were involved.  
So if all Austalians are like Tracey, I really really want to visit.  As soon as I figure out how to survive all the critters that want to kill me.  (Happy birthday!)