Tuesday, December 27, 2011

my daily shuffle

So today I'll be bringing everyone up to speed on how my day usually looks like. Believe you me that when I said there is no variation, there is no variation. I wake up at 11:30 am everyday and either I curl up for a couple more minutes of sleep or I just lie there willing myself to leave my warm bed to face the cold cold air. I arrived in Taiwan during the summer when it was so freaking hot that just walking around left me coated in sweat. Now its winter time and the temperature has dropped dramatically. The temperature drop isn't that bad since it's in the 50s, which is what SF usually gets on a cold day. However in Hsinchu, also known as the Windy City, the wind makes it feel as if my hands are being slapped by ice cubes. Right behind my building is a field of crops or something so there is no buffer from the strong wind that howls outside my window. Not only is it cold but it also rains. I can't think of anything I hate more weather wise than rain and strong wind. Oh right add to that crappily made Chinese umbrellas... I've gone through two cheapo portable umbrellas since I've been here and have resorted to buying those big unfold-able umbrellas. It is such a hassle to carry that big ass umbrella around and the wind is so strong here that it still flips upside down when I use it.

Anyways moving from how bad the weather is. My daily lunch routine includes making a stop at a bakery near the bus stop. I use to go to a mom and pop shop that sold bread for $25 NT a pop. However a new bakery chain How Sweet recently opened and even though it is expensiver at $30 NT a piece, I have transferred all my business there. I love mom and pop shops but the one I use to frequent had a small selection and always felt too oily. That and the fact that around 12:20 pm when I arrive at the bus stop the mom and pop store has just started baking their bread, hence the sparse choices, while the chain bakery store has every shelf filled with a variety of options and more waiting to be shelved! You might wonder why I only choose to eat at bakeries in the morning when there is a whole host of other foods waiting to be tasted. That is due to my crappy knowledge of Mandarin. I have no confidence to go up to those vendors with dozens of people around and try to order food. It wouldn't be so bad if I actually looked like a foreigner because then the vendors would know they wouldn't be able to understand me. Of course with me they just assume I can speak Chinese and when I can't it's this whole confusion and wtf face that goes on with people nearby just staring at me like eh why can't you understand Chinese, Miss Chinese-face person. Ugh its all so mortifying that I would rather just ingest carbs everyday and get fatter than put myself through the awkwardness of it all.  Yes I'm a wimp.

my old bakery joint

how sweet!
What I like about bakeries in Taiwan is that they sell things like garlic bread! A lot of the chain store bakeries in Taiwan sell what I would consider western breads instead of anything traditional. I didn't realize how weird it was until I was video chatting with my mom and realize that I haven't seen anything remotely similar to chau siu bao or pineapple buns in these bakeries. I guess you need to go to the night markets to find those specialties. I really love the fact that I can get fresh garlic bread whenever I want. Back in the states the only time I could eat garlic bread was if I went to a restaurant that sold them or I had to buy the premade ones that you heated yourself.

pizza bread with bacon, cheese and pineapple
Loved how cheesy it all was but not a big fan of sweet and salty with the pineapple added to it. I guess its like the bread version of the Hawaiian pizza?

garlic bread
My all time favorite!! The sides have this toasted crumbly texture that is yummy in its own right. The garlic spread in the center is buttery and garlicky. The garlic breads I've had in Taiwan have outshone the ones I've had in America with their super buttery and garlicky taste!

bacon with garlic and cheese
Another good one. The addition of meat just makes it more delicious! I tend to go for savory rather than sweet but was tempted by the raisin bread at How Sweet because it reminded me of the raisin bread my family use to get at the bakeries in Chinatown.

raisin bread
I liked this because there was so many raisins in each bite! Haha sorry for making this post be about bread. Anyways I usually consume my whole lunch while waiting for the bus but even if I didn't, you can totally eat on the buses here and they even have garbage cans on every bus. One day when it was a Tuesday and I had a meeting at Jhudong, the bus driver had already printed out my bus ticket to Erchong. It was then that I realized the bus driver recognized who I was and knew what stop I had to get off of. He would stop at my bus stop even if I didn't ring the bell. It's crazy to know that even in a big city that the bus driver can recognize me and try to strike up conversation with me despite the fact that I can only tell him that I don't understand.

My work day usually lasts from 12:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Yes I know a super long day but I also get some long breaks throughout the day. Every Tuesday is the staff meeting so classes don't start until 4:20 which means a lot of hours to prep for lessons and just chill. Haha. After 9:30 pm I just catch the bus back home and then spend a ton of hours online watching tv and surfing the internet. Then I go to bed at 3 am. Since I don't have a scooter and no one lives within walking distance of me, I don't really hang out after work. I really miss my car and the freedom it gave me to visit my friends and just do stuff besides go home and watch tv. There are pluses and minuses for having such a late work schedule. It fits my routine perfectly because I'm a night owl and hate waking up so early in the morning. However in Taiwan nothing is open before 12 pm so even if I wanted to do stuff during the day I wouldn't be able to. Also everything is already starting to close up after I finish work. So I don't have much to do before or after work in terms of exploring the area or even eating out, not that I would with my wimpy Mandarin aversion. This is my schedule everyday, rain or shine. Unexciting but I'm comfortable with it and can't say I have any complaints about sitting around doing nothing more taxing than watching tv after a long day of work. No obligations. No nagging. Perfection.

The Details
How Sweet
No.116, Sec. 1, Guangfu Rd., East District., Hsinchu City
tel: 03-563-1919
They have shops everywhere, this just happens to be the closest one to my house.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

it's christmas caroling time!

I love Christmas because it meant I got a break from school and also because my name is most popular during this time! Carolers going caroling with some awesome Christmas carols. Haha, totally had to do that. Times like these I really miss being a student and those long vacation days. Last year I was stuck in San Diego by myself while everyone went home to celebrate the holidays with their family. Thanks a lot sucky sucky adult life and job responsibilities. Today is Christmas and I probably won't be doing much just like last year. Christmas in Taiwan means no holiday off for me! So since I won't be doing anything exciting for Christmas, I'll reflect on Christmas pasts.

When we were younger my mom played along with our demand of celebrating Christmas by hanging ornaments on a fake palm frond and filled our stockings with Asian candies and jello. Since I saw my mom put presents under the tree, I never believed Santa Claus existed since there wasn't any additional presents or coal in our stockings. I'm sure for my mom is was all pretty strange, never having celebrated this holiday before. Presents were actually pretty laughable, stuff I know for sure kids nowadays would throw tantrums over. I wasn't unhappy about the crappy presents since it was the excitement of celebrating Christmas that was the most fun. In my family, including all the cousins and such, I'm sure my family was really the first ones to even bother doing anything special for this day. I am the first person in my family to be born in America, hence why none of my relatives celebrated it. As we grew older decorations stopped being hung, and the palm frond became a mahjong table where presents were placed under. Super Asian! Presents under the table were from my siblings, our friends or from us to our parents while our parents gave us red envelopes filled with money.
As I went to college, Christmas became less of a family holiday and more as a time for me to travel. The last time I celebrated Christmas with my family was back in 2007. I know I know how awful but Christmas for my family was never such a big deal. Especially since all my siblings would be traveling themselves. I think now as we get older and start appreciating the things we have, we miss hanging out with our family more.

No holiday break means no more traveling for me. Who knows when I will get another chance to spend Christmas in another country again?? Even if I did get a holiday break, would I travel during this busy and expensive season? Probably not....

Even though Christmas was uneventful this year, I'm happy that I was able video chat with my family for a couple of hours. Nice to see my family gathered around the fake Christmas tree with presents stacked high underneath. There were even stockings hanging from the fireplace! I hope everyone else is having an awesome Christmas with their family and friends!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

bucket list

Updating my bucket list! Glad to be able to cross one item off of it. Had to also add all the things I had on my desktop post-it notes.

1. The National Palace Museum
2. The Taipei 101
3. Sun Moon Lake
4. Yushan (The Jade Mountain)
5. Alishan
6. Love River in Kaohsiung
7. Kenting
8. The Liushidan Mountain
9. The Taroko National Park
10. Jiufen
11. Penhu Islands
12. Hotsprings in Wulai or Yangmingshan
13. Tainan
14. Lukang
15. Sansia for the Pigs of God Contest
16. Lantern Festival in Pingxi

I'm sure this list will grow as I do more research. Can't wait to tackle all of them!

day trip continued : jiufen

So after checking out the Yin-Yang Sea, we rode the bus back up to Jiufen. Jiufen got its name because it was first settled by 9 families. Whenever shipments came into town, the families would ask for 9 portions, one for each of the families. So now the town is literally named 9 portions, or Jiufen. The town boomed when they discovered gold nearby but when gold mining declined so did the town. Jiufen was colonized by the Japanese and a lot of the buildings retain the Japanese architecture. A lot of people come to this city to see the famous street, Shuqi Road, that is all over the postcards. Jiufen was also used as the model for the movie Spirted Away. I would recommend going on a weekday since on the weekends are so crowded that it makes it hard to see any of the buildings or take any pictures with everyone blocking the view. All those stairs in this place also makes it risky for older folk and makes it very difficult to take pictures when people are trying to push by.

shuqi road
If you don't want people in your pictures I would recommend walking all the way down Shuqi Road, which are actually steps. However at the lower end of the stairs you won't be able to capture the Japanese architecture. I tried to take some quick pics as I was being pushed up the stairs but all bright street lamps they had around that area messed up my pictures. If you are interested in getting some souvenir stamps from this area I would recommend walking all the way down Shuqi Road to Quiche Road to check out the tourist center. Another alternative is to get off at the bus stop on Quiche Road, check out the tourist center which is right past the police station and then walk the stairs up to the main center of Jiufen. There are only two bus stops for Jiufen. One is on Quiche Road where you will need to walk up a ton of steps to enter the main area or another one further up at Jiufen Old Streets. A much easier walk but you will need to walk through the entire market at a shuffling pace due to all the tourists.

A cool aspect of this town is all the alleys that connect the houses. These alleys are called chuanwu alley and refers to the fact that the front and back doors of certain houses face different roads. You can use these roads to avoid all the heavy traffic on the main roads but some are pretty hard to find. Because of a map that we got from the tourist center we knew a chuanwu alley was behind the restroom on Shuqi Road. We ended out right next to the Shi's House which was a well known family in Jiufen back in the day. Taking another alley we busted out onto one of the main roads, Jishan Street, right behind two store vendors who were chatting it up. I think I gave them a little scare since I was whooping and hollering that we had just taken some crazy desolated alley to reach civilization...

chuanwu alley
The lighting of the street was actually this freaking green color... so creepy. No wonder why no one else went exploring these alleys. A famous alley in Jiufen is the Penetrant Alley which I believe might be a type of chuanwu alley but the brochure gets all confused on that so I'm not sure exactly. There is a huge entrance made of "rock" for it right off of Shuqi Road.

penetrant alley
The Penetrant Alley is basically a cramped tunnel that leads to a teahouse. The rock entrance off of Shuqi Road is made of plaster I believe. I knocked on it and there was a hollow sound. Sorry the picture is blurry, right after we entered all these peoples decided to follow us in also. Super cramped and not pleasant if you are claustrophobic. At the end are some very small steep stairs that you need to climb to exit. We just went through the tunnel and then turned back around after we saw that it didn't lead anywhere. Another main attraction in Jiufen is the Shengping Theater.

shengping theater
They were people here watching an old school film so I couldn't really take pictures of the inside in the dark without using my flash. This is also another stopping point for a souvenir stamp!

old school concessions stand!
Next up was to try the famous local delicacies Jiufen had to offer. First stop was at Auntie A-Gan Sweet Taro Ball located on Shuqi Road, the other end away from the tourist center. This store is very famous and there was a long line of people waiting to buy some taro balls. After you purchase the taro ball, proceed to walk through the back of the store, through an alleyway to reach the dining area which has an amazing view. What is with restaurants where the serving area is a distance away from the dining area? A lot of people choose to continue walking up Shuqi Road to sit on the steps, the end of Shuqi Road. The view from there wasn't awesome since all the buildings blocked the view. Definitely go into the dining area and check out the view from there while staying warm.

cold sweet taro balls
You can get it either hot or cold. Cold comes with ice. I was all hot and sweaty from climbing up all the steps to get to this place so this cold dessert was exactly what I needed. You have the option of adding toppings like red and green beans, etc. I don't like beans so chose not to put any toppings on it. The taro balls cost $40 NT, toppings don't cost extra.

sweet potato ball and taro ball
I don't know why they only call it taro balls when sweet potato balls are usually included in the mixture. There is no such thing as just taro balls. I prefer the sweet potato balls more because they are sweeter. Next up on the local cuisine train is the steamed taro cake.

steamed taro cake
I liked the steamed taro cake but I think it's an acquired taste. For me when I first bit into it I was reminded of the fish patties my grandma makes back home. I know it sounds crazy since its just taro but that was what I got from eating this. When I say fish patties I mean super Chinese where the fish paste? was in a container that my grandma would scoop out with a spoon and flatten it so it became like a pancake and then fried it in oil in the wok. I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about.Up next is the vegetarian meat ball with red vinasse. Red vinasse is the byproduct of red wine making, after the alcohol has been removed. My brochure says that the vegetarian meat is made of bean powder and then immersed in red vinasse. I'm not sure if mine was vegetarian because it tasted a lot like meat, specifically char siu, or Chinese barbecued meat. You can also taste a distinctive wine taste in the "meat" from the red vinasse, The dough is made of glutinous rice. A lot of the dough used in Taiwan is made from glutinous rice, no flour here. I didn't like the dough as much as the meat.

red vinasse, vegetarian?
bust that baby wide open
The meat was so red it was kind of off putting. Like how poisonous animals are brightly colored, this bright colored meat was trying to send a signal that everyone ignores. After eating in Jiufen, we decided to go to Keelung to check out the Miaokou Night Market there. We waited at the bus stop for what seemed like an hour for a bus that went to Keelung but all the buses only went to Ruifang. We finally decided to just head back to Ruifang and then take the train back to Hsinchu from there. The next and also the last train to Hsinchu came at 9:30pm. Since we had an hour to kill we just waited for a bus to go to Keelung. The bus we went on had to go through Jiufen first. I would recommend people just catch the bus from Jiufen to Ruifang and then take a bus to Keelung. I'm sure there are other buses that go directly from Ruifang to Keelung. Anyways at least in Ruifang there are more options whereas Jiufan only has two bus lines heading back to the city. The bus that heads to Ruifang from Jiufan ultimately ends up in Taipei.

miaokou night market
I like this market because all the stalls had signs telling customers what they were selling. Well the main dish anyways. The food offerings at this market wasn't as extensive since a lot of the stalls were more like restaurants than actual carts.

First thing we ate was Ding Bian Cuo, which is a type of noodle soup dish. The name is derived from how this dish is made. Ground rice paste is poured onto the rim of a hot pot where it solidifies into a noodle form which is then later removed and placed into a broth.

ding bian cuo
 This dish had two types of fish balls in it. I didn't like either of the fish balls since I'm not a big fan of them. The noodles were ok, had a very chewy texture to them. The broth was salty and that made the entire dish really good. Besides the usual mushrooms and lettuce there was also a day lily flower in the broth. Yummy and only cost $50 NT!

lǔròu fàn or braised pork rice
Tried lǔròu fàn again. This dish was super delicious. The rice had soaked up all the juices from the pork so even when the pork was gone the rice was still yummy. There wasn't that much meat but everything was mixed in so nicely that it didn't matter. This one also had a sweet taste to it. This dish left a nasty aftertaste in my mouth though. Only downside. Someone said it's probably due to the MSG in the dish. The major downside of night market foot is all the MSG in the food.

longan flavored pao-pao ice or bubble ice
Pao-pao Ice is made by stirring syrup into shaved ice and originated in Keelung. What comes out has the consistency of sorbet. This place is really popular and there was a long line. I got the longan, dragon eyes, flavor because I love longans. The taste was not what I expected at all. They are not using longan fruit flavoring but rather the ice has the taste of dried longans. That explains the yellowish color of the ice. I love dried longan and recognized the taste instantly, but as an ice flavor it is not good. I've read amazing reviews about this place though so I will go back and try a better flavor next time. One cup costs $45 NT.

fried sandwich
The fried sandwich is another famous Miaokou Night Market meal. The bed is first fried before filling it with cucumbers, ham, tomatoes, and a lot of sweet mayonnaise. I had one bite of this and did not like it at all. The bread was super greasy from all the oil and just tasted like a doughnut which makes sense. Never was a big fan of mayonnaise but the kind they use was too sweet. One costs $55 NT.

The Miaokou is only a couple of blocks away from the Keelung Train Station. However the last train back to Hsinchu left at 9:40pm and we were cutting it super close. Had to hightail out of the night market super fast and add to the fact that we didn't really know where we were going...stress stress. The train back to Hsinchu cost $150 NT and the trip only took 2.5 hours. Way faster than if we had to take the train back to Taipei and then bus back to Hsinchu. However I would not recommend going by train just because the train seats were super uncomfortable. They were a slightly padded version of the MRT train seats. The uncomfy chairs with the constant bright lights and the fact that you couldn't recline or anything made the journey seem longer than it did. I definitely recommend taking the bus just because you can take a nap and its so much more comfier.

view of the jiufen coastline
Going to leave you with the awesome view of the coastline from Jiufen. So pretty!! For info on how to get to Jiufen check out the details in the previous post. Buses that go to Jinguashi stop at Jiufen first.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

daytrip: jinguashi

Caught a train from the Taipei Main Station to Ruifang District located in New Taipei City. From Ruifang, we caught a bus to Jinguashi, a gold and copper mining city. At Jinguashi, we visited the Gold Ecological Park which contains a lot of mining history of the area. The Japanese had colonized the area and you can see its influence in the buildings. The Japanese also used the area as a prisoner of war camp from 1942-1945. British prisoners were forced to work in the most dangerous parts of the mine and barely received any medical treatment. One of the mining tunnels, Benshan Fifth Tunnel, was renovated and is now open to visitors for $50 NT. Didn't check this out since there was such a long line waiting to enter, visitors have to wear safety helmets.

benshan fifth tunnel
Next to the tunnel is the Gold Building which is the renovated former offices of Taiwan Metal Mining Corp. On the second floor there is a 220.3 kg of pure 999 gold brick that you can actually touch. For such a valuable item to be on display there wasn't much security going on. People were clustering around it, constantly taking pictures so I wasn't able to take a picture of just the gold brick by itself. I did manage to sneak in and stroke the big gold brick before the other tourists crushed me.

giant gold brick
The majority of the time was spent climbing up the mountain to reach the Jinguashi Shinto Shrine also known as the Mountain God Shrine. The shrine was dedicated to the three deities, ôkuninushinomikoto, kaneyamahikonomikoto and sarutahikonomikoto.

jinguashi shinto shrine
The climb was hard for my unhealthy, hates exercise body. I would not recommend this climb for the elderly or for children since a lot of the steps leading up to the shrine are crumbling or broken. The views of the Gold Ecological Park and the surrounding area from the shrine is excellent.

teapot mountain
In the upper left hand corner of the picture you will see an odd shaped tip sticking out. On closer inspection it looks like a handle-less teapot that gives the mountain its name. Teapot mountain is called Mt. Wuerchahu and is a symbol of Jinguashi. I actually didn't notice the teapot shape until I did some research and realized that Teapot Mountain is famous and went through my pictures trying to see if I took a snapshot of it. To my delight I found some!

jinguashi crown prince chalet
This building was built by Tanaka Mining Co. to host the Crown Prince during a planned visit to inspect the mining industry in the area. The building has a combination of Japanese and Western elements. An interesting thing is that this building was built entirely without using any nails. From Jinguashi we headed to the Yin-Yang Sea and the Gold Waterfall, by taking bus #826. We got off at the Shueinandong Parking Lot to take a look at the Yin-Yang Sea and the remains of the Shuinandong Smelter, also known by locals as 13 stories, referring to the 13 levels of mines that were established.

yin-yang sea
13 levels
The Yin-Yang Sea is called this due to the mix of yellow and blue water. The Gold Waterfall is one of the sources of the Yin-Yang Sea and its water is yellow due to the pyrite in the ground that has undergone an oxidation reduction reaction to become Fe3+. Is it sad that I barely remember how to solve an redox equation, not wasting my education or anything... The Gold Waterfall is one stop before the parking lot but I didn't stop since a bus comes every 20 minutes and we were on a time crunch. I did manage to get some pictures of the waterfall as the bus passed by it.

gold waterfall
Down by the parking lot, you get a better look at how yellow the water becomes.

This river came from the Gold Waterfall and is heading towards the sea. I actually think the yellow is very beautiful since its such a deep, vibrant color. Also look at how all the rocks are stained yellow due to the water. So amazing!

close up view of the yin-yang sea
The Details
Train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang cost: $44 NT Easy Card or $49 NT for a ticket
From Ruifang Train Station, make a left on the busy street in front of the station and stay on the right hand side of the street. Continue walking straight, the bus stop to Jinguashi is located a little pass the police station. Buses that go to Jinguashi include lines: 1013, 1062, and 825. Buses cost around $15 NT one way. Jinguashi is the last stop and stops right in front of the Gold Ecological Park.

Gold Ecological Park
No. 8, Jinguang Rd., Ruifang Dist., New Taipei City 22450, Taiwan
M-F 9:30am - 5pm; closed first Monday of every month
tel: 886-2-24962800
admission: free

From Jinguashi to see the Gold Waterfall and the Yin-Yang Sea catch the bus line #826, cost $15 NT, the ride lasts 15 minutes. Catch the same bus back up the mountain to Jiufen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

lunch in taipei

Taipei two weekends in a row! I love this city and how there's always something to do and explore. We were on a tight schedule so just grabbed lunch at the Breeze Center. Bread from Milkhouses and pearl milk tea.

garlic toast
strawberry meringue
Ended up buying the garlic toast instead of the garlic bread this time around since it's smaller so easier to carry. I bought 3 since there was a deal. Just as delicious as the garlic bread loaves! Also bought 4 meringues, 3 lemon and 1 strawberry just to try it out. The lemon ones were delicious as last time but the strawberry flavor was chalky and not as delightful as the lemon one. Total for my order came out to be $150 NT!

milkhouses bread selection
 more milkhouses bread
I love how bakeries work in Asia where you can just select whatever you want and everything is nicely arranged. However I do wish they were in cases to protect from bugs... In the Breeze Center food court was a Hanlin Teahouse, one of the two shops which claims to be the inventor of pearl milk tea. The original pearl milk tea sold at this teahouse used white tapioca balls like the ones we find in sago, which has the appearance of pearls, hence the name "pearl" milk tea. Grabbed a drink at the express station instead of heading into the restaurant.

hanlin teahouse located in breeze center
milk tea with jumbo tapioca pearls
This pearl milk tea was actually very disappointing. We asked for normal sugar but it didn't taste sweet at all. Too much tea and not enough milk. Maybe their original store in Tainan or their other locations would serve better ones. At $50 NT for a small cup I probably will not try this store again. So pricy. Grabbed another pearl milk at Tea Ten's Tea to make a comparison. Love food courts, so many options!

tea ren tea located in the breeze center
black milk tea with pearls
This drink was better than the one from Hanlin Teahouse but at $50 NT, I would rather stick with Coco's which is bigger and cheaper. I did notice that both these drink places offered milk tea made with different kinds of tea than the usual black tea. I might have to see what other kinds of tea make a better milk tea than black. I was tempted to order the almond milk tea when I saw it on the menu but almond milk tea in Taiwan is usually just almond milk and that stuff is gross.

The Details
Hanlin Teahouse website: http://www.hanlin-tea.com.tw/ (Chinese only)
Tea Ren Tea website: http://www.tenren.com/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

hanging out with my co-workers

Sometimes, after classes have finished, the Chinese staff invites the English Teachers to hang out with them. I love the Chinese staff at my school because they are all so nice and friendly. Most of them speak pretty decent English but they tend to speak in Chinese mostly. It's funny to have them tease me in Chinese and then be surprised when I tell them I understand what they said. Most of the swear words and put downs in Mandarin are very similar to the Cantonese ones.

The first time we went to a KTV bar. My first KTV experience in Taiwan in an actual building rather than on a tour bus. The place we went to didn't have any modern English songs, just some old ones I've never heard of though I did find Lemon Tree. Anyone recognize that song? I remember singing it with friends back in SF. I didn't sing at all because I don't like the sound of my voice and I think I'm pretty much tone-deaf. The English teachers just listened to the Chinese staff sing in Chinese. It was cool when I heard a song I recognized from a Taiwanese drama. I participated in the singing by chanting the few English words in songs and the one or two chorus lines in Chinese that weren't complicated.

The Chinese staff had bought a whole bunch of night market snacks to share! Super friendly. I bought pearl milk tea from a chain I haven't tried before.

pearl milk tea from yes! tea
I had Eamon, one of the TAs, teach me how to say little ice, lots of sugar in Chinese because a lot of the drink places tend to ask you how much ice and sugar you want. When we were buying drinks he forced me to deal with the cashier by myself. So when the girl asked me a question in Chinese I automatically assumed she was asking how much ice and sugar I wanted. I proceeded to launch into my spiel about how I wanted little ice and lots of sugar, fumbling and messing up the words. It didn't help that she kept giving me this blank face like she had no idea what I was talking about. I turn to Eamon to confirm I said the words right and then he proceeds to say something to them in Chinese. He then tells me that no one says lots of sugar in Taiwan, just normal sugar or a little. Why didn't he mention this before when I asked him to teach me lots of sugar in Chinese in references to pearl milk tea drinks?!?! This is why I do not order food by myself in Chinese.

The second gathering had more people and occurred last week. When I was invited I asked what we were going to go eat and the answer I got was heart of sheep. I was like ehh wtf?!?! and had to ask someone else before finding out we were eating sheep eating hotpot! So much more appealing that eating a sheep's heart. We went to a hotpot place down the street from the school which only served mutton. Hotpot places work differently here in that it's one price for all you can eat. When I saw what was offered I wasn't really feeling Taiwanese hot pot. It's vastly different from the hot pot places I've seen in America and from what I've seen in Hong Kong dramas in terms of what food was offered.

hotpot food offerings
The food was in a refrigerated compartment that people could go up and select whatever they wanted. A lot of random stuff like tofu, meat dumplings, and corn on the cob. The brown stuff on the bottom was the only kind of meat they had. This is what I got...

Mostly just mushrooms and cabbage. The yellow package is ramen noodles which actually turned out to be the best part of the meal. I totally snuck two packs of ramen noodles into my bag. My co-workers were shooting me WTF looks and I just went you guys don't do this?? I guess this must be a mainland Chinese thing to do, I would have taken the packets of napkins too but didn't want to push their sensibilities. After paying $230 NT or so for this meal of mostly vegetables I was gonna get my money's worth!

hot pot
They only had one kind of hot pot broth here and it's the water they boiled the meat in. Wasn't super flavorful and no one adds any sauce or seasoning into the pot, all additional seasoning go into mini bowls that you just dip your cooked food into. Pots of the broth can be found in kettles on the side tables with the condiments. In Taiwan it's all about serving yourself, I guess that is why there is no tipping system in place. I enjoyed the experience of hanging with my co-workers and learning something new more than the meal itself.