Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Formosan Aboriginal Village!

I wonder if this is how she feels about
being married to me?
I don’t know how much you know about Taiwan, but before visiting here last year all I knew was that the Big China hated them, we liked them, and that they spoke Mandarin.  Well, other (very cool) history aside Taiwan is a complicated place.  It turns out that over the years Taiwan has been home to Aboriginals who are closely related to Polynesians and other islanders, ancient main land Chinese, Japanese imperial forces, and then political refugees from modern China.  Well, there are still a lot of aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and they regularly hold festivals and events to show off their unique cultural heritages.  Most of these tribes now live on the lightly populated East Coast but there is a “village” of them at Sun Moon Lake.

Before I tell you about the village itself I should tell you that for the most part, Taiwanese Tourist attractions are kind of janky and falling apart.  It seems that most of the attractions were built about 20 years ago and through neglect, lack of maintenance, and a tropical environment have fallen into disrepair.  Also, they tend to border on the flamboyant, and cheap, rather and authentic and beautiful.  This was not the case with the “Formosan Aboriginal Village”.

Superman Pose for Blowdart Archery!
The Formosan Aboriginal Village was located on the other side of the lake of us nestled between two mountains.  You could take a long and windy road to the park, or you could take a cable car that passed over the mountains and dropped you right at the parks doorstep.  We chose the cable car.  When we first arrived at the village it was quite empty.  I found out that a legitimate theme park with real rollercoasters was attached to the park and that most people were headed there rather than the aboriginal village so we strolled right in free of any major crowds.

Calling it a single village is somewhat of a misnomer since in reality it contains representations of 7 different Taiwanese tribes including little recreated huts, displays, and a lot of explanations in English.  We walked around for a couple hours and explored all of the huts and learning about these people.  I think a little bit of my mom’s love of anthropology bled through as I compared this natives with ones I was used to from her knowledge of American Indians and found a lot of similarities.  There were also a lot of similarities with the Polynesians I know which was also quite cool.  Anyway, there was a lot of interesting stuff to see but the highlights were the giant phallic organs adorning many surfaces, the wall of fake skulls where village warriors would display the heads of slain enemies to both respect their skill and also warn enemies (I wonder how that tradition began and also if that meant it was really scary to start a new village without any vanquished heads.  Perhaps some entrepreneurial aboriginal could go around selling severed heads like a shady APX security salesman), (yes this sentence is stilling going on even though I’m sure there was supposed to be a semicolon somewhere and this is the second parenthesis)(speaking of semicolons; there) and the highlight was the blowdart archery shown below!  The blowdart archery was so much fun although I resent the fact that my target was twice as far away as Jade’s target.  I will say that I successfully hit the offending villager and since I know that my darts were poisoned I am sure that he is going to have a hurt ear for days to come.  The best parts of the village, like every cool park, were the shows.

There were two shows we attended and the same group did both but the second wasn’t really worth mentioning and was just a way to stay of the rain.  The first show, however, was in a beautiful covered amphitheater with a mote between the performers and us. The show highlighted many different tribes and had beautiful music, cool costumes, and interesting dancing.  Everything from war to weddings were described and throughout the performance I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the dancing, sound system, and show in general.  We liked it so much we even bought a CD of the Aboriginal Songs that is quite the interesting soundtrack while studying.  It was amazing and much more similar to Native American and Polynesians dances than I was expecting (it was very reminiscent of Living Legends from BYU).

The Formosan Aboriginal Village was an awesome experience and well worth spending a day wandering its semi deserted pathways.  If you ever visit Taiwan, make sure to stop at Sun Moon Lake and visit the village, you’ll be grateful to learn a little more about Taiwan and have fun away from (most) tour groups. 

P.S. Every time my wife reads my blog post she says that I need to spell check and all that nonsense.  I figure I barely have enough time to write these posts so editing is never going to happen.  However, if some day I were rich enough to afford and editor I would definitely get them.  All of this is just to say that I’m sorry for the unintentional writing errors.

Some of the very cool architecture.
I told you they had a wall of heads!

Never leave a spear lying around.
I will pick it up.

Playing a mouth harp remarkably similar to that
found in the US Appalachia

The sweet stage and costumes
P.P.S. I forgot to mention that I learned one thing very clearly while watching the shows at the village, that Chinese people always think they are the funniest people in the room.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sun Moon Lake Part 1

Sun Moon Lake
Jade was really excited for the boat ride
Last year while I was in Taiwan I saw an advertisement for travel to “Sun Moon Lake” which seemed like an awesome tourist attraction and a lot of fun.  I tried to go there but was told that it was too hard to get there and I dropped it (sort of what you do with Asian women… don’t oppose them and if their disagreeable, don’t look them in the eye and back out of the room slowly).  This year, however, we decided we wanted to go to Sun Moon Lake (which wasn’t that difficult) and after a high-speed rail trip of an hour and 2 hours on a bus we were there.

It was cloudy when we got to the lake and after checking into our hotel we jumped on one of the shuttle boats to the other side of the lake to go find a temple and a pagoda that looked beautiful from the other side of the lake.  On the other side of the lake the dock was packed with Chinese tourist groups (which I absolutely hate in Taiwan) and I thought we were in for a loud and obnoxious tour of the temple with many Chinese tour groups in tow. 

This odd sign greeted us when we got off the
boat, ketchup and coke anyone?
We soon found, however, that none of the tour groups were hiking to the temple (or where they were going because we didn’t see them again the entire evening).  We decided to start wandering a long a somewhat forsaken (or less-traveled) road that we thought was taking us in the right direction.

For most of the time we wondered if we were on the right path since we didn’t see another person the entire time and parts of the path seemed really forsaken.  However, it was a beautiful little hike where we got to see some of the interesting wildlife, learn about Bettle Nuts, and end up at an almost empty Temple.  Note to self, while traveling, make sure to always start walking away from the Chinese tour groups and up forsaken paths because it will give you an amazing experience and you won’t be disturbed but the noise of all the crowds.

It seems like on my blogposts this year I am a man of few words so I’ll just use some pictures to explain anything I missed.

The forsaken little path

Need I say more?

Beginning our trip, I think this is supposed to
be a monk doing an "Om " sign?

Jade doing a surprisingly good imitation of the Asian monkey

She saw a spider and dropped the umbrella,
she does a really good sad face doesn't she?

It was a really cool jungle

Beautiful temple at the end of our hike

Getting our fortunes! (we couldn't read them)

A MASSIVE 8 inch spider that was 20 feet in the air

Cool bird we saw while walking along

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Taiwanese Drive-through...

In Taiwan everyone has at least one scooter if not more.  The driving is crazy but surprisingly safe and there are specific (crazy) traffic laws to help everyone on scooters be safer.  There are also a lot of really unsafe things like 4 people riding on one scooter, carrying one or more babies, and tons of scooters with dogs.  However, riding a scooter around is my absolute favorite thing (that or eat pineapple) and I feel that it is the best way to see Taiwan.  Since scooters are such a part of the culture, people do everything on them.  Including make their own drive-through windows like this women:

I thought you all might like this small update.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Culture Shock

If you have ever traveled abroad for any length of time you have probably experienced “Culture Shock”.  While the name implies that there is a specific definition, in reality everyone experiences culture shock in different ways and even differently over time.  Culture shock is also not always a singular event; you can experience it many times and over time as you continue living in another culture.  I am not an expert on culture shock, nor do I have an extensive researched knowledge of this phenomenon from a scientific or anthropological background, I do have some experience with it though.  I think for anyone who travels abroad or wants to travel abroad that it is important to understand culture shock and to know when you are feeling it.  If we understand what culture shock is, we can more easily overcome it and have a more interesting time while abroad.

The first time I experienced culture shock I was a junior in High School spending the summer with my parents in Europe on a summer abroad.  I did not know what culture shock was, and being a teenager I think my parents probably just thought I was being moody.  However, I specifically remember that during the summer I became less and less enamored with my surroundings, spent more time on the internet, and ate fewer interesting foods.

The second time was on my visit to Japan after graduating from High School.

The third time I felt culture shock was two summers ago when I did a study abroad in Amman, Jordan (you can read about my adventures here).  There were times in the summer when I felt useless, depressed, and wishing I was back in America.  The fact that my fiancĂ© was on the other side of the world probably aggravated this feeling but I definitely felt it and battled it over the summer.

Fourth time was last summer, and fifth time is now.  That’s right, I’m currently suffering from culture shock.

How do I know it is culture shock?  For me, one of the easiest ways to recognize culture is a yearning for familiar foods and drinks.  Right now I really want to drink Mountain Dew and specifically Code Red Mountain Dew, which I don’t think people drink out of the states.  In addition, I have found myself inexplicably tired and making excuses not to go out and not to do things.  This may sound weird and especially ungrateful to those who read this blog and wish they were on this adventure but I promise it happens.  Knowing that this is happening, however, helps me to force through the feelings and go on cool experiences.  This week went to Sun Moon Lake and spent three days having wonderful adventures.  Tomorrow we go to Taipei, and next week we go to the East side of Taiwan for more adventures.  By understanding that I have culture shock I can address it more easily and also don’t get mad at myself for feeling this way.  Culture shock is frustrating but I doubt it will ever end (unless I get into the foreign service and live in other cultures for years at a time and maybe not even then). 

Hopefully as you travel you will be able to understand what it is you are feeling and work through it too.  Don’t worry, you aren’t the first person to feel it and won’t be the last but you do need to conquer it in order to have the most amount of fun possible.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Going in Taiwan

I am not a big moviegoer when I am in the states.  Normally I cannot justify spending $20 going to a newly released movie when I can just wait a few months and see it for $3 at the dollar theater or on Redbox.  Call me a cheapskate, lame, or whatever you want but it is simply the reality.  Going to a movie in Asia, however, is so much fun.

Close to where we are staying there is a giant Japanese mall with a huge movie theater on the top floor.  Last year when we were in Taiwan I noticed that Avengers came out a week earlier in Taiwan so we saw it and it was amazing.  Last week we actually went to the movies twice and saw Iron Man III (very good) and Star Trek II (Even better than Iron Man III).  Besides the fact that the movies themselves were all really awesome, the experience of going to a movie theater in Taiwan is quite awesome.

First, the movie theaters are massive, clean, and air-conditioned.  The seats are very comfortable (and assigned so you are sure to get a good seat if you buy your tickets early) and the sound system is ridiculously amazing.  After seeing tons of badly down Korean and Chinese Dramas is it nice to see professionally done Hollywood movies with great acting, good special effects, and beautiful soundtracks.  It is also nice to hear English for a few hours.

Second, because the movies are in English with Mandarin sub-titles interesting things happen.  For instance, sometimes they use an English idiom or saying that is only funny if you are from the United States or are a native English speaker.  This almost always means that I laugh quite hard, out loud, while the entire rest of the theater is awkwardly quite.  At other times the rest of the audience will read a joke that they say before the actor actually says the joke, which means that I have a delayed reaction, and again am laughing when other people are quite.

For the first time in my life, someone actually answered their phone during the movie and had a 30 second conversation with them!  Apparently I was the only one appalled by this because everyone else just kept staring at the movie and not even noticing this total breach of movie etiquette!  I’ve seen people answer their phone in movies on TV or in comedies but to actually experience it in real life was sort of perplexing!

Finally, remember how I said that the movie theaters were pretty clean?  That is because they actually clean the theater in-between each showing, but also because people clean up after themselves.  In case you forget to clean up after yourself, right after the movie ends and the lights begin to fade up a little Taiwanese lady walks out and yells in a high pitched voice that everyone should remember to clean up after themselves and pick up their area.  This doesn’t sound that bad, but think about what we normally do at the end of a movie in the States.  If you are like me, it is a time to think about the movie, make some comment to your number, and return to the real world where your legs barely work and you have to stumble into the bathroom because of the huge soda you just drank.  There is no time for reflection in Taiwan, and the first time the little lady came out and screamed at us I almost had a heart attack and thought she was saying Taiwan had just been attacked!

So there you go, that’s what seeing a movie in Taiwan has been like.  It may not be what you thought you would read from me but maybe more will come in the future as we get better internet connects.  If you ever get to see a movie in foreign country, do it, it is really fun and is a cultural experience to boot!  

Hong Kong: Not the Asian Manhattan

Hong Kong Skyline from Kowloon
This past week saw my wife and I visiting the beautiful and exotic Hong Kong.  As a former British Colony, semi-autonomous region of China Hong Kong has become an economic powerhouse in the Far East and along with Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore is known as one of the "Asian Tigers".  Hong Kong is known as financial city and is often referenced in the same breath as New York, London, and Tokyo.  All of this things meant that I was expecting Hong Kong to be very similar to any and all of those cities that I have previously visited.  I was very wrong.

One amazing thing about Hong Kong is that as far as I could see there were not any bridges to Hong Kong Island.  There were tunnels, mass transit, and plenty of boats but not a bridge.  This lends the skyline an amazingly pristine look and probably makes traffic to and from the port a lot easier to manage.

All of the black in this picture is wilderness (except the water)
Second, Hong Kong is not as large (space wise) as London, New York, or Tokyo.  Each of those cities has a downtown or central area that everyone associates with the city.  This is where rich people live, tourists visit, and major companies have their offices.  However, around these central locations there are usually sprawling metropolises that go on for miles in every direction as smaller towns are eaten by suburbia and the infrastructure of these mega cities.  In Hong Kong it is very different.  The city in Hong Kong is very compact and is scattered around the edges of the main island and the associated areas but never more than a half-mile from the water after which is almost complete wilderness and isolation.  No sprawling suburbs and no shantytowns on the edges of the city.  The reason for this is geography, after about half a mile the sides of the mountains become much too steep for people to travel up in anything other than the funicular railway to the city's highest observation point.  This interesting geography was completely unexpected and made this major city appear to be both isolated and pristine even though it housed millions of people and tourists.

Our Cable Car to the giant Budha statue
 The geography of Hong Kong also means that space is at an even higher premium than other big cities so almost every building is a skyscraper.  Manhattan is probably the best known town for skyscrapers in the USA but it has nothing on Hong Kong because not only is the financial district crawling with massive buildings but apartment complexes are regularly more than 50 floors tall in every part of the city.  Although buildings in New York, London, and Tokyo are usually 4 or 5 stories it is nothing compared to the sheer height of the buildings in Hong Kong.

The previously mentioned Giant Budha Statue
Finally, I was impressed and surprised by how easy it was for a non-Cantonese speaker to get around and function in Hong Kong.  There were a few times when Jade's Mandarin came in very handy to people who could not understand English very well but overall it is a city that is easy to manage and quite enjoyable.  One thing to note, however, the hostels in the Tourist district are really expensive for what you get (basically a cell).  It was difficult to make this our first stop after massive jet lag because we did not want to spend any time in the nasty hostel but also needed to rest earlier as we got our clocks on the right schedule.  

Hong Kong was an amazing place and 3 days there was absolutely perfect for how much we wanted to see, spend, and do before our main destination of Taiwan, which I will write about soon.  I hope you enjoy the post and if you ever need any pointers about visiting Hong Kong just ask!  Also, feel free to ask me any questions about my travels or the photos included, it's always nice to know that people are reading your blog ;-D.

The janky little "cell" at our hostel