Taiwan has been described as dynamic, prosperous and culturally rich, I agree, but the most important thing, it is the birthplace of the Fetching Mrs. Seacock! It is a very exotic land for a corn fed Midwestern lad, in fact our only exposure to Asian culture was in commercials, So Hi the ambassador from Rice Krinkles, Chun King, or La Choy come to mind. We’re talking the late sixties and early seventies here. Fast forward to 2004, we’re traveling to Taiwan to meet her family, 15 hours on a plane, a different culture far away from home, your humble correspondent is unsure. What will they think of me, how can we talk, what will I eat? Looking back I was unnecessarily frightened, just fear of the unknown. As is her style, The Fetching Mrs. Seacock calmly assured me everything will be fine, I will translate, and there are McDonalds in Taipei!
Taiwan is an island located about 100 mi off the coast of mainland China and is at least according to Taiwanese and the United States, a sovereign democratic nation. To China they are a renegade province. Hard working, independent, and family oriented is how I have come to know the people I met there. Like us they want to provide for their families, come home and enjoy family, freinds and be left alone by government busybody’s who want to “improve” everything. Philosophically they are like us with the addition of 5000 years of history and tradition. Western influence first occurred in 1544 when the Portuguese found and named the island “Formosa” (beautiful island). The Dutch colonized in the 1600’s and there was for 300 years a revolving door of domination that included the Qing Dynasty, Japanese rule and the most significant recent history is Chiang Kai-shek coming to Taiwan with some two million nationalists fleeing the tyranny of Mao Zedong and the communists in 1949. He hoped to be able to return to mainland China but history tells us that was not to be. What he did do though was establish a representative republic so the people of Taiwan could rule themselves and I think they have found it as difficult to do as we have! They persevere under the pressure of the communist mainland and for that they have my utmost respect! Chiang Kai-shek and his followers also brought with them over 650,000 pieces of bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting and porcelain, the world’s single largest collection of Chinese art and antiquities. The National Museum is a must see when you travel to Taiwan.
So what did I eat you may be wondering? When in Taiwan eat what the locals do! I did, being married to the Fetching Mrs. Seacock made the transition a little smoother but I have to admit there were some things I could not put in my mid-western mouth. There was pressure of course, family I met wanted to feed us always, either something they prepared or most often we we’re whisked off to a local eatery, I did not participate in ordering. Not being able to read Mandarin didn’t have any choice. Food was brought to the table and I would nudge Lucia and quietly ask “what the hell is this” usually because I could not tell what was in front of me. I felt infantile having no idea sometimes, but required through decorum to at least try the dish. She was very considerate to my squeamish nature and provided cover when necessary. Mostly I ate and was happy, I did always seem to find beer to help wash down the unknown and after awhile didn’t care as much. Really, the food was very good, only a couple of times did my mouth absolutely refuse entry, usually because of legs or eyeballs that were affiliated with some seafood products. Again more beer! Thinking to myself, this is what culture shock looks like! This was 2004 and now I my taster has been schooled! It is a funny thing, when Lucia and I met she could not eat a hamburger and I could not eat sushi, now we both enjoy these and other regional foods with enthusiasm, experience – time – experience – time…
Most of our time was spent with family, we did get out on our own a little. I do look forward to going back, Taiwan is rich in adventure for a midwestern guy. Most of the images are from Taipei the largest city and Capitol. Next time, adventure in the rural areas, the tea growing region, mountains and southern Taiwan. Below, Street scenes from Taipei. (Shot with an iPhone 3 using the Camera Bag App, Helga setting, 2004) Inside, outside, through windows, car and train windows and mirrors!