The Giving Tree

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 4th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

This month, the topic is, “What moment are you most proud of in the classroom?”

I’m really lucky at my school here in Taiwan. I’d been on an overdose of academia for far too many years, and one of the best things for me turned out to be teaching Kindergarten  English.

At my school, we are given a lot of flexibility with our teaching style and lesson plans. I know some teachers have to follow strict guidelines, and they are already given lesson plans to teach the material. This can be a good thing, as the time spent prepping for lessons can be overwhelming. However, I’m glad I found a school that lets me really dabble in exploring my own artistic creativity. It’s like a whole side of my brain has opened up that had been dormant for the duration of my academic lifespan.

One of my favourite classes is a ‘story telling class’. I’m given two classes a week where I can focus on a children’s story, and relate it to movement, song, dance, and crafts. I think the best class I have yet taught was my lesson on the wonderful story, “The Giving Tree” By Shel Silverstien.

From the depths of my childhood memories, I have a vague but present recognition of the impact this story—and others of its kind—have had in my life.

With the topic in mind, I found a little help from google (what did teachers ever do without the internet I wonder!?). In the first class allotted to the story, I read the story and showed the youtube version, and went over the meaning of the key words.

The next class I had for the story, we made crowns of leaves out of red paper and green crate paper (finding construction paper and tissue paper has proven quite a challenge here). Then, wearing our crowns of leaves, I read the story again. After this, we wrote our names on hearts (for 3-4 year olds, learning to write your name is quite an exciting task). We then ‘gave’ our hearts back to the tree.

I choked up a couple of times during this lesson! Not only from the message of the story (which is quite heart wrenching), but also thinking about the potential impact participating in such a story can have. I’m sure my little students don’t grasp the full meaning of it now, or maybe they’ve already forgotten the lesson. But I can only hope that a seed has been planted. It’s the type of seed I continually attempt to nurture and cultivate as their teacher.

Thank goodness for story time, crafts, music and dance!!  These are by far my favourite classes this year.

IMG_8901 IMG_8906 IMG_8917 IMG_8919 IMG_8924 IMG_8925 IMG_8929 IMG_8934 IMG_8937 IMG_8954

Stuff. A Traveler’s Dilemma.

My best friend as we toured the stuff in the Arusha Market, Tanzania

Touring stuff with my best friend in the Arusha Market, Tanzania.

As someone who has moved multiple times to multiple countries, I have found accumulating stuff to be especially stressful. I once stared down piles of boxes that I hadn’t seen in a year, and near tears, thought I was about to lose a thankless battle. But with the necessary help of a friend, I persevered and sent most of the stuff in those boxes to a second hand charity shop before I had to get on a plane in another direction.

I feel comfortable knowing I now only have a couple of boxes with my most precious items stored for me with family. These boxes mostly consist of childhood treasures, and special souvenirs from my travels. Oh, and a box of shoes and boots… Couldn’t let that one go just yet…

There is a fine balance to be had when it comes to settling into a new country. How much stuff should I buy? How much can I live without? I want to be comfortable and to feel at home here. But I don’t really want to buy things unnecessarily only to have to give them away in a year. For someone that owes as much money as I do to the bank, these questions become even more poignant.

Certain necessities take priority: bed sheets, blankets and pillows are obvious yeses. But the mattress-top to avoid the shockingly hard sleep on a shockingly hard bed takes a second thought. Is it worth it? In this case, I also said yes. Picture me, in my first week here, riding through the winding streets of Taiwan at night, clutching a huge mattress cushion (bigger than myself) behind me on the back of a scooter, whizzing by the lights and traffic of winding roads at the whim of a new friend driving me through my new city toward my new home.

My apartment came ‘furnished’, but other random things I’ve also said yes to here include: a broom, a mop, a pot, a lemon squeezer, a ladle, a phone, a scooter, boots (that are too tight), flip flops, some clothes, teaching supplies, decorations for holidays, speakers, a table cloth, and a lawn chair.

But what about an oven? I miss having an oven… Or even a big toaster oven. This is my most current internal struggle that I am negotiating with myself at the moment. To buy a big toaster oven, or not to buy a big toaster oven?

When you finally deem an item worthy of purchase, seeking it out is never an easy task when living abroad. Especially living in a small city in a country that uses a different language for both speaking and writing.

Almost every one of my above items involves a story of frustration, exploration, confusion, extensive dialogue and discussion, and disorientation. Thankfully, when said item is finally found and purchased, a real sense of triumph and success can also be found.

This is just one (of many) reasons to make friends as soon as possible when you move somewhere new. Local friends are great (for so many reasons, but today I’m reducing everything to talk about ‘stuff’). They can help you navigate the city and search for your needs, even if they don’t really understand why you feel your ‘need’.

Expat friends are also important, as you can help each other through a broad network to find the most basic things that your local friends just really don’t have on their own radar. You don’t have to feel stupid asking, “where in this country do I buy [insert mundane  household item here]?” Because chances are, your new friends either a) don’t have a clue, but understand your concern and thus offer grave sympathy; or b) have conducted the search themselves already and will happily delve deeply into a discussion about where [mundane household item] might be located.

Contrasting this to living in Canada where I understand and exist within the dominant culture, and speak the dominant language, there are a few good things that can come from such a different take on ‘stuff’.

Creativity Skills are Enhanced. I think outside the box a lot more when I’m living abroad than if I easily had access to everything I wanted.

I have discovered I can be more artistic than I had ever remembered. I once lost the search for little party hats for my kindy class, and after visiting three different potential stores (yes, I actually tried three in very different parts of the city!), I gave up, went home, and took out the scissors, some pom poms, and coloured paper, and made them myself. I also recently discovered I have the capability (as I think my grade four self once did), to make paper mache. With a lack of piñatas for Halloween floating around my city, I was determined to provide one for my kindy class, and one for my friends at a party later that weekend. Thus, a bat and a spider were born, and my dexterity skills were reborn.

Beyond amateur artistry, I have learned many ways of doing many things.  I even managed to roast eggplant with my mini toaster (that only has a toaster setting), and since it’s so small, I also skewered eggplant on a fork and held it over a gas hob until it cooked. This works!

Become observant. Instead of just heading down a store’s aisle with tunnel vision, like an arrow toward a target, seeking and grabbing the exact thing and the same brand I always buy, I now take better heed of my surroundings.

It’s pretty much out of necessity, because I don’t actually know where anything is; but I have developed a fresh sense for registering my eye to brain connection a little better. I might not want a certain thing now, but perhaps I (or another friend) might find a desire for it in the near future. Besides, I’m curious! What are all of these different looking things all around me?

My eyes have closely inspected almost every little jar and package in my local grocery store. For the vast majority, I can’t understand the writing on the packages. But often I can figure it out, or guess at its contents. Users be warned: based on such a guess, I accidentally bought stinky tofu (yes, that is what it’s called) instead of regular tofu to make a stir-fry. Thankfully the moment the package was opened my senses were warned before I added the stinky stuff to my beautiful vegetable mixture already simmering. This serves as just a reminder to try to be more observant next time I purchase tofu. Or anything.

Granted, I take a pretty long time to go for a simple grocery shop now, but I think being more aware of our surroundings is a wonderful way to really get a sense of what our surroundings actually consist of.

The best things in life aren’t things.” Seriously. The more times I travel, the more times I am struck with this reality. We can own as much stuff as our hearts and our credit cards desire. But we can also open our eyes to the realities of the harmfulness our over-consumption really does cause. Not just on ourselves, but also on our planet. We can take a step back and pause to really appreciate what ‘things’ matter most in our lives.

I do appreciate the adventure that seeking out, enhancing, or creating physical things can offer. I appreciate the joy that can come when giving and receiving things. I even appreciate the endorphins that somehow are heightened after a successful shop. But I would also rather be the type of person that places a much higher value on appreciating my relationships and the wonders our world has to offer us.

In short, I refuse to stare down a pile of boxes in distress ever again.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine described her experience of witling her entire belongings down into what could fit into one backpack. She was making a move from Canada to tour the world before settling into another country with her boyfriend (now husband). I wondered how she could fit all of her things into one bag. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but the essence has stayed with me. She described that it might’ve been hard at first, but she felt really good about it. Liberated even. I know she’s settled into her new country with her lovely beau, and they have undoubtedly accumulated things again as they build their new home there.  But I hope a lesson can come from that moment she found herself able to pick up and move with the love of her life, unattached to any ‘thing’, and able to explore and enjoy the wonderful things that aren’t actually things that our beautiful humanity and world have to offer.

On this subject, I remember the revelation Jennifer Connolly’s character had with the junk lady in Labyrinth (1989). In the end, it really is all junk. We can enjoy it, but let’s not let it become ourselves, nor let ourselves become it.

 

Want a good read? Check out one of my favourite author’s books, Twelve by Twelve in his struggle to find a more meaningful life with a smaller footprint on earth.

Always a Silver Lining.

I promise I’ll be better at updating things here… Oy… I have about a dozen half-written pieces waiting for you! Here’s a little excuse for that?

For now, here’s a daily anecdote to tide us over.

In typical Kelly-in-Taiwan fashion, I never really know what’s going on around me. Today was a funny day that highlights this.

I had three things I needed to get done this afternoon. Go to the bank, make a reservation, and buy unsalted almonds.

When I opted to go to the bank, it was closed. I then went to make reservations at a restaurant for Friday night, and the English speaking owner wasn’t there… So no dice. I waited for awhile after repeatedly gesturing and using the absolute basic (and crap) Chinese that I know to indicate what I was doing. I brought out the smartphone (it’s definitely smarter than me), and we could translate some things that I was trying to say but with the wrong tone and pronunciation in combination with the English I was trying to say with a Chinese accent along with gestures… All to the conclusion that I should just come back tomorrow. Then, the only place I know where to buy unsalted nuts was shutting down and closed for business when I showed up. We’re talking all of this before 4:30pm in a country that I am rightly and wildly under the impression never (ever) stops working… So I thought I was batting 0 for 3.

These might seem very trivial things for anyone living in a country where you speak the dominant language, or understand the dominant culture. But let me assure you, these basic trivial needs become quite prominent when you live abroad. More on that later.

Thankfully, life has a way of reminding me that the silver lining is always in sight.

Most nuts here in any Changhua grocery store have way too much seasoning or salt on them. (If anyone knows of a good place to buy unadulterated nuts here, I might kiss you). I walked away from the little gift shop near the giant Buddha where I had hoped but failed to buy my unsalted almonds. As I walked away, I got to take in the sight. The sun was setting, and I had the best seat in the city.

This beautiful big Buddha statue overlooks the city, atop a mountain that’s preserved for spiritual, social, and nature walks or sits. It provides a marvellous escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Any time I visit I find a little bit of peace and contentedness.

It’s not hard to get to. It’s literally right in the centre of the city. And yet I don’t go often enough. The little bit of nature the Buddha provides is like a tonic for the part of me that finds frustration in a never quiet city. Not to mention, they sell salt-free almonds.

So today, as the sun was setting and as I was walking down the steps dejected from my nut shop (and earlier bank and restaurant fiascos), but still feeling uplifted by being around trees, the Buddha, and nature, I realized the normally dormant fountains at the base of the Buddha were putting on an elaborate show. I sat on the steps to watch the sun disappear beyond the city and the water show put on before the Buddha, myself, and just a few other observers. The city and life from this perspective looks alot bigger and yet more peaceful than it seems when I’m actually in the mix of it.

The fountain show had beautiful music and lights to go in tandem with the water spraying. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to slow me down, and to remind me to stop and just breathe for a while. If all of the previous activities I’d needed to get done had actually gone according to plan, I would’ve missed it. I’m glad it didn’t work out for me this time.

After the fountain show, the water just lapped out of each fountain head slowly and peacefully. I could hear the steady hum of the city going on outside of the quiet bubble the mountain provides, and I was both hesitant and excited to join it again.

It must be a good thing I’ll need to go back soon to find those nuts.

IMG_9957

View from the steps of the Buddha

IMG_9969

Buddha at dusk

IMG_9971

Mountain meets City / City meets Mountain

Have you eaten? Why yes, I most certainly have, thank you for asking.

So I hadn’t intended for my last post to start you out on my culinary adventure in Taiwan through a random diatribe about an encounter with pineapple (a food that I’m actually allergic to), but as it turns out, that’s what I did. And there you have it. Today’s post is more along the lines of what I had intended to write in order to acquaint you with the delightful, exaltation-worthy food experience that is Taiwan.
 
In Taiwan, when you greet a friend, instead of simply saying ni hao (hello), or asking ni hao ma? (how are you?) You ask, 你吃飯了嗎? ni che le ma? Which means, “have you eaten?”  You can input the words for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the appropriate time if you like as well, for example, 你吃午餐了嗎? ni che oo chan le ma? “Have you eaten lunch?” The response is either, 還沒 hei me (not yet) or 吃了che le (which means, “I eat” indicating, yes, I have eaten).
 
This common greeting just goes to show how important eating is in Taiwanese culture. And I don’t just mean this as it is obviously important as a biological necessity; but in Taiwan, it is also a culturally significant and incredibly valued aspect of everyday life. This is something that is often neglected in North America. As a culture in North America, we are sadly renowned for stuffing our faces with highly processed products made with corn syrup, and tasteless imports that not only lack any nutritional value but also lack any environmental or social conscience.
 
Thankfully this is slowly changing on that side of the globe as more people are becoming aware of the need to eat locally and seasonally (I’m reading a great book right now by Barbara Kingsolver about this very issue: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). My main impression about Taiwan is that they’re far ahead of the curve when it comes to consuming and celebrating local foods in season.
 
This is not to say that Taiwan has been immune to the industrialized institution of a harmful food system. I think the three McDonalds in an eight block radius and the incredibly heavy use of plastic bags for everything here would indicate otherwise, but my everyday experience here in Changhua does tell me that they’re less inclined to put such environmentally and nutritionally harmful foods down their throats—I’m sure there are other cases to contradict this, but I’ll get to that another day.
 
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I was actually really sick from the flight and from the insane amount of hours required from work basically straight as I got off of the plane. Despite being so sick for over two weeks and unable to eat much, I could tell I had stumbled across a really special place. A place that (from what I can still tell) values two main things: working hard, and eating well.
 
Let me tell you, if that is the motto, I’m adapting quite well. I work like a maniac, and my appetite is back in full force. Food is available here at all hours of the day, and can be purchased on any street in innumerable forms.  On just my walk to a branch of my school, I pass so many different street vendors selling different treats. Some of these include meat and rice sausages, onion pancakes (yum), quails eggs, sponge cake, sweet cakes stuffed with taro, chocolate or cream, and fried chicken and sweet potatoes. Just up a block from there is a road devoted to many different outdoor eateries, including barbequing a whole assortment of meats, vegetables, and different types of tofu. And these are just the food stalls I encounter in a few short minutes walk. And the city is riddled with them.

Quail eggs - a typical treat I get on Wednesdays after a long day

Quail eggs – a typical treat I get on Wednesdays after a long day

Onion Pancake!

Onion Pancake!

These little stalls are nestled on streets that are also jam packed with restaurants of all different styles, from outdoor seating on plastic chairs where you watch your food cooking, to air-conditioned restaurants of all different varieties equipped with modern and traditional décor. Restaurants that serve either Japanese food or varieties of Hot Pot tend to dominate my city, but there are also all different kinds that serve pasta, dumplings, and a seemingly limitless variety of noodles and soups.
Eating at a delicious Japanese restaurant

Eating at a delicious Japanese restaurant

Hot pot :)

Hot pot 🙂

One of my favourite places is a restaurant owned by two Taiwanese brothers just up the street from me. One brother runs a Vietnamese portion of the restaurant serving Pho (a Vietnamese soup) and other delicious dishes—the beef noodle there is to die for, in addition to the fresh shrimp spring rolls. The other brother runs part of the restaurant that sells Oden, a Japanese specialty, where you pick out your meats, vegetables, eggs, and/or tofu and these are cooked in front of you in a delicious broth, to be served with homemade spicy sauce and soya paste.

 
Buying from a restaurant is often cheaper here than cooking at home alone. However, if you aren’t in the mood for one of the infinite restaurants or food stalls, you can always go to a nearby local market (there is a wonderful fruit and veggie market just near me), a grocery store, or even a local 7-Eleven (convenience store) which you will find on practically any corner in Taiwan.  Check this out for a great post about the wonders of 7-Elevens here in Taiwan.
 
If you think I’m finished explaining where to get food here, I have barely grazed the surface. I haven’t even yet mentioned the many amazing bread shops (the bread here is the most wonderful bread I’ve ever eaten in my life—more to come on that in a future post). And then there are the many tea shops that are everywhere, selling hot and cold teas of all different kinds, and fresh fruit juices that you would think are from out of this world, but are actually made from fruits grown here locally (thank the heavens for mango season, let me tell you). And then of course, the pièce de résistance: the night markets. Stepping into the vicinity of a night market, is (for me) stepping into my Mecca. A literal smorgasbord of all different kinds of food cooked freshly before your eyes. The senses are on high alert, as you walk along the winding alleys and rows of food stalls, you are bombarded with an intensity of exciting flavours, smells, sights and sounds.
Changhua Night Market

Changhua Night Market

 A lot of the influence on foods in Taiwan can be traced to cuisines in Fujian, Fuzhou, Chaozhou and Guangdong in China. And styles of cooking and tastes were also introduced from Japan during its 50 years of colonial rule in the early 1900s. I have yet to venture into the mountains to explore Taiwanese aboriginal culture and cuisines, hopefully that is yet to come in my journey here.  I do have a friend who explained to me that some people here will claim the food is very specifically only Taiwanese, and has no influence from elsewhere, as clearly political allegiance is profoundly bound to how we understand and consume our foods. But however you may look at it, one thing is very clear: there is a lot of diversity to be found on any street providing an endless supply of food experiences for a hungry traveler.
 
Taiwan has produced an excellent website that explores the diversity of Taiwanese food culture, and sums up the constantly changing and amazing food experience in Taiwan here quite eloquently: “The Taiwanese cuisine of today is the fruit of a long, continuous process of evolution and innovation.” I have a lot more to say about so many different aspects of the food here, especially the bread, the teas, the markets, and so much more, so please stay tuned!

 
 

More of Changhua Night Market:
IMG_6889 IMG_6888 IMG_6887 IMG_6884 IMG_6882 IMG_6881 IMG_6877 IMG_6873 IMG_6870
IMG_6848

You’re now entering pineapple territory

Well damn. I’m allergic to pineapples. The one food my generally non-discriminating stomach can’t stomach. But my taste buds love it. What they really love is not just any ol’ pineapple; but fresh, colourful, unbelievably flavourful and juicy, locally grown pineapple. The type of pineapple that does not (cannot) exist as an import, but that comes from a nearby field, and is recently harvested. This oval-orb-with-a-spiky-hairdo-of-a-beauty, basks in tropical sunlight and awaits an almost mind blowing experience of consumption.
 
Today, I took a scooter ride into the mountains on a much-needed escape from (reemergence into?) reality. I was reminded of how just one microelement of a human diet, in this case, how one fruit, can contribute to one’s happiness. Even if you physically can’t consume it, you can still find a fulfilling appreciation from it.
 
I’ve been in a bit of a foreigner’s funk lately, magnified since a highly inconvenient typhoon decided to spoil my weekend plans rather than my work week. I’m in need of a social life. I thrive only when I have a healthy balance of me time and we time. My original instinct to move to Changhua really stemmed from reading about the giant Buddha overlooking the small city. I mean, how could any city be less than perfect if giant Buddha is watching over things?  But while I was taking care of my spiritual self, I neglected to realize that my (important) social self would be taking a backseat on this part of my journey.
Giant Buddha at Bagua Shan (Mountain),  Changhua, Taiwan.

Giant Buddha at Bagua Shan (Mountain), Changhua, Taiwan.

Don’t get me wrong. I think internal reflection is incredibly important, and with a heavy dose of yoga lately, I’ve been rocking some pretty positive vibes. I love my job, and I really love the kids I teach. I can easily say I love Taiwan and the people here. The challenge for me rests almost completely in the language. While I am surrounded by people on a daily basis, I still feel a sense of isolation because the language is so difficult to wrap my head around, and because my city (while lovely) isn’t offering much for my age demographic. Thankfully work does keep me very busy, so I normally don’t have enough time to wallow in this—other than when a typhoon decides to wait for the least perfect moment when I have weekend plans, to make its descent. Which brings me back to pineapples.
 
To stamp out my self-pitying sorrow for missing what was probably an epic party (and hippie-fest… my goodness I love hippies…), I decided to take my scooter into the mountains to shake things off. I took a detour to see Buddha and to have a snack. I indulged with a sausage within a sausage. Seriously, Taiwan has it right. Why have just one sausage, when you can have two?  I’m talking meat and rice here people. Come on now. You can ask for your meat sausage to be grilled next to a rice sausage. This rice sausage is then sliced, and stuffed with garlic (that you peeled while waiting), and is then stuffed with the meat sausage. BOOM. You have a sausage within a sausage. BOOM. It is amazing.
Sausage within a sausage (and some raw garlic)

Sausage within a sausage (and some raw garlic)

I have only just recognized the irony of eating such a thing in front of the Buddha. Clearly my many vegan and veggie friends will be raising more than a quizzical eyebrow at me, and yet I can only say that as I walked past the various vendors selling their foods and meats at Bagua Mountain, in the moment, this seemed the perfect treat to find my inner peace and to start me on my journey for the day.
 
So with my fill, I set off on my scooter with the intent that I would expand my internal map of the land/people-scape. I took a route that I’d begun a month ago, but where I’d been paused and distracted by some really delicious chicken. This time, I pushed past the chicken place (knowing full well I’d stop by on my way back), to explore what lay beyond. There is something very profound to be said for what goes on in one’s mind when in unknown territory. For me, it’s probably what makes me revel in any traveling experience. It’s the excitement in the heart, the rush of adrenaline, and the acute awareness to tiny details that might make or break the journey. It’s also the appreciation for the wonderment of life that is sadly too easily forgotten when we remain too long in a familiar place.
The infamous chicken place

The infamous chicken place

Um... Amazing.


Um… Amazing.

I swear this has to do with pineapples. As I pushed past the familiar, and drove beyond the delicious chicken place (which at one point had its own story of adventure for me not just a few months ago when I first found it), I wondered what I would find on this road in the mountains in central Taiwan. I was all too aware of my fellow passengers on this road.Primarily, these included some really admirable cyclists. My god. You could bounce 10NT coins (like a quarter) off of their chiseled thighs if it wouldn’t endanger their trajectory. And there are So. Many. Of. Them… Everytime I scooted past a very frequent cyclist, I would feel a little more guilty about using a motorized vehicle rather than my own legs. Wow, I’m lazy. Why am I not climbing this mountain with my bare hands or at least using a bicycle? And yet, seriously, who am I kidding? Scoot scoot scoot! I like to think I’m in pretty good shape lately, but there’s no way I’m making it this far on a bicycle. The hills and weaving turns would be enough to make me want to drive my bike off a far too tempting and frequent cliff.
 
Which leads me to my other fellow passengers. The hard-core-scooter-crew. These folks don their motorcycle jackets, head gear, boots, and bad bad bad ass bikes with souped up engines. I think they’re the reason the road often has herds of people lined up with massive cameras waiting to take pictures (at first I entertained the fantasy that these photographers were taking my picture, but I’m pretty sure it was the hard-core-scooter-crew they were waiting for… to be determined…). Anyway, these motorists that share the road are extremely noisy, and are incredibly intimidating. My heart jumps into my mouth when I hear their engines behind me on my little scooter, and as they zoom past my clearly under the speed limit speed, I silently curse them for scaring the beejeezis out of me. Every. Time. Though I probably can’t blame them. If I had the guts and the right bike, I’d probably haul ass around the corners and up and down the hills too. Maybe. Hmm… Maybe not. I digress. Pineapples.
Raising an army

Raising an army

The more I ventured into unknown territory, the more I became aware of the prevalence of spiky pineapple fields and roadside stalls with pineapple vendors. My goodness I love pineapple, but I have to remind myself of the fact that when I eat it, my stomach turns into a burning cauldron of froth, best left unaffected. Yet as each vendor passed, I reminisced about one of my first days in Taiwan when I had a friendly encounter with a toothless, kind, old soul. He was hauling a wagon adorned with a sun umbrella and a multitude of pineapples. I stopped him because, well, despite knowing I shouldn’t eat his product, I have a magnetism toward such friendly, foodie folk.
 
In one of my first successful encounters of using only Chinese and (just a little?) sign language, I proudly walked away with my bag of pineapple that he expertly skinned with a machete before my eyes. I think he even did it with just one hand. And the other was tied behind his back. And he was blindfolded. And he was juggling the knife and the pineapple at the same time. I swear. I think.  It was incredible, and the pineapple was delicious.  I do this every time I visit a new tropical locale. I tell myself, maybe by now I’ve developed an immunity to pineapple, or that the pineapple HERE will be okay for my stomach. Well so far I’m still wrong about my stomach’s confusion over such a delicious fruit, but I maintain it’s still worth trying out every few years.
 
As I passed field upon field and vendor upon vendor, I started to get excited. I realized, I’m stumbling across something pretty special here. These people are all about the pineapple. This is great. It’s everywhere! I don’t even care that I can’t eat it. I love it, and I love them, and I love Taiwan, and I love the world, and I can’t believe I was upset earlier today, and how could I be so selfish when a whole world of magnificent fruit exists just a couple of hours from my new home? These were my thoughts as I kept driving, entering deeper and deeper into pineapple territory.
IMG_8774 IMG_8790
I started to wonder, it’s going to get dark soon and I should probably head back, but I just can’t think of turning around yet… I’m going to keep going. And suddenly the road started to get busier and busier, to the point my scooter was stopped by a crowd. So I parked next to a friendly pair having a chat, and I started to walk toward the heart of the action. Having no idea what I was headed toward, I took in the row of vendors all selling pineapples and other food and wares along the street. The crowd seemed to converge along a path to my left, and I instinctively followed it. I was about to keep walking forward, when I noticed the crowd seemed to be in a queue that would turn around a corner toward some destination unseen. So, curiously, I stayed in the line and waited. Of course I could’ve tried asking someone around me what the line was for, but a bout of shyness and a lack of wanting to express how badly my Chinese skills have developed, kept me silent, and I waited. It wasn’t long for the line to push forward, and I realized we were about to enter a place called “Sunny Hills” – What the heck is this? I wondered, and as we got closer to the front of the line I thought, Oh dear, there is an admission table or something… Should I pay money to enter when I have no idea what it is? Should I risk my pride and ask someone around me if they speak English? Should I duck out of line and head back to my scooter? Or should I just keep going forward in the line and find out whatever awkwardness awaits me?  I opted for the latter, and as it turned out, there was no admission fee, but rather the queue was for a table where generous people were handing out free pineapple cakes (YUM! I think I can eat them?). As I accepted my cake, I then proceeded to a nearby table where there was free tea waiting for me and the multitude of other visitors at this mysterious Sunny Hills.
 
I wandered around a little more, taking in an overall sense of euphoria and contentment at the joys of travel and adventure, and I followed another crowd headed further into this mysterious space. I’m so glad I did! I happened upon a sample area, where a band played some lovely music, and I walked around sampling different fruits, sorbets, and teas.
 
This seemed like the perfect moment to turn back toward the familiar. I had clearly reached the climax of the trip when I found this gem of a spot, and I know when to take my cue. It was also threatening to get dark soon, and a big cloud was lurking overhead, so I set out toward my scooter. Of course it started to rain right at this time. What sort of genius sets out on a scooter roadtrip without a raincoat? This one, right here (finger point in my direction). Mine was conveniently drying off in my bathroom from the typhoon. “Well, this will be interesting,” I thought. Only miles of pineapple fields and no chance of buying a new raincoat before I reach home. I’m going to be soaked. And yet, while I did get soaked, I also couldn’t have been more elated with the day. I took a reprieve from the rain to get my chicken from my favourite place, and made a quick stop to pick up some mango from my local fruit market—since I had limited myself to one tiny pineapple sampling, I thought I should at least indulge in some of this country’s beautiful fruit this evening.  My goodness, the fruit in this country is incredible. Near indescribable, in fact.
 
The thing is, even if you are so-called allergic to something, you can still find appreciation in the wonder and the beauty of the thing and the things that surround it. This is true in the case of pineapple. Livelihoods depend on it. Landscapes are shaped by it. Entertainment comes from gathering around its juices, it’s aromas, and it’s basic form as a joyous fruit. Though I may be technically allergic to it, I certainly won’t let that stop me from wanting to appreciate the joys it can add not just to the lives of others, but by proxy, to my life as well. While I probably won’t consume a whole pineapple in one sitting again anytime soon (as I tried after my encounter with the toothless machete wielding old man with the pineapple wagon), I certainly won’t let that stop me from appreciating the joys this fruit brings to the world, and to this tiny part of the world in particular.
IMG_8804 IMG_8803 IMG_8802 IMG_8801
IMG_8798
IMG_8772
IMG_8786