Saturday, 21 January 2012

Coming full circle

This trip is coming full circle- I’m spending the last night in the same Taoyaun hotel where Penny and I spent my first night in Taiwan.  Somehow I’ve upgraded to a deluxe room. I’m not really sure when or why I’m enjoying the last day of the Year of the Rabbit, sipping Oolong surrounded by extravagance.  According to Chinese astrologers, the upcoming Year of the Dragon isn’t supposed to be a good year for dragon babies, like me so I’ll live it up today.
Definitely nicer than my room the first night!

            I decided to brave the rain during my last morning in Taipei to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, one of the remaining top sites in the city.  As you can tell, the Taiwanese love their memorial halls… and now, I do too!  It’s obvious from these beautiful buildings that the Taiwanese value and treasure the arts.  Unfortunately, the rooms were locked which foiled my plan to find a magnet for Dad’s refrigerator collection.  I rushed out of my hotel this morning to make sure I could see everything and be packed by noon checkout time but I regretted not making time for my rain dance!
Taiwan International Art Festival advertisement- toilets!

However, the ornate architecture and meticulous gardens were well worth getting wet for.  Just past the entrance, there was a glass room with two toilets to advertise the upcoming International Arts Festival hosted by the city.  It didn’t make much sense to me and my new Hong Kong friends were equally confused.  One said that he still hasn’t figured out how to use these Western toilets.  I couldn’t fathom what was so hard to figure out but I told him the Asian hole-in-the-ground potties surpassed my mental capabilities (or maybe my Western sense of hygiene)!  Fortunately, I avoided using pit toilets this trip but more than once, I had to recover from the awkward-peek-into-a-stall-and-run-away when there were no Western options available.
Ok, enough about toilets, I think the pictures for this place pretty much speak for themselves.  You can thank my Hong Kong friends for the excellent photography.  They offered to take more pictures of me when I visit them in Hong Kong (haha, I have no immediate plans but they love their home and really wanted me to see it).  They raved about the world-famous food, if you’re willing to brave the crowds and share tables with strangers.

Afterwards, Professor Pao and his wife meet me at the hotel to take me out to lunch!  That was not the plan- I planning on skipping lunch to make room for tonight’s feast!  But miraculously all my jeans still fit (despite the fact that I look like a marshmallow in all my CKS Memorial Hall photos- that's because I’m wearing three jackets), so I decided to take advantage of their culinary expertise for my last lunch in this country.

They took me to a place in the train station, which is the second location of a very famous, very traditional restaurant.  No forks here!  I’m embarrassed to say, my chopstick skills can be less than elegant and although I try, my not-always-successful steadfast determination pains my Taiwanese friends sometimes and they try to find me flatware. This place is famous for their pan-friend, pork dumplings so we ordered those, a steamed vegetable dumpling,  “small rice” porridge, a mainland China New Year cake (they called it a cake but it’s a main dish with thick noodles), finger pancake and tofu soup.  All of it was delicious- I love how Taiwanese dishes typically are served in smaller, sharable portions so everyone can try things.
I enjoyed one last walk through the train station with all the shops decorated for the holiday and selling specialty dishes.  I was amused by the Hello Kitty bakery and once again dumbfounded by the assortment of options- famous stores from Japan, Hong Kong and Europe.  Jennifier (Dr. Pao’s wife) had gotten a MBA from Ohio State but it currently studying hotel management.  I enjoyed hearing stories from their travels all over the world and stories from past New Years.  Tomorrow, consistent with tradition, they are reuniting with her family- and with an expected attendance of 40-50 people, they have to rent out a special space. I laughed when they told me about a year her family decided to spend the day sightseeing and they rented a whole tour bus for the ultimate family reunion extravaganza!  She wondered if my family did anything to celebrate the Lunar New Year- I said my Asian family from Providence College Asian Am made an attempt at celebrating, but I don’t think the holiday even registers on the average American’s radar.
Professor Pao’s sister picked us up and since her car was completely decked out in Snoopy décor, I asked where her kids were.  I was a little embarrassed when Jennifer told me she has no kids, she just loves Snoopy (but hopefully Jennifer modified my inquiry when she translated it the sister who doesn’t speak English).  But seriously- Snoopy seat covers, Snoopy sunglass holders, assorted Snoopy trinkets, Snoopy clothes hangers, Snoopy steering wheel cover- wowza!  Anyway, I’m going to get ready for dinner!