Thursday, 19 January 2012

Last Day at Cheng Chung :(

Today was a wonderful way to wrap up my stay at Cheng Chung.  I'm ready for a change of scenery but I'm going to miss the blissful serenity of "leisure walks" around the lake and the nighttime lanterns in the courtyard.  The TEAL team, Lei Bao and I were planning to have lunch together so I was chillin' downstairs at the conference and was suddenly surrounded by these professors chattering away in Chinese.  It was around lunchtime and they were the people I was supposed to meet up with so I packed up my stuff and joined the Asian mob walking to Dr. Kan's white van.  So I hopped in and we drove a bit, parked in a pretty obscure place, piled out as they continued to chat away.  All of a sudden, we enter this back entrance of a warehouse-like space, with no people, no signs.  And I'm thinking to myself "You should have at least made sure you were going to lunch" as we wind through a skinny, grey hallway.  Fortunately, a couple corners later, a nice restaurant, coffee and wine bar  materializes out of nowhere.  
Once I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, that's when they decided to switch to English.   Lunch was lovely- more Western-style food (finally a menu with some English!)- I had a very interesting pine nut salad with apples and raisins and crunchy things.  Lots of nerdy conversations- they are definitely interested in continuing our collaboration in the future.  
Dr. Kan apparently grew comfortable enough around me to ask a burning question he had about Westerners.  In Asia, they usually have slippers by the door for people to wear in the home, hotel and even in the TEAL classroom.  Dr. Kan noticed that using slippers was rare in the US and that many people in the US wear their shoes inside their homes.  So he asked me, "if Americans tend to shower in the morning, wear their shoes to work and wear them when they get back home, when do they take them off?"  I didn't even know how to answer that- "before bed, I guess".  Mysterious cultural differences can inspire some pretty interesting questions. 
Anyway, I went for a walk after lunch and a student happened to be playing the flute.  Between the beautiful music and scenery, I just had to capture it on video.  Excuse my crazy ramblings on the video- by Wednesday, I meant thursday and by dinner, I meant lunch.

After the nice walk, I met up with Penny for a downtown adventure.
Kind of what downtown looks like- Penny thought it was
 funny how many random people said hi to me
Actually, it started out a hunt for tea, which quickly became an adventure when all the close-to-campus tea shops are already closed for the New Year.
Special tea... and free French fries with tea purchase until the New Year!
(Seems like a weird combo but maybe that's me!)
Penny wanted me to try this special tea that they cover with a buttery milk topping- I feel like it is the Asian version of Harry Potter butterbeer.  It's one of the few beverages they don't drink out of a straw (they even drink some hot teas out of straws, which surprised me).  Such an awesome outing- we sometimes used pictionary to overcome the language barrier as we discussed everything from BOOM flowers to BAM factorials to Canadians to boys to research advisors.
"BOOM flowers" and a courtyard decorated for the new year
After she dropped me back at my room, less than an hour later, Professor Pao (the head of the physics department here) and his wife picked me up for dinner.  I was expecting a causal meal close to campus but these people don't let me go a day without eating an 8-course feast.  We went to a classier section of downtown Chiaya (classy except for the bloody, hanging in-the-process-of-being-butchered pigs we walked by) to a restaurant of a chef with nationwide acclaim.
So I sat down in my orange corduroys to the fanciest meal I've ever had.  There's no menus- you just sit down and they bring you 8-10 small dishes, all beautifully decorated and specially paced.  What did we have?  I wish my words could do it justice but to me, it was fancy meat, fancy shrimp, papaya stuffed with cheese and potato, delicious tofu, maybe squid hotpot?  Red bean mochi and guava juice for dessert.  I don't really know the English words but I assure you, it was delicious!
So Taipei tomorrow- Penny and I are taking an early high speed train to the city (she's excited for Japanese MOS hamburgers for breakfast!) and she's going to go to the Palace Museum with me then she has to head home to her family for the New Year.  I'll have Saturday afternoon for personal explorations, a night tour that evening then head Professor Pao's way for New Year's Eve.  Time to pack!