My favorite remains the vegetarian buffet that I found near my house when searching for a gym, though. I can so easily heap half to two-thirds of my plate with green leafy veggies and then fill the rest up with less-healthy foods… so wonderful.
I have tried many many traditional dishes, but have not yet tried the “stinky tofu.” I’m sure I will get talked into it soon enough, but I’m not particularly looking forward to it.
I have had dozens of meals with my new friends, too. Because street food (and food at many of the Taiwanese-style sit-down restaurants) is so inexpensive, it is cheaper to eat out than to cook for yourself. Ergo, many people, especially young single people, couples and basically anyone without small kids, eats out for most meals. I have adopted a similar routine, where I eat breakfast at home and eat out most other meals (but make healthy choices).
I should have been clued in to the fact that we would have to work for our meal by the fact that we had to choose which crab we were going to eat from a bucket where they were still crawling around. Yeah, they had their pincers taped down, but still. I mentally shrugged, and started cracking open pieces myself.
The crab meat was delicious, but having to put so much effort into eating it and be so acutely, intimately aware of the fact that I was eating an animal killed solely for my benefit put me off seafood for a good long while. At least a month, in actual fact.
On this same trip, Yi-Ting brought home a huge tub of these seaweed crackers with sweet firm jelly in the middle. Think of an Oreo with seaweed for the cracker part, and syrup-sweet but firm honey-paste in the middle instead of the white stuff. Sounds gross, right? I thought so too.
I dubiously tried one, and smiled bravely (but only because Yi-Ting was watching) as I munched on it, and agreed that I would be happy to have some more “some day,” secretly vowing to never touch the stuff again. It was… strange. Not bad, or disgusting, but solidly in the “weirds me out” category.
Then a couple days later I got hungry. And didn’t have any food. So I had a sweet seaweed cracker. “Huh,” I thought. “It’s actually not that bad.” Repeat x10 over a week or so. After a while, I suddenly realize I love the crackers and am looking forward to eating them as a snack. It’s just that “seaweed” and “sweet” tastes seem so wrong when I try to fit them into the same sentence/mouthful in my head. But when I stop thinking about it and just eat it like a snack, it’s actually quite good. Go figure.
We wandered around a Confucian Temple for an hour and followed a tour, even though I couldn’t understand a single word that was being said. The guide was excellent and interactive, and kept asking questions to the kids and adults in the group. He seemed to be exclaiming “DWAY!!” with great emotion almost entirely at random.
Rather bewildered, though not uncomfortably so, I asked my friend what the heck “dway” means? He shared with me that it means “correct” or “right.” Further, he shared, Chinese doesn’t have commonly-used words that translate directly to “yes” or “no” (don’t get me started…), so “dway” often substitutes for “yes” when you want to say “yes” directly to someone but can’t because of the way the language is structured.
The above is an excellent example of what it’s like to learn Chinese language and Taiwanese culture. I would describe my Chinese language-learning experience thusly: “utter confusion punctuated occasionally by tiny distant starbursts of clarity followed by further murkiness.” I feel judged and stared-at and objectified at times, but never unsafe. And I’m content with that, at least for now.
During the rest of the tour, my friends Sandy and Daniel would whisper to me dribs and drabs of what the guide was saying when they remembered; the rest I just soaked in through osmosis. I had a great time!
After that we headed to the National Museum of Taiwan Literature. If I’m being honest (and when aren’t I?) I must admit that about the only thing I know about the National Museum of Taiwan Literature is that it was a great place for a bathroom stop. And that apparently some college kids study there.
We made our way slowly past the strange busts, ladybug-and-bacon-shaped purses, $200 (yes, that’s US dollars) diaries, and the fantastical miniature magnetic moving-car town up to the top of the mall, where you can stand on the roof and get great views all around. While we were there, we noticed there were people gathering on one side and went to check it out, and found a bunch of weird eyeless (or at least pupil-less) dolls that at first I refused to go near due to the creepizoid factor.
I got some pictures with the mayor and of my friends, painted a pupil on a doll, and disported ourselves merrily. My friend Daniel was ridiculously excited – he has lived in Tainan his whole life but never gotten to meet the mayor. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I started noticing the huge banners all over town with him plastered all over them… for his campaign for presidency.
I looked up Mexican restaurants in Tainan on TripAdvisor and found exactly one. The name was not promising. What the hell is a “Funkoo” anyway? It’s not a word in English, Spanish or Mandarin that I know of, and just seems strange. Strike one. But hey, not being spoiled for choice, I figured out where the restaurant was and biked my hungry self over.
I was greeted in Mandarin by the Taiwanese bartender, and English by the Canadian owner. Dejection began to sink in after I asked if anyone at the restaurant spoke Spanish: they just shook their heads. Strike two. Uh oh.
I glanced at the menu and my feeling of despondency deepened as I saw nothing that sparked my interest, and no significant entrees for vegetarians. Well dang. Strike three you’re out, Funkoo. I sighed deeply as I prepared myself to try it anyway; I was too hungry to go anywhere else and might as well see what I could salvage.
I half-heartedly asked if they could do me something with beans and cheese, or vegetables, or “something vegetarian.” He said they could whip up some vegetarian enchiladas for NT$200 (US$6), and I consented and went to sit down, trying not to hang my head.
And that’s when my experience changed.
In fact, it was better than almost anything I could normally get at a Mexican restaurant back in Tucson, due to both the ingredients and the unusually vegetarian-friendly crafting. It appeared to be designed for “a vegetarian with taste buds accustomed to authentic Sonora, Mexico-style food.”
Comfort food indeed.
Not only was the food amazing, but two of the three owners (one of whom was the chef) and the bartender all came to check on me and talked with me for a bit as I raved about their restaurant in general and my food in particular. It was one of the best experiences I have had in a restaurant. Ever.
I went home and created a TripAdvisor account just so I could post a glowing review of Funkoo. Well done, Funkoo, well done. I’m still not so hot on your name, but I’ll come eat your food anyway, because it makes me happy, and so do you.
When we are both free at mealtime, she will drag me around on her scooter to culinary delights such as the traditional crab noted above, as well as vegetarian and occasionally pescatarian delights can be had, often for ridiculously low prices.
The crab dinner we had above, by the way, cost a grand total of ten dollars for both of us. I insisted on paying because she has been so kind to me, and also because it was ONLY TEN DOLLARS FOR A CRAB DINNER FOR TWO!!! Whoops, got a little excited for a minute there, sorry about that. And most of our meals are $2-3 per person, since we eat mostly traditional and healthy meals.
I chivvied and chided all of my friends to come along too, and many said they would come, but the rain put most of them off. My two friends Tommy and Daniel did come, though, and the three of us enjoyed the performance immensely. It was so cool to see such a lovely human being shine that brightly in her gorgeous baby blue dress.
The performance was well-crafted, flawlessly executed and thoroughly enjoyable. She did several solos on marimba and drum, an exciting drum trio and several larger pieces with a number of her classmates. Her two marimba solos were the highlights of the night, as she transported us with her into an entirely different dimension of filled with flowing ethereal beauty.
Even as I walk down memory lane to write about my friend, her recital and my experiences, I feel my shoulders relax, and a deep contented sigh escapes from my lips.
This is what life is all about.