About Carrie Kellenberger

Carrie Kellenberger

Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.

Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.


Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger

The Ever So Exotic Shanshu, a Mountain Green in Taiwan

January 22, 2015 by  

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Of all the exotic vegetables and fruits that Taiwan offers, one of my favorite greens is a mountain green that is known here as shanshu. The rest of the world likely knows it as a common house plant, but I bet most people don’t know that you can eat it.
Fresh Shanshu

This lovely green fern is known as Asplenium nidus or the South Pacific Bird’s Nest Fern, and it is typically found in humid environments, like the rain forests of Taiwan and of eastern Australia.

The plant is native to East Tropical Africa, Eastern Asia (Japan and Taiwan), Indo-China, and the Malaysia ecozone, but it is also cultivated elsewhere in the world is an ornamental house plant. In Taiwan, the Shan-su plant is viewed as a type of mountain vegetable and it is served in local Taiwanese restaurants.

These vegetables offer a crisp texture and a lovely taste, and they are harvested from both wild and cultivated plants.  I have no idea what the health benefits are from eating this plant, but I can only imagine good things. Shanshu is pretty yummy and it makes a great side dish. I enjoy it as a stand alone dish for lunch.Bird's Nest Fern by Richard Parker on Flickr

You don’t want to eat those big outside ferns that you see in the photo to your left, though. The tender baby frond ferns growing in the center of this plant are what taste so good. They are bright green with unfurling fiddleheads that are about the size of a dime.

I cook them fresh in a little olive oil with sauteed garlic. I add a little sesame bean paste to give the dish a little punch.

Shan-Su Fern

For me, shanshu is a unique part of Taiwan, as I’ve never seen it offered anywhere else in my travels. I feel lucky that I have cheap and easy access to it. It’s one of those vegetables that cooks so easily, and tastes so great, that I know I will miss it if I ever leave Taiwan.

The only other Taiwanese vegetable I like more than shanshu is a green vegetable known as Dragon’s Whiskers, but I’ll save that for another post.

 

 

Top Ten Book Read For Your New Year’s List

January 6, 2015 by  

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At the beginning of last year, I started out with a specific reading challenge in mind: I chose to read 35 books in 2014, but at least 10 of the books I chose had to be a five-star book and the rule was that I had to choose from several genres. Otherwise I’d just stick with fantasy and historical fiction, which I adore.

I spent some time in advance getting my reading list worked out. As luck would have it, I spent a lot of time in bed this year from painful arthritis flares, and I also did quite a bit of traveling and long-haul flights, so I had plenty of time to crack out some long-count novels and business books that I’ve been wanting to read for ages. Between the real travel journeys I embarked on this year and the fantasy travel that I completed with my reading list, I feel like I really got to see the world this year.

Carrie Kellenberger

By the end of 2014, I had 61 books on my list, and I relied on my grandmother’s tried and true technique of going back through my notes and book reviews to remember which books were the best and why.

Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.
—Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

My favorite books of the year include:

My Favorite EPIC FANTASY and LONG COUNT Novel of 2014
1. A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

This was a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fantasy winner. At 912 pages, A Memory of Light was also the longest book I read in 2014. (Number 10 was a close second, and it was also part of a large epic fantasy series that I began many years ago.) I was really sad to say goodbye to these beloved characters that I’ve known since childhood. One of the coolest things about this book is that the original author Robert Jordan died before he was able to finish the series. He hand-picked a young up-and-coming fantasy writer to finish his series for him, and that is how I became a Brandon Sanderson fan.

This leads me to book two on my list…

My Favorite NEW-ISH FANTASY Author of 2014
2. The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

I read the first book in this series in 2013, and I enjoyed it, but Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension blew my mind. I’ve never read fantasy like this before. His battle scenes are completely believable and entirely riveting, and the way he writes about magic is just incredible. The magicians in this book are not naturally gifted with magic. They gain their magic through Allamancy. If you’re into fantasy, this is one series you won’t want to miss out on. Judging from the reviews on GoodReads, Sanderson’s writing gets better and better as the series moves on. I’ve been holding on to the right moment to start Book Three, but trust me, it’s going to happen in 2015!

My Favorite Chinese-American Book of 2014
3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

This was fantastic tale about a young girl named Kim who moves from Hong Kong to America with her mother to work in a Chinese sweatshop in Brooklyn. Kwok’s descriptions of a young immigrant girl that is caught between two cultures is captivating.

Kim and her mother arrive in New York with big dreams of making a fantastic new life for themselves in the USA. Instead, they end up working in her aunt’s illegal clothing factory where they earn 1.5 cents for each skirt they complete. Kim was the best English student in her class in Hong Kong, but in America, she is overlooked, misunderstood and taunted mercilessly every day.

My Favorite Italian Author for 2014
4. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This story is set in the Italian Alps, and it follows the lives of Ciro and Enza, two young village friends who both end up chasing their destinies on the far and distant shores of America. Ciro and his brother Edward are left at a local nunnery at a young age, and they are brought up by the nuns. Just a few villages away, Enza’s family struggles to make ends meet. They meet when Enza’s young sister passes away. This is a story of star-crossed love, but it also provides a tantalizing glimpse into what life was like as a new immigrant in America at the turn of the century.

My Favorite Non-Fiction Book for 2014
5. Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I read quite a few non-fiction books this year, but this one really sticks out in my mind because it has made the biggest impression on me to date. Salt Sugar Fat offers an in depth look at the food industry, and how companies like Nestle, Kraft, Coke, Pepsi and so many other food giants deliberately load their foods with salt, sugar, and fat to encourage people to eat more.

It’s no wonder that North America is suffering from an obesity problem. The amount of sugar, salt, and fat that we are ingesting these days has TRIPLED since the 70s. It’s clear that the processed food industry can’t exist without these things. What’s not clear is where we’re going with all of this, and what will happen to the millions of people across the world who are developing serious health issues because of this.

The bottom line is that you have a choice, and the first step in educating yourself on what your food contains is to start reading labels and paying better attention to what’s grabbing your eye on your grocery store shelves.

My Favorite Travel/Autobiography Book of 2014
6. How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness by Joshua Samuel Brown and David Lee Ingersoll

I am slightly biased about this book because I consider the author to be a good friend, but the reason WHY he’s my friend is because I have always admired his writing. How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness is a collection of 19 stories written during Joshua Samuel Brown’s 10+ years on the road as a travel guide writer.

It’s packed full of funny travel stories, quirky observations, and amusing inner monologues. In typical JSB fashion, it’s the type of book you can laugh out loud to, and it is just as absurd as I expected it to be. This isn’t your average travel novel. JSB has an insatiable lust for travel and adventure, and he always manages to find a little bit of trouble to get into. He also has a gift for making the average, mundane experience into a story that is utterly unique and completely unforgettable

My Favorite Historical Novel about the South
7. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

At 11 years of age, Sarah Grimke receives ownership of her first slave, an 11-year-old girl named Handful. The only problem is that Sarah abhors slavery. She doesn’t want to own a slave. She wants to stop slavery. Despite their skin color, Sarah and Handful discover that they aren’t so different after all. Handful is bound in a life of slavery, while Sarah is bound by gender. The two girls eventually become friends and allies, and their relationship goes on to span thirty-five years.

My Favorite Historical Novel on the Tudors
8. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

I am obsessed/fascinated with Tudor history. I’m also obsessed with literature about strong women in history. In an age that had no reverence or respect for women, I think it is simply fascinating that Elizabeth Tudor was able to rise to power. She is one of the longest ruling and best known English monarchs of all time.

Queen Elizabeth has always been one of my favorite women in history. I’ve read many stories about her reign as Queen, but this is the first story of her childhood that I’ve read. Weir does a tremendous job of showing Elizabeth grow from a young and precocious child of two to a young women on her way to becoming Queen of England. As a young child, we learn of Elizabeth’s respect and adoration for her father, the gruesome death of her mother, and the endless line of stepmothers.

As Elizabeth turns into a young lady, she very nearly destroys her name and reputation, she endures a complicated relationship with her sister Mary, and she faces imprisonment in the Tower of London. From all of this, we see the Virgin Queen emerge. A cunning woman who forges herself into the ruler of the Golden Age, Elizabeth presided as Queen of England for 45 years.

My Favorite Young Adult Fiction – TOSS UP!
9. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I know it’s a bit of a cheat to name two novels, but these novels were strikingly different and just so…good!

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey combines my love of post-apocalyptic science fiction with teenage drama. When an alien race takes over Earth, only a very few survive the four alien waves that wipe out most of the world’s population. The dawn of the 5th wave has arrived, and we find young Cassie on the run. The aliens are now impersonating humans and the only way for her to stay alive is to stay on her own. Then she meets Evan Walker, and he might be her only hope for rescuing her little brother.

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was a winner in the 2012 GoodReads choice awards. There is a reason why John Green is known as one of the biggest pop culture icons of this decade. He writes so eloquently about the hopes, fears, and dreams of his teenage characters, it’s almost impossible to believe that he isn’t a teenager himself. If you’re looking to experience a range of emotions in your literature, look no further than The Fault in Our Stars.

My Favorite Horror Novel
10. Wizard and Glass The Dark Tower #4 by Stephen King

I started Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series over a decade ago, but it took so long for him to come out with each book, I decided to put the series down until it was complete. This year I rekindled my romance with one of my favorite authors of all time! I thought Book 3 was the best book in this series – up until I read Wizard and Glass, that is.

There are so many great things about this book, I don’t even know where to start! For one, there is a heavy nod to The Stand, which is one of my favorite books of all time.

In Wizard and Glass, we meet 14-year-old Roland and we learn about how he becomes a gunslinger. We also find out what sets him on his quest to find the Dark Tower. Young Roland and his friends, Alain and Cuthbert, have been sent to the town of Hambry in the Meijis, where his father Steven believes Roland will be safe from Marten Broadcloak.

Instead, Roland finds his one and only true love, Susan Delgado, and he also crosses paths with the Big Coffin Hunters and a nasty old witch named Rhea the Coos. Roland and his friends soon discover that the town isn’t what it seems, and they uncover a secret that threatens the whole Affiliation. At the center of it all is a pink glass ball, which is known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit – a wizard glass – and it is one of the most evil things in existence.

So there you have it. These were my top reads for 2014, but I assure you, I have many other great books on my list so stay tuned.

Finding Homemade Canadian Cooking in Taipei

November 20, 2014 by  

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Being a Canadian who has lived in Taiwan since 2006, I can say with confidence that there has been a distinct lack of good Canadian fare available in Taipei. In other words, it’s tough to find restaurants in Taipei that offer ‘True North’ dishes like poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, and breakfast skillets. Thankfully, Whalen’s has had us covered since the summer of 2012.

Salad with Raspberry Vinegarette Dressing

John and I have eaten at Whalen’s in Taipei’s Daan District on numerous occasions, although we’ve yet to visit for brunch or just drinks. I’ve never had a meal at Whalen’s that I haven’t enjoyed. In fact, we like the food at Whalen’s so much, it has been listed on my list of favorite restaurants in Taipei since January 2014. It’s going to stay there for 2015, too.

They make a lot of things from scratch, so items like their homemade salad dressings and hand-cut fries really stand out. Have I mentioned value for your money? Yes, they’ve got that covered too. The portions are so big, I always find it hard to clear my plate completely. You definitely get your money’s worth when you eat at Whalen’s.

Last week I was invited to come by Whalen’s to try some of their new menu additions. John and I were pretty excited as we knew we were in for a great meal. The only complaint we had going in – and this isn’t really a complaint - is that the menu is massive, just like their meals. It’s hard to make a decision because it all looks great! Plus Whalen’s always delivers a consistent meal, so we know that our tried and true menu favorites are going to be just as good as the last time we visited.

The invite was the perfect opportunity to try something new…with the exception of Whalen’s gourmet poutines. The Canadian in me really, really loves Whalen’s poutines. All they’re missing are the cheese curds! Believe me, when you see the poutines, you’re not going to be thinking about cheese curds, though. You’re going to be wondering how you can possibly eat everything that’s on your plate instead!

Anyways, back to my complaint about Whalen’s massive menu.

We went in with a strategy, which didn’t turn out to be a very unique strategy since the people eating next to us adopted the same technique. (Or maybe they saw us do it?) John and I decided to order two meals to share. (This is one of the main benefits of being married, in my opinion!)

Main dishes on the menu include a choice of two side dishes and a drink. For sides, you can choose a salad, yogurt and granola, fruit, or hand cut fries. You can even upgrade your fries to a classic poutine for an additional NT$40. We started with side salads, and I was so glad I went with the raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was a nice tart dressing that worked really well with my salad. I’d buy this in a bottle if I could! Unfortunately, they only make it in house. I hope they remember who to contact if they ever decide to bottle that recipe. Yum!

Of course, we both went with poutine for a second side dish. You didn’t think I’d skip that, did you?

Whalen's Lucy Juicey and Pulled Pork Poutine

As for main dishes, John went with the Juicy Lucy burger, which is something we’ve both been wanting to try for some time now. The burger was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of meat and cheese. The bun wasn’t a hot congealed soggy mess of grease either. (Nothing turns me off a burger faster than a soggy, greasy bun.) This bun was fresh and lightly toasted, so we gave extra points for that! We are both huge burger fans, and I’d put Whalen’s Juicy Lucy burger right up there with some of our other favorite burger restaurants in Taipei.

I ordered the Kebabwich, which is fairly new to the menu. I’ve been waiting to try it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. This Middle Eastern sandwich is loaded with fragrantly spiced meat and cheese. It had a really nice flavor, and it’s not as heavy as some of the other sandwiches on the menu.

Just like every other time we’ve been, we had enough food on our plates to keep us full for hours.Whalen's Kebabwich and Poutine

The desserts on the menu look incredible and I seriously thought about ordering something, but I was stuffed after my meal. They offer a nice assortment of cheesecakes, tarts, and waffles. I’d say that if the dessert portion and quality of the dessert is the same as other dishes at Whalen’s, you can expect more than enough to satisfy that sweet tooth.

In the past, we’ve ordered a number of classic items off the menu. The Roughneck Poutine comes loaded with fries, cheese, gravy, chili and sour cream, which makes it an instant favorite for me.

Whalen's Hot Turkey SandwichI also LOVE their homemade open faced Hot Turkey Sandwich. It’s one of my absolute favorite menu items. I’ve never found it anywhere else in Asia that’s worth mentioning. (It’s the best comfort food sandwich in Taipei, in my opinion!). John also really enjoys Whalen’s Philly Sandwich, which comes stacked with grilled beef, onions, and cheese on a giant hoagie bun.

The Whalen’s Food Challenge: Usually my husband likes a good food challenge, but even he did a double take when he saw Whalen’s Killer Whale challenge – 5.5 POUNDS of poutine-y goodness WITH chicken fingers, bacon, and mac and cheese. (I went into a food coma just writing that out.) If you can finish it, your photo goes on the Whalen Hall of Fame. With that said, if you do decide to take the challenge, Clint advises that you make sure you’re prepared. “Plan ahead, and don’t try it on a whim,” he warned.

Other than that, it’s enough to feed a party of four easily.

The customers seated next to us that I mentioned a few paragraphs back also shared their meals, and they happened to order two menu items that we’ve both been curious about. The quiche and Eggs Benny looked seriously good. It looks like we’ll have to go back to Whalen’s some time soon.

Whether you’re looking for Western style comfort food, a home cooked meal, easy family style dining, or a great North American style brunch in Taipei, you can trust that Whalen’s will have exactly what you’re looking for. The name is practically synonymous with homestyle North American cooking of the very best kind in Taipei.

BIG THUMBS UP!

Whalen’s Restaurant

  • Address: 145, Anhe Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (At the corner of Anhe Road and Leli Road)
  • Closest MRT Station: Xinyi Anhe Station on the Red Line
  • Telephone: (02) 2739-3037
  • Hours of Operation: 10am to 9pm
  • Details: Credit cards not accepted, 10% service charge

Images of Whalen’s poutine and hot turkey sandwich were provided by Whalen’s.

Celebrate Pride in Taipei at Largest LGBT Pride Parade in Asia

October 23, 2014 by  

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PRIDE

Asia’s largest and most colorful Gay Pride Parade is held on the last Saturday in October in Taipei each year. This year, Taipei’s annual Pride Parade is happening on October 25, 2014.

The parade attracts tens of thousands of local supporters and visitors from abroad each year. Over 65,000 people participated in the 2012 Pride Parade. Last year Taipei’s Pride Parade attracted more than 67,000 supporters. Parade organizers are expecting even more visitors to show their support for the LGBT community this year!

Taiwan is one of the most progressive countries in Asia, and it has long been known for being gay-friendly. Equal rights is a huge issue in Taiwan, and Taipei’s Pride Parade serves as a colorful reminder that showing respect for sexual diversity and equal rights is important to everyone.

The parade starts at the Presidential Building at Ketagalan Boulevard, and typically follows the same route each year. The whole event takes around two hours, so wear comfortable shoes and bring water with you.

You can expect plenty of entertainment with elaborate floats, bubble machines, marching groups, drag queens, giant rainbow colored flags and banners, and music.

This year, please show your support for Taiwan’s LGBT community and say no to discrimination and bullying. For more information, please visit the LGBT Pride Taiwan website and  Taiwan LGBT Pride on Facebook.

Taiwan Pride 2011-15

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Taiwan Pride 2011-2

 

The Top Things That Make Me Love Taiwan

October 6, 2014 by  

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Fu Dog and Taiwanese Temple

I love my life here in Taiwan, and that is why I decided that my post today would be about some of the things that Taiwan does right. And when I mean right, I mean, really, really right. 

1. Temples everywhere

Taiwan is crammed with Buddhist and Taoist temples. You can throw a stone in Taiwan and hit a temple – that’s how prolific they are. They’re everywhere, and they’re crammed into the most unlikely places. I love to introduce my friends to Tianhou Temple, which is tucked away on a busy street in Taipei’s Wanhua District. Most people don’t even know it’s there. You’d never notice it if it weren’t for the heavy smell of incense in the air, and even then, most people just walk on by.

My favorite kinds of temples in Taiwan are Taoist temples, which are not to be confused with Taiwan’s many Buddhist temples. You can tell the difference between the two by their appearance. Taoist temples are known for being extremely colorful with lots of carving and statues of mythological creatures from folk tales, whereas Buddhist temples aren’t nearly as colorful and they don’t tend to have as many ornate carvings and designs.

2. Super friendly locals

Taiwan is well known for its kind and super friendly locals. People here are always willing to help, even if their English isn’t very good. Can’t find your way somewhere? Someone will almost certainly stop to inquire and point you in the right direction!

3. Recycling and trash

I am always a little dismayed by how shoddy recycling practices in North America. It seems like people hardly recycle at all in North America. In comparison people are really diligent about recycling in Taiwan. Everything that can possibly be recycled is handled with care.

In Taiwan, neighborhood garbage trucks collect garbage at specific times during the day and night, and you always know when they’re coming when you hear Beethoven’s Für Elise or Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s A Maiden’s Prayer.

Several decades ago, the Taiwanese government came up with the idea of musical garbage trucks to prevent people from dumping their garbage on the streets. When you hear the music, you better get your butt outside fast. You need to be downstairs with your trash when the trucks come or you end up chasing them or holding on to your trash for another night.

The only thing I don’t really like about trash collection in Taiwan is that you can never found a trash bin when you need one. I suppose if the cities put them out, people would stuff the bins with personal trash.

No system is perfect, but I think Taiwan does a pretty great job.

4. Convenience stores

You can find a convenience store on every corner in Taiwan, and when I say that they’re ultra convenient, I really mean it. Most convenience stores are open 24/7, and you can do pretty much anything there. You can pay all your bills, use their business center to scan and photocopy, or you can order in specialty food items. You can even order things online and have them delivered to your local convenience store. Convenience stores sell hot meals and alcohol. They even sell fresh fruits and vegetable. You can pick up a hot meal or choose from their selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Beer, bottled liquors, and wine are also available.

5. Fresh Tea

There are fresh tea stands all over the island. Any flavor, hot or cold, sweet or tart, a cup of tea in Taiwan is a treat that can be enjoyed every day for as little as NT$30 (approximately $1USD).

6. Universal health care

Over 95% of the population in Taiwan has access to health care.

For someone like me, who needs regular access to medical professionals, Taiwan is like a dream come true. There is no way I can receive the same level of care in the US and Canada that I receive in Taiwan, simply because I have access to a doctor on the day that I need it.

The system is set up as a single, government-run fund that forces everyone to join and pay.

When you need to see a doctor, you have your choice of any number of medical clinics and specialists clinids, which are set up all over the island. You don’t have to make an appointment, you rarely have to wait longer than 30 minutes to see a doctor, and once you’ve paid your NT$150 service fee ($5USD approximately), you see the doc and collect your prescription drugs on your way out.

Even if you’re not employed, health care is relatively cheap compared to what you’d pay in North America. I required an MRI, for example, a few years ago. With my health insurance, I paid around $30USD for the MRI. Two summers ago, my mother-in-law sprained her wrist badly. Although she didn’t have health insurance, we took her to our local hospital and they x-rayed and taped her wrist for the equivalent of $15USD.

Taiwanese Meat Market7. Night markets

I’ve been to plenty of night markets all over Asia, but I hold a special place in my heart for Taiwan’s night markets, especially our local night market!

My favorite part of any night market is the food, and there are specialties to be found at every market we visit. Just a few months ago, we went to Keelung Market for some freshly stemmed basil crab. It was out of this world!

8. National ParksTaroko Gorge

There are eight national parks on this tiny island in the Pacific, and they’re all beautiful. These aren’t to be confused with National Scenic Areas, which are also in abundance. There are 13 of those.

The biggest difference between National Parks and National Scenic Areas in Taiwan is that National Parks are controlled by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of China, whereas National Scenic Areas are run by Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of the Republic of China.

They all share something in common though. They’re beautiful, cheap to access, and pristine.

9. LGBT and gay friendliness

Taiwan is known for being one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in Asia, and same-sex sexual activity is legal in Taiwan. In other words, people are free to be who they want to be!Taiwan is also home to the largest LGBT event in Asia. Taiwan’s Pride Festival attracts more than 65,000 visitors each year.

10. Hot Springs

Taiwan’s hot springs are known all over the world, and there is an abundance of them. There are over 100 hot spring locations in Taiwan, and this is one of the reasons why it’s listed as one of the top 15 hot spring destinations on Earth! The other reason is that it is one of just a few locations on Earth that has several different kinds of hot springs. From natural sulphur bath and cold springs to mud springs, and even sea salt springs, it’s no wonder that Taiwan has such an active hot spring culture.

What about you? What are your favorite things about Taiwan? 

Taiwan: The Hungry Ghosts of Isla Formosa

September 4, 2014 by  

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The hungry ghosts of Taiwan are currently haunting this beautiful island. Yes, you read that right! And they’re going to continue haunting the island for the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.

Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night.

This means a number of things for residents of Taiwan. For one, there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of paper burning and alter worship happening in temples and on the streets right now. The Taiwanese are a naturally superstitious people, and this is particularly evident during Ghost Festival, also know as the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Ghost Month typically occurs in August, but in 2017, for example, Ghost Month in Taiwan falls in September.)

The custom originates from China, but it is also celebrated by Buddhists and Taoists in other Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The most important day of Ghost Month is known as Ghost Day, and it falls on the 15th night of the festival. Taiwanese believe that this is the time of year when spirits and ghosts are nearest to our realm of existence, thus the living are likely to be visited by the dead – unless they are appeased.

Ghost Month Offerings (4)

This may sound similar to another article that I wrote about Qingming Festival, which is also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival. The difference is that Tomb Sweeping Day pays respect to older generations of ancestors, whereas Ghost Festival pays respect to all the deceased.The ghosts that emerge during Ghost Festival are believed to be the ancestors of families who forgot to pay homage to them after they died. It is believed that these ghosts are coming straight through the gates of hell, where they are free to walk the earth to seek pleasure and food.

This time of year is very auspicious for the people of Taiwan. Alter lamps are lit on the 12th day, paper money and incense are burned, and offerings of food and drinks are made to appease the spirits, keep them happy, and prevent them from visiting private homes. Every year in Banciao, for example, our building complex always hosts a big party in the lobby. With five towers of residents contributing food, drinks, and incense, it’s easy to imagine how busy (and smoky) it gets during the celebration.

There are always at least 20 tables loaded with fruit, vegetables, packaged foods, beer, and other goodies, all strategically spread out with sticks of incense poked in various nooks and crannies for good measure. A make-shift altar is set up at one end of the building complex, and this is where residents can burn incense and joss paper, and offer their blessings. Many families pray to their deceased relatives, but they also offer prayers to other wandering souls so that these ghosts don’t intrude into the family home to wreak chaos.

Ghost Month in Taiwan

Standing under a tree at night or visiting a graveyard during Ghost Month is a bad idea.

There are many taboos associated with Ghost Month:

  • Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night
  • Don’t whistle at night. That’s a sure way for the ghosts to find you!
  • It’s never a good idea to make large purchases during Ghost Festival.
  • You shouldn’t have surgery or get married
  • Important events are usually avoided during the month to avoid bad luck
  • If someone taps you on the shoulder or calls you from behind, it’s best not to turn around. This is an easy invite for ghosts to possess you!
  • Travel plans are best avoided
  • Do not wear red or black. Ghosts are attracted to these colors.
  • Don’t move house during Ghost Month
  • Don’t go swimming. Spirits like to hide in the water
  • Don’t spit, stare at fire, or open an umbrella at night
  • Don’t look under the alter table during prayer session

During Ghost Month in Taiwan, it’s typical to:

  • Offer prayers to deceased relatives and other lost souls
  • Offer food and drinks
  • Burn joss paper and hell bank notes, which are believed to have value in the afterlife. It’s not uncommon to see people burning paper replicas of things like cars and houses to please ghosts
  • Hold a large feast for ghosts on the 14th day of the seventh month
  • Throw a live performance, such as a Chinese opera or a burlesque show. If this happens, the first row of seats are always left empty so the ghosts have somewhere to sit
  • Buddhists and Taoists often hold special ceremonies in the afternoon and at night
  • Burn incense in the front doors of homesteads and businesses.
  • On the 14th day, people traditionally float water lanterns outside their homes so ghosts can find their way back to hell. These lanterns generally look like a lotus flower on a paper boat
  • It’s not uncommon to see people praying by roadsides or crossroads. That is because these areas are believed to be areas that attract ghosts.
  • Throw a big feast on the 15th day of the month to bring good luck to your family
 I’m not a naturally superstitious person, but it’s easy to get caught up in things when you’re constantly being warned about evil spirits. What about you? Do you believe in ghosts? (For this article’s purpose, I am writing specifically about practices that occur in Taiwan, but keep in mind that practices vary from country to country.)

 

Quaint Jiufen in the Mountains of Northern Taiwan

August 11, 2014 by  

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You only need to visit Jiufen once to see the magic in this place. A small village situated in the mountains of Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is located in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City.

The village was once home to nine families in the Qing Dynasty, and was named Jiufen for the number of shipments that were delivered to the town. (Jiu means the number nine in Chinese, and fen is a measure word for a portion of something.) Nine portions were always requested whenever shipments were delivered to the village, and the name stuck.

Jiufen

In addition to being one of the prettiest towns in Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is special because of its location. The mountain roads leading to Jiufen are narrow, steep, and winding; and the village itself is set atop a mountain and offers stunning views of the ocean.

There is gold hidden in these mountains, and the discovery of it in 1893 lead to Jiufen’s first gold rush. This sparked an interest in its development as a proper town. The gold rush reached its peak during the Japanese rule, and that is why you can still see so many Japanese inns in the are today. In fact, many of the buildings there have remained unchanged.

The mine was closed in 1971 and Juifen started to fade back into obscurity, but then it became famous once again when it became the focus of two films.

The 1989 film A City of Sadness was filmed in Juifen, and the village experienced a revival owing to the film’s success. In the early 1990s, Jiufen experienced a tourist boom because of how it was portrayed in A City of Sadness, and much of what was built back then to accommodate the tourist industry is still there today.

In 2001, Studio Ghibli released a Japanese animation film called Spirited Away. The movie is about a young girl who moves with her family to a new home and enters a spirit world. It is said that the creators drew inspiration for their spirit world from the streets of Jiufen.

Jiufen is known for its distinctive red lanterns and cobblestone stairways, and its small alleys and lanes that hold untold treasures. It’s also home to lots of cool little retro style Chinese and Japanese teahouses, cafés and restaurants.

Back in the day, these teahouses were very popular with Taiwanese writers and artists, many of which hold articles of historical significance. People come here to purchase beautiful handmade ceramics as well as high quality tea. You can also browse through numerous artisan shops and souvenir stands.

My favorite part of Jiufen, other than the architecture and scenery, is the same as it is in every small town in Taiwan: the food. Fresh deep-fried squid, roasted golden King mushrooms, seafood of all sorts, soft chewy taro balls, and fresh tea can be found everywhere. The rows of food stands that are set up along Old Jinshan Street and Shuqi Road serve delectable Taiwanese snacks.

One of the charming things about living in Taiwan is that every city/town/village has its only speciality. Taichung is famous for its suncakes, Penghu is famous for its cactus ice cream and brown sugar candies, and Jiufen is known for its delightfully chewy taro balls. This is a must-try in Jiufen, and there are plenty of taro ball dessert shops on this street. The most famous is Grandma Lai’s Taro Ball Shop.

Jishan Old Street

Jiufen Old Street snakes through most of the village, and this is where you can find the best shopping. There is a diverse array of local handicrafts and souvenirs on sale here, and there are a number of specialty shops that sell bamboo artwork, wood handicrafts, and children’s toys.

There are also many shops that sell local snacks and dishes. The fried squid is amazing. Local fishermen bring it in fresh every day, and it practically melts in your mouth. Even Caleb loved it. (This is saying something, since it’s practically unheard of for a 7-year-old North American boy that likes squid.)

There are numerous restaurants in the area that offer outdoor patio seating – The perfect place to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. Once darkness arrives, the village falls under the light of its warm, soft, red lanterns.

Shuqi Road

Whenever you see photos of Jiufen, you are likely looking at photos of Shuqi Road. This road consists of a number of stairways with teahouses, curry shops, and art retailers to be found on each side. People come to Jiufen to walk along this famous street and to take photos. This street was also the main inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s 2001 Japanese animation film Spirited Away.

 

Things To Do in Jiufen:

Visitors don’t just go to Jiufen for the atmosphere, shopping, and the food, although shopping on Jiufen Old Street is probably the main reason why people visit Jiufen.

  • You can also go hiking on nearby Mt. Keelung.
  • The Jiufen Kite Museum displays beautiful kites from all over the world. Classes are available for visitors that want to try their own hand at kite making.
  • Enjoy some traditional Taiwanese tea at a local teahouse.
  • Visit the Gold Museum and learn about Jiufen’s history as a gold-mining town.
  • Spend some time in Jinguashi Park.
  • Stay at a local inn and enjoy the evening. Wake up the next morning and have breakfast in view of the ocean.

To Get There:

Take the train to Reuifang Station on the TRA Yilan Line. From there, you can catch a local bus across the street from the train station. Look for the bus stop next to the Welcome Mart and board the Keelung Transit Bus heading to Jiufen.

Buses depart from several points in and around Taipei and from Keelung.

Zhongxiao Fuxing Exit 1 – Take bus1062 (Keelung) to Jiufen.

Wait in front of the pavilion next to the 7-11 to catch the bus home. The 7-11 is next to the Jishan Street Entrance.

The journey takes between one and two hours by public transport.

Taking in the Best of Cultural Portugal

August 5, 2014 by  

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Porto Venere, Portugal

 

Medieval castles, fairytale-like towns, and sandy beaches soaked in sunshine – Portugal has it all. Travel here to experience quintessential Iberian culture, to wade through its brilliant blue waters, and relive history in its many tiny coastal villages and medieval towns.

Here are some of the top things to do if you plan to travel around Portugal.

Lisbon Street, Portugal

Explore Lisbon

Often considered one of Europe’s most scenic capitals, Lisbon is the heart and home of Portuguese culture. Must-see sights include the Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower, both built in the 1500s (and both on the UNESCO World Heritage Site register), the beautiful architecture of the Madre de Deus Convent, and the Chapel of St. John the Baptist inside Sao Roque Church – called the “most expensive chapel in the world” by many.

If you’re visiting Portugal for the weekend, take a stroll around town and take in its unique heritage, which has plenty of elements borrowed from Asian culture. After all, Macau in China was once a major Portuguese colony!

Palácio Nacional da Pena (UNESCO)

Visit the Pena National Palace

At first sight, the Pena National Palace looks surreal. Sitting high atop a gentle hill overlooking the town of Sintra, the palace looks like something straight from a fairytale. Dating back to the late 1400s, this Portuguese landmark has walls painted a shade of pink, a yellow tower, and crimson & grey walls. The architecture blends together elements from Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Islamic periods, making it one of the most peculiar (and prettiest) palaces in all of Europe.

Parade 2011 des Vieux Trams de Porto (Portugal)

Stroll through the historic centre of Porto

Even though it counts among the four largest cities in Portugal, Porto has somehow remained in the side-lines in most tourist itineraries. This means that despite its rich history and heritage, it is free from crowds, touts and expensive hotels. This also means it is a wonderful place to explore on your own. Stroll through the narrow streets in its historic sections by the River Douro, or take in the sunshine at one of its many street-side cafes for a taste of authentic Portuguese life.

2011-04-24 Portugal 533 - Évora

Explore the historic city of Evora

With a history that dates back to the ancient Celts, Evora counts among the oldest cities in Europe. Its ancient buildings and medieval fortifications are surprisingly well preserved. Highlights include the Cathedral of Evora (built over 60 years between 1280 and 1340), the palace of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the ancient Roman Temple of Evora which dates back to the 1st century, and the stunning University of Evora built in late 1500s. Taking a weekend-long detour to explore the historic heart of Portugal is highly recommended.

Portugal has two things in abundance: sunshine and history. Visit these four destinations listed above to get a taste of both!

Top photo credit: Image by Pank Seelen, used under the Creative Commons license.

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