Chaotic deliciousness and Superstardom
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
53Trip End Sep 16, 2006
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One thing I'm slowly adjusting to is the fact that things Westerners would consider wildly exotic are really quite mundane and ordinary here. I know it's a trite statement, but you really must be here to experience the full force of this observation. Case in point, DRAGON FRUIT (see photo). It is a wildly bright, fluorescent pink color with weak green spikes and a bulbous, tapered shape. Inside, it is white or red, spotted with black seeds and has a very mild, sweet flavor. In America, this fruit would draw stares. In Taiwan, it is on every corner fruit stand.
There's another unusual pyramidal shaped fruit indigenous to Taiwan. There is no English name but the Taiwanese name is some approximation of lieng ou (see photo), and its appearance seems to be a cross between a tomato, an apple and an asshole
Roadside markets abound, springing up out of the ether, in a manner unlike I've ever seen. You're riding on your scooter on a wide city street with apartments and shops on either side. You make a left turn, and suddenly you're in an impossibly narrow street in what you would consider to be a pedestrian style farmer's market. But in Taiwan, scooters reign supreme as they weave through the pedestrians, between the tents, the old people sitting on the ground husking corn, the fresh pancake carts and dumpling steam carts which extend for what feels like miles in each direction. Drivers pull up to one of the 1,000 vendor stands, order their ro yuan, and zip off into the smoggy yonder with little bags of food hanging off their handlebars. This is drive-thru dining on a scale I've never experienced nor dreamed of before.
This market culture is amplified in the outrageous NIGHT MARKETS which spring up all over Taiwan. They open at dusk and run until late-- midnight or 2:00am in some cases. The smallest night markets can be equated with small farmers markets-- fruit, food and clothing vendors under tents that open when the sun sets. By contrast, the largest night markets are the equivalent of entire urban downtown areas with hundreds upon thousands of shops and vendor carts which remain inexplicably closed during daylight hoursEngrish sign and club mix Taiwanese and American pop music and vendors blaring their sales pitches into wireless microphones. Imagine a less corporate version of Times Square on a smaller physical scale (but with what appears to be just as many people) and you can get a sense of what it feels like to be in the center of this totally surrealistic, alien experience.
I experienced my most profound case of culture shock the other day when Eva's friend and former junior high school teacher asked me to speak in English to her class so that they could have some experience speaking with a foreigner. Although Taiwan is ethnically diverse with Japanese, aboriginal and ethnic Chinese minorities, there are still very few Western people here, and this is especially so in the smaller towns like Taya. Eva related to me her first experience as a child seeing a Westerner as something of a strange combination of wonder and intense curiosity. She had prepared me for the fact that people would stare at me, however at Eva's junior high school, it went beyond staring. I was a Superstar.
As I would walk past open classroom windows, dozens of students would turn their heads and stand up, yelling heavily accented "Hello!"s and "How are you!"s and then giggle wildly before I could respond
The bell rang, class ended. The students did not want to leave. About a third of the class pulled out their camera phones and in an instant I was bombarded with a cloud of notebooks, arms shoving pens and pieces of paper at me as they clamored for my autograph. Several people wanted real photographs with me and I posed for the teacher who took three group pictures with the kids pushing in to try and get closer to me.
I'm realizing that in Taya, Taiwan, I am dragon fruit.