Chaotic deliciousness and Superstardom

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Taiwan  ,
Friday, March 3, 2006

I have seen fruit I'd never dreamed possible.

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. The texture and flavor of this fruit is sweet, crisp and juicy, like an asian pear.

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 hours. You are surrounded at all times by thousands of people, flashing neon lights and Chinese signs (with the occasional hilariously misspelled Engrish 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. One classroom burst out into loud applause and uncontrolled laughter when I said back to them in Chinese "Very well, thank you." Most students however appear to be quite shy, and would never have the courage to speak with a foreigner outside of the safety of their student enclave. Consider this history when I walked into a classroom full of uniform-clad 13 and 14 year olds (see photo). I spoke for 40 minutes, with Eva serving as translator. They asked me about what I thought of Taiwan, what sports I played (I said miniature golf, and the concept fascinated them), and whether or not I liked stinky tofu (see photo). One girl proudly declared that her favorite food was McDonalds, and I found out later from Eva that telling her I did not eat at McDonald's was a confusing blow as she was most likely trying to impress me with her love of American food.

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.

Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


adamandeva on

Re: WOW!
Thanks for the comments Maria... it's also pretty hard for me to believe how much has happened in such a short period of time.

Yes in fact there are places that do the stnky tofu in LA (we've tried a few) but they were all pretty repulsive to me (Eva said they were okay, but was not blown away). I am not sure if the stinky tofu is tolerable to me now because I am more accustomed to the smell (my first whiff of it at a Taiwanese snack shop in Artesia was horrifying) or if in fact they just do the stinky tofu better here. Regardless, I can direct you to where if you post your question on the LA board, several people will be able to direct you to stinky tofu better than I. Also, when you post your reply, you must specify the deep fried version with the pickled cabbage, or they may direct you to the soup or stewed variety.

Can't wait to see the photo of Dixie and Trixie :)


adamandeva on

Re: Hello Mr. Taster...
Yes it's really great here in Thailand... and so inexpensive (unless you buy foreign food). Thai food is outrageously cheap and tasty. Small BBQ skewers (satay) go for 5-10 baht each (12-25 cents). As for ice cream in Taiwan (and Thailand), they do not have a local ice cream as we know it (all the western style ice cream you find is either Good Humor or shops owned by expats). The street vendor style 'ice cream' is created thusly:

1. Select a series of funny little chewy, colorful objects from a series of glass bowls (some may be taro balls, some may be sweet seeds, some are a mystery to me). These go into the bottom of your ice cream cup. They usually put a ladle or two of a clear, sweet liquid in the bottom as well.
2. A block of commercial ice (safe to consume if you see it frozen in a block) is placed on a hand crank ice shaver and they shave a mound of it on top of the chewy bits.
3. Your choice of a flavored syrup goes over the top
4. Sweetened, condensed milk drizzled over the top

So you see, it actually is ice and cream brought together. No expensive ice cream maker required :)


aaron24 on

Hi, this is Aaron from Warner Independent. I was the annoying guy who called you about the academy phones etc. Just kidding, but you gave us the link to your travel blog before you left and well it been great reading about your travels and the vast number of pictures you take makes it even better. I only hope one day I can be so lucky to take trip like this. Well be safe and have fun.


Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: