Daitian Temple (代天府) and Shrimp Rice

Wei from my hostel advised me to try shrimp rice. It was ‘delicious’ and a street nearby (保安路was famous for having tasty bowls of it. I was in, despite never tasting the dish and not knowing whether it was shrimp flavored rice, shrimp fried rice, or perhaps even rice cooked by shrimp [just kidding].

One of the most interesting aspects of life in Tainan is its presence as the ancient capital. Temples and shrines are everywhere; I didn’t plan to see Daitian Temple but by chance walked by it near sunset.

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After the first couple of days in Taipei, I finally came to the realization that it was simply too hot to do a lot of outdoor activities. With this in mind, I planned two museums for my final day – the National Palace Museum and the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art.

While no photography was allowed inside the National Palace Museum, I have to say it’s fantastic. As the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, they brought back as many priceless treasures as they could from the Forbidden City. They hold nearly 700,000 artifacts, although there’s only room for about 2{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of them can be on display at any given time. They have free English tours at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM – try to schedule your visit around these! I didn’t reserve a spot in advance, but there was plenty of space on the morning tour.taipei palace museum view-1

A side note: The two biggest treasures at the museum are the infamous Jadeite Cabbage and a stone that looks curiously like stewed pork. Both were incredibly lifelike and amazing to see, yet slightly amusing due to their food-like nature.

Following the National Palace Museum, I took a bus heading towards the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art. Living art greeted me along the way.

taipei outside museum of contemporary art snails and rabbit racetaipei outside museum of contemporary art robots

Daily Pictures: Polit-Sheer-Form

The highlight of my museum visit was seeing an exhibition by the modernist artists Polit-Sheer-Form. This group, started in 2005, uses the idealized commune or collective way of life to capture the social changes happening in mainland China. One of their main goals is to ‘capture how the intimacy between people in a communist society is replaced by a sense of indifference by capitalism’.

One of their pieces was a library in which all off the shelves were filled with identical blue books. Depending on your optimism levels, the books were either all devoid of content or all full of the same content, blank space. Being in the room and looking through the books was almost spooky.

polit-sheer-form-library identical empty books



Last year using identical mops and buckets, they traveled to New York to see if they could clean up Time Square collectively.

polit-sheer-form buckets and mop

While I don’t think their art is very picturesque, it was quite introspective on the changes occurring in Chinese society. In the west we (rightly) focus on the tens of millions who died as a result of the Great Leap Forward. We focus on the pitfalls of communism. However, there is certainly more to the story.

Taiwan Soul Food

I had just finished walking through Shilin Night Market. Being completely honest, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with night markets. I enjoy the sensory overload – the nonstop array of sights, smells, and sounds. Within a matter of feet the smells alone can vary between grilled meat, waffles, or stinky tofu. What I don’t like are the crowds that accompany the market. It’s almost impossible to walk at a reasonable pace, and once you’re in the market, it can be difficult to leave just because of the slow nature of the traffic.

By the time I made it through the night market, I was starving. While there were countless stalls and restaurants inside the market, the raw number of people and frenetic energy influenced me to eat elsewhere.

Daily Pictures: Taiwan Soul Food

taiwan soul food restaurant

“Taiwan Soul Food”; the English name of this fast food restaurant caught my eye. When I think of soul food, I think of southern food. Paula Deen, and typically unhealthy/delicious southern classics such as chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes loaded with butter. What could Taiwanese soul food possible be?

The answer is gravy. That’s the direct translation – in reality its more of a thick, delicious broth. Stock made from cooking virtually every kind of animal meat and bones together. Hungry patrons each get a pasta strainer and a set of tongs. You pick your starch, vegetables, and meat as you like.

collage 2

Udon noodles, ramen noodles, rice noodles, thick rice noodles, mung bean noodles, spaghetti, and rice are all available. Little sausages, krab meat, quail eggs, caramelized tofu, cheese rangoons, and tens of raw meats are all available. Bags of fresh tatsoi, corn on the cob, and mushrooms are available,  It’s a free-for-all.

After paying accordingly, the food is dropped into the ‘gravy’ broth and cooked to perfection.

taiwan soul food soup

How was it you may ask? To be completely honest, I was my own enemy. I ordered 小辣, or a little spicy. My first taste of the soup was a spoonful of broth, and I nearly choked from the heat. Back home, it would probably be a solid four out of five on the spice-o-meter. All of the individual ingredients were delicious however. I ate what I could before running to a nearby boba tea shop for some ‘sweet’ relief.

What struck me from the experience mostly was the very identification of the food as ‘Soul Food’. Back home, soup often isn’t considered a meal. However, being able to pick noodles, vegetables, and meats to be poached in broth is considered comfort food here. I think that’s great.

Changing of the Guards, Martyrs’ Shrine

It was 90 degrees outside. While that may not seem too terrible, with the heat index it was 105. After spending the morning outside at the dragonboat races, I loaded my handy TripAdvisor app, checked out the best attractions nearby, and headed to Martyrs’ Shrine three kilometers away.

Daily Pictures: Changing of the Guards, Martyrs’ Shrine

Built in the style of Beijing’s Hall of Supreme Harmony, Martyrs’ Shrine is dedicated to the 390,000+ citizens who sacrificed their lives, particularly in the Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese civil war.

taipei martyrs square soldier-1

Two military soldiers guard the shrine’s entrance, while two others guard the main gate. These soldiers stand motionless for an hour at a time; sweat puddles on the ground beneath them. Every hour on the hour they hold the changing of the guards ceremony. While similar to Buckingham Palace, it almost seemed more rigid and tense – not to mention their lack of bearskin hats.

taipei martyrs square changing of the guards action

taipei martyrs square changing of the guards

Dragonboat Festival: Chicken-Shaped Cotton Candy

The Dragonboat Festival was almost reminiscent of a carnival. Along the river, teams gave away pyramid-shaped dumplings (粽子) and water bottles. Towards the park, shops and kiosks gave away everything from Dragonboat Festival FAQ brochures to free shampoo (which had a line over 50 people deep!) Children played by the river; teenagers took selfies with the walking sunscreen bottles.

Daily Photo: Chicken-Shaped Cotton Candy

While watermelon juice and and grilled sausages were high in demand, I found the cotton candy for sale to be especially enticing. It was made on-demand, and had the look of a chicken with seaweed eyes and Nicki Minaj inspired lips.  I asked a young girl’s mom if I could take a photo of her daughter with the cotton candy, and she gladly agreed. While the mom tried to get her daughter to look at the camera, her eyes never left the prize.

dragonboat festival small girl with cotton candy

Taipei Dragonboat Festival

Dragonboat Festival (端午節) took place last weekend, and I arrived in Taipei just in time to catch the festivities. This festival takes place beginning on 農曆五月五號, 5/5 on the Chinese lunar calendar. Thousands lined up at Dajia Riverside park to catch the races and enjoy a day out.

dragonboat festival dajia riverside park crowd

Dragonboat Festival is said to originate following the death of Chu royal house poet and minister Qu Yuan. Qu opposed the state’s alliance with the Qin dynasty and was banished from the state. 28 years later when the Qin Dynasty captured the Chu capital city, Qu drowned himself in a river. The locals raced out in dragon boats attempting to save him or retrieve his body.

dragonboat race begins

Each race is a 500 meter sprint, and there were over 100 races on Saturday alone. Some were blow-out victories, while others were close and intense.

dragonboat race 200m

The diehard supporters waved flags as they clapped and sung their team to victory.

dragonboat festival team pride

Several teams preparing to race practiced in-formation on the concrete.

dragonboat festival race practice

Zongzi (粽子) are the traditional food eaten on Dragonboat Festival. Supposedly when Qu’s body could not be found in the river, the locals threw these in the water so that the fish would eat them instead of his body. Zongzi are glutinous rice dumplings with a meat/mushroom center, wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. Quite tasty.

dragonboat festival zongzi pyramid dumplings

The end of most races was the 500 meter finish line. In others, the victor was determined by who could reach the finish line and throw the colored flag into the air.

dragonboat race victory

The victors marched back to their supporters as champions.

dragonboat race winning team

The best part of the day was watching the pandemonium that followed suit.

dragonboat festival winner water dunk

dragonboat festival winner dunk

Taiwan-USA TUSA Scholarship

I’m extremely excited to have received a scholarship to be a student ambassador in Taiwan this summer! I will be gone from June to late August and look forward to sharing my experience living in Tainan, Taiwan’s the food and cultural capital. Following are some of the most common questions I’ve been getting about my upcoming study abroad experience.

1. Where on earth is Taiwan?

Taiwan is a small island located off of China’s southeast coast.

taiwan map

I’ll be staying in Tainan, often regarded as the food and culture capital of the island.

2. What’s the point of the scholarship?

Students serve as ambassadors to promote peace by establishing friendships and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the  people of Taiwan through cultural exchange and educational partnerships. These opportunities help people gain understanding, acquire knowledge and develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world.

3. That sounds fancy.  What exactly will you be doing there?

I’ll be attending National Cheng Kung University, one of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities. One of my main goals will be to work on my Mandarin language skills. Every day we will attend two hours of small-group language classes and one hour of 1-on-1 lessons. Time outside of class will be spent partly with my language partner and host family.

In addition to language classes, TUSA students will take part in a variety of classes designed to concentrate on certain aspects of Chinese art and culture. These classes include a wide-range of subjects such as Tai Chi, calligraphy, Chinese painting, Chinese pop songs, stamp engraving, tea ceremonies, paper cutting classes, etc.

I will also be using the resources at the NCKU library to continue work on my senior thesis project.

4. What are you most excited about?

Two things – Having the ability to immerse myself in Chinese and to try a new type of cuisine. The only Taiwanese snack I know personally is boba tea. I’m stoked to be headquartered in Taiwan’s oldest city and the food capital, Tainan.

Food writer Clarissa Wei recently got me excited for this summer experience with her CNN article titled, Around Taiwan’s Food Capital in 19 Dishes.

5. You’ve taken Mandarin classes for like over two years now. Are you fluent yet?

千里之行,始於足下 – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

That’s my fancy way of saying not quite.

I want to thank a number of groups and individuals for their support over the years. In particular, thank you to the individuals involved with the Naples Council on World Affairs, AFS/YES Abroad, the Taiwan-US Alliance, the Koleos family, and my awesome professors who were willing to help with the never-ending stream of letters of recommendations. I so look forward to this summer!

Beijing: First Month Highlights

For the past month I’ve been living in Beijing. My hostel is in a hutong, the narrow alleyways of traditional Beijing. These have been now made increasingly busy (and potentially dangerous) with the popularization of cars, motorcycles, and all kinds of electric vehicles and carts. I spend most of my time  taking language classes, learning to cook Chinese food, and exploring the city.

beijing hutong street

Last week I went on a tour of Maliandao tea market. This market practically takes up an entire street, but is centered on a massive 3 story wholesale tea shopping mall. It was an eye-opener to try so many different teas – from the lightest of green teas to the darkest of blacks. Each tea has a variety of health benefits, and traditionally has no sweeteners or milk added.

beijing maliandao tea market loose leaf teas

Good quality tea does not come cheap in China, as the entire process is done by hand. The tea was sold in a variety of forms – from loose leaf, bags, and blocks to the massive sculpture below.

beijing maliandao tea market store

One of my favorite spots has become Houhai, a popular restaurant/bar area located on a series of massive manmade lakes. I love standing alongside the water, watching the boats go by and waving at everyone inside.

beijing houhai park duck boats

On a completely random note, as I was heading home one night I discovered the bathroom at the subway line 10 had a full-fledged band playing. While it was slightly awkward to walk past them (and even more awkward to photograph), I have to admit that they were pretty good!

beijing subway bathroom guitar player

One night I attempted to watch a Beijing Guoan match. This is Beijing’s professional team in the Chinese Super League, and this year they are doing exceptionally well. I had read online that tickets should cost just about $7-14 from scalpers by the entrance. However, because they were playing the best team in the league for the number one position, tickets were over $60. Realizing that price was the cost of 40 lunches, I decided to head back to my hutong and watch the match on tv.

Nonetheless, I bought an absurd amount of Beijing Guoan apparel on the street. I might be their #1 fan in China who has never been to a match!

beijing guoan soccer match souvenirsFinally, Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs, a popular travel photography blog, came to Beijing and hosted a photo walk. He brought with him a remote controlled drone with a GoPro camera attached – which was loads of fun to watch him fly.

beijing photo walk trey ratcliff flying quadcopter

Trey invited his modeling friend, Ms. Leona Xu over during the photo walk. The photo Trey deemed most interesting would get to keep his camera, so everyone went nuts over photographing her.

beijing photo walk leona xu factoryI found the paparazzi-like crowd and blatantly sponsored baby formula to be quite amusing, while at the same time realized how aggravating it could be to be famous.

beijing photo walk train tracksOther highlights include hiking on the Great Wall and general hutong life, which will have their own posts soon enough. Until then, thanks for reading and 再见!

Three Days in Liverpool

Liverpool is and has always been a working class city, a port city. Liverpudlians are also known as ‘scousers’, and are said to have the strongest accents in all of England- which proved correct when I went to a hilarious comedy show on my second night and understood only about 50% of what was going on. The city’s legacy includes being the port registry for the Titanic as well as the second-most bombed city during World War II.

In recent years, a new light has begun shining on the city. After being dubbed a European Capital of Culture in 2008, investment has poured in. Many areas of the city have been revamped or restored while Liverpool One, the largest open-air shopping mall in the UK, has been built. That’s not even to mention how excellent its football clubs have been doing…

liverpool street architecture

The first thing I did when I arrived to the city was sign up for the New Liverpool Free Walking Tours. These free-of-charge tours are done in exchange for tips, and are a great way to save money in many destinations around the world. As we traveled around the city by foot, I planned the rest of my three days which included many destinations I likely would not have known about on my own.

As mentioned above, Liverpool was the second-most bombed city in WWII with the second-most causalities, behind only London. Following is a statue commemorating the Liverpool Blitz.
liverpool blitz remembrance statue

Below is a Banksy work entitled Love Plane.liverpool banksy street art graffiti love planeLiverpool historically is the undisputed number one worldwide when it comes to  the music scene. Artists from Liverpool have produced far more number one records than that of any other city, the most famous being The Beatles. It was a must to visit Matthew Street, the Cavern Club, and touch the Eleanor Rigby statue (supposedly good luck). Next time I definitely have to do the full Beatles experience.

liverpool one beatles street performers

liverpool beatles the cavern

I was fortunate enough to make it to Goodison Park in time for Everton’s last home match of the city, against Manchester City. It was fantastic to see so many blues in person after watching the matches on TV for so many years.

everton match goodison park pregame everton players warmup training

Tim Howard made some ridiculous saves despite the eventual loss; watching him play made me even more excited for this summer’s World Cup. everton tim howard warm upThe last place I went in Liverpool was their Chinatown, in honor of my upcoming summer in China. I’m not going to lie – it was rather disappointing. But really, who goes to England to visit Chinatown?! Despite having the oldest Chinese population in Europe, the street itself was only about a block long. I walked for about five minutes before abruptly realizing it was finished.

Nonetheless, I have to say that the gate itself was pretty amazing. The gate is the second largest in the world, behind only Washington D.C., and features over 200 hand carved dragons – 12 of which, for good luck, are pregnant.

liverpool chinatown gate