I left off with our travel to Chiayi after tea time with some snacks that most Westerners have never heard of and might think a bit bizarre. Tea time was only the beginning, definitely the appetizer of sorts, to the huge feasts that would happen over the next couple of days. The celebrations of Chinese New Year was emphasized every morning with early fireworks (and I mean before 6AM early) and exclamation marked by feasts every noon and night, that compare in grander to Thanksgiving (and I mean a John Madden Turduckin-Thanksgiving).
I had the pleasure to witness many traditions which are by far much more elaborate and intimate than what I’m used to experiencing. Que: my cousin at the table saying Grace, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, Amen.”
Offerings are laid out before this land-god shrine and incense is burned. During this time, individuals come and go, bowing and paying respects in between coffee, bat-mitten, scooter rides and more fireworks. Sometimes, they will even burn fake money as gifts to their ancestors.
During our tour of the grounds, Wen-Hung stops at the old pig stalls. Being a ceramics artist, himself, along with the Director of Education Programs at the Ceramics Museum, including the Art Residencies, he ponders out loud his thoughts on turning these stalls into his own giant ceramics studio, and creating live-in artist accommodations next-door to allow his own residencies. A workspace, changing inspiration and the freshest food, everyday and all at home. “Maybe someday.”
A Night of Two Celebrations
When we watched them unload the BBQ grills for the night’s dinner, I kind of laughed to myself. “How are they going to feed all of these people on grills that are so small?? My parent’s grill is larger than both of these grills together, and we just cook for three!”
The secret is to serve dinner for hours. Something we were not prepared for, and saddened by the fact that we ate ourselves full within the first couple rounds of food. Food of all kinds! Salty and sweet are the main types of dishes in Taiwan, but the substance within varies so greatly, that I could never remember what each one was called. This was not helped by the fact that most of the vegetation we ate didn’t even have a name in the English language. The BBQ below is pretty self explanatory. Pork, salmon, shrimp, pigeon eggs, clams, fish heads, fish balls, squid balls, squid head, and much much more were on the menu that night. To save myself and Wen-Hung all the effort in naming each dish later on in blog posts, I will just let the photos or captions give you the details.
|One of my all time Taiwanese favorites – pork on a stick that tastes like it’s been honey glazed
Another tradition practiced, is that the younger generation is given money in red envelopes. This custom can cause some confusion to the very young, who have not yet gotten the concept.
The Second celebration was Alexis’ birthday. Another testament of the family’s good nature and hospitality was the fact that after only a night, they were willing to put their own celebrations on hold and celebrate a foreigner’s birthday with not only a cake provided by Tanner, but singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese and English. Of course, the little ones might have had a strong influence on the choice.
The Party Really Begins
A fun lesson in culture differences:
In the U.S., there is an unspoken rule that if you do not finish your drink that the host has poured, you either do not enjoy it or you cannot handle your booze. It is up to the host to interpret whether you want more, need more, are satisfied, or are cut off. Either way, it is usually the host’s responsibility to pour or not to pour. It is also an unspoken custom to shoot a drink that is poured in a shot glass.
In Taiwan, there is a rule (I’m not sure how spoken it is), that if a guest has an empty glass, you fill it up. Simple as that. It is the guest’s responsibility to let the host know when he is done by leaving the glass full. There shall be no empty glasses at the table. It is also normal to just take a sip from your shot glass after much clanking and a hardy “cheers!”
We did not realize these culture differences until two hangovers and many karaoke songs later.
One aspect that I’ve always been disappointed in, regarding my United States culture, is the fact that singing and music plays a small part in tradition. Yes, there are some key instinces that some people will prove me wrong, but those instances aren’t often, and are usually tied to strong formal occasions or religious circumstances. I’ve been very lucky in my life to have extremely talented musicians as friends and they always add their audio wonders at times of casual celebration, but there is a difference between a culture’s music and an individual’s expression. It’s not often in the U.S. you will see people at a bar break into song with people they’ve just met. During this night, music played a key role in connecting family with history, children with adults and foriegners with locals. Tanner had learned how to play a Japanese song on a flute he traded art work for, from a local artist. While playing it, the grandfather, who grew up during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, recognized it and began singing it back to Tanner. Something happened at that point. There unfolded the bridge across differences. We seemed to no longer be just smiling, goofy faces, imposing on dinner but people who they could relate to, more deeply. Easier to connect with. Able to share with the family, not just take.