Sunday, July 5, 2015

Yilan International Children’s Folklore & Folkgames Festival - opening ceremony

We were given tickets to attend the opening ceremony of this years festival on July 4th. Not being able to read Chinese we thought it was just access to the water theme park, but we were pleasantly surprised that there were a number of folk dance performances to be held that evening too.

The representatives at this years event
There were performing artists from 6 countries and Taiwan, namely, Bolivia, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Russia and Thailand. We thought it was only for children but a number of adult performers were also present.

The first performance was from the Taiwanese dancers and was very elegant.

Taiwanese Dancers
We took a video of the very elegant Taiwanese dancing, you can watch it below.

Another Taiwanese performance

Next came a performance from Thailand. The costumes were beautiful, but the music wasn't really to my taste.

A Thai dancer in what looked like a hummingbird costume

Then some singing and dancing from an Indonesian high school dance group.
Some kind of warrior costumes I think

There was also a performance by dancers from Hungary seen in the video below. 

They were really very good and the music was more kind to my ears.

The Russian dancers know how to smile!

For me they were really the best performance

They really had a lot of flair and energy

This performance was a lot of fun

These girls must be training to be ballet dancers

They even went and fetched members of the audience


Harvesting rice

It was starting to appear that harvesting rice was an event completed by mice in the middle of the night when no one was watching. Each day as we rode to work or back more fields were harvested, but we hadn't seen a single harvester. Then a few days ago we saw one and then two and then more. The rice is now being harvested furiously, many fields are bare, and what's great is that we managed to get some pictures of this fleeting, shy animal called a rice combine harvester.
One of the harvesters roaming around Luodong at the moment
Why is it called a combine harvester? Because it combines the three traditional stages of grain harvesting, reaping, threshing and winnowing into one step, saving a lot of time, and allowing farmers to spend more time drinking beer or eating stinky tofu at the local night market.

It's such a neat process, it doesn't even hurt too many of the rice plants. It's tracks are narrower than the distance between two rows of rice plants (planted by a rice planting machine).
The only damage it makes to the field is on either end where it turns. It has a limited storage capacity so after two trips up and down the paddy it must stop and offload.
Offloading the rice
It's an amazingly quick little machine. It looked like it took 15 minutes to harvest a really large rice paddy. It was going at an impressive pace.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

For my mom

My mom asked for some pictures of the beachfront close to our house. She visited us a few months back, but unfortunately it was winter time and we only went to the beach once or twice with her. The beach itself is a black sand beach made from either shale or some volcanic rock. Unfortunately it's not the most popular beach so it isn't very well kept, meaning it is frequently littered with plastic, vegetables and other trash washed out of a nearby river mouth. It's popular with fishermen and a pack of feral dogs.

Sunrise at this time of year is at 5am, so we had to get up at 4:50, I think Renalda was up before that making me some coffee. I was not really compos mentis, but it was great to be there, Renalda had the camera, otherwise there would have been no photos!


Fried rice, zhongzi and Taiwanese neighbors

We have some wonderful neighbors. There is an oldish couple who live next door, we say "Ni Hao" to them whenever we see them. Every now and then they will walk into our house and give us something. I say walk in because there is a different sense of privacy here in Taiwan. People knock and walk in, we often lock our door for a different reason now.

We have received fresh vegetables from them often as they have a large allotment close by where they grow all sorts of fresh veggies. In fact a few months back we got so much we couldn't eat it quickly enough and it went bad. We often feel like our thanks and expressions of gratitude, with our very limited Chinese, is just not good enough, but as we learn Chinese we will try to be better at it.

These are our sweet zhongzi, given to us by our neighbors
Last weekend was Dragon Boat festival and the thing to eat around that time is zhongzi (sticky rice pyramids wrapped in bamboo leaves). One day we were minding our business when Ama (grandmother) came and gave us 6 pork zhongzi, yummy! Then I walked outside one day and she was cooking fried rice on her veranda, which I try not to eat, but couldn't resist when she offered me some. So I got a bowl from home, a reasonable sized one and she filled it till it was overflowing. Renalda and I shared the bowl for a tasty breakfast.

 A few days ago she came again to give us some more zhongzi but this time they were of the sweet variety. Well not really sweet, rather mildly flavored, to be dipped in sugar or honey. Also very good. Renalda and her got "talking" and she offered to show Renalda how to make "them". We misunderstood and "them" turned out to be pork fried rice with mushrooms.

It was arranged that Renalda and her would go buy the ingredients on Saturday morning (today)  and we think she waited until 9am before she tried to walk in the door. Renalda was able to say "shi fen" which means 10 minutes from our Chinese lessons... awesome! They went off to a morning market close by which we didn't know existed to "mai" (buy) the ingredients. Then came some more misunderstanding. She had examined out kitchen and noticed our bread maker which looks very similar to a rice cooker. The amount of ingredients she bought was for that size rice cooker, which meant she had to rethink the amounts of ingredients.

Then another disaster struck! Our small rice cooker clearly hadn't been used for ages as the aluminium rice bowl had cooked through. Ama had to go and get one from her kitchen so that we could use our tiny rice cooker.

Finally the rice was cooked all ingredients were ready and she made us a huge bowl of very yummy fried rice in our wok. Now we know how to make Taiwanese fried rice. The secret ingredient? We think it's MSG... heehee.
We suspect it's MSG, if someone can translate, much appreciated!

The rice paddies of Yilan

Growing sticky rice funTastic!!
Being in the Republic of China (Taiwan) you expect to see a lot of rice eaten and grown. In DaJia, where we first lived in Taiwan, there were only a few rice paddies and lots of taro plantations. We worked so hard and our commute was short and through the town centre, so we didn't see much of the rice. Here in Yilan there is rice everywhere and we have enjoyed watching the life cycle, every morning we drive a few kilometres through numerous ever changing paddies.

Through the rainy winter months the rice paddies looked like big square dams of black water. The water levels rose and fell depending on the rain. Sometimes they were just mud patches, other times they were overflowing. Then as spring arrived they planted furiously. Rice is planted in perfectly neat rows with an automatic planter, something like a tractor with a seed sowing attachment. This tractor has special wheels that allow it not to sink in the mud, they look like water wheel paddles.

We then watched the little seedlings grow at light speed into big plants, changing the landscape in a few weeks from a black water world into large fields of green. The farmers often staggered the planting so that the rice ripens a few weeks apart, you can see the result now, as the harvest is coming in. Some fields are still green, others are golden yellow, sagging with heavy sheaths of rice, others have already been harvested.

Almost ready to harvest
This is farmland in Taiwan, with power lines and 5 story buildings far in the background.
You can see fields of short cut rice plant stumps with bales or stacks of rice straw on the dried out paddies. The surface looks like dry caked mud, but the water table isn't far down, here and there, tractors have broken down into the mud below. There seems to be some disagreement about what to do with the straw. There are different methods of baling or stacking it, some farmers burn it, others put it on a huge heap.

This is one method of collecting the rice straw after the harvest
Another way to bale rice straw
Some older paddies already have the second growth of the rice coming up. Rice can be harvested twice in a season, so we will watch the second half of the life cycle from now on. 

I guess this paddy was harvested 2 weeks ago, note the second growth beginning to show
In South Africa agriculture is something that is done on farms far away from the cities. In Taiwan there is so little arable land that it is necessary to use all available space to the max. This means that even in towns and cities land is cultivated and we now live in "rural" Taiwan, so vegetation is everywhere.

Scootering through the fields, note the raised freeway in the background

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Toucheng and Waiao - 21 June 2015

Some friends came to visit this weekend from Taipei. I'll include some pics of Derek and Joy in a later post because we didn't take any photos with them today. We got our quite late, about lunch time and took the train to Toucheng, intending to see the Wushi Harbor and perhaps the Lanyang museum and hopefully get in some swimming in too.

We started off walking to the Toucheng Old Street where there were some old Japanese buildings. An interesting mix of old and new and the ever present shrines and temples of course.
They don't build like this here anymore.

A charming little temple/shrine at one end of old street.

I think this used to be the old Toucheng general dealer in prosperous days gone by

Taking in some shade, it was quite a hot day, what summer day isn't ;)

Renalda finally gave me the camera ;)

I think this is to hold your roof down during typhoon season!

The Wushi fishing harbor from the hardworking side

The Lanyang Museum, we will have to go here another day

The not so hardworking side, with the tourist boats, this was the calm before the thunderstorm

Waio surfing beach, we managed to get in a swim, one of the surf companies allowed us to change in their tent
We ended up getting pretty wet in the rain, but it was a good day out. We found later that we could have caught a bus to where we walked, but we needed the exercise anyway :)