paindecampagne

thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the tag “Asia”

The future we’d hardly hoped for: All about… Taiwan {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

Wan-Jiun (Paul) Chiou is a professor of finance at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. He specializes in portfolio management, international finance, financial institution management, and the impact of law environment on financial markets. He used to teach in several colleges in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Taiwan. Paul always enjoys being with young people and sharing ideas. He also likes to play games with his family. 

When some people first meet me and learn that I originally come from Taiwan, their first response is “I love Thai food!”

Oh, thanks. I love Thai food too. But you’re thinking of the wrong country!

Taiwan is located in southeastern Asia and is a group of islands off the southeastern coast of China bordering the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. (Thailand, where Thai food is from, is a small country on the Indochina peninsula, bordered by Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia.) Her size is about that of Maryland and Delaware combined.  Though the weather is mostly tropical, two-thirds of the country is mountainous, making Taiwan vary in its ecological environment. The highest mountain, Mount Jade (Yu Shan), is more than 13,000 feet high and is the highest mountain in East Asia.

Ken-ting National Park

Ken-ting National Park

Another question that I get often is “Is Taiwan part of China?”

The fact is: NO. If you want to visit Taiwan, the visa from China’s embassy will NOT work.  You need to go to a Taipei Cultural and Economic Office (TECO) for the visa.

What?  Why go to the “Taipei” office, but not the “Taiwan” one?  In addition, why is there no Taiwanese embassy in the United States?

This is a very complicated issue caused by powers like China, United States, Japan, and the rest of the world.  In the past, Taiwan was like a small leaf in large waters, pushed by waves from different directions. Now more and more Taiwanese people realize they need to fight for the better future that their ancestors hardly hoped was possible.

Currently the population of Taiwan is more than 23 million, similar to the size of California. The majority of Taiwanese (84%), mainly Holos and Hakkas,* are of mixed decedent, including aboriginals, Chinese immigrants, Europeans (primarily Dutch and Spanish), and Japanese. About 14% of them, including my family, are mainland Chinese who fled China after the Nationalist’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The 13 indigenous tribes—like the Native Indians in the U.S.— represent the remaining 2%.  In recent years, due to work and marriage, more and more new immigrants from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the other countries are coming to join this big family.

Ang Lee (director of film “Life of Pi”)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Ang Lee (director of film “Life of Pi”)

Jeremy Lin (NBA Linsanity!)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Jeremy Lin (NBA Linsanity!)

Familiar Taiwanese Faces: Jerry Yang (co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Jerry Yang (co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!)

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Taiwan, also known as Ilha Formosa (meaning “beautiful island in Spanish”), was the stepping stone for pirate groups and merchandisers from sailing from Japan, China, the Netherlands, Spain, and others. This island had been an independent kingdom until some troops from the Ming Empire occupied Taiwan for 30 years. After about 200 years of ineffective and corrupt ruling under the Qing Empire, Taiwan and surrounding islands were ceded in full sovereignty to the Empire of Japan in 1895. After the end of WWII in 1945, the US Navy ferried troops from the Republic of China (ROC) to Taiwan in order to accept the formal surrender of the Japanese military forces, but there was not an international treaty signed to settle the future of Taiwan. After being defeated in China’s civil war in 1949, the Chinese Nationalist Party ruled that the ROC would occupy Taiwan as a “base” to fight against the communists in mainland China. Therefore, believe or not, the official name of Taiwan is the Republic of China. Do not feel guilty; you are not the only one getting confused by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (China).

After more than 38 years of being ruled under martial law and the dictatorship of the nationalists, the people of Taiwan started to fight for basic rights in mid 1980s.  In 1996, Taiwan held the first direct presidential election under the military threat of China. Now more and more people believe that Taiwan and China should be two different countries due to their differences in lifestyle, democracy, and freedom.

“Mr. Democracy,” Dr. Lee Teng-Hui, President of Taiwan 1988-2000

“Mr. Democracy,” Dr. Lee Teng-Hui, President of Taiwan 1988-2000

As China becomes more powerful, Taiwan is often pushed aside, occupying the place of an “international orphan.” She lost her seat in international organizations (including the UN) in 1970s, is being cut diplomatic relations with other countries (including the U.S.), etc. Today, there are only five countries in the world without diplomatic relations with the United States.  Does America want to continue to treat Taiwan like she treats other hostile countries like Iran, Cuba, or North Korea, just because of her relationship with China?

But visiting Taiwan is wonderful. I should add that you do not need to spend much money to easily enjoy Taiwan’s scenery and delicious cuisine.

Travel in Taiwan is generally convenient and safe. You only need to pay less than $35 to take a train or bus 200 miles from Taipei, the capital, to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in south. The old capital, Tainan, has much history, or you could visit the famous Ken-ting National Park in Pingtung. The eastern coast of Taiwan, Taidong and Hualien, also showcases the power and beauty of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean.  In Taipei, the National Palace Museum is a must for visitors. The exhibits there represent the finest artworks of China’s history.

The first official academy of Taiwan in Tainan

The first official academy of Taiwan in Tainan

Taiwan’s high speed train travels 200 miles per hour between the south and the north.

Taiwan’s high speed train travels 200 miles per hour between the south and the north.

The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Ken-Ting National Park, Pingtung

The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Ken-Ting National Park, Pingtung

One of the best reasons to visit Taiwan is to experience the core of Chinese culture that is preserved there.  Language is the best example. Though people in Taiwan and China share the same official spoken languages, the Taiwanese use traditional characters while the Chinese use simplified ones that were created during its Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s. In addition, the Taiwanese are also open to western culture and are always ready to embrace new ideas. In Taiwan, you certainly will not feel that you are a stranger!

Ma-chi (rice cakes) ready to eat!

Ma-chi (rice cakes) ready to eat!

No matter where you want to visit, you certainly need to visit the local night markets and try turkey rice bowls in Chai-Yi, Tainan dan zai noodles, Changhua ba-wan (meat sphere), oyster omelets, and other yummy yummies.

It’s not Thai food, but it will not disappoint!

Night markets are the best (but inexpensive) place to explore the delicious Taiwan!

Night markets are the best and most inexpensive place to explore the delicious cuisine of Taiwan!

* Holos are people who speak a dialect in southern Fujian in China. The language spoken by the Holos also is regarded as the Taiwanese language. The Hakkas were primarily from Guangdong in China and immigrated to Taiwan 200 years ago. Hakka means “guests” in Chinese and have a situation similar to that of the Jews in Europe. In 1990s, the leaders of the three Chinese countries — China (Deng Xiaopin), Taiwan (Lee Teng-Huie), and Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) — were all Hokkaese.

Chinese food that isn’t: All about American Chinese buffets {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

However, that being said, I have never set foot in China, nor have I ever traveled west of Italy. But I did write this article for a May 2010 issue of TheBurg after wondering about the extreme oddities of a Chinese buffet (especially a jumbo buffet) where overstuffed Americans are shuttled in rapidly to dine in gorgeous settings, plates are cleared silently by beautifully-dressed women, and the myth is perpetuated that Chinese cuisine, via these buffets, is something that Americans are familiar with and somewhat appreciate. No doubt a Chinese buffet is a cultural experience, but of what kind? 

This article was reprinted on examiner.com on May 4, 2010.

*

Chinatown, Philadelphia, Summer 2012

Chinatown, Philadelphia, Summer 2012

The Chinese buffet is an American guilty pleasure.

The spacious booths, the gilded gold artwork — everything about a Chinese restaurant appeals to the American preference for having as much salty food as one can handle, the convenience of not cleaning up and the comfort of never running out of Coke. While this may sound uncouth, even I have to admit that I visit a buffet at least once a month.

We in Harrisburg have more Chinese restaurants in a 10-mile radius from our state Capitol than we have McDonald’s and Burger Kings combined. Good Taste on 3rd Street in Midtown (carry-out only) is for lunch, dinner and midnight cravings, offering an extensive, reasonably priced menu of lo mein, chow mein, beef, pork or chicken. Asian Empire Bistro on Union Deposit Road is a sit-down, white-tablecloth venue geared toward dinner or drinks, providing new twists on old favorites like orange beef and shrimp in chili sauce. If this isn’t enough, there are approximately 70 other Chinese restaurants in the Harrisburg area, catering to patrons’ every white rice, rice noodle need.

According to the U.S. Census, the state of Pennsylvania saw a 61% growth of the number of Asian residents between 2000 and 2010. However, for many of us, a Chinese buffet is as much of Asia as we will ever see. While we hold chopsticks and name our Chinese zodiac, we have to admit we know very little about China. Instead, we secretly believe that every meal in China is deep fried and soaked in sauce. In our eyes, Chinese homes probably come standard with an electric waterfall and a tank of live fish.

According to Indigo Som, manager of the blog “Chinese Restaurant Project,” American Chinese buffets are less windows into a foreign culture than they are mirrors of our own. The very existence of a “Chinese buffet” caters to the American need for choice and individualism. Equally, the idea that food should be heavily fried and rapidly consumed parallels the basis of our fast food culture.

Jingxia Yang (Judy) Stiffler, part-time professor of Chinese at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, said the Chinese view food much differently than the idea promoted at a buffet. While most clients finish a meal at a Chinese buffet in under an hour, an authentic Chinese dinner is an opportunity for patience and togetherness. The family sits around a circular table where several main dishes are placed on a large, central lazy Susan. It is culturally acceptable to eat from your own plate, from the dish in the center or to pass food from plate to plate with a quick “Here, try this.” At buffets, we clutch our plates to our chest as we wait for our share of General Tso’s, but Judy explained, “In China, there is no such thing as your ‘own plate.’ Eating is very communal.” A meal with friends can last four hours or more, starting with a cold salad and liquor and moving to stir fries, meatballs and soups. Dessert is only served for special occasions.

Traditional Chinese food differs from what we find under our buffet heat lamps. The country has five to six major types of cuisine that vary by region. Food from the Chinese province of Szechuan, for example, tends to be spicier (think Szechuan chicken) while food from the north of China is similar to that of Russia (like noodles and pickled cabbage). Vegetables such as bok choy, kai-lan, tomatoes and carrots are central to certain dishes, whereas American Chinese food pushes vegetables aside as garnish.

Judy maintained that American Chinese buffets aren’t necessarily poor representations of her country’s cuisine, but we need to regard American Chinese food for what it is. It represents both a nation of 1.3 billion people and a nation with a population one quarter of China’s — ours.

In Harrisburg, Paxton Street’s Jumbo Buffet welcomes the same patrons as the nearby Planet Fitness. Evergreen Chinese Buffet on the Carlisle Pike serves clients in a neonlit former diner. Across social and ethnic boundaries, we value equally the ability to promptly cater to our own tastes, and we rub shoulders with the neighbors with whom we would otherwise never speak. A Chinese buffet becomes a cultural intersection — a place where we are fully American and then some.

On becoming more selfless and others-aware: All about… Seoul, South Korea {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by Katy Weyforth of Fallston, Maryland.

*

After graduating from college with a degree in geology, I interviewed all summer for jobs that I didn’t even want to do. With college loans looming overhead and credit card debt accumulating up to my eyeballs, I decided to do what I thought any normal 22-year old would: apply to teach English in South Korea. In truth, I had been insanely jealous of my many friends who had studied abroad during high school or college, so I wanted my chance to shine — my chance to get out into the world, to learn a completely new language, to become a pro at traveling alone, and to grow outside of the comfortable bubble of Bel Air, Maryland, that I called home.

Though I had soaked in every word of the 20-page information packet given to me after I was hired as a teacher, I didn’t do much research about South Korea prior to my arrival. I expected that Koreans would stare at my long red hair and that I’d have to learn to bow to others instead of shaking hands. But what I didn’t expect was to become puzzled, confused, embarrassed, and even disappointed about some aspects of Korean life only to find myself later admiring the very things that frustrated me in the first place.

1. Embracing the future means respecting the past. The first thing that amazed me was the vibrant and progressive nature of Seoul. Having been born and raised in the suburbs of Baltimore, I was enthralled by the stunningly-designed high-rise buildings that were interlaced with traditional Korean houses, farmers markets, and historic Buddhist temples.

This intermingling of modern and history is a theme visible in all aspects of Korean culture. On a normal subway commute to work, I would often see groups of aged adjusshees (old men) in the subway station playing ancient Korean board games, oblivious to their contrast to the hurried women clad in fur, heels, and Louis Vuitton handbags. If there was ever a collision between a woman and one of the adjusshees, the woman would quickly bow to the old man, humbly assume responsibility for her error, and continue on.

This modern city simply respects the role of the aged. Instead of demolishing or redesigning their country to reflect South Korea’s growing place in the global economy, Koreans embrace the history that built their nation and honor those that came before them.

A view from my apartment window shows the stark contrast between older Korean buildings and the modern apartment complexes and high-rise office buildings adjacent to them.

A view from my apartment window shows the contrast between older Korean buildings and the modern high-rise offices.

2. A large population requires a large effort. After about a week in Seoul, I noticed that there were no public trash receptacles in the city. I had thought that a bustling city with so many people constantly getting quick bites to eat should absolutely have public trash cans; however, I was wrong! The population density of Seoul, when combined with the global initiative to “go green,” translates into a high level of environmental responsibility from its residents.

I absolutely cannot tell you how it worked, but the city expects all residents to separate their home trash into a billion different colorful bags categorized by type of waste. You are then supposed to find the correct dumpsters in which to dispose of it all. I could figure out the bags, but I could never figure out the pick-up days — anytime I noticed bags accumulating on the sidewalk in front of my building, I’d tiptoe downstairs and add mine to the pile.

However, in my 27 months of living in Seoul, I never saw a rat or a mouse, even during the year in which I lived above a restaurant. The subways were nearly spotless, streets were generally litter-free, and the only pest was the occasional stray cat. The extra communal effort of cleanliness and ‘green living’ made Seoul one of the cleanest cities in my book.

Baskin Robbins: An example of the "Americanization" of Korea.

Me and several friends at Baskin Robbins: An example of “Americanization”

3. The peace of public safety. As ominously vast, busy, and crowded as Seoul was to me, I felt safe in every location and at all times of the day. I noticed police cars on only three occasions: first, when half a park bridge fell into a stream; second, during a highway alcohol screening when every driver was given a breathalyzer test; and third, when masses of young officers were bussed in to prevent rioting on Buddha’s birthday. The only time I saw a gun was on the belt of a bank officer inside my bank on the day I set up my bank account. This was a whole new world for me, a girl who had lived in the suburbs of Baltimore and whose father basically hides an arsenal of weapons around the house! Despite my limited understanding of Korean and my anxiety when following directions in unfamiliar locations, I had peace wandering around Seoul, learning that it can be fun to explore when lost and that back alleys hold the best tea shops.

Just one of the amazing floats contributing to the Buddha's birthday parade.  Though most of the country is now Christian, thousands of people come out every year to enjoy the celebration of their country's founding religion.  Buddhist ideology still runs rampant throughout every aspect of Korean culture.

Just one of the amazing floats of Buddha’s birthday parade. Though most of the country is now Christian, thousands of people come out every year to enjoy the celebration of their country’s founding religion.

Rooted deeply in the Korean psyche is the desire to act for the sake of the family or a group instead of one’s self. Many times I found I had to sacrifice my own desires and accept what my friends wanted instead. I had a difficult time adjusting to this, but after some introspection and a few conversations on Western and Eastern cultural differences with a dear Korean friend, I realized that I was being stretched out of my independent “every-man-for-himself” ideology to become someone who was more selfless and others-aware.

Modern wedding: An example of how much Korean culture embraces the family unit: instead of having a small wedding party and taking photos with immediate family members only, Koreans have their photographer gather every friend and family member together for one big picture after the wedding.

Instead of having a small wedding party and taking photos with immediate family members, Koreans have their photographer gather every friend and family member together for one big picture.

This understanding and respect for those around you, woven like a thread through Korean culture, is what surprised me most about living in Seoul. Even though these aspects of Korea were tedious at first, I eventually learned to step out of my limited zone to appreciate the larger picture of involving others beside myself. When I returned to America, I returned with new insight about how all our actions, no matter how large or small, impact those around us — those of the past, the present, and the future.

Ancient Herbs: I found this tiny shop walking down a back street.  Though there are small pharmacies on every street corner, the value of the ancient remedies can not be understated.  Displayed are containers of herbs and roots with medicinal uses dating back thousands of years.

Though there are small pharmacies on every street corner, the value of the ancient remedies can not be understated. Displayed are containers of herbs and roots with medicinal uses dating back thousands of years.

Post Navigation