Observations of a Random but Possibly Somewhat Interesting Nature

1) The other day at Wulai I had a dish called "fó tiào qiáng" (佛跳牆).  This literally means "Buddha jumps over (or off) the wall", so named because supposedly it's so good that Buddha would jump over a wall just to get to it.  It was good, though I didn't jump any walls.  (Ok, I grant you that I'm not Buddha.)  The only thing that made me want to jump a wall was the fact that it was served so hot that it burned my palate quite severely.

Yes, there's no real point to that observation.  (It's random, after all.) I just thought it was a cool name for a dish.

2) Taiwanese people seem to be unable to walk in straight lines.  This makes walking around really annoying.  You're trying to get past them to the left, but, for no discernible reason, they are now veering right…left…right…JUST BLOODY WELL MOVE ALREADY!!!  They can block an unbelievable amount of space, too.  One elderly grandmother alone can block off a 10-foot-wide sidewalk.  Also, if there is a group of people walking together, they are apparently required by law to all walk in a row, thus blocking as much space as possible.

3) I think that Observation #2 is an outgrowth of a more general trait I have noticed in the Taiwanese people.  Basically, the ability to block people out of your awareness if you don't know them, or who haven't caught your attention in some way.  I think this is related to the way Chinese culture has been generally focused on the family.  The general attitude seems to be: if you're family, you're important;  if you're not family, you don't exist.  The concept has been extended to include friends and other relationships, but Taiwanese can be (to an American viewer) shockingly thoughtless and inconsiderate to each other.  It's shocking because the side of them you usually see is amazingly friendly, hospitable and generous.  The same person who would, in the right circumstances, ply you with all sorts of food and gifts, compliment you heavily on your Chinese, and treat you like a royal visitor will also unhesitatingly cut in front of you at the grocery line in which you have been standing for 15 minutes, or physically push you out of the way to get to that bus seat before you do.

4) In America, we tend to think of Chinese people, and in fact all Asian people, as all looking alike, since they all have black hair, black eyes, and golden-brown skin, and they're usually short.  As any of the Asians reading this could already tell you, this is not true.  There are SO MANY different types of face and body structure here.  Also, there are different types of skin tone, but that's sort of icing on the cake.  We tend to forget (or never knew in the first place) that Chinese people come from many different ethnic stocks.  People here have all shapes of noses, mouths, eyes, ears, etc.  Even the characteristic eye shape has many variations, some of which are almost as round-looking as mine.

5) Be careful if a Chinese person tells you their age.  They calculate it differently here.  I think many people have heard that Chinese babies are considered to already be one-year-olds as soon as they are born.  So, when my students tell me they are seven years old, that means they are really six.  So, I've been telling people here that I'm 26, instead of 25.  But, I just found out that I should start telling people I'm 27.  In America, we add one year to our age on the anniversary of our birth.  (Unless, of course, you are a 29, 39, or 49-year-old female, in which case this appears to be optional.)  In Taiwan (and I believe China is the same) they traditionally add the new year on the winter solstice, which means that everybody adds the year at the same time, sort of like how all Thoroughbred racehorses have a Jan. 1 birthday.  (Yeah, that's a flattering comparison.)

That's all for now.


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