Saturday, June 30, 2012

College Friends, GooGoo and SHOES!

We are settling back into Taipei. We stayed our first night with Cousin Vicki, her mother, Lilly and son, Nelson, who will be the equivalent of a Junior in high school. Here, children are constantly being tutored and learning outside the classroom. In Taiwan, Juniors need to take the National Exams (7/1-2) to see how they will score to make it into college. Like our SAT. Education is very valued and many continue their studies in the US or other countries. There seems to be a lot of pressure on kids. I met Nelson's tutor, Mercina, from South Africa. Nelson is adorable and much like US kids, played video games on his phone during a very fancy 4 course steak dinner at a beautiful hotel. (Vicky treated us to US cuisine in my honor.) They do not understand mashed potatoes here, but Chuni told Vicky they were easy to make as you just add water to the flakes from the box!

Earlier in the afternoon, we met Chuni's college friends at the Ponderosa for a reunion. They are all as nice as Chuni and they all majored in Library Science at National Taiwan University. One flew in from Houston and brought freeze dried ice cream as gifts. Another lives in Chicago. She teaches English and her American husband teaches Chinese, both on a college level. After lunch we went to a wine store owned by one of them. He is a real connoisseur and has written a book on wines. He offered me a copy, but it was in Chinese (which I still haven't learned).

The Taiwanese, in addition to being friendly and welcoming, are beautiful with high cheek bones and pretty skin. They really don't like the sun and white skin is valued. Even if it wasn't ungodly hot (have I told you it was hot?), I think they would stay under the parasols. I think that is why swimming in the ocean is not a big thing here, either. Is that right, Chia? (Chia is Chuni's husband who was not able to come on this trip-which is how I got to come!
I've come to rely on Chia to make comments on my postings. Please correct anything I goof up!) Some of you have asked me through email why you can't leave comments. I'm old, so I don't know for sure, but I think you have to "follow" the blog before you can comment. You're probably old, too, and don't know how to do that...The Taiwanese love food and talk about it (and eat it) a lot, yet they are obsessed with being thin and don't seem to exercise an unusual amount-I think it goes back to the sweating thing again. I've noticed scales that we would keep in our bathrooms in the kitchens!

After the American steak dinner (Vicky insisted we each have 2 plates full and it is no use in protesting against more food. It is the hosts obligation to treat and to make sure you have more than enough.) we shopped in a mall. Michael seems to have Chuni's love of shoes and Vicky insisted on buying him a pair (in addition to the pair his aunt GooGoo bought him earlier in the day). Vicky us a flight attendant and is very trendy and loves to shop.

After shopping, we take a subway to Chia's sister's house. They call her GooGoo which means father's older sister. (GuGu?) The subway is very orderly. They mark off lines for you to wait in that are angled to the side of the doors, so that people can get out first. No one pushes, they orderly get in. If the car is too full, they wait for the next one, so they don't have to rudely crush up against strangers! Also, on the escalators (one of them was 4 stories high), stationary (ery?) riders stay to the right leaving an aisle for those who want to climb past.

GooGoo is so nice. I instantly feel like part of the family. Her husband knows everything in the world about tea and there is tee paraphanalia all over the apartment. They have an adorable Chiuaua named Gooling, which means cow, because he is white with black markings. He is a sweetly and climbs up into our Japanese style bedroom and settles on my sleeping mats. The 10 pair of shoes Chuni bought were delivered here and we take them a out of the boxes so we can more easily pack them. I swear we'll have to charter a small plane just for the shoes and sweet snacks Chuni has gotten.

Today (Sunday) we got up and had a beautiful breakfast of fresh fruit, egg, and buns. We then went to the observation deck of one if the world's tallest buildings, Taiwan 101. Guess how many floors? :-) From there, you can really see that Taipei is really a basin surrounded by mountains, which helps make it so steamy hot. (By this time my hair does not look like Jane Fonda's (in Barbarella) anymore and I clip it up as usual. Chuni's new bob stays perfect.)

After the observation deck, GooGoo treats us to lunch at one of the world's best steamed buns places. You order while you wait on line to be seated. Chuni orders an order (10 pieces ch) of pork, squash and crab steamed buns , which look like dumplings to me. She also orders steamed wontons. They fix the condiments for you and give you an instruction booklet to tell you how to ear them. First one with no condiments to appreciate the basic flavor. It is an art to get them into your mouth without puncturing them and spilling the juice all over you. They were amazing.

After lunch we go to a shopping district with tons of little stall stores. Now I've caught the shoe fever and buy 2 pair for about $4 each. Chuni buys 2 more pair. Holy crap!! We definitely have different taste with Chuni preferring delicate dressy shoes with heels and me going for total comfort. My feet hurt just LOOKING at Chuni's shoes and she scampers all over the city in them!! Michael wasn't with us today (he spent the day with his girlfriend who is also visiting family here), or I'm sure we'd have even more damn shoes. Chuni whipped into a buying frenzy grabbing dresses, blouses and skirts. I bought one dress for Hannah and a cotton shirt for me-both made in India!!!

After shopping, GooGoo's husband picked us up and we were going to meet an old friend of Chuni's for dinner. I was still so stuffed from the steamed buns, various samples from vendors, and the snippets of gooey sweet things Chuni insists that I try, that I can't fathom sitting down to another long huge dinner. I ask if it would be rude if I just skipped dinner and went home with GooGoo. Then they could visit without being constrained to English for my sake and I could write my blog before 3 a.m. and MAYBE get a chance to do my 5 Tibetan Rites exercises that I usually do everyday at home. (It is ironic that I have never been in a country that is so predominantly Buddhist, yet I don't seem to have the time (or space) to do them!) Maybe I can even grab another shower! Chuni said that wouldn't be rude. I begged Chuni to convince GooGoo that I REALLY didn't want to have dinner so she wouldn't cook a ton of things for me at home. GooGoo agreed she wouldn't.

On the drive home I see the sparkly lights that indicate a betelnut (I've been misspelling that) shop and excitedly yell "Betelnuts!" GooGoo insists her husband stop the car so she can score me some!!! I protest, but thank goodness she doesn't listen to me. Hmmm. I made a pact to do this with Chuni and Michael, even though they have absolutely no interest. (When I got a Dairy Queen ice cream cone at home in Minnesota without including my sister, the owner of the DQ smacked right into my rental car with her huge SUV..) Will this be bad karma, too?? I say to heck with them. They have their shoes to console them and GooGoo can always score some more if they really want it. GooGoo has a conversation with the lovely betelnut purveyors and talks them out of wrapping the betelnut in the leaf it usually comes in (with an added secret ingredient). They giggle at the thought of this foreigner wanting to try it and they just give me one. I ask GooGoo if I'll be able to sleep if I chew it tonight and she says I should wait until tomorrow, just in case. We store it safely in the fridge to keep it potent. Hope Chuni doesn't come home drunk and chew it tonight...