Monday, April 27, 2009

A day on the betel-nut farm

Betel nut is a bit like chewing-tobacco and is very popular here in Taiwan. The annual crop is huge, second only to rice. I think the stereotypical betel nut consumer is a middle-aged man who drives a blue truck as part of his business. One of the side effects is that it can stain your teeth red and that can make you look a bit scary.

Our friends inherited a betel nut farm and are in the process of tidying it up. They invited us to join them for a day's labor and we accepted straight away. We relished the opportunity to travel to their farm in Ping Dong and help them for a day. A day working on the betel nut plantation meant a day not spent in Tainan with Tainan's noise, Tainan's air, Tainan's ... everything else, and it also gave us a chance to be active outside and socialise with our friends.

Here I am collecting garbage from the boundary fence. I was having a great time: while being out in the beautiful surrounds, I was listening to episodes of the ABC's Bush Telegraph program and catching up on rural news and issues in Australia. Fantastic.

John is almost as tall as me and here he is with this enormous banana tree leaf.

Lunch break.

Our friend J chops up a banana tree, of which there is no shortage on the property. It was my first experience of banana trees being considered a weed, an idea that is still hard to come to terms with and yet, in the right environment banana plants will happily multiply willy-nilly very effectively. By the way, banana trees are not "trees" at all and the bananas we eat these days don't have seeds because they are the offspring of mutant ancestors.

The colors of dusk and the shapes of the silhouettes remind me that I am living on a tropical island.

After a good day's work it's time for a well-earned beverage. Andrea and J soak it up as did we all. It was so nice to experience a different kind of life just for a day, working on a plantation with the mountains in the background and the possibility of snakes hiding within every clump of grass. We loved it and we'll probably be back.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Adrian & John's Little Switzerland cycling peregrination

Switzerland! Or is it? It would help if you could see the big mountains close by which help to create an alpine feel about the landscape. But of course this is not Switzerland, not even Europe. This is Tainan county, Taiwan. One recent weekend my friend John and I packed our camping gear onto our bicycles and headed off to a place called Little Switzerland.

Note the new carry-rack attached to the back of my seat pole. Attached to it are my tent, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag. This rack is not mine but borrowed from John. I think Andrea was so impressed with the rack that not long after this trip she bought me one of my own, plus a small, battery-powered computer that measures distance travelled, speed, etc. Oh, and she bought me panniers too. Pannier (or panier) is the name for one of those bags that fit either side of a wheel of the bike. It was really nice of Andrea to get me those things.

Here's John on his more technically-advanced bicycle, further along the road to the future of cycling.
I think John and I came to the same conclusions regarding the Switzerlandness of Little Switzerland. I guess that if you've never seen a picture of Switzerland then this place bears some similarity to the authentic article. In the photo above you can see the hydro-electric station generating electricity from the water flowing from the reservoir on the other side of the dam wall. We camped on one of the green grassy terraces you can see on this side of the wall. On the way here we had had trouble finding the place and one woman from whom we asked for directions told us that we couldn't camp here anymore. I think what she meant was that it was possible and not illegal to set up camp but that there were no facilities whatsoever available for campers. There was no place to get food in the nearby village and no place to buy water or obtain potable water. And there were no bathrooms either. Walking about on the following morning we discovered the remnants of an old campsite with picnic tables and tent spaces. A large channel had been dug through the area and it was obviously well along the fall into disrepair.

What can I say about this photo? Nothing.

Same goes for this one.

Andrea's birthday, Taiwan 2009

Another birthday away from friends and family back home. (*sigh*) Oh well, I suppose my attitude towards my own birthday (one of neglect or cultivated disinterest) means that I don't really miss out on much by being here in Taiwan; it's possible that I have better birthdays here because here I have someone to organise something on my behalf with the friends that we do have. But I know it's different for Andrea: if she were home her birthday would probably mandate some kind of family event with generations of relatives coming together and no small number of people involved. I feel that a birthday in Taiwan is altogether less meaningful for Andrea than what she could expect back home in Canada. However, that doesn't mean that we can't have fun and that we don't have friends here!

Andrea blows out the candles ... candle on her birthday cake. In an age of resource conservation the consumption of excess candles on birthday cakes seems a departure from the proprieties of good consumer behaviour. I can report that this particular cake was bought by none other than my wonderful self from none other than that wonderfully cakey bakery, Glory Earth, purveyor of cake to the moneyed masses of which I am one in the scheme of Taiwanese things. This particular cake was covered not in icing or cream but in raspberry jam which attempted to cling to anything it could besides the cake itself. It was a very tasty cake. To Andrea's left you can see our friend Tim looking on intently while sipping on a large ice-tea and tending to his swine [look harder].

After the proper rites had been enacted (eating cake) we played a game of Bite the Bag. I had never played this game before. The only person who knew the game was Andrea and she seemed to lose interest not long after we started (she was quite tired). However the rest of us kept at it for what must have been an hour. Bite the Bag involves picking a paper bag off the floor using only your mouth while touching the floor only with your feet. A round consists of every participant attempting to bit the bag and pick it up with their mouth. When everyone has had their turn the bag is made shorter by cutting a strip from around the top so that it gets progressively shorter each round and, depending on the limberness of the participants, is inevitably reduced to only the base of the bag. This photo above describes Megan's method of achieving the pickup. The bag is about half its original height here.

James tackles the bag with only a centimetre of bag wall left.

I wouldn't have thought I was physically capable of this feat of flexibility but I surprised myself. I can't tell you who won but it was a great game to play for the first time and made Andrea's birthday a memorable one.